by John Koppenaal
July 11, 2001
After reading reviews and comments from other cruisers, I was anxious to see for myself what so many described - the Carnival Spirit. Was it over done? Glitzy beyond tasteful? Did it matter at all? I found the ship to be awesome. This word is over used these days, however, looking into the cavernous atrium... 11 decks high, with stair cases and "bubble" elevators soaring upward toward the infamous red glass funnel, the word that was used more often than any other was "awesome"....perhaps the second phrase was "Can you believe it." The ship is visually stimulating and creates an exciting atmosphere for both Alaska as well as warmer destinations like the Caribbean and Hawaii. It is not by any stretch of the imagination sedate and tranquil... the sea provides that aspect.
We were assigned to cabin 5801 on the upper deck. This is the first cabin with a balcony on the port side of the ship. I was concerned about this cabin before the cruise. I was afraid that being the first cabin, the balcony might be smaller or there might be noise from the children's play area further forward on our deck. Our balcony was in fact larger than our traveling companions on the Veranda deck and there never was any noise from the children. Their cabin, an 8G (I think) was the same as ours, an 8C. The cabins were ample in size with two beds that were pushed together to make a king-sized one. The bathroom had a wonderful shower that many people seemed to remark about. Food was good and plentiful. The staff was very helpful and friendly... I would rank all this as being what I expected. Our cabin stewardess was a young woman from Russia by the name of Isabelle. She was very efficient and quite helpful. Each night when we returned to our cabin, we found an "animal" figure made by her by twisting towels. They were quite the "work of art" and we enjoyed them.
As for the ports of call, I'd say they were all enjoyable in their own way except for Valdez. If I could recommend it, I'd suggest the cruise line pass that port all together. A townsman has organized a very efficient way of getting the passengers into the town on his busses, but there is no reason to go there. The few shops have nothing to sell and what they have they merchandize poorly. Their claim to fame seems to be the history of the oil spill and an earthquake of which there is a short video to view in the town visitor's center.... There is nothing to do there.. We returned to the ship with many others after about 45 minutes. That evening before the show, when the cruise director asked how everyone liked Valdez, there was very little positive reaction from the audience.
About the cruise director. I had read some things about her on the message board that were of concern. The impression I got was that the hope was that she would "learn more tricks" and grow into her job... she hasn't yet. I felt no connection with her and I consider myself a pushover as a member of an audience. She seemed disconnected to most of us, closer to the young people on board, and her comments targeting an "in crowd" perhaps.... In my experience sailing over the years, cruise directors should be very visible during the cruise. They should be there when you leave the ship in port, there to greet you when you return.... smooozing during the captain's cocktail party, out there with arm extended ready to engage in conversation in the public lounges, things like that.... In addition, his or her demeanor should be inclusive, never exclusive. I found Shawn Bussey to be the opposite. She seemed stiff and uncomfortable at times. Her greetings each evening before the shows seemed almost confrontational i.e. "How is everybody tonight..... I said HOW IS EVERYBODY TONIGHT!...THAT'S BETTER! It offended me. Additionally, I think the cruise director should be the ideal cruise passenger. She or he should be an example of a passenger having a ball! Shawn did not project this image... Also, and this may sound petty, but even I noticed, Shawn wore the same outfit on two evenings on our seven day trip, (a blue pant suit)... I would think that she, if anyone would have a wardrobe large enough to accommodate the number of evenings she would be in the public eye.... The passengers seemed to be dressed more appropriately.
The shows were good I thought. The first major production on this new ship involved "spirit"... all the various ways you can express spirit. One segment was a medley of songs from "Sister Act" the movie starring Whoopie Goldberg where she becomes a nun and brings life into an inner city parish with her upbeat and modern renditions of vintage church songs. Some people seemed to be a bit offended by this. I think it was because in the movie the characters and those singing and dancing to the music believed in what they were singing... the cast of the show we were seeing were performing the songs and did not appear to share the believing part.... Personally, It didn't bother me as much.
An area of mass confusion occurred when several people, who should know, gave conflicting times for events. For example, the maitre'd announced at dinner the times for the grand midnight buffet. He said they would open the Empire dining room at 11:15PM for pictures. The buffet would open to serve at 11:30. In fact the doors did open promptly at 11:15PM for the picture taking, but we were told my one dining room staff member that they would not serve until 11:45PM, and then by another until 12:15AM. We were discourteously ushered out of the dining room by a service escalator and deposited on the second floor of the dining room. To get back we had to take the elevator down and wait until 12:15AM. Many people left unhappy.
My final suggestion, to stop the bingo playing before each show. It's tacky and you can't get a good seat to see the show because the theater is already filled with bingo players. It appears Carnival is trying to squeeze in every opportunity to make more money. Schedule bingo in the afternoon and play big games for big money and prizes then. I think in short there can be a lot of improvement in the area of cruise activities..
Finally, my hat off to the disembarkment procedures, they worked great, it was very easy to get off the ship. The "sign and sail" cards were a great enhancement. If you use a credit card there is no "settling of the account" before you get off the ship, and you will have taken care of all the tipping required. Additional tipping is at your discretion. We particularly appreciated our cabin stewardess, so we gave her something more. I would recommend this cruise and ship. If I cruise Alaska again, I would try the Northbound Itinerary, visit Sitka and pass on Valdez. We spent three additional days in Vancouver and I would do that again. Vancouver is a must see, a wonderful city with great attractions like Stanley Park, Granville Island and Gas Town.
In conclusion let me say that I usually live by the credo, "If you don't have something nice to say don't say anything" but this is a review. My intent is to help my fellow cruisers better prepare for and perhaps choose a cruise by what my impressions are. My hope is that Carnival will take what I have said and if there is a consensus of opinion make the changes if needed to insure an enjoyable cruise for their patrons. Like all you who read this, I am thinking, dreaming about my next cruise. Perhaps Europe next time! Happy sailing to you all.