April 17, 2005
Just returned from a 12 day cruise to Hawaii on the Carnival Spirit. I am a retired law enforcement officer, my wife is in the insurance industry. We traveled with our two friends from previous cruises, Allen & Karen. We ranged in age from 48 to early 60's. This was our 8th cruise, and the 5th on Carnival. We have been on the Norwegian Majesty, RCCL Sovereign of the Sea, Carnival Imagination, Legend (2x) Destiny and Triumph. To set the matter as to whether I am a staunch Carnival supporter, I remain neutral. To validate that point - I disliked both Destiny and Triumph, loved the Norwegian Majesty, and hated the Sovereign, thoroughly enjoyed the Legend and the Spirit equally.
We left from upstate NY via limo and flew out of Newark Liberty Airport. Although we had arrived at the airport about an hour and half early, we were greeted with lines extending outside the terminal. When I finally made it to a sidewalk luggage counter, I was told that my bags exceeded the 50lb weight limit set by Continental and that I had to wait on the special handling line. He than told me that due to the long lines there too, I was not going to make my flight. He also said that they were not holding flights for passengers. He also told me that if I finished with special handling on time, that I would still have to proceed through security. Once again, he told me that I was going to miss my flight. Of interesting note here - my traveling partner had overweight luggage too. A different handler accepted a 5 dollar tip and my friend was on his way (we had become separated, so I missed using the same handler!).
To make this part of the story short, there was a very long line, but it moved swiftly. A customer service person told me not to be concerned, I would not miss our flight - She was correct. We arrived at the gate about 15 minutes early. We flew on from there to San Diego where we were greeted by Carnival staff. We lined up our luggage outside the terminal building where a U-Haul truck loaded it on. We were placed on motor coaches and we proceeded to the port of San Diego for further processing. This was very fast and effortless. We were then encouraged to spend several hours exploring San Diego before we were to reassemble. We took a free shuttle to Sea Port Village, had a meal and took in the sights. The only truly bad part of the story comes next:
After re-boarding the buses to proceed to Ensenada, we journeyed thru Mexico until we arrived at the pier. For reasons still unknown to us, the buses were stopped at the pier entrance. There we sat for almost two hours. The driver was as confused as we were. Any passenger that attempted to walk the short distance from the buses to the ship were turned away by plain clothes security agents. After awhile, a group of us approached a security man in a suit (with a radio) and demanded to know what was happening (at this point, buses were lined up behind ours as far as you could see). He told us that the pier was overloaded with passengers and vehicles and that we would have to wait. We could plainly see the pier directly in front of us and it would empty of vehicles and passengers. We insisted that a spokesman from Carnival come down and speak to us. He promised someone would. Over the course of the two hours, and after repeated demands to speak to someone from Carnival, we were still kept in quarantine outside the entrance. No one showed. Then, early evening, without explanation, all the buses were suddenly allowed in. At that point, the lines moved quickly and we boarded the ship. We had expected to have heard from a Carnival representative about the issue on the pier, but they all seemed to not want to discuss it. When we went to the purser's desk to speak about it, they acted as if they weren't aware that there was a problem with embarkation!
The first 24 to 36 hours at sea were less than tranquil. This was NOT the fault of Carnival, but was due entirely to 37+ knot winds and as the Captain characterized as "confused sea". At least half if not more of the passengers were sick or uncomfortable from the ships rocking and heaving. Even our room steward was sea sick. The first full day at sea, during the lifeboat exercise, people were taken away ill in wheelchairs. Other passengers were allowed to remain in their staterooms (our traveling companion was one of them; she stayed in bed for the first 24 hours). The crew did do everything that they could to make the passengers comfortable. The Captain did keep us abreast of all the weather conditions and forecasts.
The following day, the wind calmed, the clouds disappeared, the weather warmed and must of the passengers recovered. The cruise director, Michael Mullane made a brief announcement that he promised to keep all of his announcements brief and infrequent. He kept his promise and unlike my previous sailings on Carnival where the PA system was always blaring - announcing or trying to sell something, he was brief and rarely heard from (at least over the PA). He kept most of his messengers to the onboard TV channel. This was a much less invasive and practical solution.
The following night, we made reservations for the private dining. As in the past, it was an extraordinary experience. The food was wonderful, the service was more than anyone could expect, the décor was tasteful and the music was a delight. All this for $25.00 per person! Certainly, the best buy on the ship.
The remaining days at sea were relaxing. The staff and crew were all smiles, attentive and the activities just seemed non-stop. Although the passengers were slightly older, they acted as if they were full of energy and youthful. Whenever you had an opportunity to be with a new passenger (such as in the elevator or sitting at casual seating meals), everyone was talkative, friendly and cordial. There wasn't a passenger that acted loud or obnoxious, no drunks, no rowdy groups, just friendly, happy people on a 12 day cruise together.
The Ship: Carnival Spirit is the first in the "Spirit" class of ships. Although she is the oldest in the class, she was in excellent condition with few exceptions. The exceptions were:
Apart from the above minor issues, the ship was immaculate. There was staff everywhere to be seen cleaning and servicing. Tables on the lido desk were quickly cleared, cleaned and replenished with eating utensils. We had cabin 8147 with an extended balcony. This cabin was super comfortable, roomy with plenty of draw and closet space. The extended balcony was just the right size for relaxation. Everything within the cabin worked. We had a down comforter that was just wonderful and the room steward was ever present and so personable and attentive to our needs, we wanted to bring him home with us.
The gambling casino was always busy. There was less smoke then on previous sailings (perhaps due to the age of the crowd?). My wife always seemed to have a degree of luck on the slots (albeit she would return and give it all back) and my friend Allen came away ahead after many nights of blackjack.
The Pool was always the center of activity and the cruise director's wife Jenny, also on the social staff kept everyone busy. Between the two of them, they were smiling and filled with energy and always stopped to talk to you. The music at the pool was Hawaiian and pleasant to listen to (a needed change from the steel drum bands of previous cruises). We always found lounges whenever we needed them and there was always a poolside table to sit at. There were a total of 24 "kids" on the ship of all ages, so the pools and the hot tubs were not crowed or loud.
The nightclub was glittery and beautiful. The shows were at beast, fair. This, a surprising change from the other Carnival cruises. The singers were just acceptable and the dancers worked hard but the numbers were awkward and uninspiring. The comedian's were good as was the guest singers and the hypnotist. A standout was singer Marcus Anthony who had the group wanting more. Also entertaining was the Director himself, Michael Mullane and his energetic pixy of a wife, Jenny who was an accomplished dancer.
The Lido deck NEVER had lines...very surprising. The food there was plentiful and tasty.
The shops were the usual fare of duty free items, gifts, clothing and souvenirs. I never attended the art auction so I cannot comment. My wife and her friend Karen utilized the spa several times and were treated very well.
The Food: I still believe that Carnival has about the best food (from my experience) at sea. I already commented on the private supper club, but the main dining food was also superb - as was the service. The main courses were tasty and exotic and when I couldn't find anything that I liked on the menu, the waitress always found something for me off the menu.
The Staff: Simply, the best! (Excluding that first night at the purser's desk). No matter how hard they all worked, they always said hello to you, made eye contact and were very friendly. Cannot complement Carnival enough for that.
Room Service: Our cabin was close to the room service outlet. It never took more than five minutes for it to arrive. The menu for room service was more than sufficient. They were courteous and almost embarrassed to accept tips.
Ports of call: - Hawaii, well, just what can I - It's HAWAII! Deb and I were there in 1982 for our Honeymoon. It has certainly got a lot busier, particularly Honolulu and certain areas of Maui, but folks - it's HAWAII! The people on the islands are all wonderful. They smile at you and don't treat you with that "just another tourist" mentality. While at Lahaina, a young motorist got upset with Allen for driving too slow (we were looking for a place to park and were probably driving the speed limit as it was a highly populated street). He shot in front of us, raised his fist and finally just stopped his car in front of us, got out and became threatening. He returned to his car and just a moment later, a police officer pulled alongside of us, asked us what took place and she said that she was going to stop that car ".and have a few words with him".
I will not comment on each of the islands except that before we sailed, I purchased the latest edition of "Hawaii for Dummies" on Amazon.com. We used it as a bible everywhere we went and it was right on the money all of the time. It told us how and where to rent cars, where to dine and where to go. They recommended the Feast at Pele for the Luau and it was just wonderful! Tip - if you go to Hawaii, don't travel without it.
Disembarkation: - They choose who gets off first by your flight times and or final shore excursion. It went quickly and smoothly.
So, finally, here is the good, the bad, the fair and the ugly:
The Good: The ship, the staff, Michael Mullane and Jenny, the food, the room, the supper club and of course Hawaii!
My personnel recommendation - find yourself two weeks and call your travel agent and have the time of your life! Just remember - Pacific waters can be very unpredicatable.
PS - I took an amazing 1052 digital pictures. If any one is interested in any aspect in particular, send me an e-mail along with whatever questions you may have and I will forward them to you.