Embarkation was a breeze, taking less than 20 min. to get through security, receive our room card, and up to the Lido deck for lunch!
We had arrived in Honolulu 3 days prior, and stayed at the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber, a newly renovated hotel located above Macy's Dept Store. The room was cheery, comfortable and reasonably priced ($129 per night) considering it's location on Kalakaua Ave. across the street from the beach. We had purchased a Hawaii Entertainment book, and used the coupons for eats, which can be a bit pricey in Waikiki. Also there is a 25% off coupon for 2 different luaus, and well worth the price of the book.
Now for the Spirit! An absolutely beautiful ship. I thought it was very tastefully done with beautiful artwork and sculpturing at every turn. It is showing a little wear, but not so as to be distracting or unalluring, and is scheduled to go in for refurbishment in 2009. But it is kept up immaculately by a hard working crew who are always polishing & cleaning.
Our room attendants were wonderful and kept up our cabins to perfection. They were attentive but unobtrusive. We had a handicapped cabin on deck 8, and Carnival has thought of everything. From grab bars everywhere, to a doorbell with flashing lights for the hearing impaired, to peepholes in our cabin door at 2 different heights to accommodate wheelchair passengers, to alarm bells (which when activated gets an immediate call from the pursers desk/I know because my husband set them off several times accidentally during our 12 day cruise) There is also a television channel with printed telephone messages/also for the hearing impaired. There were ramps provided to access our balcony. Fortunately, my husband was able to step over the approx. 4 inch threshold.
Dining: I'm not a picky eater, therefore I thought the food was very, very good, both in the main dining room and up on the Lido deck. There were offerings which were not particularly appealing to me (lamb, for instance) but that was a matter of personal preference. I only had one steak which I found to be a little on the tough side, but the wait staff were always there making sure everything was perfect, or they would replace it immediately. The fillet mignon was wonderful, as was the prime rib and lobster tail. All in all I found the selections to be quite appealing and adequate.
We opted for breakfast and lunch (most days) up on the Lido deck, and Freddie our omelet maker, also made my morning complete with his ready smile and cheerful bantering! There were several separate stations with a variety of food, which kept the lines moving quite rapidly and there was never a long wait. Only complaint: cold toast! The pizza and ice cream, as well as the deli stations (wonderful piled high corned beef Rubens!) were open 24/7 for your convenience, and the hot chocolate is the very best that I have ever had. There was a station for your typical American fare, one for chinese/Asian food, as well as the Taste of Nations station which offered foods from different countries every day. (i.e., Mexican, French, etc.) And there was the ever-present dessert bar, yum!
Shore excursions: The only fly in the ointment lies in the fact that the Spirit does not have direct access to the tender deck. Of course the only place where we had to tender was on the Kona side of the big island. The Spirit is the first ship that I've sailed on where they didn't have an elevator that took you directly down to the tender deck. It took 3 men to get my husband down the approx. 6 steps in order for him to get into the tender. He had no problem getting down the one or two steps into the actual tender, but just getting down to the deck was very, very hard on him. (as well as the other handicapped passengers) A serious flaw in an otherwise wonderful ship.
We booked the Blue Hawaiian helicopter tour directly with the company, as it was quite a bit cheaper than with the cruiseline. Plus, Carnival charges you 2 full fares if you weigh in over 250 lbs, then when you get back to the ship, they refund you back half of the 2nd fare. However, when you book directly through the helicopter service, they merely distribute the weight and usually don't charge you the extra. But it does really depend on the weights of the other passengers. If there are a lot of big people, even the helicopter company may charge an additional fee.
We also did the Kona and Hilo historical tours, as well as the Heavenly Hana tours directly through the ship, as the costs were comparable to some of the independent tour companies. All were very good and highly informative with excellent tour guides. None of the tour buses were handicapped accessible, and I blame Carnival for not checking into this for their physically challenged passengers. HAL, RCCL and Princess cruiselines all furnish buses that are handicapped accessible.
Entertainment: Kudos to the Carnival singers and dancers for their wonderful performances. The scenery is beautiful and the costumes magnificent! We also enjoyed the comedians, though opted out of the late night risque venue. One of my favorites is the passenger talent show. I'm glad that I sat in the back, as I tend to giggle over performances given by some of the wannabees! But I give much credit to these people who have nerve enough to give their very best in front of more than a thousand people. I could never do it!
All in all the cruise was a wonderful experience!
Cons: the only kink was the final day when we docked in Ensenada, MX. The debarkation went smoothly until a lady refused to give up the front seat on the bus which was reserved for my handicapped husband, which necessitated us moving to a different bus with our party of 7. However, our luggage was loaded onto the first bus. The 2 hour ride to the Tijuana border went smoothly, then came to a sudden halt. We waited for approx. 2 hrs to cross the border, and some of the buses ahead of us had the people leave the bus to walk across the border, ridiculous. The border inspector finally boarded our bus, checked our picture I.D.s as well as our passports, and let us cross.
Of course we were 2 hrs late arriving at the airport, where we found out that the bus with our luggage had broken down somewhere in Tijuana (along with the lady who refused to give up her seat-God is good!)
Because my husband was in a wheelchair, they rushed us through customs and onto our waiting plane, which they actually had to hold up for us. There were a lot of empty seats on an otherwise fully booked plane, and it was because of that entire busload of people who had stalled somewhere in Mexico. This was on Saturday, and we didn't get our luggage until the following Tuesday. Plus, we had to go to the airport to pick up 16 pieces of luggage (7 people), as Carnival didn't have it brought to our homes! Ridiculous!
Would I do the cruise again? You bet! But I would do it in reverse, as there is no wait at the border for those traveling into Mexico. Or perhaps from or to Vancouver. You just can't beat Carnival's prices or service! I know that the outdated "Jone's Act" requires a foreign flagged ship to stop in at least one foreign port (thus Ensenada) but what I don't understand is why they bus you to or from San Diego down to Ensenada, when the ship is sailing empty to meet you there. It just doesn't make any sense at all.