We decided to take two back to back cruises on Carnivals' Spirit due to its unique Hawaii itinerary which included many nights in Maui and Honolulu. Hence, living on the Pacific coast, boarding in San Diego would be great. Much to our dismay only check in was in San Diego while 2,300 guests were shipped by bus through the dreaded 2 1/2 hour drive to Ensenada to fulfill the obsolete Jones Act. While most cruise lines have worked around this legislation by including foreign ports prior to American port visits, Carnivals' failure was dreadful. The United States government and the cruise line should be considerate to fellow American taxpayers and cruise clients in helping avoid such ridiculous situations by adhering to moot legislation better suited in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Hence, check in was very poor and many guests reached the ship by midnight. What a start as you could imagine.
The Carnival Spirit nearly cracks the 90000 tonnage barrier and is finely constructed using marble, granite and warm woods placed in a free flowing layout. Most staterooms are not inside and the ship never felt older. We had suites and Carnival leads the pack in this value quotient. Our suites measured from 345 to 450 square feet including a large balcony and were finely trimmed in wood, marble, granite, mirrors and recessed lighting all fit for a five star hotel. Our baths had whirlpool tubs and double sinks layered in granite. Such staterooms would cost thousands more in competitive cruise lines. Service and amenities were basic and nothing in addition to any standard staterooms, hence acceptable but not in line with the physical scale of the suites.
One huge Carnival failure is their past guest program. Any guest who travels a three day cruise in an inside stateroom would get the same point as a guest cruising in a penthouse suite even for a 18 day cruise. We have cruised over 150 days with Carnival in long segments mainly in suites but had the same points as guests who had cruised six three day segments in inside cabins. An 18 day cruiser had the same points as a 150 days cruiser!!! Ridiculous. A quick lesson from Celebrity cruise lines is in order!
Overall dining was good with no complaints. The Lido had a good selection of fish, meats, and breakfast items. Dinner was more scarce in the Lido but the formal dining was fine. The selection and polish of Celebrity Cruises or Holland America is not part of the equation but its really not expected. Two CAVEATS. Hygiene of fellow guests in the Lido was poor as coughs and sneezes in and on the buffet food/lines was horrible. Scarce sanitizers made matters worst. Celebrity staff would administer hand sanitizers to all guests entering the dining areas personally. Not so here. Once again, the overall refinement and hygiene of some guests both in the Lido and pools is a problem which has sadly plagued American society in general and may be a problem for picky cruisers. A huge hygiene issue involved the lack of toilet seat covers in public bathrooms, a health hazard primarily while cruising with children.
Another annoying caveat was the fact that many announcements were made each day at all times through ALL speakers in the ship (both near staterooms and on your head in Lido and the formal dining room) by the cruise director namely trying to sell you products or services. The announcements were so loud that I avoided going to the dining room! This is not in line with a vacation people expect. Once the cruise director spoke, forget napping in your room. This situation resembled an auction like atmosphere not in line with a cruise literally intruding on your quietude, sleep and calm dining.
Overall, entertainment was below average. One show throughout a 12 day cruise was good enough with special effects and live music. More such shows would be needed. Classical music was not existent on the ship; live music was limited to a duo (they were good) and another loud group trying to capture music of Hawaii with not much success. Couple of pianists were around which was a good touch.
The children's fun factory area was limited to a corner far away in the ship with not much outside light or ventilation. The ship pools were deep and not suitable for young children as well. Also, very young children had to share pools with overly confident individuals with very revealing swimming attire not appropriate in such very large sizes. It is perfectly normal for all people to swim and enjoy the sun. On the same token, attire and swimwear should be in good taste. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but one cannot impose it and proper good taste for all people cannot be redefined and should be observed in resort family settings. Again, it is not the cruise lines' fault what has become of social norms. Nevertheless, dedicated areas for young children is in order at the very least.
Enough of the caveats, right. With these in mind, one cannot deny the positive. The Spirit is a nice ship with a good layout and quality finishes inside and out. On a nice day you can enjoy the sea both atop the ship or on your private balcony avoiding crowds. Staterooms are comfortable. Overall dining both casual and formal are pretty good both in quality and choice. In sum, what sets this cruise apart was the itinerary. Two back to back cruises gave great insight into the islands of Hawaii with overnights in Honolulu, Maui. Ample time was given to stroll these islands to spend time as you wish. We have cruised nearly 400 days with most lines for extended periods of time. I strongly feel that cruising is the best way to view our beautiful planet. Enjoy exotic ports and return to the comfort of your ship is the essence of fine cruising. People who love the sea would enjoy this cruise. Furthermore, extended time in Hawaii was a huge plus. On the same token, do not expect the polish and refinement of premium cruise lines. I have cruised 150 days with Celebrity ships and remain impressed by their careful blend of service, up to the minute quality and elegant ship beauty. The Carnival Spirit is not in the same league which is fine. For many, the Spirit is more than enough and still a unique departure from land based vacations packed with value. It is just that some cruise ships have managed to feel more like five star resorts and have given careful attention to detail even beyond land based resorts.
Leon J. Makasjian