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Carnival Spirit
December 24, 2007

by Tara Jacobs

This was our first Carnival cruise and third cruise overall. We have previously sailed Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. We chose this cruise because it was an 8-night cruise that covered both Christmas and New Years and seemed like a fun way to celebrate both holidays while trying out a new cruise line. 

We stayed at the Best Western Bayside Inn in San Diego, which is about 5-6 blocks from the pier. It is in walking distance to Little Italy, a fab locale for dinner the night before embarkation. The hotel offers a shuttle to the cruise port, making it a very convenient location.

The hotel shuttle dropped us off at 11:55 am, and we were all checked in and on the ship by 12:25. It was an easy and quick process. Our cabins were not supposed to be ready until 1:30 pm, but there were a lot of people already on the ship, just like us. We spent the hour walking around the ship, fixing a plate from the buffet, and just enjoying the sunshine on the Lido Deck (we had left Seattle the day before where it was 42 degrees and raining pretty much the entire week prior).

We had booked a BL Guarantee cabin and were assigned to an 8D, and happy with that! We received our cabin assignment 54 days before embarkation. I found out by going on to the Carnival website to see where we were assigned. Our cabin was a starboard aft balcony – 6285 (deck 6). The size was comparable to Royal’s balcony staterooms, so no surprises with that. The primary surprise and disappointment was that the mini bar had not been cleaned out after the last guests stayed in the cabin, so we opened it to find their leftover dessert, yogurt, and chocolate milk. We asked that the mini bar be cleaned out. It was cleaned out the next day, but then locked. It took three more phone calls to the cabin steward, and then finally to the purser’s desk to get someone to unlock it for us. The other issue with the cabin was that on the morning of Day 2 (our first morning on the ship) when I went to take a shower, there was a wad of hair and an old, used bar of soap lying in the shower drain. How gross! So, either they had just not cleaned the shower at all, or they just didn’t finish it (just like they didn’t clean out the mini bar). We had to beg (by hitting the Cabin Steward button on the phone, and then negotiating) to receive new beach towels each day, as new clean ones were not replenished in our cabin after the used ones were removed. I forgot to mention that we never even met our cabin steward; he or she never introduced him/herself, and though we saw employees in our hallway, no one ever spoke to us. That seemed very bizarre since we wanted to thank someone for the great towel animals we received each night! 

The Ship:
Carnival Spirit was a nice-sized ship, and though we sailed over the holidays, it was still fairly easy to find some quiet public areas to sit alone and chat, read a book, or even nap. The décor however was very gaudy (but who really cares about that anyway?) and reminded us of the old casinos in downtown Las Vegas. The signage was in neon lights above doorways and just seemed like an odd theme to have on an otherwise beautiful ship. The ship was decorated with holiday décor here and there, but I honestly forgot it was holiday time during this cruise because it just didn’t seem noticeable. There just wasn’t a very big holiday impact, and for some people that’s a good thing, while others should know this in advance and perhaps bring some cabin decorations or something as a reminder of the time of year. The New Year’s Eve party on the Lido Deck was fun, fun, fun with a live band, hats, and party favors!

The food in the dining room was very good most nights, but it was inconsistent. We were at a table for 6, and some of us had rubbery lobster, while some of us had good lobster. Some of us had thick chocolate melting cake, while some of us had runny chocolate melting cake. The dishes just seemed inconsistent from plate to plate, but overall, the variety of choices was very good. We ate at the Nouveau Supper Club one evening and I must say that it was the HIGHLIGHT of the cruise! The ambience, décor, and style really created a romantic environment where I felt like I was on a different ship! We were seated upstairs along the railing where we could see the live music down below (very soothing music, by the way). The 5-course meal included 2 additional surprise complements from the chef, so I guess you could say it was really a 7-course meal. The food was EXCELLENT!  

The food in the La Playa Grill (the buffet) was good, but got pretty old after about Day 3. The 24-hour pizzeria was not good at all. We looooove pizza, and tried it 3-4 times in hopes that it would get better, but it just didn’t. The pizza lacked cheese, neither of us cared for the corn crust (seemed like a giant English muffin), and the toppings were lacking. What we did really enjoy was the 24-hour ice cream though. My husband probably had ice cream every day, and I just nibbled on his. The Carnival Spirit also offered a sushi cart on most nights for a few hours, and that was goooood stuff! The chef made it to order, so if you didn’t arrive right when the sushi cart opened at 5:30 pm, you could have a 20-minute wait just for a couple of pieces of sushi. 

We ordered room service a couple of times for a late afternoon snack right before our daily nap. The room service menu was quite good even though there were no hot food items. I ordered a wrap both times, while my husband ordered a sandwich that they completely messed up (so he didn’t eat it at all), but the menu itself is good and offers a variety of options.   

What a disappointment. We did not enjoy the Spirit dancers. That just bores us. We went to the comedian (David Say) twice – once for his G-rated show and once for his R-rated show. They were ok. We also saw the hypnotist, who was average. We’ve seen several other hypnotists at other events, and this show just wasn’t as funny as we expected it would be. None of the other featured entertainers on the schedule interested us, so we didn’t see any other entertainment. We had wanted to see the magician/comedian combo (not David Say) that was planned for another night, but that comedian didn’t make it onto the ship due to missing a flight connection. So, some shows were moved around. We DID enjoy Legends, however, and one of our FUN dinner mates was “Madonna” in the show. If you get a chance to watch Legends on your last night, do it!

We ventured into the Disco Dancin’ Club on the first night and were disappointed to find that it was not an over-21 club. It was an over-18 club, but Carnival was not enforcing the age rule. It just wasn’t much fun dancing next to 16-year-olds who seemed to be taking over the club. We tried it again the second night, but the same thing happened, so we left after giving it about an hour of our time. The Versailles Lounge had a nightly live band playing which was pretty good. The age there is much older – closer to 60+. Because of that, the music tended to be Beach Boys or other songs from the 1950s and 1960s. We are a late 30s couple, so we had a tough time finding the right night spot for us. We did spend one late evening in the Shanghai Bar where a pianist took requests and played until about midnight or so each night. That was fun, however, the night we were there, we were the only couple for about an hour, and it never filled up to more than about 8-9 people.

Ports of Call:

Acapulco – We took a cab to Playa Caleta beach as recommended by someone on Cruise Critic. That was a horrible mistake this time of year. We had never seen so many bodies trying to stuff themselves on a public beach all at the same time. It was a miserable location, but we decided that it was mostly because December ushers in a 3-week Mexican holiday vacation for locals, and they all go to the beach! If we go to Acapulco again, we will try this beach again, but not in December. Trust me, don’t go in December! Instead, spend your money on a paid excursion where you are guaranteed a spot on the beach in a lounge chair.

In the evening, we went on the Cliff Divers Delight excursion. The tour was overbooked, and there were a lot of unhappy cruisers. We had 5 buses of 60 people each, so they stuffed 300 of us at the restaurant, which was overwhelming for the servers. We were told we could order dinner there, but once we arrived, the restaurant said their kitchen was so busy that it would take 45 minutes to get a meal. So, to our disappointment, we didn’t get to order dinner. The place was so crowded that some people didn’t even get to sit down. We were told that they later complained to Carnival and got full refunds for this excursion. We felt fortunate to have gotten two chairs, though no table. The diving show itself was pretty cool, though over very quickly.   

Zihuatenejo – We took a water taxi over to Los Gatos beach as recommended by several on Cruise Critic. Again, there was an overwhelming number of locals who were there to spend a day of vacation, and there was very little sand available to stretch out. The closeness of our bodies to our “neighbors” was really surprising, but it was just so packed there that it was hard to enjoy. Again, we wouldn’t go to a beach in that area again in December unless we were on a paid shore excursion. 

Manzanillo – This was probably the best shore excursion we have ever taken. We did the Cuyutlan Turtle Experience where we were taken by bus to a turtle sanctuary. Once there, we watched an educational video, took a tour of the various turtle tanks to see turtles in different stages of their lives, saw iguanas and crocodiles, then got to release day-old turtles into the ocean. It was an amazing feeling to do something like that (NOTE – We were told by the tour guide that turtles are only released from April – sometime in January.) Immediately afterward, we took a canoe tour through a lagoon, but didn’t see anything other than birds. At that point, we would have been much happier if the excursion would have just ended. Instead, we boarded the buses and went to an awful hotel (called Maria Victoria) where we were served a Mexican buffet (but they did not have enough food for everyone; people took more than they needed, so those of us at the end of the line didn’t get all options), and told we could use the pool and the adjacent beach. The pool was very small and overrun with children who were likely staying at the hotel with their families (so of course they were in the pool), so we opted for the beach. We found an umbrella and chaise lounge, but were promptly asked for $8 for the use of the umbrella. Since we only had about an hour and a half left there, it just didn’t seem to make sense to pay $8 for an umbrella for 90 minutes. Again, stay away from the Mexican beaches in December unless you are on an excursion where you get your own private area included! 

Gift Shop Purchase (Liquor):
Once back on the ship, we purchased a special in the Gift Shop – 4 bottles of flavored Cruzan Rum for $28.95. Yum! The Carnival Gift Shop advertisement said that the liquor purchases would be packaged securely for checking in airline baggage, and since we flew from Seattle, it was imperative that these bottles be packaged as such. When we went to the gift shop, we even talked to the personnel about it to make sure it would be packaged securely, and we were assured that they do this all the time. Well, guess what? After we had arrived to the San Diego airport on disembarkation day, my name was paged and I was asked to go to the Alaska Airlines ticket counter (after I had already gone through security and was sitting at the gate). I went back to the ticket counter where a very nice Alaska Air employee explained to me that my luggage had arrived to them from Carnival, but that 3 out of 4 bottles had broken inside my luggage, there was glass filling my suitcase (along with the rum) soaking my clothes, and that it further was spilling out onto other passengers’ luggage! I offered to clean it up, but the employee had already done what she could to clean out a bunch of the glass and try to re-pack my suitcase of wet and stained clothing. She really just wanted me to know that this had all happened while my luggage was in transit from the Carnival cruise ship to the airport, before my luggage even made it on to the plane, so I wouldn’t be surprised when I retrieved my luggage in Seattle and saw all of the damage. My suitcase is completely destroyed, stained, soaked with rum, and is unusable. I have 7 items (could have been worse!) of clothing and a toiletries bag that are permanently stained. My goal now is to resolve this with Carnival since they “guaranteed” these items to be packed securely for checked baggage, and obtain some sort of fair reimbursement for my luggage, clothing, and my purchase that I did not receive. UPDATE--Carnival is unwilling to take responsibility. They will not honor their guarantee to package items from the Gift Shop for airline checked baggage. I am now working with my credit card company and travel insurance.

I purchased a Port Day Special scheduled for the morning we arrived in Acapulco. I chose the Lime & Ginger Salt Scrub followed by the Full Body Massage. I probably get this combo about 5-6 times per year at various spas while on vacation or locally in Seattle. It’s my absolute favorite! However, this was one of my least favorite experiences. The spa on Spirit is nice, feels like a relaxing ambiance, the staff is very friendly, consistently smiling, and just appears to be a nice place to spend some time. The particular treatment I chose, however, just wasn’t up to par. My massage therapist felt more like she was just running her hands on my body. The scrub itself only happened on the front of my body, while my back wasn’t touched. That’s the first time I’ve had a scrub where my back wasn’t scrubbed at all. If it weren’t for that, I could probably get over the fact that my therapist just didn’t massage hard enough, but since the “special” still cost $159 before gratuity, I really should have received a full body scrub, not just on my front. I didn’t see anything that said the scrub was only for the front portion of a body!

Luggage Express:
This is a new program of Carnival where they will check you in with your airline, take your luggage, and you never see it until you land in your final destination. The great thing is that you get to bypass the check-in/ticketing process because Carnival does all of that on your behalf. The night before you disembark, you will receive your airline boarding passes and luggage tags, saving you time the next morning at the airport. We really liked this offering, and if it weren’t for the destroyed luggage and contents (total damage is $545), it would have made our trip home super easy and uneventful.  

The process started at 8:30 a.m. as planned, and we were called at 9 a.m. because we were part of the Luggage Express group.  We were off the ship by 9:03 am, grabbed a waiting shuttle, and were literally inside the airport by 9:17 am.

In Summary:
Overall, this was a fun cruise, but mostly because we really enjoyed our Cruise Critic Roll Call members, our dinner mates each night, and the fun my husband and I have when we travel together. We typically don’t let minor annoyances impact our travels, but there were a LOT of little things here and there -- the inconsistent food, lack of cleanliness in our cabin initially, and in the eateries, tables not being cleaned up for hours, dishes left in the hallways for hours, and lack of good stateroom service. The kicker is that Carnival won’t honor their gift packaging guarantee, and I guess that’s a big thing as opposed to a little annoyance. This will make us think twice about cruising Carnival again. Never say never… but it would have to be almost free on an excellent itinerary for us to choose Carnival over Royal Caribbean next time around.

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