On July 13th 2008 my Wife, My son (13) and I joined the Carnival Splendor for it's inaugural cruise from Dover (London) on the Northern European Baltic Itinerary. The Carnival Splendor is a wonderful looking Cruise Liner, sleek and new with a very modern look. Embarkment was hassle free as far as loading 3,200 eager passengers can be. The fact that the cruise embarks from Dover encouraged most passengers to be at the embarkment terminal at opening time of 12.00pm creating some congestion. Once on board we were confronted with a by the decor of the vessel, pink pink and more pink with spots and other crazy images. We were prepared as we could be for first time Carnival cruises. We had read the many reviews on other Carnival vessels that described the decors as hideous and off putting but we as a family like abstract and modern and felt that we would grow to like this decor to some degree. So we reserved our initial shock until we had seen the whole of the public rooms. We were able to proceed straight to our balcony stateroom which was spacious and well appointed. We were spared the decor of the rest of the vessel in the staterooms which were traditionally finished with fabulous beds, a space saving flat screen TV and my favorite a shower curtain rather than a restrictive plastic screen door. On further exploration of the ship over the time of the cruise failed to improve our first impressions of the decor, it is hideous and become more hideous the more you seen it. Why would Carnival spend $750 million building a supreme vessel only to let a designer sink this ship with crap like this. This is not art nor is it even close. The public rooms where set out like a rabbit warren, hard to get to and harder to find.
Activities Unfortunately the Carnival Splendor failed also in the area of activities with few and far between, mostly centered around irritating trivia sessions that were mostly based on US questions. On shore days basically nothing of interest was on offer. The only things that Carnival seemed interested in offering as activities were events that would see passengers parting with their cash.
Service This was the saving grace for this ship, the service in most areas outstanding, especially in the dinning rooms. Full points to the catering team and the many wonderful waiters.
Shore Excursions All the ports of call were top class destinations. The shore excursions on offer were varied and interesting. A very well presented list of options were on offer for all tastes and abilities. But the costs of the excursions were outrageous. We do not mind paying a premium for shore excursions, taking into account that there would have been huge costs in presenting such a varied list of options and the research that is needed to set them all up. But I do object paying up to 3 times the going price compared with similar private excursions. For instance we were offered one way tickets from Dover to London at $80 US per head. We were able to do the same trip ourselves for $30 US. The examples go on for every port of call.
Staterooms All staterooms were spacious and well designed. Most staterooms these days are mass produced by contractors and slid into modern boats regardless of line. The LCD TV are the only way for the future. But there was a big problem with the TV's, the inroom interactive booking system was not working resulting in huge lines at the shore excursion and reception desks. Secondly, unless you paid for a movies you only have two or three constantly repeated movies on offer.
Dining As stated before this was fantastic. The Lido deck was as usual crowed at times but the food was out of this world. It was clean and all food was fresh. Hot chocolate machines were constantly out of order was my only complaint. The Black & Gold Pearl Restaurants were, apart from the sickening decor, were the best we have ever experienced in over 12 cruises. The food was excellent and the waiters were the best we had ever met on land or sea. This team of professionals saved this ship up for the full cruise.
Children As usual for Carnival the children facilities were top notch. Unfortunately there were very few children on this cruise to take full advantage of the facilities. Only complaint from our son was that the basket ball court was a waste of useless.
Entertainment Carnival is normally famous for it's level of entertainment. Not on this cruise!!. The entertainment was at best second rate if not at times embarrassing. The dance crew had on half decent routine called Vroom. But some nights there was no show and two nights they only presented Karaoke. I enjoy the good entertainment that cruising is famous for but in the instance Carnival did not perform.
Summary I have never complained about a previous cruise because most lines get it mostly right. We paid good money, traveled a huge distance and had high expectations for this cruise only to be bitterly disappointed. Carnival needs to remember that what works in the US will not necessarily work in Europe. The rest of the world does not necessarily appreciate what a US customer appreciates and tastes from nation to nation vary. We came to Europe to appreciate its beauty, class and splendor only to have this dream shattered by a nightmare of a boat.