Since I live in the area, I parked at a local lot and was shuttled to the port and dropped off right at the door. If you are driving, it pays to search for San Diego airport parking lots to see if there are any coupons. I was able to park for $7/day at a private lot that provided excellent service. I understand that the private lots which provide shuttles are much more convenient than parking at the port if you are driving.
I arrived just after 2pm (we were supposed to arrive between 12:30pm and 2:30pm) and encountered virtually no lines. I heard the lines were much longer for those who arrived early.
I was on board quickly and found my way to my state room. My luggage arrived within a few hours. No problems.
I purchased a "guaranteed" 1A room and was upgraded to a 4A room (1193 on the first floor), which is still an inside cabin, but doesn't have bunk beds. For one person, the room was fine and had "adequate" storage. I'm not sure I would want to share a room that size.
I am a big guy and was worried the shower would be cramped, but it was fine. The bed was relatively comfortable, although you could tell it was two twin beds pushed together as there was a "bump" in the middle.
The bad news was there was no natural light because it was an inside cabin. The good news was that there was no natural light to wake me up and I slept like a baby the entire cruise.
I ate in the main dining room every dinner, except one night when we were in port. The food was good to very good. If you are looking for outstanding food, I'm sure there are other cruise lines to choose from.
The service in the main dining room was good, but (again) not great. Our server had several large tables to serve and a few things were missed. No big deal. If being served regular tea instead of herbal tea is going to really bother you, choose another cruise line. Any mistakes they made were quickly corrected, so it's all good in my book.
In addition to the main dining room, food is served 24 hours a day on the Lido deck (Deck 9) in a buffet format. The food was good, but buffet food is buffet food.
I didn't try the Supper Club (extra charge), but was told that it was absolutely outstanding by several people who did.
Common Areas (General)
The Spirit is maintained immaculately and it's hard to imagine that it "needs" to go into dry dock (scheduled for March 2009). People are constantly working hard to keep it clean and it shows.
The décor is definitely over the top. You just have to go with it. If it's going to bother you, there are other ships.
The Spirit has a large - and busy - casino. Lots of slot machines and table games. They have one Poker table (a computerized PokerPro table found on many cruise ships), where I spent a significant amount of time. It is located just off the casino in a non-smoking, but not smoke free, section. The rake on the poker table was high, 12.5% uncapped.
The gymnasium is located past the Spa on deck 9 in the bow of the ship. It is large and well-maintained with treadmills (8), ellipticals (6), steppers (3), bikes (3), and rowing machines (2). All cardiovascular machines are equipped with heart rate monitors that actually work. There are also the usual weight machines and some barbells. Overall, it is a well-equipped gymnasium, with a great view of several sunsets.
There is also a spa (whirlpool) in the gym area, which does not get a lot of use, but was quite nice.
The men's locker room was nice with a sauna, steam room, and showers. The showers were much roomier and nicer than the one in my room with a main nozzle as well as two on each side, providing 270 degrees of water. The showers are each located in a cubicle providing privacy. I highly recommend trying it at least once.
I only attended two shows: a music/variety show and a stand-up comedy show. The music/variety show featured a singer who flies in for the show on a weekly basis and does swing music. I thought he - and the rest of the entertainers - was very good.
The comedy show featured "adult" comedy. I thought he was good and the audience seemed to agree.
Most of the crew members I interacted with were very nice and eager to please. I didn't participate in a lot of the activities, but they were definitely heavy on trivia games. If you like trivia, you won't be bored on the Spirit.
I really appreciated the casual atmosphere on the Spirit. The guests come to have a good time and the crew facilitates this.
I did have an interaction with an assistant maitre d' that was not particularly pleasant. I wanted to eat in the dining room after my afternoon excursion in Acapulco. Not surprisingly, no one from my table was eating in the dining room that night, so I asked to be seated at another table. The assistant maitre d', a young man named Jan, refused to help me out and told me to go sit at my usual table. I thought it would be a little silly to eat by myself at a table for eight and told him. He responded that I should just go to my usual table. I thanked him for his time and ate on the Lido deck. No big deal, but I was a little surprised that they wouldn't be a little flexible in that situation.
I will eventually write a review on my excursions, but wanted to include some of my impression of the ports we visited.
ACAPULCO is an urban environment, with crowded streets and modern hotels. While docked in port, you are almost surrounded by mountains and the view is quite impressive. The city itself is a little dirty, as might be expected in an urban environment. People drive their cars like they are possessed by demons. There are shops right at the port, including an internet café where I got 30 minutes of computer time for $3.00 (U.S.).
ZIHUATANEJO/IXTAPA is almost the polar opposite of Acapulco. There is no capability to dock in the port, so you are brought from the ship to the port in "tenders", smaller boats which double as life boats on the Spirit. Your tender drops you off in the charming port of Zihuatanejo, which has several cute restaurants and lots of shopping. I didn't go to Ixtapa, but understand that it is larger and accessible via a short taxi ride.
MANZANILLO is an industrial port and there doesn't seem to be anything accessible without hopping in a taxi. I didn't get to see much of the city, so I can't provide much commentary.
Since I live in the San Diego area and did not have a flight to catch, I was in the very last group to debark the ship. By the time I left the ship, there were no lines. I simply handed the customs officer my form, walked off the ship, collected my luggage, and went outside to catch my shuttle.
Keep in mind that the ports visited by the Spirit are significantly south of those visited on the 7-day cruises out of Los Angeles. This is a great benefit during the winter months.
Carnival is the FUN ship. It is NOT the WE'RE GOING TO PAMPER YOU ship or the WE HAVE GOURMET CUISINE ship. Know what you're getting.
I had a great time and plan to cruise the Spirit again.