My GF and I cruised with a group of about 35 friends and family from mainly Nevada on the April 19, 2009 sailing (just before the disruption with the Swine Flu outbreak).
Embarkation in my estimate was a little long and drawn out, but once they finally got started it moved very quickly and smoothly.
Once on board we started to check out our new digs, starting with our cabin. We found our luggage to already be outside our room, which was also ready (about 1:30 pm) We were in the first group after the special needs and wedding groups to get on board. I was first impressed by the size of our cabin, though it was a small one in comparison to the suites. Plenty big enough for what we needed for the week. Even the bathroom was plenty large enough. The only problem we had was with not having more outlets in the cabin, otherwise it was fantastic.
The next thing that we noticed upon exploring the ship to find our way around was that you have to know which decks go all the way through from front to back. Many people had a hard time getting to their perspective dining rooms because of this problem. If there was one flaw in the design of the Splendor, it was the deck plan...definitely would have been easier to navigate if all the decks would go through front to back, even if only on one side of the ship.
We also noticed that the ship was kept very clean. I know this is a new ship, but I really expected to see some wear by now, having 3000+ new people on her every week...but I didn't see it. It still had the new ship smell. The only places that didn't were where they allowed smoking, like the piano bar and the sports bar, which was unfortunate, but understandable.
We used the Lido deck buffet for most breakfasts and lunches while on this cruise. The food was not bad, but there were a lot of things that didn't appeal to my tastes. The fruits and veggies were very fresh for the most part all week. I still am disappointed that there was no fruit punch, though I was told by one of the bartenders later in the week that if you had a soda card and went to the bar they would serve it to you. I also found that if you took your own mug (and it was larger) that they sometimes would not fill it with soda. I had bought a couple bottles of rum from the bon voyage department and tried to keep my costs down by drinking rum and coke during the day, then using the bars in the evenings when we were with friends.
The dining rooms on the Splendor were fantastic. Our waiter Sexton was very polite, and on top of things all week. There was a couple of nights that we didn't eat in the dining room, but when we did after the first night, we always had our drinks ready at the table when we arrived. Since we were in a group, they seated us all at 4 tables in the same area of the Black Pearl dining room. Our table was a bit unusual because there were nights that my GF and I were the only people that ate, because the others did room service or wanted to do something else. Sexton was fantastic...always offered to bring more of what we liked, or if we weren't sure what we wanted would just suggest that we got both. One night I let my eyes get bigger than my stomach and ordered two prime ribs including the baked potatoes... On the night they had lobster, the first formal night, about everyone in our group got two lobster dinners...so if you went hungry, it was your fault.
My GF and I ate in the Pinnacle on the 2nd formal night. The first thing I noticed was that I was over dressed, as most of the other people did not wear ties, so I took mine off and opened my collar on my dress shirt and opened my jacket. I had the porterhouse, which was absolutely delicious. My GF had a smaller NY Strip. Both were tender. There was a group of about 10 people sitting near us that were loud and really made it hard to enjoy our conversation without listening to theirs. That was really the only complaint that I had, which was no fault of the staff. The service in the Black Pearl, and the quantities of food really make the Pinnacle obsolete in my opinion. We paid $60 plus a tip for something that we really could have gotten pretty much in the main dining room. (I am not saying that it wasn't good...!!!!)
Room service was great. Would like to see a little more on the breakfast menu, but if you like danishes, or maybe cereal, or fruit, it is okay.
We did go to the Gold Pearl the day of disembarkation for breakfast. It was good, the omelettes were fantastic...but the service seemed a little slow, but that could be because they were in the process of getting ready for the next cruise too, I don't know.
My GF and I only did a couple of shows. The comedian they had was great, but would have liked to seen more of him. The Spectacular was so-so. I didn't really care for it mainly because there just was no real sense of continuity or real subject to it to follow.
We went to the shopping talk that is put on by Carnival with their shopping specialist. This was totally disappointing to be totally honest. It seemed more like a infomercial for Diamonds International and the other jewelry outlets approved by Carnival. It made me walk away just wondering if they were getting a kick back for it. I was made to feel even more so that way when we did visit a couple of the stores on the papers they give you. I was disappointed that there wasn't more information on where other sites was on their maps, such as Cabo Wabbo, or Gigglin Marlins, or maybe even the mall in Cabo, since it is practically on the port or any of the other larger vendors, restaurants, or shopping areas. We did buy my GF a blue diamond engagement ring on board...only took me 9 years to get around to it... We had friends on board with us that warned us about buying from just anyone at these ports. They will sell you flawed diamonds that are practically worth nothing. So a word to the wise, know what you are doing, and know what you are looking for if you buy in port.
My GF also used the spa, and we both took a tour of it when we first got on board. Once they get you booked, they are constantly trying to upsell you. That was one complaint that my GF had...so it was hard to just lay back and enjoy without having your defenses up to ward off the upsell that you knew was coming.
If you don't book excursions, you can basically get everything done (shopping for trinkets and t-shirts) in Puerto Vallarta, just off the ship. I was not impressed. We did go on the Signature Dolphin Swim in Puerto Vallarta, and used Randi's Happy Horses in Mazatlan. Both were excellent. The dolphin swim is on the expensive side when it comes to buying their pictures. For 8 pictures and a cd with them on it, it was $110. Randi does a wonderful job with her horses. We and another couple were the only people that day, and when we were actually riding on Stone Island on the beach, we had it all to ourselves. Afterwards we ate at Victors, if you ever get the chance do this...the shrimp is fantastic and the people are as well! Not your everyday tourist trap kind of thing. In Cabo we were swarmed with venders - including some that even tried to sell some in our group drugs. In retrospect, Cabo was the nicest port if you take away the vendors. But because of the vendors we left feeling like we would have been better off never getting off the ship. The vendors also know that Cabo is the last stop, and will not negotiate their prices like PV and Maz. We found you could basically buy the same things for half at the first two ports. The tendering process in Cabo also goes very smoothly for as many people that they have to take ashore and bring back. We didn't get in a big hurry going ashore, but did wait to about 1/2 hour before the last tender, but there was very little wait.
The last sea day was kind of rough. A few people in our group got a little sea sick. It amazed me how a ship that big could go side to side as much as it did, just a testament to the power of the sea. Overall the cruise was very smooth...hardly even knew we were moving.
Once back to Long Beach, we had to wait until the ship cleared customs and homeland security, and the luggage was off loaded and checked for drugs by a dog. Then once disembarkation began they went by floors, starting with those that self-disembark. IF you need to catch a plane before 3pm, I highly suggest the self-disembarkation. LAX is a zoo on Sunday afternoons! We didn't fly out until Monday morning early (GF & I) so we let them take our luggage off the ship, it takes a lot of time, especially if you are on the lower part of the ship. Most of the others in our group had planes to catch, some didn't do the self disembarkation, and I think they were sorry they didn't once they got to LAX, or had booked later flights. Security in particular was totally backed up and takes a lot of time to get through.
Overall, this was a very pleasant adventure for us. When I heard that this weeks cruises were not stopping in the ports, I didn't feel too bad for them - they may be saving themselves a lot of money in the long run and having an even better time on board. This was a great ship. I was worried the pink would drive me nuts, but it isn't that overbearing. The service that we received, and having people that served us knowing us by our first names was fantastic. The people that work on Carnival work their butts off to make sure you are happy and well taken care of.