I sailed with my husband to celebrate an anniversary. This was our 4th cruise and our 2nd on Carnival. Our prior Carnival ship, the Paradise, was smaller than the Splendor, but even so we managed to have a great time. We still had fun on the Splendor, but we had to work really hard to do so!
We arrived at the port at 12:30 for embarkation, and found ourselves waiting in decently long lines. It was our first time sailing out of Manhattan, but we were told the lines and chaos was typical of sailing out of Manhattan. Our embarkation experiences in Bayonne, NJ, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale were all far superior to sailing out of Manhattan. It took us over an hour to make our way through the lines just to wait in the waiting area to be allowed to board the ship.
We were also unimpressed with the ship. As previous reviewers have noted, the ship's layout is bizarre. There are several decks that you cannot walk through from one end to the other, and are forced to go outside or up or down a deck to access the other side. It took the better part of the trip to figure out where things were located and how to get from point A to point B. It wasn't simply the size, as we've cruised on a couple of larger ships, including Oasis of the Seas, and didn't find the layout to be a problem on those ships. We were also very disappointed in how little they had planned for sea days. It's winter, people! You can't expect folks to hang out by the pool, and therefore not need any activities! We actually had several inches of snow our first sea day and they closed off the top decks, so we couldn't access outside activities even if we wanted to. And still, there was nothing but those ridiculous shopping seminars, spa seminars, and trivia. There wasn't even a lot of live music during the day, although we did enjoy the Big Band Jazz they had for an hour in the afternoon. Having sailed with Carnival once before, I was expecting more activities and a fun environment, like we had on the smaller Paradise. No dice. We rarely even saw our cruise director, Eli. He seemed nice enough, but he was NOWHERE to be found. And after we sailed with Richard Spacey as our cruise director on Explorer, we had higher expectations. In fact, the entertainment staff as a whole was lackluster - the DJ just sat there staring into space while he played an uninspired Top 40's playlist; the employee leading the deck games was downright nasty to a couple of kids; everyone just seemed bored. One exception was Donkey who led the salsa lesson and seemed to be having fun. But, the staff seemed bored and so did the passengers!
Dining was ok. Buffet was meh, but dining room was good. I would NOT waste your money on Pinnacle Steakhouse. It is empty most of the time (because who wants to pay $35/person for mediocre food and lousy service?), and the food is nothing to write home about, even for a Carnival cruise. Our appetizers were so zealously salted, we couldn't eat more than a bite or two, our salads were wilted, and our filet mignon - while clearly of high quality - was not seasoned AT ALL. As in, no butter, no salt, no pepper, no parsley...nothing! Our waitress was ok, but often walked away from the table in the middle of a sentence, so we weren't able to fully reply to her questions. Our dining room staff was superb, however, as was our cabin steward. Most staff we interacted with were pleasant, save the one employee at the Guest Services desk (ironically).
We had arrived in Port Canaveral, Florida and were scheduled to go on the alligator & airboat tour at 10am. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily with thunderstorms predicted in the area. We called down to guest services to see if our excursion was canceled (since an open airboat on the water in a thunderstorm doesn't sound especially safe) and were told that all excursions were "rain or shine." We got ready and went down to the port to meet our excursion only to be told that it had been cancelled and they would be refunding our money or we could join another excursion. Unfortunately, all other excursions had already left, so we selected to receive a refund and were told to turn our tickets into guest services. After waiting in line, we turned in our tickets (which she then told us we didn't need to do), and asked if there was anything she suggested we do (since we didn't really want to go to a random shopping mall...we have those here). She replied that, "This wasn't a foreign country, this was the US and we should be old enough to figure things our for ourselves. Just take a cab somewhere." My husband replied that it was fine to take a cab, but we would need to tell the cabby somewhere to take us to, and did she have any recommendations. She looked at us, rolled her eyes and said, "Why don't you have him take you to Walmart and you can do a tour there?" Could not believe how rude she was.
Nassau was a great, walkable port and we didn't book an excursion here, given there was so much to walk to, like the Pirates of Nassau Museum, Fort Fincastle and the Queen's Staircase, the Bermuda National Historic Society Museum, etc. We booked an excursion at Freeport, because there is very little to do within walking distance of the port (and honestly, in Freeport in general). We went on the downtown and brewery tour, and it was phenomenal -especially the tour of the Sands Brewery. We had Brice as our guide, and he did an amazing job! We were even able to drink all we wanted at the brewery after the tasting, so we all left VERY happy! I would book that excursion again just to have Brice as a tour guide and to visit the brewery again -worth every penny!
Cabin was ok. The ship as a whole looks pretty worn, and our room was definitely showing some wear and tear. We had a balcony, which was nice for the 4 days it was warm enough to use it!
Debarkation was quick and easy (we did self-assist, as we usually do), but transportation from the port was TERRIBLE! For whatever reason, there were no cabs, and the line was ridiculous. We walked off the ship at 8:15, and waited until nearly 9:30 for a cab, with no luck. We were among the first to get off (there were only 45 groups ahead of us), but because there were so few cabs coming to the port, there were still 30 groups ahead of us when we gave up and grabbed a gypsy cab (we payed a little more, but it was so worth every penny). Some families were having one person go down to street level, hail a cab, and bring the cab up to the entrance of the port to pick up the rest of the family and luggage, which is what I would recommend if you need a cab.
In summary, my husband and I are avid cruisers. Been married for three years, have cruised for our honeymoon and every anniversary since. Usually by the end of our cruise, I'm already planning the next one and it's often booked just a few days after we disembark. But Carnival Splendor accomplished what I never thought was possible: made me want to take a break from cruising. Not simply a break from Carnival (although I doubt we'll ever sail Carnival again if we can help it), but a break from cruising in general. Everything was simply so mediocre, so predictable, so lackluster, that we can't bring ourselves to book another cruise with such a bitter taste in our mouths. So yes, we have already begun planning our next trip. But you can bet it isn't a Carnival cruise!