I want to start off by saying that we were on the cruise where the young couple tragically went overboard on the last night. We have found the media coverage of the event to be very unfair against cruise staff, the cruise line and the ship itself. The ship is incredibly safe. The staff incredibly competent and safety conscious. And the cruise line taking a safety first approach to everything. This was evidenced by the fact that on the first night out of Sydney we turned around after sailing for 5 hours and returned to Sydney to disembark a man who had fallen ill. This 10 hours of 'extra' travel would have been at significant cost to the Carnival, but was treated as a small 'blip' in the plan. This, along with the immediate shutdown of any area which could have caused a problem to passengers due to some high winds and seas (which occurred only occasionally), is testament that when Carnival says 'safety first', it isn't just lip service.
Also, it hasn't been reported but the last night was absolutely freezing outside, so it isn't surprising that nobody heard or saw the two poor souls. It was just a tragic set of circumstances all round.
Enough said! Please don't let the incident cloud your feelings for Carnival or the Carnival Spirit.
I can honestly say that our 10 night cruise was one of the most relaxing, enjoyable and best value holidays of our lives. I travelled with my wife and two sons (5 and 9). My wife had never cruised before and was fearful of seasickness so we were advised to go as low and central as possible by way of cabins. Our room (an outside quad) was spacious, impeccably clean and central to everything.
The food was incredible everywhere we went and it was like Christmas every day. For the first few days (sea days) we were like kids in a candy store and rolled into our bed every night absolutely stuffed. After that we became a little more controlled (but only a little). The La Playa buffet area had good variety and quality, but could get a little crowded at peak times with waits for lines and tables. My tip is to work out these times (which the staff will tell you) an go either side. Alternatively the Empire Room serves breakfast and lunch for a more relaxed experience. The Empire Room is the place to be for dinner as well although the 5.30 set time was sometimes inconvenient (especially if you only finished lunch a couple of hours beforehand). Would consider the anytime option in the future.
We booked the Nouveau steakhouse twice. First on the second night and then again toward the end. The experience is amazing and well worth the service charge, however the menu did not change all cruise, so perhaps only one visit was necessary.
The destinations (Vila, Lifou, Noumea, Mare) were varied. Vila left us disappointed as we took a booked tour which was basically going to a village for a lukewarm cultural performance before being driven around the backstreets and the dumped in the city. It cost $240 for the four of us which was bad value. Similar story in Noumea which unfortunately saw us disembark on a Sunday. The tour was the same price and basically was a two hour tour of everything that was shut. My advice is listen to people who have been to these ports before as they invariably know the best way around.
Lifou and Mare on the other hand were the highlights. Both were tender ports (which becomes obvious when you see the ship dwarfing the harbour as you go ashore). Lifou was a bit chilly so a lot of passengers got to shore and basically stood around looking a little lost. My tip, go up the hill to the church and ask a local for the entrance to the cave. It is advertised on the sign as $10 each, but pay only 5. The locals don't seem to care. I'm not going to spoil this experience for anybody who goes as a result of this review. All I'm going to say is DO IT. It was without doubt the highlight of the cruise for us.
At Mare the sun shon brightly and we were quickly on a bus to Yejele Beach which is about the only thing you can do on this island ($15 return). It is one of the most magical beaches on earth. Oh...and take your snorkel kit (or at the very least a dive mask). You will be amazed. One word off warning would be to watch your kiddies here as the dept of he water varies quickly and dramatically and there are tricky currents.
The ONLY criticism my wife and I had was the hours of the kids club. While the facilities and staff were first class. You seems to spend half your day in line picking them up and dropping them off. Hours were 0900 to 11.45 in the morning, then 2.30 to 3.45 for the afternoon session. It would then open again at night from 6.30 to 9.45pm. The breaks were said to be to 'prepare for lunch' or 'prepare for dinner'. It was in reality just huge breaks between short sessions. This is the one issue that us, along with a lot of other parents in a similar situation, would force us to consider another ship in the future. It should be opened earlier, go for longer, and have shorter breaks between sessions. While it sounds selfish, one of the main reasons we choose a cruise as a family holiday was to have some quality parents' time alone knowing our children were close by. This simply couldn't happen with the scheduling as it stands now.
Aside from all that a couple of other quick points. The cruise director Stu is a great asset to the company. The entertainment was first class (although we only saw a couple of the shows). You can always find a quiet spot and the whole ship never felt crowded. Don't rely on spending all your time in the serenity area (which was nicknamed by passengers as the 'animosity area' given the fights for space). We went there twice and could not find a spot either times (despite it being 9am) as people would 'hold' spots for others (sometimes 5 or 6 others). Didn't need the stress so simply found another spot elsewhere without the attitude (my tip is deck ten). Forget about the spas on deck 9 as it was constantly filled with kids. The spas are about two metres by 1.5 metres and at one point I counted 29 kids in it at once. The term 'kid soup' was often used. If you are desperate for a spa use the one in the gym. Never crowded and truly kid free. And finally make sure you go on the watersides. Great fun and the green one is worthy of a top notch theme park for thrills.
Hope you enjoy my review.
Embarkation and disembarkation was great even with a blip on embarkation when the computers crashed. My advice would be to book the coach transfer from the airport if you are flying in as it is quick, efficient and gets you through the door quicker at the passenger terminal. It's not much more than a train and probably less than a taxi.