Carnival Spirit Entertainment
Carnival's nightlife is legendary and if you come aboard ready to party you will not be disappointed. The ship has 12 lounges and bars to suit every mood, many featuring live music (everything from country to old standards, jazz and modern dance music). The Atrium Bar is at the centre of pre-dinner socialising, and couples dance to the sounds of the guitarist or saxophonist perched above the bar. We loved to watch them and cheered when an 80-year-old man -- and one of the better dancers in the group -- berated the younger couples for not getting out on the dance floor. The two bars adjacent to the Deck 2 and 3 dining room entrances -- the Artists' Lobby (the backs of the banquettes feature reproductions of art classics from Gauguin, Klimpt and others) and Deco Lounge (done in Art Deco style) -- are great spots for people-watching to the sounds of jazz, especially on formal nights. We saw everything from Zoot Suits to designer jeans.
The popular Shanghai Bar, decorated in a "Chinoise" style with walls covered in Chinese fabric and silk screens illuminated from behind , is the singalong piano bar. The pianist on our sailing was fantastic and played all the "hits and memories." This is the place to be perched on a bar stool, night after night. Below the Shanghai Bar, in Club Cool, karaoke reigns supreme every evening. Karaoke, too, has a loyal following, with a fairly wide range of talents. However, be prepared for some great performances by the staff, who turn up to do a star turn every now and then. The Champions' Sports Bar offers wide-screen televisions for catching the big games and also doubles as the cigar bar. This bar has had a facelift, and the walls are now adorned with photos of Australian sports champions like superstar sprinter Cathy Freeman and swimmer Kieren Perkins. Rugby League posters for the various teams also have pride of place.
The three-level Pharaoh's Palace show lounge is decorated with hieroglyphics, 20-foot-tall stone figures and sarcophagi inspired by King Tutankhamun's golden mask, to set the scene for Vegas-style revues and guest comedians. Seating is in comfortable high-back theatre chairs, but bring a wrap or sweater -- they've got the air-conditioning turned way up in there. Song-and-dance shows on my cruise were toe-tapping fun with lots of energy, featuring songs from the Big Band era and an excellent homage to New Orleans called "The Big Easy."
Day or night, the Louis XIV Casino was always packed with hopeful passengers trying to win a few bucks. The casino has 220 slots, plus tables for roulette/dice, blackjack and poker (including Three Card Poker, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud Diamond and video poker). Three tables are reserved for blackjack tournaments. All poker machines now take Australian coins. The Dancin' Dance Club (a disco with a none-too-imaginative but apt name) is a two-tiered dance club with a two-storey 20-by-20-foot video wall with 48-inch monitors and colourful, swirly-design banquettes and drink tables.
We referred to the Deck 1 Versailles Lounge as "Brigadoon" because we didn't even notice it until halfway through the cruise (stairs next to the Deck 2 Pharaoh's Palace entrance), and we could never find any events going on there. It's a whimsical space with walls decorated in fairytale scenes of village homes and a castle. (At night, twinkle lights embedded in the walls look like stars.) On the second-last night, we finally found the lounge listed in the "FunTimes" and enjoyed a cover band that played modern dance music.
During the day, Carnival Spirit focuses on fun in the sun. Passengers can participate in arts and crafts (visor-painting, needlepoint), lots of trivia contests, bridge and other games in the card room, silly pool games that might include Rubber Chicken Olympics and a Men's Hairy Chest Contest, the occasional wine-tasting, towel animal-making and bingo. The closest thing to enrichment lectures are the free spa seminars on health, diet and wellness, but that's Carnival's choice. The cruise line's focus is on having a good time and not about an educational vacation. On sunny days, the pool and sun decks are the places to be; on cool days, the casino is hopping.
There is a huge range of shore excursions available in the islands of New Caledonia, along with Vanuatu and Fiji. Many appear to be overpriced, particularly the Tchou Tchou train (le petit train) and the trip to Duck Island in Noumea, which can normally be had for half the price. Also avoid taking the A$59 Isle of Pines trip that ventures to Oro Bay. Once you get off the tender boat at Isle of Pines, there are two lovely beaches to relax at, and if you want to go to Oro (about 20 minutes away and said to be absolutely amazing for swimming and snorkelling), look out for local islander men who offer the trips for about A$20 in their own cars. Another overpriced ship excursion is the Cascades tour (to the Mele Cascades) near Port Vila, Vanuatu. If you want to go to the Mele Cascades (a series of waterfalls deemed by many to be the best attraction in Port Vila), organise a taxi with friends (about 7,000 vatu or A$73 return) to get there, and pay the normal gate entrance (around A$20) yourself.
Those who don't mind spending money and want to be looked after will be happy to do the ship's excursions, and it may be preferable to book adventurous trips or those with many components (such as a cultural tour/village visits) with the cruise line to avoid a lot of work for yourself.
Carnival Spirit Public Rooms
Decks 2 and 3 form the hub of the ship, with a combination of public areas, bars and lounges. Passenger flow is excellent. The public rooms are connected by a two-level promenade with a grand staircase leading from one level to the other. At the ground level of the atrium on Deck 2 are the guest services and shore excursions desks. Farther forward on that level is the Monarch's Card Room, often packed with bridge and other game players, while the Fountain Cafe seating area is the spot for trivia and arts and crafts.
Upstairs on Deck 3, the Art Deco Walk combines a seating area with the ship's main shopping boulevard. Heading from fore to aft, the Jungle winter garden is a walkway with seating areas and porthole windows, decorated with jungle animals like giraffes and orangutans. It accesses the stairs leading to the kids' areas one flight up, and it's a favourite hangout for teens and tweens. The Wedding Chapel is the location for vow renewals, but there are plans for wedding ceremonies.
The Chippendale Library and Internet Cafe has a small collection of books, 10 computer terminals and a printer, as well as comfy chairs. Internet packages cost around A$100 for 250 minutes, A$55 for 100 minutes, or pay as you go at around 75 cents a minute. Carnival does not offer any computer education classes.
Continuing along, the Fun Shops on either side of the walkway sell jewellery and watches, makeup, perfume, alcohol, Carnival logowear, resort wear and sundries. Formalities is a combination candy shop and formalwear rental shop. The photo gallery surrounds the atrium; photos are priced from A$7.99 to A$21.99 (based on photo type, not size), and you can add a digital image file to your purchase for an additional A$9.99. They also sell cameras, photo frames and scrapbooking materials, or you can print out photos from your own digital camera on special machines, again for a fee. Every evening a selection of backdrops is available for portrait sittings. The most clever one we saw was a Christmas tree and gifts background, so you can take your family photo to make Christmas cards.
A conference room is located outside the Deco Lounge at the aft end of the deck. On our cruise it housed the Park West art auction collection.
Self-service launderettes are located on the stateroom decks. There are two or three washers and dryers, as well as one iron and ironing board in each launderette. The costs is A$3.25 per washing load and A$3.25 per dryer load. Tokens for the machines can be bought from the guest services. Vending machines dispense small boxes of detergent and water softener at A$1.50 per box, and this is charged to your Sail & Sign Card.
A medical centre is located on Deck A.
Carnival Spirit Spa & Fitness
The Grecian-inspired, Steiner-operated Spa Carnival incorporates Doric columns and hand-painted murals that feature a Greek vase motif and depictions of Olympic events. The two-level, 13,700-square-foot oceanview facility, located forward on Decks 9 and 10, offers sauna and steam rooms (free) in the men's and women's locker rooms, a beauty salon, a whirlpool in the centre of the gym and 10 treatment rooms for spa therapies, ranging from aroma hot stone massages and acupuncture to facials and body wraps. Prices are steep, as on all ships, ranging from around $65 for a pedicure and $95 for a man's shave to $155 for a 50-minute hot stone massage. Watch out for combo packages and port specials for discounted pricing.
Free fitness classes held in the decent-sized aerobics room include stretching, abs workouts, Chinese longevity exercises and boot camp; group cycling classes were held on a couple of days for around $12. The class options were minimal compared with other cruise lines: no yoga or Pilates and only two to three fitness classes held each day. The morning stretching class we attended was popular, despite the early start time, while the afternoon spinning class we peeked in at only had three participants. Perhaps by the afternoon, people are already ensconced in a sunny spot up on deck or too busy with other activities.
The gym itself features a tiered design, so you get ocean views from every piece of equipment. In addition to weight machines and free weights, the fitness centre offers stationary and recumbent bikes, cross-trainers, stair climbers, treadmills and a rowing machine. Be warned that the steam from the whirlpool does rise, making the temperature on the upper tiers a little warm. We went to work out first thing in the morning on the first sea day and had to wait in line for a spot on a cardio machine. (Every machine was in use, with the exception of a stair-stepper and a recumbent bike.) We were told that the crowd thins out after a few days, but we simply switched our workouts to a later hour. If you've got late-seating dinner, head to the gym at 6 p.m. The only people in there are crewmembers because they know it won't be crowded. (We saw several dancers and one of the ship's engineers.)
Nutrition programmes and body composition analyses are available for a fee, and the free seminars found on most ships (Secrets to a Flatter Stomach, Eat More to Weigh Less, etc.) are held on Carnival Spirit, as well.
There are two jogging tracks onboard. The longer Deck 10 track is only available for running in the early morning or evening because daytime runners would have to hurdle lounge chairs, dodge drink waiters and race past passengers snapping pictures of their friends at sea. As it is, you'll have to dodge walkers and early-bird sunbathers who take over the deck. Three-and-a-half laps equal a mile (or 1.6 kilometers). The Deck 11 track at the front of the ship is 14 laps per mile (or 1.6 kilometers), and you'll circle the nine-hole mini-golf course and basketball court again and again and again. Wear your seabands so you don't get dizzy! The mini-golf course isn't outfitted with crazy obstacles like windmills or water features, but its top-deck location with all the wind and ship movement make it a more challenging game than you'd expect. Ping-Pong tables are located on Deck 10 overlooking the pools. A golf simulator on Deck 10 mid-ship lets passengers practice their swings and putts.
Three swimming pools (two mid-ship, one aft) are each flanked by a hot tub and freezing-cold showers to wash off the salt water. Sculptures of evil-looking green birds tower over each pool; we're really not sure why. One of the mid-ship pools is covered by a retractable dome for all-weather use. Plastic lounge chairs with plastic mesh seats are plentiful throughout Decks 9 to 11; be careful when you recline or adjust the back height of the loungers, just in case they're broken. The Lido Deck stage is the place for poolside music and silly pool games, such as beanbag toss, the Chicken Olympics (a series of games involving rubber chickens) and ice-carving.
Carnival WaterWorks is a top-ship space comprising two waterslides (a traditional yellow Twister slide and Green Thunder, a 180-foot-long tube that begins with a near-vertical drop) and the Splash Zone for kids, which features a new Power Drencher -- a huge bucket that periodically dumps water on passengers -- and two purple mini-waterslides.
One deck below is the Serenity deck space, Carnival's signature adults-only retreat, featuring a pool, hot tub and plenty of super-plush loungers, hammocks and pod lounges -- two-person cane huts for luxuriating out of the sun. These cozy pods are extremely popular, and there have been complaints of partying types crashing out in them overnight (after too much booze) and commandeering them for the whole day or people getting up before dawn to stake their claim on a pod. Let's hope Carnival sorts out what could be a very contentious issue.