We sailed the Carnival Spirit round-trip from Los Angeles (San Pedro) to Hawaii 12/02/11-12/17/11. We had sailed the same ship 12 days from Honolulu to Vancouver in 2004. This was my 13th Carnival cruise and 31st cruise overall.
Generally, we had a good time. We met some really nice folks, enjoyed our Cruise Critic get-togethers, loved most of our port time and had a great vacation. However, we were disappointed in the food and entertainment as compared to our other cruises. This was the 3rd time we've cruised between Thanksgiving and Christmas and the 3rd time we've said we don't want to do that again -- it just takes too much away from our holiday and family celebrations.
Embarkation was delayed because the ship arrived into port late. We were at the Crowne Plaza -- in a harbor view suite specifically to watch the ship come in, but we kept waiting. Finally went to the front desk to ask and they checked some monitor and told us we'd be able to see it in 6 minutes (not kidding...and we did). Got great pictures as the ship sailed by. As "platinum" guests, we were in Zone 1, but boarded at 1:35. Debarkation was also seemed late. We were group #1 and didn't get to LAX until almost 11:30. I sure hope nobody booked an early flight home.
We like the layout of the Spirit. Most of the indoor public areas are on Decks 2 & 3 which makes it pretty easy to find our way around. Deck 9 has the pools (one of which can be under cover) and casual dining. We booked an 8A balcony #4209 because the 3 staterooms forward of it have windows that don't open, hoping that our balcony could be enjoyed without smoke; this was a great plan and worked smashingly -- especially since our neighbors to the aft also did not smoke. Our stateroom was also very convenient to the aft elevators / stairs.
We booked early dining and were assigned table #102 for 12 guests, by a starboard window. Being next to a wall, was a bit of a disappointment (felt a little closed in and far away from the dining room dancing / singing), but did facilitate table conversation. I don't even know our waiter's name (and it was a 15 night cruise), but we adored our assistant waiters "Jovy & Zeljko". It seems that Carnival is giving the waiters more tables and more assistants. Service was somewhat slow at times, but again we were assigned very pleasant dinner companions and we made good use of the time. I must say that we were disappointed in the new menus. We really missed the nightly option of shrimp cocktail and found many of the selections ranged from a bit odd to downright disgusting. We never went hungry and enjoy most of what we ordered, but would have preferred the original options. Some of the combinations were really bizarre! Peas with raisins??? Mashed potatoes with tomato sauce on top??? Seafood Newberg that used to be shrimp, scallops and lobster was primarily mussels (yuck) that weren't even listed on the menu. Please bring back the old menus. Our disappointment was shared by our dinner companions and the majority of the guests with whom we chatted throughout the cruise. We had breakfast on the Lido Deck most days and found very little variety. We were disappointed that they no longer offer corned beef hash up there, so we went to the dining room for it (specifically) a few times. Lunch was split between the two options (and a few days in port). A few times it was really good, but most of the time nothing special in either venue.
Entertainment was likewise somewhat disappointing. When we sailed the Spirit from Honolulu, our CD, Michael Mullane, did an amazing job organizing wonderful entertainment and activities for the older demographic on this cruise. This time, CD was Australian Stu Dunn. We enjoyed his presentations and found him to be very personable, funny and outgoing. The production shows (3 of them during our 15 night sailing) were awesome! The last one "Big Easy" was amazing! But the entertainment they brought on for our cruise was NOTHING compared to last time. We had 4 comedians over the course of the cruise: lousy, poor, OK, and pretty good. We actually went to 3 of the shows by the "pretty good" comedian (Merl Hobbs) because there were so few options on board. One of the shows was listed as El Gaucho -- nothing else -- no description of what "El Gaucho" was supposed to be or do. This is likely because they didn't know...we went to the show (and walked out) and we still don't know. But I do know it was awful -- not funny -- not entertaining -- and the Spirit should be embarrassed to call this one of their evening shows. Then there was a pathetic juggler and a hypnotist we decided not to bother with. They did bring on a very good trumpeter (who was an OK vocalist), presenting it as "swing" music. By sheer coincidence we saw her again -- like 4,000 miles away at Epcot -- the day after we disembarked. Daytime activities included the typical games and lame trivia contests (but came home with 5 "ships on a stick" because there was little else of interest). The "ballroom dance" lessons were provided by one male; last time on the Spirit they had two couples teaching lessons and it was awesome. One male teaching ballroom makes no sense at all. They had a couple contracted to do the crafting with some simple supplies and lessons; lots of passengers showed up for these, but I think Carnival could do much more with this option. "Dirk" was the naturalist on board and this was a nice addition to the daytime line-up. We were able to attend only the first presentation, but watched the others on TV. They did show a big screen movie at 4pm each day, but no new releases.
We booked the "Behind the Fun" tour and enjoyed it very much. Our tour guide did a great job! We loved seeing the crew areas. Hubby enjoyed the engine room, but was a little frustrated that the engineer struggled with the English to answer his questions. The captain was very personable in meeting him on the bridge. It seems to me that amenities used to be nicer, but we got the photos, a drawstring bag, ball cap and lanyard.
On being Platinum...we got stationary (no use for it, but did bring it home). We ate a couple of the hors d'oeuvres and petit fours, but not much. I'll certainly use the lunch bags more than we ever used the thermos. But for this 15-night cruise, the laundry service was very helpful. However, if we ever book Carnival again, I'll plan an all-gray wardrobe as everything came back from the laundry gray. Why did I pack nice new underwear and socks?? And my favorite white top will never be the same.
Carnival is not responsible for the weather, but that was also disappointing. Well, actually I rather expected the Pacific transit to be lousy weather because I have done it before and it lived up to my expectations. I packed layers and needed them. But if entertainment and activities had been better, I wouldn't have minded the cold, cloudy, drizzly days. We did get sunshine the last two days of the cruise. I wrapped up in a sweater, sweatshirt, windbreaker with hood and a couple beach towels so I could relax on my smoke-free balcony I had so looked forward to.
The slot machines hated me on this cruise (and the feeling was pretty much mutual), but the casino was SO MUCH NICER with smoking limited. Smoke in other areas seemed much easier to avoid on this cruise, too. The last day was actually sunny so we decided to have some chaise time on the Lido Deck. All on the smoke-free side were taken, but most were empty on the smoking side. We saw one guy pull one over, so we did the same. Shortly afterward another couple pulled two chaises over. I know it meant more work for the deck crew, but ultimately Carnival will get the message (nice improvements in this regard).
It was cold, windy and rainy for our 1st port-of-call, Hilo. Just our luck, we had booked a helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian for that day...for $722 (three of us). I wish they had cancelled the trip for weather, but we climbed aboard. I paid for the "eco star" because it was supposed to be a quieter, smoother ride with better visability. The vibration was unbelievable! I tried to take comfort in the fact that pilot seemed not to be concerned about it, but whole thing was shaking like crazy. They made me check my purse or I would have popped a (very bitter) Xanax even without water. Pilot did a good job narrating the flight -- we did see lava flowing and learned a bit about it. Hubby and I were in the back seat and really could see only out the side windows (front windows obstructed by other passengers, but also rain on windshield). Other couple in back seat were equally frustrated with limited visability and quite vocal about it. I spent most of the flight praying for it to be over. A helicopter flight is now checked off the bucket list. (If it had been good weather and we had a front seat, it would likely have been a much better experience).
Maui was amazing. We booked the "Road to Hana" with Adventure Maui and our driver, David, did an incredible job. He was very welcoming upon picking us up at the pier just after 8am and continued his enthusiastic tour until he dropped us off at 6pm. What incredible views he shared with us, along with a wealth of knowledge and a pleasant picnic lunch. This was a great experience!
We've been to Honolulu many times and have successfully used their bus system (rented a car a few times, but parking / traffic always an issue). So we decided to take the bus out to Disney's new resort "Aulani". Big mistake. Took us 4 hours and miles of walking on top of two bus rides. We paid $70 for a cab back. We booked "Paradise Cove" luau through the ship for that evening. I'll be darned if the bus to "Paradise Cove" didn't take us right back out to the same resort area...from which we could see "Aulani". We bought the luau tickets when Carnival was offering 15% off shore excursions...darned good thing because it was so not worth it. First of all, it was a long flippin ride ($70 by cab) and we had to go both ways...again. We had a friendly, but very talkative, silly tour guide who wanted audience participation while we are crammed like sardines in this bus. Tickets included 3 drinks, but to get a good drink cost $4 extra -- each -- plus tip. It was a LONG evening with a few booths of activities but totally drawn out. Paradise Cove is on an amazing setting with a beautiful view and sunset, but the evening is way too long for what is offered. The actual show was maybe an hour and pretty entertaining (great costumes). Food was so horrible, it's not even worth describing -- just blech! In summary, too far a drive, too boring an evening, disgusting "food" and not nearly enough alcohol. Honolulu was a bust.
Kauai made up for it! We booked "tubing the ditch" with Kauai Backcountry and it was our very best excursion EVER! Our tour guides were Erin and Mike. It was great fun, informative, adventurous and breathtakingly beautiful. We rode these 6-wheeled vehicles up to the entry point, climbed in rubber tubes ("brisk" water, not permitted to say "cold") and rode through the most amazing experience. We went through 5 tunnels, one of which was mile long, enjoyed a few rapids and just the best experience. I would totally do this again and give it my highest recommendation.
Our last port of call was Kona. We wanted to do something special because last time we hadn't done anything last time. Our tour was snorkeling in the harbor and cruising on a zodiak with "Sea Hawaii Rafting". We had a great time, beautiful weather, crystal clear water, cruised by some sea caves, saw lava tubes and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
We are down to the last 5 sea days and hoping (to no avail) for better entertainment and food. It's just not gonna happen. We enjoyed the company -- got plenty of sleep (not much for entertainment) -- and did get a little sunshine. Enjoyed lots of reading, socializing, crafting and a little hot tub time. It wasn't the best cruise ever, but we were on a cruise and went to Hawaii, so it wasn't half bad either.