Long and drawn out or cut to the nitty gritty?
See my first attempt below....
Carnival Splendor Mexican Rivera June 20 - 27, 2010
This review is written in 3 parts; General Overview, Tips and Hints and a Narrative.
The General Overview will provide my perspective on various aspects of the cruise line, ship, and general impressions overall.
Tips and Hints are those that I found especially helpful for this particular voyage on the Splendor. For the most part these tips don't include the multitude of helpful advice that was gleaned from many sites during my pre-cruise research.
The Narrative will be just that and will fully explain those points made earlier.
I'm aware that all the opinions herein are 100% subjective to my experience and do not wish to dissuade or encourage debate from anyone on their own past or future experiences.
Easy Embarkation Arrived at port at 10:30 a.m. Onboard by 12:30 p.m. Ship was very clean overall Always saw crew cleaning Excellent food for most part MDR quality much improved from 1 year ago (New Chef 'd Cuisine) Men's bathrooms need a "water catch" below the hand dryer No paper towel dispenser (conservation) with only a hand blower creates a puddle where hands drip being blown dry; unsanitary, slipping hazard Need more hand sanitizers around the ship; not just in food areas It seemed there were more one year ago - though that was during the H1N1 virus re-route to Canada Cold in Spectacular Lounge Was last year too...figured out why this year; to pump the odors out Coffee was lousy in MDR, Lido and Specialty Coffee Shop; Good in Pinnacle The hot water coming out of the coffee dispensers in the Lido has an odd metallic aroma that transfers to the coffee, however, the drinking/tap (cold) water tasted fine Wide variety of people onboard Made for great people watching Spa Room towels are tan in color Just an observation Passenger hallways need "Quiet Please" signs as do the crew hallways Self explanatory Skip the Spa pass; Go for a Port Day Combo Special Personal preference Room Service Efficient and early every morning. 7:00 p.m. call delivered at 8:00 p.m. (understandable as per the time of evening)
Room Steward Antonio - This was the first time I had not met the Steward on the first day; a bit disappointing. Left a note the first afternoon (w/small tip) with requests. Met the second day. Friendly, cordial, efficient. All requests were see to by the return to our room.
Cruise Director Goose - I think everything I ever heard this guy say he had said a hundred times before to thousands of other people before me and it came across as rote and usual. While he played the part sufficiently in front of the public, other than the Quest Game Show, his personal interaction was limited by the scripted dialog he followed from venue to venue.
Asst. Cruise Dir. Stephanie - Again, I never really felt that she was having a good time doing what she was doing. If she was going to act the part of a cruise director then much more dynamic was called for. Oftentimes she would drop her "game face" once she had completed her prescribed spiel thus revealing that she wasn't quite as enthused as she had hoped to portray.
MDR Waiter Rudy - While personable and efficient there simply was never any warmth or connection. His service was adequate enough and did improve as the week progressed.
MDR Waiter Asst. Noel - Always remembered our names and preferences. Inquired on our day or why we had missed a night in the MDR. His service was efficient and unobtrusive.
Massage Therapist Ria - Very friendly and not overly sales oriented. Always assured my comfort. Provided good after-massage information.
Tips and Hints
Use Handicap Bathrooms when appropriate; cleaner, bigger, private While end-of-cruise packing; use Post-It's to indicate a closet/drawer is empty Stairs at Sushi/Tapas Bar to Robusto "Hidden Door" Port 9 Forward Keep cabinet doors open as a reminder that the safe is unlocked Bring a Malita coffee cone for in-room A.M. coffee Use Cruisin'/Snoozin' door hangers
Rest Relaxation Reflection Rejuvenation Rediscovery Regenerate
These were our mantra's for this vacation.
We're a male/male couple, 53 (RC) & 49 (BV) years old on our third Carnival cruise, this being our second on the Splendor within the past 13 months. This was less a vacation about doing and seeing as much as we could, and more geared towards Rest, Relaxation, Reflection, Rejuvenation, Rediscovery, Regeneration, and Recuperation. In fact, this was our mantra for the week. RC had lost his dear Mother in early April and we knew that by "checking out" on a cruise it would be the best option to recharge our batteries, so to speak.
Because of this you will not see an exhaustive review of all the activities or events that occurred on board, but rather, this will be a generalized version of our daily routine with our impressions and perspective from being recent travelers on the same ship.
We live in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Splendor departs from the Long Beach Port in Southern California, a six hour drive. Considering the total amount of time it would take us to go from our front door to the Long Beach Hyatt traveling both by auto and air, we chose the former. Not to mention all the hassle we avoided that goes along with flying these days and the extra charges for baggage. We were able to take our time, relax, get out and stretch when we wanted and still made it to the hotel in the same amount of time.
The morning of our ship departure we had an early breakfast at the hotel and made our way to the port, via taxi, arriving at approximately 10:30 a.m. Once we dropped our luggage to a porter we made our way to the open air check in stations (this was different from before where we actually checked in inside the building). The clouds were breaking into a beautiful day so the weather wasn't an issue. Approaching the line Carnival Rep BILL greeted us and was more than accommodating by noticing RC had a knee brace and was using a cane and informing us that he would not be giving us a Group 1 Boarding Pass but was instead forwarding us to Assisted Embarkation. This basically meant that after VIPs and a wedding party were allowed to board we would be the next group. The check in process itself could not have been easier; we had already printed our Fun Passes and had our IDs and BCs in hand. Once checked in we passed the time idly with me wandering around taking various photos, RC making phone calls and both of us just generally chilling out and people watching. Before you knew it... it was 12:30 p.m. and time to board. RC was wheeled in via complementary wheelchair and porter and I was the pack mule...LOL!! My first order of business was to stop at the Purser's Desk to book the "Behind the Fun" Tour and inquire about the Chef's Table being offered on the Splendor; the Excursion Desk wasn't open but the Purser placed us on the BTF list and, much to my disappointment as I'm an amateur foodie, the Chef's Table is not available on this ship yet. I also stopped at the Black Pearl dining room to speak with the Matre'd; We were assigned Late Seating in the Black Pearl when I originally booked and had later called my Agent to request "Anytime Dining" where we were placed on the Waitlist . The Matre'd informed me that 507 people had requested AD and there were only 400 spots available (the Black Pearl upper level is used for AD). Meaning that the only way I or anyone else would be assigned would be if someone else dropped out...Fat Chance!! This was not a big deal for us as Late Seating was our first choice to begin with.
Which would bring me to my first critique; More space(s) should be made available for travelers who wish to dine on the Anytime Dining plan. I'm sure this option will become more and more popular in the future on a line such as Carnival (I think the higher-end lines will still continue the set time and formal ambience). It just provides so much more flexibility, especially when one is on vacation and not wanting to be tied to a schedule.
We had decided to meet on Deck 10 Aft as we knew, from before, that was a designated smoking area and easy to find. We decided to try the Rotisserie for lunch as we had heard that the lines were much shorter, and sure enough it was true. We shared a plate of rotisserie chicken, mac-n-cheese, green bean salad, and capreese salad (tomatoes, mozz cheese and a basil pesto). All of it was excellent! I had read that the mac-n-cheese was to die over and it did not disappoint.
Periodically I would check to see if the large doors to the rooms had been opened to no avail. However, as if on a timer the doors opened wide right at 2:00 p.m. and we were soon in our room. We had been assigned room 9257; this is a balcony room on Lido Deck 9 Forward. I cannot say enough good things about the location of this cabin, pre-teen neighbors notwithstanding. There are cabins above and below; far enough from the action to not be disturbed by the noise; yet on the Lido deck itself so never too far from the main pool's activities. This room was identical to our last room, which was an OV, other than the balcony. I had brought along a 12" bungee cord on the advice I had read. This was a great way to be able to hear the ocean and feel the breeze as we puttered about taking care of business. As the week progressed we propped open the door less and less (heat and humidity) but was enjoyable nonetheless. Bags were delivered by 2:30 p.m. and we were unpacked and put away by 3:15 p.m. so we decided to check out the Serenity Deck (Deck 10 Forward Port & Starboard) as we thought we might be spending much time up there. Ahhhhh....our first vacation cocktail! We just hung out there till the announcement was made that the Muster Drill was about to begin. This process is much easier now that you no longer have to lug your lifejacket with you, which usually requires an extra trip to your stateroom. It never fails to amaze me how some passengers can get so inebriated in such a short time; one whole group brought their beer buckets and party 'tude to the drill. No big deal really cuz we've been through this a few times and the most important part is visual anyway. Once the "cattle call" was complete we decided to check out the Sail Away party at the main pool on the Lido Deck. This event was a bit of a disappointment to me, but then again I'm not one for large group activities. Passengers were lured to the dance floor, by Assistant CD Stephanie, with the promise of something free being given away. Three line dances later and the whole event was over. That was it. Oh and the freebie? Pizza and Ice Cream. I'm not sure what I was expecting but 3 dances and a lame enticement/joke just didn't cut it for me. All those on the dance floor did look as though they were having a good time. This was also the first of approximately 4,752 times during the week that we were told we were on vacation. At each subsequent proclamation I just felt more and more desperation from the Entertainment Staff to shove that fact down our throats. By the end of the week I wanted to be done with vacation just so I wouldn't be told what I was doing any longer (I know...I know...jeeze what a grump).
From there we wandered over to the Casino to check out the gaming situation. The Casino is where we'll sometimes hang out to have a smoke and watch the world go by in the large window seats.
SMOKING: For all you smokers, and non-smokers as well, other than your cabin and the cabin deck (except for Spa Rooms) the only public spaces you're allowed to smoke at are the Casino, Robusto Lounge, Deck 10 Aft and Decks 10 & 11 Starboard. Smoking is no longer allowed in the Piano Bar; not that I could argue with that as it is a VERY small space.
While having our smoke RC got a "feeling" from his Mother to play a particular machine. Now you must understand that one of RC's Mother's passions was taking a trip to the casino (10 mins. from where she lived) to play the slots. So it was not surprising that RC was receiving this message, so to speak. We ambled over to the machine (all I remember was that it had butterflies) inserted my S&S card along with $20 and took our chances. Well lo and behold within 3 spins we were up to $160!! This was my cue to download the balance to the card and start anew, which we did. Now I figure if this machine just gave me $140 no way is it gonna pay out again real soon...so we moved to a "Wheel of Fortune" type machine; another $20 dollars in and within a few spins we're up to $50. Again, time to cash out and move on. I'm sure our luck was a combination of good fortune with a healthy dose of RC's intuition from his dear Mother (Thanks Angel Dorothy!!!). I had heard tell that the best time to play the slots was on the first day/night, and this certainly rang true for us. While we never lost a great deal (pretty much played with the $200 or so on my S&S card) we never were as "lucky" as we were that first night.
Dinner time was approaching and since we were done with the Casino for now we each grabbed a pre-dinner cocktail and slowly wandered around finally making our way to the Deck 3 Lobby and the lower entrance to the Black Pearl. We were immediately seated at a two-top (table #177) next to the starboard staircase. I had mixed feelings about this table; while I do enjoy meeting and dining with strangers, in this type of setting, I'm also not a fan of always having to feel like conversating and feigning interest during my meal; so the two-top was fine. Now the location was a totally different story. I certainly do understand the need to use every available space to accommodate all the passengers, however, this table was bisected by the staircase only allowing one person to be able to see into the dining room. Consequently one of us always missed the wait staff during their serenade (which happens to many people as the waiters line up on the stairs to sing preventing anyone seated behind the staircase to miss the action. Again, no big deal as I find it somewhat amateur and sophomoric, but then again I abhor anyone singing to me in a restaurant. Here, however, is my biggest complaint about this particular table; Most nights I was seated facing the stairway which meant the bi-section was right next to my seat. From this vantage point I was able to see to the top of the stairs from a very low vantage point. Many young women these days wear short, short skirts (see where this is going?). Now mind you if I was a hetero male this would probably stimulate an appetite of one sort or another; but in my case...No Thanks! So a word of advice ladies; when using the starboard stairs in the Black Pearl be aware there may be eyes where you'd prefer they not be. Rudy, our waiter, and his assistant Noel introduced themselves. Both are capable and efficient. Rudy seemed to have a dour expression on his face most evenings. Now don't get me wrong; his service was more than adequate, I just never felt any warmth or connection from him. Noel, however, always remembered our names and preferences. He would ask why we hadn't been in the MDR the night before or how our day's activities had gone. He was very personable and it was a pleasure to be served by him.
For you foodies out there; RC had the salmon appetizer, caesar salad, and the tilapia. I had the fruit app, guspaccio, and the Indian vegetarian dish. For desert we shared a WCMC, crème brule, orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream, coffee and cappuccino. All of it very good with no standouts and no disappointments other than the coffees. I should point out here that compared to our voyage on the Splendor 13 months ago the food in the MDR this time was very, very much improved (more on the reason for this later). In fact, had I not known, I would have thought I was on a different cruise line...that's how much of a difference from a year ago.
Not yet ready to return to our room and jonesin for our after-dinner smoke we made our way back to the casino for a short time before retiring for the night. On prior cruised we had not utilized much, if at all, but decided to change that this trip. Both of us enjoy a good cup of coffee, and in fact RC should own stock in Starbucks for as often as he goes there. On our Splendor cruise last year we found that we would trod up to the specialty coffee bar for our morning and afternoon caffeine fixes as the Lido coffee just was not good at all. This time we brought with us a Malita style cone, filters and ground Kona coffee. Each night before retiring for the evening we would use the room service door hanger to order a couple of Danishes and/or croissants with condiments and two carafes of hot water to be delivered between 8:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m. This worked ideally!! RS always arrived 5 -10 minutes early and it was great to be able to have a fresh cup of coffee in our room first thing in the morning without having to traipse all the way to the Lido for it. There is one caveat though; even our coffee tasted off. We couldn't figure it out until one day I had taken our insulated cups to the Lido to fill with hot water from the coffee machine. As the water was flowing into my cup I got a distinct metallic aroma, the same as the bad tasting coffee. So now we knew the source of the off taste. We did buy some ground coffee in Puerto Vallarta and it's seemed to help a little bit (stronger coffee maybe?).
Day 1 - Rediscovery
Our first full day at sea began with an easy, laid back morning enjoying coffee and pastries on the balcony. This is the first balcony room either of us has had and I can assure it will not be the last. Not only was it perfectly suited for our needs size wise but was an excellent respite from the activities and hubbub around us when needed. Since we hadn't gotten used to the coffee yet after dressing we decided to take a stroll around the ship and stopped at the specialty coffee shop for a cup of joe. Disappointment waved it's ugly head yet again once we both realized that the coffee here was not much better than our room. Settling in on our perch at Deck 10 Aft the rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent people watching. Around 1ish or so I was feeling peckish and went down one deck to the Tandori BBQ for a shared plate of lunch. Now I have very limited experience with Indian food but from all reviews this was a Don't Miss pit stop. I must say I wasn't disappointed with the tadziki, hummis, tomato relish, pineapple relish, tomato and feta cheese salad, saffron basmati rice and nan and flakey bread. Though the hummis was a bit plain for my taste the tomato relish more than made up for it. I don't know what's in it but I could have eaten a whole bowl of it. RC sniffed around my plate and took a taste here and there and decided that wouldn't satisfy his hunger so off he went to the Rotisserie for a plate of baked chicken, potato salad, mac-n-cheese, small baked potato, corn bread and a capreese salad (almost a carbon copy of yesterday...he doesn't have as an adventurous palate as me I guess). Again, all of it very good. After lunch it was decided that some sun time was in order which required a cabin/pit stop to change into our sunning attire. Up to the Serenity Deck for a couple of hours and matching cocktails. Tea was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. in the Gold Pearl. Tea was something I had always wanted to check out but never got around to till now. We were seated at a large table with several others along with a gentleman in a motorized wheelchair. The waiters and waitresses were all very attentive as each of them presented either hot water, tea bags, savory treats (cucumber and butter sandwiches, open faced salmon sandwiches...all finger sized, of course) or sweet confections (there were many tried...all tasty with the scones filled with cream being the standout). The wheelchair gentleman indicated to the waitstaff that his wife would be along shortly as she was. After being seated for a few minutes she looked at me and asked if my name was BV. I'm sure the look on my face read as utter shock that someone would know me by name on this huge ship. Upon answering that that was indeed my name it dawned on me that she was a fellow poster on a popular website where I had gleaned a lot of my pre-cruise hints and tips. It was really great being able to meet someone with whom I had chatted with and who shared a passion for cruising as I. We had hoped to meet up at some point for a drink but alas we weren't able to hook up for that. (Hey Suzi and Fred!! Rain check??)
Now that we were full of tea and crumpets it just seemed that a nap was in order. So it was off to our room where RC counted his sheep and I took what was to become to be known as my "daily balcony time". These would be periods where I would listen to some music, maybe have a glass of wine or a cocktail, play a video game or write down what we had done or what we had eaten. (Every time I take a vacation I promise myself that I'm going to keep a travel diary and of course once I arrive at my destination I never want, or feel the need, to log my every movement, not to mention where I would keep all that info...Problem solved on this trip!! I used the cover of my dalily "Fun Times" to jot down little notes and reminders throughout the day or during my "balcony time" which I knew would come in handy as I had planned on writing a review upon my return.).
Once revived from our rest we dressed in our fancy duds and headed to the El Morocco Lounge. This was the first formal night (of two) and the Captain's reception was being held just prior to dinner that evening. This was a very low-key affair with a small combo playing and couples dancing. Bailed on that after 15 or so minutes and strolled the Promenade deck to have our photos taken then off to the Black Pearl for dinner. I had the pumpkin soup, stuffed mushroom cap, duck, DESSERT and cappuccino. RC had tiger shrimp app, caesar salad, lobster and prawns, WCMC and coffee. Nothing to jump up and down for but all very good. My entrEe had been delayed for some reason. When Rudy placed my dinner before me there were 4 pretty good sized pieces of duck on the plate. I don't know how many are usually included but I suspect this was as a make up for being tardy. I ate, maybe, half of one piece of duck. I don't have much experience eating duck and thought I would try it. I know that duck is supposed to be served rare and this was but I guess duck just isn't my thing. Full from dinner we decided to make it an early night and retired to our cabin.