So we arrived at Orlando International Airport entirely too early in the morning of April 30th, desperately sleep deprived, but filled with excitement. This was only our second time flying with American Airlines. Since we booked coach flights, we would appreciate every millimeter of their touted "more leg room". We managed a few catnaps during our 12-hour flight and enjoyed a couple movies as our anticipation grew. Nearing arrival in Honolulu we wished for a means to slow the clock for the next 12 days.
Embarkation was relatively painless, excluding luggage drop off. We located the pier and drove the area looking for a sign or any indication of porters. Finally I jumped out of the vehicle and asked. I was directed to the porters, but then instructed that we couldn't drive to their location. Huh? So we got as close as we could and proceeded to unload (too much) luggage from the car. The porters were chatting among themselves and not about to be bothered by (of all things) cruise guests. We managed to get their attention and finally passed custody of our bags onto them. We parked in the Aloha Towers parking lot and within 15 minutes, were actually inside our stateroom. (Note: if you park in the Aloha Towers lot during embarkation, stop in one of the stores to get your parking ticket validated prior to leaving the lot. A $5 box of tea saved us $10 in parking).
We booked an 8I guarantee and were upgraded (slightly) to a 9A. Our stateroom is more spacious that those we've had with Carnival, not quite as large as our Category C suite on RCI. We visited the stateroom of a dinner companion (to see her birthday decorations) and were surprised at how much smaller it was than ours. The difference is about 30 sq ft, but makes our accommodations much more comfortable. The gold / orange tones are not my taste; I prefer cooler colors like blue / green. But the stateroom is very nice. I was disappointed, and very surprised, that we don't have a hair dryer! Fortunately, I brought my travel one. (**UPDATE** Just before the cruise's end, I learned that the hair dryer is in a drawer under the vanity...oops!) We have a mini-bar, but turned down the key. The bathroom is smaller than the one we had on the Victory - this too was a bit of a surprise. Our sink space is limited, so I use the vanity in the bedroom. Our showerhead is fabulous - I'd love to have it at home. We have wonderful water pressure and great temperature control. The shampoo and soap dispensers are convenient. The only problem is that our shower curtain won't stay inside the confines of the shower. There is a lip on the floor to keep the water from running out, but it does run off the curtain onto the bathroom floor, which is always wet. Our location behind the elevator has not been a problem - no noise issues, and we do enjoy the convenience. One serious drawback is that our stateroom has ONE outlet - yikes! With using my hair dryer & curling iron, plus trying to keep camera batteries and cell phones charged, one outlet was a problem. In future cruises, we will most definitely bring a power strip. In-room entertainment stinks! Carnival offered two or three movies each day; not a single movie was of any interest to us. My husband prepared a poster as our "door decoration"; he included some pictures & stickers, plus left space for neighbors to write a note. We've had wonderful feedback in response to it - and I'm sure we'll do it for our next cruise as well. We bought double-sided, removable tape (to hang it on the door) at Wal*Mart and it is working great. We were extremely pleased with the size of our balcony, about 6 ft x 15 ft. The glass wall needed a good cleaning - it annoyed us the first couple days, then Buddy used a couple towels to clean it. Ahhhh...much better. Our neighbors to the forward end of the ship (unfortunately) were smokers. Everytime they stepped out onto their balcony, they lit up and we went inside. The first couple days they left their balcony light on, which kept us from being able to see the waves at night; we left a note on their door asking them to turn off the light when not using it, which they did. It was inconvenient to have smokers next to us, but they weren't on their balcony that much and we still had plenty of time to enjoy ours.
Although this is our 12th cruise, it is a very unique experience for us. Never before have we booked a cruise simply because we wanted to visit the ports-of-call. In this case, we wanted to visit Hawaii and intended to do a land stay. Ultimately, because of sightseeing interests on several islands, we decided on the cruise. We were concerned, however, that splitting our time between the ship and the ports, would not allow us to thoroughly enjoy either. That has not been the case at all. We really enjoy our days in port and our evenings on board. As compared to a cruise where we casually get off the ship for a couple hours, we are making the most of every minute on this cruise. We may not get as much rest as we should, but that is the point of the five upcoming seas days.
Dining assignments - this cruise had far more people wanting early seating than late. This comes as a surprise since we are in port the first seven days and shore experiences may be cut a bit short in order to make it back for early dinner. We were assigned a table for four, despite our request for a large table. I do wish Carnival would establish a means to record guest preferences so we will always be assigned a large table. Our first afternoon, the maitre'd did change us to a table for eight. Our dinner companions were a delightful assortment. Carole & Sy, retired X-ray technician and radiologist from California brought warmth and great sense of humor to the table. Two buddies from Chicago, Chester (heating & ventilation) and Billy (Southwest Airline ramp supervisor), were friendly, down-to-earth and pleasant companions. Lina (small business owner) and her teen-age daughter, Laura, also from California, rounded out our table of eight. Lina shared her experience as a captive of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 70s. The story of her escape and settling in the U.S. as a refugee stirred a profound respect. Laura is a sweet, quiet 15 year-old, who is probably not-so-quiet around her friends. We had a wonderful time at dinner with our new friends and enjoyed getting to know them all over the course of our 12 days.
Dining room meals: We had wonderful service and except for a couple overcooked steaks, everything was well-prepared and always well-presented. Generally, we were disappointed with the menus offered on this cruise. On previous cruises, there were usually several entrees we'd enjoy, but we narrow our selection down to our first choice. On this cruise, we ended up with steak too many evenings because the other offerings were just too "weird" for our taste. While we are not gourmet diners (admittedly) we do like trying new things. But I'm not going to eat things I can't even bear to look at... Despite our disappointment with the menus, we did enjoy our meals, just not as much as those on earlier cruises.
Casual Dining - We had breakfast and lunch on the Lido Deck most days; we enjoyed grazing over the options, the casual atmosphere and not worrying about timing. We also had dinner on the Lido Deck twice - once we were in port too late and missed our dinner and once we were too lazy or too tired to dress for dinner. Generally we found breakfast on the Lido Deck to be as good an option as the dining room. We could get as much fruit as we wanted and they make great omelets. I was disappointed that they ran out of grapefruit sections and mushrooms (for omelets) four or five days before the end of the cruise. Lunches were nicer in the dining room, but we settled for the Lido Deck. My favorite was the Ruebens and I ate too many of them. We sampled many different dishes but never found anything worth going back for seconds. I missed the shrimp salad that was so common on our other cruises (saw it only one time.) What we did enjoy every day was the soft freeze ice cream. Unlike all of our other cruises, we never, not even one time, made it for the midnight buffet (called "late night" and usually served at 11pm on this cruise, because of its older demographic).
Michael Mullane was the Spirit's Cruise Director for our sailing, assisted by his dynamic wife, Jeni. (Michael and Jeni left yesterday for their vacation; we don't what ship they will be assigned to afterward.) We had the pleasure of sailing with them two years ago on the Carnival Victory. Michael is a talented singer, extremely personable, and sincerely concerned about his guests' experience. Jeni is adorable, full of energy & personality. Together they are a very enjoyable team. We spoke with Michael several times (including his "up close & personal" scheduled each day at noon) and are just so impressed by the effort he puts into planning the entertainment. He told us about him and Jeni working to design the games and activities; the end result was a full schedule with more than enough options to keep everyone busy. On the last evening, Jeni amazed and thrilled us all as she danced to "All That Jazz"!
Entertainment: 1 (poor) to 10 (incredible) rating (Main show lounge only).
** Comedian / Magician - Cameron South was a strong 7 - significantly better than average, but I wouldn't go out of my way to see him in another venue.
** Musical Group - Tribute to the Temptations were a 10! I've never seen performers like that on Carnival. They sang, danced, even dressed like the Temptations and did a great job of it. (Disclaimer - this is MY kind of music.)
** Hypnotist - did not go - not interested and this was the evening before our sunrise trip.
** Fiddler - Billy Armstrong - Buddy gave him a 5. He was a talented musician, but should not have attempted singing. Plus his choice of music was questionable.
** (1st Vegas-style) Singing with the Big Band - was a delightful 8. The dancers were wonderful and very high-energy. This was a review of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr hits - not exactly our favorite music, but a classic piece of Americana and very enjoyable. It was a bit unusual, featuring the vocal talents of just one performer. This show has been added to Carnival itineraries of more than 7 days; we are very pleased with the addition, having anticipated only two Vegas-style shows during this cruise.
** (2nd Vegas-style) Standing Room Only was an enthusiastic 9 1/2 (no particular reason that it isn't a 10 - just allowing room for the last show to be even better). Tonight's show was a wonderful, high-energy presentation of nearly two dozen show tunes. The singers / dancers / costumes were all excellent.
** Singer - Joni Butler - was a 7. She was a talented singer and put on a pretty good show, but nothing to write home about. She did a nice variety of music and tried to keep the audience connected, but quite a few people left during the show.
** Comedian - Nipsy Russell - We were finishing dinner the evening we left Kona when Nipsy Russell walked into the dining room. We remember him from many years ago and looked forward to his performance. But minutes before our show time with Nipsy Russell, there was an emergency "bright star" announcement, later followed by an explanation that Nipsy had collapsed on stage near the end of his earlier performance. (Updates the next couple days assured us that he was doing better, but remained in the infirmary).
** (3rd Vegas-style show) Spirit - was an 8. The dancers / singers did a great job and the costumes were wonderful. But the theme was disappointing (and not very clear). The show just didn't capture us like Standing Room Only did.
** Comedians - Kyle Wayne and Jimmy Brick, Rated 5 and 7. Kyle was entertaining initially, but we grew weary of his ostrich / ventriloquism. Jimmy was much funnier and caught the attention of this cruise's older crowd with his references to how things were better in days past.
** Carnival Legends Show is the new name for the guest talent show, almost exclusively Karaoke. There was one act with a group doing the jitterbug, wearing poodle skirts, etc that was very entertaining. Unless the performers actually are talented, we do not enjoy Karaoke. I recognize that some see it differently (my daughter included - she thinks it is a great time), but I really don't care for it. So the Carnival Legends Show on our sailing IMHO was a total bust.
There were many different performers in the smaller venues. We caught only glimpses of just a few, which seemed to be very good. There were always nice crowds enjoying each of the performers / groups. We wish we had had more time to check them out, since most lounges on the Spirit are now smoke-free giving us many more options.
Team Waitstaff, Ivan & Adrianna were both wonderful. Both spoke English well enough that communication was not a problem. Ivan was attentive and conscientious, and had a wonderful sense of humor. He seemed to really enjoy performing in the dining staff presentations (and we enjoyed watching him). His smile was infectious. Adrianna was quiet and sweet, always remembering our preferences and taking such good care of us all. We will always remember them fondly.
Stateroom attendant Alicia did a great job with our room. We requested an additional lounge chair for our balcony; she forgot it and we asked again a couple days later. She was very apologetic and delivered it promptly. Alicia was friendly, although English was a bit more of a challenge. When we'd leave a wine bottle by the ice bucket, she'd put it on ice for ice. She broke a near-empty bottle one day and replaced it with a new one. We asked her about it, concerned that she'd have to pay for it, but she assured us otherwise.
Cell Phones: What a surprise!! Our cell phone service has been with Cingular for five years (originally under the name "Bell South). We recently changed to a plan that does not roam in the USA so we don't have to worry about staying in touch while traveling domestically. We inquired specifically about reception in Hawaii and were assured there would be no problem. But we were still amazed and thrilled at how good our service was! We received calls even while in our stateroom. One time, I (from our stateroom) called my husband who was inside the ship (on a lower level) and the phone worked perfectly. My phone doesn't even work inside my office building!
PORTS OF CALL
Honolulu offers an excellent bus system; use it. But if you prefer renting a vehicle, don't mind bumper-to-bumper traffic and have a great map (signage stinks) do NOT use Alamo. We waited for 45 minutes at Alamo check-in. The staff was definitely in an "Aloha state of mind" and in no hurry to get us on the road. It is a good thing that nobody in Honolulu is in a hurry because the city is in gridlock. We have been here before but chose not to remember the traffic problems. We did, however, find a great place to park overnight, for only $4. It is the Topa Financial building, right across the street from the pier. Because we've been here twice before, we had decided to just do our souvenir shopping (and recover from jet lag) in Honolulu, Which brings me to our hugely successful experience. Very close to Pearl Harbor, in the Aloha Stadium is a "swap meet". I highly recommend going there to purchase any Hawaiian outfits and silk flower leis on your souvenir list, as well as a multitude of other items. We also got excellent buys on several kinds of nuts, including macadamias. It is enormous. Prices are exactly the same from one vendor to another. Parking / admission is 50 cents per person.
Kauai is spectacularly beautiful. This place actually looks like its postcards, no touch-up required. The rugged mountains, lush tropical foliage and inviting beaches just can't be surpassed. We enjoyed a scenic drive to Waimea Canyon State Park. The lookout area offers an amazing view of the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific"; it does resemble the Grand Canyon, on a somewhat smaller scale, and with the benefit of tropical rains Waimea Canyon is very green and very beautiful. We visited Kauai Coffee Company on our drive to Wailua State Park. In its vicinity we saw Opaeka Falls and Wailua Falls, though we really couldn't get close enough for us. We rented our car at Alamo, but this time they were very efficient - within 15 minutes of walking down the gangway, we were on our way. We also enjoyed our Kauai experience because drivers were actually courteous and the roads were well-marked.
Maui was nearly as beautiful as Kauai, though more developed. Again roads were in great shape and well marked, with no traffic problems. Again, also, overnight parking was no problem - we simply asked at the gate for the Spirit and they directed us to a pier lot, just 200 yards away - at no charge. On the first day we visited friends in Lahaina and had a wonderful time! We got back to the ship and went to bed early that night, requesting a wake-up call for 2:50am. Room service did not pick up our breakfast order (perhaps they pick them up later than our requested delivery time.) So we had pepperoni pizza and coffee before heading to Haleakala. I was very apprehensive about the drive, but needn't have worried. It took about 1 hr 15 min - lots of hairpin turns, but even in the dark, it was not a problem. However, the weather was! It began to drizzle on our way up the 10,000 ft elevation. By the time we reached the summit, it was a "driving drizzle" in the strong, bitter cold wind. The skies were completely overcast as we were right in the clouds. We anxiously anticipated the sunrise, still hopeful of a great view. That was not to happen. It became daylight, but we had only glimpses of the sun. A huge crowd of disappointed (and frozen) tourists began the journey down Haleakala. We took our time, enjoying the amazing views and stopping several times for pictures. We decided to head toward Maui's Tedechi Winery, although it would not open for two more hours. We had a pleasant stop for coffee and bagels (no more pizza) at "Grandma's Coffee Shop". We enjoyed the wine tasting, purchased a couple bottles as gifts and returned to the ship. (Note: we found the same wine for only $7.19 per bottle at the KMart in Kuhului - this was rather annoying, but we bought another bottle. None of it was confiscated by security). Our last afternoon in Maui was enjoyed at a beach.
Hilo wasn't as scenic as Kauai or Maui. It was fairly easy to get around, but not as much so as Maui or Kauai. We rented our car from Alamo, which has only one shuttle running between the airport and pier - it wasn't a long wait, but less convenient than Maui and Kauai. First we drove to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ($10 admission charge). We visited the Information Center and the Jagger Museum, then we drove the scenic Crater Rim, with several stops at different craters. It was amazing to see the steam vents and massive areas covered with magma. We also stopped at a "lava tube" where a trail led to what looked like a huge cave - you could walk all the way through it and follow the trail back to the starting point. But in order to see lava flowing, we would have to hike five hours or take a helicopter. That was a bit of a disappointment. On the way back to Hilo, we stopped at the Moana Loa Macadamia Nut Welcome Center. They actually had a sign up that read "Welcome Carnival Spirit"! We enjoyed a few samples and bought some items to take home. Next we drove to Akaka Falls State Park. They have a well marked trail leading to two waterfalls. It was beautiful and we took lots of pictures.
Kona was disappointing. We'd have preferred an overnight stop in Hilo. There were no shore excursions of particular interest to us and, because we had to tender, we decided to go into port late and return early to avoid lines. Having enjoyed the other ports so much, we didn't want our last day in Hawaii to end on a low note, but we just couldn't find anything we wanted to do. (Note: we did speak to a couple others for whom Kona was their favorite port-of-call.) We took Hilo Hattie's shuttle and did a little shopping, I got a manicure, then we took a shuttle to the beach. Living in Florida, surrounded by nice sand beaches, this black sand (with lots of lava rock) was interesting, but not pleasant. We stayed only a few minutes and returned to the ship. When the ship was preparing to set sail for Vancouver, we ceremoniously tossed our leis overboard to bid Hawaii "Mahalo".
We made many new friends on this cruise and had some of the best times ever at sea. My guess is that the average age of the guests on this sailing was at least 10 years older than typical Caribbean cruises. At about 50, we were probably slightly less than average! That was a neat change! Show and buffet times were adjusted accordingly (per Michael Mullane). The atmosphere of this cruise was so much nicer than our other Carnival sailings. I'm guessing that the difference could be attributed to several factors: length of sailing, cost of sailing, and timing during school year. There were only a few children on board.
One other unusual aspect of this cruise is that the Captain actually had a personality - no kidding! He was even accessible, seen on deck and at functions periodically, and gave regular announcements (including reports that "the weather is lousy".) He seemed to speak English better than other Captains which probably made him more comfortable having contact with the guests.
Our days at sea are our personal favorite and this cruise was no exception. We love the trivia contests, dance lessons and activities - the schedule of activities on this cruise was the busiest I've ever seen. It was not possible for us to participate in everything that interested us. We enjoyed more variety in the games and activities offered on this cruise than any of our previous cruises (due to Michael's hard work). We tempered our participation with enjoyment of our balcony. Every day included some quiet time reading and relaxing - we actually rested on this vacation (during sea days only). The weather was good for our first two days at sea, then it really cooled off. Days three & four were cloudy and very cool, with periods of rain. Day five was very cool and windy, but sunny. The pools were not the "hot spots" for sea days on this cruise. Fortunately, the Spirit offered lots of entertainment options.
Tipping - Gratuities were automatically posted to our Sail & Sign account on the first day - a total of $240 for the two of us for 12 days. But we had received such wonderful service and were so well cared for that we needed to show our appreciation. We went to the Purser's Desk to ask to have the amounts increased and they instructed us to use envelopes "if we want the additional amounts to go to specific people". Everyone at our table did the same, but I didn't notice anyone else handing out envelopes.
Sadly the cruise came to an end and we wished many a fond farewell. This was probably our best cruise ever - sailing for 12 days is just so much nicer than a week long cruise. Also cruising to a place you actually want to visit was wonderful. This is only the second time we've left a port-of-call with a desire to return (Grand Cayman was the first). We will likely plan a land stay to Maui within the next couple years, with a couple days in Kauai also. Our #1 priority will be to see the sunrise at Haleakala.
Debarkation - Carnival has this sad reality of cruising very well organized (at least for our sailing). Forms were completed a couple days prior to debarkation, which identified our method of travel and destination. New luggage tags were distributed, coordinating the debarkation process. We left with ship with a bus full of people who were also on our flight. We arrived at the airport and retrieved our bags there (no pick up on the pier!) However this process did take longer than previous debarkations and we did not leave the ship until 10am. Perhaps it was because our flights were later since the majority of guests did leave earlier than us. But we comfortably sat on the Lido Deck enjoying coffee and visiting with our new friends until our tags were called. The process was lengthy, but painless.
We arrived home at 3:45am today. We're exhausted, but we had a wonderful time and can't wait to go again. Please feel free to post or email questions: firstname.lastname@example.org I wish we had caught up with more Cruise Critic members while on board, but enjoyed meeting those we did!
Summary Highlights - The drive down Haleakala, Volcanoes and steam vents, Lava Tube, Michael & Jeni (and their new activities)
Summary Disappointments - Stateroom television, menus, (wrong) beaches
[This message was edited by GottaLuvCruising on 05-13-04 at 08:25 PM.]
[This message was edited by GottaLuvCruising on 05-13-04 at 08:31 PM.]