Carnival Splendor Cruise Review by nwburton: An honest review of the Splendor, and Carnival itself
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An honest review of the Splendor, and Carnival itself
Let me first preface this by saying this was the second sailing of the Carnival Splendor since the now infamous fire debilitated the ship. Before I go on to my experience during embarkation, and while on the ship, I wanted to make a mention of the service I received (or lack thereof) prior to my sailing, as I promised I would to Carnival in an email I exchanged with them.
There are things that happen beyond our control such as the fire and situation which happened a few months ago, which thankfully nobody was hurt. There are also things we can control, such as knowing how long the repairs are going to take, and having a contingency for those who were booked on subsequent trips. If they said that the repairs were going to take a year, fine. But they were trying to minimize losses at the expense of people who have precious little vacation time and small windows to take them in, including myself. They canceled cruises in small batches, usually with about 3-4 weeks notice as More they kept extending the date of when the ship would sail again. Do you want to know how I was notified? To an email address I hadn't used in years. No phone call, no personalized notification, an email to a defunct address. I only found out because I was going to book my flight, and I decided it would be a good idea to call just to make sure everything was still a go. When I was informed it wasn't, I was also informed that my refund had been processed, thereby tying up over $1200 which I could not use to re-book anything, or use for a change of plans. I had to let ten days pass and suffer through a multitude of price fluctuations before I could re-book my vacation.
I called a carnival agent, and mind you, when the phone picks up, it says "Press 1 for Splendor" meaning you were going to be connected with a sympathetic expert. Well not only was the person at the end of line 1 not an expert, they weren't sympathetic at all. I asked for something maybe they could or could not do, but her response was, and I am quoting "What, do you want me to wave a magic wand?" I work in hospitality and if I wasn't fired for saying that, I would at least be severely disciplined. These were the specialists trained to deal with people inconvenienced by the Splendor fire. Well after my deposit was refunded (I won't go into too many details) I finally spoke with a helpful lady who explained what price protection was. Meaning, the price I paid for when I booked my cruise 13 months ago would still be honored, and that the Splendor will indeed sail on the 20th of February. I booked the second sailing which was the 27th. And for all my trouble, I get what it is I originally paid for (I book a year in advance for good reason) and a $25 per person cabin credit.
I immediately emailed carnival upon booking my cruise (I didn't really have much choice) and said that the compensation received is unacceptable. Lost vacation time, non-refundable deposits on hotels, and basically being insulted by the "carnival expert" I would like some extra compensation. I was told, somewhat politely, to not let all of this ruin my vacation, and that it was all they could do. I responded with something to the effect of, you don't understand what I am saying, I have been on NCL which I loved, I write for Cruise Critic, and your response will GREATLY affect who I do my future cruising with and make my recommendations to. The response was more short, not as polite, and it ended with an abrupt "No further compensation is due". They are correct. Nothing is due, but when I plan on taking multiple cruises down the road, am responsible for medium to large groups on each one of them, and when there are excellent options out there, you throw that person a bone. Instead, they stopped responding to my emails, completely. When everything goes good, you tend to not notice these things, but when you have problems you want to know that the company that you are investing THOUSANDS of your hard earned dollars will handle an issue when a problem does arise, Carnival failed miserably. I can't in good conscience ever recommend Carnival again, but I will make NCL and Royal Caribbean my cruise lines of choice. Will I be back on Carnival? If there is a smoking deal that I can't pass up because they are the budget cruise line (more details to come on that one) but they will be probably below Princess, Disney, Holland America (I can go on and on).
So embarkation day is finally here and OF COURSE I am excited, the weather in Oregon is horrible and even 65 and sunny in Long Beach is wonderful. We arrived a little late to see the longest embarkation line I have ever seen, it seemed the entire passenger list was all standing outside the port of Long Beach with the line extending to the Queen Mary. The first portion of the line took a little over an hour, and because my dad is not an American citizen, we had to go through a special customs line and total embarkation took only 2 hours. We were among the lucky ones, I think everyone I spoke to on the ship said it took them 4-5 hours. That is a miserable way to start your vacation. NOW, supposedly this had to do with someone bringing something onboard the ship from a prior cruise that they weren't supposed to. Customs agents had caused this great delay. Again, not really Carnival's fault, but it dramatically affected everyone's experience to start their vacations. Agents outside the ship made a mention that there would be some kind of compensation (I hate to keep using that word, but it was their word this time) in the form of a cabin credit, but Carnival decided that issuing an apology during the life boat drill would suffice. (The cruise director said, "thats not how we do things here at Carnival", but I think it is exactly how they do things). Bend but don't break I guess. Another thing I didn't notice until I was on the ship was a piece of paper that they handed us with an itinerary change. Apparently there was a shooting in Mazatlan, and it was a little too close for their comfort so they decided to Call on Cabo twice, and Puerto Vallarta once, and skip Mazatlan. Disappointing, but I did understand. It did leave me scrambling to re-book our excursions because I had to cancel what I had planned in Mazatlan, which I had held with a credit card, and now had to plan for two days in Cabo, and I don't like to waste a day in port. I ALWAYS like to have something planned.
The ship itself was immaculate. There was no sign of a fire, a power outage, or any guest drifting at sea. The ship was brand new again and our bags were waiting for us before we even stepped foot in our room. The lay out is EXACTLY like any other Carnival ship you have ever been on (except for maybe the dream) not spectacular, at times tacky, but overall nice and definitely familiar. Basically if you have seen one, you have seen them all. The "pink" decor repeated itself throughout the ship, and there were these weird naked tile statues in random places.
The food. I am probably the last person whose food review you should read because I never care all that much. My favorite places to eat were the grill by the pool, the pizzeria, and we did have dinner in the Golden Pearl each night. There were times where the lines were so incredibly long, you had best find something else to do to keep you occupied while they dissipated. I never ate at the buffet, and if you could get a burger it was decent. I did notice they cut back on choices from prior Carnival cruises I have been on and they did away with the grand gala buffet altogether, which is many peoples highlight of the trip. The service in all dining outlets was a C+ for personality and warmth, and B- for getting the job done. Nobody was too friendly but they didn't necessarily do a bad job either. Like a bunch of people that were either jaded or burnt out on their job, but not really wanting to be fired so they continue to do it. And I am ALWAYS one to make a nice personal connection with all the service staff.
Room service was decent. One morning they forgot to deliver our breakfast. Don't thing it's obvious to them that they will bring butter with your toast, or milk for your cereal. You need to request it each time. And the toast at breakfast was cold 6 out of the 7 mornings (remember breakfast didn't come on one morning). The room service guys are nice, and it doesn't hurt to give them a dollar or two per delivery. Just don't expect lights out food!
The cabin steward was awesome. Our room was immaculate, twice a day, and I was amazed at how they learn exactly how you like things in such a short period of time. A++ in this department.
I did not see any shows, comedy, magic, bingo, games, or anything like that. Most "events" on the ship are a cash grab for them, but we all know that. I did spend a lot of time in the casino, which was decent. Your standard Carnival Cruise casino, with service similar too the food service. They are not as educated about how their games work as someone in the state of Nevada, so keep that in mind. I played a lot of poker, and the tournament structure is abysmal, but that information is for poker nerds only.
The live music throughout the ship is sensational, and suited to whatever area you happened to be in. It's really nice, and one of my favorite parts actually. The pools were exactly what you would expect (although ONE 24 hour hot tub would be nice) and the drink prices seemed a bit higher than normal, but who here reading this doesn't know how to sneak a little extra something onto the ship! In fact, I managed to bring 6 beers with me back from every port. This saved me $108. The cocktail servers, especially in the casino, can be very pushy. They check on you too much, and one beer is never enough, they want to sell you a bucket. Carnival doesn't pay them, so their entire livelihood is your tips.
I'll talk more about Cabo in general in my port review, but it is one of my favorite places to visit (I have spent two one week vacations there) but it is not the best cruise port in the world, especially when you have to do it twice, and the ship leaves, so they can either open the casino or there is some strange rule they need to abide by. The tendering process eats up a half hour each way, and then there is the worry that you are going to miss the last one so you get back early which cuts even more into an already short day. When you walk off the port, it will literally take you an hour until you make it through the endless shops of people selling the same thing, and hundreds of people bothering you about gum, cigars, tours, water taxi, and of course drugs. It's better to just keep walking rather than say no to each one because you will never make it anywhere! And Cabo's bars are more fun at night, so the day time only leaves you with a small taste. It's best to just get on a water taxi, go straight to Lover's Beach or the Office, and skip all the hustlers on the marina.
We did that Day 1, with an excursion planned for Day 2. A snorkeling trip to Santa Maria Cove, about $70 per person. Well, at about 10pm the night of, I found a letter in my door that said it had been canceled due to lack of tickets sold. You know what I say to Carnival? You messed up the dates of my first cruise, you offered me no compensation, it took you four hours to let me on the ship, you changed the itinerary, and after two hours of deliberating with my 71 year old dad we settle on this and you cancel it 8 hours before we are supposed to go on this tour leaving us ZERO options for our second day in Cabo. I say you eat the cost and you let that tour go as planned. I was incensed, probably as angry as I ever was on a vacation, but again you remember that you are on vacation and it's not all about you and it's better than being at work. But when I am spending my good money on these things and I plan so far in advance so that there are no hitches, I would love for Carnival to pretend to care, to pretend that it mattered, to show me how they can make it up to me. So we basically spent the second day in Cabo, doing exactly what we did the previous day, walking through all the vendors, doing some souvenir shopping, and leaving. Let me tell you, I don't go all the way to Mexico to shop. I do that in the gift shop at the very last second. Or at least not on both days.
I will say that my first time in Puerto Vallarta was incredible and I would have zero hesitation going back there. My tour of Las Caletas was by far the highlight of the trip, and because it was a 12 hour stop, we had plenty of time to walk around town and have some fun in Puerto Vallarta for many hours after our excursion.
I love my fun days at sea because they are the most relaxing, and I had ample time to use the gym which was decent. My only complaint was that the windows were such that you couldn't really see out of them, and the weights could have been slightly more diverse, but they gym was fine and served its purpose.
So, should you avoid Carnival at all costs? No. Should you explore all your options thoroughly? Yes. Will you have a good time on a Carnival ship? Yes, because some of the people you meet will be your friends for a good long time to come. If there is a problem, will they do everything they can to resolve it? Definitely not. Bear that in mind when you are ready to spend a couple thousand dollars of your hard earned money on your next vacation.
I picked this cruise because of a gift certificate that a wonderful friend got me that was about to expire, and I wanted to say thanks because I did have a wonderful time and created some great memories. Too bad Carnival didn't hold up their end of the bargain! Less
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