Background: We have been on 10 other cruises, mostly in the Caribbean. We have cruised on NCL, RCCL, Princess, and Celebrity before this Carnival cruise. We have come to expect a certain tone and level of activity on board ships, with which to compare our recent Carnival experience. We found our cruise lacking in almost every category except for shore activities, which we arranged for ourselves.
Flight Info: We flew from Bellingham, WA, to San Diego on Allegiant Airlines. That turned out to be a lucky break for us, as the day we left (12-21-08) Sea-Tac was snowed in and many flights were cancelled. We spoke to many people on the ship who said that friends and family members missed the cruise because they couldn't get out. One man said he flew his wife to meet the ship in Acapulco to the tune of over $1000 US. Bellingham is about 80 miles north of Seattle, and we had a few empty seats on our flight down. Something to keep in mind if the weather outside is frightful in the northwest. On the return, San Diego was fogged in and our outbound flight was cancelled due to weather. We left the next morning after staying at the Sheraton at our expense.
Hotel Info: We stayed in SD on the cheap, at the Dolphin Inn (http://www.dolphin-motel.com/bry/dolphin/home.html), across from the San Diego sports fishing dock where the charter boats moor. Our bare-bones, small room was $66 a night, which included a continental breakfast. The place was really cute and the staff was very helpful. When we had difficulty finding a van-sized cab to take us four miles to the ship, the owner and his son loaded our luggage and us onto their private cars and drove us there. They wouldn't accept a tip for the service. We will always be grateful and will stay there again. By staying there, we were also treated to the sight of a returning sports fishing charter boat that returned from Mexican waters with about 200 yellow fin tuna and wahoo, including 61 tuna over 200 pounds each. That was something to see!
Embarkation: Excellent. It was POURING rain in San Diego (This coming from people who live north of Seattle), and we were drenched when we arrived to embark. The process was extremely smooth. Staff provided us with extra bag tags, as the rain had soaked through ours and they were falling off. We dried off on a big tour boat next to the ship, and were ushered quickly through the arrival process and onto the ship. Surprisingly smooth.
Ship Info: The Spirit seemed like an older ship, though it was launched in 2001. It had everything our other cruises had, except for much spirit, oddly enough. I guess we would have to say it was adequate, which was a bit of a disappointment. We like a good bar at night for instance, so were disappointed to learn that the funnest bars were the crew bar, which we couldn't get to, and the Karaoke bar. The stewards, waiters, and other staff were very nice, but there was no cohesive spirit of fun. We had been expecting a "fun ship," and couldn't find fun on board. Celebrity has martini bars with flair; most ships have live bands that play on the pool deck, creating a lively atmosphere; Celebrity usually has quartets that play around the ship. Carnival Spirit had a couple older guys perched on stands above a bar in the center of the lobby and above the casino bar, playing electric guitars and singing solo. Strange, and seemingly cheap.
Stateroom: We had a standard inside cabin which was fine. Our steward Lito did a great job, with towel animals every night and excellent service. The only weird thing about the cabin was that you had to swipe a personal card through a reader on the safe to open and close it. While this was safer than using a room card, it wasn't as safe as a combination keypad, as you needed to keep another card out of the safe to get into the safe. If people used a credit card, they couldn't leave it in the safe, where it would be safe.
Dining: Great staff, adequate food. This was the first cruise we have been on where most nights I didn't find an item on the menu that I really wanted for dinner. One time pasta was cold, one time a flat iron steak was rubbery, and most times the food was good but not great. Breakfast in the dining room was a tad lacking. They had a butter substitute on the tables, for instance, rather than butter. Out of the four days we breakfasted in the dining room, they only presented the pastry basket once. At dinner, no bread basket on the table; they would come by at the beginning and serve a roll or two. And no breadsticks, which we loved on Celebrity. These are picky little things and we probably sound like snobs, but it was the little things that differentiated this cruise from all the others. Excellent Warm Melting Chocolate Cake and Bitter and Blanc. The highlight of dining was the Supper Club, where the service was fantastic, only surpassed by the high cuisine. The Lobster Bisque was one of the finest tastes I've every experienced. Ashlie Dias, the Executive Chef, was a master, and a really nice guy.
Activities: If you love trivia, you'll love this cruise. Our itinerary included four days at sea, and we checked every day for the activities. Mostly it was trivia, it seemed. There was a waterslide on board, which was open only two days out of seven. We found it open on Christmas, and had a blast going down it over and over as we pulled into Acapulco. It was open on the second sea day also. Lots of fun if you lay down in a luge position. If you see the slide open, take advantage of it as it might not be open again. There were no educational activities on board.