Hawaii - Carnival Spirit - April 23-May 5, 2010
Overall, this was a wonderful cruise on the Spirit. This was my 8th cruise and the fourth time on a Carnival ship (second time on the Spirit). I was travelling "solo", however, it was nice to meet many wonderful people (a number of whom were Cruise Critic members).
The Spirit was a large ship, but smaller than many of the new ships afloat. It was built in 2000 (and refurbished in 2009) and was in very good condition. My inside stateroom (Category 1A) was on the Riviera Deck, room 1255. It was close to the stern elevators and on the 1st deck. The room was quite large (approx. 185 sq. ft.) with a very comfortable bed (two twin beds pushed together) with lovely linens, etc. There was plenty of closet and storage space and even if there had been two people in the cabin, there would have been lots of closet space. The bathroom was a decent size (no tub; just a shower) with lots of room to put away toiletries, etc. The towels were plush and the bathrobe was very comfortable. There was a desk/vanity and chair, a tv and a refrigerator. All in all, it was a very comfortable room. The sound proofing was very good and I rarely heard my neighbours. The cabin was close to the galley and elevators, but I never heard any noise. As well, I didn't hear any noise from the lounge above me. This was one of the quietest cabins I've ever been in.
The dEcor of the ship was a bit loud, but overall, was fine. The decorator used a "deco" theme for much of the ship and this was reflected in the colour choices, stained glass lamps everywhere, lots of mirrors/windows, and dark wood. There was a large atrium in the center of the ship that went all the way from the 2nd deck to 10th deck. At the top of the ship was a sports area and the entrance to the water slide. On deck 10 there was a walking/jogging track area circled the entire ship (3.5 laps/mile). It was nice to be able to walk on a longer track and it was quite wide, so it never felt crowed. Below that was the Lido deck that contained the Gym and the Spa. The gym was located at the very front of the ship and had plenty of windows and had two levels. The gym had lots of modern equipment and it was always busy. Next to the gym was a sauna and steam room. I never used the spa facilities nor the hair salon, however, it always seemed busy (especially on "formal night" days). There were 3 pools on the Lido deck and a number of large hot tubs. The pool at mid-ship had a roof over it, so it was a bit warmer. The roof was open in Hawaii and partially closed on sea days during the crossing to Vancouver. The surrounding decks had lots of deck chairs set out, and they were usually busy until the weather got cold. Inside the Lido Deck was the Buffet (La Playa Grille) area. There were stations on each side of the ship including hot meals, salad bar, a deli area and an oriental stir fry area, a pizzeria and a grille to get hamburgers, etc. Although it was always busy, I never had a problem finding a place to sit. Outside the Lido Buffet at the very back of the ship was another outdoor pool and an area with deck chairs, tables/chairs, etc. And there were soft serve ice cream or yogurt stations located in various spots on the Lido deck. The Panorama, Veranda, Empress and Upper Decks all contain only passenger cabins. On the Main Deck (4th deck) was where to find the upper level of the Pharaoh's Palace Lounge (the show lounge) and the Arcade. On the Atlantic deck (3rd deck) were the shops, the library/internet area, chapel, the photo area and various bars/lounges and the mezzanine level of the Pharaoh's Palace Lounge. The shops were typical and, for the most part, fairly expensive. There was an outside promenade area on each side of the ship for walking, etc., but the two sides were not completely connected, so that meant you couldn't walk a circuit under a bit of cover. The Casino was located on the Promenade deck (2nd deck) and was fairly large and always busy. Unfortunately they allow smoking in the Casino, so it was unpleasant to be in there. On this deck there were a number of different bars and lounges and a disco and karaoke area, etc. Also on this deck was the front office, shore excursions office, Guest Services Desk, etc. The atrium area on the Promenade Deck was always very busy and there was a nice bar area for drinks before dinner. The main level of the Pharaoh's Palace Lounge (where the daily bingo and other games, lectures, and evening shows took place) was large and was very comfortable. The sight lines, sound system, lighting, etc. were all fine, with just a few seats blocked by pillars. At the back of the ship on the 2nd and 3rd decks was the Empire Restaurant (the main dining room). It was well lit, well laid out, etc. I was sitting at a table for 2 on the lower level of the Restaurant (6:00 pm; early seating). The table was always beautifully set with nice linens, crystal, china, silver, etc.
There was an infirmary that was very well equipped and prepared for pretty much any type of emergency.
Overall, the ship was easy to navigate and there were lots of elevators and staircases and wide hallways, etc. Therefore, it never felt overly crowded. For the able-bodied, the ship was great. For those with mobility issues, there seemed to be good access to all the public spaces, with room for wheelchairs, walkers, etc. There were some bottleneck area near the elevators in the atrium, and also near the entrances to the dining room. Unlike many newer ships, on the Spirit you can walk from one end to the other without coming to deadends, etc. The galley is located under the main dining room at the rear of the ship and there is only one dining room.
Typical of a repositioning Hawaii cruise in April/May, there were very few children on board and the age range of the adults was across the board. There were 20 year old newlyweds to very elderly seniors. About three-quarters of the passengers were from the United States and about one-quarter from Canada, Australia and elsewhere. I think there were about 2,100 passengers on board. Overall, I found the people on board to be friendly and kind. This was the most casual cruise I've been on and also one of the shortest. All the passengers seemed to really enjoy themselves and I rarely heard any of the whining and complaining so prevalent on other cruises.
CREW and CUISINE and ENTERTAINMENT:
I found all the crew members I dealt with to be friendly and professional. The front office staff were always very helpful. The dining room staff were terrific and overall my dining experience was great. The bar/lounge staff were very good. The cruise director (Stuart Dunn) and his staff were fun and energetic. Like previous Carnival cruises, the crew were from all over the world.
I thought the food on board the ship was very good. Every evening I got to try new things, or have items I haven't thought to cook in years. The presentation was good and the food was usually hot when it arrived at the table. I found the portion sizes to be smaller, but that's a good thing! The food in the Lido was also very good and I enjoyed all the variety of foods. I ate some of my breakfasts in the Empire Restaurant and all of my lunches in the Lido Buffet.
I went to about half of the shows in the Pharaoh's Lounge. The staff singers and dancers were very good and the show band was excellent.
PRE-CRUISE AND EMBARKATION:
I flew to Honolulu a couple of days before the start of the cruise. I stayed at the Best Western Coconut Hotel in Waikiki. It was very nice, clean and modern. It is located along the canal, so it is about 4 blocks from the beach. The price was reasonable (included a good breakfast) and I would highly recommend the hotel. I took the Roberts shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel and then had the shuttle pick me up and bring me to the pier on the day of embarkation. The round trip fare was $15. I booked a full day tour of Oahu Island (through Discover Hawaii Tours) that was very good and reasonably priced. They picked up and dropped off at the Mariott Courtyard Hotel (1 block from where I stayed), so it was very convenient. The tour itself was fun, the guide informative, and I got to see parts of the island that I really wanted to visit. The rest of my time in Honolulu was spent touring on my own (walking tours, etc.).
The Spirit was docked at the terminal at Aloha Towers. I arrived at the pier around 1 pm and waited in a very slow moving line out in the hot sun for 1 hour before entering the terminal building. Once inside, embarkation was similar to what I've experienced in the past at other ports. I had entered all my information online before hand, and it took about 10 minutes to clear security and then check in.
PORTS and SHORE EXCURSIONS:
For this cruise I decided to book my shore excursions through Carnival. I had researched private tours, but in the end the itineraries and prices for the Carnival tours were similar or better. I met numerous people on board who had booked private tours or who had rented cars in the various ports. I think for a couple or a group of people, that is the way to go. More economical, more freedom, etc. Travelling solo sometimes has its challenges, and booking private tours is one of them.
We arrived at around 7 am and the weather was warm and raining. It did clear up as the day went on. I suspect that is typical for Kauai.
The shore excursion was called "Aloha Kauai Adventure". This was a 7.5 hour tour in a 12-passenger 4-wheel drive van. We travelled all over the island along back roads, through the forests, and along the cliffsides, and to Waimea Canyon (which was beautiful). A box lunch was included. It was a very good tour, with an excellent guide. Some of the off-road driving was very rough - this is not a tour for people prone to motion sickness.
Kona, Big Island
Kona is a tender port. We arrived in port at around 7:30 am and the tender boats started to run at about 8:30 am. The town is small and very touristy with lots of shops and restaurants along the shoreline.
The shore excursion was called "Kona Living History Museum". This was a 4.5 hour tour by bus through the countryside above Kealakekua Bay to the "living museum". We spent time touring the original home at the coffee farm, saw how coffee was grown and harvested, etc. and had an opportunity to taste the fruits of the harvest. We also went to the original general store to learn about life in the 1890s. This living museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian and was very good. The scenery along the coast was spectacular and the time at the farm was very interesting.
Hilo, Big Island
We arrived at around 7 am.
The shore excursion was called "Mauna Kea Summit Tour". It was a 7 hour bus tour through the countryside to the peak of Mauna Kea. Along the way we saw lava fields, smoking volcanoes on the other side of the island and a bit of the countryside. The time at the volcano was so very interesting. The tour company provided jackets, as the temperature was quite cool and it was very windy once we started to gain elevation. A box lunch was also provided while we were stopped at the visitor center. We stopped at 9,000 ft. for 30 minutes to acclimatize and then went to the summit for about 45 minutes. The air was pretty thin and there was oxygen available for those who needed it. We were able to go inside Kerk #1 Observatory to see the large telescope. The views from the summit were incredible. On the way back to the ship we stopped to see Akaka Falls and some of the beaches. This was a tour that I would highly recommend.
We arrived in port at around 7 am. We had 2 full days in port, which was a real treat. The town was about half to one mile from the pier with lots of shopping.
On the first day I did a shore excursion called "Wonders of Haleakala". This was a 4.5 hour bus tour through the countryside to Haleakala - the world's largest dormant volcano. It was very interesting. We had time to wander around on our own at the volcano taking in the sights. The elevation is quite high, and some guests were having difficulty breathing and keeping up with the others. As well, the wind was very strong. You definitely need a jacket or sweater on this tour.
That evening I booked a luau through Carnival. It was quite expensive, but great fun. I'm not likely to go to another luau, and so was fine with paying the hefty price for a once in a lifetime experience. It was held at the Hyatt Hotel in Ka'anaplai.
On day two I did a shore excursion called "Heavenly Hana". This was a 9.5 hours small bus tour along the seaside, through the forests inland and eventually ending up at the old town of Hana. It was a very long, but very interesting tour and the scenery was spectacular. A lovely lunch was served at Hana Ranch. The afternoon was spent on the road along the south and east side of the island. Again, the scenery was wonderful.
After 7 days of intensive touring (plus 2 days pre-cruise), it was great to have 5 days at sea as we sailed to Vancouver. The weather was windy and cool. Four out of the five days the upper decks and the promenade on Deck 3 were closed because of the strong winds. There were numerous activities planned throughout the day and also lots of time to just sit around and relax. There was a naturalist on board who gave lectures each sea day. We saw some dolphins near Hawaii and a few whales during the crossing.
Disembarkation was very smooth. The first people off the ship (self-assist) left around 7:30 am. Once off the ship, we had to clear customs which took about 5 minutes and there was no line-up for a taxi home. It was so hard to say good-bye to the ship...I certainly wasn't prepared to leave.
This was probably the most relaxed I've been on a cruise ship. The atmosphere was very casual and the passengers friendly. Not having to travel by air after the cruise was a big bonus for me. I realize that I've only seen a very small portion of Hawaii, and I'm looking forward to returning in the future for a land-based vacation. However, for a first visit to the islands, cruising was a great way to experience the culture and sights of the different islands.