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Mark Wagner

Age: 38

Occupation:Business Manager

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Spirit

Sailing Date: September 24th, 2003

Itinerary: Hawaii

Embarkation:

Embarkation from Vancouver’s Canada Place terminal was very well organized and went smoothly. I would advise those cruising from Vancouver, BC (mostly to Alaska, but we were bound for Hawaii) to arrive at least a day early, especially if coming from the East Coast as my wife and I did. It enables you to adjust to the time zone change, get some rest from a long flight and gives you more flexibility about when to head to the terminal. In this regard, I would strongly recommend arriving earlier than the posted boarding time. We did this and were the first group to board. Security was thorough, but not overwhelming…metal detectors, X-rays of carry-on bags, and some minor pat-downs if the metal-detecting wands pick up something. It was pretty much exactly like the TSA does at the airports these days; there wasn’t anything like bomb-sniffing dogs for the passengers. I’m not sure about how the checked bags are screened (I’m sure they are), because they are taken from you by porters upon your arrival. Be sure the bags are tagged with those given to you in your Carnival ticket package. Also, you may want to bring along some luggage locks…you aren’t supposed to lock your bags for air flights per TSA regulations, however we locked our checked bags prior to arrival at the port and it was no problem (i.e., the locks weren’t cut off so the bag could be searched as they will do in the airports).

The Carnival Spirit is a marvelous ship. I thought the décor was excellent and much more refined that the Carnival Triumph that we sailed on last year. The use of darker hardwoods and copper accents create a much more elegant interior than the more glitzy Triumph. The layout of the ship is fairly straightforward, and was easy to navigate once you memorized what was on Decks 2 (Promenade), 3 (Atlantic) and 9 (Lido) which contain the bulk of the “action” areas. I would encourage anyone wanting to have a more detailed look at the various lounges, bars, etc. to take a virtual tour on Carnival’s website. In general, the ship rode quite well during our 5 full days at sea between Vancouver and our first port of call in Maui. The one exception to this was the first night following our 5:00PM departure…as we experienced previously on the Triumph, the waters encountered close to the mainland shore seem to create much more rocking and rolling than those further out to sea. Contributing to this was what I like to call “establishing one’s sea legs,” i.e., getting used to being on a big ship at sea. Once past this initial night (that unfortunately included little sleep), things settled down nicely and it was a smooth ride to Hawaii.

Our Cabin:

The cabin we had was fantastic, and I would highly recommend it for those willing to shell out the bucks for a Category 11 mini-suite (which we did due to the 12-night duration of the voyage). However, we had one of the wraparound balcony Category 11 mini-suites that are located on each corner of Decks 4 through 8. Ours was number 6329 – Deck 6 (Empress), starboard aft corner. The layout was great, with a narrow hardwood foyer leading to a sitting room with TV and VCR contained in its own console, as well mini bar and bar shelves with glassware. There was even a small stool so the bar area could be used as a desk. The entire cabin contained dark hardwood crown moldings, even in the bathroom, and much more subdued colors than we had on the Triumph. The sitting room had a couch (which could be used as a separate bed), marble pedestal table and additional chair. The sitting room contained two floor-to-ceiling windows with nice curtains containing tie-backs to allow lots of natural light into the room. A small hallway was the center of the suite. One could take a right and go through a glass door to the huge balcony (220 square feet) containing one cushioned chaise lounge, two resin chairs, two resin lounger chairs and two resin side tables. To the left was a sliding door that lead to a small dressing room (more of a makeup vanity room actually). This is where one finds the hair dryer stashed in the upper drawer. Within the dressing room, yet another door led to the bathroom with tile floor and marble double sink and accents. You get a full Jacuzzi tub and shower, with the shower head height-adjustable (very nice for someone like me who is 6’ 1”). The tub/shower also contained shower gel and shampoo dispensers, a nice touch. Yet another door in the dressing room led to the bedroom. If you went straight ahead in the hallway, you come to the door to the separate bedroom containing a king bed, large lighted closet and a dresser/console unit containing another TV and VCR as well as the in-room safe. The
bedroom also contained two additional floor-to-ceiling windows with the same drapery as the sitting room. Then there is the separate door to the dressing room I mentioned previously. This was a nice feature because you could have guests in your sitting room while one of the suite occupants could finish getting ready in complete privacy. It’s really hard to describe in words the actual layout, but it is terrific. Also, the interactive TV system was working for checking your Sail & Sign account and to book the shore tours Carnival was offering. I had read previous reviews that said the 2002 cruise didn’t have the tour booking capability.

Now be aware – not all of these corner suites are the same. The couple we cruised with had one on Upper Deck (Deck 5) on the port side that was more of the traditional layout…a long hardwood entry, but with just a separate bathroom (with the same amenities) but with a combination bedroom/sitting room with only one TV and VCR unit. The balcony was the same, however.

One thing to keep in mind with our location was the presence of black soot produced by the ships smokestack. It was a presence on our deck at various times and could easily be tracked into the cabin or stain one’s clothes if sat upon. Although our cabin steward cleaned the balcony deck and furniture once daily, we did need to keep a damp washcloth handy to wipe off any particles that gathered after the regular cleaning. Also, a spare bath mat just inside the door prevented tracking it into the cabin. All-in-all, a small annoyance compared with the quality of the cabin and balcony. Lastly, being at the back of the ship gives you the sights and sounds of beach waves produced by the ship’s wake. This was especially nice in the early days of the cruise when the weather was still somewhat cool. We brought a bungee cord to keep the balcony door open, and kept the bedroom door open all night to allow the sea air and sounds in. However, bear in mind that propping the balcony door open will shut off the A/C, so we stopped doing it once we reached the warm and humid tropical air.

Finally, the one thing I have read repeatedly in reviews of certain Carnival ships – the existence of only one electrical outlet in the cabin. Such is the case with the Spirit…or so it appears. Yes, there is only one overtly visible outlet in the cabin. In ours, it was located on the dressing room vanity – hardly the most convenient place to plug in CD player or other device. We brought along a 6-outlet surge protector to extend the number of outlets since we brought a CD player, speakers and various battery rechargers for our cameras, and I highly recommend doing this if you plan to bring such items with you. But here’s what to do if the location of the one outlet is inconvenient, as ours was: go to where the TV is plugged in within its console. Unplug the TV, plug in your surge protector then plug the TV into that. Since the TV’s are normally centrally located within the cabin, you’ve just given yourself several additional outlets conveniently located. It worked great for us as we were able to set up the CD player and speakers right below the TV in the sitting room.

Ship Facilities:

The public areas on the ship are great, and we never felt crowded. The one exception was the fantail bar area when we left a Hawaiian port. They always had a “farewell” event, and these were very popular since there was music and great photo opportunities. The La Playa Grill, the Lido deck restaurant/food area, was great. The breakfast fare was the same each day, but tasty and plentiful. Lunchtime contained a huge variety of choices. I concentrated on the NY Deli (get the Reuben…awesome!) and the outdoor grill for burgers, huge hot dogs, etc. Additionally there is the salad bar, the pizzeria, the Asian food bar the ever-changing Tastes of the Nations buffets. There’s so much to try it’s almost overwhelming. We never went to the Empire Dining room for breakfast or lunch.

Another favorite haunt was the Deco Bar, the ship’s cigar bar. It is located just outside the upper level of the Empire Restaurant, where we had our assigned table. We had the late seating for dinner, 8:15PM; so many times we would get together there for a pre-dinner cocktail, followed by a post-dinner drink. It’s a comfortable, low-lighted lounge where the ship’s jazz trio played nightly (and they were great) and where one of our favorite cocktail waitresses, Claudia, worked. The casino was very nice, and always humming. My wife and I broke even on very light gambling, but the couple we cruised with made out nicely playing roulette. Other than that, we really didn’t use the other bars or lounges, but they were designed and decorated well. One last note concerns smoking on the ship. The Spirit actually has a somewhat more restrictive policy in this regard that did the Triumph last year, but I thought it was well-balanced overall.

Food and Service:

The Empire Dining Room was beautiful, and our upper-level table for four sat right under one of the many crystal chandeliers. Overall, I would rate the food here as very good, and the service as good to very good. Our service team wasn’t as good as the one we had on the Triumph, but they were efficient and did a good job. I’ve already mentioned the La Playa Grill, so the other major dining area is the Nouveau Supper Club. Since this was a 12-night cruise, we went to the supper club twice and all I can advise you is to do it at least once. The food and service is world-class, and worth the $25 per person reservation charge (plus tips, drinks & wine…keep this in mind). The filet mignon and lobster tail were absolutely delicious, as were the other courses. They take they’re time in serving the meal, so be prepared to spent 2 ½ to 3 hours in a very intimate atmosphere. It’s a great feature on this class of Carnival vessels.

Overall service on the ship was excellent, with a very friendly staff. Our cabin steward was excellent and always took time to ask us how our day was going and if there was anything he could do for us. The cruise director, Todd, did a good job keeping the activities going. One complaint was when he announced the tender boat departures in Kona…for some reason, they piped the announcements into the cabins instead of just the public areas. These announcements began just before 8 AM, so it was a rude awakening for those who were sleeping in that morning.

Entertainment and Activities:

To be honest, we weren’t into the big evening shows in the Pharaoh’s Palace or the on-deck activities during the day. Most nights we just enjoyed a few cocktails after dinner and maybe a bit of shopping or gambling. However, the variety of shows advertised in the Carnival Capers daily newsletter did indicate quite a variety of entertainment, including comedian Norm Crosby, the headline act during the at-sea portion of the cruise. The Pharaoh’s Palace was a beautiful showplace; however, as we went there for the Captain’s Welcome Aboard party on the first formal night as well as gathering there for on-shore tours. I can tell you that I thought the jazz trio was great, and even the soloist singing country tunes wasn’t too bad (and seemed to get better as more cocktails were imbibed).

Ports of Call and Tours:

The first stop was in Kahului, Maui, and was an overnight stop. We arrived around 8 AM on a Tuesday and stayed docked until departing at 5 PM the next day. We had rented a car (via the internet prior to the trip) for the two days which worked out beautifully since the pier had free parking for the overnight. My wife and I went horseback riding in the west Maui mountains the first day on a tour we booked independently from Carnival. It provided incredible views of the Pacific and canyons, but be prepared to get coated with dust and dirt along some very dry and dusty trails. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about Maui’s famous red dirt (they even make tee shirts with it as souvenirs!), but I can assure you there’s plenty of it. After returning to the ship and getting cleaned up (and apologizing to the cabin steward for the red dirt ring in the tub!), we proceeded to the Old Lahaina Luau on the west coast of the island. Again, this was something we booked independently from Carnival (many tours can be arranged outside of Carnival for substantially less money). The luau was great and I’d recommend it…but here’s a tip – get there early if you’re driving yourself to get the best parking. The second day was spent exploring the west coast of Maui and shopping in Lahaina. We enjoyed Maui, especially since it was the first land we’d seen in over 5 days!

Here are a couple of notes about the rental car – for the tours I booked independently from Carnival (and therefore required providing my own transportation), the tour company strongly encouraged the rental car because cabs can be quite expensive if you need to travel any kind of distance. Secondly, in Maui there are certain parts of the north coast road where the rental car company forbids their cars to be driven because the road is so snakelike and treacherous.

Also, if you’re an experienced cruiser, you know that the casino and duty-free shops are closed while in port and reopen once the ships gets back into open waters.

The second stop was Nawililwili, Kauai on Thursday morning. This was our favorite island stop of the cruise. The mountains are not as large as Maui’s, but they are much more green and lush. We really looked at Kauai as what we expected Hawaii to look like…tropical flowers, palm trees and lots of green fields. We rented a car here as well, and spent the morning traveling to the north coast to the lighthouse there. The cliffs and surf were beautiful. In the afternoon, we traveled to the south of the island for a Snuba tour at Lawai beach. This was another independently-booked tour and was great fun. It’s like Scuba, but the air tank floats on a raft and you have a 20-foot air hose and regulator to breath underwater. It was fun, but watch out for those rocks in the shallow water right off the beach! We set sail for the Big Island at 5 PM that afternoon.

Friday morning brought us to our first Big Island stop, Kona, on the west coast. We didn’t have any tours or rental car booked, so it was a shopping stop. It was also the only port where we had to go ashore via tender boats instead of tying up to a pier, as it was with all the other stops. Basically, they use the ship’s motorized life boats for tendering. At first, they issued numbers to groups wanting to go ashore early and those with Carnival-booked tours. At about 11 AM, they opened up the tendering for general use, and that’s when we grabbed a boat to go ashore. The only complaint here was that we had to wait 10 minutes or so for our turn to pull up to the pier in Kona to get off the tender. There was a Celebrity ship anchored there at the same time, as well as independent boat-based tours vying for use of the pier. It also didn’t help that is was very hot and humid that day, with very little breeze. However, once on the ground we enjoyed the waterfront shopping district and visiting the Kona Brewing Company. As a homebrewer and lover of microbrews, it was really great to try their beers and grab some souvenirs. We grabbed a tender boat back, and this was much easier than coming in. We then set sail around 6 PM for Hilo on the other side of the Big Island.

We arrived in Hilo on Saturday around 8 AM, and here we took our first Carnival-offered tour. I wasn’t able to find an independent tour that fit within our arrival and/or departure dates so we booked Carnival’s Volcanoes National Park Tour. We really enjoyed seeing the Kilauea Crater, steam vents, sulfur deposits, lava tubes and rain forests, all with Mauna Loa towering in the background. You may want to bring along a light jacket or sweatshirt because it is much cooler in the mountains where you’ll be close to 4,000 feet above sea level. The tour concludes with a stop at the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory for some shopping (as well as sampling) before returning to the ship. We then set sail at 6 PM for Oahu, the final stop

We arrived in Honolulu on Sunday around 8AM and were booked on another Carnival-offered tour for the same reasons as in Hilo. This was the Pearl Harbor/Arizona Memorial, Punchbowl and City Tour. We enjoyed this tour as well, as it included your tender boat to the Memorial and a nice motor coach tour of Honolulu including the Punchbowl Cemetery, Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. We returned to the ship to complete packing our things for departing the ship. Our flight off the island was very early the next morning, so we left the ship that afternoon after one last feast from the La Playa Grill and checked into a hotel near the airport. Because of this, I can’t comment on how the official debarkation went on Monday morning.

Summary:

Overall, I would recommend this ship and itinerary to those who like to cruise and to see more than just one of the Hawaiian Islands. For experienced cruisers who enjoy several days at sea as well as a variety of ports-of-call, this one fits the bill nicely. However, five full days at sea before seeing land again might be a bit tough on the novice cruiser or even the experienced cruiser that prefers some breaks between sea days and ports. So look at this carefully when making your decision. But I have no doubt that the quality of the ship, facilities, food and service you will experience on the Carnival Spirit will be top-notch and that you’ll have a great time on this vessel. Please feel free to email me if you’d like any additional information. Bon Voyage!

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