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Copyright © 1995-2005 
Linda Coffman


Carnival Spirit
April 3, 2005

by Wayne Lundberg

Our second cruise on this same ship in six months. We are some thirty miles
off the coast of Baja, approaching Cabo San Lucas by tomorrow morning, and one day almost to the hour since leaving San Diego on the Carnival Spirit with over 3,000 souls on board. Two paying passengers per crew member. Advice to new and repeat cruise aficionados: A single factor worth repeating; it’s a matter of attitude. Go with the right attitude and any problem fades into insignificance. So I did what I preach in my management classes and pasted a smile on my face. I smiled at the Mexican family shouldering their way into the embarkation line, and they back off. I smiled at the security people and they were courteous. I smiled a broad greeting at the ticket counter clerk and got prompt, smiling attention in return.

Attitude = response. Show a smile, get a smile. Show patience, get service beyond the call of duty. So far. Hope I don’t have to edit this observation at a later date; after all, we are only into the eight-day trip by one eighth! This attitude thing was made quite easy a week before sailing when we opened a letter from Carnival Vacation Cub giving us our new cabin number… 5173, an upgrade from a window cabin to a balcony! And when we entered our cabin, a fine bottle of Merlot from Dickinson, the CEO himself, thanking me for my long letter of complaints from our experience with the Vacation Club fiasco. Being further resolved as I write. We had asked for early seating and when boarding we discovered it was late sitting. No problem, we went straight to the dining room and the maitre de asked if wanted to sit with a group or alone and the change was made in less than a minute.

Comfort, we are finding, is in the detail and not in the size. The ‘staterooms’ are as small as on the sales literature, to repeat a bit of humor by Todd, our first trip Tour Director. But then you discover your oversize suitcase really does fit under the bed, and there are enough drawers and closet space to accommodate all that junk we brought on board. 

The detail. Can’t turn on the shower hot water without having first turned on the cold. This is a wonderful feature especially since boiling-hot water is instantly available. I don’t know if by a nearby instant hot water heater, but most likely from continuously running water through the pipes in an effort to exchange engine cooling water to save on fuel costs which makes a lot of sense. Rather than spill engine coolant into the ocean, they chill it first by running it through our showers and sinks! Also, the tap water is distilled water so don’t buy expensive bottled water! (Note, if you open the bottle of water on the counter you will get a surprisingly large bill on your minibar account. Drink tap water!) 

And speaking of energy: I tried to trace the hydraulic fluid pumped by exercising machines in the Fitness Center into the engine room and failed. There are over 50 machines, most occupied by sweating, grunting, huffing and puffing people pouring their energy into these machines. The machines should be connected to generators and thus feed into the ship’s propulsion system! 

Tried to get onto the bridge but that feature is no longer available on cruise ships since 9/11, same with the engine room. No visitors allowed. Also, no shore visitors are allowed either. 

On our first trip on the Carnival Spirit I was outraged at the high prices one had to pay for a drink or a beer. So on this trip I drained a five quart box/bladder of wine over a few weeks before sailing. I then took the bladder out of the box, cleaned it, tested it, and poured a bottle of Scotch into the bladder which then went into my suitcase. Even if they use an x-ray to detect bottles, the bladder is invisible. So I smuggled a bottle of Scotch to enjoy a nightcap without paying a king’s ransom. My wife took her Mexican leather covered flask of Brandy and it went through the receiving machines with no problem. Many people we talked with during the cruise say that they never have had any problem bringing a bottle of hooch on board in their luggage.

There seem to be enough free activities to keep everybody who needs that kind of stimulation happy. During our first cruise we were quite content to simply explore, linger here and there, meet people, dance and occasionally do one of the activities. On this cruise my wife is going for broke in participating in as many activities as possible while I sit by a window in a comfortable chair and read Michener’s “Alaska”.

Back to the details. The bathroom: A roll of toilet paper at the ready and three more in plain sight waiting to be of service without hesitation. The  shower drain is backed up by a series of channels allowing excess water to bleed into another outlet thus preventing flooding on the deck. Where you could easily slip, fall and break your skull. Enough cantilevered glass bottomed trays hanging from both sides of the sink for all the goodies you ever thought of bringing. Mirrors everywhere, from above sink, to on dresser, to full length on the door. Enough to scare any Dracula into permanent hiding. The air conditioning control actually works! Turn it up a hair and instant reaction. No noise, no heavy duty relay kicking in and out every few minutes. Apparently controlled from outside monitoring incoming and outgoing air from each stateroom. Since the doors are watertight, the air inside must be pumped in and out. So the room is always fresh and at exactly the right temperature. Bedside lamps just enough light for your side to read by and move about at night, not enough to bother your mate while asleep. Of course there are no television programs worth watching, but enough ship videos of activities and engineering tours to satisfy my curiosity. But I’d still like to see the bridge!

Because we have a balcony, and because the main reason for our passion for the Mexican Riviera is to enjoy the tropical air, we left the door open all the time we were in the cabin. When the door is open, the air conditioning automatically shuts off. Again, quality is in this kind of detail. An ode to the toilet. It must be remembered that eating is the primary activity on a cruise ship. Continental breakfast at six overlooking the foaming wake of the ship in the twilight. Breakfast at around eight including fruits, ham, hash browns and a three-egg omelet, not counting the toast and whatever else you can load onto a tray… not plate, but tray. Then at ten, then at noon, then at mid afternoon, then dinner and lastly the midnight feast amidships. Where does all that food go?

Consider-–the human body can only digest and convert so many calories and nutrients into food for the body. The rest must be discharged. You have 3,000 some odd souls on board. The toilet on a cruise ship must be the most efficient and trouble-free piece of engineering on the whole ship. If toilets were allowed to clog, there would be another 500 plumbers on board to feed and entertain and the cost would be prohibitive. End of the cruise industry. The name on the toilet is simply “EVAC” surrounded by a simple logo. I have no idea where they are made, but if you have your legs pinched together and you push the Evac button you will be sucked into the bowl with no way to get out except to shove a tube between your legs to let the air into the vacuum. It takes one point seven seconds from push to full evacuation of anything in that toilet bowl. Anything!

I can imagine all that excrement going into a tank and further mechanical processes feeding oxygen into it as it is being stirred and stirred and stirred. The resulting methane gas must be in the tons and surely fed into the diesel engines or burners somewhere on the ship. There is no way for the amount of sewage to be dumped into the ocean without having the Green Peace people up in arms and the dolphins far, far away from the ships. No dolphins, fewer guests. Bad for business. I imagine the remaining sludge to be sold as cleaned, bagged manure at each port.

Closing in on Zihuatanejo we watched a school of dolphins surf on the bow waves of the ship. They had as much fun as we did in watching them. Yesterday was half a day in Acapulco and Melen was able to get into her magical Acapulco bay water and become a young girl again, without arthritic pain, free to move as she felt.

In Acapulco we got off the ship and walked a half mile south along the boulevard, returned to El Perico which we had discovered on our first trip, had our ceviche cocktails, shot of tequila, couple of beers, some lunch and ambled off a few yards to sit under the shade of an umbrella, paid your $2 rental fee, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon. The rest of the vacationers were on guided tours or chose to remain on board. Since we both speak Spanish we entertained ourselves by showing an interest in the few vendors walking the beach on this weekday. One lady in her mid forties approached and offered a massage. We quickly discovered she is a shaman, witch-doctor if you will, and dickered with her for two massages and spirit cleansing. She gave us her phone number Lucia, 74 41 33 31 97 and asked us to call ahead the next time and she and her apprentice daughter would be waiting for us for a repeat session. It was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable massages I have ever had and my wife says the same for her. Cost? $25 total for two, plus a $5 gratuity I was eager to pay.

My advice: Learn what you can about the places you will be stopping. Make contact with as many tour companies via Internet as you can. Ask friends. Play the newsgroups. Do things on you own! The tours are OK for the novice and the person who just wants to get a feel for things. And of course the Cruise Ship company will be promoting tours where they get a fair commission. I am learning that every trick in the book is being used to part me with my money.

The people... the Armenians on our first cruise were big, boisterous, loud and oblivious of the rest of us on the ship. They crashed lines, held heated arguments in the middle of the passageway without a care. On this cruise about half the passengers are Hispanic, mostly Mexicans who have done well in the US and now enjoying family reunions. They kept to themselves, were very polite, easily leaving space for others, easy smiles, gracious in their manner, the kind of people you’d like being round! Sit long enough in one place and somebody will sit nearby. A minute later you will make a comment or the other and a conversation will start.
“Nice day”
“Where are you from?”
And so it goes for as long as you can both stand the nothingness of the chat or until something really strikes you both and animation begins. Often the silence becomes oppressive and you find an excuse to move on. As chance often has it, you move to the stern only to find your ‘new-found’ friend already there.

Melen noted this is the perfect venue for a family reunion. Everybody can do as they see fit without getting lost in the shuffle. There are many family groups on this cruise. Grandparents reluctantly rolling strollers with babes down the isles as their ‘kids’ enjoy the Jacuzzi or??? But only infrequently as most family groups could be seen eating together, lounging by the pool, or just hanging out.

I think a cruise would be the perfect setting for a seminar. One took place on this cruise for a group studying mediation. Their fee was about $1,000 per person for the course, plus discounted group fees for the cruise. Like it or not you will be seated with the same bunch of people every night. If I were to make a suggestion to the cruise companies it would be to rotate tables thus giving us all a chance to meet other people. But then, I imagine most people like the security of having at least one predictable element to their daily life of adventures at sea and on land. (Since writing this in the middle of the cruise, I am now thankful for no rotation as we are getting to know some wonderful people and it’s good to have something sure, something known to look forward to other than your stateroom.) It was, in fact, a sad parting of the ways with our two LA area, fun-loving couple sharing the table with us.

Our shore tours were simply getting to shore, walking, taking a short boat ride to a quiet cove and dipping into the ocean blue as we did in Zihuatanejo. In Manzanillo we debated calling our cab driver from the past trip… the president of the local taxi cab association who had said he would make a special deal for anybody mentioning my name. Joel Andres Virgen Lopez, Cell. 044 (314) 10 305 28. – but instead found a shuttle service to downtown for $3 round trip and we took it. Our objective was to find something interesting in Manzanillo other than tourist traps. We found a typical Mexican restaurant in an old hotel, just a block from where the shuttle dropped us off. We spent the rest of the day there sipping Micheladas (Lime juice, beer, salt-rimmed glass, ice), munching Mexican appetizers, meeting other travelers from the Carnival Spirit with like minded love for authentic Mexico, and had a wonderful time. Our bar and food bill for the hours spent there was $18 US. The Director, Mr. Emilio Fernandez Lopez helped the waitresses and bus-boys with a smile on his face, answered questions and told us the story of the hotel. Hotel Colonial, corner of Fco. Bocanegra and Avenida Mexico, just a block south of the Western side of the Plaza. He promised to send me an email when his phone gets connected sometime ‘manana’ which means sometime in the future. We will be inviting our friends from Colima to join us there next October and will most likely call the Los Candiles (the hotel’s restaurant) to set up a special buffet for the occasion. I’ll be calling 01 314 332 10 80 or 332-06-68.

On the subject of FUN! What may be fun for some, cold be hell for others. What hell may be to some, could be fun for others. So our cruise ship offers a seemingly endless menu of activities, shows, and the like. But I have learned that I need to learn how to have fun. And I’m betting that I am not alone. After a lifetime of challenges it is difficult to wake up in the morning knowing there is nothing at all that must be done to bring bread and fish to the table. But the sense of having to do something, to be active in the quest for money and goods is buried within most of us. And retirement, or long vacations, brings this to the surface.

There must be half a dozen eager beaver professional cheer leaders of the crew who spend most of their time cajoling, encouraging, demanding and teaching us how to perform for one activity or other. The “Marriage Game”, dance contests, slot machine contests, are but a few examples. Then there is the full sized chess set, arts and crafts room, the library, casino, bars and lounges. Not to mention privacy in your own room with your personal playmate. There’s the Jacuzzis, four of them! The sauna, steam room, massage tables, 50 torture exercise machines and the endless sea. The shore tours either guided or on your own or with friends. The endless opportunity to shop and spend money. Evening shows and being waited on by professionals in the most elegant settings since the Titanic at prices within the reach of those of us who are not among the rich and famous. On this trip my wife was lucky enough to get selected to participate in the hypnotist act and after the show, and during the next few days, I learned what it is like to be the husband of a celebrity! Years ago she had both our children under hypnosis so she knows something abut it. On stage she showed herself to be the perfect subject and the hypnotist made the most of it. Toward the end, the last act was for the participants to believe they were belly dancers. Well, my wife, having been a professional belly dancer for 17 years, really let go, forgetting arthritis, and danced away making the audience go wild with applause and shouts, whistles and gypsy cries. She brought the house down! After that, almost everywhere we went she was met with smiles and questions “did you really go under?”, “what was it like?”, “do you remember anything?” – great fun!

Ship geography. There was no way in heaven or earth for us to have known how to decide the location of our stateroom. As chance would have it, we made out like bandits with no cops in town. Level 5 and three quarters aft,  just four levels from the munchies and fantail which became Melen’s querencia. (Querencia is that place a bull finds when entering the bull ring and chasing away the men in capes. Then returns after each attack. One point 6 minutes from room to lemonade, tea, munchies, coffee, chocolate, munchies, water, ice… Five minutes round trip to the Pharaoh’s Palace, the main theatre and meeting place for some shore excursions up near the bow of the ship. Never more than a thirty second wait for any elevator, ever! 

On the subject of FOOD. Twenty four hour Pizza was advertised, and fulfilled. Gourmet dinners were advertised and have lived up to their promise. Service is always with a smile and on a scale of one to ten, a ten. We always have two options for breakfast – on the Lido Deck or in the main dining room. Same for lunch and same for dinner. The main dining room menu has always had at least five selections for appetizers, two for salads, five for the main course and several desert choices. Lobster, Filet Mignon, Veal, Prime Rib, Tiger Shrimp, Pacific Salmon, Quail, Duck, and various very elegant pastas were enjoyed by the four of us at our small table. Our next table neighbors were seen refusing an occasional dish that did not suit them for whatever reason and I noticed it was exchanged with an apology and a winning smile by our waiter. I brought the bottle of Merlot to our table on the last night and Luka, our waiter promptly brought the four wine glasses and pulled the cork with grace and great smile, poured the sample for my wife, and then for the rest of us. On the formal night we received a bottle of chilled champagne compliments of the Vacation Club. A nice touch.

During my lifetime I have had the good fortune to dine at four and five star restaurants such as Anton’s in New Orleans, The Brown Palace in Denver, Tijuana’s Country Club, The Ritz Carlton, and the like. I am rating our dining on the Carnival Spirit at that level. Perhaps there is a more limited variety of things one could ask our waiters, but whatever is within their reach was made available to us with a simple request. Most often, they would make the offer and we would either accept or reject. To me, this is a sign of true quality.

On the Lido deck 9 there are 9 distinct mini-buffets, the fruit bar, pizza bar, four breakfast/lunch bars one specialty bar, one oriental bar and the hamburger/steak/hot dog bar. The quality is good, but the appeal seems to be for those who measure good food and eating by the “all you can eat” mindset. The specialty bar offered Mexican fare one day and other national favorites on other days. The oriental bar was never short of sushi, sauces, wont-ton soups, sweet & sour and the like. There is always an ample supply of iced tea, lemonade, orange juice, coffee, decaf, chocolate and ice. 

Some statistics. 2,400 passengers, among them are some 300 kids. A crew of 924 made up of people from over 70 countries speaking some 60 languages, all getting along just fine. Over half the crew are in food and beverage services from receiving product to cleaning up and everything in between. Crew members are recruited in Carnival Cruise offices all over the world, are sent to a four week Carnival University, then assigned to one ship or other for apprenticeship and then full crew status. They work six to seven months, then take a six-week vacation and if qualified, are assigned to another ship.

An observation: The inside cabins are dark and you never know when it’s daylight or night by looking. So on our first cruise we kept the TV on to the forward looking camera which provided enough light to keep from stumbling. On this cruise we had the drapes pulled open all the time and enjoyed the view! Jose and his helper, our cabin boys clean up and make the bed twice a day, once in the morning breakfast, and once during the evening meal. Mints and sculpted towel designs greeted us every night and were superb mood-lifters and smile-makers to end the day with. They also made it impossible for us to tell the purser to lower the $80 per person tip as ‘suggested’ on our bill. What with Luka and his assistant, the other servers and crew, we got our money’s worth, and more.