We cruised Carnival for the first time in the January school holidays, so we expected to see a lot of kids for that time of year and we did! If I cruise again, I would try to avoid the busy school holiday periods if I can.
We loved our cabin. Due to the time of year, it was quite expensive, around $1700 AUD per person for an inside cabin with obstructed view. I was happy that I had selected the obstructed view french door cabin. We had lots of natural light and could see the ocean/view between the life boats so that was nice. The door could be opened for fresh air, although I am not sure you are supposed to open the door. The decor is mainly creams/gold/beige and was light and clean. The beds were very comfortable and the sheets and towels were relatively new and soft. The cabin was a reasonable size and was one of the reasons I chose Carnival, as the cabins are around 185 sq feet whereas Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Holland America ships in Australia seem quite a bit smaller. There was plenty of storage space, a hair dryer located in the drawer in the mirrored vanity area in the cabin. The bathroom was an adequate size and was very clean. It did seem a little "cheap" that the shampoo and shower gel was provided in dispensers attached to the shower wall when other lines usually provide little bottles of same, also there is no body lotion or hair conditioner at all (but not a big deal really). It was great to have the mini fridge to store our own drinks/water. I had the beer removed from the fridge to make more room. Our stateroom attendant, John and his assistant were truly amazing. They worked so hard and nothing was a problem for them. The room was always ready for us, day and night. We loved the turn down service and the little towel animals we would find when we came back to our room after dinner each night. My daughter made sure I got a photo of her with every new towel animal. I tipped my cabin steward when we first arrived and gave him more at the end of our cruise, plus some local Australian chocolate and an island gift. We felt he worked so hard, he deserved it.
OUR DECK and some NOISE issues:
Our cabin was located on deck 4 and we did have quite a few issues with kids running up and down hallways at all hours of the night and day, changing over Do NOT disturb signs etc and prank calls late at night to our cabin. This was the negative. Guest services at first were non responsive to the issues we were experiencing every night but eventually they agreed that that deck seemed to be an issue as others had complained so they made sure security kept a better eye on things. They phoned me several times during the cruise to make sure things had settled down. I appreciated their efforts. I think the main issue is, there were A LOT of kids - 900+ apparently (fair enough, its that time of year), but some kids were not supervised at all and were running wild in hallways, public areas, elevators, casino, pools etc. This is not Carnival's fault, more an issue of lack of responsible parenting/supervision. I saw two tiny girls that would have been around 5 or 6 years old riding the glass elevator on their own! I also had an unpleasant experience with a rude staff member at Guest Services desk, but she was the only one and the rest of the staff were just amazing and so friendly and helpful ALL the time. Kurt (from Canada) at Guest Services was amazing, and really knew the meaning of customer service!
The Empire dining room was wonderful. We loved the staff and the food. We had Anytime dining but found a good group of waiters in one area so we asked to be seated in that head waiter (Earl's) section every night and we had a ball and were really well looked after. We tried to eat most if not all our meals in the dining room: breakfast, lunch and dinner. We also tipped our waiters and gave them small gifts to show our appreciation at the end of the cruise. Again, we felt they deserved it, although Carnival has removed tipping for their Australian based ship. We had one meal at the Nouveau Steak house and the food was fantastic as was the service but they were not very busy due to a very rough sea day that rendered half the ship (including some staff) with sea sickness. The Lido deck buffet was a bit hit or miss but overall fine given its a large buffet style area with a lot of people using it. I think its important to set your expectations realistically, it was never going to be fine dining because its a buffet style restaurant catering to over 2,600 guests. It was sometimes hard to find somewhere to sit, and to find all the things you may want to eat and the cutlery you need etc, so by the time you did get a table, the food was luke warm to cold. However, we did have some good meals there. I found it was handy for a quick breakfast on port days when we had early departing shore excursions. I loved the Asian food station (it always had a big queue) and the pizza station...excellent. The dessert and salad stations were pretty good too. One day they did a chocolate station with lots of chopped fruit, marshmellows etc that you could select and dip in the chocolate fountain and that was pretty amazing! YUM.
We booked in for mother daughter massages for the first sea day. We didnt get a great choice of times and had to show up at 9am. It was a good price, so we didnt mind. However, it was a very, very rough sea day with very high winds and being at the front of the ship was not good. While we were waiting in the waiting area for our spa staff, the jacuzzi in the spa area starting sloshing water out of it and it was running down the two sets of marble stairs into the waiting area. It was quite a sight! Staff quickly mopped up the water with towels before anyone slipped over. So that is how rough the seas were. Half way through my massage, the masseuse had to leave because she was feeling seasick...oh dear. She came back shortly afterwards and added on extra time to my massage which I thought was very nice. They did try to sell us some things at the end but they were nice girls and not at all pushy. We said thanks, we'll think about it. We did plan to go back at some point, so my daughter could enjoy the teen spa packages, but we got so busy doing everything else on board, that by the time we thought to book anything, the spa only had 5-6pm on last sea day time slots and we were usually getting ready for dinner at that time of the evening, so we decided to save our money. They offer discounts and deals on port days and as the cruise progresses, things seem to come down in price. Keep an eye out for the leaflets that are delivered to your cabin.
SERENITY POOL (ADULTS only)
Absolutely loved Serenity pool deck. It is at the aft of the ship on deck 9 and I spent most of our sailaways on this deck as it had a nice view. Being on the open decks is a wonderful feeling. After seeing how crowded and over-run with kids the other two pools were, I was relieved that Carnival had had the foresight to include an adult's only pool area. We never had an issue getting a lounge chair but it was a lot more difficult to snag a pod or hammock, understandably as there are far fewer of those and everyone wants one. We probably managed a pod at least 3 or 4 times on our cruise but mainly later in the day on port days. One thing I would like to see on this deck, is more shade provided. Not all of us want to bake ourselves to a crisp in the sun. I had seen photos of Serenity decks on other Carnival ships and they provided yellow umbrellas, Spirit had no umbrellas or shade. Hopefully management might consider this, especially since most of Spirit's cruise itineraries include hot, sunny destinations in the South Pacific so trying to stay skin cancer safe becomes a bit of challenge!
I did BOTH water slides once: the Green Thunder was so heart stopping, I decided once was enough. It is so fast, and for part of the way down, you are immersed under water which I wasnt expecting so I think that got my heart pounding for sure. The yellow water slide was a bit more my speed, as its open (not enclosed like Green Thunder) and obviously not as high either. My daughter didnt go near either of the slides, which surprised me, but she was put off by the sheer height of the Green Thunder. The view from the stairs leading up to Green Thunder was AMAZING! Take your camera to get some pics, even if you dont do the slide.
We loved Trevor Jones the Piano man. He played in the Shanghai bar most nights and also did a concert in Pharoah's theatre one night too. He really knew how to work the crowd and get you involved. Had many great nights singing alone to Trevor's piano music. Sadly, Trevor disembarked on the same day we did and I am not sure if Carnival has replaced him as yet. Lets hope they can get him to come back on board.
We had Stu Dunn as our (Australian) cruise director and we found him very personable and entertaining. We particularly enjoyed his stories of skate boarding down a Maui highway from a Volcano (you had to be there to see and believe it - he showed a video)! He also did a great speech on Carnival ships/staff and stories from all the ships he has sailed on. It was a bit of a Q&A session for guests and again it was very well received and enjoyable. Stu also departed for his annual holiday when we disembarked. I think he was due back on the Spirit in March. Some people seem to not like him, but we liked him and we found him friendly and approachable. Yes, he does make A LOT of announcements over the PA system but that is his job....we always smiled when we heard him speak as he started every announcement with either "Good morning, every body" or "Good morning every one" so my daughter and I used to try to guess which version he would start with...just a little joke between us.
The shows in the main theatre were, on the whole, quite good. We really liked the dancing shows, I think one was called New Orleans, and the Jazz show as well. The magician brother and sister duo were great, as was the hypnotist and the entertainer guy from New Zealand (I have forgotten his name). There was one show we didnt particularly like, but I cant recall what it was called. Out of 12 nights, I thought the shows were pretty good, with only one we found a bit boring. I was happy to have entertainment each night after dinner, and I wasn't expecting Broadway standard shows, so I guess I was easy to please. There were lots of ship board activities to keep everyone entertained. Each night a "Fun Times" newsletter would be delivered so you could plan out your next day's adventures. I cant imagine how anyone could be bored, we found we didnt get around to trying or doing everything we wanted to do as we just simply ran out of time. The 12 nights flew by in an instant.
We did 3 Carnival tours (Noumea, Port Denarau and Suva) and for two people the cost was over $500. I thought in some aspects the shore tours were over priced but being the first time I have been on Carnival, I wanted to take the safe option and book tours with Carnival. Next time I head to the South Pacific, I will more than likely look for private local tour companies and make my own arrangements (and save some money)! Our favourite tour was the South Sea Island day tour (from Port Denarau). It was very good and I would probably look at booking direct with the company (South Sea Island Cruises) next time. We found the Carnival tour desk staff to be less than friendly, but maybe they were just tired from all the people lining up to ask the same questions and book on the first few days. I booked our tours as soon as we walked on the ship (boarded around 12 noon) so we didnt have any issues with getting the tours we wanted, nor did we have to wait very long which was good. In fact, I later changed my mind for one tour and wanted to change to another option. So I went back on the same day and they were able to change my tour with no issues at all.
PORTS & TENDERS:
Have to admit we were not a fan of the tendering process, much prefer when the ship is docked at the port. You had to collect a tender number from two staff members at deck 9 and then wait for your number to be called. By 9.30am one morning, we were already up to giving out tender #26 and they were no where near calling that tender boat. By the time we made it to the shore, it was almost 11am. So we wasted quite a bit of our day. We learned our lesson and got numbers earlier at the next port. So it took quite a bit of time to get off the ship especially at Mystery Island because we were tendered a long way out from the island, possibly because Carnival Spirit couldnt go any further in the shallow water. The tender boats are very hot and stuffy and the crew do not open the windows because of the placement of windows, water can enter once the tender boat starts moving. They fill these tender boats to the brim with guests and so you get the picture: no A/C, hot, sticky, squished up together with very little air circulating, then add a very hot, sunny day to the mix and a 30 minute tender ride to shore. Also by the time everyone starts thinking of heading back to the ship from shore, you are then faced with a massive queue to get back on the tender boats. They run about 3 tender boats back and forth but there are a lot of people so it takes quite a bit of time. I would recommend that you keep an eye on the tender line and try to pick a time when its less busy, if possible.
We loved our port visits in Mystery Island and Lifou - such beautiful places with pristine sands and beautiful blue water and lovely locals. We also really enjoyed Noumea. The Fijian stops were nice too, but I would probably opt for the more unspoilt islands like Lifou, Mystery Island, Mare, Isle of Pines etc next time I cruise South Pacific. I would like more than one day in Fiji to do it justice so would likely fly back next time and spend more time.
BOARDING and DISEMBARKATION PROCEDURES:
We found the boarding process was very well organised and efficient. We were able to board a bit earlier than our stated time and it wasnt too busy, so we were on board within about 20-25 minutes of checking in. That was pretty impressive. We found the customs/immigration staff seemed much more laid back and friendly than the staff you encounter at the airports around the country/world. We later realised why, haha....we saw the customs/immigration staff on board at the Lido deck enjoying a free buffet lunch. That explained it, they were enjoying the food and holiday ambiance on board! Who wouldnt be happy. Disembarkation was very swift and organised as well. In fact, we were called nearly 30 minutes prior to the time we expected to be called to disembark. That threw me into a bit of a panic as we had just finished our breakfast. Anyway we quickly proceeded to our cabin and gathered our things and left. There were no queues to get off the ship but we had a small queue to declare our gifts with customs (no issue, it moved quickly). Then we were back in Sydney and our wonderful holiday was over.
All in all, we had a great time and really enjoyed our holiday. There was plenty to do and lots of relaxing, fun times as well. We met some wonderful people and staff too. Yes there were a few issues that I am sure Carnival could tweak a bit to get it right, ie more security staff to keep on eye on the kids who are running wild, re-enforcing that parents ARE responsible at all times for their children. I will also try to book out of school holidays in future if possible. Not always easy to do when you are travelling with teenage school children.
We cant wait to go cruising again. We booked our next cruise within two weeks of getting off the Spirit. We have booked with Celebrity Cruises because Carnival didnt have any available ships/itineraries for our Europe vacation. I will still cruise Carnival again at some point, possibly next year for a short break if the price/timing is right.