Recently returned from our 3/21/10 cruise on the Carnival Splendor. Wow, this was a great trip.
About us: My wife and I are in our 50s, traveling with our 2 daughters ages 9 and 10. My wife is disabled, so we also traveled with her service dog, Duncan. This was my 8th Carnival Cruise, my wife's 7th, and our daughters 2nd. It was Duncan's 2nd cruise also. (My wife and I have also been on around 6 Royal Caribbean cruises.) We were joined by some friends who flew down from Washington for the cruise.
Pre-cruise: We stayed at the Hotel Current in Long Beach. The room was $99.00 for the night, which was a great deal. Since we drove in, we could leave our car in their lot for the week, with a free continental breakfast, and free shuttle ride to-and-from the ship. Our friends who flew into Long Beach airport stayed for the same price, and got free shuttle from the airport to the hotel, and then from the hotel to the pier. The hotel is nice, nothing special, and is in the process of being remodeled. AAA gives it a 3 diamond rating - probably closer to a 2 diamond, but definitely a good value.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port of Long Beach at around 11:30, and were immediately processed through. We then had to sit around for about an hour to board, as the previous sailing arrived a bit late due to fog. After a large wedding party boarded, we were allowed to board first. Ah, the benefits of having a service dog!
The ship is beautiful. I don't understand why people complain about the "pink", as all the colors seemed to work well together. The ship is spotless, and the service is very good.
Food: Lido Deck: We all found the buffet to be very good. All of the food was fresh, and tasted good. Some people have complained about the food in the Lido area being so spread out. Main buffet, Mongolian BBQ, Tandoori, Deli, Pizza bar, Burrito Bar, Grill, Rotisserie. We found this to be a great design, as it kept the 3600 passengers spread throughout the Lido area, rather than being congested. Never seemed to have problems with long lines. I found the Mongolian to be my favorite, followed by the Burrito Bar. No, you won't find as many selections at the Mongolian as in a land based restaurant, but there were still many choices, with 3 sauces each day (and not always the same). You also had 3 meats daily, such as chicken, shrimp, beef, pork, and clams & muscles (very big hit with the Asian crowd). The burritos in the burrito bar were huge. One time the worker making the burritos asked me what I wanted in the burrito, and I smiled and told him he was the Master Chef, and could make me a burrito any way he wanted. He smiled, and made me the best burrito I had on the ship. Unfortunately, many of the specialty food areas of the Lido deck are only open for lunch. The Deli is open till around 11 p.m., the Grill till around 12:30 a.m., and the Pizza bar (and the ice cream/yogurt station) is open 24/7. There are many drink stations throughout the inside part of the Lido deck, but none on the outside pool area. However, there were always waiters pushing around drink carts with water, iced tea, lemonade, and during breakfast hours they also served juices and pastries.
Main Dining Room: There are 2 main dining rooms on the ship, and both are 2 stories. We were in the lower level of the Gold Pearl Dining Room, located toward the back of the ship. Beautiful, as is everything else on the ship. We had a window table for 8, so we had a great view while we ate. The food was all very good, order whatever you want and as much as you want. Yes, everyone loved the Melting Chocolate Cake for dessert, and you should definitely order it with extra ice cream. All of the food was cooked well, and the presentation on the plates was very nice. My only complaint was with the waiter at our table. He was very friendly, however, normally the waiter knows you by name after the first day. Ours never made the effort to even ask us our names. Also, the service was a bit slower than on previous cruises, often forgetting our iced tea or milk (for the kids).
Room Service: More basic selections than on the Carnival Elation 6 months ago, but food was decent and arrived in good time.
Pinnacle Steakhouse: Six of us ate in the Pinnacle on Tuesday night. Fantastic food, fantastic service! Even though you can't order multiple items like in the regular dining room, it isn't needed here. The portions are large, such as a 24 oz. porterhouse steak, or a 12 oz. lobster tail (at least twice the size of the lobster in the main dining room). The chef makes something special for your table also, which is not on the menu. This was well worth the extra $30.00 charge per person. And the staff of the Pinnacle loved Duncan so much, they brought him leftovers each night after the Steakhouse closed!! He ate better than we did!!
Cabins: We had an outside cabin on deck 1. The layout of the cabins on the newer ships like the Splendor is MUCH better when you have 4 people sharing a cabin. On the older Fantasy Class ships, the 3rd and 4th passengers have beds that fold down from opposite walls, giving you very little walking space in the cabin (and making it easy to bang your head when getting out of the main beds). On the newer ships, there is a couch in the room which gets made into the third bed, and the 4th bed pulls down from the ceiling directly over the couch/bed. There is plenty of room to walk in the cabin. Lots of storage areas, including shelves, drawers and closets, as well as 2 large drawers under the couch. Stored everything we brought, and still didn't use all the storage areas. There is also a safe in the cabin, and a small fridge stocked with things Carnival wants you to buy. Towel animals nightly, and yes, they still have chocolate mints nightly on the bed. Our room steward was not the best we've had. While the room was always spotless, he also, like our waiters, never bothered to learn our names. It also took him 3 days (with reminders) to unlock the fridge in the room.
Entertainment: We saw the 2 Vegas-style shows, The Beat, and VROOOM. We enjoyed The Beat, and loved VROOOM. Really good sound, lighting, music, and singers & dancers. There were also 2 comedians on different nights, and we enjoyed both. No hypnotists or magicians on this cruise. No matter where you went on the ship, there was always something to do day and night. And the movies under the stars (on the Lido deck big screen) is a great addition. If it's too cold or windy, they just close the sliding roof.
Shore excursions: We didn't do any of the ships shore excursions, as they more than double the price for them.
In Puerto Vallarta, I got off the ship without the family and did the Los Veranos Canopy Tour. The tour includes 14 zip lines through the jungle, and was fantastic, and well worth the (appx.) $65.00. After the tour I went back to the ship to get the family so we could do some shopping. This is where our 1 big problem happened. When we went to leave the ship, and placed our Sail-and-Sign card into the computer reader before leaving, bells went off. Literally! We were told we were barred from leaving the ship, and had to go to the Guest Services desk. At the desk, they told us that Duncan had not been cleared to leave the ship, as his rabies shot wasn't current. Now understand, we were required to see a veterinarian 10 days before the cruise to verify his vaccinations and rabies were up to date, and to get him an International Health Certificate. All of these were faxed to Carnival 9 days before the cruise. After faxing them all of the papers, I called to verify they received everything, and that everything was correct. They said everything was fine. Nothing else had been mentioned to us about Duncan. When we checked in at the port in Long Beach, they again made copies of everything and told us that everything was fine. Never were we told that the rabies shot had to be annual in Mexico, even though the rabies shot in the U.S. was good for 3 years, and that on our Cruise to Ensenada 6 months earlier we had no problem! So, my wife and Duncan couldn't get off the ship. I asked Guest Services why we hadn't been notified, so we could have gotten another shot for him, and they could not answer. They also couldn't tell me if they would be able to get off the ship in Mazatlan or Cabo. They said they would contact the other ports to see if there would be any problems. I told them if there were problems, they should contact a veterinarian in Mazatlan to come aboard and give Duncan a rabies shot. They said they would do whatever was necessary to solve the problem. Fortunately, the officials at both Mazatlan and Cabo were willing to let us off the ship (though each time the bells went off again, and security had to contact Guest Services).
In Mazatlan, we took a cab to the Golden Zone and did some shopping, then back to the ship.
In Cabo, we went sightseeing in a glass bottom water taxi for the 5 of us (including Duncan) for only $35. The kids loved it, and we saw all the sights. Afterwards, we walked around the area for shopping and then back to the ship.
The vacation was great. Even with the snafu debarking in Puerto Vallarta, we weren't about to let it spoil the cruise. Carnival gave us a great value, and a great time, as always.