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Carnival Spirit Oct/Nov 2011

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Halloween cruise on the Carnival Spirit (Oct 30th – Nov 4th, 2011).

This was my first cruise on a Spirit class ship. I found that the Spirit class ship was relatively easy to navigate, and had a quite a few more “public” seating areas and lounges than I have found on the Fantasy or Splendor class ships. The shop area was between these open areas and set up like a row of shops, so there was less congestion than I have encountered on other ships. The ship’s décor seemed reflect different eras of architectural design, sort of like cruising through history. With combined examples of Egyptian, Art Deco, Louis IV, Queen Anne, Gothic, Modern, and maybe even some Chinese architecture, every room, or lounge has something to offer.

It was my first Carnival cruise out of San Pedro, California. I will have to admit, I like the embarkation and debarkation process at the Long Beach terminal much better. I didn’t really understand the VIP embark and debark process, as unless you were a VIP with a Platinum or Milestone card, you were pretty much routed with the rest of the masses once you got your Sign & Sail card. During the embark process, as a VIP with a suite you are allowed to check in at the VIP check-in line, but then you are handed a boarding group number most of which had a waiting period of an hour or longer and directed to sit or stand in a waiting area until your boarding number was called. The same process at the Long Beach terminal gives you a method to board quicker. I watched as they allowed a handful of people go up the escalator to board the ship, stared at the couple hundred people waiting, and elected to try to board anyway. After a long walk down the pier, up a switch-backed ramp, eventually I reached the ship. Within 20 minutes of boarding I was able to get to the Deli, and get my traditional sandwich, and meet up with some friends.

While waiting until it was time to go to the cabin, I ran down to the Guest Service Desk and dropped off the Halloween Treat bags I had put together for the CD (Sparkles), and the ACD (Marcello/aka Marshmallow). A bit of embarrassment as I had been led to believe that the ACD’s name was Paul, but it became a standing joke with Marcello each time we saw him. Sparkles (aka Lesley) had been an ACD on my Splendor cruise in 2009, and is a wonderfully friendly and attentive CD. (exerpt from her Morning show is currently playing on the home page) I also dropped off a little singing Halloween bear for the folks at the GSD. My friends and I stopped in the Atrium/Lobby bar where I got my first and only Thirsty Frog Red, and met an exceptional bartender named Rolando.

The four of us went to the MDR to see where are table was located. Linda, said she had asked to change the location when she had gone down earlier but the Maitre‘d (Prasad) had told her they had nothing else available. When all four of us were looking at the table he came up, addressed my by name, and said they had just had another table for four open up and we could change if we wanted to. Not really certain how he knew who I was. Perhaps John Heald, the Carnival Senior Cruise Director and Brand Ambassador had sent security a warning picture of me? At any rate, I elected not to change tables and Prasad ran off like a hurt child as it was apparent he thought the second table was in a much better location. I literally had to run to catch up with him, and thank him for his efforts.

This was also my very first cruise at the aft of the ship in a Vista Suite, with an aft-wrap balcony. The cabin was quite comfortable, with a separate living room type area, a separate dressing room outside the bathroom, a large walk in closet, and a separate bedroom area. The balcony was set up with two chairs, two lounges, and a table. While there is definitely more vibration and noise in the aft cabins than I am used to, I found it no worse than being on a long airplane flight with some occasional turbulence and engine noise.

When the luggage came to the room and once I unpacked I finished putting together the Halloween Treat bags I had brought for the crew members I would be interacting with the most, such as the cabin stewards, dining staff, a few bartenders, and the main folks on the entertainment staff.

As with any other cruise, before you can sail off, you have to go to the Safety or Muster Drill. On this cruise, it seemed a bit more organized than it has been my previous two cruises. So, it really took a short amount of time; afterwards we were on our way. Sailing out of San Pedro, we were able to see the Splendor which had just left the Long Beach Port. After Sail-Away it is time to get ready for dinner.
There is only one restaurant on the Spirit. The Empire dining room is on deck 2 and 3. The upper deck seems to have been dedicated to the “Your Time Dining”, which has become very popular on most cruise ships. I prefer a scheduled time for dining, so I can get to know my wait staff. This cruise I was at a table for four with my friends, Julie, Linda and Chuck. Our excellent servers were, Alexandra, Marko, and Renzo.

After dinner, Julie and I went over to the Cool Lounge, where our bartender from the Atrium bar said he would be working after 8pm and that there was a really good band playing music. “Music Society” was a really good band that played a large variety of dance and easy listening music.

After spending some time in the club we went to the Welcome Aboard Show.

The second day on board was our first sea day, which normally would have been Cruise Elegant night, but since it was Halloween, they switched Cruise Elegant to the second Cabo San Lucas port day. There was a festive mood aboard, as the crew started early in the morning to decorate for Halloween.
I like the sea days to run around and play trivia, try my (lack of) luck at the casino and in general just relax. It was fun interacting with the entertainment staff members (Jeff and Jimmie) as they hosted some of the trivia games.

Dinner was interesting as there were so many people dressed in some pretty clever costumes. I dropped of the “Treat” bags to our servers. Alexandra was very cute, she had to take the bag immediately to the back and see what was inside. It was quite entertaining watching about 100 (mostly drunk) people get up on the stage in the Pharaoh’s Lounge to participate in the Thriller Dance Class. Afterwards, they did the costume judging, where an 87+ year old lady did a Scottish jig for us, and stole the show.

We wandered back to the Cool Lounge to listen to Music Society once again. You know a band has to be pretty good when the Captain and most the heads of the ship’s departments are in the lounge listening to them and singing along.

Day three put us in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We were scheduled to arrive at around 11am but managed to get in at 10am a situation where most would think it was a good thing with the exception of one guest. She actually flipped off the staff as they gave her the boarding for her tender. Her complaint was she didn’t think they would get in until 11am and now she finds they are already boarding tenders and she had to wait …. All the way to tender #7. Mind you they tendered over 35 boats that day…being #7 (and early into port) hardly seems like a reason to flip someone off. The ship was basically empty by noonish and the Lido deck, almost looked like a ghost town.

No real desire to go into Cabo; a port I have done many times, but I was surprised there were not more shipboard activities for those of us that were not getting off the ship. (I think that may have been a dozen of us!) Typically on port days, I get an advertisement in the cabin for the Spa, but we actually had to go to the Spa to find any specials. On other ships there is usually more Trivia or other games for those still onboard, but here the schedule was pretty empty all afternoon. So, we basically wandered around the ship and laid in the sun until dinner time. After dinner, it was show time. Jazz Hot was the name of the show. The Spirit Show Band led by Jessy D’Meilo is one of the largest left in the fleet. They also do the music for the SuperStar Live which was hosted by a talented singer Dayna from Las Vegas. Unlike most ships and shows this one had two sets of lead singers, Ruby, Bryan, Caitlin and Edwin, who interacted very well together.

We did the Martini tasting in the Artist’s Lobby and had Iurii as our bartender. He had also previously served us in the Atrium bar. Although I am not a big martini drinker, I did enjoy the Chipotle martini. For $17 you get a menu of martinis to choose from, 4 small martinis, and a little martini charm that they clip to your souvenir menu.

Day four we are back in Cabo for a shorter amount of time, so there were more people on the ship. Julie took that time to go to the Spa; I wandered around taking more pictures of the ship’s décor and of the Splendor who was next to us in port.

I am sure it was just the switching of the Halloween and Cruise Elegant schedule, but the past guest party and the Captain’s Celebration were basically held 2 hours apart. Past guest was done at 3pm in the Pharaoh’s Lounge and the first Captain’s celebration was at 5pm in the atrium lobby. After being plied with more drinks than I could drink in a week, it was back to the cabin to change into something a bit more elegant to run back to the front of the ship and meet Captain Binacchi and the rest of the officers. Captain Adriano Binacchi has a ton of personality. While I have been on many ships where the Captain basically stands there and shakes hands or smiles a bit when a picture is being taken, Captain Binacchi interacts a little with everyone. I did get a bit nervous when Sparkles the Cruise Director introduced us to the Captain, just saying “This is Sage and Julie” … and he just looked at us, nodded and said,,, “Ah, I see.” I had to look over my shoulder for security… Just what had John H. told them about us?

At dinner, Marko our assistant server thanked me for the “Treat” bag from last night, while Alexandra told us he had used the washer/dryer sheets to do his laundry and made everyone smell his shirt because “it smelled so fresh”.

The production show tonight was called the Big Easy that celebrated New Orleans. It was absolutely wonderful. It was a very colorful and extremely energetic show. You could tell that the entertainers really enjoyed this production.

After the show, it was once again off to the Cool Lounge to hear Music Society. They are from the Philippines, and if you talk to them, it may be hard to understand, but when they sing, it is an exact replica of the original songs. The Cool Lounge is a smoking lounge, with cigars and cigarettes. One would have thought that this would deter people from going in, but the place was packed every night this band played. Those that didn’t want to go in were happy to sit outside the lounge at the chairs and tables near the staircase fountain just to listen to their music.

Last day of the cruise, was a sea day, where we once again, wandered the ship looking for some fun activities. It seems there was so much going on, and so many things overlapped, so it was difficult to pick any one thing to do, as if you did, you would miss out on one or two other things that looked interesting. We managed to keep ourselves entertained regardless. Julie called into the Morning Show with Sparkles and won some prizes for answering a question about the gross tonnage of the Spirit. Linda also called in and won for answering the names of the ships in the Fantasy Class. We never actually received the gifts that day, but when Linda went to the GSD before debarking she found hers there. We missed some of the last night of entertainment, like the Fun Farewell as it was too close to dinner time, and the Singing with the Big Band show at 10pm. We didn’t win a cruise, or $5000 at Bingo. We did go into the Cool Lounge after dinner for one more visit with our bartender Rolando, and Music Society.

All things as they are; it was just another great cruise. Good friends, great ship, excellent service. Our cabin stewards (Ivor and Waynan) were absolutely wonderful, always addressing us by name, and stopping to talk to us when we came in and out of the cabin. Who could ask for more?

The Good – The service. The crew. The layout of the ship. Running into old “friends” like Sparkles (Lesley) the CD, and making new friends. Watching the stars from the balcony, absolutely beautiful!
The Not So Good – The scheduling of activities needs a little work. Some days, seemed like nothing going on, while on others there was too much, making it difficult to pick one activity. While the ship itself is beautiful, there are some areas that need some work. I am guessing the normal maintenance will be completed when the ship gets ready to present in Australia.
While not actually ship related – the VIP embark and debark process at San Pedro needs some help. I have already explained the embark process. The debark, was equally as confusing. While we were given zone 1 priority tags off, on other ships we had a meeting place. Our instructions in our room only said to wait for them to call our zone. It was clearly by mistake that we ran across the VIP waiting area for those that checked luggage. It was only after we asked if we were supposed to be there that we were told … “yes, you are supposed to wait here in the Cool Lounge and we will come get you.”
The Bad – There was really nothing bad at all. Nothing that jumps out and says “This area needs to be fixed right now.”
The Interesting – Although they gave out Ships on a Stick to the winners of trivia and games shows, they weren’t giving medals for the 2nd place or even 3rd place in the game shows that I have normally seen. When I asked about this, I was told they ran out before and just got them back in two weeks ago, but had just gotten out of the habit of awarding them. The 2nd and 3rd place winners on the Game Show (both times) looked terribly dejected that they got nothing for their efforts.
Areas of Improvement – The members of the entertainment staff really need to remember to introduce themselves at the start of whatever activity they are hosting. Not everyone goes to the Welcome Aboard show where they get introduced, and even if they did, they probably won’t remember their names.

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