Carnival Splendor cruise review
Having recently had a very pleasant cruise on another Carnival ship (Carnival Miracle, 8 days - Nov. 2012, NYC to Bahamas), we naively assumed that the same cruise on a different ship, Carnival Splendor, would be as pleasant (NYC to Bahamas March 31 - April 8, 2013).
At the outset let me make clear: We enjoyed the cruise. The crew was friendly and generally attentive. The criticisms that follow thus must be taken in the context that it was an enjoyable cruise and we would sail Carnival again. . . . but not on this ship. . . .
The March-April, 2013 cruise--NYC to Bahamas on the Carnival Splendor showed how it is the attention to the "little things" that makes the difference between a pleasant and a mildly vexing experience on board. To be sure the Carnival Splendor is a larger ship than the Miracle (3,000+ passengers versus 2,100+). But that is not an excuse as to why basic attention to detail should be so different between the two. Most of the problems described here are not based on the size of the ship. That is a given and a constant. How Carnival dealt with that many passengers in the particular configuration of the ship designed by and for Carnival is a different issue.
At the outset: the food was generally good. What follows is where we found the food and service "missed the mark."
Main Dining Room(s)
We were a party of five (four adults, one child) and, because a young child was in our party, we had to opt for the early (first) seating rather than the free-style (anytime) dining we would have preferred. We chose the "Gold Pearl" at the rear of the ship, rather than the mid-ship "Black Pearl" dining room.
Prior to sailing, we had asked Carnival about our having a table by the window and were told by Carnival that in order to reserve a particular table, we should speak with the dining room manager when we got on board. We boarded early in order to do so, but when we sought out the dining room manager, he informed us that the tables by the windows were (always) reserved for large parties and since we were only four adults and one young child, we did not qualify--a small, but important, discrepancy between what Carnival had informed us before we boarded and the information we received on board.
Then, rather than assign our party to a (non-window) table for six, we were assigned initially to a booth for four with a chair added on the end. But the chair was in the aisle. This added chair so narrowed the aisle that neither waiters nor guests could get through unless the person at the end stood up and moved away or scrunched himself into the table while the person passed; in fact, one of the waiters spilled items several times, attempting to pass through the narrow space. After several nights of this unrequested, undignified, and unpleasant musical chairs game, we spoke with the maitre d', who then arranged to move our party to a table where the chair on the end was not in the aisle. But note: we had to ask! It apparently did not occur to anyone on the dining room staff--from wait staff to the maitre d-- that this seating arrangement was terrible for all concerned--including particularly for the waiters who had to pass through this narrow opening.
Our new table for four, made to seat five, was set among several larger (window) tables of 10--12 people. Although the team of servers for our new table area was friendly, competent, and tried to be as attentive as they could, serving the larger tables first meant that we were the last to be served. On one occasion, other than bread, butter, and water, we did not receive our first course for forty minutes. Although we are not particularly slow eaters, because we were constantly the last to be served, we found our coffee and desert butting up against the time the next seating was scheduled to begin and the "bum's rush" was on to get guests out of the dining room so that the next service could commence. We weren't actually told to get up and leave, but we clearly had become left-over interlopers, as tables around us were set for the next seating. This was not pleasant.
The food in the main dining room(s) varied in quality of preparation on a daily basis. Some of it was quite good! Surprisingly, instead of the the generic under-seasoned and under-salted preparations one sometimes finds in mass dining, the dishes--appetizers, entrees, and side dishes often were so salty that they were inedible. A creamed spinach should have been called salted spinach. My wife had a shrimp dish where, by dipping each shrimp in a glass of water, enough salt washed off to (almost) make them edible.
Sadly, meat entrees often ran from over-cooked to inedible. On several occasions, meat ordered rare had to be sent back until a non-grey piece arrived. Bottom-line: The quality was so uneven that our entourage of meat eaters found the only consistently good main dishes were the vegetarian Indian entrees--the content of which changed nightly and were excellent.
The often poor quality of the food and the preparation had not been true on the Carnival cruise we had taken just a few months earlier. Why the fall-off in quality? No explanation.
Cafeteria and other food locations:
Eating in the cafeteria (Lido, deck 9) juxtaposed three things: the size
of the ship, the limitations of the serving areas, and often a lack of planning or oversight of the dining service there.
In the main pool/large movie screen area of the Lido deck ("Splendido"), the line for the single hamburger/hot dog counter on the ship generally took about 8 minutes to get to the front, where a hamburger that had been cooked several minutes earlier sat forlornly on a bun, getting cold, before it was served to you. Since all of the burgers were prepared as cheeseburgers, when anyone had the temerity to request a hamburger without cheese, the request would be honored, but with the result that the line was stopped in place while the plain hamburger was cooked--and the cheeseburgers that had already been cooked and placed on plates grew even colder. We quickly learned better than to try to get a hamburger or cheeseburger there, as we don't like them stale or cold.
At the other side of the Lido pool area is the pizza counter ["Pirate pizza"]. Although the ship signage said that the pizza stand was open 24 hours/day, in fact it was closed many hours during the day. Why this "open 24 hours" counter was frequently closed was never explained. But, even when it was "officially" open, it sometimes functioned more as a place that was closed that would open "on demand." Much of the time, those who wanted a slice of pizza had to wait while the sole counterman went in back to cook or to heat up a slice or two of pizza. [Any pizza stand on land that functioned this way would be out of business in a week.] The time to heat up a previously cooked slice of pizza is not long--except on the Carnival Splendor. On one day, they happened to have several slices of pizza "ready" and we received our slices within a minute of two of joining the line; but others who were ahead of us on the line at that time were not so lucky: they ordered several slices of a non-plain pizza, and they were still waiting for them well after the time we had finished eating ours.
At the two main serving areas in the cafeteria on the Lido deck, the lines moved fairly well except when, in explicitly, that particular counter would run out of clean plates. Rather than wait the five or ten minutes it took for the serving staff to locate and wheel out a new cart of clean plates, the more enterprising passengers would use a soup bowl instead of a plate, or would wander around the dining room, going from counter to counter until they found a different counter that had clean plates, and they could then return with plate in hand to be served. But for most, as with getting a hamburger without cheese, the line ground to a halt. When asked why there were no plates, passengers received such responses as "they're coming." (This of course was not an answer to the question that had been asked and was an answer that is equally applicable to the question in the dead of a cold winter as to when warm days will be here). Please note: this was not an isolated incident, something that happened once. It happened with distressing frequency during the cruise.
In addition to cones at the (24 hour/day) self-serve soft ice cream machines, small bowls were a nice touch for those who don't want a cone (although they were often hidden behind the serving area there). But as with "no plates" at the hot foods buffet, often no spoons could be found nearby and an excursion around to different counters was needed in order to find a spoon--if other counters were open at that time. On one occasion, I asked a manager where the spoons were and he told me that they should be by the soft-serve machine. They weren't. [He did then go into the kitchen and brought me out a spoon]. But the next day there were still no spoons near the bowls at that machine.
The "Carvery" counter in the Lido feaured a daily "roast" (beef, lamb, pork, etc.) sliced to order. The roast beef varied from very nice rare beef early in the cruise to overcooked and tough later in the voyage. [When I asked for "rare," on an overcooked day, the server did cut some slices from a different part of the roast where a little bit of red could be found amongst the grey. I would describe it as medium to medium-well done]. Actually, tough best describes the carved meats with the exception of the ham (which was good) and the loin of pork, which was simply flavorless, but was not tough.
The salad counter, and desert/pastry counter in the Lido were well stocked and the pastries varied nicely each day. But from time-to-time there was no one behind the counter to cut and serve the cakes or pies.
At the "Mongolian Wok," you choose your ingredients, your sauce, and they are then cooked in a wok. Long lines waiting for the two wok burners to cook the individual portions did not seem worth the wait as the end product I tasted on one occasion seemed mediocre. But it was popular and perhaps combinations other than the one I tasted were more flavorful.
The sushi bar, open late afternoon to early evening had pre-made rolls (maki) which tasted as they looked: pre-made, dried-out, and bland, unless smothered with one of the several available condiments. This was a disappointment as we had looked forward to a ship with a sushi bar. Perhaps they were only pre-made and dried out on the occasions we visited, but for me, once is too many and twice is unforgivable for sushi.
On a more positive note:
---Breakfast in the Lido cafeteria offered many choices and the lines moved quickly.
---Foods are labeled well, including making clear which dishes are vegetarian.
---On a separate floor of the Lido, the Rotisserie provided roasted chicken pieces and baked potatoes with the usual 'fixings" and salad and other sides. Quality was good and this spot, hidden away on the upper balcony over the main deck of the Lido restaurant, was never crowded and there was always table space on that level.
---Another "hidden" gem was the buffet of Indian food at the "Tandoor Grillâ€ on the outer deck behind the Lido cafeteria. The quality was uniformly very good and the main dishes changed daily. (And if you go, don't miss the delicious tomato chutney!) [A personal peeve unrelated to the quality: the foods at the Tandoor Grill were sometimes mislabeled ("falafel" was listed as "beef patties") and most of the dishes were given American names--"papadam" became "crisp wafers"; "dahl" became "Veg n/Yogurt." I wouldn't have minded an English description of the food--as is done with foreign language named items in the main dining room--but it would have been nice if the real names had also been used.]
The Steakhouse ("Pinnacle Restaurant").
High praise for this respite from mediocre dining on the Splendor! Located by the funnel at the top of the ship the steakhouse restaurants on Carnival feature premium steaks, chops, lobster, and fish, with special appetizers, salad and desert for a $35/per person supplement; Reservations required. On the Splendor, the Pinnacle steakhouse was good food, served well by an excellent, knowledgeable wait staff, in a quiet, comfortable setting. Worth the money!
Just as the self-service restaurant frequently had no plates for the main courses or no spoons for the ice cream, other examples of lack of attention to the details detracted from the pleasure of the cruise.
--For the first half of the cruise, the daily menu of choices in the main dining rooms was neither posted nor available on the in-room television. The screen where they were supposed to be was blank until the fifth day of the eight-day cruise.
--Washing the railings outside of the balcony cabins and the sides of the ship outside these cabins was accompanied by a notice in each cabin that the full process would take several hours, but that "the washing of your balcony . . . will only take about 10 to 15 minutes." Several hours into the process, workmen still continued to hose and sweep the balcony outside our cabin, so for three hours, not "10 to 15 minutes," there was no access to the balcony. In order to do the job, all of the partitions on the balcony that separate the cabins to provide privacy had been locked open. When the workmen had finished in the area of our cabin, they did not close and relock the partitions outside out cabin, until they were requested by us to do so. So it was never clear where or why the "10 to 15 minute" description came from.
--In the cabins, television reception of the major networks was frequently unavailable for long periods during the cruise. One doesn't go on a cruise to watch television but stiil, if you want to watch your favorite show or the morning or evening news, it is nice to have reception available. It was never made clear whether this a recurring malfunction or simply a condition of being at sea. Since we were not in the polar regions, it wasn't clear why the satellite reception was unavailable for some, but not all, of the broadcast channels.
--The central atrium, open to many floors of the ship, often had a singer who accompanied himself on the guitar. Unfortunately his pitch was off. Normally, I would not comment on a lounge singer's performance, since one is free to leave the lounge. But this was a large public area, so the singing was imposed on you, whether you wanted to hear it or not. [The Atrium is open to many decks so if you traverse the ship, you are forced to endure whatever music is being played in the Atrium, good or bad.] Carnival could and should do better. When replaced by a small jazz ensemble, the sound improved markedly. But as with the announcements over the public address system that were ship wide, you had to hear them, whether you wanted to or not when passing through that area.
Although no smoking is supposed to be the rule for most parts of the ship, it is permitted in the Casino. That is nice for smokers, but not for non-smokers who want to visit the Casino. Equally, and more troubling, the only way to pass through the ship on that deck--which is the Promenade" Deck-- requires you to pass through the Casino. So--non-smokers beware: don't try to go from the front to the aft part of the ship on the Promenade deck! Note: this is a problem created by Carnival, not by the smokers. Carnival has created a portion of a major thoroughfare--the width of the ship at that point--where smoking is permitted and imposed on all who pass through.
People sometimes smoked on deck standing in front of a "no smoking" sign. When I pointed out the sign to a man who was smoking next to the chair in which I was sitting, he asked me whether I was a crew member. (There were no crew members enforcing the no smoking rule, as far as I could tell).
The "Internet Cafe" was supposed to be staffed by a person who could assist with any issues of connectivity during the voyage. The hours that he or she was there were extremely limited and no one answered the telephone number you are given if you have problems with the connection.
Not what I expected department: The Carnival Splendor has a major pool area (Splendido) with a glass roof that can be open in nice weather and closed other times. But this area also features a large screen where movies or television shows are seen and in addition, is the location for numerous games and contests during the day, which are hosted over loud speakers. If you like one common space where a movie playing on a large screen, competes with the announcements of the winners of the hairy chest contest, which competes with children and others calling to each other in the pool, then this is THE spot for you.
Each of those activities has its place on a cruise. I, for one, didn't enjoy multiplicity of activities and sounds in one area. My wife didn't mind it. As they say: there's no accounting for taste, and I know better than to argue with my wife. Late in the evening when the pool was closed and the hairy chest contest was over, having a movie or other show on that large outdoor screen was very nice.
The layout (and use) of the Ship
Some of the problems of life on board the Splendor stem from its layout and how the spaces are used by Carnival. Consider the following:
Passage from one part of the ship to another is extremely limited, sometimes by obstacles inserted by Carnival.
Passage from one part of the ship to another entails a choice of three routes: (1) going along the corridor of a cabin floor, e.g., decks 6, 7, or 8, (2) using the Lido deck (Deck 9) or (3) using the Promenade deck (deck 5).
(1) The cabin floor corridors are not made for transit: Either people coming from or going into their cabins, or cabin attendants and their linen and supply carts make through passage slow. This is not a complaint about those floors; it is a comment about the difficulty of using these floors for a walk through the ship in light of the problems of using the floors intended for through passage--the Lido and the Promenade decks! I didn't mind walking around the cabin attendants and their carts when I was going only from my cabin to the nearest stairs and bank of elevators. But I did when I was trying use these corridors as passage from the front of the ship to the rear
(2) Using the Lido deck. To use the Lido deck for through passage requires going through both the Splendido pool area--frequently blocked by bathers and others in deck chairs, games being played with an announcer, and then going through the cafeteria which, at lunch or breakfast is filled with lines of people. One finds oneself on Deck 9 much of the time, but that does not make it a deck for easy passage. If the pool is your destination, or if the Lido dining area is your destination, you may not feel the obstacles to through passage. But if you are trying to get from the main elevators/stairs in front of the Atrium to the aft open deck, be prepared. And it is worth emphasizing: in order to go from the main stairs/main bank of elevators to the Lido deck cafeterias, you have to work your way around the announcer/host of the hairy chest contest who is strategically placed in front of the doors from the Lido deck to the stairs/elevator banks mid-ship on what is called "the stage," but which is in reality a blockage of the entrance to those stairs/elevators . That may provide the best view of the announcer for those sitting in the deck chairs around and alongside of the Splendido pool, but it does nothing to make passage to or from the Lido dining area comfortable.
(3) Using the Promenade Deck. A 'promenade' is defined as a public place for a walk. Despite its name, a "walk" on this deck entails (requires) one to pass through the often crowded (and always smoke-filled) Casino and in addition then to attempt to maneuver already narrow passages that have been nearly totally filled by people congregating at the tables Carnival has put there to sell photos, bracelets, watches, etc. This is hardly a place for a leisurely walk (a promenade) and much of the time is not even a place one can walk through without having to say "excuse me please" (if you don't want to have to physically push people out of the way to make a path wide enough to walk through). I have no quarrel with Carnival selling things to passengers. But I do object to Carnival, or its vendors, setting up shop along narrow passage ways so that if they are successful in attracting potential buyers, the passageway is blocked.
[The various lounges at the rear of the ship on this deck that were largely unused during the day could have been used for the boutiques and bazaars, but then they would not have been encountered by the same foot-traffic. I'm not trying to solve Carnival's problems with space usage on this ship. But I'm not aware that Carnival recognizes that there is a problem]
Passengers who want to get to the Gold Pearl restaurant and who want or who need to use an elevator rather than walk up to or down from one of the higher decks must use the rear bank of elevators. Unfortunately during our cruise, two of the four elevators in this bank were out of service for the entire cruise. Giving priority to people in wheelchairs or with disabilities meant that there was a long wait for an elevator with space for other passengers. So passengers on the main cabin floors: Deck 6, 7, and 8 had the choice of walking up or down three or more flights of stairs to get to of from the the aft dining room, or wait until they could get into one of the two elevators that serve it.
One problem with the layout of the ship is that much of the space is given over to space that is used only part of the time.
--Although Carnival claims to have 22 lounges and bars on the Splendor, many of them are closed and/or unattended during the daytime hours:
--The forward half of the ship on the Promenade deck [Deck 5] is given over to the theatre, to the narrow corridors of the so-called "fun shops," and the crowded (nearly impassible at times) ship-wide Casino.
--The aft half of the Promenade deck is given over largely to "lounges" (bars/dance floors) that are closed during the day: Except for the Sports Bar---which is open and used during the day--most of this half of Deck Five is given over to the El Morocco Aft Lounge, the Grand Piano Bar, the Cool Jazz Lounge, and the Red Carpet "Dance Club"--none of which are open during the day. To be sure, one can go into one of these large spaces for solitude during the day--if the ship is not setting up for the evening's activities in that room--but they are not lit. So if you want to sit in a dark, unlit room, you can do so.
--On our voyage, the large El Morocco Lounge at the rear of the ship on deck 5 was used on the final day for an hour for a performance for their parents and family by the youngest group of children. The event was partially marred during the performance by a crew member bringing signboard stands into the room to store them--oblivious of the fact that a chiidren's performance for their parents was in progress. I'm sure he had been instructed to store the signs in that room, but apparently no one told him to wait until the parents and their children and the counselors had left the room.
Apparently Carnival's definition of a "Fun Ship" means a boat with [indoor] places where one can go for quiet, possibly with a bar open in case one wants a drink of some kind. The "Library" doesn't meet this criterion because it was closed most of the time when we thought about sneaking away (indoors) for a quiet place to read, have a quiet conversation, or just relax. This is the first and only ship I have cruised on that didn't have "quiet" indoor space. The Serenity Lounge on board would meet this need--if part of it was indoors. But it's not.
The bar in the Serenity area was not staffed most of the time. if it had been, perhaps the staff would have been helpful in enforcing the no smoking rule and not allowing children in for animated/loud conversations with their parents. But even on the occasions when the Serenity bar was staffed, apparently the staff did not see its role as having any responsibility for enforcing the rules posted by Carnival: "Serenity area" means no children and a "no smoking" sign means no smoking. But whether staffed or not, no one connected with Carnival saw it as his or her role to enforce the restrictions created by Carnival.
And, while on the issue of Carnival enforcing its own rules, Carnival was very clear as to what the expectations were regarding dress for dinner in the main dining rooms. This is the information Carnival provides to its passengers prior to the time they board the ship:
"Most evenings we have a Cruise Casual dress code, but there are those Cruise Elegant evenings one or two nights throughout your "Fun Shipâ€ voyage, where you will have the opportunity to showcase your more elegant attire. For those who want casual attire for dinner time, the Lido Restaurant is open nightly, and has a more relaxed theme. However, shirts and shoes/footwear (flip-flops) must be worn at all times inside the Lido Restaurant.
"Both dress codes for the dining rooms are described below.
"Cruise Casual Dining Dress Code: Gentlemen - Sport slacks, khakis, jeans (no cut-offs), dress shorts (long), collared sport shirts; Ladies - Casual dresses, casual skirts or pants and blouses, summer dresses, Capri pants, dress shorts, jeans (no cut-offs).
"Not permitted in the dining room during the Cruise Casual dinner for ladies and gentlemen: shorts, gym shorts, basketball shorts, beach flip-flops, bathing suit attire, cut-off jeans, sleeveless shirts for men and baseball hats.
"Cruise Elegant Dining Dress Code: Gentlemen - Dress slacks, dress shirts. We also suggest a sport coat. If you wish to wear suits and ties or tuxedos, by all means we invite you to do so. Ladies - Cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses; if youâ€˜d like to show off your evening gowns, that's great too!
"Not permitted in the dining room during the Cruise Elegant dinner for ladies and gentlemen: shorts, gym shorts, T-shirts, beach flip-flops, bathing suit attire, jeans, cut-off jeans, sleeveless shirts for men, sportswear, and baseball hats."
Presumably those who want to wear baseball caps, jeans, t-shirts, and similar attire on nights that are designated as "Cruise Elegant" would eat at the Lido Restaurant. But, as with the lack of enforcement of "no smoking" in the no smoking areas of the ship, just as some of the passengers paid no attention to the clearly stated rules for the ship, so too, ship personnel in the dining room paid no attention to the rules Carnival had established. The difference between "Cruise Elegant" and other evenings was that many of the passengers who ate in the main dining room dressed "casual elegant." But as to those who didn't--who came in t-shirts, and jeans, with baseball hats on their heads--well, they too ate in the main dining room.
The point: On the Carnival Splendor rules intended for the comfort and expectations of all of the passengers are ignored with impunity by some, and enforced by no one connected with Carnival.
Carnival: wake up!
Thanks for reading.