CARNIVAL SPIRIT 8-Day Southern Caribbean Cruise January 18-26, 2004
Facts and Figures: Built and Delivered: April 2001 Gross Tonnage: 88,500 Length: 963 feet Beam: 105.7 feet Passenger Capacity: 2,124 Crew: 930 Captain: Marco Nogara & Pier Paolo Scala Hotel Director: Duncan Puttock Cruise Director: Michael Mullane Cruise Pictures: http://public.fotki.com/eroller/carnival_spirit/
Personal Cruise History: I'm 37 years old and reside in Atlanta, GA. My cruising history started at the young age of 12 on the beautiful Italian Liner LEONARDO DA VINCI. She remains my all time favorite ship. Since the LEONARDO, I've somehow racked up well over 50 cruises on all the major cruise lines (9 on Carnival), and a few of the not so major lines. I'm not loyal to any one line and generally like to try out any new ship or design. I'm also a big fan of the classic liners, and some of my best remembered voyages have been on these lovely old ladies. Unfortunately classic ships are few and far between in today's world of super-sized mega-liners. On this cruise I traveled with Christopffre, my partner of 8 years.
Pre-Cruise: We flew from Atlanta to Miami three days early to enjoy the fun and sun of South Beach. We were not disappointed. Our convertible was rented though Alamo and we stayed at the Fontainebleau Hilton on Miami Beach. We secured the hotel reservation through Priceline at $90 per night. This was a great deal considering the time of year and the same room normally goes for over $200 per night. Upon arrival we were upgraded to an ocean view room on the 15th floor. It's amazing what a pleasant email to the Hotel Director beforehand can do for you. The room was a bit outdated but clean and huge. There was a giant walk-in closet and of course the wrap-around windows looking directly at the ocean and down Miami Beach. It was a wonderful view to wake up to every morning. In Miami we enjoyed dinner with friends at the Tides Hotel on South Beach and Deco Weekend. We also met up with friends in Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood for dinner. The dinners certainly kept us busy between shopping and enjoying the beautiful hotel pool. The only negative about the hotel was the $17 per day charge for valet parking. There is no way around this and since the hotel also accommodates many conventions, the wait for your car can be lengthy.
Embarkation: One of the great things about renting through Alamo is the free transportation to the Miami Pier from their Miami airport location. Before retuning the car we dropped our luggage off at Pier 8, which is where CARNIVAL SPIRIT departed from. It was quite busy as Carnival's PARADISE and CARNIVAL VICTORY were also in port. After returning our car and taking the complimentary shuttle back to the pier, it was time to check-in. We had already filled out Carnival's new "Fun Pass" registration information online beforehand so we were all set. There were two lines, one for "Fun Pass" and one for those that did not complete registration in advance. Both lines looked equal in length, but we opted for the Fun Pass line. It moved very quickly and we were onboard the ship in about a half hour. Good job Carnival!
Cabin: Our cabin was a category 7A, number 5236. I personally picked out this cabin as it offers a triple size balcony at no extra charge. The location was excellent, with no noise even though the aft stairs and elevators were practically at our door. As I hoped the balcony was very large. The width was the same as all the other balconies, but the length was three times as long. There were three chairs and a table on the balcony, as well as night lighting with individual controls inside the cabin. Category 7A is sold as "obstructed view" by Carnival, and the obstruction is that lifeboats are located directly below the balcony. In no way do they block your view looking straight out, but they do block your view looking down. I have a picture that will give you a better understanding. Like all Spirit Class standard cabins, ours measured 185 square feet, had an excellent layout and design, more than adequate storage space, and was very comfortable and functional. Standard features are two lower beds convertible to a queen size, a sofa, safe, interactive TV (Fun Vision) with remote, and mini-bar. The bath contained a nice sized shower with tons of water pressure, a great showerhead, soap, shampoo, conditioner, and a complimentary assortment of personal care items such as toothpaste, dental floss, and lotion. There is also a comprehensive cabin directory, a Ports of Call book, and a CARNIVAL SPIRIT Inaugural book detailing the construction of the ship. Two complimentary bathrobes round out the list of amenities. I ordered some flowers and homemade cookies through Carnival online, and both were waiting for us when we arrived. Let me just say the cookies are well worth the cost! We enjoyed them the entire cruise. Our Cabin Steward Bonifacio introduced himself and delivered our luggage soon after we arrived, and did a superb job the entire cruise.
Ship: Much has already been written about CARNIVAL SPIRIT, so I won't go into details about every area of the ship. I will say that SPIRIT and CARNIVAL PRIDE are my two favorite Carnival ships. CARNIVAL SPIRIT is probably the most toned down of any Carnival ship, and this might have something to do with the fact that she is essentially Carnival's expedition ship. SPIRIT is the ship that travels through the Panama Canal, to Hawaii, and Alaska when not cruising the Caribbean. She is also fast, and we averaged 20-23 knots during all our days at sea. Many have stated they feel the Spirit Class ships have a tendency to move more then other Carnival ships, but I don't feel this is the case at all. Even at 23 knots you could barely notice any movement, except for some vibration in the aft section of the dining room, which is typical. I also enjoy the overall layout of the Spirit Class over all the other Carnival ships. The passenger flow is excellent and there are very few bottlenecks. Very rarely did the ship ever feel crowded, especially when compared to the CONQUEST, which I sailed on last July. Regarding the dEcor, it's actually very tasteful yet interesting. My partner who is not a fan of Carnival (until this cruise) even stated he would not have guessed it was a Carnival ship had he not known.
Pools/Spa: The pools, gym, and spa are important features for me, which is why they have their own category. I'm happy to report that all three are excellent on SPIRIT. The gym has all the latest equipment, is two levels, and has beautiful forward facing views. European techno music is blasted which is perfect to work out to. In the center is an adult's only hot tub, and to each side are men's and women's changing areas. Each changing area has wonderful private showers with five showerheads in each stall. Both the men and women have their own steam room and sauna as well. A unique feature is the steam room and sauna both have floor to ceiling windows, which face the ocean. Nice touch!
The pools on SPIRIT are also exceptional. There are three all together, saltwater, and each fairly large with a nice splash area if you don't want to get completely wet. One pool can be covered (not needed on our cruise) and also houses the afternoon band. Another pool is all the way aft with beautiful views of the ship's wake, and the third pool is directly mid-ship and is the quiet pool. Deck chairs were plentiful and there was little problem getting a good spot on this cruise, even if you didn't make it out on deck until noon like us. Of course no Carnival ship would be complete without a large slide, and SPIRIT is no exception. It's located all the way aft and doesn't actually connect to any of the pools as on other Carnival ships.
Food: Food is a very subjective topic, but my personal opinion is that it was excellent all around. Great quality, presentation, temperature, variety, and taste. I would rate it above recent cruises on Cunard, Princess, and Holland America. The selection at the La Playa Lido restaurant was excellent, and there were many different stations that offered various selections of regional food. The "Taste of Nations" section changed everyday to a different part of the world. Some of the other sections were a grill, deli, Asian section, pizza, salad and fruit bar, desert bar, ice cream stations, and rotisserie. Delicious soft serve ice cream and frozen yogurt, along with pizza and salads were available 24 hours along with room service.
Dining room cuisine was also excellent, and we enjoyed a wonderful table for two on the upper balcony, second sitting. I can't think of a single evening where there was not something on the menu that was truly appealing, and in each case it was delicious. Lobster, Beef Wellington, Filet Mignon, grilled shrimp, Steak Diane, rack of lamb, and Prime Rib were just a few of the choices.
One evening we also dined in the Nouveau Supper Club. This is the extra tariff specialty restaurant high up in the ship that costs $25 per person. It was well worth it as both the food and service were incredible. The other nice thing is that it is a true Supper Club, complete with it's own bar, dance floor, and live trio. The trio was excellent and many enjoyed a dance between dinner courses. The overall atmosphere was exquisite.
Service: For the most part service was excellent. Our main contact with the staff consisted of our cabin steward, dining room waiter, and dining room assistant. We could not have asked for better in each regard. Our waiter was so eager to please that he almost insisted on bringing an extra entrEe, appetizer, or desert each evening just so we could try it. If we said no, it was almost like we were hurting his feelings. He was a true gem, along with his assistant Olga from Eastern Europe.
Our cabin steward did an amazing job, and without ever disturbing us which is the sign of a truly great steward. You would rarely see him, but sure enough every time you returned to the cabin it was cleaned, towels refreshed, and beds either turned down or made up. He also left us 4-5 of Carnival's trade mark "towel animals" which are always fun. Apparently the towel animals are so popular that Carnival now sells them in the gift shop. They are a miniature version and not real towels, but they look just like the real thing. Smart marketing on the part of Carnival.
Entertainment and Activities: In true Carnival fashion there was a huge variety of entertainment every night. Jazz, piano bar, disco, slow dancing, karaoke, sing-a-long, production shows, late night comedy, magicians, passenger talent show, etc. Even the casino had a live band and sitting area, which reminded one of Las Vegas. There were two production shows, "Standing Room Only", and "High Spirits". Both were good, but I've seen better on other Carnival ships. A third show called "Singin with the Band" stars 15-year Carnival veteran Christopher Alan Graves. This is his own production show that is a tribute to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. This was probably my favorite show and I also enjoyed meeting Christopher for drinks afterward (he is a personal friend of my brother).
Daytime activities were typical Carnival, with many just for fun activities and plenty that were revenue producing as well. One thing I noticed was the toning down of PA announcements. Thankfully they were kept to about three a day which I think is acceptable. This was actually less then we experienced on the MAASDAM last June. I'm not sure if this is a new Carnival policy (I hope so) or just the style of this particular Cruise Director, but it was welcomed.
Fellow Passengers: As this cruise was 8-days during school time, there were not that many children and the average age was probably older then what people typically think of Carnival. While certainly not sedate by any means, this was not the drink until you drop crowd either. The disco was crowded on a couple nights (especially the last formal night when all the crew attended) but barely attended on others. We found our fellow passengers to be very pleasant and a pleasure to cruise with. No rowdiness, drunkenness, or obscene behavior was witnessed on this cruise. Everyone seemed to have a great time but were respectful of others.
Weather: I can't remember when I've had such consistently great weather on a cruise and pre-cruise. Everyday was sunny, warm, and in the mid-eighties. The only exceptions were embarkation afternoon in Miami and our day in Martinique, which were cloudy with some off and on rain. Seas were also calm, and dead calm on a few occasions.
Ports: Ports of call were St. Maarten, Barbados, and Martinique. We did not take any tours so I can't comment on them. We had been to all three ports before so we just took it easy, walked off the ship after the hordes had disembarked, and toured around on our own. I did meet up with several QM2 passengers in Barbados, which I had arranged in advance. It was great to hear all about the new QM2 from first hand experience over cocktails and Banks Beer.
Debarkation: Carnival has an excellent new debarkation process for passengers that can carry off all their own luggage and are US citizens with proper ID. If you meet these qualifications then you are the very first group to debark the ship, and do not have to wait for all the luggage to be off-loaded. We were cleared off the ship at about 7:40am, took a cab to the airport, and were able to make a 9:40am flight to Atlanta with plenty of time to spare. It's was great pulling into our driveway just after noon, having just disembarked a cruise earlier that morning. It was one of the quickest and painless debarkations of a mega-ship I have yet to experience.
Ship Spotting: Since I am an avid ship lover, one of the pleasures of cruising for me is spotting other cruise ships. I must be one of the few people that actually enjoy crowded Caribbean ports full of other cruise liners! I learned early on that Cunard's new QM2 would be docked with us in Barbados, and this was certainly a highlight for me. The ship is absolutely spectacular and is a must-sail for me. Overall this was a great cruise for ship spotting. Here is a list of all the ships seen in order during the cruise. PARADISE, CARNIVAL VICTORY, NORWEGIAN SUN, VOYAGER OF THE SEAS, MILLENNIUM, CARNIVAL TRIUMPH, OOSTERDAM, RADIANCE OF THE SEAS, OCEANIA, SEVEN SEAS NAVIGATOR, QUEEN MARY 2, COSTA CLASSICA, EUROPEAN VISION, CRYSTAL SYMPHONY, ROYAL CLIPPER, CLUB MED 2, FACINATION, MAJESTY OF THE SEAS, BRILLIANCE OF THE SEAS, OLYMPIA VOYAGER.
Room for Improvement: Nothing is perfect, but there really was very little I was not satisfied with. Here are a few items I thought Carnival could improve upon.
The cabin TV needs additional free programming. There were plenty of pay-per-view movies, but only one free movie per day, and not a very good one at that.
I wish Carnival would go back to supplying pool towels by the pool. I hate having to guard my towel and take it back and forth to the cabin. I know this is an attempt to curtail chair saving but there must be a better way.
The Photo Shop ran out of the stuffed "Fun Ship Freddie's" by the second day of the cruise. They sell them at $15 a pop and they are cuter then the actual live mascot. I don't know why, but I really wanted one and was out of luck.
The gym is only open until 8pm and should be open at least until 11pm, or better yet, 24 hours.
Bar service was extremely slow, especially in the dining room and show lounge. This came as a surprise since during past Carnival cruises you virtually had to fight off the pestering bar waiters. Maybe Carnival is trying to be more low-key, but in any case it was annoyingly slow
Finally, the fantail deck area on Lido Deck 9 used to be teak. For some reason Carnival covered it over with a rubberized surface made to look like wood. I don't know why they did this? Thankfully teak is still used on the outdoor wrap-around promenade deck and a good portion of Sun Deck.
Conclusion: As I'm sure you gathered, we truly enjoyed ourselves on the CARNIVAL SPIRIT. Considering the price we paid and what we received in return it was a tremendous value. Would we sail on Carnival again? Absolutely! Carnival seems to shine best during the off-season when the ships are not filled to over 100% capacity with teens and children. The staff gives better service and is far less stressed. I also liked the fact it was not a typical "Spring Break" crowd as I'm getting a little old for that. For these reasons, future Carnival cruises will be on the Spirit Class, 7-days or longer, and during the off-season. I think for me personally that will help guarantee a successful cruise.
Pictures Site: Unfortunately my digital camera died just before this cruise began, so it was back to my old standby. I decided to try Kodak's 800-speed multi-use film with "blur-reduction" technology. I think it was a mistake as the pictures turned out too grainy. In the future, I will use film no faster then 400-speed. The Pictures are arranged into several different folders, each with it's own category. This way you can look at the pictures that interest you the most, without having to thumb through the entire lot. Click on this link for the photos: http://public.fotki.com/eroller/carnival_spirit/ Read Less