Our Carnival Splendor Cabin was 6209 on Deck 6, this turned out to be the most forward balcony cabin on the starboard side.
My wife Kaye and I planned a 7 day Mexican Riviera cruise with two other couples on Carnival Splendor, out of Long beach, CA, for November 7-14, 2010 - this was the fire at sea and cruise ship adrift sailing. After the cruise Kaye and I planned to catch the nearby Catalina Ferry to Catalina island for 3 days - the other couples were heading home after the cruise.
My plan and advice to the other couples went awry right away. Our first time to fly on JetBlue, I knew we were arriving early, around 8 AM the day of the cruise, but advised them, from multiple past experiences, that it was nice to get on board early - usually up to several hours before officially posted boarding times - to get lunch, learn your way around and make dining changes with the maitre d'. A lot of time I have gotten on board very unexpectedly early after a wait of an hour or less. We were some of the first to pre-register at the pier and get our Sail and Sign cards (cabin key cards) probably during the 9AM hour. There was also a free Long Beach shuttle we rode just a few blocks away to the shops and restaurants near the Long beach waterfront. It was too early for breakfast and most places were closed - we lucked out by getting a special, no on the menu breakfast, prepared for us at the early opening Bubba Gump's. Coming out of breakfast one of our party got hit with bird droppings - our first warning of things to come. Waiting for the shuttle back to the pier, another one of our party stepped in sidewalk gum. One of our couple had come down with a cold before the cruise and that may have spread to another of us before it was all over. Small problems so far, back to the pier to check about boarding.
The Long Beach waiting area is very poorly set up - or at least it was for our boarding - no chairs and most people were left standing in crowded areas, just waiting. I tried to get us back to the ship about 45 minutes before what they said might be as early as 12:30 PM boarding and we were Group 1 - right after passengers needing assist and VIP's. Waiting until 1 Pm then 1:30 - again mostly standing in a large crowd, we learned the ship was late out of Cabo on it's last trip, and several hours late getting in - we did notice some people still coming off up to 1 PM or later. By the time they started our group - other people in other boarding group numbers were pressing in and getting in the way og the narrow opening for boarding, even when they were told to stand back - it was getting slightly "heated", because of frustrated people standing around too long. Even when we were let in and passed security there was another maze we had to stand and wait in for another 15-30 minutes, before finally boarding in a big rush of people.
Getting on board and trying to get out of the crowded lobby embarking area was frustrating - all but one direction was closed off and NONE of the elevators were working - they told us a Coast Guard exercise made them shut off the elevators for a while. So at the start we had no elevators. Essentially for the entire cruise there were no elevators - they did work for a short while the first evening and night, but not all of them were working so it was pretty useless to try to catch one that was working - another omen of things to come.
I thought the boarding was one of the worst and longest ever and my advice to arrive early turned out to be pretty worthless except for the early check in and getting Group 1. That first afternoon in our state rooms we did see every passenger got an approximately $22 credit on their account - I guess as an apology for the poor boarding - I guess Carnival thought it was pretty bad too.
On my advice and as I have done successfully on some other cruises and cruise lines, we planned to put some liquor in our luggage, not allowed, and also each bring a bottle of carry on wine which is supposed to be allowed. We even made a special stop on the way from the airport to stock up. I made the mistake of thinking it was OK to put the wine in our luggage so we wouldn't have to carry it around until boarding. I even checked my pack with one of the carry on wines in it. Carnival rummaged through all of our luggage, messing up clothes and seized all of it - even our carry on wine because I made the mistake of checking my pack and told the others to put theirs in their luggage. We did get it back at the end of the cruise, but that was another unexpected and frustrating start to the cruise.
We also found out later - after seeing several people during the cruise walking around everywhere in their Carnival bath robes, that some luggage was lost - tipped into the water - during loading at the pier. Some people had no luggage for the cruise.
So we thought after a nice buffet lunch, getting to the maitre d' to get us a common table for dinner, and a fine first night meal everything was looking up.
Our cabin was the last one forward with regular hall way access so we were far from the engine fire and problems. I did notice around 5-6 AM the first morning at sea, a strange, not very normal vibration in the ship for a short period and soon after I thought someone made a communications error by paging all Alpha crew over all speakers, and rousing passengers. That was the start - drifting with no engines, no toilets for a day or so, no electricity in any cabins or for hot food, no hot water, no coffee and tea, no elevators no entertainment and the ship was shifting all crew to emergency mode to do as much as possible to get toilets working and the passengers fed. Most of the time there was emergency lighting for public areas and hallways that was sufficient to get around easily and allowed people to do things in the public areas, but of course nothing like the casino machines, fitness center, and drink machines were working. The cabins were totally without power - no lights, no television, no outlets working.
The only effects of the fire I saw was a thin bluish haze of smoke in the Lido buffet and noticeable electrical fire smell is many areas of the ship. Lots of doors were opened and left open to air out the ship. It took most of the first day for the crew to get the smoke out of the engine room so they could enter to see what the cause and damage was.
For our entire group, with balcony cabins and natural light during the day it was just slightly uncomfortable with cold showers and no coffee or tea or entertainment. It was also pretty boring - nothing much to do, especially when you went back to a dark cabin after dusk. It was some small entertainment watching the rescue, helicopter supplies relief flights and towing efforts. Most of the passengers were as accepting as possible, trying to have fun and make the best of it and there seemed to only be a few rare flares of temper - usually over things the crew caught on to and fixed to prevent more bad feelings.
The ship did stink. The first day without plumbing, and even more so because of no exhaust fans after the fire, the restrooms got very smelly and it was evident early on that getting toilets working was a priority. The rear of the Lido restaurant stunk of garbage most of the rest of the trip. Electrical fire smell was evident lots of places for the rest of the cruise.
A few passengers, who were still a little scared despite the lack of evidence of physical danger or sinking, carried their life jackets around with them for a few days. On the rear lower decks I think there was just enough smoke and smell to run some people out of their cabins for a day or two. Some passengers, from smoky areas and inside cabins camped out in public areas like the show lounge, other lounges, the lobby, and Lido deck.
We were lucky to not have much wind and waves but there was a lot of overcast and we had not made it far enough south to really warm weather. On deck was tolerable during the day but most of our group wanted jackets and long sleeves and didn't want to hang out long on deck even when there was full sun. Carnival was also fortunate that this happened far from shore - before the tow boats arrived, we drifted 60 miles, so it was a good thing we were far from the Baja coastline and didn't end up on the rocks. For most of the first day I felt a slight increase in worry about being a sitting target, but by the next day we had a Mexican navy ship, a Coast Guard cutter, and then the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and they told us two submarines watching over us.
The crew and Carnival did an amazing job taking care of us and they also proved remarkable resourceful, flexible, and successful at IMPROVING our conditions as the days went by. We spent Monday until disembarking Thursday no power. Power was never restored. Some examples of improvements - the first day we were given "emergency", hastily prepared sandwiches - almost bread and water - white bread with a small slather of dressing and an almost non-existent piece of cheese and cold cut and also cold salads. With helicopter and other supplies, although it was still just more cold sandwiches, it improved to hoagie style buns, bagels and croissants with more meat and filling as the days went by. For a short time early on, they tried running all passengers through the main Lido deck restaurant and over just a few meal servings that went from bad to worse and might have turned ugly by the end of the trip, because of horrendous lines and crowds in that area from trying to serve all 3,000 plus passengers in one area. They solved that problem by also serving buffets in the two main dining rooms - quickly clearing up the huge crowds and lines when only Lido was open. When only Lido was open some people waited and hour or two and by the time they got to the buffet, all the best stuff was gone. We went from no toilets and entertainment to most toilets working and as much entertainment as they could get going with some acoustic and piano music and games that didn't require electronic support. Some casino card games, non-cash, were started up. We went from no bar service to open bar service from Tuesday evening through the end of voyage night. (The second day open bar started at noon). They learned from the mistakes and quickly changed things to make them better. Everything in the cabin refrigerators and cabin water bottles was thrown open for free consumption.
As for hard work, a lot of the crew were telling us they only had a few hours of sleep. A cruise ship, for food and drink service, relies heavily on elevators - instead the crew formed human chains on the stairways to pass fresh supplies up and garbage and dirty plates back down. Even disembarking, the crew made human chains to hand luggage down for you on one side of the stair well, while you easily walked off down the other side of the stair well. We were relieved to hear the crew had "tip protection" - they would be reimbursed the same as for a normal week's cruise.
Carnival Corporation, John Heald the cruise director and even the CEO of Carnival made special and extraordinary efforts to make us comfortable, rearrange our travel home and stays at San Diego hotels where we docked, and as an extra to get us to cruise again, throwing in a comparable free cruise any time in the next two years. Most people's travel arrangements had already been fixed by Carnival by the time we got towed to dock in San Diego, three days early and 60 miles away from Splendor's home dock. The two couples with us, who had entered their end of cruise flight plans with Carnival, before the cruise, just needed a night in San Digeo at the Sheraton with meals all paid for by Carnival, transport back to Long Beach provided by Carnival and Carnival had already changed their flights on JetBlue for the next day.. It did take Carnival a lot of time and effort, so the new travel arrangement letters didn't get delivered until late the last night. Unfortunately since we were planning our own post cruise trip to Catalina for 3 days, I just entered "Other" travel arrangements after the cruise and they didn't know what to do for us. I woke up and found out they wanted to just take us by bus back to Long beach that day. Again the Carnival service was extraordinary. Coming into San Digeo my cell phone was working so I called the emergency number. I did have to wait about 10 minutes on hold but the representative I contacted quickly set us up for a Carnival provided stay overnight at Westin San Diego - lunch, dinner and breakfast(and lunch the next day), and got our fight home on Southwest switched to Friday, the next day. We had already decided to just cancel the rest of our trip and go home.
The Carnival CEO got on board right away in San Diego after flying in from Florida to express apologies and pledge help. I heard a hello as we were getting on the bus to our hotel, and returned it without looking up, but when I did look up, realized the guy walking away was the Carnival CEO - walking the lines at disembarkation and talking to passengers.
The next day I noticed our credit from Carnival for the basic cruise fare. We also had several other credits within a day for non-ship tours we arranged and travel arrangements for Catalina. The free cruise and how we are to get reimbursed for air fares we booked separately still needs to be resolved and I am having minor problems getting information about that - no details yet after 3 days.
It was so nice to get to the Westin San Diego during noon hour Thursday, for a hot coffee and tea, hot showers, and electricity. Friday, the next day in San Diego was beautiful, perfectly clear, sunny and towards warm and we enjoyed walking around until the shuttle to the airport for our 3:30 flight home.
I think professional reviewers tend to tilt too much toward the positive side both on ship reviews and advantages of cruising. Cruise reviews are what their company and job are about and they tends to over glamorize and tout cruises. This experience and another break down two cruises ago, where a ship lost one of two engines and missed the private island day I really wanted, made me think more people should consider that there is a lot more that can AND DOES sometimes go wrong on cruises. Problems that are pretty much unheard of at a report stays - such as a break down of the equipment , change of location(ports of call) and a greatly degraded or unexpected experience such as rerouting and missing ports of call. Even weather can affect cruises much more - sometimes canceling lots of tours at a port, or not being able to tender so the port is cancelled. At a resort you just wait another day if the weather is bad. About the only massive change to your vacation at a resort would be getting caught in a hurricane. Cruising has extra dangers that are not so widely talked about that can affect your vacation experience extensively in a negative way. This cruise was an experience and I applaud Carnival but it was not a fun vacation. For people working full time - it was a lost week of their life and vacation time as well as some being very uncomfortable. After two cruises in less than a year where breakdowns affected my vacation experience you should consider that this is not a minor concern. Minor breakdowns and major changes to a cruise occur regularly, even if it is a small percentage of sailings.
Another area where I feel professional reviewers are remiss is being overly optimistic or nice with their reviews of ships. For some reason reviewers and most passengers rate the Splendor pretty highly - maybe they don't want to admit it was anything less than great after putting their time and money into it? After being on over 13 cruise ships I was also very unimpressed by what I did see of the Splendor. In my opinion it is very poorly designed for a ship with over 3,000 passengers. Farcus and the Carnival design crew should be fired or demoted. This does not have anything to do with the breakdown - just poorly thought out design I saw in multiple areas. Just a small item I noticed on my last day but also part of the theme I have against Splendor's design - almost all ships have a means for passengers to walk all the way around the ship on Promenade deck . On Splendor you can pass through and enclosed hallway on Promendae forward but the aft of the ship is cut off. My wife and I and many others on most cruise ships enjoy doing walking circuits on Promenade. On Splendor the aft is cut off, it appears to me by the dining rooms and you cannot circuit the ship for walking. The jogging track on the highest decks only goes around the back 1./2 or 1/.2 of the ship and it is more difficult to combine walkers with joggers.
Another example of what I felt was design errors was my first impression was how small the lobby was, and only one stair well on the aft side - instead of the more common stairways on port and starboard. A ship with over 3,000 passengers and the lobby seems smaller and less well designed than most - a smaller percentage of the passengers can do anything there at one time. This "too small for 3,000" was also evident other places such as the main pool area on Lido. The main Lido pool area has three levels but perfectly rectangular, no stadium style seating like many ships and the large screen there would only be available and enjoyed by the very few passengers who get up there early in the morning. I have not been on a ship with a large screen that accommodates such a small audience. I guess a lot of passengers just put up with it without thinking about how poorly thought out it was for delivering a nice entertainment system to such a small percentage of the passengers. Even on ships with large multi level, "stadium" like areas it can be hard to find a seat to enjoy the screen on a sea day. For night time open air movies which only draw a small crowd this area probably was sufficient - but not for day crowds at sea. I even saw evidence that in retrospect, after the Splendor went in use, they found out the Lido pool and screening area is too small - there are signs and cabin literature warning deck chairs cannot be reserved and will be cleaned up if left unattended, but anyone who has ever been at a busy resort knows that's just not going to happen. On Splendor people are obviously going to do the early morning char reserve routine to hold their choice spot for the day.
Another too small area and also very plain, stripped down, just steel walls and decks is the Adults Only Serenity area. About the only thing special about that area, is that the too few chairs and loungers are a little fancier than elsewhere on the open decks and there is a sign for Adults Only. On the sunny side it is filled to capacity with a few dozen passengers - a few dozen more can crowd in on the shady side if they really want to try to "enjoy" that area. I was spoiled by the fancy Adults Only area on Crown Princess - with large fancy shade canopies, plantings and palm trees, luxury and quiet. The Adults Only area on Splendor just seems like a token so they can advertise that they have one. It is very plain and sub standard.
Ditto the kids Splash Park from what I could see, It reminded me of the "fitness centers" a lot of hotels have these days - one big multi station machine, a few weights and maybe a few cardio machines - allows them to advertise a fitness center that is only very minimal and basic and not good for a thorough workout. The Splash Park wasn't working when I found it, but it hardly looked 10 feet high and with just a few short tunnels and ladders etc - maybe there is a bit more in the way of shoot up jets that weren't in operation, but it looked like just giving lip service to say the Splendor has a water park or splash park. The total area was less than half a small basketball court and very plain (lots of plain white steel walls and plain/bare deck) with just the one small central unit.
My most annoying design flaw on the Splendor and one my wife got to experience and hate was in the Pearl dining rooms. On the longer tables, we had a table for 6, the person closest to the side of the ship gets wedged into the table by the overly done decor - large tubes that sprout up to hold the "pearls" on top. To get in to that seat other people have to move their chairs out AND away from the side of the ship- once you are in there you cannot get out - you are right up against the horrendous dEcor pillars. You cannot get out until at both people inside of you, get up and moves their chairs so you can suck in your gut and angle your own chair to get our of your "trap" - unbelievably poor design and it really is hateful to sit in those positions - both getting in and getting out - big time claustrophobia. Incredibly stupid design when you see it in practice.
The final major error I noticed and blame on design was The Ldio buffet - this "mishap" cruise, was an extreme example with everyone trying to use it at one time, but even on a normal cruise (an=d we noticed for boarding lunch) a professional reviewer commented about The Lido having a problem with lines. Most modern cruise ships have each station/food area of the Lido buffet in oval shaped food area - once they are in that area, people can "bounce" around as they like sampling from the island in the middle, the main inside line or the auxiliary line on the outside of the oval. If someone is slow it doesn't affect everyone - they just go around and hit the areas they want in the "oval". All of Splendor's buffet lines are straight lines - a slow down by anyone, slows everyone. There's very little "going around". Now that kind of design causes lines and in our mishap case the lines were intolerably long and totally clogged all the hallways and passages in Lido - the extreme example of how poor that plan is for a cruise whip with a lot of passengers.
For a ship touting a huge, one of the largest at sea, spa areas, the fitness center, which we use a lot, was standard size and just one full set of weight machines that looked of good quality. I am sure it would be pretty busy and crowded sea day mornings like most. We never got to try that area since it was locked for most of the cruise. It was an improvement in being rectangular in shape, instead of arced across the bow with a too narrow passage for people walking through while people are using the machines - so the shape was better for passage and working out than on some other ships. The weights area did not have much view - mostly dark and not much possibility for a view while working out, so I would also mark it down on that score. Most ships have decent views from the fitness center. The Splendor fitness center didn't seem to have nice views to help keep your mind occupied while working out. With 3,000 passengers another full set of weight machines would be great for crowd control. Just another thing I could suggest about endlessly to the cruise lines that they never change. They want the big area for mostly paid for services such as massages, health and beauty care and paid for aerobic classes - space for free weight and aerobic machines is not a money maker.
Another probable example of poor design and one that my wife and I , who like dancing, see as another sign of deteriorating cruise experiences - the first evening the only couple dancing was on the tiny lobby floor, in the casino(also very small floor), or one lounge that had very poor music, which leads me into poor entertainment. We have found less and less good dancing to 50's to current music on almost all cruises for the past several years. From when we started cruising 15 years ago, the opportunities to dance - couples swing dance, slow dance and free style have almost vanished. Another bad development for us during the past few years and curies is entertainment snippets - you don't get to find and enjoy a band for several sets - it's maybe 30-40 minutes - just enough to get you warmed up - then a comedy act or other - then maybe the same band might get in 30 or 40 minutes. It's like the news - give em a little taste, snippets for short attention spans - then go on to something else. We have commented and complained about this repeatedly on reviews and comments to no use - it seems to be getting worse instead of better.
We did get to hear a little bit of all the 3 musical acts on this cruise and they all were pretty poor. One of the couples with us, the husband has been a professional musician and played in bands all his life - great dance bands of the best we ever experienced. In no time, the first day, after checking out four different acts he was very discouraged - good music and bands was one of his goals for the cruise - he was hugely disappointed at how mediocre the Splendor groups were.
Let's not even get into the fact that many cruise lines these days try to sell you the ship's cast doing multiple nights of such boring and canned shows that they tout as "Vegas" or "Broadway" type shows - these are talented young people but give me a break - it all looks and seems the same - just another song and dance. It's not Blue Man, or Thunder Down Under or popular Vegas stuff and acts - it's the big head dresses, girls in costumes and heels dancing to popular tunes, with some kind of "theme". Frequently even special acts like comedians and jugglers and magicians under whelm - a very few are pretty good. If you're easy to please or don't get out much maybe you'll love it all. We are Soooooo tired of the same old song and dance stuff on most cruises.
And then there's "dance classes" on board. We are amazed at how many people still try those. One dance class at a time and they cram as many people as will fit on a small dance floor, teach them one dance that they never repeat and hope people can learn it in 10-15 minutes while jostling around on an overcrowded floor. Lots of people still show up and try. My wife and I sometimes sit by and watch in horror and humor at so many people jostling around on the floor. I have recommended the cruise lines use their biggest floors and stage - maybe even the work out room when no classes are schedule and to have multiple classes, with different typos of dance, at the same time to split up the "learn to dance" wannabes. I have repeatedly suggested changes to make them really workable instead of a mosh pit of passengers. It never changes - same old thing - cram a bunch beginners on the dance floor and make them feel "entertained". The bigger the ship, the more people who are going to show up and cram into that tiny floor for a "dance lessons".
OK - my biggest LIKE about Splendor. I do like and applaud Carnival, on this ship, for not designing it with a lot of "pay for more" features - that was appreciated and a real blessing. From what I have read and saw on the Splendor the only "paid extras" are the Coffee Bar and the one special dining room. Of course like most cruises there are the standard other things you pay for, such as liquor, sodas, spa and tours. If we had not gotten this cruise at a very low price, it would have been easy to book a deluxe, fully inclusive resort stay in Mexico or the Caribbean at the same or better price. I like ships and sailing and being on the ocean, but cursing is rapidly losing all it's appeal for me and if you shop around it definitely is not the great "deal: they want you to believe it is as opposed to a fully inclusive resort and finally I think you should give more than a little thought to the increased likelihood of a ruined or sub-par, unexpectedly poor vacation experience on a cruise ship over a resort stay of comparable or better total price.
I got really tired of the overdone and repetitive design on the Splendor, but other wise it measured up OK in other areas, I got really spoiled on this same Mexican Riviera cruise several years ago on the older Carnival Pride. With the break down on this cruise and my problems with feelings about the design - some of which I never got to really see in normal action, I am not really interested in sailing on The Splendor again. I am amazed that even past cruisers seem to rate it so highly in their reviews. It looks too unique to me and not well designed to accommodate a large percentage of passengers in several areas I feel, see high use, but will only accommodate a very small percentage of the passengers at one time. If you go on Splendor I am also pretty sure you need to be into the "get up early and reserve your spot" routine if you want prime deck space - there is not nearly enough and well designed areas to handle all the passengers who want it.