Our experience on Carnival Spirit was fun, which is exactly the buzzword Carnival Cruise Lines aims for. From the ship’s in-your-face décor to the quality shows put on by a dedicated crew at the Pharaoh’s Palace, a cruise on the Spirit is entertaining. Coming out of its January 2012 overhaul, the ship has several new features that proved popular with the guests we sailed with, including the Serenity adults-only pool terrace and the two water slides, which lured plenty of adults as well as kids. Although the ship’s raucous décor—a tour of architectural styles—is sometimes a bit of a hodgepodge, it actually grew on us over the course of our journey. It’s not something we’d ever try at home, but we got a kick out of the theme park-style whimsy.
If our cabin was bland it was also functional and reasonably sized, with a fair amount of closet space and a slightly larger-than-average balcony. Lighting could have been better, especially for bedside reading, and a more extensive room service menu would have been nice.
The dining experience on Carnival Spirit was not as diverse as we might like, but on a cruise of seven days or less one can make do. The Nouveau Steakhouse was a surprisingly fine meal, with attentive service in a memorable space (once we got used to all that pink!), and the food was on par with some of our best steakhouse experiences at home. We recommend booking this restaurant for a night early in your cruise—you may well want to dine here a second time before your cruise is over. Overall, the main dining room, Empire Restaurant, was fairly average, with occasional good dishes plus an Indian selection nightly that adventurous palates may enjoy. The ship’s busy buffet had a limited selection, some of it quite sub-par, though there were tasty items poking through here and there.
Not everything was ideal. Our cruise got off on the wrong foot when we waited 85 minutes in various lines from drop-off at the port till boarding the ship (we were told Carnival’s computer systems for check-in were down). The design of the spa was tight and the atmosphere uninviting, but the expanded fitness room was appreciated. Ship signage, particularly for those of us using the stairs, could be improved (landing areas were dimly lit)—the ship’s layout was slightly confusing.
And we had personal caveats. The amount of merchandizing and sales pitches Carnival generates seems endless: While not uncommon with the line’s competitors, the flyers for jewelry and watches deposited in our room daily and the product sales at the end of seminars proved wearying after a few days. And although Carnival tightened its smoking restrictions in 2011, there were still several locations where cigarette smoke was inescapable. In particular, parents should be aware that on Deck 2, when walking from mid-ship forward, there is no way to bypass the smoke-filled casino.
On the flip side, Carnival Spirit seemed staffed by a crew that appeared genuinely happy to be aboard, and welcomed guests easily and warmly. The shows in the Pharaoh’s Palace—an eye-popping venue—were well produced with talented performers. Although we would hesitate before booking a longer cruise, our experience aboard Carnival Spirit proved to be a generally positive one and, for the price, a good value.
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