October 18, 2008
I would like to start with the bad about the cruise first; I believe that it is the most important piece of information to share with you. Debarkation was a nightmare. We took a nine day Mexican Riviera cruise out of San Diego on the Carnival spirit. Two nights (I believe) before we were to arrive in San Diego the ship experienced engine problems and we lost three hours. To try and speed up the process the crew offered what was called a self-assist debarkation process in which each guest was allowed to carry off their own luggage if they were able instead of being called by debarkation zones. For those who had an early flight, I being one of those people, there was to be a common meeting area and we where supposed to be escorted off of the ship in an attempt to make our scheduled flights. Several hundred of us gathered at the assigned location and waited for several hours for a Carnival representative to come and tell us it was time for us to go while the ship was being cleared by customs. Not a single Carnival employee arrived until after they had started letting guests off of the ship. Instead of being one person in a group of a couple of hundred trying to exit the ship I was one in a thousand lined up 4 deep from mid ship to the forward end of the vessel. Debarkation took a total of about four hours when we were led to believe it would be a relatively fast and painless process. During this time not one employee could give you a straight answer and not one employee of the ship had the same answer as the next. Due to this general lack of communication and organization among the ship's staff we missed our flight out of San Diego airport that is about five minutes from the pier at 12:30. We have spoken with Carnival who is paying for our ticket changes but that could have easily been avoided if the staff would have stuck to their plan and communicated a little bit. Debarkation was the only time that there was a carnival atmosphere on the ship.
We booked with Carnival because they were supposed to be the fun party ship line. If that is true I am afraid to book with any other cruise line. I am 28 and my wife is 27, and we were among some of the youngest adults on the ship, but oddly enough I felt our age group was the best behaved. I only encountered a couple of obnoxiously drunk people, each of which was middle-aged women who by all appearances were normally well respected professionals. There was nothing rowdy that we came across, nothing close to a bar atmosphere. More closely akin to going to a nice restaurant and coming across someone who had ordered too many drinks with dinner. Our cruise was in October so there were not many children running around either which was nice. The vast majority of the people on the ship were there to have fun.
The shows were great and had quite a bit of variety. Everything for late night R-rated comedy to karaoke challenges that were all very entertaining. The best thing about the shows is that there was always enough room for the people who came to see them. No excessive lines or a stampede mentality trying to find a seat.
The food was spectacular. The staff in the Empire Room dining area were very friendly and helpful even if the food there was no better than what was served in the La Playa Grill buffet. I was concerned about the seating assignments in the dining room but we had a great table and met two other fun couples that were our same age and we all seemed to have a good time at dinner. If you have the opportunity I recommend the supper club on the ship. They take care of you there; have a full wine list and a fabulous menu. In the supper club on our cruise they also had a small wine tasting and food-pairing event that was fun and informative.
The shore excursions were good but could have been much better. I don't believe that anyone affiliated with Carnival had any idea what each excursion was actually like. The ship had terrible maps of the cities that we visited so if you plan on getting out and doing your own tours of the cities, plan ahead. Nobody on the ship will be able to tell you anything.
We booked a category 11 stateroom that was great. The room had a shower and bathtub combo, a changing room and several closets and ample drawer space. The balcony was spacious and comfortable. Our room steward was very friendly and very attentive. We paged him on a couple of occasions and within a couple of minutes he was at our door.
Not once did we have any issues with any of the service staff. They were always there smiling -- friendly and willing to do what they could for you. The only thing that would steer me away from Carnival was the debarkation mess.