The Mexican Riviera Drive-By Cruise aboard Carnival Splendor April 26, 2009
By Cruise Critic Host Joe
This was our sixth Carnival cruise, but have not been on one in a couple of years. We started our cruising life out on Carnival many years ago. We have sailed across several of the different lines. We had not planned on sailing again Carnival after a return to Carnival two years ago on Carnival Victory and a not so favorable experience onboard, however we were invited to sail with some of the other Cruise Critic hosts and decided to give it another try
We arrived in Long Beach a couple of days early and stayed aboard Queen Mary. We really enjoyed our stay there, and it was so easy to walk across the parking lot to board Carnival Splendor
Mid-morning of embarkation day we walked across and did a very fast check in and dropped off our bags. We were told to come back at 1:30 p.m. for embarkation. We had to check out of Queen Mary at Noon and decided to just walk over and check on the status of embarkation. At around 12:30 p.m. they started boarding and there were droves of people already there waiting. I have to say, it was a bit of jungle getting aboard as the lines stopped and went often while twisting and turning. At first I thought this was going to be a speedy check-in, but it really turned out to be quite lengthy. We enjoyed a tasty lunch in the "Splendido Lido" once aboard. I was puzzled at why they scheduled muster drill for just a few minutes from sail-away. I looked up as we were in the midst of the drill and we had already sailed away. I love to be up on deck at sail-away, not in a muster drill
We had stateroom 7262, which was an 8B balcony cabin. The cabin was quite nice, and large by standard balcony comparisons across the different cruise lines. The bed was very comfortable, and the duvet and linens very nice. The introduction of a flat screen interactive TV really opens up the room and is very convenient. The bathroom was of good size and was convenient. The decoration of the stateroom was good with the exception of the pepto-pink trim, which I will never understand.
After being on other Carnival ships, I was expecting a garish and crazy design scheme, so it was no shock to me when we boarded that this ship was no different from other Carnival ships. Pink everywhere, with a mish-mash of different designs all over. The main color theme reminded me of a collision between a zebra and a giant bottle of pepto. It is not the pink that bothers me necessarily, but rather what a shame it is to look at many of the design elements individually. Those elements would be beautiful if they were by themselves. For instance there is a beautiful array of copper-like ceiling elements that are gorgeous, but their beauty is lost because there are panels of pink zebra patterns mixed in and around. I find that the design throughout the ship never lets your mind relax. The dining room design is the same, with the famous fried eggs hanging over your head along with other bizarre patterns that look like science experiments. The pattern of the ship is very confusing to navigate. I do really like all of the convenient staircases which allow you to navigate different areas of the ship quickly. Being a tall man, I found the ceilings to be quite low, and felt I needed to duck in a few instances.
I do have to say that we noticed how little entertainment there was in the evenings. We had a hard time finding a nice bar to sit down and enjoy a cocktail before and after dinner. There were several nice bars that were only open once or twice throughout the week, such as the jazz club. It seemed the main bar was in the casino, which did not appeal to us due to all of the smoke everywhere.
I noticed many using their complimentary bath robes as regular attire throughout the ship on a daily basis. This did not bother me, but I found it very peculiar
The best entertainer aboard was Ron Pass in the piano bar. Too bad it was too smokey for us to go in and enjoy his show every night. We asked the cruise director if they would consider making at least one night in the piano bar a non-smoking night and his reply was that it did not make sense according to the demographics. Huh? My feeling is that Carnival advertises to me, but yet the product does not really fit me. I saw a broad range of passengers onboard, and did not realize that there is a specific demographic that they are really looking for
I made an interesting observation in regards to officers and staff aboard the ship. Usually we see the captain and several officers throughout the ship, however on this cruise we never once saw an officer or captain. We did notice something that we have not seen before in regards to crew. A large amount of crew (with name tags) were in casual clothes eating, smoking and drinking in general ship areas (on many occasions in flip-flops, t-shirts and shorts)
One clear design flaw was having the cigar smoking bar called "Robusto" situated outside the Gold Pearl dining room. The fumes from that bar wafted up several flights of stairs as well as permeated the entrance to the dining room in the evenings
I found the food to be excellent in the dining room for dinner. Our waitress, Silvia, and assistant, Ronaldo, provided some of the best service we have had in quite a while. Every course that I enjoyed over the cruise was prepared wonderfully and served hot. Ken, our maitre'd, was the best at sea and sang to us nightly with a great voice. I give very high marks for the cuisine. Breakfast in the "Splendido Lido" was your standard fare. Lunch often had several choices that were quite good. The rotisserie was always a good option, offering tasty rotisserie chicken. There is a coffee bar on the promenade that we visited every morning for a latte, as the coffee in the buffet area tasted like I could imagine battery acid would taste like. The coffee bar offers a punch card of 5 coffees for around $11 plus gratuity. This was an excellent deal, as you could order any size specialty coffee, with no up charge for soy milk. If you wanted flavoring it was .50.
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the Supper Club. The food was excellent, with a special note of how good my surf and turf was. My only note here is that they had pop music playing that got louder and louder throughout the evening. By the time desert arrived, I thought we were sitting in a dance club and I did not get that at all
Out of all of our cruises, this one takes the prize for most interesting. Due to outbreaks of the swine flu, we did a "technical stop" in Cabo on our second day at sea (Tuesday) around 3 p.m.. This was our first (and last) feel of nice warm weather. Mariner of the Seas was in Cabo and all of her passengers were playing on the beaches. This stop was clearly a way of satisfying the Jones Act by calling on a foreign port. After an hour and a half of sitting in the port the captain announced that due to the swine flu outbreaks in Mexico the CDC and WHO are strongly recommending the avoidance of non-essential travel to Mexico. Thus, we are skipping all of our scheduled ports of call (Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas). In exchange, we would be calling in San Francisco on Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.. I was hopeful that they would do a series of days at sea in the southern waters where we were so that we could all get the tans that we wanted and utilize the clothing we had packed. Our little group applauded, as it was only wise to heed the warning and skip Mexico. Of course I was disappointed that I would not get my Mexican vacation and would go home without a tan, but I was happy to avoid a possible deadly virus. They announced we would get two of our port charges back totally $40 per person. We understood this course of action and went with the flow, it was beyond the cruise line's control
There was an instant uprise onboard with a select group of passengers in regards to the itinerary change. For some reason they could not comprehend that it was not a smart thing to visit Mexico, and if you look at a map of the west coast there are not many other options for a 7 day cruise! Due to the hollering, screaming and outright tantrums of these individuals in the lobby, the cruise line decided to make a "courtesy" call back in Long Beach on Thursday morning from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. to allow anyone who wished to disembark the right to do so, with no refund or compensation for the remainder of their cruise, which would be the remaining 3 nights. In exchange, the rest of us who did not complain or get upset got to enjoy San Francisco on Friday with a shortened port time from 1:30 p.m. to midnight instead of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.. How nice. We continued being positive, though, and had fun with our remaining cruise. The staff onboard took a beating from the unhappy passengers which made me feel really sad for them.
We watched from the decks above as approximately 524 people (to my count) walked off the ship in Long Beach. The feeling of the ship after these people left changed to a much more relaxed atmosphere, which was nice. I could not help but feel slighted, though, that the rest of the more than 2800 passengers left onboard got a raw deal of only a half of a day in San Francisco to satisfy those unhappy ones. We proceeded out of Long Beach at a slow pace heading toward San Francisco, traveling only a few knots per hour. After all, it is only a 6 hour drive from Long Beach to San Francisco by car!
On Friday morning I awoke early, around 6 am. We had traveled very slowly all night, and were now just outside the harbor area of San Francisco. We sat almost still until 12 Noon before heading in under the Golden Gate bridge. They stated that the reason for the shortened port call in San Francisco was due to the stop in Long Beach to drop off the unhappy passengers. They said the delay made us arrive too late in San Francisco to get under the Gate Bridge in the correct tide. This is untrue. We could have easily arrived much earlier in the morning and made our call there for a full day. After all, we went so slowly up the coast it was ridiculous. I think that the "bean counters" in the corporate offices made a financial decision to save the port charges of a full day in San Francisco in exchange for the extra port charges for the stop in Long Beach. I cannot think of another reason at all. The cruise-line also received the benefit of the extra spending in the shops, casino and bars with all of the days at sea. They could have given us a full port day in San Francisco. We made the best of it, though, and kept a positive attitude and had fun
We finally pulled up to our spot in San Francisco, just down from Mariner of the Seas, who had arrived at 4 a.m. to allow her passengers a full day in San Francisco until 10 p.m.. Passengers ashore from Mariner of the Seas also told us they had been given $150 in onboard credit per cabin towards purchasing sweatshirts and jackets due to the cold itinerary change, in addition to the return of their port charges. That was a nice gesture for the RCCL guests that helped take the sting out of their drastic change in itinerary (they also got a full day in Cabo and a full day in San Francisco). We now have a 1/2 of port day in San Francisco out of a 7 day cruise. We continued to keep our positive attitude, though, and had fun
Due to Carnival only opening up one ramp for all of us to exit from, we had a very slow disembarkation, especially due to a passenger incident at the bottom of the ramp. We finally got off the ship just before 3 p.m.. We ran in the rain from our pier location of 27 to Pier 39, where all of the shopping begins. We all bought very cute San Francisco coats and headed to lunch. We made the most of our rainy chilly day in San Francisco, walking all around the town, stopping along the way for chocolate, hot coffees and some fun shopping. We arrived back at the ship just before dinner, around 7:45 p.m.. I feel like we made the most out of our short port call in San Francisco and had fun
Overall, we had a nice cruise mainly due to the wonderful people we were traveling with and the fact that we decided we were going to have fun no matter what. The food was great and we kept a positive attitude, appreciating the fact that we were healthy and able to be aboard enjoying our cruise as we do love days at sea. I applaud Carnival's call to alter our itinerary and was happy with the decision to call in San Francisco. I was not happy that we ended up with such a shortened port call in San Francisco, when we clearly could have had a full day there. I believe Carnival dropped the ball in that instance. I truly believe that every line fits different peoples needs and desires. For me, there is too much smoking allowed onboard and things are a bit too casual for me, especially in the evenings. This was a great cruise with lots of laughs, and one we will never forget!