Introduction:This cruise was planned approximately one and a half years in advance as our honeymoon. My wife and I were married in January, but had to wait until May for the first Alaskan cruise that Carnival offered. The cruise's main attraction was the day in Glacier Bay, which is only offered a few times each year. We spent four days in Ohio before the cruise visiting my wife's family, and then flew to Seattle. From Seattle we took the Quick Shuttle from Seattle/Tacoma Airport to the Vancouver area. It worked out to be cheaper doing that, than flying directly into Vancouver, or renting a car and driving there. The only real downside is that the shuttle ride takes about five hours since there are several stops to pick up and drop off others. We stayed the night at the Park Inn, which was very nice. The next day we spent some time down at the Vancouver waterfront, and then got a cab to the pier.
Embarkation:We got to the pier around 11 AM, and the porters were quick to take our bags. The embarkation process at the Vancouver Cruise Terminal is probably one of the longest I have been through. The line for the security checkpoint was extremely long, and didn't move for about 20 minutes. I wasn't overly worried about this, since they weren't even loading the ship yet. I asked one of the Carnival reps. if there was a VIP line, and he said he didn't know, so we just stayed in the regular line. Once they opened up all the security lanes, it went quickly. We then had to enter the line to go through US Customs. This also went very slowly, almost a half-hour, since there were only four or five agents to check hundreds of people. Once we were through Customs, we approached a kiosk where two Carnival reps were standing. There were two lines, and the one to the left had two signs. One sign said "in transit guests" (back to back cruisers) and right behind it was another that said VIP. Being in a suite, and Platinum, we got in the left line. Once we got to the lady, she said we needed to be in the line to the right, and that her line was for the back-to-back cruisers. I pointed to the VIP sign, and she said, "oh, ok" and handed us the health declaration papers. Dumbfounded Carnival employees seemed to be a developing trend. She then pointed us to the VIP check in desk, and off we went. After this, everything went fast and we were on the ship in only a few minutes. The whole process took about an hour, and didn't seem very organized. I attribute the lack of knowledge on the Carnival employees' part to the fact that this was the first cruise of the season out of Vancouver, so there were bound to be problems. One security officer did help things by addressing the crowd when she escorted several back-to-back cruisers past everyone. She did a good job informing new guests about why the others were passing them. That little twenty-second oration probably eliminated 50 complaints from the angry folks waiting in the customs line.
Overall, the whole embarkation process at Vancouver needs a lot of work. It shouldn't take an hour to board the ship when I can be onboard in 15 minutes anywhere else. Customs is mostly to blame, so its good that Alaska cruises will be leaving from Seattle starting next year. I also think that Carnival needs to extend its VIP embarkation to all steps of the process. The current system doesn't really do much since the only benefit is skipping the line to get to the check in counter.
The Ship:I was immediately impressed with the Carnival Spirit. In my ten prior cruises with Carnival, none have been on a Spirit Class vessel. I had heard many good things about them, all of which are true. The ship has a wonderfully simple layout, and not having the galley in the middle of the ship makes traversing it much easier. I will never understand why Carnival only built four of them with no apparent plans to revisit the design. The layout just seems vastly superior to that of the other classes. My only complaint is that you have to walk through the casino to get back and forth on Deck 2 (Promenade). On the other ships, the Promenade is separated from the casino by a wall. The Spirit was recently dry-docked which was blatantly apparent. Everything was immaculately clean, far and away the cleanest cruise ship I have ever been on. It was hard to believe that she is almost eight years old, looking as if she had just been launched. All the carpeting in the hallways had been replaced. I really can't say enough about how nice the Spirit looked inside. There was tasteful brass and wood paneling everywhere, and very little in the way of "Vegas" glitz that Carnival had become infamous for. The staircases looked as if they had been lifted from some grand old ocean liner, very similar to those I had seen on the Queen Mary. Each flight had glass cases in the corners displaying sculptures, and some landings had large paintings decorating the walls. The public areas were tastefully decorated with wood panels, stained glass lighting and ornate metal moldings lining the ceilings. Even most of the lounges, normally the epicenters of gaudiness, were considerably tame compared to those found on the older Carnival ships. The only areas that seemed to have huge "Joe Farcus was here!" signs on them were the "Dancin" discotheque and the Pharaoh's Palace show lounge. The former having the standard Farcus wild colors and weird shapes; and the latter looking like the inside of King Tut's Tomb. The Versailles Cabaret Lounge was certainly one of the most detailed rooms I have seen on a Carnival ship. Each archway along the walls had a 3-D scene of a French village, making it look as if they are outside the ship. It was a very cool effect, something you would almost expect to see at Disney rather than on a cruise ship. The little scenes even go from daytime to nighttime with little stars and lights when the lounge's lighting is turned down for shows.
Our Cabin:We had #4228 on Main Deck, which is a category 11 suite with a balcony that wraps around the port side (aft) corner of the ship. We were told by almost everyone that if we were taking an Alaskan cruise we should get a balcony room. We took that advice to heart as the balcony alone is over 200 square feet, and is gigantic! It was fantastic having a view off both the aft and the port sides of the ship. The two aft wraps on Main Deck are also special because their balconies are covered by the balcony above. This creates an overhang that shields them from the weather. This was particularly useful since the whole appeal of an Alaska cruise is the sightseeing and it frequently rains. We usually cruise interior cabins, sometimes Ocean View if we get a free or low priced upgrade. Because of this, being in a suite was a real treat. I couldn't believe how nice the room was. It was divided into two main rooms, a sitting room with a couch and a bedroom. The bathroom and vanity area were located between them. The bathroom had double sinks and a large Jacuzzi tub. The tub had nice sliding glass doors, which is a huge improvement over the standard polyester curtain found in the regular cabins. Both rooms had a TV, and both had VCRs (which were on loan from the Smithsonian). There were multiple lighting controls in each room, one for the main lights, and one was a dimmer switch that operated the recessed halogen lights in the ceiling. Aside from the Owners Suites on the Fantasy Class ships, I think the Spirit Class suites 4228 and 4237 are the best rooms available on Carnival Cruise Lines. Day 1: VancouverMost of the first day has been covered above. After finally getting aboard, and exploring the ship we unpacked and relaxed for a while. The crew did a great job delivering the luggage. We had ours in only a couple of hours after arriving. We intended to go to the Supper Club the first night, but we were informed that it was closed due to lack of reservations. I went up on deck and watched the ship sail under a large bridge outside of Vancouver. Not quite as impressive as cruising under the Sunshine Skyway in Tampa, but still pretty neat to see. Our wait staff at dinner was very good, as was our bar server. Day 2: At SeaThe second day was spent at sea, cruising quickly along the coast of British Columbia towards Juneau. We had an excellent breakfast in the main dining room, their Eggs Benedict was some of the best I have had. We saw several humpback whales swimming off the port side of the ship several times throughout the day. The ships naturalist Dirk kept us updated on whale sightings several times during the day. Our Cruise Critic Roll Call group all met up at 1:00 pm, we had many show up and it was nice to finally meet everyone that I had been talking to for so long. Around the same time, the weather was really clearing up. The sun came out and it became a really nice day. Folks were out on deck in loungers and the temperature was in the low 60s all day. It if weren't for the snow capped mountains in the distance, I would have thought I was on a Caribbean cruise!In the afternoon I got around to visiting the ship's spa. I was really impressed with the facilities. The steam and sauna rooms were working perfectly, and the gym has a nice stepped design that allows more people to see out onto the water. This ship's spa still had it's hot tub in place. I was happy to see this since they have been removing them from a lot of ships to make room for more "revenue friendly" fixtures such as aerobics rooms. This night was the first of two formal nights. Since the clientele of this cruise was considerably different than that of a Caribbean cruise, I saw many more folks dressed up than I usually do. I saw very few folks in jeans and t-shirts, and those that were not dressed up didn't seem to make it to the dining room. The prime rib they served at dinner was the best I have had on a cruise. The lobster was ok, but not great. I mostly attribute the proper dress and etiquette to an older and more "cruise experienced" group. It was refreshing, as was the almost complete lack of children onboard. I don't know that I have ever seen a Carnival ship that didn't have roving gangs of teens and tweens along with dozens of younger ones playing in the hot tubs and stairwells. Day 3: JuneauThe ship was not scheduled to arrive at Juneau until 2 PM, so we attended the Newlywed, Not So Newlywed Game in the main lounge. It was funny as usual, and Chris Roberts did a good job not letting it get too cheesy. On that topic, Chris is a great Cruise Director. He has a type of humor that I really like, a sort of nerdy dry humor that could best be compared to the likes of Seth Rogen. He also does a morning news show that I have not seen done before. It is a welcome change from the standard P.A. announcements, and is done in a more entertaining talk show format. As we came into Juneau, Dirk made lots of announcements about animal sightings and also the history of some of the buildings we were seeing. As we were pulling up to the dock I was able to get some good pictures of Juneau itself, and of RCI's Serenade of the Seas, which was docked behind us. Before we could get off the ship, we had to wait in a huge mob of folks wanting to get off. Definitely one of the least organized I have yet seen. They only had one security card scanner going at our gangway, which made it even slower. Apparently the Spirit excels in all fields except getting guests on and off the ship in an efficient and timely manner. We eventually got off, but it wasn't pleasant. Normally we would have waited an hour to even head down to the gangway, but unfortunately we had a tour booked. It would be nice if Carnival had priority debarkation at the ports of call for Platinum and suite guests. They already have priority tender boarding, so it would be a pretty easy (and free!) thing to add.We made our way down to Orca Enterprises' office and checked in for our whale watching boat tour. I learned about Orca Enterprises from Cruise Critic, and am sure glad I did. During our trip we saw two humpback whales, a whole pod of orcas, a bald eagle, and several sea lions laying on a buoy. It was a great trip, the boat wasn't crowded at all and they even served snacks and drinks on board. Captain Larry and his crew did a great job and I wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone going to Juneau that wants to see whales. They even have a money back guarantee if you don't see any whales. After seeing how crowded the whale watching boats were that folks who booked through Carnival were on; I was really glad we paid less and had a nicer, less crowded boat. We also learned that when he isn't working on cruise ships, our naturalist Dirk actually works for Orca Enterprises!After the boat tour, we were taken out to Mendenhall Glacier. We also booked this through Orca Enterprises, so they picked us up right at the dock where the whale watching tour ended. The Mendenhall Glacier was beautiful and the movie in the visitors center was very informative. We got lots of great pictures!After getting back to Juneau we bought tickets to go up the Mount Roberts Tramway. The gondolas have a near vertical, over 2000 foot climb right up the side of Mt. Roberts. The view from the top is breathtaking. You can see the entirety of downtown Juneau, as well as the inlet and cruise ship docks. The overlook also gives you a total panoramic view of all the snow capped mountains around Juneau. We went up around 8:30 PM, so the movie theater, restaurant and bar were all closed. The gift shop was still open, as was the nature center. I walked around on some snow while I was up there, and being a Florida native it was only my third time doing so. We stayed up there long enough to watch the Serenade of the Seas to leave port. We then returned down the mountain and returned to the ship.At the end of the day we had dinner in the Spirit's supper club. It was excellent, and they served one of the best filet mignon steaks I have ever had. We found it to be just as good as the food we got in the Glory's supper club. The only exception was the lobster bisque, it was too sweet and not very good. Day 4, Glacier Bay:The entire day was spent cruising Glacier Bay, we visited several glaciers and saw whales, mountain goats, sea lions and seals. This was very possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I won't waste time and words trying to describe it, I couldn't even begin to do it justice. The only way to know what its like is to go and see it. Everyone seemed very excited about this visit, especially the crew. Most of the crewmen I had talked to said that they had never been to Alaska before so this was a new experience for them too. I saw almost as many crew out on deck watching and snapping pictures as I did guests. We attempted to have lunch in the lido buffet, but it was extremely crowded, as was the main dining room. We just went back to the cabin and got room service instead. I didn't think the buffet food is as good on the Spirit as it has been on some of the other ships. I did like that the pizzeria had a daily pasta selection, I got it almost every time we ate there. In the evening we went to the "Blues Bothers" show in the main lounge. It was mostly a tribute to the SNL classic by Chris the cruise director, along with the band. He did a good impression of Belushi's character, and was funny with the singing and dancing. We almost didn't make it to the show since the entirety of Deck 3's public areas were clogged with people waiting to go into dinner. This really puzzles me, especially since half the people on board are past guests. I wondered why they hadn't figured out that there is no need to wait in a line to get to an assigned seat. The maitre 'd isn't going to give them away! I suppose after a few more cruises some of them may figure out that if you just go minutes late you can just walk right in.The day finished again in the supper club. We had a table in the balcony during this visit, the previous day was on the main floor, port side. The meal was equally as good as the night before. We did discover one design flaw though. On the Spirit Class ships, the supper club is at the very top of the main atrium, open to the floors below. While this makes for a very neat effect, the sound coming from the lobby and other areas can really take away from the ambiance. The entertainment in the lobby was live country and classic rock. While I certainly have no problem with it, it was a little odd to be having a "fancy" dinner while listening to a lounge singer croon "Friends In Low Places" and "Neon Moon". Also, at a few points singing from another area mixed in, so we had two different singers singing two different songs! The unwelcome music aside, the second experience in the supper club went very well and the food was delicious. Day 5, Skagway:We arrived at Skagway before I even woke up, so it was good that we didn't have any early excursions. After walking around the historic downtown area and taking some pictures, we went back to the ship and had lunch. There is not a huge amount of things to do in Skagway besides tours and excursions. My wife and I booked the White Pass Rail Road tour which departed from a rail line that runs right down the pier next to the ship. The trip runs about 30 miles up through the mountains from Skagway to the Canadian border. The sights on this trip are unbelievable. Huge valleys, snow covered mountains, a frozen lake and a winding river were some of the highlights. As with Glacier Bay, any attempt on my part to describe it would be pointless. I will just say that it is well worth the 3 hours and 100 or so dollars to take this trip. The past guest party was held later in the evening before dinner. Chris did something I had never seen done before. He had a sort of trivia game for some of the past guests. Whoever wanted to could come up on stage and he would ask questions about Carnival. There would be two possible answers and folks would go to one side of the stage or the other depending on what they thought the answer was. Those who got it wrong would have to sit down. I made it to the last round, just me and one other guy, before I got eliminated. Apparently Robert Wagner did a Carnival commercial, I did not know that. Not knowing cost me a shot at a free dinner in the supper club for two, but life goes on. Day 6, Ketchikan:Our day in Ketchikan started late, we slept in until 930 AM. We made it to breakfast just before they closed the dining room. After eating we watched the ship pull up to the pier and tie up. The NCL ship Norwegian Star was already at her berth, and we pulled up at the pier right by the downtown area. I wasn't sure why we got the better "parking spot" since we got there later, but I wasn't complaining either. It was convenient being able to walk off the ship and be right at the shopping area. We did a little shopping and also visited a booth set up by a bird of prey sanctuary. The guys running it were very nice, and had three birds on display. A screech owl, a red tailed hawk and a female bald eagle. All the animals had been injured in some way and could not be returned to the wild. The foundation runs on donations, so we were sure to leave one. Our shore excursion for this cruise was the "Flight-seeing and Crab Feast". It consisted of a half hour flight on a seas plane over the Ketchikan area followed by a landing at George Inlet. The plane then pulls up to the George Inlet Lodge, and the passengers debark for a Dungeness Crab feast. The trip on the sea plane was really nice and our pilot Mark was friendly and informative. The take off and landing were very smooth as was the ride. The Ketchikan area from the sky is a beautiful thing to see, it also gave us a great view of the cruise ships. Our crab feast at the lodge was equally wonderful. The six of us on the tour had our own private dining room with an open beer and wine bar, as well as soft drinks. I am a big fan of crab legs, and these were the best I have ever had. Our hosts informed us that all the crab they serve is harvested within a hundred mile radius, and is very fresh. They brought helping after helping and everyone left full! The Alaskan Amber beer they served was also very good, I had two glasses. We then had a motor coach ride back to the ship, and debarked right back at the pier. It was an excellent excursion, well worth the rather steep $215 per person price tag. After our great excursion, we strolled around downtown Ketchikan and down Canal Street. Canal Street is the area that most photos of Ketchikan show. All the building are up on stilts above the canal, and it was once the "red light district". We took a little tram up to a Lodge at the top of a hill near Canal Street, but there wasn't much to do there. We just rode the tram back down and headed back to the ship. I was very satisfied with our day in Ketchikan. After getting back on the ship we hit the spa's hot tub for awhile. We then went swimming in the "dome pool" which turned out to be hotter than the hot tubs! Since that pool is covered, they heat it for the Alaska cruises.I got some bad news from the pursers desk during the afternoon. We needed to be off the ship by 8 AM on the last day to catch our shuttle back to Seattle. I was counting on my VIP debarkation to get us off the ship as early as possible. On a previous cruise, I was given Concierge Club VIP tags for the luggage and a letter saying that I could be in the group to debark first. Well, those tags and letter didn't come. We got regular tags with zone number 4 on them. I went by the Platinum desk to find out why, and was told that Carnival can't offer VIP debarkation at Vancouver for Platinum Guests or suite guests. She didn't give a reason why. So we were left to hope that we would be able to debark in time. Yet another reason that I DO NOT LIKE the Port of Vancouver. I am happy that Carnival will be switching to Seattle in 2010, just in case we decide to do another Alaskan cruise. Day 7, At Sea:Our last day at sea was pretty uneventful. My wife used my complimentary entry into the slot tournament and finished third in the first round. She ended up getting bumped off the leader board though. We went back for the final round, where the raffle off a wildcard seat. It must have been her lucky day, because she won the wild card seat out of probably 70 or so other people. The casino host was really nice and gave her a Carnival Players Club shirt and hat. She didn't win the tournament, but she had a good time. We also took the private galley tour for Platinum guests. It was really nice, there were only six of us on the tour. The Lido Deck Maitre 'd was the tour leader and he showed us all around the galley. It was really nice not having to go in the big line, and we had time to take lots of photos and not feel rushed.Before dinner we spent a little more time out on the Lord's balcony. We thanked our servers and tipped them extra; Jon and Rex were two of the best we have had. Afterward, we made an appearance at the piano bar and were two of the three people there. We stopped at the "Dancin" disco and were greeted by a security officer who said "you're the first customers of the night!" which was kind of sad. We hung out for one song and left for the cabin. It just isn't as fun when nobody is there. I will say that the design of the dance clubs on the Spirit class is really nice. It is two floors, with a spiral staircase in between. There is seating on both levels, but the dance floor is at the bottom, and there is seating around the top floor that looks down on to it. We put or luggage outside the cabin and gave everything a last once over before going to bed. The last night of any cruise is sad, but leaving a cruise as good as this one, with a fantastic cabin is really, really hard to do!Day 8, Debarkation and Seattle:We had our sad, final breakfast in the dining room as usual and then waited in our cabin for our zone number to be called. At Vancouver, the Spirit has two gangways, one near the photo gallery on Deck 3, the other next to the entrance to the Empire Dining Room, also on deck 3. Our cabin was just a short walk from the aft gangway, so we just sat in our room hoping that we would be called to that one. As luck would have it we did get called to the aft gangway, and we got there before anyone else. The self-assist passengers had just gone through there, so we were able to walk right off the ship. After we got through Canadian Customs we got our luggage and made it to our shuttle with about a half hour to spare. I will say that the debarkation at Vancouver went MUCH smoother than the embarkation. Epilogue: After our shuttle to Seattle we checked in to our hotel near Seattle-Tacoma International and then headed to the Waterfront. We had a nice dinner and visited the Pike Street Market. I can't say much for the market, wasn't my style. The guys throwing the fish were the main attraction that my wife wanted to see. After she got to see a fish being thrown we left. Then we went to, and then up in, the Space Needle. After seeing it in pictures many times, it was really something to actually go up in it. Even though Seattle was a good time, it was mostly like a mint after a four star dinner. Read Less