This is a more-or-less objective review of a new cruise ship. The detailed opinions are nevertheless subjective and reflect the writer's biases.
Carnival Splendor recently replaced both Carnival Pride and Carnival Spirit in the Mexican Riviera 7-day market. I have now been on all three as well as on other major carriers so can base my thoughts on a wide spectrum. The choices of ships and ports of embarkation are several and we almost had four lines in competition until Princess pulled out leaving only Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean to choose from.
First off I want to say that Carnival in general represents good value for the money. It is something of a benchmark by which to gauge the excellences as well as shortcomings of other companies. It is "Carnival" all the way. High efficiency and a busy, knowledgeable crew. Clean and for the most part spacious cabins, well laid out.
In the case of Carnival Splendor, however, a certain leveling-off obtains. It is basically a 2000+ passenger ship into which are crammed 3000+ passengers. Not a good start. Although Long Beach is a relatively easy place to sail from, San Diego and Los Angeles San Pedro have advantages as well. For cost and ease in getting from airport and/or parking, San Diego is best.
I booked an inside guarantee at a ridiculously low price just to see what would happen. As expected, my past-guest status entitled me to an upgrade of sorts to their new "Spa" deck, which I thought would include the extra features enjoyed by others in that area of the ship. It did not. It was a bad surprise not identified until embarrassed by wearing their exclusive robe and slippers into the spa only to be turned away.
It went literally downhill from there. My eye fell immediately after being rejected by spa personnel on a dEcor in the rest of the ship that is simply bizarre. A woman standing next to me in the elevator coming down to the Lido on deck nine offered that the color scheme - pink and black circles accented throughout by yellows and oranges - was likely the product of some misguided guy who thought it would appeal to women in general. I replied that, on the contrary, it looked more like the work of a granny high on some hallucinogenic. Funny little ceramic globes like pincushions dotted with verbena flowerlets adorn copper colored walls everywhere. It is just plain weird.
But the worst part on that deck is that all the public spaces have shrunk in relation to the crowds trying to get into them. Chairs back into each other as people squeeze by, unlike the case in older, smaller Carnival ships. To make matters even worse, it soon became apparent to me that on this particular cruise there were more morbidly obese passengers than I had ever seen before on any other. A waiter later told me one of them with an obsession for the standard Carnival warm chocolate melting cake had to be offloaded to a Mazatlan hospital en route, causing a delay of some two hours in sailing.
Another poor bit of structural design was obvious from the faint odor of stale tobacco I encountered even in the hallway on Deck Ten - a strictly non-smoking area. It was wafting up through the central atrium from the casino. I learned why when I discovered that, on this ship, it is obligatory for all passengers wanting to proceed indoors from one end of the ship to the other to pass directly through the casino. Only the topmost outdoor decks provide unrestricted walkways end-to-end. Similarly, the huge number of passengers needing dining rooms at 1500 a pop have mandated splitting them into two, one amidships and the other aft, separated by a large common galley that effectively creates a two-deck Chinese wall across Main and Upper decks that on most ships provide access to all the usual shops, meeting rooms, library, Internet cafe, espresso bar, etc. The Internet cafe here for example is almost hidden away, accessible only through one of fourteen or so cocktail and dance bars. (By the way, what community of 3000 inhabitants needs fourteen bars in the first place?) Even by the last day of the cruise I was encountering people totally lost in the maze trying to find their assigned dining room. Only on a similarly constructed Norwegian ship have I seen such confusion.
This is also a very loud ship. In the theater, on deck, by the main pool - a constant din of competing musicians and loudspeakers. The cruise director would interrupt from time to time in a rapid-fire voice excitedly making unintelligible noises about this or that activity, some of which I observed personally attended sparsely at best. Noisiest of all is the aptly-named Royal Flush casino, where my own gaming budget was flushed away within the first two days, even though I play only the cheap slots I am familiar with at home (where I usually come out even, by the way). But, as I have noted, it is impossible to avoid walking through that casino on the only central indoor deck. I wonder why?
In short, Splendor is nothing new. It's just a tried-and-true standard expanded way beyond its own capacity, exponentially challenged. The best symbol of that is found in the - pardon the misuse of English - library. It is called in fact the "Alexandria" library and sports a mural of that eponymous and legendary edifice. But it is in fact a tiny room that affords access to some 500 books looking as if they just came from the Salvation Army, and is in any case open for getting books only twice a day for an hour to appease the avid reader.
As a senior, I'll take Holland America's Oosterdam or even Norwegian Star over Carnival Splendor in that market any day - except when my purse has shrunk to the size of Splendor's library and I want to start with the cheapest basic price on the cheapest day out, and then just to be able to get down to some of my favorite ports of call.