We just returned from our awesome cruise on the Carnival Splendor. Before I forget them, I would like to share all of our findings to better equip you for your future cruise. My DW, DD (2), and I had an awesome time, but there are some things that I wished I knew prior to the cruise.
We traveled to So.Cal early to take in a few days at Disneyland. We stayed a short walk away from Disneyland at the Courtyard by Marriott- Anaheim. We used the Disneyland Express to get from the airport to the hotel. We had some $5 off per person coupons that we found online that made the one way trip under $20 a person. The bus was very nice, but we just missed the 8:30 bus which forced us to wait nearly 45 minutes with a cranky 2 year old on an island in the middle of busy LAX traffic. We considered using Super Shuttle a number of times during the wait, but we were very happy with the bus when it showed up. We enjoyed 3 days at Disneyland/California Adventure.
On the morning of the cruise, we ignored (which is very important) the call from Carnival and left the hotel at 10:30. We used American VIP to shuttle our 15 people from the hotel to the port. They were very courteous and were on time. We figured out that the round trip (Disneyland to Long Beach Port and then Long Beach Port to LAX) was roughly $25 per person with gratuity included. Chartering the 24 passenger bus was well worth it though. We arrived in the port at 11:15. After the porter took our bags, we were off to check in. The line at this time was very short and after checking in just outside the dome and getting our sail and sign cards, we were placed into Zone 3. We ended up only waiting another hour or so to board the ship. There is a very nice waiting area that is covered with cement benches. At 12:00, the line to check in was very long. I cannot recommend getting into port early enough. It makes the embarkation process smooth. We were let in the dome around 12:30. The dome was simply us walking through, getting the first of many Carnival pictures, going up an escalator, getting your Sail and Sign image taken, then boarding the ship. We were on the ship before 1:00 and on the Lido deck eating just after that.
Let's start with talking about the cruise food. Simply, it is incredible. I am not sure what these other people are rating this against, but this food was awesome. We used the Lido deck for breakfast and lunch and then the Black Pearl Dining Room for dinner. On the Lido deck, there are some wonderful hidden gems. 1. Regular Lido Deck Buffet- There are a number of lines to receive whatever the theme of the day is. There was a Mexican day and my favorite was Chocolate Buffet day (Friday). 2. Omelet Bar- In the morning, there is an Omelet station. You can have a regular or yolk free (white) omelet made with vegetables and ham. A number of people took bacon up there too from another place and had him put that into there too. You can also have them fry up some eggs to order as well. I frequented this. 3. Burrito/Mongolian Bar- The Omelet station is changed during the noontime into a Mongolian Bar in the middle area and a Burrito Bar in the back area. The Mongolian Grill has 3 sauce options and the meat options changed each day. I had calamari one day, chicken another, shrimp still another. The line for this was long as the lunch time progressed, so be prepared. The Burrito bar is in the back buffet line. You can have a burrito rolled to order. Again, there are various meats and salsas. They add chips to the basket. The kids loved this, as I did. 4. Tandori Grill- This station is outside in the Adults only area (which was never busy during lunches). If you enjoy ethnic foods, then this is your place. They had different sauces, meats, etc. All the vegetables are often served cold, including corn on the cob with butter cold. Kids might not like it, but it is worth a look. 5. Sandwich Bar- This is on the other side of the Adults only area. You can have a sandwich or Panini grilled to order. The women seemed to love this area. Once people start finding out about this later in the cruise, it is a busy area. I would highly recommend. 6. The Pizza Grill- The kids absolutely loved this. This is out near the main pool. Be prepared to wait. They normally do not highly stock this with made food. You can order 6 different types of pizza, calzones, and Caesar salads. The pizza was great. You have to try the Anchovy and Caper pizza. It was interesting to say the least. Salty fish and pizza... just different. I would highly recommend the Goat Cheese and Mushroom. It was addicting. This is open 24 hours (except for the final debarkation day). You can order a full pizza anytime after 6 pm too. Calzones are made to order, but take 12-15 minutes. They are well worth it though. 7. The Burger Bar-They offer hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and massive hot dogs. They have fries and chips and nacho cheese here. A lot of people liked this and it was very busy on sea days. 8. THE HIDDEN GEM... The Rotisserie- This is on the upper level (Deck 10) above the back buffet before the adults only area. There is a hidden sign that many people miss. I ran into a number of people who found this finally on the last day. It is never busy. They have rotisserie chicken, salads, etc. It is really nice.
So, what did I learn as well. Seating on the Lido deck is almost non-existent on Sea Days. Take your food and go up to Deck 10 using the stairs back by the rear buffet. There are tons of tables always. This is really nice to know if you get on a bit late on the Embarkation day. That day, while everyone is waiting for their rooms, is nearly impossible to find a table, but not up there.
We were able to get into our room by around 2:00. We chose rooms on the Deck 8 near the front of the ship. We had rooms 8240, 8248, 8232, and 8238. These were all Balcony Rooms for 3 or 4 people. The rooms all were excellent and very quiet. Unfortunately, our group was a bit loud and we felt sorry for the older couple stuck in between us. As for comfort level, we could hear no noises from above and the rooms were excellent for sleeping. There was a lot of room for luggage. We put all 6 of our bags under the bed with no problem. I would highly recommend the rooms. The balconies were great too. I read on Cruise Critic that you could open the balcony dividers if you were next to someone you were with. My brother used a finger nail clippers to open it. Imagine your lock at home if you took out the handle itself but left the equipment in. That is how these doors are closed. So, it was very simple. Our cabin steward would have opened it too, but it was honestly simple. We sat on the balcony quite a bit and saw a ton of sealife. We saw whales, dolphins, a hammerhead shark, stingrays, and flying fish. Most of the sea action was within 6-8 hours of Cabo. Keep your camera ready. It was a really fun time. Our cabin stewards Manny and Wyan were the best stewards I have ever had. They took great care in the room and were wonderful with my little 2 year old girl. She gave them "big hugs" the last day. They left us some neat animals. Also, a little tip... if you enjoy the book on the Splendor from the room, ask your cabin steward about taking it home with you. I was able to bring mine home for free. It was a really nice addition to the souvenirs from the trip.
Our group was varied between 2 years old and 60 years old. We have kids in all of the programs. My DD was at Camp Carnival along with our 7, 9, 10 year olds with my family's group. My daughter only lasted one day because she would rather be with us and her grandma. She enjoyed the first day though. Make sure that your child is in on the first sea day. They get to color a complimentary Camp Carnival t-shirt. This was done at all age levels for Camp Carnival. I saw a ton of kids wearing them. This is a neat, free souvenir. Also, if your child likes stuffed animals, they have a Build-a-Bear type program that you have to pay for. We stumbled onto something during this. They promote a $20 animal and then you can pay for clothes and other things. My DD really wanted a Fun Ship Freddy (Carnival's Mascot). They had a stuffable one, and to our amazement, it was only $12 with 2 costumes. Most others were paying $33+ for a non-Carnival animal and we paid $12! This particular Freddy was much larger than the one from the giftshop and that was $15. So, we felt it was a great steal! We got the same stuffing experience as well. They gave us stuffing and we shoved stuffing into Freddy. It was fun. The other kids had fun with their time in Camp Carnival. We had a good number of crying times because they didn't want to leave CC. So, kudos to Carnival for that. As for the other older kids programs, we had some kids in them and they enjoyed them. They had to have been good because the kids didn't tell us much. They had a number of dance parties and fun activities like casino night and other themed events.
As for the evenings, there were two formal nights and 5 casual nights. There are a number of different picture taking stations around the ship on all nights. If you are looking for a set of nice pictures for a better cost, then try this. Each one of the casual or formal pictures are going to cost you $21.99 a piece. Most people will buy one or two of these on the cruise. If you are planning on this, then here is an idea. They ran a couple of deals on photos on our cruise. The first deal started somewhere around Tuesday and ended on Thursday. The deal was "Buy 3 Casual Pictures, Get 1 Free". Now, what I found was a good amount of people figured this out and dressed really nice on one of these "casual" nights. They got their pictures taken and saved some money. The other was to match up with someone and buy your pictures together. They ran 2 other deals that we saw. On Friday and Saturday, it was "Buy 7 pictures get the 8th free". Also, on our Formal Dining Table on the final night of the cruise, there was a coupon for "Buy a Last Night Picture, Get 4 wallets Free". It is also helpful to know that if you move your pictures into another area and try to come back the next day to buy them, they will be thrown away. We found if you put them back in the correct area, they will not be thrown away. Oh, please note that they have a deal with buy the first picture for $21.99 and get the same picture reprinted for $9.99. In small print on the bottom, they make sure to say that this does not apply if you are in a large group. So, we had our three families in a picture and had to pay full price for the same picture reprinted 2 more times.
For the food in the evenings, we went to the Black Pearl on the Early Seating. We had tables 106 and 108. I cannot rave enough about our waiters Carlos from Jamaica and Pardamean from Indonesia. Carlos was by far the best waiter I have ever had on a cruise. He was wonderful with the children, and my 2 year old daughter would actually look forward to seeing Carlos that night. We had one of our 13 year olds cry the last night because, and I quote that "I am going to miss Carlos." He was wonderful kind to the kids and very receptive to getting them anything and everything that they needed. We really looked forward to each night with them. The food was incredible too. I cannot even start saying which items were better than others. There were just so many. I am a big Chocolate Melting Cake fan, so that was my dessert each night. I think my favorite meal was the last night with Zucchini and Eggplant Parmesan .
For the entertainment, we really enjoyed the shows. As everyone says, Vroom was the best of them. It is very high paced and captivating. I encourage you to get a seat early as close to the stage as possible. The other shows were fun as well. The female singer for the week was great. The male lead singer had a great voice, but was very unemotional. The dancers always amaze me on these cruise ship shows. This didn't disappoint. We did not go to the final night, but heard it was the least favorite out of all of them. This is the one with the cruise guests performing. There was also a family show with a magician and a comedian half way through the week that was very funny to take the kids to. The comedians at night were rated R and a bit raunchy if you like that. With our crew, we never made it to the pool parties and late night dances, but it seemed according to what they showed on the TV later in the week that people really had fun. As for the Splendor gift shops, they were OK. If you are looking for t-shirts and you want ones that say Carnival on them, they have some neat ones on the final sea day back to LA. They run 2 t-shirts for $20. They have ones from Cabo, Puerto Vallerta and Mazatlan that have the Splendor on them. They run out fast, so get there early. There were no other special deals in the regular gift shop. As for the liquor store, I would highly recommend buying on the evening of the Cabo day. This gives you three ports to check out prices. Each year, I take my camera into the port of call shops and when I find a good deal, I take a picture (IN US DOLLARS) of the price and bottles. They have a price match guarantee on the boat. I was able to get Kahluha on the boat for $8.50 a bottle. The nice thing about getting it on the boat is that they will box it up for you and it is on your Sail and Sign account. Then, I got the best price possible. Take a walk through the liquor store if that is what you want to bring back with you before Puerto Vallerta day so that you know what they have before going onshore. As for the perfume and jewelry, we don't get into that, but it seemed that a lot of people were buying that stuff. Everyone gets into that "By the Inch" jewelry stuff. They have it numerous times in front of the jewelry area.
As for the casino, my dad frequented this most of the cruise. He lost a bit overall, but enjoyed himself. The thing that I found in the casino is that you can get your Sail and Sign card punched and a springy lanyard gets attached to it. This was a cheap way to have your Sail and Sign card around your neck. Some of my family paid the 3 for $12 lanyards in the gift shop, but my lanyard worked great for the cruise. It is springy too, which means you don't have to constantly take it off to get into your room. In the casino, there were tournaments all the time for blackjack, slots or poker. Remember, this is closed when in port, so get your game on at sea.
As for things on the ship, one of my major disappointments was the weather/pools. In June, the median temperature on sea days on the ship was 63 degrees. As the captain told us in our tour I will talk about in a bit, he said that is because the ship follows the "cool current" and that it is always this way. They closed the roof on most sea mornings and opened it later on. The pools were cold and the hot tubs were always packed. The water park for little ones was cold too, which did not work on sea days. I took by DD up there the afternoon of the Cabo day in Cabo and it was still freezing. My DW wished she would have packed more long sleeve things. Just a recommendation for all that are thinking it is going to be blazing hot because you are headed to Mexico. With all the kids, I never got in the adults only pool in the back, so I cannot comment.
Seeing as I am complaining a bit, I want to comment on the Splendor Steakhouse called the Pinnacle. We had been in the Steakhouse on the Carnival Valor and REALLY enjoyed it. So, we willingly put up the extra $30 a person for the Pinnacle on the Splendor. I reserved the table online early on to make sure that we had seats. Overall, I was impressed with the food and NOT impressed with everything else. On the Valor, the steakhouse had quiet piano music playing in a romantic environment. We were barely able to put a fork down and two waiters were there clearing out spot and placing the needed cutlery for the next course. We were so impressed. As for the Pinnacle, the first mistake is that it is placed in the worst possible place on the ship. It is on Deck 11 in the back of the ship. They built it so that it is just under the basketball court and running track. Throughout my meal, all we would hear is the bang of the basketball or the feet of the people banging above us. Then, this was also above the back buffet on the Lido deck and you could openly hear all of the noise from this as well. I hoped for serene and we did not get that. Then, we were seated at the worst possible table. This table vibrated the entire meal. I took video of my wife's soup shuttering on the plate, the wine sloshing in the glass, and as I described it, someone had put a roll of quarters in our table like a vibrating bed. It was terrible. I asked two different waitresses about it, hoping they would reseat us, but they said it was normal. I looked at all the other people and didn't see their tables endlessly vibrating. This just put a huge damper on it. I should have been stubborn and rude until we got reseated, but I couldn't be during my anniversary celebration with my wife. I hope Carnival takes care of this. I will be writing them and encouraging them to look to make it more of an intimate dining experience. The food, however, was amazing as always. I had the surf and turf and my wife had the filet minion. I had an Ahi Tuna appetizer that was probably better than my final meal. The cheesecake at the end was 3 inches tall. It was awesome. It was too bad that the vibrating table and the banging basketball put a damper on it. So, if you are planning on Pinnacle, have them seat you near a window. You will be thankful.
Not sure why this popped into my mind, but I have to comment on the Past Cruiser Party. This was great as always. Make sure you are on time and ready to drink. There are complimentary drinks for 45 minutes and Carnival shows a neat video on its history and everyone gets to yell when the ships they have sailed on pops up. This is a neat tradition that I hope Carnival continues.
The cruise director Goose and assistant Stephanie were ok. We really had little interaction with them. I was hoping for John Heald but just missed him on the Splendor. I would not say that they were my favorite though.
I would highly, highly recommend the one "Excursion" that we booked immediately upon entry to the ship the first day. It is called "Behind the Fun". This is a 3-1/2 hour tour of the ship from top to bottom on the final sea day. They only allow 16 people on the tour. It is $95 a person it is was awesome. It was well worth the money. You meet at 8:45 in the morning in the library. They wand you down to check to make sure that you do not have cameras or video devices. This is to keep the crew areas "secure". You are taken as a group around the ship. You get two 8x10 pictures on the tour free with your purchase. One occurs in the front of the ship by the ship's bell. The other is with the captain. These pictures are great. Then, Yulia, our tour guide took us around the ship through all the crew areas. You get to ask question of important crew and see areas of the ship like behind the scenes on the stage, dressing rooms, crew cafeterias, storage, engine control, garbage, kitchen, freezers, restaurants, and the bridge. We were able to be on the bridge for 15 minutes and spoke with the captain for about half of that. It was by far the neatest experience I have had on a Carnival ship. At the end, you receive a bag, hat, lanyard, and a special carved bar of soap in a swan shape. Later in the evening, you receive a plate of chocolate covered strawberries, gourmet cookies and the pictures you took in your stateroom. I would highly recommend this tour to all. But, book it immediately when you get on the ship.
As for Debarkation, we used the relaxed debarkation because of our late 2 p.m. departure from LAX. We had zone 33. It took a long time to debark. They did not inform everyone when Zones came up. We went down midway through Zone 20 and asked someone what Zone it was and they said "Anyone can leave now." So, we did. After going through all the customs and Carnival check out procedures, it took us 15 minutes once we left the ship. We had American VIP pick us up again and they were very friendly and on time. We flew Southwest on the way back and had to wait nearly an hour in line at LAX. Don't cut it close with the flights or at least get off the ship first.
Hope this helped. Please ask on any questions. I have all the papers that they gave us on the ship and then some if you are interested. We really enjoyed the Splendor and encourage you to try it.