We are usually Princess cruisers but the very attractive fares offered by Carnival for the 11 night cruise to Vanuatu out of Sydney departing 30th January 2014 was an offer too good to refuse. We had a balcony cabin on deck five for $1000 less for a comparable cruise on Princess. There were a lot of other :Princess cruisers on this cruise and most went for the same reason.
We flew to Sydney from Adelaide on the morning of departure arriving at Sydney Airport just before midday.
The Ship's departure time was 6-30pm so we had plenty of time. The first hiccup was a delay in the bus transfer from the airport to the ship as a major road accident had blocked one of the road tunnels so we had an hour's delay.
AN AMAZING EMBARKATION
We arrived at the OPT at 2 pm and from the time we stepped off the bus until we entered the ship was TEN MINUTES. This is the fastest embarkation time we have ever experienced and I congratulate Carnival for their efficiency.
To say the decor and interior themes took our breath away is an understatement. I had read reviews and watched photos and videos of the ship but to see it "live" was something else. My first impression was that it was very ostentatious and loud but this is the most outstanding "difference" in our opinion, between Carnival and Princess. The atrium rose from deck one to deck nine, a huge area, with bubble lifts going from the bottom to the top. The passenger services desk, Shore excursions and other services are on deck one. It seemed to be dark inside and we noticed this for most of the public areas but we soon adjusted to this.
If we thought the atrium was over the the top we soon changed our opinion when we entered the Main Theatre forward on deck 2. This was huge, two decks with a large seating area at the bottom and upstairs as well. I dont know how many patrons could be seated but I would estimate in excess of 1000. The theatre's theme was ancient Egypt and the Phaeroes with mummies lining the entrance to the theatre.
Underneath the theatre on deck one forward was the Verseilles Lounge, another good sized theatre where the daily movies were screened. This was decorated in the French themes of the 1700s with alcoves along each side with small replicas of Country houses in them.
Decks two, three and Four had most of the public areas situated on them. The Casino was on deck two and was huge but was not isolated from anything else so it was a thoroughfare from the front of deck 2 back to the rear parts of that deck. The disadvantage of this was that kids roamed through the casino continuously but I did not see any loitering near the tables or gaming machines.
There were many areas where patrons could relax in comfortable seating and several bars for smaller entertainment groups to perform . We never felt that these areas were ever overcrowded and one area that hardly ever had anyone sitting in it was the "Jungle" This is an extension or continuation of the deck three promenade deck. When walking forward along the promenade the path led back into the interior of the ship and then turned sharply right and then left and then into the "Jungle" It was an interior continuation of the promenade with seats and benches next to very large portholes for relaxing. It was decorated with exotic plants and jungle animal models. I have never seen anything like this on a cruise ship before but I liked it.
The upper decks, 9 10 & 11 had the outdoor entertainment areas such as the pools, spas, water slides etc. They were well attended by the younger brigade and very popular with the kids. The new "Green Thunder" water slide was "scary" starting from standing in a tube vertically on a trap door and falling feet first straight down for about 12 feet then entering the twisting tube for one hell of a ride. The tube actually projects out over the side of the ship on its way down. I would imagine that the feeling when the trap door opens would be like the trapdoor on the gallows opening and you dropping but without you neck being stretched.
We had balcony cabin 5248 on deck 5 (upper deck) on the Port side. It was bigger than the cabins on :Princess and the balcony had plenty of room. There was a bar fridge in the room which we had the steward empty and put out own drinks in. It was not very big but kept our drinks cold. There is one Australian ;power point in the cabin and when our steward saw how many things I had to recharge he quickly produced (without asking) a power board. Plenty of storage space in the cabin, numerous drawers and plenty of wardrobe hanging space. Plenty of coat hangers provided as well. There is a safe provided with a digital lock.
The bathroom was very roomy with plenty of storage space above the handbowl on glass shelves for toiletries and toilet bags. The shower was very roomy and although it only had a shower curtain it fitted very well and did not suck in against you when showering. Soap and shampoo was provided on the wall in containers as was soap.
We were very happy with our cabin and it was decorated in muted pastel colors. There was one mildly "erotic" painting on the wall but at our age it didnt do too much for us.
We had two cabin stewards, Imade and his lady assistant and nothing was too much trouble for them. The towel animals on our bed when we returned each night were very cute and clever. We cannot speak highly enough of our cabin stewards and they deserve all of the praise and consideration that one can heap upon them.
The main dining room, the Empire dining room is done out in a Napoleonic theme and at first appeared overdone but it grows on you. It is huge with the main area on deck two, aft and a second floor with a balcony overlooking the main area. At a guess I would say it would seat over 1000 in one sitting. We had a table for 6 right against the stern of the ship and we overlooked the wake. Two of our diners, an American man and his daughter did not spend much time with us so it was usually just the four of us.. On the second night out it was our 50th wedding anniversary and the MaItre D and waiters did not let us forget it. About a dozen tables of guests sang "Happy Anniversary" to us and we were presented with a small cake. It was a lovely gesture.
Our headwaiter, Vladimir was from Croatia and I made the mistake (only once) of calling him a Russian. His younger assistant and the drink waiter could not do enough for us and we much appreciated their attentions. At this stage I must say that we did not encounter one member of the crew that was not cheerful, polite and helpful for our whole cruise.
The food was very good and well presented. The servings were not huge but that suited us very well. If we wanted an extra course we just said so and it appeared very quickly. The only comment that is critical is that there did not seem much variety in the menus and they became repetative. The breakfast menu never varied and was same every day. Dont get me wrong, we did not go hungry and the food was good. We never got the lobster tails though.
The buffet on deck 9 was entirely different to the buffets on Princess. There is no buffet line like Princess and Carnival Spirit has serving stations with different themes scattered around the whole buffet area. It took us a while to get used to it. There was one serving area that tried to serve "Aussie Pies" and peas but they failed miserably. The pies were more like the small English style pork pie with a lot of pastry and very little filling. They had steak and kidney and chicken pies but there was nothing like a "Mrs Macs".
There was also a BBQ type grill that served hamburgers and chicken snitzels but the snitzels were just a but bigger than a chicken nugget and you needed to take half a dozen to get a feed. Once again, dont get me wrong, no one went hungry and if you did it was not the Ship's fault.
Generally very good. The theatre productions were excellent and the guest artists were all of high quality.
The Ship's ten man orchestra was excellent. The Cruise Director, Stu Dunn was an entertainment all of himself and funny as a fit. He is an Australian and has knocked about in mining in WA and other jobs before joining Carnival as a Cruise Director. He fits the bill nicely for the Australian passengers.
There was a four piece Philippino band that played in the lounges at night and they were excellent. They could play any music asked of them and could sing very well too.
We did not reach Vila and Vanuatu as we were supposed to and had to divert to Fiji because of a tropical low weather system over Vanuartu but that turned out to be a bonus as we had not been to Fiji Before.
A bit of a mess. Because the NSW Government had leased out the better parts of the OPT to fancy restaurants customs and quarantine are carried out in a shed at the end of the OPT. :Pretty basic and not a good picture for overseas cruisers.
There was an unexplained delay waiting for our buses to the airport and we waited on the footpath for an hour until the bus came.
Would I cruise with Carnival again? At the price we paid we probably would. I think Princess has the edge over Carnival in quality and service but it all comes down to what you are looking for. Carnival advertise themselves as the "Fun Ships" and they certainly are. We prefer our own age group and like our ordered routine. Carnival Spirit was a surprise to us with some things we liked and others we didnt like. All in all we enjoyed our cruise and would recommend it to anyone.