Carnival Splendor served as our home for a 7-day cruise with Cruise Critic hosts, our community manager and many Cruise Critic members. We arrived in LA on Saturday, April 25 (we always try to arrive in our departure city a day before we embark) and caught a Super Shuttle van to the Queen Mary. It was a long, slow trip with four stops before our arrival in Long Beach (took almost 90 minutes in all). We enjoyed our evening on board Queen Mary, including dinner at Chelsea. I love walking this grand old lady and looking at the old photos and beautiful wood and art deco designs that still appear. She's a great place to stay prior to a cruise out of Long Beach and very convenient to Carnival's pier. We got up early on Sunday morning and walked over to the pier with luggage in hand just before 10:00 AM. Carnival has an early check-in desk set up outside it's terminal so we could quickly check-in and pick up our sign and sail card and then drop off our luggage with porters. It was quick and easy.
We returned to the Queen Mary for several hours as we were told boarding would begin around 1:30. Weather was a bit chilly for LA at this time of year (in the mid 60s). Everyone was looking forward to heading south to some warmth. After walking around the QM and taking photos to kill some time, we headed back to the pier. We had been given a Zone 1 boarding card when we did the early check in and when we arrived back at the pier at noon, they had already called Zone 1. We entered the terminal (the old Spruce Goose building) and stood in line to go through x-ray security. After exiting security, they placed us into series of lines where we stood for 15 minutes or so. After releasing us from those lines, we had welcome aboard photos taken with a Mexican background and then we went up an escalator where they placed us into yet more lines (this time to get your photo taken for your sail and sign card). After another 15 minutes we were ready to step onboard. While the early check-in was very nice and quick, this process somewhat defeated the purpose of early check-in. When you combined the early check-in with the actual on-boarding process, it actually took longer than a normal check-in process would have.
We embarked the ship on deck 3, the lobby level, next to the Purser's Desk. We walked up to deck 7 and dropped our carry-ons in our cabin. It was ready and our cabin attendant, Joefry, greeted us and made us feel welcome. We headed up to the Spendido Lido to grab lunch. I found this area to be very comfortable and well laid out. I liked the many "booth-type" tables. There was plenty of seating in the Lido throughout the cruise as it spans two decks at the aft of the ship.
For our first meal, I chose the rotisserie on the upper deck of the Lido. The chicken was very good and the macaroni and cheese became one of my favorite sides of the week. There was plenty to choose from including a burrito station, a sandwich station, a stir fry station, an Indian station as well as the regular salads, buffet food and desserts you normally see in this area. A very nice start to the first day.
After lunch, we started at the top of the ship and worked our way down to get a feel for where everything on board was located. One of our first stops was the spa. It's a fantastic area. One of the prettiest I've seen at sea. Their thermal rooms and T-pool were fantastic (although I could do without the "creatures" overhanging the T-pool. But this area came at a price. They sold a pass to use this area (thermal rooms and T-pools) for $149 per person for the week or $249 for a couple. Day passes were available for $35 per day. The gym on board was also very nice. Well equipped with plenty of activities throughout the cruise.
On the outer decks outside the spa, we found the Serenity area. This was a very nice adults only area with very comfortable lounge chairs with nice thick pads. The only problem with this area is that they placed the 9-hole miniature golf area directly above it so there were kids and others playing putt-putt here throughout the week, making it not quite as serene as it would have otherwise been.
The main pool area is very different from any other ship we've been on. For lack of a better word, I'd call it "sunken." It sets on deck 9, mid ship and is relatively small for the overall size of the ship. There is a large area in front of the pool for deck chairs during the day and for dancing at deck parties at night. A large screen showing concerts, movies, etc is in front of this area. The pizza and burger/hot dog grill are located on opposite sides of the back section of the pool. Lots of tables could be found around the outside of the pool on this deck. Overall, a very nice area.
Immediately above the pool is a completely enclosed level with more dining tables and two hot tubs on either side of the ship. Seemed like a rather odd spot for the hot tubs as there weren't any deck chairs in this area....just tables to eat. Above this was the retractable roof that can cover the pool area when needed. As it turned out, this was a great thing to have during this cruise.
A second pool, and the one I like better, was found aft of the Lido. There were two hot tubs with this pool as well. A nice bar along with the Sandwich area and Indian food could be found out here. This was a popular spot all week long.
Heading down to the public areas located on decks 3, 4, and 5 we found the main dining restaurants, bars, shops, casino, photo gallery and main theater. There has been much discussion on the interior dEcor of this ship so I was prepared for "pink." While there was quite a bit of pink, it wasn't the pink that bothered me. It was the fact that design-wise nothing seemed to go together on the ship. There are so many patterns, colors, designs, lights all fighting one another that I had constant sensory overload. There were actually many very nice elements on the ship (the inlaid tile found in many places for example) but they were constantly fighting with other non-complimentary elements. It did feel like we were in a Dr. Suess book much of the time. I'm still trying to figure out why the designer chose egg shaped disks on the ceilings in each of the dining room. Contrast this with the graphics of early 20th century folks donned in gowns and suits that were on the walls through the cabin hallways, it was just an odd mish-mash of elements. Some very nice elements, but totally lost among the circles, balls, lines, lights, etc of all the other patterned items.
Both the Spectacular Theater and Cool lounge were great venues where things didn't seem to clash quite as much. Cool was seldom used. We would have liked to have seen more entertainment options in here.
Our cabin was great! Tons of storage space, comfortable bed and pillows, comfortable couch with coffee table, beautiful closets, a spacious bathroom and a nice balcony with two chairs and a small table. A nice flat screen TV is mounted on the wall. There is plenty of desk space with drawers and shelves for storage. The only challenge with the cabin was the shower. It was impossible to prevent water from spilling out of the shower onto the rest of the bathroom floor. There was an inch and a half lip on the front of the shower that just wasn't high enough to contain the water inside the shower, even when I was diligent about making sure the entire shower curtain was on the inside of the shower. Had the shower lip been an inch higher, this probably could have been avoided.
Overall, the quality of the food on board Splendor was very good to outstanding. The dining room menus always had a great variety to choose from each evening and everything I ordered was great. Meats were cooked as requested, sauces were very good, side dishes great. Food in the lido continued to be good for breakfast and lunch throughout the cruise as well. My only disappointment in food was the burger grille. For some reason, it didn't taste like burger to me. The pizza as OK for a quick snack but not as good as pizza on other lines we've been on. We dined in the Pinnacle Steakhouse one evening, and it, too was outstanding. My filet was perfectly prepared and delicious as was the French Onion Soup I had for an appetizer.
LOUNGES & ENTERTAINMENT
This was probably my biggest disappointment on the ship. There was little pre-dinner live entertainment in the lounges. There was usually someone playing in the casino or the lobby but we enjoy going to a lounge and enjoying before dinner drinks and listening to music. The one night they had music in Cool (what an under-utilized lounge), the guitar player was so loud you couldn't talk to anyone. Places where they did have good live music (Ron Pass in the Piano Bar and Robusto) were both smoking all the time. For those who are bothered by smoke, neither one of these locations was an option after dinner as the smoke was so heavy. The aft staircase smelled of cigar smoke from Robusto the entire cruise. It was difficult to even walk through this area at any time of the day if you are bothered by smoke. When I asked the cruise director why they didn't have one night in the piano bar that was non-smoking, he said they don't do it because it doesn't fit the demographics of their passengers. That pretty much sent a message to us. We don't fit the Carnival demographic in their mind. But I have to say, I thought the ship was filled with a wide variety of passengers from young families to senior citizens. I find it hard to believe that there weren't enough passengers who would have enjoyed listening to Ron Pass in the piano bar for one evening if they had offered it smoke-free. Just because someone doesn't smoke doesn't mean they don't enjoy drinks while listening to an entertainer.
I went to one production show, Vroom. It was billed as a Rock & Roll/Motown show although it covered much more than that. The singers and dancers were fine but again, like with the dEcor, the show didn't really "fit together." Towards the end of the show there was a number (never heard the music that was playing) with lasers and the dancers in costumes that had colorful lines on them. It was an interesting number and the lasers were fun but I couldn't figure out what it had to do with the rock and roll/Motown theme of the show.
The best thing about this cruise was the crew (other than the wonderful people we were sailing with ;-). We had some of the best service of any ship we've sailed. Our waitress and assistant in the dining room (Silvia and Ronaldo) were outstanding. Fast, efficient, anything you could ask for was delivered with a smile. If all ships were filled with staff like this, you couldn't possibly complain about anything! Ken Bryne, our Maitre 'd was also outstanding. He visited table regularly each evening in the dining room; far more than any other Maitre 'd I can recall. Other staff throughout the ship were also great. Considering the stress they had been under from the itinerary changes, I think they did a fantastic job given the circumstances.
Of course, the biggest thing about this cruise was that we were impacted by the Swine Flu outbreak. Since the outbreak began in Mexico and we were headed to Mexican ports, Carnival was faced with a dilemma when on day two of our cruise the CDC recommended avoiding travel to Mexico. We knew by watching the ship's map that we weren't nearly as far as we should have been into day 2. We quickly guessed that we wouldn't be stopping at Mexican ports. When they announced that we were stopping in Cabo San Lucas (scheduled to be our last port of call, not our first) on day 2 for a "technical" reason (requirement of stopping at a foreign port?), we were not surprised at all. They announced that we would instead be turning around and heading north with one stop in San Francisco.
We initially supported Carnival's decision to skip Mexico even though there had been no reported cases of the flu in the ports we were to call on. We still support that decision. It's what happened after the decision that left us somewhat disappointed. There were a number of passengers very upset by the decision. I missed seeing the major revolt in the lobby but I did see a passenger get unruly and scream on the next day. To appease these folks, they decided to stop in Long Beach on our way back north to allow passengers to disembark before we continued onto San Francisco. This caused a several hour delay, making our arrival in San Francisco go from 8:00 AM until 1:30 PM. As it turned out, it was nearly 3:00 PM when we were allowed to disembark the ship in San Francisco. We essentially lost at least a half day in port even though the ship stayed there two hours longer until midnight. Staying the extra two hours at night didn't do any of us any good. In essence, to appease 1/6th of the passengers, the rest of us lost ½ day in our only port of call. Add in the fact that it was pouring when we arrived in San Francisco, it made it even more aggravating that we lost the morning there when it was dry.
But the final thing I find aggravating is that the only people they didn't do anything for in this situation is those of us who were supportive on board. Unhappy passengers got their way by insisting we stop in Long Beach to allow them to disembark. Passengers sailing this week and next week have both been given nice onboard credits as incentive to not cancel their cruise. Those of us who were polite, supportive and didn't cause a fuss didn't receive anything other than a "thank you for your support" mention during announcements.
I honestly didn't want nor expect anything. However, once they start giving onboard credits to those sailing after us, it makes us feel like we didn't matter at all and the only ones that were taken care of where those who were unhappy.
We realize Carnival was in a no-win situation. No matter what they did, some people would be unhappy. But when they start providing compensation to those sailing after us (and we learned what people on other cruise lines in the same situation received), it's disappointing.
LAST DAY AT SEA
As if we hadn't had enough adventure for one cruise, we left San Francisco in the fog and pretty much sailed in fog all the way to LA. It was very strange to listen to the fog horn blow for most of the trip south down the California coast. Made for some great photos and a strange last day. It was odd to see so few people out and about.
We had an early flight (12:20 PM) so we opted for Self-Disembarkation. I had read about the nightmares of the recent cruises so we were in the lobby very early (7:10 AM). Here is where the poor design of the ship became very apparent. There is no place on deck 3 for those doing self-disembarking to really wait. Remember, you have to have all your luggage with you. The theater has stairs as does the Black Pearl restaurant. They tell you they want you to wait in your cabin but obviously, with limited elevators and many wanting to self-disembark, that simply doesn't work. So we were in the lobby early. Early enough that they hadn't begun "barricading" the area off yet. We were seated in a back corner so they didn't make us move. But anyone that arrived after 7:30 was not allowed in this area. I understand what they were trying to prevent but all it did was create bottlenecks with lots of luggage outside the restaurant and theater. This ship truly is not designed to handle self-disembarkation. For us, it didn't matter as we were off shortly after they called for self-disembarkation to begin. But I could see if there were many trying to do this that it would/could become the nightmare it's been reported to be.
They called us at 8:00 and we were in the Super Shuttle back to LAX at 8:10. No customs/immigration to go through other than to turn in your customs form since we didn't go to a foreign country and did port in San Francisco. Very quick and easy. Seemed like it was a very easy disembarkation overall today. Perhaps having 600 passengers depart early helped this situation as well.
Regardless of the itinerary change, we still had a lot of fun with those we sailed with. We met a lot of nice people and wonderful crew. We ate well and laughed much! We are grateful for the experience. It's definitely one we will remember.