Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Spirit
Sailing Date: December 17th, 2003
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
Embarkation: Our only previous
cruise had been on the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas and the embarkation
process for that cruise had been awful, so we were expecting the worst. But we
were very pleasantly surprised. We arrived at the port at about 1PM and the
traffic at the port was ridiculous especially given that we were 1 of only 2
ships leaving out of Miami that day. Once we got to the port things went very
smoothly. We had filled out all of our boarding information in advance so were
brought right to the desk with only a minimal wait time. The staff here was very
friendly and efficient. We were then taken to get our room keys and before we
knew it we were on the ship at about 1:30. So already we were impressed.
The We knew that Carnival had the reputation of being full of neon lights but we had also heard that this ship was not like that, and it wasn't. The decor was quite gaudy and loud but also very interesting to look at. Overall we did like the decor of the ship, except for the overwhelming brown and orange colors, which we could have done without.
We then did an extensive tour of the ship and we impressed by the amount of different lounges and places to sit around the ship. We knew that we would never have to fight for a chair anywhere and this ended up being true. The only trouble we had was trying to get a seat at the pool on days at sea, since we happen to be late-risers. No worries, since we found that sitting on the upper decks facing the ocean provided us with a much more relaxing atmosphere.
The Pharoah's Palace which is where all the mjor entertainment took place, was terrific. The seats are arranged such that you never have to look over anyone's head, and there really is not a bad seat in the house. Below this was the Versailles Lounge where the karaoke took place nightly. As far as we could tell not much else took place in this lounge. There were several other lounges including the Shanghai Lounge which is piano bar as well as a sports bar which we did not check out. There is a disco which was the main hang-out for the teens on the ship so we did not hang out much here either. The casino was quite nice and spacious, not too obnoxious to walk through.
We heard that the ship was at full capacity and we did comment several times that we did not feel cramped wherever we went, so they deal with the crowds well. Our only complaint about the population was that there were tons of children horsing around in the pool so being in the pool during the day was not really an option for us. They really should have a separate kids-only pool as they do on some other ships. On the other hand, we knew what we were getting into, since this cruise was during the Christmas holidays.
The Room: Our room was really great and we had no complaints. We were upgraded to a balcony room and decided that we would never cruise again without having a balcony. The room was very spacious as Carnival had advertised. There was a television with some network channels. The bathroom was pretty standard and the shower was fine. We actually did not use our room shower much as early on in the cruise we had heard that in the spa they had these great 5-head showers. It really was terrific to head down there after a day in the sun, take a steam and a sauna, and then hop into this 5-head shower which was like getting a massage every day for free. Highly recommended.
Dining Room and Food: I would classify the food as good, but not great. Every morning we ate breakfast in the La Playa Grill which was the buffet. They did have a very good variety of food in the morning and they made fresh omelettes as well. For lunch we ate in the same place and the variety was good as well. They had food from different nationalities daily for lunch, as well as the staples in the rotisserie area. There was also a salad bar which I really enjoyed as well. If this was not enough there was also the deli counter where they made fresh sandwiches all the time, as well as the pizza bar which made excellent pizza. This was a very popular area and the guy at the counter said that they make about 400-500 pizzas a day!
Dinner was always in the Empire Room which was the main dining room. I had mostly seafood at night which was by far the best that they had to offer. The beef and chicken were just ok. The desserts could have been better as well. But if you like seafood you'll do well. The dining staff were very good though we did switch our original table because of unfriendly staff. It ended up working out for the best as Regino, our waiter, was a great guy and entertained us nightly. Our friends went one night to the Nouveau Supper Club which is by reservation only and costs 25$ per person. They said that it was the best meal they ever had, so this is highly recommended.
Entertainment: The entertainment was varied and good but I would say a notch below Royal Caribbean. There were 3 major "Las Vegas-style" shows with all the dance productions. There was a tribute show to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. which was good as well. There was also nightly comedy acts which most of the time was very entertaining. Our cruise director, Michael, we found a bit outdated and cheesy but I guess this comes with the territory. He had several social assistants who were excellent and full of energy.
Excursions: We decided not to pay for the ship excursions since they are always way over-priced and we like to explore on our own anyway. In St. Maarten we took a taxi to near the airport where there is a beach and a bar that are right next to the runway where the planes take-off and land. Incredible experience that is highly recommended as you could almost touch the planes right before they land while you are sitting on the beach. Just tell a taxi driver to take you to the Sunset Beach Bar and you will not be disappointed.
Our second stop was Barbados, and we decided that we would pay a taxi driver to take us around the island for the day which was a great experience as he took us through the back roads and we were able to see where the locals live and get a real idea of what Barbados was all about. You should not pay more than 100$ for this.
In Martinique, our third stop, it was only for about 5 hours so we decided to go to the beach. We took a ferry to a very secluded beach where there are several resorts and spent 2 hours basking in the sun.
Overall: We would highly recommend the Carnival Spirit and had a terrific vacation. If you do not have children, try to go during low season so it will be a bit quieter. Another reason why this was such a good itinerary is that it leaves during the week, so the Spirit is out of sync with the other ships, so that the ports are not as crowded as with other ships that leave on the weekend. Overall a great ship and we would definitely cruise with Carnival again.