by George Smart and
Number of Cruises: 16
Occupations: Leadership Development Consultant & University
A fabulous cruise!
The ship: Carnival's
refreshing departure from neon and chrome to inlaid wood makes for a
new level of affordable and fun elegance.
The ports: amazing Central
America, especially Belize, should be on everyone's must-see list.
The staff: unusually helpful, due in part to leadership by cruise
director Amy Van Wyk and a easy-going affable Captain, Pier Paolo
The first of many changes we noticed (see
list below) was the ship's official name on our initial Carnival
Caper newsletter. It's now called the DeAz/s Spirit. This stands for
Diesel Engine Azipod Ship, a new propulsion technology for greater
speed and more efficient fuel use. In addition, there are two
stabilizers to make sea trips more steady. Unfortunately during
three days of our eight they were broken. We rocked and rolled but
not so much that we got sick.
Carnival's Spirit was built in 2001 as a new
class prototype. The Carnival Legend and the Costa Atlantica are
carbon copies. As usual, most of the crew are from countries such as
Croatia, Indonesia, the Philippines, various former Soviet
republics, and Romania. The ship's navigational and engineering
staff, including the Captain, are Italian. Social hosts are from the
US, Australia, and the UK.
Definitely take a taxi to and from the Miami
airport; it is way cheaper per person and much faster than the
Carnival bus. Plus you don't have the long waits for other
passengers, their bags, and the chaos involved getting on and off
the ship. $18 for a cabful to or from the airport. If you get to
Miami the day before, South Beach is a wild night among the pierced,
tattooed, chic, barely clothed, and international crowd. Be sure to
have breakfast at the News Cafe where movie stars frequently start
their day. Although Carnival says embarkation starts at 1:30, get
there by 11:30 and you'll be on by 12. Head for lunch on the Lido
deck as your room will not be ready until 1:30. To save time, be
sure to complete all paperwork before getting to port.
With an adult soda card, get all the soda
you want, a great savings over buying them one by one for $3. The
card costs $39/adult for a 8 day cruise. Buy one the first day. We
drank 4-6 sodas a day each saving over $100. There are cards for
kids, too, at a lower price. The 24/7 pizza/salads/ice cream/yogurt
are universal hits. They also serve calzones and chicken Caesar salads on request, as well as some non-mainstream but delicious pizza
(like goat cheese). Mildly amusing: the daytime pizza guy acts like
the "Soup Nazi" on Seinfeld. Stand in the wrong place, ask
for the wrong thing - no pizza for you! Dinner in the Empire Dining
Room was consistently well-prepared, interesting, well-presented,
and delicious. We loved the soups (pumpkin is not to be missed). The
very best food and service yet on a Carnival ship.
The Nouveau Supper Club ($25 a person) is
Carnival's experiment in "premium" dining. Although
skeptical at first, we were won over. The service is impeccable as
are the seven courses you'll receive. Be warned, though. Hustle up
there FIRST THING to get the time and day you want for that special
romantic dinner. Good times sell out quickly. And come hungry - this
is not a dining experience for the timid of appetite. A very minor
thing... sparkling water offered before the meal is not free, we
In Belize, the most popular tour in the
country is the Cave Tubing (around $85), an astonishing day trip
down an underground river. Panama's tours vary between visiting the
Canal ($80) and actually going through the locks ($155). We chose
the latter and it was well worth it. Costa Rica's port is as yet
unimpressive but any tour to the rain forest will be exciting.
Panama's port shopping and Free Zone shopping is second only to the
deals in St. Maarten (which you won't be visiting on the Western
itinerary). Book all your tours IMMEDIATELY upon getting on board.
On the Ship
Our cabin (Panorama 8186) was a treat. Lots
of room, as in most Carnival ships, and spotless. Spirit's
elevators, toilets, lights, and other systems always worked.
Breakfast in the cabin is a wonderful way to wake up. Salmon,
bagels, fruit, cereal, coffee, tea, and breads brought to your door
starts the day off right. Breakfast is also served up on the Lido
deck and in the main restaurant, Empire.
Lunch is standard fare except for the NY
Deli which featured delicious Reuben and roast beef sandwiches. Lunch and
dinner are on the Lido deck and in both restaurants. You'll wait
5-10 minutes at most stations. At dinner, all the fun flaming
desserts (Cherries Jubilee, Baked Alaska, etc.) are no longer served
"hot" due to past accidents (glad we weren't at those
tables!). Best value? The wine markup is much less than landside
restaurants. You can get many good ones (try the Chateau St
Michelle) for under $20.
The most romantic spot is up by the mid-ship
white navigational "ball". Hike up there late on a
moonlight night and have a nearly 360 view of the ship and ocean.
There are hot tubs everywhere. The "adults only" tub aft
always had a kid in it during the day. The spa tub had no kids and
was almost always empty. Despite Carnival's rules, people still save
chairs on deck, which irritates us no end. Get on deck by 9am if
you want a chair near the pool.
The gym/spa features workout machines
everywhere, a hot tub, separate wet and dry saunas for men and
women, an aerobics studio on the second level (it's that big!),
massage rooms, a hair salon, and locker rooms with five-head showers
(gotta do these at least once). Want to indulge cheaply? Try the
mind-numbing (in a good way) 45-minute Indian Scalp Massage in port
or the last day when it's on sale for $44.
Carnival "taxes" your shipboard
Sign and Sail card $10 per person per day for tips which be changed
at the purser's desk. The Maitre'd has to be tipped separately. Ours
did nothing special. He primarily made announcements and introduced
the wait staff entertainment (which had us on our feet, especially
the new "Ketchup Song" and the venerable
Cruise Director Amy Van Wyk should be on
Broadway, not on a mere cruise ship. She has a stunning stage
presence singing and dancing, having started as a Carnival dancer
since the early 90's. Amy became a CD in the last year, first on the
Imagination. In the role of performer she's a pure knockout. In the
role of emcee, however, loosening up would really help her natural
charm come to the surface. The over-gestures and big winks that make
her performances so compelling look artificial when just chatting
from stage. Her recommendations for a happy cruise? Bring a pair of
old shoes you can get dirty on excursions, book your special events
early, and read the fine print. Carnival will not trick you (we
found them to be very forthright) but there are policies and rules
for everything, especially refunds.
Amy and asst CD Skippy from Australia do an
informative "morning show" on TV each day. This innovative
program, the only one in the fleet, gives timely data on the day's
events, ports, changes, and charges. Watching will save you time
calling the Purser's office with questions they've heard a zillion
Finally, we loved the big band Spirit
Orchestra and encourage Amy to have them play outside a few times
for dancing on deck!
Not So Great
The waterslide is fun for kids but DANGEROUS
for adult males. George was one of many guys who hit their heads in
the last curve on the way down. Almost knocked him out. Carnival
should have this slide open only for those under 130 pounds.
Stupid reached new heights during the
Farewell Show. Its stars, the aptly-named Village Idiots, should
have been thrown off the ship in the first five minutes.
At the casino, there is no easy money. You
only choose how much to donate. Play Bingo the last day for the free
cruise. Otherwise, unless you're bored, Bingo is a waste of money.
There are also Scratch-off Lotto cards for a buck. Carnival makes a
mint on these. We NEVER heard of anyone winning.
At the Captain's Welcome, you don't get your
picture taken with him unless you take it yourself. You'll only
shake his hand if you happen to be in line when he is, which is only
for about half an hour.
At the Asian Station (Lido deck), the sushi
is either overcooked or vegetarian. Although this "saves"
us from the perils of eating raw fish, this sushi was awful, truly
awful. We heard from others that the Nouveau Supper Club's sushi was
the real thing and quite good.
The Photo staff is talented and friendly but
overworked due to their crazy scheduling. Let 'em sleep, Carnival!
Haven't Been on a Fun Ship in a While? There
are many changes:
1. Wired? Fees for using the Internet are
cheaper by 25% from a year ago.
2. Big gambler? Join Carnival's Ocean
Players club to rack up points for comps for your next cruise. The
casino now charges a 3% fee to buy chips on the Sign and Sail card.
3. Group gym classes like aerobics and
kickboxing, formerly free, are now $10 each.
4. Like those little contests on board? With
a few exceptions, you'll only win the infamously cheesy "ship
on a stick" (not even worth bringing home).
5. There are minibars in many rooms but
you'll still pay a "restocking fee" of 15% for pouring
your own. The good news is that alcohol prices are the same as at
the ship bars - no surcharges as in many hotels.
6. At some ports, especially tender ports,
Carnival issues disembarking numbers to avoid long lines.
7. No more free pool towels. You're on the
hook for the blue Carnival beach towel in your cabin. Lose it and
pay $22. Leave it on the cabin floor, however, and you'll get a
fresh one in a few hours!
8. Getting off in Miami was fast given all
the new security, immigration, and customs procedures.
9. Wanna get hitched? There's a wedding
chapel on board. Weddings happen in port before shoving off so Uncle
Ed and Aunt Verna can attend without going on a cruise. In recovery?
The chapel also aptly doubles as an AA meeting once a day.