I am 39 years old. This was me and my wife's 7th Cruise. First ever trip to Europe. We have sailed 4 times on Royal Caribbean and this was our 3rd on Carnival.
We stayed at the Ramada Hotel and it was reasonably well appointed for the price. The one thing we liked was the king size bed, which we discovered is a rarity in Europe. The TAXI situation is an issue in Dover. It is a small town that can't support many cabbies in the off season and so there is a noticeable shortage on embarkation day. Plan ahead and you'll be fine. We booked our taxi the day previous and only had to wait about an hour past our requested time. There is a cafe at the front of the hotel lobby which makes waiting for the taxi more pleasant.
Embarkation at the Dover Terminal was not the smoothest operation we've experienced, but certainly not the worst either. There were long lines but they had plenty of counter attendants and we were processed in under a half hour.
The Carnival Splendor has much in common with the Conquest Class ships with a few interesting exceptions. First, there is an extra deck above the lido deck which provides a two story open air enclosure around the main pool area. This provides for more shelter from the wind and in inclement weather, can be sealed off completely with the retractable roof. The extra deck provides many areas to sit, eat, and watch the large movie screen and/or the pool entertainment.
The other main difference is the spa and spa-cabins. We were in a balcony "spa" cabin and with that came a few perks. Among our favorites were the robes (the best I've ever worn) and access to the spa pool and thermal suites. The thermal suites were every bit as nice as those found on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance class ships. The Spa hot tub was nice, but the chrome bar lounger inside the pool was not set at the proper angle and you would constantly slip off. Designers should visit the Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland to see how to do it properly. Another aspect of the spa hot tub area that wasn't quite as it should be was the glass panel's overhead. Almost every one of them had a crack in the glass and it takes away from a relaxing soak when you're wondering when they'll break and fall into the pool!
The Cabin itself was standard for Carnival. Spacious, well laid out and functional.
The color and look of the ship is standard Carnival gaudy. Fried eggs on the ceiling of the main dining rooms and more pink than you'll ever care to see again in one place. But nobody sails Carnival for the quality of their decorations, so you just deal with it and have another drink with the money you saved.
Ship activities were standard for Carnival, although a bit more subdued than other Carnival cruises we've been on due I think to the cooler weather and possibly the type of passengers that migrate to this type of itinerary. The shows were not the best we've seen at sea and many people could be seen walking out of several performances. The one exception was that our cruise director, John Heald, lived up to his reputation of being the best in the business and I would suggest that if you are having trouble deciding between two cruises and John Heald is anticipated to be the CD on one of them, go for that one.
Service on cruise ships is often a matter of luck and varies greatly from one passenger to another. We found however that our experience on this ship, with the staff we interacted with, was among the best we've had on any cruise.
Shore excursions were limited, although this was only the 3rd full cruise for Carnival on this itinerary so I anticipate this will improve over time. The one glaring problem was on our port of call into Russia. This was an unmitigated disaster for everyone. Part of the problem lies with Russia and their archaic immigration systems, but much of the blame lies with Carnival as well. Crowding on the lower deck, and stairwells, and elevators was not just chaotic, but a MAJOR safety hazard as well. They absolutely MUST work on procedures to eliminate this problem. My only advice is that you either be prepared for extensive delays, or don't book anything until after noon on the first day.
Dining on the Splendor was very good. The main Dining Room provided decent fare and like service on any ship, is hit or miss. For us, it was fantastic! The song and dance routines were thankfully limited on this cruise, unlike our Valor cruise which had a new song every single day. Uhg! There was a great variety throughout the ship including some wonderful Indian food, rotisserie chicken, sandwiches, pizza and burger dining options. Some of these are not open all the time so watch the daily news bulletin for hours.
The Buffet was the exception to an otherwise fine dining experience with always long lines, poor selection and overcrowding in the seating areas adjacent to it.
I cannot comment on the disembarkation because we always carry our own luggage off the ship and were among the first people to leave. Talking to our friends who took the more traditional approach commented that it was reasonably well run, with the exception of the transfer arrangements provided by Carnival to Heathrow, which they described as disastrous. We took a taxi, and while it was very expensive, was quick and hassle free.
Overall, I would say there are areas of poor design and planning, but this is one of the best ships in Carnival's fleet. The prices were the best of any major line in the region and so I would say this cruise was a great value for this itinerary and would recommend to anyone that doesn't need perfection to have a great time.