Richard G. Alexander
Number of Cruises: 51
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Spirit
Sailing Date: March 30th, 2004
Itinerary: Miami to San Diego
There are faster and less expensive ways of getting from Miami to San Diego, but they probably are not as interesting as using the Carnival Spirit as your prime mode of transportation. In the years following retirement, I have done about fifty cruises, averaging about five cruises a year, due in part to the fact that my house mate gave up cooking about the same time as I gave up working. We are now in the process of converting the kitchen stove into a planter for displaying four pots of geraniums, so another cruise seemed to be in order.
It really didn’t matter where we were going since the main object was to break up the regular routine of Florida condo living. I’m reasonably sure that my e-mail address has now been sold or traded to every travel agency, air line, pharmacy and cruise line on the planet, so it wasn’t difficult to find a reasonably priced cruise of about two weeks in length.
An on line agency offered a balcony cabin on the Carnival Spirit leaving Miami on March 30th with scheduled stops, first in Columbia and then Costa Rica and the Mexican Riviera after transversing the Panama canal. I had to schedule the flight back from San Diego myself, but this was no problem since even the smaller airlines have pretty good web sites that even the elderly can navigate.
This voyage turned out to be a repositioning cruise to move the Carnival Spirit from Miami to the west coast so that she could compete with the other lines for the Hawaii and Alaska runs. Since the Spirit will not be doing this same itinerary again for a long period of time, I shall not linger on descriptions of the ports of call, but try to concentrate on the Carnival Spirit itself for the benefit of those who may be considering a cruise vacation and want a general idea of what to expect aboard the ship.
Getting aboard wasn’t bad at all compared to some of my other experiences. The ship’s photographer is right there, stationed at a point where you must pass to reach the gangway. I used to feel bad about the waste of film since I very rarely buy photographs of myself following an exhausting plane or bus ride to the dock, but I don’t care any more. The camera is now digital and if they want to waste the photo paper, so be it. Be prepared for a shock when you enter the ship. At first I thought we had taken the wrong route and were checking into the Circus Circus in Las Vegas. Talk about gaudy. The decor of the Spirit will be the subject of conversation for however long you will be on the ship. It is a bit overwhelming, but you get accustomed to it in time. In defense of Carnival, it isn’t your permanent home and if you had a choice of garish or sombre for a week or so, you might choose the former although I always expected to see acrobats performing in the atrium or clowns handing out balloons.
The Spirit Atrium is the center of activity for the ship. The glass elevators face the Atrium bar centered between two fancy staircases leading to deck three. Behind the bar is a small stage where piano music was played throughout the cruise. Both the Purser’s desk and tour desk are located in this area. Across the atrium from these desks are assorted chairs and sofas where you can sit, drink, and stare at the water through large windows..
The cabins are reasonably large by cruise ship standards. When you first enter the cabin, you encounter three closets in a small hall. The first two are full hanging closets and the third has shelves.. The bathroom is on the other side of the entry. It is slightly less garish than most of the ship, but tries to compete with a dark blue floor and aqua trim and an aqua counter and sink. It has a reasonably large shower for a cruise ship, with shampoo and body soap dispensers. The toilet is the usual vacuum type which operates with a loud whoosh. Ours has a stronger than average smell.
The main part of the cabin consists of a three-person sofa with storage drawers, and an adjustable height table. The beds were a bit too firm for my liking, but that is a matter of personal preference and for 16 nights it’s no big deal.. There is a long built in combination dressing table, chest of drawers, and shelving unit. In this unit you will find the refrigerator, a 19 inch color TV and a safe. The safe uses any credit type card with a magnetic strip as the combination. Don’t use your cruise card. It will work but will the key cards used by the staff work too? Note: I have never encountered a dishonest cruise employee nor do I know of anybody who has.
Each evening we found a different towel animal creation lounging on our beds. We were never sure exactly what kind of animal we had, but it was fun anyway and went well with the circus decor. Did I mention that the rug was orange and the wall trim was coral? Each cabin has its own thermostat to set it to your personal comfort level.
I find it very difficult to evaluate the food on any cruise ship. First of all I am very easy to please. I eat almost everything and the dining room waiter was most accommodating. I ordered a combination of appetizers and if a particular vegetable that I wanted was served with a different entree than that which I ordered, the change presented no problem. I mentioned once that the Caesar salad really should have anchovies, and not only did the anchovies appear within seconds, every subsequent time that I ordered Caesar salad a small plate of anchovies arrived with it, Not every dish was a gourmet wonder, but how could you not find good things to eat for two weeks? There was a New York style deli counter, a Chinese counter, a Mexican counter, a rotisserie counter, etc. all on the upper deck if the formal dining room was not to your liking. Pizza was usually available as was a soft ice cream machine.
Unfortunately, many of things that other ships have gratis are extra on the Spirit. If you stop at the coffee bar between meals, a cup of cappuccino will set you back $3.25. Movies in your cabin are “pay per view” and shore excursions are far from cheap. Bingo and scratch off tickets are constantly pushed and the casino is a big money maker with practically all the machines and tables occupied at all times. I know how to avoid gambling if I care to, but I resent the layout that forces you to walk through the casino. I happen to be one of those non smokers that find a room full of smoke offensive. The dining room is at the aft end of deck two, and the Pharaohs Palace where the shows and lectures take place is at the other end. The casino, where smoking is permitted, is strategically located midships so that if you plan to see the evening entertainment after dinner, you either gasp your way through the casino smoke, or go up a deck and then down again to the theater.
Incidentally, the shows are excellent as is the Spirit band.
Carnival has always had a reputation for excellent Las Vegas type reviews and the Carnival Spirit is no exception. The members of the ten piece band met for the first time on the day that we sailed, and by the following day they were a smooth cohesive group.
The cruise director was Michael Mullane who was assisted throughout most of the cruise by his wife, Jeni. From the first night welcoming speech it was easy to see that Jeni, who participated in a little clowning around, was a trained dancer. On the second night out she did a solo dance routine that I can only describe as either modern dance or high energy dancing or something in between. I found it to be the best four minutes of the entertainment. I did obtain her e-mail address but neglected to get permission to publish it. However, if you do take a Carnival cruise, be sure to check her out. It’s possible that my judgment is clouded by the fact that she is an attractive young lady and I am a dirty old man. Anyway, they are leaving the Spirit for another assignment so the information is useless