We are a married couple in our sixties living in Orange County, CA. Even though we are not retired yet it was our third vacation this year. We had also a Princess cruise in January and a resort stay in Mexico in May of this year. It was our fourteenth cruise, fifth cruise on Carnival, and the third one on Spirit.
We booked this cruise well in advance - in February. First, I do research on cruise.com, then talk to my local agent. Then pick the best offer. In the Internet Cruise.com seems like the best place to look for cruises, to compare them, etc. And their prices are good too. But sometimes my agent beats them.
We drove to San Diego a day before departure and stayed at Sheraton Airport and Marina hotel. Had a nice room and a nice dinner there. I hated the idea to drive to San Diego at night. Our flight San Diego-Honolulu was departing at 6:15 AM. With all those latest security requirements you have to be at the airport around 4:00 AM, which, practically, would mean no sleep for me that night. That's why we opted for the hotel. This way we were not as exhausted next day after our flight, as during our previous Hawaiian cruise, even though we had to change planes in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, you seldom get a direct flight when booking air trough a cruise line; they usually go for the cheapest option.
Carnival picked us up at the Honolulu airport (we paid for that at booking time) and since our flighty was late we made it to Honolulu cruise terminal at about 3:00pm. There were no lines at this time, so we boarded in a few minutes. Most of the time was spent to fill in a medical declaration where you had to swear that you did not have running nose, did not cough or puked lately. I wonder, how many people answered those questions honestly, given a possibility that Carnival might refuse boarding to you if you said you did. Fortunately, there was no question about farting, not sure that I would tell the truth about that.
While doing my cruise research I saw totally different opinions on Carnival Spirit about almost every aspect of cruises. Some loved the food, some hated it. Some found the ship worn out - some liked its appearance a lot, etc.
Let me share my views with you.
Last time I sailed Spirit was in 2005. Since then it was definitely renovated and looked very satisfactory to me. Not a single problem on this issue.
We booked a 9A-class - extended balcony cabin with obstructed view. It was more like a mini-suite on Sapphire Princess with exception of a bathtub. Large sitting area, spacious balcony and all that. Even the view was not that obstructed at all. Plenty of cabinets for two of us. Slightly more expensive than a regular balcony cabin but well worth of every penny. Cheaper than unobstructed view though. Our room was nicely decorated; electrical fixtures were definitely replaced since our last Spirit cruise. No problems with our beds: pillows, mattresses, linen, blankets were very good.
The rest of the ship looked also quite good. Just out of curiosity, I tried to find worn out carpets and scratched elevator panels mentioned in some reviews - but I failed! Or, maybe, we just have different standards with those folks.
Ship's crew and services - this issue is also discussed widely in all reviews. In my humble opinion, Spirit looks very good at this account. Captain Volpi is a real Master of the Ship, not to mention that he is fun to be around. He leads his people very well without even using many words sometimes. Just waved his hand - and they knew what he means, that was my observation. His daily radio addresses were very useful and informative and, at the same time, made me laugh every time I heard them.
Cruise director Stu, without doubt, is a very talented guy. The way he staged Passenger Talent Show clearly convinced me in that. Actually, every his appearance was fun to see and to listen; we really liked him and even his Australian accent.
Our cabin stuart Natasha was good and very accommodating. Our waiter Sugita seemed a bit inexperienced but noticeably tried very hard, so we did not paid much attention to his small mistakes.
As far as Entertainment is concerned, Spirit was a Fun Ship indeed. Production shows was all new and directed and performed very well. Everybody in the band, dancers, and singers were very good. Guest shows also were of a good quality. Comedy shows were of very good taste, which is not always the case on cruise ships. No bad vulgarities or stupid jokes about ship toilets. A hypnotist and a ventriloquist were also good and funny. Some evenings we attended three different shows in a row - isn't it fun? There were singers and musicians performing at different bars. When we had nothing special in mind we just stayed in some bar to listen to them, they were good to any taste: Polynesian, country, classic fortepiano, you name it. The only problem in this area was their movie shows. Projectors in Pharaoh Theater and karaoke lounge performed badly - there was no real color to all movies, not just some. The same movies shown on ship TV were OK, so it was purely a projector's problems. We also enjoyed Karaoke lounge. Not singers ourselves, we saw plenty of good ones there and not that many bad ones. We only attended one lecture by ship's naturalist - that one was very good.
A few words about Dining. We used the Empire Room restaurant for all our dinners but one. Once we had dinner in Lido Buffet when we were late from our shore tour. Cooks in the restaurant seemed to have problems with cooking beef and duck. Except for one occasion they were well below our expectations. And believe me, we are not that picky. Lamb, pork seafood, and vegetarian main courses were very good, no complains there. Also soups, appetizers, and deserts were good, even excellent in some occasions. In the buffet, where we went for all breakfasts and lunches, the choice was quite sufficient and food quality very good. I tried to look for those stale items I read in reviews, but was unable to find them, sorry guys. I was not always satisfied with buffet coffee brewed in large pots, but I must admit that coffee was much better than in Celebrity buffets, which I tried lately. Well, I have to tell you, I am a coffee freak. Fortunately, there was a small espresso bar right in the buffet, which served me perfectly. They charge for their espressos, but no more than Starbucks, so I was happy. The only thing that went missing in the buffet since our last cruise was waiters offering wine, which we did not see any more. But well, bars were right there - around the corner if you badly need a drink. In the restaurant wine list was slightly less than during our last cruises on Celebrity but still sufficient enough. Being thrifty customers, we always ordered our wine by bottle. After dinner they store it for you to finish next time. It's cheaper than to order by glass.I have say, their sushi bar was good, better thanany of my cruise ships. It was not a great choice there, just three items for eash particular night. But it was never repeated next day and all tasted very good and fresh.
I can't give any valuable information about our ports of call. We have been to Hawaii many times before so we did not care much to explore them. We only took two tours: Kona city tour in Big Island, which included a visit a very nice Botanical garden, and a Kaanapali Beach Break in Maui. The reason for the first tour was the fact that during our previous Hawaiian cruise we did not went ashore at Kona at all. And for the second one - I can't even explain the reason. Apparently, Kaanapali Beach has some sentimental value for us; we just got attached to it during our numerous stays there. So I am even afraid to recommend that to anybody, who does not have to like it there. But we do! Both tours were booked through Carnival in advance. I know it's not the cheapest way to go. But I like to be taken care of and, besides, I don't have to save for any college funds anymore.
Well, let me think what else we enjoyed or did not like onboard. I definitely enjoyed a gym and a steam room afterwards. Computers in the library were handy to check my e-mail from time to time. I saw complains that this is too expensive, but, well, if I ever go broke - definitely not for this particular reason. I did not like Spirit's sauna - too cold to me.
Debarkation took a bit longer than we expected. It was promised to start at 5:00 AM, so we got up quite early. But were called ashore at about 9:00. Could have slept much longer. Then we boarder bus, which took us to San Diego airport for free. The bus was escorted by Mexican State Police so we had no chance to observe any trouble on our way. In San Diego we picked our car and drove home, it was nice and easy. I have to praise Carnival for that final leg of our trip. There were Carnival's repesentatives everywhere: in Tijuana, in bordercrossing and in San diego Airport to make sure that everything goes smootly.
We liked our recent Spirit experience and won't hesitate to repeat it.