S425 11 Days New Caledonia & Vanuatu: Carnival Spirit Cruise Review by Vanilla Custard
Overall Member Rating
S425 11 Days New Caledonia & Vanuatu
Destination: South Pacific
Embarkation: Sydney (Australia)
1 August 2014
S425 11 Days New Caledonia & Vanuatu
Isle of Pines, Mystery Island, Santo, Wala, Port Vila
We have only been on one cruise previously, with P&O Pacific Dawn in 2012 on a 7 day cruise to Noumea, Lifou and Vila so will use that as our only comparison.
However, we have stayed in a number of resorts and hotels, dined in many restaurants and attended many shows across the world so we have a basis for comparisons in those areas as well.
These are the opinions of myself and my wife. Clearly some may not agree but they are what they are.
Would we go on Carnival Spirit again, probably not. Partly because we would not want to do a cruise from Australia to the Sth Pacific again but also because Carnival really dropped the ball in some key areas.
Booking and boarding
We used a travel agency and booked a few months prior to sailing to get heavily discounted rates. There were no More issues with the process. However, Carnival are well behind in the areas of online management of the booking process. This includes the areas of booking excursions, restaurants and even getting to know the ship.
We booked guaranteed stateroom as we did with P&O (which saved us a lot of money). We got our assigned stateroom a week before sailing which was fine and ended up with what we found to be an excellent stateroom (location). We got an extended balcony quad room (more on that later).
Boarding was much better handled than on P&O. The ability to choose your boarding time was excellent and the staggered boarding times made the process easy. Luggage drop off was well organized and despite all the upgrade work going on at the OPT, we found it easy to get through the departure area and onto the ship.
We were surprised that there was no actual welcome onto the ship unlike on P&O where we were made to feel very welcome. We were left to wander onto the ship and find our way to our room. Rather disorganized and unwelcoming I have to say (others we spoke to felt the same way). The leaving port party was much better on P&O.
Our baggage all arrived in our cabin without drama and quickly (even though we had powerboards in two bags !).
We were in an extended balcony stateroom (quad) on deck 8. Overall, the room was more spacious than the one we had on the Pacific Dawn and in better condition (not surprising). The larger bathroom was very good and the shower was exceptionally good with good pressure and fast, constant hot water with adjustable shower head.
The carpet and other furnishings were in reasonable condition but clearly showing some wear and tear.
The bed was a good size and comfortable and linen was good and not too heavily starched (unlike the Dawn).
The fridge was broken (we asked for it to be replaced which it was – with another broken fridge). We talked to other passengers that had dramas with their fridges actually exploding – we ended up leaving ours unplugged.
AC was very good and kept the room at an ideal temperature. A little noisy at times but it didn’t disturb our sleeping. The vents need cleaning – really really dirty.
Plenty of storage area. Good wardrobe area (3) although sliding doors would be better (the bathroom door should also be sliding as it was impossible for two, let alone four people to use comfortably, coming and going). The bathroom door won’t stay open on its own either (we used another bungy cord). To improve access, sliding doors would be much better. The shower curtains are average (and pretty cheap looking) but for the 3+ star rating that Spirit has, OK I guess.
The bathroom décor was not the best (vomit green some called it) but not really an issue – vanity was cracked, shower leaked and general wear and tear but acceptable. Water from the bathroom taps, despite being said to be drinkable, was terrible. Tasted pretty bad and we found “floaties” in it. We took a few dozen bottles of water on board so used that.
Most of the time the cabin would creak and groan in light to moderate seas – appeared to coming from the ceiling panels. Again, didn’t affect our sleeping until the last morning when we got the medical emergency notification over the PA system at 3.45 am – neither of us got back to sleep due to the cabin creaking and groaning. Other areas such as the stairwells also did this but I expect not many noticed as most passengers used the lifts.
The TV and media system was below average and really not up to standard by today’s standards – very disappointing. We didn’t spend much time in our room but even so, this needs to be improved. Menu system clunky, poor channel selection (even the internal channels), tiny size …. Despite what most say, we were able to connect our iPad to the TV but I’m not saying how.
Carnival need to allow people to connect devices to the TV. We wanted to watch our movies we took during the day on a bigger screen but it took messing around to make it all work.
The stateroom balcony was a welcome feature over the “porthole” window we had on P&O and we don’t regret getting it (despite many saying you don’t need one as you never spend time in your room) but especially being an extended balcony and the “extended roof” from the Lido deck not only gave us protection from the sun but also meant we had excellent privacy unlike rooms below us. Sadly, the entire balcony area needs a repaint – lots of cracking/flaking white paint and rust that covered our balcony and chairs each day. Make sure you take a bungee cord/octy strap to hold the balcony door open – allowed us to get fresh air into the stateroom.
The cleaners and our stateroom steward did an excellent job and were all friendly. They were also very good working around our activities and our need to use the room depending on our day/night activities. They were there when we needed them and absent when we didn’t - exactly what you want. We tipped the stateroom steward at the beginning of the voyage but I hope Carnival do not encourage this American behaviour of tipping in all areas of the ship. We even got an enforced tip by the Spa on our final invoice after declining it at the time of treatment. We had to talk with the service desk to get it removed. Very disappointed with the Spa not only because of that issue.
Where to start – it is everywhere and of varying quality. I must say however that given the large number of obese passengers (much more than were on the P&O cruise we did), Carnival need to consider some way to regulate food consumption – it was bordering on vulgar, even in the Empire (where people were ordering 2-3 mains at a time).
Nouveau We had high expectations for this dining experience based on what we had read and what others had told us. We booked weeks before we cruised to celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary in “style”.
We were seated at a table designed for four and one side was bench seating, not exactly what I would call fine dining (or romantic). There were no other tables available. I will note here that I made it very clear when we booked that this was for our 29th anniversary.
The starter and entrée were average but acceptable. Flavours were a bit weak and perhaps a little clumsy in the combination of flavours and plating up.
Personally, I don’t need to see raw steak before I eat to make a selection. We lived in the USA for a few years and know this is a common process but it is not necessary. My wife actually found it rather gross (especially as one of the steaks had a definite green tinge !.
The steaks were excessive both in size and thickness (less is more). The Scotch steak was excessively fatty and tough and diners beside us also said the same. Vegetable portions were small in comparison so the blend was unbalanced and clumsy.
We chose the chocolate sampler for dessert and all samplers tasted heavily of cocoa powder. They were clumsy in design and actually rather bland.
When they came out, there was a sliver of a strawberry on each plate with a candle in each one for our anniversary – that was it. It was one of those moments when they would have been better not to do anything.
The wine selection was limited, particularly the sparkling wine.
The coffees were just terrible, actually worse than the coffee from the automated machines downstairs.
The Salt on Pacific Dawn overall was much better in terms of food and service. Very disappointing overall.
Empire Restaurant. We ate here on our first night and found it below average. The food to our table was often luke warm/cold and of only average quality (compared to P&O and indeed, to the buffet !). The service was also rather average. We did leave a tip but only because we were able to be seated when there were massive queues. We did not receive our requested dining option and were told as we booked the cruise late it was our fault. We both found this rather rude, not something we encountered on P&O. Other passengers we spoke to also said they gave up on the Empire and ate elsewhere.
Le Playa Lido Buffet. We ate here regularly. The salad bar and the “Good Eats” sections were the two areas we used and also the Pizza place a few times. We love salads and we had read that salads were terrible on the Spirit but we found the salad bar excellent. The other sections had typical buffet type food that was average quality. The desserts were generally tasteless and of low quality (but high fat) – we rarely are dessert type people except when on holiday.
Yes, the buffet area was crowded but we usually took our plates and sat elsewhere on the ship to eat or sat with others and made friends. For breakfast we ate cereal and fresh fruit, both were good and remarkably, no queues at these sections as most seemed to be getting hot breakfasts and in copious amounts.
Fat Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ. Fantastic food, high quality, always hot, good selection and great service. Very impressed. Could not fault it but maybe a few more salads and perhaps some seafood options would be good – needs a bar up top.
Freshies Corner. Very impressed with the seafood on offer (given we were on an 11 day cruise) The chicken wings were not good at all and other passengers said the same. Perhaps consider making the kumara/sweet potato chips a little thinner and crisper and less soggy. Not many seemed to use this place perhaps because you had to pay.
Coffee. We are used to espresso style coffee and avoided the weak automated machine coffee (was pretty bad). The Coffee Bar in the buffet area did a great job on making good coffee. The Coffee Bar near the Karaoke Bar was strangely not very good and the massive cakes oozing with cream also put us off (although we did see a few people buy those cakes.
Staff and service
Our stateroom staff were very good, as good as those on P&O although we never did get the fridge issue sorted. Not much more I can say here. Restaurant staff were either good or indifferent. We actually found the staff in the buffet area more pleasant and more helpful than the Empire but clearly some staff were struggling at times being happy. It must be a tough job, not only being away from family for extended periods but also dealing with passengers.
Entertainment and shopping
The shows and comedy acts in general were very good and were a standard above P&O. However, the theme nights were poorly organized and clumsy affairs. P&O did a much better job. A theme night is much more than a few costumes purchased by passengers, some music and a decoration or two.
Don’t rehire the Piano Bar singer and don’t rehire the hypnotist – both were terrible (others said the same). The bars in general need better music options.
Try and incorporate more modern shows. Big band/broadway is great but more shows such as the rock violinist would be fantastic.
On board day activities were average but typical and we applaud the Spirit for having items like table tennis, mini golf, basketball areas, a library, a chapel and a games room (although most of the games were missing parts).
Shopping was above average with a good range of items at good prices although many of the “sales/discount” items ended up being similar to prices ashore back home. Staff were very good in all shopping areas.
Ship décor and other items
Despite reading negative comments about the lavish and excessive décor, we found it interesting and fresh. It is a “dark” ship which needs to be balanced by getting on deck as much as possible.
The smoking sections were horrible (and my wife is a smoker). She hated the two smoking sections, saying they were filthy, smelt terrible and badly located. I am an ex smoker and smelt the smoke in many non-smoking sections. Put it down the back so the smoke doesn't drift through the ship. Ashtrays were rarely emptied.
Toilets were generally clean although towards the end of the trip, some were blocked (we reported them) and not well cleaned.
Serenity was a great place to relax and we did manage to find an empty Pod to use sometimes which was nice.
We did not use the pools or spas. Not our thing at all in public areas, especially on cruise ships.
We were extremely offended by one female passenger on board who repeatedly insulted various ethnic groups very vocally and very publicly. Many will know the person who I refer to. What a shame a very few give Australians a bad name. I am sure much of this abuse was fuelled by excess alcohol consumption.
Alcohol prices were fair. We sometimes thought cocktails were not correctly portioned with shots, perhaps being half measures, especially those delivered to your seating in the theatres.
Internet pricing was horrific especially considering it was much less when Spirit first came to Australia.
The Spa was overpriced and services not that good. We refused gratuity but found it was added to our final invoice. We had it removed.
We didn’t use any of the ships shore excursions and organized our own – at much lower cost and customized for what we wanted, before we left on the cruise. This also allowed us to avoid the “ship crowds”.
Can Carnival please not ruin the ambience of islands by having staff ashore (bar staff and photographers). We went to the islands to visit the locals and experience island life, not have staff pester with drinks and photos.
I suggest Carnival consider walling off the lobby area in part to separate the bar area. This not only separates guest areas from the bar (additionally keeping children away from the bar
The gym was excellent (incredible view) and especially as the equipment was very similar to the equipment at our local gym. Needs a bigger stretching area though Less
Low Budget, Low Expectations
A memorable and enjoyable crui...