I haven’t written a review in quite a while, so I figured now would be a good time to do another one. I sailed on Carnival Splendor in April.. It’s my fourth Carnival cruise, but my first on a ship that was not part of the Spirit class. I’d toured the ship about a year ago, so I had some idea of what she looks like. This was also my first sailing out of Manhattan. Generally I sail from either Cape Liberty in New Jersey or Cruise Maryland in Baltimore (and sometimes from Florida or San Juan.) Thus, I was looking forward to the excitement of seeing New York City pass by the deck of my ship.
I enjoy getting my vacation off to a good, restful start so I spent a night before at the Residence Inn near Newark Airport in New Jersey. Rooms in NYC were just way too expensive and since I had a free Marriott night, I was able to save money. I opted to use trains and cabs to get around rather than pay the $40 per night fee to park at the pier, not to mention that driving in NYC is not high on my list of fun things to do! I took NJ Transit from my home in Central New Jersey to Newark Airport where I hopped on the hotel shuttle. In the morning, I returned to the airport to take NJ Transit into NY Penn Station where I grabbed a cab for the quick, $12 cab ride to the pier. Generally, I do not travel light, but since I’d planned on using mass transit, I did my best to streamline. For a change, I left the laptop home, but still had a rolling duffle, rolling, carry-on garment bag and a couple small totes. It wasn’t terribly hard to manage, but in hindsight, I still over packed!
After handing off my bags to a porter, I entered the terminal, checked in, moved right through security and onto the ship. Fairly smooth-and basically non-stop from the time I entered the terminal until the time I crossed the gangway onto the ship.
Splendor is very pink. Not a complaint, just an observation. There are pink circles EVERYWHERE. That said, the ship is brighter than either Carnival Pride or Carnival Miracle (those ships are sisters, and part of the Spirit Class. Splendor is the only ship in the Splendor class. ) I felt less claustrophobic on Splendor too. The main design flaw of this ship is that, due to the location of the galley, you sometimes can’t get from point A to point B without going up or down a couple decks. Took a little adjusting, but by the second day, I was getting around the ship easily.
In the weeks prior to the cruise, I’d read a couple reviews about the ship and various dining options. Carnival tends to spread out their buffet stations and some of them can be hard to find. It was a little cold out, so some things that are normally outside (such as the Tandoor and Deli stations) were moved into the main part of the Lido Buffet. The ship also features a Burrito Bar and a Mongolian Wok. I’d heard that lines at both, but especially the Mongolian Wok, can be VERY long. There were only about 6 people in line so I joined them, grabbed a bowl and went about selecting items to be cooked in a wok. There was an assortment of veggies, a few different types of noodles and for proteins, you could choose from beef, chicken or shrimp. Not a fan of dark chicken meat, I chose beef and the mildly spicy, Thai style BBQ sauce. The chef sautéed it for me, and I thought it was pretty good overall; however, I didn’t feel the need to return to that station during the cruise.
After about an hour I was able to get into my Deck 9 balcony cabin. I wasn’t sure I’d like being on the same deck as the main pool and the buffet, but this worked out well. I was close to food and more importantly, COFFEE! Not to mention, the cabin was just a few doors away from the elevator. Excellent location and I was pleased that my cabin was so centrally located. Aside from a few random, noisy people at 4:00 AM, the cabin was pretty quiet.
I got settled, stowed some of my stuff and continued touring the ship, peeking into other cabins, making steakhouse reservations, checking out the main dining rooms and the like. Once I was done, I came back to the cabin to rest for a couple minutes. While many people do not watch TV on cruises, I do, and I really like that Carnival offers ABC, CBS and NBC (and now they’re out of South Florida as opposed to Denver!)
Finally it was time for muster drill. This is the one thing about which I have the biggest complaint with Carnival. I have cruised MANY times so I understand the need for the safety briefing. I’m not one to skip out on muster, in fact, I want to be on time and get it over with so I can get on with my cruise. In the “Fun Times” the suggested starting time was “approximately 3:45 PM.” WHAT is up with this ‘approximately’ stuff? Really. Pick a time; make a couple announcements starting 30 minutes BEFORE that time, and when 3:47 rolls around, SOUND THE EMERGENCY ALARM! We were STILL standing there at 4:25 PM and the ship had already started to pull away from the pier. I really wanted to be DONE and out on a deck someplace to see every minute of NYC as it passed before me. No, we were still being scolded to not speak or use cell phones and to hold still while, wait for it; they COUNTED all the people with a CLICKER!!!
Honestly, Carnival Corp is the world’s largest cruise line when you consider all the lines that they own. Their IT department can manage to have their consumer and agent websites up and running, even on weekends. Their social media and PR departments “get it” and keep guests apprised of anything that may be happening that could affect their sailings. (For instance, fog in a home port). But, you mean to tell me that we have to hold up our hands while people use little clickers to COUNT everyone? Come one, can we please get into the 21st century and get some sort of handheld scanner through which guests’ sail and sign cards can be swiped? Other lines can manage to do this, I am sure Carnival can. Really, that’s my biggest issue: the not-so-timely starting time for the Safety briefing, and the low-tech way to account for guests.
Let me get my other complaints out of the way now so that I can get back to the good stuff. There were entirely too many announcements by the Cruise Director and they ran too late. I don’t want to hear anyone on the PA system at 10 PM touting the late-night adult comedian. The ONLY time ANYONE should be making announcements at that hour is in the event of an emergency.
Dinner in the Lido buffet is a joke as well. The selections are minimal at best, and nothing was very hot. Seems to me that Carnival considers dinner in the buffet as an afterthought. I noticed the same thing when I cruised Pride earlier this year. I prefer to eat in the dining room, but sometimes I’m too tired, too lazy or not hungry enough for a huge meal. It would be nice if some more thought was put into the dinner variety in the buffet.
One other complaint, which really did not affect me, but did inconvenience all guests who drove to the pier, was that upon our return, we docked at Pier 88 as opposed to Pier 90. Not sure why, but I heard that it was something to do with the next cruise’s itinerary and having proper facilities for the ship to take on supplies. People were wandering on top of Pier 88 looking for their vehicles to no avail. I would think that in this case, an announcement should have been made saying “good morning, welcome to New York, by the way we’re docked at a different pier so you’ll need to walk over to Pier 90 for your cars.” I feel sorry for those who have a hard time getting around. While having a shuttle of some sort would have been problematic due to New York City traffic on a weekday, some sort of notice should have been given. I imagine that many porters had a rather profitable day!
With the bad stuff out of the way, let’s get back on track. After sail away, my luggage had been delivered and I unpacked and got settled in the cabin. My cabin attendants kept the room spotlessly clean every day. Each morning when I went to breakfast, I’d turn the “snoozing” sign over to “cruising.” By the time I got back from the Lido, where I ate almost all breakfasts, the cabin was DONE! Total 180 from my cruise on Miracle where I was convinced that my cabin attendant cleaned his rooms in order! There were days when I’d left at 7 AM, only to return at 1 and the cabin was STILL not done. Not on Splendor. My team was super nice, efficient, and always had my ice bucket filled, everything cleaned, towel animals each night (yes, I am an overgrown kid) and overall they were among the best attendants I’ve had in all my cruises.
In fact, one of the best things about the ship was that it was so clean. Everything was spotless; the crew were always cleaning, polishing or fixing something. Even detail things that not everyone notices were clean. No dust on the ledges in the dining rooms, sparkling pool and hot tubs, the tile around the dividers between doors in the restroom stalls was spotless, just a nice, clean ship.
My first night, I opted to dine in the steakhouse. Until the past few years, I was never really interested in specialty dining. However, some cruise lines’ main dining room food has gotten rather bad, or boring, so an occasional meal in the extra-fee dining establishments has become a welcome diversion.
Pinnacle Steakhouse comes with an additional $35 per person fee which covers your meal (appetizer, entrée, dessert) and gratuity for the staff. I ordered French Onion Soup, the Filet and the caramel apple dessert. The filet was, honestly, the best one I’ve had ever, anyplace. Nine ounces of tender, perfectly-cooked-to-medium steak that was melt-in-your mouth tender. The accompanying baked potato and vegetables were also very tasty. Carnival offers a free bottle of house red or white wine if you dine in the steakhouse on the first night (this offer was extended to night 2 as well) and it’s not bad. I took the rest of it with me and enjoyed it in my cabin throughout the rest of the cruise. Do treat yourself to a meal in the steakhouse on your next Carnival cruise. Trust me, it’s really worth the money.
All other dinners were in the dining room, save the one mentioned above in the buffet. I had Your Time Dining, and managed to get basically the same table, in the same section, with the same waiter each night. He too was wonderful. Seems that he was a trainer of some sort, as halfway through the week, I noticed that he had different assistants who seemed new. I liked everything I ordered, though one dinner, the filet and short rib combo was just not up to par. The meat was chewy and had an odd flavor. When I told my server that I didn't like it, he quickly got me another dinner, which was very good. Generally speaking I stuck with his suggestions and he was spot on. When asked how something was, he’d tell you honestly. “How is the roast half chicken?” brought a response of, “try the steak.” I appreciated his honestly. And yes, I did have warm chocolate melting cake every day. (Ok, sometimes I couldn't decide between 2 desserts. Since calories can’t swim, I had both items. Oops! ;)
On sea days, Carnival has a lovely brunch in the dining room. It’s nice to sit and have a tasty meal. They have both breakfast and lunch items on the brunch menu as well. I used me free drink coupon for a margarita to wash down my Huveos Rancheros. They’re good, not really authentic, but I did clean my plate. And the popovers they give you as a snack—oh my, they’re dangerous!! On Pride, I was able to have a table with just my cruising companions, but on Splendor I was seated with a large group. I know many people enjoy the dining experience, meeting others, etc. I don’t really care to make random small talk with strangers at meal times. I skipped dessert because I really didn't want to sit there any longer. No biggie, I certainly was eating enough on the cruise!
One of Carnival’s new programs is called “Seuss at Sea’. Yes, Dr. Seuss has taken to the ocean. During the cruise there was a parade featuring some characters such as Sam I Am and the Cat in the Hat. There was story time, a movie or 2 and the Dr. Seuss brunch. For $5 per person, you can have breakfast in the dining room (on the last sea day) and choose from a menu featuring, yes, green eggs and ham, multi-colored pancakes, waffles with blue and red icing in the little holes, and of course, Dr. Seuss characters. I attended and it was fun, even for adults. There weren’t many kids in attendance at all (actually there were not many on the cruise anyway) and it’s only been on Splendor for a couple weeks. The Seuss at Sea program will be offered fleet wide in the near future, but for now it’s only offered on this ship.
Our ports of call were Port Canaveral, Florida and Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas. Basically I did my own thing in the ports. Since the internet was spotty on the ship for most of the cruise, I joined many passengers and crew in Freeport using free and/or cheap Wi-Fi and sampling some of the local “fruit punch” (LOL). In Nassau, I walked through Festival Marketplace and around town, past the Straw Market and Senor Frogs, over to the British Colonial Hilton where I just took a few photos and walked around. In Port Canaveral, I really did nothing except rent a car, drive around Cocoa Beach, shop a little bit and get a haircut.
Carnival offers a Bottomless Bubbles soda card, and an alcoholic beverage package. I did not take advantage of either of these, but many did. There were large numbers of people who I am sure got their money’s worth from the Beverage Package judging by the numbers of guests sitting at bars at 9:00 AM. I only had a couple drinks and a couple sodas and coffees here and there, so I was able to save money by not purchasing the beverage packages.
I also really liked the Royal Flush casino. It’s large with a big variety of slot machines and tables. It’s essentially a cashless system, so it’s pretty easy. You can even get money from your sail and sign card to play the slots, and there’s no fee to do this. I finished the week in the black, so I was happy.
I managed to see parts of a couple shows and I spent a few moments in the comedy club. The shows and comedians were enjoyable, but sometimes I was just too tired to stay up late to attend shows! Splendor also has a movie screen near the pool where they show full length feature films and concert videos. They even have popcorn! Yum. There’s really something for everyone on the ship!
All in all, this was a really fun, enjoyable cruise. I have other lines that I want to try and other Carnival ships too. This was by far the best of my four Fun Ship vacations and I was pleasantly surprised at how well everything went. Sure there were a couple little hiccups along the way, but I have more good things to say about the cruise than I do bad things. I would recommend this ship to anyone, and sailing out of Manhattan is something that everyone should try at least once. I thoroughly enjoyed sailing on Carnival Splendor and I hope you do too.