Carnival Splendor Entertainment
With 22 lounges and bars, a fully loaded casino, a state-of-the-art video arcade and Spectacular Spectacular (Splendor's main show lounge) there's no excuse not to be entertained.
On our cruise, the casino, open from 10 a.m. until 4 a.m., was packed with gamblers. The two, nightly, Broadway-style shows at Spectacular Spectacular were also hugely popular. And the lounges are distinctive, each with its own personality.
The D.J. in the throbbing Red Carpet dance club does a nice turn with, for example, 70's and 80's hour -- a crowd-pleaser that drives people out onto the floor. El Morocco recreates the famous 1930's New York supper club of the same name with its zebra-patterned banquettes and palm trees. There's one bar that will remind you of cool jazz and another that mimics a sidewalk cafe in Old Havana. Other popular spots include a charming piano bar, a sports bar with eight large TV screens, and the lobby bar, which features everything from classical music to soul.
Shipboard entertainment isn't confined to evenings. Day and night, live music is all over the ship. The 270-square-foot theater screen on the Lido Deck is in constant use, showing concerts, movies and headline news. And, what would a Carnival cruise be without bingo, trivia contests, bean bag tosses, the Love and Marriage game and the men's hairy chest contest? Now that's entertainment.
While its shipboard activities fill out the fun, Splendor desperately needs to work on its shore excursion offerings. How to describe our experience in a word? Dreadful. I love cruising because it gives you such a wonderful snapshot of far-flung destinations. On our seven-night cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, my husband and I booked shore excursions in all four ports of call. I can't tell you much about three of the four because the guides were, to put it gently, disappointing. In two of the ports, St. Thomas and Nassau, our so-called guides were actually taxi drivers. Sure, it was nice to see the Nassau post office, the local hospital and the (drum roll) two-story McDonald's, but what happened to the "historical highlights" tour at $28 per person? Or the "Best of St. Thomas Island Tour" at $40 a pop? I knew not to expect an onboard educational enrichment component from Splendor because that's not what Carnival does. But I don't think it presumptuous to expect real guides and real tours on ship-sponsored excursions.
Carnival Splendor Public Rooms
The centerpieces of Carnival Splendor are its lobby on Deck 3 and an atrium that rises a stunning eight levels in a striking color palate of copper, gold, pink, black and silver. Even the dance floor gets the pink treatment with its pink and black stained wood. Lighting here -- and throughout many of the public spaces -- is dramatic with sparkling lights and neon.
The Promenade Deck, on Deck 5, is the social center of Splendor. The casino is a huge draw, and there are also a number of distinctively themed lounges, gift shops and cozy sitting areas. Atlantic Deck, on Deck 4, houses the library, which has limited hours and a limited selection. My advice? BYOB -- bring your own books.
The Internet cafe, open 24/7 on Deck 4, is tucked away, midship, in a small room that adjoins the Robusto Bar. There are 11 computers. Passengers can also use their laptops throughout the ship, which offers wireless Internet access. Pricing is the same for the ship's computers as it is to access the Web on personal laptops: $100 for 250 minutes, $55 for 100 minutes, or a pay-as-you-go plan at 75 cents a minute. There's a $3.95 activation fee, and printing costs 50 cents per page. Check out Carnival Capers, the daily newsletter, for special promotions.
With the addition of the retractable sky dome, the midship pool area becomes another public room -- in fact, the largest public room on any Carnival ship.
Carnival Splendor Spa & Fitness
Not surprisingly, the pool, sun decks and sports decks are big draws. In all, there are three pools and six hot tubs, along with a water slide and water-spray park for kids. There's also an elaborate, nine-hole, mini-golf course. In fact, there's a golf pro who gives instruction and also leads golf tours ashore. Finally, you have no excuse to give up your daily walk while you're onboard. On Deck 12's track, 10 circuits equal a mile.
The central Splendido lido pool deck, popular with families, features a large, open, glass-walled area that's two decks high. It can be closed in inclement weather with a retractable sky dome. A highlight of this dramatic space is the Seaside Theater with its 270-square-foot, outdoor screen. One particularly nice touch is the placement of two hot tubs; they're inset into both sides of the deck and offer unobstructed sea views.
Splendor's aft pool deck is airy and open and, in the tradition of grand liners, provides passengers with unimpeded views of the ship's wake. Because of its proximity to the buffet and bars, it's a favorite hangout for adults. A small pool, the so-called Thunderball Pool, is located midship.
I enjoyed Serenity, the adults-only sun deck, way up on Deck 12 at the front of the ship. Splendor offers a real improvement because, in contrast to the other pool areas, Serenity is quiet. It's outfitted with comfortable lounge chairs and tables, making it the ship's sweet spot. Best of all? There's no fee to access it.
With the Cloud 9 Spa, the largest and most elaborate in the Fun Ship fleet, Splendor outdoes itself.
First, the two-story spa, with its Pan-Asian design, is gorgeous and features another first for the line: a soothing thalassotherapy pool, covered by a glass dome and featuring heated, ionized water and pulsating water jets. There's a thermal suite of four climate-controlled rooms, offering varying degrees of warmness and coolness. Heated chaise longues, or lounges, are lovely. If that's not enough, guests can apply different chakra muds to the body as they inhale herbal steam in the mud lounge. A day-pass to the thalassotherapy pool is a pretty pricey $95.
Cloud 9 offers an impressive menu of services: facials, various kinds of massages, acupuncture and body treatments, such as ionithermi cellulite reduction and cellulite and colon therapy. Elemis beauty products are used exclusively. One interesting offering is the Elemis SkinLab Facial Mapping Analysis, where therapists use advanced clinical imaging to identify specific skincare concerns. The spa services can get pricey -- $100 or more. It's a good idea to check for port specials, which tend to be less expensive.
The spa is operated by the ubiquitous Steiner, so beware of post-treatment product pitches; feel free to just say no.
The Steiner-operated salon offers everything from highlights and teeth-whitening to French pedicures and "regrowth tinting." Grooming services are also available for men.
The fitness center, open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., is first-rate. In addition to free weights and resistance weights, there are more than 30 treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes, each with its own TV screen. For a fee, consultants are available for personal training, metabolism-testing and nutrition-planning. On our cruise, there were also spinning, yoga and Pilates classes, $12 each or $30 for three sessions.
The gym also offers complimentary services that are widely available at sea today: stretching, aerobics and body conditioning classes, along with tabloid-titled seminars like "Eat More to Weigh Less" and "Secrets to a Flatter Stomach."