Carnival Splendor is a big vessel with a huge personality -- and it sets itself apart from the Carnival pack in grand style. For starters, Splendor inaugurated a new cabin category for the line, the spa cabin, which is as much about lifestyle as real estate. A retractable sky dome covers Splendor's pool deck, which marked something new for Carnival when it debuted (and remains the most notable example of the innovation within the fleet). It means that passengers can swim when it's balmy -- and when it's not -- and it's also the setting for the line's signature Dive-In Movies, fun film screenings set poolside under the stars.
Splendor is one of Carnival's largest ships, with 13 decks. Designed to accommodate up to 4,914 passengers at maximum full-berth capacity, it deserves its own zip code, and touts enough diversions to appeal to everyone from kids to seniors. Remarkably, there is only an occasional sense of overcrowding, and there are plenty of quiet spaces -- like Serenity, the adults-only sun deck -- to seek respite.
The 113,300-ton Splendor marks its own class of vessel for Carnival, basically a larger version of the ships from the line's earlier Conquest Class. One of Splendor's most impressive features is its expansive 21,000-square-foot spa, among the most elaborate in the fleet. Pan-Asian in design, the Cloud 9 Spa spans two decks and includes a state-of-the-art fitness center that easily rivals any at sea. With more than a dozen lounges and bars, a water slide, mini-golf, multiple age-appropriate kids' programs, nonstop activities and a singing wait staff, Splendor makes good on delivering what Carnival passengers have come to expect: fun.
Splendor is designed around the loosely realized theme of "splendid things," with cheery and playful -- if sometimes jarring -- decor. We're not architects, but when we first walked onboard -- and we are not alone in reacting this way -- we felt under assault by a design that we can only describe as overwhelming. Carnival's longtime interior designer Joe Farcus sees "whimsical" in the massive dining room chandeliers. We see a DNA helix. He sees "drama" and "excitement" in the squiggly pink and black image that appears on table tops, elevator panels and walls. We see an amoeba. And we've never stayed in a cabin that had bright-pink crown molding and a pinkish couch before. Let's just say there is nothing understated about Splendor. Understandably, some passengers have nicknamed it "The Pink Ship."
Decor notwithstanding, Splendor has great bones and a festive spirit. We talked to a lot of passengers, many of them Carnival loyalists, and asked a single question: "Are you having fun?" In just about every case, the answer was an emphatic "yes."
Carnival Splendor sailings attract an overwhelming majority of American passengers looking for close-to-home, value-packed cruise vacations. While much of the clientele is U.S. based, the ship does attract a good amount of Canadian travelers, with a smattering of other nationalities. The ship attracts lots of families and groups of as many as 80 people. The age spread is all over the place -- from retirees to kids in strollers. Shorter sailings and itineraries that overlap with school holidays host the most kids onboard; for example, on an end-of-summer sailing, some 800 passengers onboard were under 18.
Casual attire is the order of the day onboard. It's recommended to wear rubber-soled, flat shoes with good traction while walking around the ship, especially when out on the open decks.
However, there is a dress code at night. On cruise casual evenings, men are encouraged to wear slacks, khakis, jeans or long dress shorts and collared sport shirts. Casual dresses, skirts, pants, capris, dress shorts and jeans with tops are fine for the ladies. Not permitted in the main dining rooms on cruise casual nights (or on elegant nights, for that matter): flip-flops, bathing suit attire, cut-off jeans, sportswear, baseball hats or sleeveless shirts for men.
On cruise elegant nights (held once on sailings that are five nights or less in duration, and twice on sailings that are six nights or longer), men should wear dress slacks and shirts; sports coats, suits and tuxes are an option, though we didn't see a single tuxedo on our sailing. Women should pack cocktail dresses, dressy pantsuits or fine skirts; based on our cruise, it seemed as fine an excuse as any to get a second wear out of those old bridesmaid dresses. Note that children are also expected to adhere to the set dress codes.
Passengers who prefer casual attire at dinnertime, even on cruise elegant nights, can overlook the main dining rooms in favor of the Lido buffet restaurant, which has a more relaxed dress code throughout the cruise. The only real requirements are wearing a shirt, for those coming in from the pool area, and to wear shoes, though even flip-flops are OK here.
One of the recurring complaints we heard from Carnival loyalists was the failure of many passengers to adhere to a dress code on more formal nights. We saw several diners dressed inappropriately in sporty tops and ball caps at our early-seating dinner on one cruise elegant night. Officially, ship staff is supposed to ask passengers not adhering to the dress code to change before returning to the dining room.
Carnival recommends $12 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $6.10 to dining room services, $3.90 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount can be prepaid in full at booking or can be automatically added to your shipboard account; either way, it can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. (Note that while regular gratuities are expected for child passengers, babies under age 2 are exempt.) A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar and spa bills. Tipping a couple dollars for the complimentary room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff. Note: On sailings departing September 1, 2016, or later, gratuities will increase to $12.95 per person, per day ($13.95 for those in suites).