by Terry McInerney
May 14, 2003
We have recently returned from the May 14, 2003 Glacier Bay sailing on the Carnival Spirit. What a wonderful cruise it was! Kim and I are experienced cruisers in our mid forties sailing with our 3-year-old son, Christian. Our favorite cruise lines are Princess and Celebrity.
We picked this cruise for many reasons; itinerary, mid-week sailing date, price, ship and the fact the Spirit has an indoor, heated pool. It all came together for a wonderful week in Alaska.
We started by flying in to Vancouver the day before. The fact is the roundtrip Vancouver flight from Oakland for us was only 1/3 the price of the north/south Vancouver-Seward itinerary. We had booked a room at the Hyatt Regency through Priceline and got lucky with the weather in Vancouver. Our lucky weather would continue the entire week. The Hyatt is right in the center of downtown and close to everything. After checking in we caught the double decker bus tour right outside the hotel and took a bumpy ride around Vancouver. Next time we'll try the trolley. It couldn't possibly be as bumpy as the double decker bus. But we did have a good view. We went around to 23 places in the city and got off in Stanley Park. We walked around for a while and then caught another bus and continued. As mentioned by everyone, Vancouver is very scenic and really reminded us of San Francisco, only cleaner. It's fun to watch all the floatplanes and ferries on the waterfront. And we got a chance to say hello to our favorite ship, the Star Princess, in port that day and only clearing Lion's Gate Bridge at low tide by 2 feet!
Next day we took a short cab ride to Canada Place and started embarkation at 11:30 or so. Unfortunately, once again, "The computer system is down." This glitch seems to be following us. We had the same problem in San Francisco two months earlier. So after unloading our luggage, going through security and getting our picture taken we sat there for 90 minutes and waited. It's a long time for a 3 year old. Finally the Canada Place staff realized they needed to start check-in by hand and we were aboard in another half hour. One surprise was that U.S. Customs was the last checkpoint before boarding. That way we didn't have to do it in Juneau, our first stop.
I had been worried that I wasn't going to like the interior of the Spirit. I had seen many photos and she really looked ornate, even gaudy. Not in the old, neon Carnival way but in an overly decorated way. But the Spirit grew on me in person and I liked most everything about her. Certainly, the Spirit class is head and shoulders above the Holiday and Fantasy class Carnival ships. We were quite happy with our inside cabin on the Panorama Deck. Much classier than our previous Carnival cabins, with an increased use of finer materials used in the cabinets and bathroom. Really a fine cabin. And with Fiorella to straighten it up for us, we were in fine company. She did an A1 job.
We got lucky in the dining room both in location and dining companions. Carnival put us at a window table together with another family with a 4-year-old adorable girl. Pooja kept Christian interested in coming to dinner all week long. The Empire dining room is another very ornate space. Our waiter, Janeusz from Poland and assistant, Tina from Romania were excellent. Most nights they only had two tables so we always had their attention when needed. They both made a fuss over the two children and learned all our names the first night. Then they used our names the rest of the week. This restaurant had the most personable Maitre' D of all our cruises, David McNally from Ireland. Each night he came on the PA (which actually worked!) and shared a poem or story, made us laugh, and then segued into the cheesy but fun Carnival performance. He was a delight. The dining room food, while not quite as good as Princess or Celebrity, was still very good indeed, with very few complaints. Especially when you take the galley tour and see just how they serve over 1000 people at a time. The quality really is amazing.
The Lido buffet was also a hit. The food diversity was mouth-watering. The deli was open from 11am-11pm and served delicious sandwiches on several breads, including my favorite, fresh baked baguette. Then there was an Asian section, a nation of the day section, the rotisserie with several different meats, a salad bar and 24-hour pizza and ice cream. The grill had the usual along with drinks available 24 hours, too. No one went hungry. Breakfast got a little mundane, as it was the same every day. But no one went hungry. Unfortunately, the buffet does not have enough seating for all the people that want to sit there. Many times at breakfast and lunch it was very difficult to find a table. And since we were in Alaska, many people would stay at their seats, long after they were finished eating, to enjoy the scenery.
The entertainment on board was hit and miss. We saw all the shows in the theatre and the talent level was high. However, the production shows seem to be missing some thread, some thing that pulls the material together and gives it a reason to be called a show. Many times it just seemed like one production number after another, with no thought given as to theme. The Pharaoh's Palace theatre was really fun to look at and the costumes were amazing. Plus the 10-piece orchestra accompanied all the shows and that was great.
Unfortunately, this "Funship" carried no party band to dance to, a first for Carnival and very disappointing for my wife and I. Especially after seeing the banner, "Carnival Has The Fun" draped over the outside of the ship. They did have 2 good jazz groups and a classical trio for before dinner and a duo in Club Cool at night. But a duo playing hits for the elderly is not exactly a party band. The disco looked fun but wasn't open till 11pm and we never made it. I guess we're tweeners now.
Christian and I very much enjoyed the indoor heated pool and hot tubs. They added a lot to our cruise. Unfortunately, Carnival considers this pool to be an outdoor area with smoking allowed, even though the dome was closed the entire week. And the smokers were out in force, even pipes and cigars. It really stunk in there. And, of course, that's where the "outdoor" grill is so people were eating at tables as well. Disgusting! Port side was for non-smokers but Carnival personnel and security never enforced this rule. This is an area I would like to see improved by all cruise lines. Enforce those smoking rules!
All the ports were fun. In Juneau we went with Capt. Larry on the Awesome Orca (non-ship excursion) and had a ball. We got to see about 10 humpback whales, Dalls porpoises, Stellar sea lions, eagles and a brown bear on a distant shore. It was great! In Skagway we rented a car from Avis and drove up the road into British Columbia and on into the Yukon to Carcross. It was all about scenery and much of it was spectacular. After coming back, we drove around the gravel road to Dyea and saw harbor seals at the mouth of the river and many eagles waiting to feast on some fish. In Ketchikan we just walked around town and over to Creek Street and up the hill to the salmon hatchery. They also have an eagle enclosure there with two injured eagles. When the salmon return up the creek in June they'll swim right through the eagles' environment and the eagles get to hunt again. Nice touch.
Our cruise through Glacier Bay was really special, a day to remember, and with weather to match. We got a running commentary from the park rangers who boarded in the morning and they kept us informed about what we were seeing throughout the day. The mountains and multiple glaciers we saw were very impressive, really the reason people come to Alaska. Michelle, the Spirit's naturalist kept us informed the rest of the week.
Camp Carnival was pretty good but somewhat disappointing, too. They had a very security conscious but inefficient check in & out procedure that took way too long. The parents were kept behind a half-door while one person checked your ID and beeper. We couldn't just go in to see what the kids were doing. They called the child up to the door after check-out. Same procedure on check-in. They wouldn't just let the kids in first. This took too long even with only 42 kids in the program. I can't imagine what they do when they have 600 as a counselor told me they've had. There were lots of counselors and most were sincere and very nice, especially Nelly and Kendra. They had a couple of parent required sessions, one the whole afternoon of the last sea day. We didn't like that. We spent plenty of time with Christian. We didn't need Camp Carnival taking away our last afternoon which we would have liked to spend without our 3 year old. Oh well.
Carnival got lots of things right on this cruise and they are to be commended. We had a wonderful cruise to Alaska. It was great value for the money. The Spirit is a beautiful ship with lots of public spaces to relax in and enjoy. Most all the crew were friendly and helpful. And Alaska is beautiful, a much different cruise than being in the middle of the sea in the Caribbean or elsewhere. I never got to open my book. There were too many sights to see. This was an older crowd, especially for Carnival. But I'm sure there'll be more families once school is out. Bon Voyage!