As background, we have cruised on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas before and absolutely loved it. There is no comparison. The reason why we decided to try the Carnival Splendor this time was for a few reasons; 1)Camp Carnival for my grandkids, 2)the water slides and mini golf and teen programs (more family oriented we heard), and 3)just to try something different.
First, the dEcor of the Splendor is ABSOLUTELY awful. We tried to keep an open mind even though the garish dEcor of the Carnival Splendor hits you everywhere you look. It has been called the pink ship, and for good reason. There are pink donuts everywhere, elevators, walls, ceilings. It is just awful. It's not even bad taste glitzy, it's just bad taste... and it's everywhere! There are what look like sunny side up eggs plastered all over the ceiling of the main dining area. The whole ship is gaudy and tasteless and in your face. We all agreed that we don't know what they were thinking when they designed and decorated this ship. It is horrid. By contrast, the RC Mariner of the Seas is a gorgeous ship and well laid out. The Mariner is classy.
The best thing the Carnival Splendor has going for it is its staff. Our dining room head waiter and his assistant were excellent. Our room steward was top notch. Everyone we encountered were friendly, polite and courteous. The ship is amazingly clean. But... we found this to be true of the RC Mariner of Seas too.
On the RC Mariner of the Seas there is a beautiful center promenade area full of shops and eateries and where they had fun parades. The Splendor doesn't have this. Instead, the Splendor seems jumbled. Like, for example, at times you must walk through a smoky casino with your kids just to expedite getting somewhere. That shouldn't be the case. The Splendor has only one gift shop and one expensive jewelry shop and one very small library with only one table. All of the lounges are clustered together instead of spread throughout the ship.
We tried to find a "game room" on the Splendor and could not. The tables are too small in any of the lounges when they are not being used and the library always had someone who had beat us to that one and only table. One evening my husband found "The Board Room" which is a conference room. He asked someone if we could use it to play cards and they said yes. So, we were the only four people in this windowless room and it was strange. We had fun teasing each other because various things would happen, like a closet door open and shut on its own, the clock suddenly started to go around fast, etc. We laughed that it must be the haunted Board Room! The next time we wanted to play there we were told we couldn't as they were going to set up to use it the next day. So we ended up going to the Lido Buffet and just finding a table there. Other people were also using this area to play games. It just seemed like a shame that there wasn't a dedicated "Game Room" so we could all meet there and maybe meet others who wanted to play games.
Next, I'll talk about the food. The dinners in the Main Dining Room are excellent on both the Carnival Splendor and the RC Mariner of the Seas. On a scale of one to ten, ten being highest, I would give RC Mariner of the Seas a ten and Carnival's Main Dining a nine. The service, as I said, was excellent, but a bit better on RC Mariner. The Lido buffet on the Carnival Splendor was good, but not great. I think they tried to provide too many different ethnic styles of food and didn't excel at any of them. In fact, some of the smells were just too much. There was a Mongolian grill which we had really looked forward to that turned out to be a big disappointment. We love to go to the Mongolian grill restaurants and pick out our veggies, meats, and choose from 20 different sauces so we were expecting the same thing. Not so. The Splendor's Mongolian grill had three sauces to choose from, Black Bean, Spicy Thai, and Spicier Szechuan. No teriyaki, no bar-b-q, and the smells were terrible coming from there. There was also Indian cuisine which looked unappealing and a Mexican burrito line. The other choices were pizza, burgers and hot dogs, and deli sandwiches. The deli sandwiches were really good. We had hot pastrami and corned beef sandwiches several days. The main food on the buffet was usually dry, bland and uninspiring. They did have really really good fried chicken one day though. Most of the time the breakfast pastries and bagels were hard and dried out and the fruit didn't look or taste good. On the RC Mariner of the Seas there seemed to be a better quality of food and our family really enjoyed going to Johnny Rockets!
Now for the entertainment. Hands down the winner is RC Mariner of the Seas. The entertainers on Carnival's Splendor were amateur by comparison. After seeing a few shows, we opted to skip the rest. We are usually easily entertained, but it was that bad. The cruise director on the Splendor needs to get new jokes and they need more fun activities for all ages. On the Mariner, the cruise director was very funny and we had a great time at all the fantastic shows. They even had terrific Ice Skating Shows on the Mariner!
My daughter found the Camp Carnival staff to be rude and so we didn't leave my grandkids there much. They did go a few times and did some fun activities, but this area needs improvement. The same goes for the Teen Activities. My two teenage daughters didn't want to go to the teen dance and I asked them why not. My daughter said, "Mom, we looked in there and saw a lot of bumping and grinding and dirty dancing, aren't you glad we decided that wasn't for us?" I said yes, of course. But I'm very disappointed that there aren't more coordinated activities on these cruise ships for teens. On the Mariner, our daughter's said that there were some groups of kids that were very cliquish and didn't accept others. I think the cruise lines should work harder to make the teen programs more inviting and fun for everyone with more activities throughout the day and evening. This is an area that definitely needs improvement on both cruise lines, in my opinion.
The ports were fun on both trips. We had a great time. The best shore excursion we had was in Puerto Vallerta where we hired our own driver and van and for $25 each he took us on a 6 hour custom tour of the area. We saw a beautiful restaurant with an awesome cliff diver and we ate authentic food at a nice little cafe in Mismaloya. Our driver was very nice and informative and stopped to let us shop when we wanted and where we wanted. It was great! The only thing we discovered in Mexico is that you need to bring cash. US dollars are accepted everywhere and we were able to negotiate some really great deals on souvenirs from the vendors.
We didn't know before going that most places in Mexico wouldn't take our credit card or wanted to charge us like an extra 10 percent if we wanted to use it. So we had to get cash on the ship. We discovered the best way to do this is in the casino when the ship is out to sea. Just go sit at a slot machine and put your fun pass card in and authorize it for some extra cash (up to $200) then play a bit and then cash out and get your remaining money from the casino window without being charged any additional fees. Otherwise, the debit machine on board charges way too much in fees.
In Mazatlan and Cabo we took shore excursions that we booked through the ship and we did not have near as much fun. Our Mazatlan tour guide told us not to buy anything from the vendors at the cliff diving area before we got off the bus as "they are selling lesser quality items". It was heart breaking to walk past all of the people trying to sell their wares to us and practically begging us to look and buy. After that our guide dropped us off in an expensive area to shop. It became obvious that these were the shops that had paid the tour to stop here. There were no good deals and we wasted much of our time here. It was very annoying to say the least. Practically the same thing happened in Cabo. My last comment is about the Captain's of the two ships. I don't even remember the name of our Captain on the Carnival Splendor. He was dry and rarely heard from. The best, most fun, interesting Captain is Captain Johnny on the Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas! He found many ways to make us smile or laugh and presented interesting information in a humorous way. We salute Captain Johnny!
So, as you may be able to tell, we enjoyed the Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas experience much much more than the Carnival Splendor. Even if RC costs a little bit more, it's worth it.