It's been less than 24 hours since our disembarkation from the Carnival Spirit, and would love to get right back on and go another round. Since that isn't an option, I am now reliving our 8-days down the Mexican Riviera through this review, which I hope is helpful. We have cruised a few times before, on Norwegian and Royal Caribbean. This was our first adventure with Carnival, and to be honest our expectations were somewhat low. I will save the anticipation now by saying we were pleasantly surprised by Carnival, not just because of their performance as a cruise line, but also because we'd heard the economy was taking its toll on the quality of cruising these days, and we did not find this to be the case.
The Ship: The ship itself was the smallest on which we've ever sailed. It's also older than what we've experienced before. The size of the ship is fine, and easy to get around. One exception to this is the buffet area where we ate our breakfasts and lunches each day. The area was fairly crowded and a bit difficult to maneuver around. Perhaps the only other exception is the gym. It was smaller than I expected, and on the first day it was difficult to find an available piece of equipment. (After day #1, however, the crowd thinned considerably and finding a piece of equipment was not a problem.) The décor in the main areas is beautiful, though in the hallways near the cabins it's funky…we weren't sure if it was outdated or intended to be retro.
The Food: When we received our information during embarkation, we found out we were one of many people not given the dining time that we signed up for. (We'd signed up for the early seating and were given the late one.) We went straight to the restaurant when we got on the ship and got on the long line of people hoping to correct their dining situations. I looked at the long line of passengers and my heart sank, but I am happy to report that the Maitre'd not only hooked us up with the dining time we'd requested, but also honored our request for a table for two. We ate dinner in the main dining room almost every night, and the food there was…fine. Nothing super fancy or absolutely delicious for the most part, but fine for us. We tend to take advantage of cruises to taste foods we haven't eaten before, and found our server was always willing to let us try something new or add an appetizer if we asked. We ate breakfast and lunch in the buffet. I had an egg-white omelet every day, created by an awesome guy named "Freddie", and made up some nice salads and meats each day for lunch. Again, nothing super fancy, but there was plenty of variety in the buffet and the crew aimed to please. The one place that was absolutely outstanding food-wise was the Nouveau Supper Club. The food itself was higher quality than anywhere else on the ship and the service was wonderful. It was absolutely worth the $30/person. The only problem for us was that we ate SO much, we were uncomfortable the rest of the evening. We were so uncomfortable that we cancelled a second reservation we'd made for later in the week…not because the experience wasn't good but because, ironically, it was TOO good.
Excursions: We'd done plenty of research thanks to Cruise Critic, and arrived with our plans for each port. Please see the port reviews, below, for more information. Also, note my side comment on taxis in the Acapulco section.
Entertainment: We'd heard the evening shows left something to be desired, and that did turn out to be true. It was "Love Boat" cheesy…the "singers" mostly lip-synched with the exception of two people, and I literally fell asleep the two times we tried to stick through the revue shows. There was one comic/magician a few days in that was pretty good, but that was it. Even the "Legends" show we'd heard was decent turned out to be pretty cheesy in the end. The Cruise Director, Chris, was…fine. We made our way into the casino a few times too many. It had a good number and diversity of games and people seemed to enjoy it. We played on the Texas Hold 'em table mostly, which was $1-$2 no limit (not counting the tournaments) and also played some Black Jack. In the end, we lost too much money, but we have no one to blame on that one but ourselves. Our days on ship were spent soaking up the sun on the back of the ship, which was quieter and always had plenty of chairs. The bar service was great and very accessible as they always had servers walking around. We even got to see several whales as we passed by Cabo, with the added bonus of a humpback who jumped out of the water a few times, much to everyone's delight.
Carnival as a Whole: I've got to say that this cruise line runs like a well-oiled machine. Embarkation, debarkation and the ports were all a snap. We felt the crew strived to meet every need and did so in a friendly manner. Like everything else, so much of the experience is what you bring into it and your general attitude. The crew works so hard and a cruise experience itself so relaxing, that there's no reason to just have a miserable time unless you're determined to do so. That's my two cents, anyway.