Embarkation was super fast. We arrived at the pier just about 12:00pm and we were eating lunch on the Lido Deck by 12:45pm. By 2:15pm all the bags were in our staterooms and we were getting unpacked. After the quick muster drill at 3:45pm, all the formalities were over and everyone was ready for the fun week ahead.
We found the ship's overall decor to be...creative. The main lobby has a massive vertical corridor that extends all the way to the sky, letting in natural light. The Pharaoh's Lounge is done in a somewhat cheesy Egyptian theme, there is the Asian-inspired Shanghai Bar, and the piano lounges are decorated with topless renaissance ladies. Overall there were plenty of seating and lounging areas on the ship. There were hardly any kids on board and we never felt like it was loud or crowded in the least.
The Empire Dining room was elegantly decorated with nice fabrics and chandeliers. My biggest complaint of the whole trip, though, was the dining room's location on the ship. I swear we were seated right above the ship's engine because we rattled and shook like an earthquake all through dinner the first three nights. It almost got to the point that we were going to ask for another table, but I think the whole dining room was feeling it. That was a major bummer. The wine service was slow. We never got our first glass before the second course.
We were, however, pleasantly distracted from the seismic shaking and lack of booze by the delicious food and wonderful service! Our head waiter was Ricardo (he won employee of the month while we were aboard) and our other waiter was Tranquilino. They were so doting and professional that we made sure to give each of them a special tip on the last night. They made us feel like we were guests at the Ritz. Our every wish was granted. On the menu we found delicious soups (tomato bisque, french onion, Tom Ka Gai), excellent appetizers (crab cakes, prosciutto and melon, shrimp cocktail) and fabulous entrees (broiled lobster, braised short ribs, jerked pork tenderloin, filet mignon). The desserts were good (melting chocolate cake, bitters and blanc, various ice creams) but not great. It didn't matter, though. We ate so many courses during dinner we could barely finish our wine! Never bothered with the $30-a-head steakhouse because the dining room food exceeded our expectations.
The food on the Lido deck was good for breakfast and lunch. We found that the few times we ate breakfast in the dining room the food was exactly the same but just served more elegantly. In the cafeteria we especially liked the asian buffet and the panini station. The panini station was open until 11pm, so I had a delicious hot pastrami sandwich as a late night snack a few times. Yum!
We had excellent waiters on the pool deck also. Ramil, Alexsander, Tono and Putu all gave great service. They were not too pushy with the drink sales, just quick and polite. They would even follow us into the cafeteria sometimes when it got too windy to play cards outside. We are super card-playing geeks, so of course we brought a 6-deck automatic card shuffler. It became quite the spectacle. Waiters would stop in front of our table ask to push the shuffle button. Needless to say, we are easily entertained.
Weather on board varied dramatically. The sea days were either very hot or very cold, but we didn't really mind the change. On the hot days we found a quiet part of the deck to drink beers and catch some rays. On the cooler days we were too sunburned to be outside anyhow. We'd whale watch or go shopping or watch a DVD. Soooooo relaxing.
One negative point, in my opinon, were the shows. We sat through the second night's show "Jazz Hot" and it was SO not. The dancers were slow and uncoordinated. Bad timing is the number one sign of an amateur troupe. The singers, too, lacked timing on their harmonies and the solos were tone deaf. Even the Sinatra-Dean Martin show was bad. It's a shame, too, since Carnival purposely flys in the main singer each week from LA for that one show. Major boo boo.
The dance club, too, is usually a major draw for us since we love to dance. This club could have scratched the one hour of "theme" music at the beginning of each evening. They did a Michael Jackson night and a 50's 60's 70's night, but these were snore fests. We just sat around and watched the older folks scoot around until the good music started. Even then, the DJ was hesitant to take requests and he played the same tracks every night. We stopped going after the fourth night since he gave us major attitude.
The 8 day cruise was PERFECT when compared with a 7 day. The extra day makes such a difference. The pace of two sea days, three port days and then two more sea days just put us in total relaxation mode. We just couldn't have asked for a better cruise and we would recommend the Carnival Spirit to anyone. Bon Voyage!
For our stop in Manzanillo, we knew right away that we were going to spend the day at a resort. We looked briefly at one of the tourguide's maps after getting off the ship and decided on the Tesoro resort. The tourguide wanted $120 US for a roundtrip ride in a Suburban to Miramar beach which was only 5 kilometers farther than the Tesoro. We were like "NO WAY!!" We got suckered in Acapulco, we were going to find a better deal than that. And we did. The next cabby we talked to agreed on $12 US to take the 4 of us to the Tesoro from the ship.
The Tesoro is a cool spot, a giant white tower right on a beautiful cove with turquoise blue water. For $32 US per person we got wristbands which gave us access to unlimited alcoholic drinks, a lunch buffet, the pool, towels and beach chairs. For us it sounded a little steep at first, but after we dipped one toe into the gorgeous warm water, we were sold. It's nice to have access to clean bathrooms and cold drinks when you are spending the day at the beach. We maxed and relaxed, ate and drank, swam and splashed all day until about 3:30pm when it was time to go. Unfortunately, one of our friends either lost or had his wallet stolen while he was swimming. The good news is he still had his sign&sail card which got him back on the ship.
I would definately return to the Tesoro for a regular vacation, as it is an all-inclusive resort where the food is actually GOOD!!
Getting off the ship, you have to walk through the port building to the street where you are hounded by cabbies and tourguides. I would recommend walking out past the port building until you can find a cab to anywhere along the coast under $8 US. The guys at the port are asking $15 US for a one way trip and up to $100 US for 5 or 6 hours. Don't do it, they are totally ripping you off.
We ended up getting a cab for $15 US (ripoff!) to take the 4 of us just shy of Condesa beach to some random restaurant. Our first clue that this was a bad idea should have been the cheap laminated menus with pictures of the food on them. And the prices were comparable to what we pay in LA for Mexican food. The beers were 300 pesos or $3 US. Not cheap. Whatever, we decided to eat there anyway. Um, YUCK! Our fish and shrimp tacos were fishy and overfried, the salsa and guacamole were tasteless and the beans were grainy.
The minute we paid the bill - again, overpriced! - we started walking on the beach towards a bar called "Paradise" that one of the young british crewmembers recommended. He said that is where the crew go to drink and party at night. The place looked like a old weathered shack with an open bar, but the beach seemed nice. The palapas, at least, were the authentic thatched ones and not just plastic pop-up tents.
After ordering a few buckets of beers at "Paradise" and sinking our toes into the warm sand, we had finally reached chill status and we hung out there the rest of the day. The water was clean (as far as we could tell) and warm. Once we were back on the ship and our nasty fish lunch started to digest, however, we didn't feel well enough to go back out to see the cliff divers.
My recommendation for Acapulco is to head over to the Fairmont Princess resort and eat/drink/swim over there. It will be a costlier cab ride, maybe worth the $15 we paid to go half the distance, but it will be worth it. We heard the resort and the beach there is beautiful.
After learning our lesson with taxi prices in Acapulco, we took a brief walk from the dock to the little shopping area just next door, and we walked all the way to the end before a cab agreed to take us to Ixtapa for $8 US. The cabby didn't really speak english, but what we could decifer is that it hadn't rained in the month of February in Ixtapa for 25 years! We could tell, too, since the roads were badly flooded. We took a deep breath and said a prayer, and then we were off in that rickety cab to Ixtapa. The cab ride is normally about 20 minutes, but the driver was very careful and he drove slowly so it took about 30 minutes.
He dropped us at the NH Krystal hotel in Ixtapa, since the year before we had great massages at the Krystal in Puerto Vallarta. This resort, however, did not have a spa at all. Bummer. We discovered, though, that this hotel was totally prepared for a rainy day. The hotel staff had the bar area set up with Wii bowling, card and board games, free drink specials - and people were loving it! Even though my friend and I were eager to get our massages, we stayed at the Krystal and had a couple (strong!) margaritas while the boys played Wii bowling with the hotel guests. What a blast!
After that we caught a two-minute cab ride to the Emporio Resort. We could have walked, really, but it was still pouring rain. The Emporio is truly impressive, from top to bottom! The boys grabbed a seat at the bar and ordered lunch while my friend and I got our spa treatments. And. What. A. Treat! The "Couple's 50 minute Massage" was only $96 US and worth every penny. What they don't tell you on the spa menu is that you get 10 minutes in the sauna, followed by 10 minutes in the steam room, followed by 10 minutes in the jacuzzi AND THEN you get a 50 minute massage! WOW! The massage therapists were the most professional and courteous I have ever experienced. They spoke in whisper soft voices, they used gentle but firm pressure where necessary, they ensured a quiet environment with low lights and aromatherapy...I could just go on and on. We tipped them very well so hopefully they know how greatful we are!
After another $8 cab ride back to the dock, we wanted to shop. The shops were so charming with their leaky tin roofs and everyone scrambling to stay under the eves. It's too bad that we didn't have much time to shop because there were gorgeous hand-painted wooden and stoneware platters, beautiful tequila and shot glass sets in the iron holders, lovely hand-painted jewelry boxes and carved turtles and frogs....oh! The artisan goods here were different than anything I've seen before in Mexico. I would really love to come back with more time and money to this place.