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Joanne Smith

Age: n/a

Occupation:Administrative Assistant

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Spirit

Sailing Date: March 8th, 2003

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

MURRAY & JOANNE SMITH & FAMILY
[Meghan, Shannon, Tamara & Chad]

CARNIVAL SPIRIT

# of Cruises: Murray (50) & Joanne (43); 4th cruise; Shannon (18), Tamara (17) & Chad (15-turned 16 on cruise) 2nd cruise; Meghan (21) 1st cruise
Date: March 8-March 16, 2003
8-day Exotic Southern Caribbean

1. Preliminary Research:
Before deciding on this particular cruise, we compared 4 cruise lines sailing the Caribbean during March break. Our choices were Carnival, NCL, RCI & Princess. Murray & I have cruised on three ships; Carnival Sensation (September 2000), Norwegian Sky (with Shannon, Tamara & Chad in March 2001), and Carnival Destiny (in September 2001), and we wanted to sail on a different ship and wanted at least one new port. I then compiled a detailed listing of the top 15 ships, including itinerary, a brief overview of the ship (including sport activities, disco, dining, and other notes of interest), and instructed the kids to go to the pertinent websites, look at some cruise review sites, and also to look at some 360 virtual tours on www.mytravelco.com. After much research, the families’ priorities varied, and we were left with the top 5 cruises. Our final decision was based on price and itinerary and we booked the cruise in April 2002.

2. Pre-Cruise & Embarkation:
We booked the Carnival Fly-Aweigh program and on Friday, March 7th, we flew from London, Ontario, to Toronto, and changed planes to Miami. Weather was cold, but clear when we left. At Miami airport, we found a Carnival rep who escorted us to the shuttle area which took us to the Wyndham Miami Airport Hotel (www.wyndham.com). The hotel is close to the airport (0.25 miles), has an outdoor swimming pool, fitness centre, and a bar with pool tables ($1 to play pool). Each room is equipped with t.v., coffee maker, hair dryer, iron and ironing board. The kids’s rooms on the 4th floor also had mini-fridges. Pre-registration for all the Carnival guests was held in the hotel (5:00-7:30 p.m.), so the next day we didn’t have to line up at the pier. After pre-registering, we took a taxi van to The Olive Garden for dinner and had a great time. Getting back to the hotel was a bit more difficult as we had to wait almost 2 hours to get a taxi. Taxis must hang around the airport or South Beach on Friday nights, as we didn’t even see one on the road in front of the restaurant.

The next morning, Saturday, March 8th, we were told to put our checked luggage outside on the curb before 10:00 a.m., and that the shuttle to the pier would arrive at noon. Because of the large number of Carnival guests staying at the hotel (3 ships), another pre-registration was held that morning. After depositing our luggage and having it stamped by a Customs agent, we went for breakfast at the hotel restaurant. The hotel restaurant, Tamarind, is a bit pricey (buffet breakfast @ $96 for 6 people!), but there really aren’t any other restaurants nearby, so we didn’t have much of a choice. Then we waited for the shuttle to the pier, and waited, and waited, and waited.... Finally, the shuttles came. Apparently, there was a hold-up at the port for the last ship to be cleared, and the same shuttles are used by those departing as those arriving. By the time we got to the pier, there were no line-ups, and we just whisked through, got our Sign and Sail cards, our photo taken for boarding and posed for our Embarkation photo. We were on the ship at 3:00 p.m. (Just an hour before sailing!) After signing up for the shore excursions, we rushed to get our life jackets for the muster drill. As we were doing the muster drill, some people were still boarding the ship, so we didn’t actually sail at 4:00 p.m. – it was closer to 5:00 p.m.

The Port of Miami was very busy 7 ships in port: RCI’s Explorer and Voyageur of the Seas, NCL’s Sun and Dawn, Carnival’s Inspiration, Triumph and of course the Spirit. On the other side of the pier was another RCI ship (Monarch of the Seas, I believe). When we left the port, the people on-board the Triumph yelled and waved at us as we passed, and of course we did the same. This was a really great send-off. We were on our way, with the drink of the day in hand!

3. Cabin Accommodations:
We had originally booked 2 inside (Cat. 4A) and an oceanview cabin (Cat. 6A), on the Riviera deck. Three weeks prior to sailing, we were all up-graded to balcony cabins (Cat. 8A) on the Promenade deck (7120, 7124 & 7128), which were located on the starboard side next door to each other. That was a nice surprise! Each room had 2 twin beds (which could be made up to a double bed), with a small night stand and lamp for each bed. Each night stand opens and has a small area to hold items. There was also a pull-out couch with a small table in front of it. Under the pull-out couch are extra pillows. There is a safe in the room, and you can use your Sail & Sign card to activate it (you don’t need a credit card). There is also a small bar fridge, and you can get the key from your Cabin Stewart. If you move some items around in the fridge, you can put some of your own pop, candy, etc. in the fridge. Lots of cupboard space (3 sets of cupboards – 2 for hanging your clothes and the other with shelving), 3 drawers, and another area with shelves. There is stationery and a pen in the top desk drawer, with a large mirror above this. Suitcases can be stored under the beds to take up less room. There is a t.v., phone, ice bucket and glasses. You should change the message on your phone as soon as you get in your room. Outside each cabin is a mailbox where your Carnival Capers (cruise newsletter) is placed, plus any other items (such as invitations to past guest parties).

The balcony had 1 lounger, 1 regular chair, and a small table – nothing fancy – all white plastic. Balcony cabins also have complimentary bath robes.

The bathroom had complimentary amenities. In the shower area, there is a shower gel and shampoo dispenser. There is a magnifying mirror affixed to the wall, and there is an expanding clothesline in the shower area. A hair dryer is in the top drawer of a chest of drawers near the main mirror (not in the bathroom). The hair dryer cannot be moved from this location (it is locked in place). Beach towels are provided in your room, which must be used for the pool area and any shore excursions. If they are lost, there is a $22 replacement fee charged to your Sign and Sail card.

4. The Restaurants & Food:

La Playa Grille & Lido Restaurant Lido Deck 9
This is the cafeteria service which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All of the midnight buffets are also held here (except the Gala Buffet). It consists of 4 separate areas: the deli counter, Asian counter, International Taste of the Day, and the hot lunch area. There is also a hamburger, hot dog and french fry grill area. And, of course, there is the 24 hour all-you-can-eat pizza, Caesar salad and self-serve soft swirl ice-cream area. Coffee and tea are also available 24 hours.

We ate breakfast and lunch at the Lido Restaurant every day. Breakfast had lots of choices which consisted of grits or oatmeal; hash brown potatoes, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, French Toast, pancakes, banana pancakes, blueberry pancakes, toast (white and brown bread), toasted bagels, and made to order omelettes (or you could have some fried eggs as well). There was regular and light pancake syrup, butter, margarine and cream cheese. There was also assorted danishes and croissants, fruit – bananas, apples, orange slices, grapefruit slices, half a grapefruit – cheeses, cold meats, assorted cereals with a choice of skim, 2% or chocolate milk and yogourt. There was regular and decaf coffee (made from real coffee grounds), tea, fruit punch, ice tea, lemonade, tomato juice and orange juice.

Lunch was very varied as the menu for the International Area and regular hot lunch changed daily. The deli was one of my favourite areas. You could get a made-to-order turkey sub, Rueben sandwich, pastrami or corned beef on rye. There were dill pickles and coleslaw available also. There was also a self-serve green salad area with an assortment of toppings and dressings, and another salad area that had cold salads such as macaroni salad, beet, potato, etc. There was a dessert area and fresh fruit daily. Some days I sampled a little at all the stations. There were a lot of food choices to choose from!

There was a midnight buffet served every night on the Lido deck, and we actually made it to one! It consisted of wings, bar-b-q ribs, corn-on-the-cob, chicken, etc. Lots of food. We also sampled the pizzeria and Caesar salad, which were excellent.

The Empire Restaurant Aft; Promenade decks 2 & 3.
The Spirit has one main dining room, the Empire Restaurant (seating for 1338), which is on 2 levels. There is also a separate area within the restaurant, The Napoleon Room, which can be reserved for private groups.

We had early seating at 5:45 p.m. (which we had requested), at a perfect window table, 311, for 6 people. Our waiter (Yoseph) and assistant waiter (Joseph) were exceptional. After the main entree, but before dessert, Yoseph would challenge our kids with a brain teaser. One night he arranged some forks and knives in a particular way with the salt shaker in the middle, and the kids had to figure out how to get the salt shaker out, but by making the same picture and moving only 2 of the utensils. He was very entertaining, and the kids loved the mind challenge. Joseph was the entertainer and he loved to dance and sing after each meal.

Food in the dining room was good, nicely presented and you could order several appetizers and entrees if you wanted. There was always a selection of pasta, beef, vegetarian and fish entrees. Seafood, lamb, pork, chicken (or other poultry), was also served. Lobster was served at the Captain’s dinner. All of our kids found something to order each night. Shannon especially enjoyed pasta entrees ordered as an appetizer (they were all excellent). One night, three of our daughters even ordered the vegetarian dish. All the soups were excellent, although some were not served as hot as I would have liked (our waiter said that if anything needed to be heated, just ask – he was very good). The beef was good, but there were some problems with the way the meat was prepared (if you ordered medium-well, sometimes it came as well-done). This is to be expected when dinners for 1,000 are being prepared. On two nights, there was a set dessert (Baked Alaska and Cherries Jubilee – I believe these were for the 2 formal nights). You could order as much dessert as you wanted. Our kids also ordered Expresso and Capuccino (no extra charge if ordered in the dining room).

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed eating in the dining room and were very satisfied with the food and service. We were so pleased with Yoseph and Joseph and the service that they provided us that we actually tipped them over and above the recommended gratuity (this is the first time we have ever done this).

Nouveau Supper Club: Aft Sun Deck 10
This is a reservations-only alternative restaurant (seating for 156). A jacket for men is required if you wish to dine there. We did not eat at the Nouveau Supper Club, because there is a US$25 per person cover charge, and for 6 people, that would have cost $150! Some of the items that were featured on the menu (such as French Onion soup), were eventually served in the main dining room. We did take a picture of restaurant, which was very nice, but were very happy with the service in the dining room.

Fountain Café:
This small counter service area is where they served pastries and specialty coffees for a nominal fee. We didn’t order anything here. As already mentioned, if you order cappuccinos and expressos with dinner in the Dining Room, they are free.

Room Service:
At various times during the cruise, we all took advantage of room service, and the kids seemed to enjoy this service. A funny thing happened one morning when we ordered hot tea, we got hot tea, but also got 3 glasses of iced tea (we were only 2 in the room). That was curious!

5. Holding All Those Cards:
A great idea we saw for holding the Sign & Sail cards, coke cards, etc. was to bring a lanyard (the type that holds keys) and a hole punch. A group of Parrotheads had hole punched the Sign & Sail card (not on the magnetic strip part), and adult coke card (if they had one). The lanyard also held a group identifier card. They always had their cards around your neck when on-board. The only additional thing you needed when going ashore was a photo ID, and I guess they just kept this in their wallets.

6. Drinks:
The drinking age is 21 on board. All drinks are subject to a 15% gratuity, which is automatically added to each bill. Carnival now has an adult “Fun Card”. This is worthwhile if you drink a lot of pop. It is served from the can, but you cannot get the can. If you want an unopened can of pop to take with you, you have to pay for it on your Sign and Sail card ($1.73 which includes 15% gratuity). Other drink prices were $4.95 for Miami Vice, Pina Colada, etc.

7. Dress Code:
During the day, anything goes. Shorts, t-shirts, and if you’re around the pool area, most people are in their bathing suits. We did tell our teens to pack a bathing suit cover-up, which was an extra t-shirt. We encouraged them to wear a pair of pants twice, etc., but to pack a clean t-shirt for each day (I personally like to wear a clean t-shirt each day and not recycle one from 2 days ago).

In the evening, no shorts, t-shirts, jeans or beachwear are permitted in the dining room. Before the cruise, we had to buy our son a few pairs of casual pants (cargo-style pants) and short-sleeved shirts, as he normally lives in jeans and t-shirts. One idea for teen boys is to buy a Hawaiian type short-sleeved shirt and wear a t-shirt underneath. This way you’re dressed for dinner and later you can take off the shirt and wear the t-shirt. Another idea for boys is casual pants with a golf shirt. Girls should pack a white or black long sleeved sweater to wear in the evenings as the air conditioning in the lounges can get a bit cool.

A lot of people are concerned about what to wear on a cruise. Here is what I wore each evening for the 8-day cruise. One day I would really like to be able to pack everything in my carry-on for a 7-day cruise, but I’m afraid my toiletries bag is rather large.

Sat., March 8th: Casual Night (packed this in my carry-on):
Some people came in shorts because their luggage had not arrived as yet, and
that was fine
Navy casual pants; short sleeved striped cotton sweater; socks; running shoes;
small black purse with shoulder strap (I wore the same purse every night)

Sun., March 9th: Captain’s Dinner - 1st Formal Night
Long formal red dress with red shawl; black nylons; black dress pumps; purse

Mon., March 10th: Casual Dress
Khaki ultra-suede pants; yellow knit sleeveless top; white flat dress sandals,
purse

Tues., March 11th Casual Dress - St. Maarten
Beige casual pants; blue & black short sleeved lace top; beige flats; purse

Weds., March 12th Casual Dress - Barbados
Ate at the Lido deck

Thurs., March 13th Casual Dress - Martinique
Beige casual pants; peach knit sleeveless top; beige flats; purse

Fri., March 14th 2nd Formal Night
Long black skirt; red & black sleeveless lace top; black jacket; black dress
pumps; purse
* After dinner, changed to black dress pants

Sat., March 15th Casual Dress - Our son’s 16th Birthday
2-piece matching wine-coloured long skirt and sleeveless top; beige flats; purse
* After dinner, changed to jean skirt and blue/black flowered short sleeved top

There are some things that I packed that I didn’t wear/use such as 2 dresses; 1 pair of dress shoes; several t-shirts; jeans; an extra fancy top, an extra evening purse and capri pants. Some items that I should have packed were Visine, Solarcaine, and hats for both Murray and myself.

8. Shore Excursions:
Upon boarding the ship at 3:00 p.m., we immediately went to our rooms, got the shore excursion brochures out and had a conference in our room about what shore excursions to sign up for. Because it was March Break we knew that the ship would be crowded and we knew we had to sign-up for our shore excursions as soon as we got on the ship to get the ones we wanted before they filled up. We had looked on Carnival’s website for shore excursion information before the trip, but found that 2 of the tours that we had wanted in St. Maarten were not offered this cruise (Pinel Isle Tour), so we had to make some quick decisions. The shore excursion desk was only open until 4:00 p.m., so we raced down to the Shore Excursion desk in the lobby and quickly filled out our requests and dropped them in the box. Anyway, what we found out later was that some of the shore tours had already filled up (St. Maarten Catamaran snorkel tour was the first to fill; then Intro to Snuba and snorkelling in Martinique). Oh well, at least we got some of the tours we wanted. I have never seen the shore excursions fill up so fast!

If a tour is sold out, you get a notice in your stateroom saying it is filled. Once you sign up, your tickets are delivered to your room.

We signed up for the following tours. We couldn’t sign up for everything or we’d be broke!

St. Maarten: Murray & I: America’s Cup Regatta
Kids: Tours they wanted were sold out, so they went shopping

Barbados: Everyone Jolly Roger Pirate Cruise

St. Maarten - (3-1/2 hrs. @ US$85 each)
Although there is a pier that you can just walk off the ship in St. Maarten, we had to use a tender. The reason is that the pier can only hold 4 cruise ships, and there were 7 ships in port that day. The day before there had been none! So, we went ashore by tender, which is a smaller boat. There was some confusion with this tour, as all other shipboard excursions got off before ours. For this tour, we were told that we needed a tender ticket to get off. Tender tickets were distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis in Club Cool starting at 7:00 a.m. We were given tender # 8. While we were waiting, a group that was part of our tour arrived and had not gone to get tender tickets. When they got there, they got tender # 10. They were a bit heated and were worried that they would not get off the boat in time to get their tour. When we got to St. Maarten, we told the guide holding the sign for the tour that there were some more people coming, so they just waited for them.

Murray and I have never been sailing before, but had heard great things about this tour from some of the cruise reviews that we had read.

From the pier, you take a chair barge to another pier to pick up some other cruise passengers from other ships. While on the barge, you are asked whether you would like active, semi-active or non-active jobs on-board the sailboat. There are really only 2 non-active jobs on board – one is the bartender and the other is the navigator (or time keeper). Murray and I opted for active duty and I was assigned “primary deck grinder”. Then you go ashore and are put into 4 teams (these are the 4 ships in the Regatta). I really wanted to be on the Canada II, and in fact, that was the ship we were on. Then, they call you by your job to board the sailboat. There are 3 experienced crew on-board with you, so there is no need to worry if you have no sailing experience. Our sailboat consisted of mostly non-sailers, but we did have one couple that were experienced and had been in races. One was a primary deck grinder and the other a main deck grinder. These were probably the hardest jobs on-board. The 2 main deck grinders work something that looks like bicycle pedals, which moves the sail, and the 4 primary deck grinders (on a similar apparatus of pedals) tighten the rope within the sail. All I can say is that my arms were so tired after that, but we did win! It was really exciting. At one point when we were going around the marker, we were neck in neck with one of the other sailboats. It really felt like you were racing for real!

When you are sailing out to the start of the course, there is a tour employee in a small motorboat racing behind you, with a whistle in their mouth. When they blow the whistle, you smile and they take your picture. This was quite humourous to watch. Anyway, we did get a nice picture of us (cost was US$30), and because our sailboat had won the race, we also bought some KC-II t-shirts as a souvenir. This was the best shore excursion I have ever been on and well worth the price!

9. General Impression & Overall Comments:
The Carnival Spirit is a beautiful ship with mostly brown and pink tones. There are many lounges and places to sit and relax. The age range of this ship was the most diverse I’ve ever seen on any cruise I’ve been on. During our cruise, there were older seniors in wheelchairs, middle-aged people with families (some with babes in arms and strollers), teens, young newlyweds, and college age kids on spring break. There was also a variety of music on-board – it was wonderful. There was pre-dinner classical and jazz music, a guitar player/singer in the lobby bar and in the casino, sing-a-longs at the Shanghai Piano Bar, karaoke in the Versailles Lounge, 40's-90's live band dance music at Club Cool and late night hip-hop at the disco. The ship was booked to capacity, but you wouldn’t know it. The ship was well laid-out and every area of the ship seemed to be well-used, from the Monarch card room to the Library/internet café.

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