Pharaoh's Palace (Deck 2): The three-level Pharaoh's Palace show lounge is decorated with hieroglyphics, 6-metre-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 warm jacket -- as it can get quite chilling with the air-conditioning turned way up in there. There will usually be two shows in this theatre every night to coincide with the early and late sittings for dinner.
Carnival Cruise Line teamed up with company Playlist Productions to produce shows that embrace various eras and musical styles. Expect a band belting out 70s and 80s hits or a high-energy rock'n'roll pianist. Other solo acts may include singers, musicians, hypnotists and magicians.
* May require additional fees
Carnival's family entertainment -- "Hasbro, The Game Show" (playing giant Connect 4 and Yahtzee games) and the adorable Towel Animal Theatre production for the youngest kids -- also takes place in the theatre.
Versailles Lounge (Deck 1): This cabaret-style lounge is a little hard to find as it is below Pharaoh's Palace, accessed via a set of stairs inside that theatre. This is where the Punchliner Comedy Club is held, drawing a smaller audience, along with daytime exercise classes. There's a bar at the rear serving all the usual drinks. On my cruise, the two comedians were hilarious and a little risque. These late-night 18+ shows at 10:30 and 11 p.m. get progressively dirtier each night as the cruise goes on. Don't sit in the front two rows if you prefer to not get picked on.
Carnival Spirit has plenty of free activities, listed in the daily Fun Times newsletter delivered to your cabin. There is a big emphasis on trivia, with three to four themed competitions, from music to wacky facts and Dr. Seuss. Staff-led deck activities include a beanbag toss, golf chipping competitions and family scavenger hunts, along with table tennis competitions, dance classes and towel-folding lessons. Health and wellness seminars occur three or four times a day, along with a couple of special interest lectures by the cruise director or a visiting expert. Sushi-making demonstrations in the Bonsai Sushi restaurant and ticketed wine-and-cheese tasting in the adults-only Serenity are held at least once on each cruise. Art auctions, cooking demonstrations and, of course, bingo are also popular.
Pub quizzes continue into the night in the RedFrog Pub, as well as "name that tune" competitions. Evening karaoke is a regular event in the Shanghai Piano Bar for two hours from 6 p.m., giving everyone a chance to have a go. Day or night, the Louis XIV Casino is buzzing with hopeful passengers trying to win a few bucks. Outdoor movies are shown on the new Dive-In Movies big screen on Deck 9 around 9:45 p.m., when passengers have most likely finished dinner.
There are 12 bars and lounges, including three new bars, a new pub and a new-look sports bar. There's something for everyone, from those who like a pre-dinner cocktail with soft music to those who want to dance well into the night in the flashy 1980s-style disco.
RedFrog Pub (Deck 2): RedFrog Pub (which replaced the old Club Cool) is a combination of Caribbean bar and Irish pub. The beer range includes the usual pub selection plus Carnival's own Aussie craft brew called Thirsty Frog Summer Ale, which is produced at Sydney's Lord Nelson Brewery. The pub also offers pool tables and foosball (or table football). The bartenders ring a bell when someone orders a huge "lagoon" cocktail for four people (with four straws) and also take photos of the patrons that are then uploaded to the LED screens positioned around the bar. There's live music and dancing at night.
Sports Bar (Deck 2): Located next door to the RedFrog Pub, this bar is the place to watch sports while having a beer. There are 16 flat-screen TVs showing sports from all over the world. Two-dozen imported and local beers, including the Thirsty Frog Summer Ale and several imports, are on tap.
Louis XIV Casino (Deck 2): Compared to the rest of the ship, the casino is hardly garish at all. It has more than 200 poker machines and electronic roulette machines that take Australian coins. There are also 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 manner of betting games also take place such as the Melbourne Mug, the ship's own horse race at sea.
Spirit Lobby Bar (Deck 2): This bar at the bottom of the soaring atrium is a good place to meet for a drink. It's central to many places such as guest services, the shore excursions desk and Empire Dining room. Small bands and solo artists perform here on a stage above the bar in the evening; it's also a place for dancing. Cocktails, wines and Champagne are the main tipples here.
Artists' Lobby (Deck 2): This area with comfortable seating tends to be more of a walk-through area than a bar. There are replicas of famous artists' work such as Paul Gauguin's French Polynesian renderings.
Alchemy Bar (Deck 2): This sophisticated bar is the best choice for cocktail connoisseurs. Patrons use a prescription pad to devise their own drinks from a list of spirit bases and flavours (the latter including such items as limes, lemon, bitters, ginger, chocolate, herbs and spices). If that idea is too daunting, the brilliant bartenders at Alchemy Bar will make any manner of martini. A menu, which lights up when you open it, also suggests several delicious concoctions. There's limited seating at the actual bar, so get there early to grab a barstool. Otherwise, there are lots of lounges, sofa seating and long tables nearby. Mixology classes, singles meet-and-greets and ladies nights are held here sometimes; check the Fun Times program.
Dancin' Nightclub (Decks 1 and 2): Access to the adults-only nightclub is via stairs near the Alchemy Bar. It's a flashy two-tiered venue with crazy decor, a dance floor that lights up, a video wall with 1.2-metre-wide monitors and colourful, swirly designed banquettes and drink tables. It usually opens at 11 p.m., after the rest of the ship's entertainment has finished, so that all the night owls pour in at the same time to enjoy DJ Flo-Rin's party tunes.
Shanghai Piano Bar (Deck 3): The piano bar, decorated in a Chinoises style with walls covered in Chinese fabric and silk screens illuminated from behind, is the place to go for a sing-along, perched on a bar stool. There's karaoke on offer in the early hours from 6 p.m. until 8:45 p.m. The pianist starts tinkling the ivories at 9 p.m. Get there early and grab a seat around the piano; the place can get packed.
RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 9): One of the bars located around the midship Dome pool, The RedFrog Rum Bar serves beers (VB, Corona, Dos Equis, Kalik and Presidente) and rum-based frozen cocktails such as daiquiris and a Caribbean colada for AU$10.50, or alcoholic iced teas and mojitos for AU$11.50. There is also a selection of featured rums from around the world, from AU$9 to AU$12. Mocktails cost AU$6.50 and soft drinks are AU$2.75. This is a casual place to watch a movie on the Dive-In Movies screen or relax out of the sun.
BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 9): Next door to the rum bar, this watering hole serves Mexican beers (Sol, Corona, Tecate, Dos Equis; AU$7.50), local drafts (XXXX Gold, Tooheys New; AU$7.50) and tequila-based drinks such as margaritas from AU$10.50 to AU$11.50. The BlueIguana Tequila Bar's libations go well with the tacos and burritos on offer at the BlueIguana Cantina on the other side of the pool deck. You can save money if you plan to drink a few frozen cocktails by purchasing the souvenir glass for an additional AU$9.95 -- for the rest of the cruise, get 473ml for the price of a regular 355ml.
Serenity Bar (Deck 9): This undercover bar is in the adults-only Serenity area. It has bar stools, tables and chairs and a few sofas. Closer to the pool are hammocks and two-person sheltered pods (often referred to as cabanas), where waiters will come by and take your drinks orders. The usual array of beers, wines, spirits and cocktails are on offer. It's a popular place for good reason -- away from the kids and with views out over the ship's wake.
Nouveau Restaurant Bar (Deck 10): This small bar is used by passengers dining in the specialty steak restaurant, Nouveau.
Carnival Spirit has three pools all on Lido Deck 9.
The Dome pool is so named as it has a retractable roof, which can be slid across during inclement weather. This is where the new bars and eateries have been installed along with the big movie screen. There are plenty of sun lounges around the pool, in and out of the shade, and a handful of new blue and red in-pool sun lounges located within the pool, but not in the deep water! Note: the colours represent the red- and blue-themed bars.
The Sun Pool is located a little further forward toward the bow. It is a mirror image of the Dome pool, but minus the in-pool chairs. Both pools have an elevated hot tub beside them.
The Serenity Pool is at the rear (aft) of the ship on the same deck. It is an adults-only pool located in the Serenity area. It is smaller than the other pools and also has one hot tub. This area is dotted with two-person "pods," large sun loungers and a few hammocks. It is a lovely area, but often crowded and as a result often hard to find a spot. Get there early, but don't hog a spot all day. There's a bar nearby with table and chair seating.
The Splash Zone on Deck 11 is the place for little kids to get wet. There are two purple mini-slides and big tipping buckets and a wading pool.
Carnival Spirit's (and Carnival Legend's) big point of difference is the popular and much-talked about Green Thunder water slide, one of the fastest and steepest slides at sea. With speeds up to 65 kph, a big initial drop and a section that swings out over the ocean, Green Thunder is not for the fainthearted. The other slide is the signature yellow Carnival Twister Waterslide (much tamer). Other recreational areas are the nine-hole mini-golf course, a golf simulator on Deck 10 and a basketball court on the Sports Deck (Deck 11).
The main sunbathing and lounging deck is Deck 9 around the Dome, Sun and Serenity pools. Another area for lounging (on pods) is both the port and starboard sides of Deck 9. Sun lounges are not padded. Pods can take two people, but the covering is vinyl rather than cloth, so they are not the most comfortable. Lay down a towel to make them more user-friendly. While there is a rule that prohibits chair-hogging, it seems to be the norm. There was rarely a spare sun lounge or pod to be found in the Serenity area (which also has two-person lounges and a couple of hammocks). You can, however, sometimes score a pod on the port and starboard deck sides.
Carnival Spirit has a card room on Deck 2, tucked away to one side near the cafe. Further toward the aft is the base of the nine-deck atrium where you'll find the guest relations desk, the short excursions deck, a conference room and art gallery. Deck 3 has a chapel, shops and the photo gallery. The ship has self-service laundries located on the stateroom decks. There are two or three washers and dryers, and one iron and ironing board in each launderette. The cost is AU$3.25 per washer load and AU$3.25 per dryer load. Vending machines dispense small boxes of detergent and water softener at AU$1.50 per box.
The Chippendale Library and internet cafe are also on Deck 3. Wi-Fi is available across the ship and in all cabins by purchasing one of three plans. The Social plan costs AU$15 a day or AU$40 for the whole cruise, which provides access to social media sites and apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp. The Value plan (AU$30 a day/AU$115 whole cruise) can be used for all sites except Skype and music streaming such as Spotify. The Premium plan (AU$50 a day/AU$180 cruise) offers the fastest connection at speeds up to three times faster than the Value plan and can support Skype video calls and music streaming. Internet can be slow, even on Premium at times, but is generally good.
The Grecian-inspired Spa Carnival is located on Deck 9 at the front (forward) of the ship near the gym. The design incorporates Doric columns and hand-painted murals that feature a Greek vase motif and depictions of Olympic events. There are 10 treatment rooms for a variety of therapies ranging from aromatherapy hot stone massages and acupuncture to facials and body wraps. As on all ships, prices are steep, so look out for advertised combo packages and port specials, at discounted pricing. First sea day savings include manicure and pedicure with paraffin wax for AU$144, massage from AU$153 for 50 minutes, and a facial for AU$131.
A beauty salon offering haircuts and styling and makeup treatments is beside the spa, while the sauna and steam rooms (free) are located within the men's and women's changing rooms. The waiting room is small, and on my visit for a collagen facial (which was sublimely relaxing), all seats were occupied, mostly by men who seemed to be waiting for their partners.
The two-level gym (on decks 9 and 10) is part of the huge ocean view area that includes the spa, beauty salon, locker rooms, steam room and sauna.
This is one of the best gyms I've seen on a mass-market cruise ship, built over two levels with a stepped or terraced design providing an ocean view from most pieces of equipment. There's also a hot tub in the middle of the gym, which is quite an unusual feature.
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 for a workout 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 a late dinner sitting, head to the gym at 6 p.m. The only people in there are crew members because they know it won't be crowded.
Nutrition programs 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.
Free fitness classes such as Morning Stretch and Fab Abs are held but these were on at the Versailles Lounge on Deck 1 rather than in the gym. Yoga and Pilates are offered at a cost for around AU$12, along with group cycling classes. Boot camps are also held on deck from time to time and Carnival has a deal with the Biggest Loser trainer Shannan Ponton who comes onboard a few times a year to lead fitness-oriented cruises.
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 1.6 km (or 1 mile). The Deck 11 track at the front of the ship is 14 laps per 1.6 km (or 1 mile).
This is a terrific ship for families. Not only are there children's clubs for ages from two to 17 but a host of other family-oriented fun activities. In addition to the game shows and comedy shows that are played out on stage in front of enthusiast crowds, there is the Towel Animal Theatre for the little ones. Younger children can meet Dr. Seuss characters and eat a green eggs and ham breakfast with the Cat in the Hat (for an extra fee). Most kids love to spend all day in the pool, watching the Dive-In poolside movies, or braving the water slides and slippery-dips.
Other activities include mini-golf, family trivia, board games, foosball, air hockey, life-sized Trivial Pursuit, Jenga, build-a-bear workshops, table tennis, theme parties such as 80s Rock 'n' Glow and mother/daughter spa treatments.
Carnival Spirit has plenty of four-berth cabins and many interconnecting cabins for families who want their kids close by, but not that close!
Carnival's complimentary children's programs cater to all ages -- from 2-year-olds to teens -- and are split into five separate age groups with different hangouts on different decks.
Camp Ocean, a marine-themed kids club, is for kids aged 2 to 11. It's decorated in every shade of blue and once again houses three age groups, each with a different name. More than 200 educational activities are offered, many with an ocean theme, such as sea salt art, seashell craft, ocean bingo and a make-your-own sailboat workshop. Camp Ocean was devised by a panel of experts who know about how children engage with toys and games.
The three separate areas within Camp Ocean on Deck 5 (forward) are called the Penguin Colony (for 2 to 5 year olds), which has an igloo among its props and playthings; Sting Ray camp for 6- to 8-year-olds; and the Shark enclosure for 9- to 11-year-olds.
Late-night child-minding also takes place in Camp Ocean for children aged two to 11, until as late as 1 a.m. A fee of AU$8 an hour per child is charged and they receive a goodie bag containing a toothbrush, watch, pen, toy, night-light and insulated lunch bag. There is no in-cabin babysitting. For AU$15, kids ages 2 to 11 can join Owl Jams between 10 p.m. and midnight with activities ranging from glow stick parties to graffiti art and craft.
Circle C is for 12- to 14-year-olds, while Club O2 is for those ages 15 to 17 and is located at the top of the ship on Deck 10.
Fun activities and facilities include big-screen TVs for movies or Nintendo Wii play, video game stations, toys and games, and materials for arts and crafts projects. The younger kids have toys and games galore, along with arts and crafts. There may be magic shows, face-painting and pizza-making on offer, along with the ever-popular scavenger hunts.
Accessible only via stairs down from Camp Ocean or up from the Jungle Walk, the Circle C hangout for 12- to 14-year-olds is located on Deck 4. The tweens certainly have a real hideaway; it's been known to take parents a while to find this place. The Circle C lounge features game consoles and a dance floor and supervised activities include games such as charades and Apple to Apples, themed dance parties and sports competitions. Next door, a video arcade is open to kids and adults alike, but many adults never find it. Kids have reserved arcade hours when all games are free and no parents are allowed.
The almost-hidden location of Camp Ocean is fairly unusual; while some cruise ships will try to corral the kids into one section of the ship, we've never needed a detailed map to find the kids' areas before. However, we found many of the kids onboard our cruise to be rowdy and running amok.
Babies and toddlers, aged 6 months to 2 years, cannot participate in Camp Ocean activities, but they do have additional babysitting hours (fees apply) on port days, with hours varying from port to port. On sea days, parents can drop toddlers off from noon to 2 p.m. for a fee or use the facilities for parent-child playtime for no extra charge. The regular late-night babysitting is available for tots younger than 2, as well. Yes, Camp Ocean counsellors do change nappies.
Children of all ages can use the onboard pools, including those who aren't toilet-trained if they are wearing a swim nappy (which are not available onboard). A children's wading pool, complete with nearby mini-slides, is located on Deck 11 by the yellow twister water slide. The larger water slides are subject to height and weight restrictions.
Children's menus are featured in the main dining room and kids aged 2 to 11 can dine with the counsellors on the Lido Deck most nights. A Fountain Fun card, good for unlimited soft drinks, costs around AU$37 for eight-day voyages. (Adults can also choose a soda package for around AU$50.)
The teen lounge, Club O2, is tricky to find; it's outside the aerobics studio on Deck 10. It has TVs for watching movies and playing video games, as well as a dance area and a mocktail bar that serves up soft drinks and nonalcoholic smoothies and fruit drinks. Teenage activities include movie trivia, Guitar Hero rock-offs, karaoke, organised sports on the basketball court, hot tub hangouts, pool parties and late-night parties. There are also special teen shore excursions.