We were gypped!
Not once were we:
• Terrorised by uncontrolled kids
• Subjected to long queues
• Denied by people hogging the spaces on Serenity
Our safety was not compromised even once by:
• Wet floors on Lido deck
• Lukewarm food
• Second-hand cigarette smoke
In fact, not one of the awful things that happened to some reviewers, happen to us.
I (55yo male) travelled with my 2 daughters (17 & 13) on Carnival’s 12-day pacific island cruise, departing 18th January 14.
We had nothing to compare our experience to, as only I had ever been on a cruise before, and that was in 1981 aboard MS Minghua. Things have changed in the ship world since that old girl exchanged water for concrete, to become a hotel/tourist attraction in Shenjou China. First impressions approaching the Quay are fabulous. You know that everyone in the precinct is looking at that huge ship, and YOU know that you are going with her when she sails. Smug as anything.
Getting on board reasonably trouble-free and well organised, though it certainly does not look organised. Still, only took 30 minutes. Here are the steps:
• Queue outside the terminal in a queue race. Tip: Join the queue around 15 minutes before your proper time and they will likely let you through. Before that, you risk being turned back
• Next step, up the escalator and through to another queue race to check in. Be aware that you need to have passports & boarding passes plus show completed outgoing passenger cards at this point. They take your photo, scan your passport, and do a few other things , then pass on the Sail & Sign cards. For those that like to avoid every unnecessary cost, take neck lanyard for each family member. You can buy them on board, but they are something like 8 bucks each
• With all of that done, you proceed to a customs officer, who takes your passenger card, glances at your passport, and then you are through
Now between check-in and customs is the first ‘photo-gate’ . You get to smile in front of a cheesy embarkation graphic whilst they take your picture. Get used to this, as there are many set landmarks and events throughout the cruise where this will occur. Even if, like us, you have absolutely no intention of springing $15 for even one of these prints (at $5 or $6 they may have a chance with me), then just go with it. Why put yourself in a bad mood for nothing? Stop, smile, move on; easy.
That also is the attitude we used for almost all of the strange little things that Carnival does to separate you from your money (um, except booze). Art auctions??? The fact is that though these things don’t appeal to me, they do to others, and this was evidenced by the amount of activity around posed studio shots, art auctions, trinket sales (almost the only real example of ugly Oz behaviour we saw – except one other drunken embarrassment); and other things that were obviously going on but escaped my immediate cognition.
This cruise was the money as far as when not to go if you don’t want lots of children. Last 2 weeks of the school holidays & guaranteed late January hot weather. I was expecting it to be busy. Indeed, we were informed that there were 2,600 guests on the ship. Even though we had mostly great weather, it was always possible to find a deck chair to laze upon on Lido, and whilst at times there were too many in the pool for my liking, 20 minutes later it would be almost empty, and that was plenty of time for a leisurely dip. Didn’t try any of the spas on the ship, as I’m just not that brave when it comes to sharing bath space with strangers, but they looked mostly OK. At times it was a bit chaotic in pools & spas, but exception, not rule. That leads to the infamously WET decks. Yep, they are wet most of the afternoon. I had stock standard thongs on feet and was quite impressed by the non-slip nature of the paint used on the deck. In fact, over 12 days I personally did not see one person slip even once. It would be a different story if one were to attempt the journey in leather-soled shoes, but as far as I could see, there was a dearth of cravatted, sport-jacketed, David Niven types prowling around up there, so incidents, there were none.
Staying with Lido, the separation of smokers and non-smokers is perfectly dealt with. If you do not smoke, you will not be bothered by smokers unless you go to where they are. As where they are is mirrored exactly for non-smokers, there is no reason to get tangled about it (in fact, the non-smokers get a stage as well).
The food on the ship is really quite good. The Empire Room offerings sometimes touch on good restaurant quality, and with the amount of choices are startling for pre-paid food. Put it this way, if you got this stuff at every sit-down wedding you went to, you would be impressed. The La Playa options on Lido were pretty good as well, though personally, I rather like sitting down to dinner at 7:45 and being served in the traditional way with a glass of wine or two. Lots of people used the La Plays option, but I came to the conclusion that these were folk who just didn’t like the idea of getting changed for dinner. Empire Room for breakfast was also a better option if you had time, but the ‘upstairs’ thing was OK if you were in a rush. Great omelette (the plain one) and big breakfast goodies like sausage, bacon (2 types), tomato, mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns, etc. Only made one mistake here, which was to order a cheese omelette once. This showed that some of the American things persist in so far as a cheese omelette does not mean and omelette with some cheese mixed through the egg mix. No, in this case it means a quarter of a tonne of American ‘Jack’ cheese lowered by forklift on to the half-cooked omelette, and then folded in half to complete the cooking. Not a pleasant surprise, and I rather like cheesy things.
We did do the Nouveau Restaurant as well, and this was excellent, very high-quality food and service. You do pay $40 per head for this, but it was definitely worth it. The memory of that Lobster Bisque will remain for some time.
Moving to the ports of call; Isle of Pines was pleasant, with reasonably good snorkelling, and lazing about. We had eschewed any tours this time around but will probably look at them next time. Suva was a dump in 1981 and it was noted that they had not wasted any taxpayer’s money on civic improvements. Shopping was pretty good, and it was interesting to walk around, and of the local people were nice, but there just isn’t that much of interest in the city precinct. Some folks we talked to had a marvellous time on various tours, so that seems to the go in Suva. Whatever you do, make sure you go outside to watch the departure from Suva. The Police band come down to play for the ship and it was just terrific. A highlight of the cruise in fact. Maybe Carnival pay for this. I don’t know. It was just good. Also, when you do these types of things, go out on the promenade deck on deck 3. Most people stick to deck 10, but it is too far from the action.
Skipped Port Denarua because of the long journey in and also the idea of getting off a resort to go see another resort just seemed a waste of time. Mystery Island wharf had a problem so the ship visited Lifou instead. This was pretty interchangeable with Isle of Pines, but did some good snorkelling a couple of hundred metres offshore at the edge of the reef.
Loved Noumea. Not sure why others don’t. It does help that my youngest is fluent in French and both me and the oldest can get by. Had a great day walking from the City to Anse Vata. Did some shopping, had a nice restaurant lunch, and caught a bus back to the city for ice cream, before re-boarding. New Caledonia is part of France and that means that they share many laws. French law stipulates that stores can only have one sale per year, and that is in January. This means that if yuou are in Noumea in January, the sales are REAL. The prices were great, and we bought some nice things for the girls.
Finally the staff. Never ever met a bunch of better-trained, more polite and genuinely welcoming people in my life. Almost exclusively Asian and Eastern European, each has their own story, which is well worth your listening to if you take the time. In fact there are over 50 nationalities on Carnival Spirit. Their attitude is the more extraordinary as they each have a contract between 8-10 months on the ship. They do have shore days from time to time, and the company puts on crew parties and stuff, but there is almost no leave. That means that they do not see families (including their spouses and children) for all of that time. You try doing that and then smiling every day, and learning new names every 10 days for months on end. Nothing but admiration for them all, and for their company whose selection and training criteria must be a big factor. The crew are the heroes of Carnival, and they, more than anything else made our holiday very memorable ideed.