We (family of 4 - parents, my brother and I aged in our 20s) were very excited to embark on the Carnival Spirit. We had heard so many good things about Carnival and what an exciting trip we were in for. Boy, were we wrong!
Embarkation seemed ok. The first thing that surprised us was the lack of usual health questionnaires that are given to passengers before boarding (we have travelled on 6 other cruises with other cruise lines, and received one each time). I had had a severely bad cold/flu leading up to the cruise and was not over it at the time of boarding, in fact, I was still quite sick (visibly). When we went to the check in counters, instead of receiving a health questionnaire we were only asked if we had been sick recently. I told them about my situation (actually expecting to be sent to a doctor and possibly quarantined as my sickness was evident just by looking at me), but they just smiled and nodded and let us through. At the time I was surprised, but also glad. In hindsight, this was just a taste of the lack of care and concern Carnival showed for its passengers health and wellbeing.
When we stepped onto the ship, unlike other cruises, there were no lines of staff to greet or direct us. Everything was a bit chaotic, with passengers running all over the place. We were left to our own devices to find our way to our staterooms - there were no helpful staff at the stairs, by the elevators, or anywhere.
Our first impressions of the ship were that it was impressive. Ornate decorations everywhere - the atrium was large, filled with a beautiful painting and lots of little lights everywhere. This impression, however, changed, later in the cruise. We began to realise the lack of light in public rooms, and all the decorations which, on first glance were impressive, proved to be too loud and gaudy after a while. We also started to notice how much repair the furnishings needed, a lot of wear and tear seemed apparent, and the ship is clearly in need of a refurb.
When we found our staterooms we were rather underwhelmed. We had booked balcony cabins (we had previously only ever had interior and window cabins on other cruise lines), but the room appeared to be of a similar size to what we had had in the past - no bigger. Overall, we were not very impressed with our cabin.
The cabin was rather run down: we noticed several threads pulling loose on the chair provided. When I went to move it from under the table (it was actually more of a stool, as it had no back), my fingers caught on something sharp, and nearly bled. The couch looked old and dowdy and had black overuse marks on it, that had either not been cleaned, or could not be cleaned.
I was sharing a cabin with my brother, and a special request had been put in for two single beds when booking. This was not the case. Around 2pm on embarkation day, when we first arrived in our room, we called Guest Services to have the beds fixed properly. They told us they would notify our cabin steward. We thought we would try to see him around near the room and introduce ourselves, and let him know too. On previous cruises the cabin stewards have always shared a friendly introduction on the first day. On Carnival, ours was nowhere to be seen. When we returned to our room after exploring the ship, it had still not been done. When we returned from the safety drill, it still had not been done. We convinced ourselves that it would be fixed up while we were at dinner (late seating, 7.45pm). We went out after dinner, and returned to our cabin after 11pm only to find out that our beds had still not been changed. After calling Guest Services again, someone was sent to change the beds. This staff member barely greeted us, and acted as thought we had caused him a massive inconvenience. He took over half an hour to convert the beds, as he was unable to find the necessary bedding, and spent the time hunting through the storage space in our room, making us feel so uncomfortable that I felt compelled to leave.
The other major problem we had was that we barely saw our stateroom steward, and when we did, it was always at an inconvenient time. He never appeared to be there to say hello or goodbye, a friendly practice we always experienced on other cruises. Instead, we mostly saw him when he knocked briefly and then threw our door open right before dinner. The first time this happened, we explained to him that we were at the late seating dinner, and were eating around 7.45pm, and he could come and clean our room after that. This information did not seem to sink in, as these unwanted visits continued on what felt like nearly every second night. I did not appreciate the brief knocking and immediate opening without giving us a chance to respond - especially because it happened so frequently and at a time when we were getting ready. Another problem I encountered was the sheets - they, for some reason, ended up giving me a rash all over my body. It wasn't until a change of sheets was requested that this problem was solved. I have no idea why this happened, but to me it indicates that something was wrong with the first set of sheets that we had. The extra blanket I was given also smelt strange, like cigarette smoke mixed with an op shop. We had three other issues with the room: 1) the air conditioning would sometimes randomly go freezing without us changing a setting - this was quickly remedied when we called our steward/guest services; 2) we noticed that the "fold" in the couch (where two cushions joined) was constantly filled with crumbs and appeared to not have been cleaned in a long time; and 3) my brother noticed dried up blood all over one of the "clean" towels in the bathroom. This last thing shocked and disgusted me (I never actually saw the towel myself). From that point on, paranoidly checking each and every towel over before using it. Not a fun experience.
We had rooms 8209 and 8210. We would not recommend these rooms to anyone. They are under the buffet's kitchen, so all day and all night you hear thumping and rolling sounds coming from above. At certain times of the day our rooms would stink like onions, or food - this was never addressed by staff, and was very offputting (especially if/when you start to feel nauseous).
Dining was probably the most disappointing aspect of this cruise. The Empire dining room presented well - the problem was the menus and service. Menus ranged from average to terrible - food options were limited (only two desert items changed every night) and unappealing to many passengers. The wait time for food was ridiculous. We would wait 45 minutes just for the entrEe to come out - then the main would be served an eternity later, and waiters would then almost try to rush passengers to finish their main so they could be ready for "showtime". "Showtime", while it seemed a good idea at first, became increasingly annoying. This was mainly due to the fact that the mains were being brought out later and later as the cruise progressed, and passengers were often in the middle of eating their mains, or only being served their mains at this time. Personally, I do not like having to eat my main with people standing on top of me at a table, or with lights turned out. Really bad timing. We think this was a good idea, poorly executed.
The maitre d' in the Empire dining appeared to be a very fake person, and only associated herself with her selected choice of passengers. We actually felt ignored when, one night, all tables around ours were offered glowsticks for "showtime" and we were not even approached. It was very obvious and extremely rude. After this, we stopped participating in the nightly activities.
The buffet area looked impressive at first, filled with lights etc. However, it proved to be difficult to navigate (given the positioning of tables and chairs in some areas), and always had long lines at certain stations. Cutlery and plates were inconveniently placed relative to the positioning of the food. Hand sanitisers (this also goes for the dining room) were hidden away in corners, and not encouraged, as is the usual case on cruises. The staff in the buffet area were rude and obnoxious - they would not greet, they would talk loudly to each other in another language, they offered no help when questioned about the food that was being served, they never cleared tables with dirty dishes until after you had left, they frequently walked in passengers pathways and refused to move and give way to passengers. I'm not trying to suggest that they should be like servants, running out of the way of passengers but the manner in which they behaved was rude by any standards, let alone by staff who are supposed to have some level of a) customer service; and b) respect. Staff seemed to avoid communication of any sort with passengers. Apart from this, there were some serious hygiene issues. On several occasions I witnessed both adults and children digging their hands into food, while being watched by staff who did nothing. I am used to seeing passengers do this on cruises, but not watching staff stand by idly. I reported this to an officer one day, who went and spoke to the staff. I witnessed them complying, and stopping people handling food with their hands but as soon as the officer left the buffet, they went back to not caring. This combined with the lack of sanitising hands, is what, I believe, led to my family getting sick. Another worrying event I witnessed in the dining room occurred when a passenger dished some cake onto her plate, walked away from the buffet, returned and dished the cake straight back onto the serving plate because she decided she didn't want it. She even had help from the staff member on duty to dish it back onto the serving plate!!!
I witnessed staff in the buffet taking half-finished serving plates of food away, and replacing them with full plates that came from somewhere under the buffet area. The staff would then take the remaining food from the original serving plate, and dish that back onto a second serving plate, and put that in the area under where the food was kept. I do not believe that the food was stored at an appropriate temperature for the duration of it being out - and who knows how long it had even been out, given all the dishing and re-dishing, standing times etc. These practices did not seem to be in line with what we, in Australia, have as food handling/safety guidelines.
Aside from the hygiene issues, the food in the buffet area was not great. At best, it was lukewarm on occasion (probably due to the practices outlined above). It felt like we were eating the same food every single day, most of which was flavourless. Fruit was drained in sugar, and fruit which had not been cut up had obviously been stored for a long time and looked as though it was a day off being thrown out. Dessert consisted mainly of small cakes which tasted like packet cakes, jelly and maybe a trifle/panna cotta style dish. There were the same style pies, sausages, mashed potatoes, hamburgers fries etc every day. Asian food seemed to all taste the same with the names of it changing from day to day. Croissants for breakfast were hard and dry.
The sections of the buffet we liked were the drinks section - free juices (3-4 varieties) every morning and free lemon squash and iced tea at lunch (as well as water, of course). There were also coffee machines where you could make a cappuccino, latte, hot chocolate etc at no extra charge. We also liked the Deli section, where you could get a sandwich made (though you had to order straight from the menu - any minor variation (eg "please make it with no cheese") seemed to take a good 15 minutes to explain to the person making the sandwiches) - we ended up eating here more frequently because we knew this food hadn't been touched by other passengers. The pizzeria was also good, but slow, with little explanation from staff as to how long you'd wait or whose pizza belonged to who when they came out.
Food supplies were not adequate - by the last few days the ship had run out of lemonade, diet lemonade, English Breakfast Tea, fresh milk (they resorted to long life) and white sugar sachets.
Seeing what the staff allowed to happen, and the poor hygiene standards that were acceptable for passengers made us wonder what standards were acceptable behind the closed doors of the kitchen. Quite simply, this aspect of the cruise was disgusting, and just for the way the dining rooms and food services were run, I would never cruise on Carnival again.
We did not attend many of the daytime activities. When we did try to go to one game of Charades, we found only three other people had turned up. The staff member who was assigned to run it came over and told us that there weren't enough people to play Charades, so instead they would play "guess that song" earlier than advertised. She said we would wait 5-10 minutes to see if anyone else showed up, then start. So we decided to wait, rather than just leaving. She left us, and sat down talking to a young male passenger. Her behaviour was quite rude - rather than including all passengers (who had already been let down by a cancelled activity), she isolated herself and the male, and made us feel disinclined to be there. About 25 minutes passed, before we heard her tell a passerby that the next game would be starting in 10 minutes. At this point we got up and left - not only had the activity been cancelled, but she had been rude, lied to us, and failed to be a good hostess.
We attended BINGO on several days - it was mildly entertaining, but could have been done better.
There did appear to be a lot of activities that catered towards families in particular.
There was a lot of karaoke in the evening, though these sessions seemed to consist of the staff member standing up and entertaining people, begging them to get up and sing, rather than people having fun. We could not understand why the cruise ship seemed to run karaoke at least once (often several times) every day given the lack of participation.
The pools seemed to be popular in the daytime, especially with the children. Green Thunder, the well advertised waterslide was closed most of the time on sea days, due to the wind. I did ride it once - it was great! I enjoyed it thoroughly, though it would be nice if they put a staff member who can actually speak up the top at the operating point.
This was very very poor and limited.
We attended most of the nightly shows. It felt as thought the Carnival productions were highschool theatre shows, with dancers out of sync with each other, and singers who struggled to sing the correct notes or shouted to try and reach them.
There was a very entertaining hypnotist, and an interesting mentalist.
The magician brought on board was also very amateur-like - some of the tricks were easily seen through, especially as she left the "secret doors" left in positions that the audience could see them!
There was only one band, a duo and 2-3 solo performers on the cruise. We did not see the solo performers, as they are not to our taste. Their routines seemed to consist of talking/comedy mixed with music. They were pianists and guitarists.
The duo were absolutely hopeless. They consisted of a female singer and a male on the keyboard (plus backing music, of course). They were completely lifeless. The singer constantly read the lyrics of each and every song from her ipad. She had no emotion and looked like a student singing songs for the first time. On several occasions we, and other guests, requested songs - many of which they refused to play because they simply did not know. These songs included popular music, 80s songs etc. We actually witnessed one passenger sitting the singer down and showing her where to get the lyrics to songs on her ipad because she had no idea. I do not know how people with such a poor repertoire could be employed on a cruiseship (or at all). It would have been preferable to have a DJ playing music than listening to the two of them.
The rock band, Manilla, were easily the best entertainers on board. They were lively, energetic, and could play a wide range of music. They were the crowd favourites, with "Club Cool" (the venue where they most often played) often being packed and with no seats free. They truly were the best aspect of the cruise - they made an effort to even thank people (personally) for coming to watch them. They were willing to take, and played, all requests, and worked past midnight when it suited the crowd. Unfortunately they are leaving Carnival Spirit after two more cruises not sure where they will be after that. They really did make the cruise come alive.
Cruise Director Stu was perhaps the worst of all the entertainment. He was ignorant, often got tongue tied when making announcements, presentations, etc. He spoke to people as if they were children in a very condescending tone. He lacked humour or charisma. He encouraged passengers to talk to him about what they thought of the entertainment. However, when my dad provided comments to him about the lack of entertainment on formal night, he was rude and dismissive, and did not take the comments on board at all. He responded with comments to the effect of "don't tell me how to run my cruise". The least you expect from a cruise director is a 'thanks for your comment' 'we'll keep that in mind' 'sorry you feel that way' etc. We received no apologies, just defensive responses, rudeness, and lack of respect. He was so bad in handling this feedback, that my dad felt compelled to speak to his superior. It took five days before the officer could meet my dad. Luckily he was apologetic and handled the situation well.
Stu was barely around for any of the activities, was not present at the "parties" they held and really seemed like a waste of time.
There were two theme nights - Caribbean and Mexican. Both had deck parties that started at or after 10pm. We went up to the Caribbean deck party, but quickly left, as the roof had been left open in the area and the wind was so severe that it was impossible to sit comfortably. There appeared to be very few people participating in the dances at that party at the time we walked past. We attended the Mexican themed party and have to say that it was very poorly run. The music started, and people were left to entertain themselves as no cruise entertainment staff (other than the DJ) were around to get anything started. There was not a real party atmosphere - once again, bar staff were scarce. At this point, there was not much difference between this "party" and just a person playing music that was semi-Mexican themed up on deck (ie like a sail away). When the staff finally did arrive, they distributed trinkets amongst a small group of people. They led about 4 dances, and then disappeared. What a waste of time and effort! They were not there to start the party and welcome people, or to even run it!
The other bad part about these parties was that the cruise ship ran dance classes to teach dances that would be done at each party. However, the dance classes were held so far in advance (5 days in the case of the Mexican one) that no-one remembered any of the steps - including the staff who were meant to be demonstrating them on the night. If the staff had not been in uniform or up on stage, they could easily have been mistaken for passengers stumbling around trying to figure out what to do.
We had no complaints with any of the ports. We had visited all of them before, so we did not purchase shore excursions, and instead chose to do our own thing. The South Pacific islands were beautiful and very relaxing.
The annoying thing about the ports was that Carnival provided no map of the ports, and no details as to the weather, which made planning for the next day difficult. The port information provided by Carnival was scarce and not really helpful at all.
The tendering process seemed to go smoothly. We didn't have to wait very long for tenders either leaving or returning to the ship, and we were happy with that (though we left the ship much later than most of the passengers, so I cannot speak for the early tenders which appear to have been more popular). The only annoying part was the lack of information provided over the PA system or by announcement as to which ports were tender ports, and which were not, and where to leave the ship from if there were no tenders. You also had to figure out when to return by yourself (in the newsletter) as there were no reminders given by staff or available as you left the ship.
Here I will speak mainly about the medical services onboard. I realise that this may not be the top of ones list of concerns, however we did not expect to get sick onboard, and did not expect to be in need of these services either.
Our family always washes and sanities our hands, however on a ship where hygiene levels are so pathetically low, it is hard to protect yourself completely. My mother, father and I ended up with norovirus. My mother was so bad, at one point, that she had to be taken to the medical centre by wheelchair. I am not sure how many times my parents visited the medical centre - personally I visited it twice, and called it on 3 occasions. Never once was any of us allowed to see a doctor. We were willing and able to pay the fees, but instead we were shoved off to nurses. The nurses listened to us, but did not tell us what exactly was wrong with us. It was only after my dad was feeling better and taking my mother to the centre that he was able to push and push for information and finally got the words 'norovirus' from the staff.
Personally, I was given seasick tablets, anti-cramping tablets and Imodium - all at different occasions as different symptoms arose. At no time was I given any proper examination - the most that was done was my temperature was taken. I don't know if this is the usual procedure, but it certainly isn't at my local doctor. I was told to eat only "boring foods". When I questioned what exactly this involved, the nurse finally told me breads, rices, white meats and soups. I had to question the nurse on every food (ie red meat, fruit, juice, coffee etc) to see if I could or couldn't eat it. I really didn't want to be sick again. After I took the tablets for one day, I started to feel better (not 100% better, just mostly better - I was still running a fever). I contacted the medical centre by phone and a nurse told me I had no need to go into the medical centre, I could just stop taking the tablets and go on as normal. This was a huge mistake, as I was not actually better, and I fell sick again. I contacted the medical centre again, and received a letter the next day saying I was in isolation. I did not mind this as I didn't want to leave my room anyway. The letter promised that proper food would be sent to my room. When none came, and I contacted the centre, they told me that I wasn't meant to be in isolation, and food would not be sent to my room unless I ordered and paid for it by room service. This appeared to contradict what was written in the letter. Effectively, Carnival was saying if I got sick I'd have to pay for my food that was prescribed by them.
On the topic of food - my parents got sick before I did. My mother had been instructed to eat only clear non-vegetable soups and bread. My dad was fine, but wanted to stay with mum in the cabin. My brother and I attended dinner in the dining room, wanting to order food for our parents to be sent up to their room. We didn't think this would be a problem, as we had done this before on other cruise ships. This was not to be the case on Carnival - our waiter had to pull some strings with her manager to get my dad's meal brought up. We were told that this was a one off and food would not be allowed to leave the dining room again. She was apologetic and it seemed to be something outside of her control. We couldn't understand the big deal with preparing a meal that would otherwise have been prepared anyway. The waiter then informed us that the menu did not include any non-vegetable soups that night and the kitchen could not prepare anything not on the menu for my mother. If my mother wanted to eat anything, she would have to order it from room service. We were surprised that such a simple request could not be fulfilled, and that it had taken such a battle to get a meal from the menu sent up. In the end, the wait staff refused to leave the dining room, insisting that we would have to take our dads meal to him instead. There was a complete lack of empathy shown by the staff, and also a lack of willingness to do anything outside of their assigned duties.
The issues with the food while sick were particularly annoying because we felt we had become sick due to Carnival's poor hygiene standards, yet we were being punished and forced to pay for food (which would otherwise have been available freely).
The last straw and worse part of the ordeal happened on the morning of debarkation. My mother and father were over their sickness by this stage. I was awake all through the last night feeling sick. I could not sleep and became terribly weak. I felt terrible and in the morning desperately asked my mother to let me see the doctor. The response from the medical centre was that we were in Sydney, and that they "could not" see me. Really, it was just a refusal. They said the best they could do was wait for me to get my things together and walk off the ship and they would call an ambulance to pick me up from the dock. I was feeling very ill, but not to the point where I needed an ambulance. We were shocked at the refusal to see me or provide any medication. My mother stayed on the phone and argued with them til they finally agreed to give me some sort of medication so I could comfortably make it off the ship. They provided Imodium again, and that was all. I was truly surprised at the attitude shown by the medical staff. They refused flat out to send a doctor to assist a sick patient, and showed zero empathy, and provided little to no information to patients, just providing them with tablets and unclear instructions. I honestly don't know who gets to see the doctor, if not people who are sick and in need of assistance.
I realise that my review of our trip on Carnival Spirit has been very comprehensive. I have tried to include as much detail of our experiences as possible, so that people can be aware of experiences that have been had onboard. I hope that this is informative for those considering booking with Carnival. I only wish that we had known how bad it would be before we booked. I'm in no way suggesting that everything was bad - there were good points about this cruise - the destinations, the drinks provided for free and maybe one or two other things I've mentioned above. However, in our opinions the lack of hygiene, poor performances on the part of the staff, and lack of medical assistance is enough to make us sure that we would never ever cruise with Carnival again, and never ever recommend them to anyone.