This was our second Carnival Cruise and one of more than a dozen we have taken in recent years. We've found that each ship and cruise has its pro's and con's related to dEcor, destinations and operation. That held true with the Splendor. We were pleased that our pre-cruise concerns regarding 'crowd control' and access on a 3,000-passenger ship the equivalent to a multi-storied floating hotel were unfounded.
The only 'squeeze' occurred during the morning breakfast buffet lines when shore excursions required large numbers of passengers to gather early and eat at the same time. Unlike RCL ships that offer 'islands' for food groups, the Splendor was designed for long-single-file access resulting in long lines at times. A virtual crush was created when the on-board shops had a special sale set up on tables in the hallway outside the shops, a ridiculously small area to convert into a shopping area.
Embarkation, debarkation: As others have noted, check-in was synchronized and efficient. Walking on and off the ship at ports of call was a snap.
Room: Our balcony stateroom, 8332 Verandah Deck, was conveniently located near one of the ship's three banks of elevators; one floor below the Lido Deck, making for easy access to the pool and food areas. Like other reviewers, we did hear the noise generated by scraping chairs and tables on the Lido - especially in the still of the night. Ease of location wins out over the noise - we would choose this floor again. But for a new ship, we were surprised at how much hallway noise and Lido noise could be heard in the room.
Amenities: We were provided two plush robes - a plus over other cruise lines we've sailed. However, bath amenities were free samples of shavers and tooth paste; shampoo and soap were provided from wall-mounted bulk dispensers. If you plan on pampering yourself, either bring products from home or head to the spa.
Spa/Exercise: The gym was large and equipped with modern, state-of-the-art equipment. Generally, wait time to use a machine was minimal, if at all. The gym's layout had elliptical machines and treadmills facing the windows that lined the gym; but the design was such that you couldn't see out the windows when using the machines as you were at curtain-level thus missing the passing scenery. The Spa's sauna rooms were beautifully designed, large and accommodating. However, it might be time to start posting 'use rules' in the spa reminding guests that using an I-Pod to cover the soft, soothing piped in music is fine if you don't turn it up so loud that other users have to listen to a mix of both.
Food/Golden Pearl Dining room: Our meals were some of the best we've had on cruise ships; certainly equal to our experiences on Holland American and far above those on RCL. We were in the dining room of the 'Singing Maitre'd' but were only able to hear him - he never visited our section; one that we dubbed, 'the time out' room. Designers created a walled work station to the side of the dining room that effectively shuts off a section of tables from view. We had delightful seatmates and Simone, our server, was charming and efficient so we stayed where we had been assigned - next time, should we find ourselves there, we will ask to be moved into the dining room.
Shore Excursions/Ship: We took only one of the ship's tours. One was enough. We were herded through Ephesus - we can't really say we saw it - as our tour group fell in step with dozens of other such groups moving in mass through the historic-site-turned-tourist-mecca. The parking lot was jammed with more than 40 large passenger buses waiting to haul emerging tours back to cruise ships.
Shore Excursions/On Your Own: As others have noted, Carnival is not the cruise line to take if you are looking for a cultural, learning experience related to the ports of call. The ship provides shore maps to stores they recommend. Having learned this on our first cruise, we brought a file folder with copies of maps and articles about the ports.
Our cruise director did presentations about the places we would be visiting (highlighting the tours available through the ship's tour desk). On more than one occasion we found her references to the actual port city to be an over-generalized write-off. . .'don't bother, there is nothing there to see" . Our explorations proved her wrong in Civitavecchia, Livorno, and Piraeus, as each provided us hours of sightseeing adventures: churches, stores, parks, espresso stops at sidewalk cafes. For example, Livorno's municipal public market is one of the largest indoor/outdoor markets we've ever seen in Europe; its boat-lined canals reminiscent of Venice - all of which had been missed had we joined the masses heading to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
A tip to future cruisers who don't want to take the ship's tours: consider City Sightseeing Hop On, Hop Off , double-decker bus tours offered in numerous cities, including Sorrento and Naples, Italy; Funchal, Madeira; Seville, Spain, and Istanbul, Turkey. In Istanbul, we paid 22E ($25US) per adult and caught the bus at the Blue Mosque. We chose to stay on the bus and not use the hop-on/hop-off feature that allows you to visit sites and catch a subsequent bus for up to a 24-hour period. With earphones and sightseeing information provided in a number of languages, we spent two delightful hours seeing parts of the city we would never have otherwise reached - even on the ship's tours. The hop-on, hop-off feature allows you to stop and explore sites and then catch the next bus and is valid for a full day. (www.city-sightseeing.com )
Cruise director: We hope that Carnival will review its cruise director duties and in doing so eliminate the need to have announcements made throughout the day and continue them into the night (after 9 pm) reminding guests that bingo and other activities are starting. The same information is provided in the daily activity sheet.
Activities: One disappointment, especially since our cruise was in October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) was the lack of the "On Deck for a Cure," 5K walk fundraiser for the Susan B. Komen organization. Carnival's blog site touts its sponsorship and despite assurances by the purser's desk that it would be take place later in the cruise - it never happened. The walk has been a highlight activity on recent Princess and HAL cruises, one that drew large crowds of walkers. It should return to the line-up of activities.
Guests: The ship was filled with a pleasant mix of nationalities and age groups. There were 3,000 of us cohabiting this floating pink palace yet because of the ship's design and space, there were times we found ourselves alone in a spa therapy room or pool or on a deck watching sunset or sun rise.
A real positive of cruising for us are the new friendships made and some delightful conversations had with others we would never have met. This cruise it seemed, that among the mix of experienced cruisers, travelers, and other charming sorts, there was a sub-culture of folks who've either not traveled in confined environments before or who had left their good manners at home (if they had any to leave at home). These folks seemed oblivious to the impact of their behaviors (shouting and loud laughing in stateroom hallways late at night, use of IPOD's in the spa are only a few examples) on others. Watching woman clamoring and shoving to get to special sale tables on two occasions, I thought back to the ship's introductory safety drill when groups were chatting together and ignoring the information and instructions provided, prompting a fellow passenger to observe - "If we have a real emergency, we are all dead." He may have been right.