DH and I sailed on the Carnival Splendor October 18-25, 2009 along with Hurricane Rick and a great group of Cruise Critic folks.
We drove down from northern California and stayed at the Hilton Long Beach the night before the cruise. We hadreserved the special Carnival Cruiser park and stay package with the hotel on-line and it worked out really well.
We had a nice king room on the 10th floor for only $89. We left our car in the garage during the cruise and werenot charged parking for the whole 8 days since Mark at the front desk had made a note on our parking ticket, so we were able to exit the garage easily. During check-in, I asked Mark at the front desk about getting a shuttle to theport the next morning, they don't have a list to sign up on, he said to just let them know when we were ready. Sowe went to the restaurant for breakfast then to the front desk to let them know we were ready for the shuttle (about10:00 a.m.), he radio'd the shuttle and found that he was not near the hotel (at the airport I think), so said we could have a taxi on the hotel take us to the port. Mark filled out a voucher that the valet gave to a taxi waiting in front and we were off to the port which is only a couple of miles away.
We arrived at the port during the height of debarkation from the previous cruise, so decided to take our luggage tothe early check-in counter and then return to the garage area to turn our luggage over to the porters when thingscalmed down a little. We walked right up to the check-in counter and had our Sail&Sign cards and our Zone 2 pass inour hands in less than 5 minutes and then found a nice spot on one of the new seating areas around the planters andwaited a while, in a little bit the crowd was thinning, so DH took our 2 suitcases to the porters and I sat with ourcarry-on. As we approached the check-in counter an employee handed us the usual paperwork plus a letter explainingour itinerary change to avoid Rick. We would be doing Ensenada on Monday to let the storm pass south of us, thentwo sea days on the way to Puerto Vallarta on Thursday, Cabo on Friday as usual, missing Mazatlan. Some people grumbled about the change, but no one was really angry and most completely understood. Later in the day, thecaptain made an announcement that we would be traveling about 100 miles wide of Rick to avoid any problems and weleft port about 90 minutes late since he was putting on extra fuel just in case. It ended up that Rick moved out ofthe way faster than predicted, so we were able to go directly from Ensenada to Puerto Vallarta just skirting Cabo(we could see it as usual on the way by). We did have some relatively rough seas for a day or so and rain on Wednesday night, but then it all passed and the ocean and ports were very nice.
The ship is very nice and very new (newest one we've cruised on) and is very pink, but after the first couple of hours we really didn't notice the pink circles much. Our balcony cabin (6271) was very comfortable and identical to our last one on the Spirit. We were very near the atrium elevators and stairs which was very convenient, except that we were farther forward on the ship than usual, so the Lido eating areas were a long way away.
We were at an 8-person table (109) on the lower level of the Black Pearl restaurant at the late seating. The table wasn't full, just 2 other couples that we got along with very well and hung out with from time to time during the cruise. Our maitre'd, Klaudio Vukic, was the best maitre'd we've ever had. He was very entertaining, danced and sang standing up on a podium, and visited our table several times during the week. Our wait staff, Inyaman (he told us to call him Ya'man) and Wijayanti (she said to call her Putu) were great, very quick and efficient and friendly.
There were no delays between courses or ordering, there was plenty of bread and the water glasses were filled constantly. Alam, the 'table artist' stopped at our table a few times and did card tricks, he was very entertaining. The food was very good to outstanding on this ship, all the items that we really like from previous cruises were as good or better than in the past and new things we tried were also excellent. The dining room was never completely full, there were partial tables and a few completely empty tables all week.
On Wednesday night, DH and I had dinner at the Pinnacle Steakhouse. The food and the service was excellent as usual. Our hostess, Tiz, was very professional and friendly. The sommelier, Ioana, was very efficient and our wait staff Nisa and Bonica were very efficient, friendly, and unobtrusive. We probably should have eaten there more than once to try some of the different items.
Our whole cruise critic group and our tablemates all agreed that overall, the Splendor crew was the most friendly and efficient any of us had had on a ship, ever. We had several very friendly and efficient bartenders at the various bars. We especially liked Yuliya at the Liner bar and her husband Oleksander who was at the atrium bar in the day and behind the scenes at the Piano Bar at night. Also at the Liner bar was Anak and Neil who were very friendly and fun. The servers in the piano bar (Arif, German, and Samitanun) were also very efficient and fun. Every bartender and server everywhere remembered us, what we drank, and our folio numbers, many got extra tips from us on the last day.
We spent every evening after dinner in the Grand Piano Bar with Ron Pass and it was one of the highlights of the cruise. Ron is an amazing performer and entertainer and a really nice guy. We had great sing-alongs and got to know the passengers that also seemed to be there every night including many of our very fun Cruise Critic group (Poolguppy, Bawston, and many more). We bought Ron's CD that was recorded right there on the Splendor a couple of months ago and it takes us back to the cruise when we listen to it. Ron will be leaving the Splendor November 8 and doing a new gig at a new piano bar in Puerto Vallarta. He said he will come back to Carnival next year but doesn't know which ship yet even though he'd prefer the Splendor since he lives in Las Vegas.
We also took the 'Behind the Fun' tour on the last sea day. This tour was amazing and I would highly recommend it, even at $95/person. The tour was over 3 1/2 hours long and quite detailed, lots and lots of walking and climbing steep crew stairs. We were given a tour of the engine control room by the head engineer, a tour of the main galley by the head chef, Sanjay Chowdhury, and visited the captain on the bridge and had a chance to chat with him and take pictures. We also saw most of the crew areas, all the dining rooms, laundries, environmental controls, the I-95, freezers, morgue, brig, and many many more places on decks 0, A, and B, it's an amazing 'city' down there.
We didn't do any excursions in the ports. In Ensenada we just walked around the little shopping area there at the port. In PV we just walked around the shops there at the port, in both ports looking for a specific tequila. Because of the itinerary changes of several ships, there were 3 ships in PV (we were originally to be there alone). We were kind of squeezed in between the Mariner of the Seas and Celebrity Infinity and in such a strange place that we had to actually back all the way out of the port area, not enough room to turn around I guess. We were also with the same ships in Cabo, but there weren't any backups at the tender pier. It did take a while to get off the ship because there were some swells in the harbor which slows down the tendering operation. We had tender sticker #27, which we got at about 9:00 a.m., and we sat in the main lounge for 30+ minutes waiting for them to call our number.
Once we started down to the tenders we walked right on to the tender and were in Cabo in minutes. And the return trip was easy since we didn't stay until the end of the day. The captain stayed an extra hour in Cabo (4:00 instead of 3:00) since he felt bad about the itinerary change, he wanted to give something back to us (he told us this during our tour of the bridge the next day).
We had debarkation tags #12 and were off the ship by 9:45, found our luggage quickly, and went through customs quickly (no customs agents checking, just Carnival employees and then security at the exit door). Since we neglected to get a card or information to call the Hilton to get their shuttle back to the hotel to get our car, we just decided to take our own taxi to the hotel (I think that taxi driver just moved from NY, he was a crazy driver!) which cost $12 including tip and we were in our car and exiting the parking garage at 10:30 and on our way home.
We had a great time on this ship and will be doing this cruise again in a year with a group of friends (28 so far) and expect to have as good a time then as we did on this cruise.