Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Spirit
Sailing Date: October 1st, 2007
Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Spirit Cruise Review
Paul & Tammy Marshall
We had planned to go to Hawaii for our tenth anniversary for some time and after careful research booked on the Carnival Spirit about 18 months in advance. We booked the 12 day Hawaiian itinerary, which consisted of: Honolulu (2 days), Kauai, Hilo, Kona, Lahaina, Kahalui, followed by a 5 day Pacific Ocean crossing to Ensenada, Mexico. Having twice sailing on RCCL we were skeptical about booking with Carnival, which we considered at step down, but the price and cabin sizing swayed our decision to book.
The next morning we flew to Honolulu via Hawaiian Air. Working in the limousine industry, we had booked our own transfer to the pier ahead of time. They no showed us at the airport and upon calling them directly with my confirmation number, they said they couldn’t find the reservation and wouldn’t be able to take care of us today. Welcome to Hawaii and Aloha! We were quickly able to find a taxi and surprised that he was able to fit all four of us, the guys each being of somewhat formidable size, eight pieces of luggage and four carry on's into his town car. Cost us $30 to the Pier.
At the pier we were quickly met by what looked to be a neatly attired but independent porter, whom helped us bring our bags to the loading belt, only a few steps away from where we were dropped off. We had all pre-filled our boarding documents and had appropriate luggage tags with our stateroom numbers on them. The porter helped us unload our bags to the belt, wished us well on our cruise and started to walk away. Unlike my prior experiences in Miami, where the pier workers instruct you on tipping policies in advance I was shocked. I got her to come back to tip her, which seemed to come as a surprise. Once our bags were loaded onto the belt we were a short walk away from entering the Carnival Spirit check in area. Having reserved a suite, my wife and I had VIP status and as such had a special check in area. Once we cleared through the security we proceeded to the check in area, and our travel companions proceeded to theirs. Perhaps it would make a difference had there be more passengers checking in, but we were all on our way up the gangway inside of 5 minutes.
After the obligatory stops for ships photographers, then photographs for boarding security and one more stop for ships photographers we entered the mid-ship Atrium. After dropping our carry on luggage in our rooms, one floor apart and opposite sides of the ship, we went to search out our dining room assignment and explore the ship. Back at our stateroom before our venture ashore, three of our four bags had made it to our door. It was only by chance that I found a porter with our other bag, returning it to a lost bag room as it had lost its tag. This also happened to our travel companions. They located their missing bag later that night in the lost bag room. Carnival should send out better luggage tags.
From the moment we entered the atrium of the ship it was evident that they were meticulous in their cleaning and maintenance regimen. As our home for the next two weeks I continued to marvel at how clean and well laid out the ship was. The atrium shot straight up 11 floors looking up through a stained glass dome that housed the Nouveau Supper Club. Three glass elevators, and four sets of elevators behind those efficiently transported passengers to and from their stateroom decks. With two other banks of 4 elevators, one fore and one aft, we found that we were never waiting long to get where we needed to go. Of note here, is that the elevators seem to operate so silently, that I would not hesitate in the future to book a room closer to them, not that a long hallway walk after dinner wasn’t of significant benefit. We quickly found the main Empire Dining room on floors 2 and 3 aft, and searched out our Maitre D’, Drakos. Our Sail and Sign card correctly had us at early seating, but at a table of 4. We requested that we be re-assigned a perimeter table if possible (for the view), and a larger group would be nice. He told us he didn’t know if he could help but to leave it with him and he would see what he could do. We were informed by cabin message a short while later of our dining room re-assignment, table 102, a portside deck 2 table for 12 by a large porthole window.
The Empire Dining room itself was well appointed and exuded a casual elegance. The lower and upper levels were decorated differently with the upper level appearing to be more opulent. Both levels of the main dining room were serviced by entry lounges where typically a 3 piece classical ensemble would play before and after dinner service. In this area you will also find the ‘Dance’ Disco, a nice looking club but not utilized much on our cruise where in my early forties I was certainly in the lower 15% of the age demographic. Going forward on deck 2 from the atrium, you will find the casino, complete with the requisite thick cigarette smoke, ringing slots, 3 or 4 Blackjack tables or variations thereof, 1 Craps table, 1 Roulette table, and a couple of poker table game (Caribbean and 3 card ). There is also a separate area with two electronic Hold ‘Em tables that didn’t seem to draw much of a crowd.
Further forward from the Casino on Deck Two, is Club Cool, a two piece lounge act room that seemed to attract more than its share of the passengers. The act in here reminded me of a Saturday night live bit featuring Will Ferrell. Immediately adjacent to club cool, when you can see through the cigarette smoke is a small sports bar, with several TV’s dedicated to sports highlights and games.
Deck Three forward from the Atrium houses a row of shops: jewelry, candy shop, formal wear rentals, cruise line merchandise, and sundries. The line of shops could be expanded somewhat to provide a better range of merchandise although our wives did seems to find enough items to their liking. Located forward from here are the Shanghai Piano bar, and the internet café/library, which was expensive to use at $0.75 a minute with slow connection speeds. Most forward on the ship and covering decks 2 through 4 is the Pharaoh’s Palace, the main entertainment ballroom. If you want any sort of drink service you need to sit on the main floor (deck 2) as you seldom see the waiters on the upper levels. Deck 4 forward you will find Camp Carnival, The Jungle (a skinny long jungle themed walkway), and the TechnoArcade (although several of the games are not operating).
Deck 9 Aft to Midship houses the Lido Buffet, a large dining area with comfortable seating and neutral décor. There are at least 10 stations that serve different style of foods: deli, pizza/pasta, salad, specialty coffees, burgers and dogs, ice cream…..etc. Often the food at dinner is similar to what is being served in the Empire dining room that night. The Pizza stand, deli and ice cream are available at all hours. Deck 9 also holds two large pools and entertainment area midship, another pool and bar underneath the fantail (aft), and the Spa and fitness center (forward). It should be noted that the Aromatherapy Jacuzzi in the spa was almost always empty and a nice spot to get away whether you are utilizing a spa service or not.
Deck 9 and 10 had several areas with lounge chairs. It was sometimes difficult to find somewhere to sit as people would ‘save’ their chair with their blue carnival towel and them nowhere to be found. I often wanted to just take their towel at a cost to them of $22 for replacement….but cooler heads prevailed. It was often the same problem in the Lido deck buffet, where many would sit hours on end playing cards or reading a book while others looking to sit for lunch could not find a suitable accommodations. One ‘secret’ location was on the port side of the ship, deck 10, outside of the Nouveau supper club, where you could lay on a deck chair in relative peace from the crowds. Deck 11 had the entrance to the waterslide which my friend and I, enjoyed for a few go-s. It drew a bit of a crowd of onlookers, like a traffic accident scene, as they waited for us to crash through the stopping flume at the end. That didn’t happen, although watch that you keep your head down as some of the cross members don’t allow for much clearance. Also on Deck 11 right in front of the fantail, is the clothing optional tanning deck, which I heard sported some good views, but did not personally witness, I swear!
I just need to reiterate here once again, how clean and well maintained all of the public areas of the ship were. With limited time between sailings, and passengers on board 95% of the time I can not imagine what choreography it must take to accomplish all that they do.
Having initially planned to travel with our 2 year old son, we booked a Suite, Category 11, which has a king size bed and a pull out sofa bed. Our stateroom was 6170, port side slightly forward of mid-ship. The room was the largest stateroom that we had ever booked with ample storage in two closets, a desk area, and a sitting area. It had an easy to use in room safe, a large television and three large dresser drawers. The balcony was six feet deep and as wide as the cabin with a glass fronted railing. The lifeboats/tenders were hung from decks 4 and 5 immediately below us which somewhat obstructed our view straight down but did not impede the view when looking out. The bathroom had a full size Jacuzzi tub which we didn’t use even once, a separate hair and makeup area and double sinks trimmed in granite. The suites were definitely upgraded with several details compared to the standard staterooms. The halogen pot lighting was adjustable and the bedding was very comfortable. We liked the bedding so much that we ordered pillows and a duvet from www.carnivalcomfortbed.com. The bathroom had a ‘gift’ pack of items such as toothpaste, mouth wash, soaps and shampoos. The bed itself was quite firm, rocklike actually, but afforded me quality sleeping each night, although my wife complained that it was a ploy to book additional spa services.. Our stateroom attendant, Yiope, was quite good, keeping our stateroom tidy and well stocked. We only requested bar restocking once, which had been overlooked, and he responded very quickly.
Our traveling companions had an extended balcony stateroom, Cabin 5332, Starboard and aft of mid-ship. It was well laid out, although not spacious, but effectively served the needs for two occupants. Their bathroom had a fairly tiny shower, just enough to get sprayed off. Otherwise the amenities were similar and their balcony although slightly smaller provided a completely unobstructed view down as they were beside the tender boats as opposed to on top of them. They also were very satisfied with their stateroom attendant, Emmanuel, who remembered their names from the first night. We found the rooms to be quite soundproof with the only noise we ever heard coming from the balconies not through the walls, floor or ceiling.
One note of complaint here from both staterooms; being non-smokers, none of us could enjoy our balconies, with the amount of smokers in the adjacent staterooms. They really should have sections of the ship’s staterooms that are non-smoking. One other amenity that was lacking was an alarm clock, not so much for waking up, but just to see what time it was. There was only one plug in available in each stateroom however we unplugged the VCR in ours to free up another outlet behind the TV.
The main dining room food was quite good with appropriate portion size. The steaks in particular were excellent. The plate presentation was very good and we never had any problems with hot food being hot or cold food being cold. Our waiter Marco and assistant waiter Nadica were vigilant in meeting our every need. The service did seem to be rushed and I assume that it was because we were in the first seating; they were trying to get us on our way. We had a good mix at our table, with only one couple who were upset when someone sat in ‘their’ window seat, after everyone else at the table had agreed to rotate the seating. The desserts in the main dining room were very good, however on two occasions, the warm chocolate melting cake that everyone talks about, was more like chocolate pudding. We only saw the wait staff ‘perform’ once although I have seen in other forums that they have performed every night. We did not eat in the Empire dining room for breakfast or lunch any day.
We had the opportunity to dine in the Nouveau Supper Club to celebrate our anniversary. The décor was warm and comfortable, complete with white table cloths and good china. The service was adequate although not as attentive as in the main dining room. We all thoroughly enjoyed our selected meals. The plate presentation and quality of food was fabulous. The Bone-in Rib eye that I had was perhaps one of the best steaks that I have ever eaten and I consider myself an authority in that department. It was a great dinner and worth the additional fee of $30 per person plus ‘optional’ gratuity.
The Lido Buffet was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast was standard fare and I never thought that I would say this ever….ever….I was sick of bacon. There was always a good selection at lunch and dinner, with the opportunity to eat what was featured in the Empire dining room, buffet style. The Pasta/Pizza guy was very friendly and happy to oblige you with making whatever pasta creation you chose. There were always beverages available 24 hours a day: Coffee, Tea, Water, Juice, Iced Tea, and Lemonade. One tip would be to bring your own travel mug, or to save a carnival ‘collectible’ glass from earlier to use for juices to bring to your stateroom.
We ordered stateroom dining service twice, once in the late afternoon as a snack after a spa treatment, and once for early morning breakfast service before going ashore. Both times the service was prompt, complete with excellent food quality.
The cruise director, Shawn Bussy,, seemed to be everywhere. We didn’t really participate in any of the games or contests other than Bingo before show time a couple of times. Carnival plays a Red Team vs. Blue Team contest for the duration of the cruise, your team assignment based upon your dining table number, odd or even. We were constantly given updates of who was leading, but never did find out who won in the end. I don’t think there was any ‘prize’ for the winning team. There were some passengers who got very involved in the contests: scavenger hunts, hairy chest competition, Survivor, etc…They were running wildly around the pool deck, through the Lido buffet area, all in the quest to win a plastic Carnival Spirit on a Stick. Avoid the mid-ship pool during the day if you are looking to relax.
The shows ran nightly in the Pharaoh’s
Palace, having both entertainment for early dining and late dining guests. We
attended the show most nights. There was a range of entertainers: comedians,
ventriloquist, an impressionist and the Carnival Spirit Dancers. The other
guests seemed to enjoy the entertainment which maybe was geared more towards the
older crowd that was on board. The theater itself was well appointed but did
have several pillars which obstructed the views.
We chose instead to find our entertainment in the casino. Having read several other reviews that depicted the casino as a no win proposition. I beg to differ. I played blackjack several times and won at each session. The dealers were somewhat flat, personality wise, but the pit bosses and casino host, Aiden, were friendly and chatty. One made an off the cuff comment to me early in the week about card counting, which I thought was strange, being that the casino uses a CSM (continuous shuffle machine) making a card count impossible. I twice entered a blackjack tournament, once getting blown out early and the second easily making the final table only to get eliminated in fourth or fifth place. My traveling companions played the slots and some poker but didn’t fare as well.
The spa facilities were well laid out and spa treatments were decent. We all had massages on one day with our wives also having facial and pedicures on another day. Although the spa is run be an outside contractor, they seem to have adopted the Carnival credo of trying to sell you something every time you turn around. Expensive creams, or additional services, we were all offered great deals for these extras that we absolutely ‘required’. We toured the fitness center on our first day aboard and can’t say that we ever again set foot into it. It’s not that it wasn’t very nice, but who wants to work out on vacation? The men’s and women’s change rooms housed separate saunas, steam rooms and several very nice intense shower rooms. The spa area also had a tanning booth and another waiting area that contained the low intensity solar lights used to treat SAD, seasonal affected disorder. It was hilarious to witness one regular senior citizen, who would get oil up with tanning lotion and sit under these diffuse lights thinking that they were tanning. None of us had the heart to tell them otherwise.
Honolulu, Oahu-Day 1 and 2
After getting settled in to the ship on our first day aboard, we ventured out into Honolulu to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach, also known as the Pink Palace, the previous summer home of Queen Kaahumanu. We had scheduled to partake in the Monday night beachfront Luau. Be sure to download a coupon from the hotel’s website to save 20% on the admission price. I believe that you can, for a fee, also reserve a forward table which I would recommend. The view of Diamondhead from the hotel lawns was fabulous. The food at the Luau was phenomenal, with even my picking eating wife raving about the variety and quality of food. The poi wasn’t as disgusting as I had been led to believe, and actually didn’t carry much of its own taste. The show was what I had expected. We left before the show was over, almost falling asleep at the table after a long day of travel. We took taxi’s to and from the show, which aside from the benefit of not drinking and driving, wound up costing us what a car rental and parking would have. Our second day in Honolulu we awoke early, ate breakfast on the Lido deck, and took yet another taxi to the Ala Moana shopping center to retrieve our rental car. We rented a Cadillac DTS, and proceeded to Pearl Harbor. I didn’t really have a need to go to Pearl Harbor but our travel companions had it on their list of must sees. I have to admit that I was glad that we went as it was an eerie feeling to see the plaque upon plaque of names of the brave who perished there. We didn’t go over to the Arizona as the wait was four to five hours. We literally drove through the mountain to the east side of the island in search of Lanikai beach. We passed many beautiful small towns on the way and found Lanikai relatively easily. It is constantly rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and it was easy to see why. Although the weather was overcast with on again off again showers, the water was deep azure and the beach sand was powder sugar white. We spent a while on the beach, watching the kite boarders, returned the girls to the ship, and dropped the car back off at Alamo. Note that Alamo has a Pier shuttle that runs on the hour every hour for free. There are several shops worth visiting in the Aloha Tower area immediately adjacent to the pier but were a little pricey.
Nawilliwilli, Kauai-Day 3
In retrospect, Kauai was probably the prettiest spot that we visited. It was lush, tropical and in stark contrast to the densely populated Honolulu. We took a shuttle from the Pier to the airport in Lihue to pick up our rental car. We had an afternoon shore excursion booked starting at 11:30 am, so we decided to kill some time at the beach in Poipu. We drove to Poipu beach, and found public access to the beach adjacent to the Sheraton beach resort. The surf and tide here were fierce, very picturesque but not conducive to the swimming we wanted to do. We left and found the Poipu Beach Park on our way back towards the Pier. Although we now didn’t have time for swimming, this area would be highly recommended as there was a protective reef which we heard afforded some very good snorkeling. There was a Monk seal basking not far from shore. On route to our excursion, we tried to stop at Puka Dog, one quirky place that I wanted to visit on our vacation. It is located in the Poipu Shopping Village, but wasn’t open until 11AM….a good reason to go back to Kauai I think. We booked our ATV Ranch tour independently online and saved a couple of hundred dollars over what we would have paid to book through Carnival. We drove side by side seated Yamaha Rhinos through a working cattle ranch and down into a valley area, where we got to see several movie sites. Our guides were very informative, not only about the areas history but also about what it is like to be a local in Hawaii. The cost of living is so high that most locals work two or three jobs just to make rent, and dream of someday getting off the island to seek out a normal existence. It was well worth the money and was an enjoyable afternoon. Perhaps a little too much time was spent on equipment instruction and safety, but understandably. There were many beautiful photo opportunities along the way and interesting to see the wild feral cats that gathered at our lunch location to look for scraps. The tour provided us with helmets and bandanas to shield us from the dust, but expect to get dirty. We were all covered in a layer of red dust, to the point that upon re-boarding the security officer looked us and remarked…”ATV tour huh?”, while grinning.
Kona, Big Island-Day 4
Today was a tender port day, that is a day which the Spirit anchors offshore and uses the lifeboats (called tenders), to shuttle guests ashore. Carnival has a numbering system to try to alleviate the backlogged line waiting to board a tender. The numbers are assigned based first upon shore excursions which were booked through Carnival, and subsequently followed by a first come first served basis in the lounge to acquire your ticket. I had previously read reports of the nightmare of getting off the ship in the tender ports, and having booked the Atlantis Submarine tour on our own, I awoke early to get an early tender number. I went to the lounge and met with the purser’s who told me that I couldn’t get a number unless I was ready to go immediately. We all went to eat breakfast quickly upstairs on the Lido deck and proceeded to Club Cool to get our tender tickets. We got ticket 9 and our number was called within 5 minutes of waiting, getting us ashore probably less than half an hour after breakfast. It was very efficient. We did a little bit of leisurely shopping, with several nice options to choose from. We had a 1:30 PM dive time booked as the 11:00 AM dive is blocked by Carnival excursions. On a hunch I checked with the Atlantis office which told me we could go right away if we chose to. We boarded another tender and were off to meet up with the Atlantis sub which was waiting at sea. We dove in the 40 or so passenger sub to a depth of 105’, a trip filled with stunning colored fish and reef life. After our trip to the bottom of the ocean, we boarded a free shuttle to Hilo Hattie’s, a tourist-minded department store with Hawaiian flavor. After a quick lunch we caught a taxi to Kahalu'u Beach Park (Turtle Beach) about $16 each way for the 15 to 20 minute ride. The beach was busy but easy enough to find a spot. There were full facilities: food, equipment rental, souvenir vendors, washrooms, change facilities, lifeguards and fresh water showers. The shoreline entry was rocky with a couple of sand bottom paths past the coral outcroppings. Swim out almost to the buoy line where you will find excellent snorkeling with plenty of colorful fish. The right hand exit from the water seems to be a favorite gathering area for sea turtles so watch your step. There can be pretty substantial fines for even just touching one of these magnificent creatures. There was a line of taxis at the beach to take passengers back to the pier. After a little bit more shopping we easily and quickly boarded the tender back to the anchored Spirit.
Hilo, Big Island-Day 5
At midnight, the Spirit sailed past an area where lava flows into the ocean between Kona and Hilo. Our onboard Hawaiian historian/guide, Kanoea (sounds like Cannoli), awoke anyone who was sleeping at midnight with his prayer over general ship broadcast to Pelé, Hawaiian Goddess of Fire, who has made her final home at the summit of Kilauea Volcano in the Halemaumau Crater. The ship first passed on the Starboard side, with the captain then turning full about for Portside viewing, but I guess Pelé didn’t hear Cannoli’s call because the only show of nature was a faint orange glow above the horizon in the night sky.
The next morning in Hilo we again had decided to rent a vehicle and conduct our own tour. We easily caught a shuttle to the rental car terminal at the airport and were on our way to Volcano National Park. We paid our $10 per car entrance fee to the park, stopped at the Information station and were on our way. It was interesting to see the hot steam seeping everywhere from crevices in the ground. Kilauea itself was huge, but with no real visible molten lava. There were several bright patches of yellow (I assume, Sulphur) dotting the caldera as we looked inward. It was one of those places where there wasn’t a whole lot to see, but you were impressed by the sheer vastness of the area and now we can say that we have been there. Saturated with Sulphuric emissions we decided to go seek out the Black Sand Beach. Instead of proceeding further southwest to the Punaluu Black Sand Beach, where the ship tours go, we decided to seek out a more isolated Black sand beach near Pahoa, as directed by the car rental agent. It was a little difficult to find, at the dead end of Hwy. 137 in the village of Kaimu. It wasn’t really a village at all but a small collection of Shanty’s including a small outdoor snack stand. The beach was accessed via a path over the lava flow of about 20 minutes. I had my snorkel gear with me, and was warned by the locals to not go swimming. Once we got to the beach I could see why and the warning became redundant. There was a beautiful black sand beach with huge surf and crashing waves. We stop and sat for a while and enjoyed the ocean breeze. We noted the efforts to replant coconut palms along the lava flow. I wish that I had known the story and significance of the area before visiting it. This area was much more demonstrative of Pelé’s force than the night before. Twenty plus years ago the town of Kaimu was a bustling yet eclectic tourist destination, with a busy downtown corridor and several beach front resorts. In 1990, Kilauea erupted flowing lava all the way to the point where we now stood, encrypting everything that lay in its path in a 50’ deep layer of lava. Locals now are trying to reclaim the land, building small homes on top of the lava flow and replanting sprouting coconut palms. Although the lava flow spared the lives of those in its path, their existence was forever changed.
Lahaina, Maui-Day 6
With the Spirit anchored in the harbor along with Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas, we had another tender day. This time we planned ahead and purchased a shore excursion through Carnival, a morning departure to the Maui Ocean Center. We arose from bed, ate breakfast, and joined the shore excursion cattle call in the Pharaoh’s Palace. After a while waiting our tour was called. We were escorted by a purser directly to the tender area, bypassing all those who had their tender ‘number’ tickets in hand. I was seated in the tender beside a Carnival Officer with radio in hand. As we arrived at the Pier in Lahaina I overheard, the Harbormaster, emphatically telling Carnival crew that they better have their security clearance certificate on board, and then subsequently telling Carnival to stop all tendering. We were the last Carnival Tender ashore, and quickly were routed to a motor coach where we waited for about 30 minutes before departing. We could see 4 Carnival tenders bobbing up and down in the water outside the harbor, I presume waiting for clearance. We took the scenic drive south along the coastline to the Maui Ocean Center. We followed a winding, well laid out serpentine underground path past hundreds of viewing tanks representing ocean life at different depths. It was quite informative. Two particular exhibits of interest were the jellyfish tank and of course the shark tank, where you walked a path enclosed in a glass tube surrounded by rays, sharks, tuna and various other large fish. The entire tour probably took us about an hour at a moderate pace, allowing plenty of time for the wives to shop for gifts, and for all of us to enjoy a $10 dollar sandwich and pop (lol). The Maui Ocean Center was definitely worth visiting. It seemed that all the other passengers on our particular bus had boarded and were ready to go about 45 minutes before our scheduled departure, which was fine with us.\
Upon arriving back at the Pier, we hailed a taxi and were dropped off about 20 minutes later at Ka’anapali Beach, a large if somewhat crowded beach lined with Hotels, restaurants and private condo complexes. We plunked down enjoyed the sun for a change. We snorkeled from shore viewing several fish, though perhaps not as many as in Kona. We did come across a huge resting sea turtle, maybe 4.5 to 5 feet in diameter in about 15 feet of water. Diving down to get a good picture, he would raise his head posing for the camera, or maybe warning us to leave. We arrived back at the Pier with at least two hours to spare, and were thankful that we did. The tender line to get back on board stretched down the block. We waited in line for over an hour in the hot sun to get back on board. The ‘driver’ of our tender skillfully eased out of traffic at the Pier and was prematurely applauded for his efforts as he rammed the gangway nose-on at the Spirit which probably displaced several sets of dentures. It is also worth noting here that two crew members on our tender, were complaining about some sort of internal Carnival matters, as well as being subject to have to wait in line for a tender and perhaps not make it to their appointed station on time. Many noticed that the RCCL line was non-existent with those passengers able to board their tenders immediately. The Radiance wasn’t set to depart until 10 PM and as such wasn’t subject to the same passenger volume departing Lahaina at the time we were. I wonder if Radiance passengers found the same sort of lines greeting them later in the evening. The Spirit departed almost on schedule, which surprised me based on the number of fellow passengers that we preceded on board. We later heard at dinner that 2 or the 4 tenders broke down earlier in the day, causing the congestion. My thought is that it was the Harbormaster slowing the process.
Kahalui, Maui-Day 7
This would be our second longest time in one port, docking at about 8 AM with a scheduled departure time of 10 PM. Once again we planned our own excursion, reserving a couple of Sebring convertibles for the mandatory Road to Hana trip. Quickly shuttling from Pier to the airport reservation counter, we upgraded our convertible to Jeep Wranglers for an additional $12. We set out on our journey, getting turned around a bit near the airport but quickly redirected to our intended route. Our friends were navigating this trip with the Hawaii for Dummies book which they brought with them. We also brought a pair of Walkie-talkies for communication between the vehicles which proved to be invaluable. Our first stop was at Mile Marker 2, which the aptly named Hawaii for Dummies indicated to be a short hike to beautiful twin waterfalls. As it turns out it was about 45 minutes straight uphill in the driving sun. With a couple of water crossings along the way we weren’t quite properly attired, however we forged on. We finally got to the top and found a pretty twin waterfall that we couldn’t really access unless we wanted to traverse waist deep water and up and over a muddy embankment. Worth seeing but wish I had brought water shoes and a change of clothes. The way down was quite a bit quicker. There were a lot of flowers and other fruit plants worthy of photography if you looked close enough. We continued along the very winding and scenic road, accompanied by many single lane bridges that required yielding to oncoming traffic. On several occasions, it seemed that the locals were playing chicken with some of the obvious touristas. My wife felt the effect of the winding road and contributed her breakfast to the roadside Hawaiian God of Nausea. Driving between sessions of blazing sun and torrential downpours, we eventually made it to Hana, where we stopped for lunch and to purchase some Gravol. From there we decided to seek out another Black Sand beach located on our return but close to Hana at Waianapanapa Wayside State Park. It was worth the stop with full facilities and a beautiful beach. Again I wish I would have brought my water shoes as the bottom was covered in tumbled lava rock. The rip tide was strong but we enjoyed wave jumping. Had a hard time getting out when the surf took my leg, twisted it given me quite the bruise and groin pull that to this day 3 weeks later is still not completely healed. The trip backed to Kahalui was very scenic, retracing our path, with many photo opportunities. We stopped for a Krispy Kreme and made our way back to the ship for some spa recovery time.
Ensenada, Mexico-Day 12
The itinerary called for a five day sea crossing with our arrival in Ensenada scheduled for debarkation on Saturday morning. From the second day at sea I started to realize that the ship’s speed, at about 22 knots and the remaining distance put us in Ensenada sometime Friday afternoon instead. We were made aware of the situation from some of our dining table mates, whom had attended a returning guest party. They were informed that a passenger was in need of urgent medical attention, was stable, but that the ship was racing to get to port as soon as possible. The only downside to our early arrival was that the casino and onboard shops would be closed while in port. We arrived in Ensenada mid afternoon on Friday and decided to go into port to look around. We were met at the port by economical shuttles which took us to the downtown corridor. We were overrun by beggars and merchants trying to sell their handmade wares as soon as we got off the bus. We looked around at some of the stores and sought out a restaurant that we felt comfortable eating in. The food was quite good and reasonably priced. Not much else to do in town, so we returned to the ship. It was rather unnerving seeing troop trucks filled with young Mexican’s, faces concealed with bandanas and carrying M249 automatic weapons. Having last been ashore in Hawaii, Ensenada was a stark and polar opposite comparison.
We were informed that all passengers must be ready for debarkation beginning at 4:30 AM. I did not really understand this since our original arrival time to Ensenada was scheduled to be 8:00 AM. It seemed that Carnival was taking advantage of the unfortunate circumstances that put us in port early. Our luggage was put out by 10:30 PM on Friday night and somehow quietly taken away in the night. We woke up, ate breakfast for one last time at the Lido buffet before our number was called for debarkation. It was strange that they did not require us to swipe our sail and sign card upon exit, which would ensure them that all passengers had left the ship. It was surprising to listen over the PA how many passengers missed their departures and were left to their own devices to find their way to their respective departure point. We were off the Spirit for the last time quickly and herded onto our motor coach for the two hour ride to the airport in San Diego. The ride through Mexico had some scenic ocean views but for the most part it was the depressing landscape of an impoverished nation. The highway snaked its way along the base of a mountain range where shanty homes dotted the hillside. Doors and porches backed out of the homes where it seemed that the occupants must just open the door and throw their refuse down the mountainside. It was literally covered several layers thick in rotting garbage and unwanted household items. Passing through the small Mexican villages and through Tijuana, it became evident that the main industries must be illegal pharmaceuticals, strip bars, and brothels.
The border was nothing like I had seen before. Lines and lines of worn out vehicles waiting to enter the USA, while pedestrians zip past attempting to walk across. There was a separate processing area for the buses coming from the cruise pier. We waited a while before being queued to enter the immigration station. It was quick and efficient and we were back on our way to SAN. Once we arrived at the airport we found all of our luggage easily in two different but close by areas. Our Northwest flight from SAN to DET was an on time departure and with a strong tailwind was about 45 minutes early.
The cruise and trip was more than worth it. It is what you make of it. We didn’t have a lot of sun in Hawaii but it was beautiful none the less. The Carnival Spirit was impeccably maintained and the crew went out of their way to be friendly and helpful. The sailing on the ship including the ocean crossing had a few occasions of rockiness, but it didn’t seem enough to bother us. The duration of the cruise was probably about two days too long for us, being away from our son and routine of our normal lives. We would definitely go on a Carnival cruise again, and when we do so would again book a suite. I would even be as bold to say that I believe that we would choose Carnival over RCCL based upon our experience on the Spirit.
As far as Hawaii is concerned, I think that the cruise provided us with a good sampling of the colloquial differences among the islands which make them unique. I also think that the amount of port time was not enough to get a good feel for the island or to necessarily enjoy what they had to offer. That said, we would love to go back to Kauai and perhaps Maui for a longer stay land based vacation. Still it is difficult to ignore the allure and economical advantages that a cruise ship lends to a vacation.