FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Some people may have found this cruise memorable because it had one nightmarish embarkation, complete with an unidentified security breach - most probably a bomb threat - that closed the Port of Fort Lauderdale for several hours. Carnival Cruise Lines found it memorable because the jaunt from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco marked the first time that any Carnival ship had ventured to the Southern Hemisphere. We found it memorable because it was out first Carnival cruise and possibly the best cruise of the ten cruises we have taken. This assessment is a bit surprising because I did not like the Splendor. The interior decorating scheme - variously described as a result of crack and Peptobismol, or worse - did nothing for me, but, hey, that's their ship and we'll go home eventually. I was much more bothered by the ship's strange use of space. The ship is so cut-up that only the Casino level allows an unhindered, continuous passage through the ship. But many ships are like that these days. What made the Splendor unique, in my view, was that unlike the HAL's Noordam, various Celebrity ships, the Norwegian Dawn and the Emerald Princess, the Splendor did not have a panoramic bar overlooking the ocean in front, or in the back. Instead, that space on the 11th deck was given over to a huge play area for kids. That is grossly misused premium space, if you ask me. The less is said about the embarkation in Fort Lauderdale, the better. We were lucky enough to get on board before the security breach was reported, but as a result, the ship departed at least five hours late.
CABIN: We had 7279 on the 7th deck. It was our first inside room and worked just fine. It was on the small side - a balcony cabin on the other side of the hallway looked veritably huge. But it worked for us. It even had a special feature that most other cabins, including balcony cabins, lacked: A complimentary Canon Selphy photo-printer. It came with a sample cartridge, consisting of 10 pages plus the ink and plasticizing cartridge. Someone had left five other unused pages in another cartridge inside. We bought a cartridge for 50 more pictures (for $14 from the ship's photo shop), and back at home ordered a Selphy of our own. The reason: shop-quality prints that are said to last 100 years. Our cabin stewards, Putra from Indonesia and Ludovico, from the Philippines, were outstanding.
FOOD: Consistently the best overall of any our cruises. Yes, HAL, Princess and Celebrity have more exciting items. But the meats and fish were first-rate. Soups were weak, and chilled soups a cruel joke, but we had no complaints. There was absolutely no need to consider paying extra for a speciality meal. We had great tablemates (a Frenchman and his French-Canadian wife). Our delightful waters from Myan Mar (Burma) were Win and Soe. We had our breakfasts in the Lido buffet, which was fine, except that I saw no evidence of lox. Perhaps they only serve that in a dining room. For lunch, choices are many. We enjoyed the outstanding Indian grill and sandwich stations. The Mongolian grill and the pizzeria, while good, were overrated.
PORTS: I'll skip Dominica and Barbados, where we had been several times. Our first Brazilian port was Fortaleza, which we hit on a Sunday. We strolled on the embankment on a hot day, sat at the beach, and sought the airconditioned comfort of the Splendor. In the afternoon, my wife rested and I took one of H. Stern's shuttles back to the beachfront. H. Stern is a huge international jewelry outfit based in Rio de Janeiro. It made its presence known already in Bermuda, where passengers returning to the ship were handed H. Stern travel planners. From that point on, H. Stern was constantly in the picture. I found its free shuttles invaluable in each of the ports we visited. Our second Brazilian stop was Recife, where we took the H. Stern shuttle to their store, near the Boa Viagem beach. From there we took a cab (for US$60) to Olinda, a spectacularly restored town some seven kilometers away. The cab driver did not speak any English, but stayed with us. In the afternoon, I took another Stern shuttle to Boa Viagem, spent some time in an Internet place, where an hour cost less than $3, compared to the ship's sky-high rates. I liked Recife, a major medical research city. Salvador do Bahia, the one-time center of Brazil's African slave trade, was next. Spectacular. I want to go back. Rio!!! Because it was raining and cloudy, we skipped the mountains. Instead we again took the H. Stern shuttle to the company's headquarters, two blocks from the completely deserted Ipanema. The day being Saturday, only a few gemologists, cutters and polishers were working, but an audio tour offered in 18 languages told us more than we wanted to know. Free drinks were served, including alcoholic ones. The tour ended in the company's store, including an adjoining souvenir place, which gave us an opportunity to tip Stern's services by buying stuff that we could afford. The highlight of the day came in the afternoon. Since the ship was parked near the central business district, I ventured out, hoping to find a rickety old tram that links that area with the fascinating Santa Teresa neighborhood of narrow streets and fantastic late 19th/early 20th century residences on hillsides. The tram, which cost about 40 cents each way, consisted of a single car that traverses a narrow aqueduct dating back to 1895. Since seating capacity was limited, people were hanging on to the old wooden tram, which had no doors or windows. I saw no tourists among the riders. Up in Santa Teresa, a pre-carnival punk carnival was in full swing. Magnificent. I want to go back. Each of our Brazilian stops was followed by a sea day. Between Rio and Buenos Aires we had two. We debarked in Buenos Aires, where another Stern shuttle was in evidence. (In fact, the company had a representative traveling on the Splendor from Barbados to Buenos Aires. He explained that a cadre of 15 such reps travel on most cruise ships visiting Rio). I have posted my report on the post-cruise Buenos Aires experience in the South America section.
ENTERTAINMENT: We enjoyed the shows for what they were. They were all backed up by the ship's outstanding band, an extremely talented aggregation of musicians under the direction of Jim Hanson. Also delighting listeners on his first cruise was the classical pianist Przemek, a world-class talent from Poland. The central location of the Splendor's library excellent; however, the library itself seemed like an afterthought, as were so many other design decisions. It was small and cramped and had few books. If the Noordam's library gets an A, then the Splendor gets a D. There were a few hiccups during the cruise, but nothing major. The biggest hiccup was not of Carnival's making. It was our inability to converse in Portuguese and Spanish. We felt like complete idiots. It occurred to us that if South America can ignore English, perhaps so also can the Chinese when they gain the ownership of the world.