This was our 2nd trip on the Carnival Spirit, and our third and likely last trip with Carnival. We'd had a good experience on the Spirit in Hawaii in 2004, a bad one on the Jubilee in the Caribbean during Christmas 2003/2004 and now a ... Read More
This was our 2nd trip on the Carnival Spirit, and our third and likely last trip with Carnival. We'd had a good experience on the Spirit in Hawaii in 2004, a bad one on the Jubilee in the Caribbean during Christmas 2003/2004 and now a bad one on the Spirit.
This will be a review (rant?) about the shipboard experience. The ports of call we visited were good, even if we were late getting to them, and thus we won't focus on them.
Noteworthy items include: ? The Carnival charge for a transfer from Anchorage to Whittier, where the ship docks- take the Alaska Railroad instead, but pre-book; ? Marginal cabin cleanliness; ? The benefits of having a naturalist on board; ? Late arrivals in three out of four ports; ? Exceptional efforts in Sitka by Joseph the maitre d' and the entire staff of the Empire Dining Room to ensure that guests were fed, despite delays reboarding; ? Long waits to reboard the ship because of backlogs at the single x-ray machine in use - with security guards who kept telling guests to keep the line moving, when there was nowhere to go; ? Aggressive photographers who blocked gangway exits upon port arrivals (and their costumed performers who were literally grabbing people to be photographed) - sanctioned by Carnival management, according to the photoshop manager; ? Peculiarities in billing to the sign and sail account - a strange addition to our bill was carried out the last night of the cruise, after we went to bed - and the hostile reaction from the pursers when questions were asked about it; it almost seemed like a last minute charge was applied to EVERYONE'S bill; and, ? Erroneous information provided by the ship's crew regarding shopping and the travelogue video
According to the internet the cruise lines don't pay to dock at Whittier. It's certainly not for the benefit of the guests- there's not much in the town at all. Still, it's in a picturesque setting, so increased tourism will likely result in more services, at which point it may be an interesting port to sail out of. The booklet Carnival provides on Alaska mentions embarking at a transfer center in Anchorage- it doesn't mention that you have to pay approx. $49 for the bus trip down. We took the Alaska Railroad from the downtown depot- about the same price, narrated train trip, and at least when we took it, the railroad was ensuring that bags would be routed to the ship, so we didn't have to worry about them. But, we had to pre-book well in advance. Plus, we got to Whittier about 12:20, before the onslaught of Carnival buses, so our time in line was minimal.
Our cabin was nice- we'd had a similar one when we sailed in Hawaii on the Spirit. Unfortunately, on arrival there were crumbs on the dresser and a musty odor in the bathroom (which either faded or we got used to). And we noticed that there were frequently room service or Lido Deck dishes left in the hallway, which took a long time to pick up.
We really enjoyed the talks and commentary given by Michele the naturalist on board the ship. She pointed out natural phenomena and wildlife during the trip, enriching our viewing. The talks she gave in the Pharaoh's Lounge on wildlife were excellent, providing context for what we were observing. Having a naturalist on board these trips is a wonderful idea, and Michele did a great job.
We were late arriving at three out of four ports of call on this trip. We arrived approximately 5 hours late in Sitka, an hour and a half late in Juneau, approximately on time in Skagway, and about an hour late in Ketchikan. Perhaps weather was responsible for the delays, but it was also mentioned at one point that the ship had engine problems, reducing cruising speed. Regardless of the reasons, the effect was severe on the guests' schedules (we personally missed a glacier cruise that we'd pre-booked in Juneau and may have lost our deposit) but undoubtedly this also adversely impacted Carnival's "bottom line".
On a positive note, it was in Sitka that we saw an example of Carnival doing something exceptionally well, when the Empire Room fed us when we came back very late. Departure from Sitka had been delayed by an hour (to 5:30 PM) to allow us to have some time in port. But when we returned to board a tender to take us back to the ship, it was obvious by the length of the line that there was no way we'd be leaving on time. In fact, it took us over an hour and a half to get on the ship, so when we got on board around 6:45PM (and there were many more after us), we were much too late for our early seating dinner.
Resigned to eating on the Lido Deck, it was a welcome surprise when the voice of Joseph the maitre d' came over the PA system, inviting us "early seating" latecomers to dinner. The manner in which the staff worked together, feeding us, yet having the dining room ready for the "late seating" at 8:15PM, was very impressive - it was obvious that he and his staff were concerned with delighting all their guests. This dinner, rather than any of the formal nights, is the one we remember and regard as special, because of the effort put forth by the dining room in difficult circumstances.
Sitka was not unique- long waits to reboard the Spirit proved to be norm for this trip. The delay always seemed to be at the single x-ray machine in use. The security guards "helped" this by telling people to "Keep the line moving", even when there was clearly no place to go. After listening to this in Sitka and Juneau, we got fed up in Skagway. "Where do you expect us to go?" we challenged the guard. He seemed shocked. "The line's stopped at the xray machine- how can we keep moving?" (For our comments, one of us was "wanded" by a very amused security guard.)
One of us noticed later in the day that when the "all aboard" time had passed, and there was still a long line, an officer went down to the "exit" gangway and began bringing people aboard who didn't have any shopping or bags to be xrayed. In conversation with him afterwards, he was commended for his efforts, and asked about the delays in reboarding the ship. He confirmed that it was due to the necessity of x-ray screening. He also confirmed that there was a second xray machine on board, but only one was being used. The officer indicated that the necessity of using different decks for embarkation (tides and the port in question would affect where the gangway could be installed) necessitated having machines on different decks.
In retrospect, we wonder why it wouldn't have been possible to use the ships' elevators to move the xray machines, so that two could have been used. It would have meant more effort on the part of the crew, but would have saved untold hours of guests' time. Indeed, the knowledge that it would take at least half an hour to get back on board caused to reconsider on several occasions whether it was worth the effort to get off the ship - a sad situation when you're visiting a port!
The long waits continued until the end of the trip.
It wasn't just the delays to get back on the ship that wasted guests' time - the photographers delayed our disembarkations! In Skagway, we noticed that photographers were actually blocking the gangway exits with their props (the "lifebuoys" used in photos, and the masked characters (Freddy Funnel, etc) were actually grabbing guests for photographs, even when they shook their heads and attempted to wave them off.
(As an aside, for Skagway, we booked a Yukon- Whitepass railway trip through the excursions desk. We could have done it over the internet, but we had a shipboard credit to use up. It was about $5US/person more expensive that doing it online, but at least the train was right next to the ship for our convenience. However, our Carnival train cars were a lot more crowded than the other ones. But considering how often we were late getting into port, it was nice not to have to worry about losing our money if we missed the train!)
So, when we got to Ketchikan, we watched what happened as the gangway was set up. We saw the photographers place their props to the side of the gangway exits, then reconsider and move the props right to the end of the gangways, so that they were restricting the flow of people leaving the ship. This was a bit too much. Lines were forming on the gangways, because guests who didn't want to be photographed couldn't get around them. So when we were leaving the ship, we said to a photographer: "You're blocking the exit. You should move that thing." In a very rude tone of voice, the photographer replied, "I can't".
We continued on our excursion, but later left a message for the photoshop manager about the issue, asking that he call us. We had to call him back later, and he said, "We're following Carnival procedures". He said it was customary to block the exits with his photographers, but would refer our concerns to Carnival head office. Needless to say, he didn't get back to us.
We found this whole situation ridiculous- we were consistently late getting into port, then we were further delayed by the photographers, and they claimed they were told to do this?! We hadn't seen this on our previous trips with Carnival - we can only assume that the photographers are compensated based on the number of pictures they take, and the wishes of the ships' guests are not as important.
Finally, the morning of disembarkation, there was an extra charge on our bill, and the pursers' office was rude and belligerent when it was discussed. We had checked our account the night before disembarkation, and were satisfied with the bill. Yet in the morning, there was an additional charge for $3.25- admittedly not a lot, but one we didn't understand. When a purser was asked about this charge, she immediately said, "Did you drink the water in your room?"
She was referring to the 1.5 liter bottle of water sitting on the dresser in our room. When we told her that we hadn't, she shrugged and said she'd remove the charge.
But this issue bothered us. Shouldn't the water have been labelled with a note indicating its price- how would people know that it wasn't complementary (we assumed that it wasn't, because it had a price on it on our other Carnival trips)? And why was the charge put on the bill on the last night, after we'd heard (during the Cruise Director's disembarkation talk) that accounts would be closed the night before disembarkation?
So we called the pursers' desk. The immediate reaction when we identified ourselves was, "We changed your bill. What else do you want?!" When we indicated that we were disturbed that people might not be aware that the water was a billable item, the reaction was, "There's no need to put a price on it. It's on the minibar menu". Well we wouldn't have thought to look on that list - our minibar was never even unlocked, so why would we have been looking at the minibar. But the purser insisted that it was not practice to put a price on it-but she'd alert management to our concerns. Right...
The other thing that bothered us was why the charge had occurred after we'd thought bills were closed. No explanation was provided. We mentioned that we'd looked at two other bills, waiting to be picked up in peoples' mailboxes, and they too had been charged on the last night for a bottle of water, so we wondered if the problem was limited to our bill. At this the purser was quite indignant at our actions, for violating guests' privacy- if the bill is confidential, perhaps it should be provided in a sealed envelope. She never answered the question as to whether everyone received a last-minute charge for a bottle of water.
But to summarize our concerns on this issue, we don't think it's right that the bottle of water wasn't marked as a chargeable item. We also wonder if every cabin was charged for a bottle of water on the last night of the cruise- and people either didn't check the bill, or simply couldn't be bothered correcting it the morning of disembarkation. If this did happen for every cabin on board ship, it would be a significant amount of money!
At times it seemed as if the staff was deliberately misleading the guests. We listened to a shopping talk, in which the "super shopper" said, "Carnival recommends these stores for the benefit of our guests. It's not that we're making any commission or anything like that". This is clearly wrong, since the shopping maps say that the stores have paid a fee. Later, when asked about this, the "super shopper" immediately said, "Oh, what I meant to say was that I didn't receive a commission. Oh dear!" "But in the meantime the video of this talk had been shown over and over again. But there were other things that also seemed odd- the travelogue video that was sold to guests was billed as "including the guests' talent show"- yet as one fuming customer pointed out, it was given out before the talent show took place! A small thing, perhaps, but representative of the way things were being done.
So, would we recommend a cruise ship as a way to see Alaska? Yes! Would we recommend the Spirit, based on our most recent experience? No. We can't shake the feeling that the ship is being pushed to increase its profit, whether by providing less service (making guests wait) or increasing sales (more photos and bottles of water, for example), and thus it's not about pleasing the guests any more. Read Less