Focus On Fun Travel

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Carnival Splendor (Not Spelled Correctly)

Carnival Splendor
Carnival Splendor - Cabo San Lucas Feb 24, 2011
Mexican Riviera Feb 20 – Feb 27, 2011
Ports of Call: Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas (2 Calls)(Mazatlan was cancelled after an “Incident”.)
The Carnival Splendor is a beautiful ship. Very vibrant and colorful, which adds to the overall “Fun Ship” atmosphere.  When we arrived early at check in, we found we were already half way back in line.  Normal scheduled entrance to the ship is 12 noon, but we, along with everyone else, figured we could get on board early since no one was leaving.  Well, we understood that about 1,000 people, Including John Heald and Gerry Cahill, needed to depart and rooms to be cleaned, from the party the night before.  Thus getting on at a time closer to normal was what we experienced.  But it was odd to stand in line to check in, then be pointed to another line to wait for entrance to the ship.  Embarkation here seems quite unorganized, at the port of Long Beach.
Carnival Splendor Balcony Statroom
When we were finally boarding, we entered on Deck 3 forward, in the Atrium, with the bank of glass elevators.  From here, we boarded an elevator to Deck 9, Promenade, for lunch in the Splendido Lido restaurant (Buffet).  Or at the hamburger grill or Pizzaria by the Lido Pool.  I chose a Calzone, freshly made, at the Pizzaria.  It was yummy.  My son in law says he had at least one a day, they were so good.  For me, there was much more to experience, and not limit myself.
When we arrived at our Balcony Stateroom, 8358, Here were my first impressions:
·         Bright room with a large window and a swinging door that goes out to the balcony.
·         Colorful Piccaso-esque artwork on the walls.
·         Nice sofa to view the, be it small screen, flat panel TV mounted on the wall, also facing the bed.
·         3 large closets providing hanging and shelf space for clothing.
·         My wife and I disagree on this, but I felt the layout of the bathroom was very nice and roomier than others we have experienced with other cruise lines.  His and hers glass shelves on either side of the large bowled sink. And a shower that felt bigger to me as well.  No more shampoo bottles, but a convenient shampoo and shower gel dispenser mounted on the wall in the shower. (NOTE: No Hair Conditioner provided, which was a surprise. Buying a bottle in the shop on board was 4 times more expensive than Walmart. Bring your own.)
·         The Safe is located in the cabinet below the desk area.  This is not easy to access, as it is positioned low.  You have to be on your knees to read the instructions on how to use the safe.  Other cruise lines position this in the closet up higher, so you are standing when you use it.
·         The desk area is wide and has a mirror that covers the wall for most of its length, making the room feel more open. (Note: As has been mentioned before on John Heald’s Blog, there is only one power outlet at the desk and one very high in the bathroom.  That’s it! No more!  If you have a computer, cell phone, curling iron, camera chargers, or any other electrical needs, you will find it difficult to take care of them all.)
·         The lighting in the room is brighter than any room I have encountered in the Princess, Holland America, or Norwegian fleet.  At night, you can see very well, with the florescent lighting around the edge of the ceiling from the doorway to the Balcony door.  VERY NICE!  There are also bedside lamps, a wall lamp beside the couch, and additional lighting at the desk area.
·         The biggest downer of the cruise was the location of our Balcony Stateroom, which of course costs more.  Our room was right under the Splendido Lido Restaurant. Walking on tile and rolling carts were bad enough.  But when the crew decides to clean the carpet at 3:30am, I was up for the day!
AS I sit here in the Atrium with friends, playing cards, listening to Cartoon Trivia, drinking a Pepsi from Walmart in Puerto Vallarta, I still believe there is no place better on earth than on a cruise ship!!!!
                Attending the shows has always been our favorite activity while on-board a cruise ship.  The Spectacular Spectacular is a fabulous show lounge.  Three comfortable levels put you close to the stage.  I honestly have not seen a more beautiful theater.  There were 2 major shows put on by the singers and dancers, Vroom and Musica Latina.  The costumes were excellent and the band was awesome.  The music was very loud, compared to shows on other ships, which those who are hard of hearing may appreciate.  I for one had ringing ears for quite a while afterwords.  The stage is smaller than other ships, but that makes for a very large seating area.  When sitting in the balcony areas (Level 4 and 5), the railing in front of you can tend to block your view of the stage.  While watching the comedy/magic show last night, I had to slump in my seat to see the entire stage.  If you are taller, it would be even worse.  NOTE: This is a Vegas style show and the female dancers were always wearing thongs.  This show may not be for all family members.  
We were originally scheduled Jan 30, 2011, and we requested “Your Time Dining”.  But because that sailing was cancelled due to dry dock and repairs after the fire, we rescheduled for Feb 20, which is the first sailing after coming out of dry dock.  Because we rescheduled, “Your Time Dining” was full, and only “Late Seating” was available.  This was our first experience with traditional dining, and more especially, dining at a late time.  We found this was too difficult, for our bodies, especially on “Elegant Night”, when Lobster and Prime Rib were served on the same menu.  I had to have both.  I have never eaten that much in my life, and resorted to Yogurt the next morning for breakfast.  Also, this time interfered with earlier show times, which we have always preferred.  Our waiters, Jose and Vlatko had a challenge with our table for 10.  This table was situated at the very back of the ship, on the upper level of the Gold Pearl Restaurant.  Three of our seats were between window partitions, making serving us difficult.  The first night at sea, we encountered rough seas, and 2 of our party could not handle the motion very well and had to leave.  The Maitre d’ was really fun in the dining room.  Here, nightly entertainment was provided by the dining room staff, either by singing or dancing.  Last night, my 17 year old daughter was up and singing and dancing with our waiters and having a great time.  I would have to say that the food itself was average, except for the Prime Rib, which was absolutely intoxicating.  It could have been our wait staff or maybe generally speaking, but the transition from one course to another was not as elegant as I have experienced on all other ships.  Such as, cleaning the crumbs from the table and cleaning off all dishes before serving dessert.
As for the Buffet area, knows as the Splendido Lido, which included areas:
·         Splendido Pool and Bar
·         Pizzeria and Grill
·         Mongolian BBQ
·         The Rotisserie
·         The Deli and Tandoor

I have to say I was most unimpressed with the service in these areas.  The most noticeable difference is the lack of food, except at lunch time.  Everything closes at 4pm, except for the Deli, Grille, and Pizzeria.  The only food served in the Splendido starts at 6pm, which is late for many people who want to have dinner at 5pm.  The most popular of venues, the Mongolian BBQ, only serves at Lunch.  The daily variety of food is almost non existant.  With the exception of the main course, everything else is pretty much the same.  Especially the daily breakfast menu here, the only thing I noticed, that varied from day to day, was the type of sausage served, which was mainly a couple varieties of Italian sausage.  Yesterday morning, my impression was “Left Overs”. Some American sausage, Italian sausage, mixed in with some hamburger and chili sauce.  The other thing I noticed was the lines at lunch time.  The way this is laid out, causes lines that stretch down hallways.  Other ships break up the items to be served into station areas, making lines almost non-existant.  The only other service I really missed at breakfast in the Lido, was having wait staff come by and offer a drink.  This happened only once, and only after I had sat in my seat for an hour talking with friends.  On other ships, this is a constant and consistent service.
Children’s programs, especially Camp Carnival for my 9 year old are worth their weight in gold.  My boy could not wait to get there each day, and we had to drag him from the ship on port days.  Activities galore.  Even eating dinner together.  He loved every minute and made lots of new friends, which, as I always say, makes cruising even funner.  My teens also enjoys time at Circle C and Club O2.  At 13 and 17, they both made new friends who will, I am sure, be facebook friended as soon as we get home.  There were approx 700 children under 18 on this ship.  The counselor’s for the 9-11 yr old group were very enthusiastic and wished for even more than 23 who stayed out til 3am this morning.  When those activities were done, they made sure each child made it to their cabin, with a parent present, safely.  Thank You, Camp Carnival!
Carnival Splendor Aft Lido Pool Adults Only
My 22 yr old son and his girl friend had the time of their lives on this cruise.  The night life for the younger crowd is perfect on these fun ships.  They spent a lot of time hanging out in the hot tub, with, what seemed, 20 other people (Way over crowded, but what the heck).  This, I believe, is where Carnival excels.  Alcohol and parties for the 21-30 crowd.  Gambling for them, but more especially, the older crowd.
From floor to floor, the Carnival Splendor and her Crew does a fairly good job of making a cruise vacation one to remember, and also one that is a great value.  We figured this trip cost as much, or less, than a week at Disneyland, when considering hotel, food, and 5 days at the park.  But on the Splendor, we got to see Mexico (Less Mazatlan).  We got to enjoy warm sunny weather.  We had a wide variety of entertainment to keep us busy.  We could eat Prime Rib and Lobster like they were our last meals on earth.  Felipe, the Cruise Director, did an excellent job keeping us informed and laughing (Thanks Mel and Herman and Alice).  When Mazatlan was cancelled, Felipe was on the speaker early to let us know and make us feel safe.  I honestly felt a sigh of relief that we were not going, only because of past incidents.  Seeing the whales, jumping Manta Rays, and the beauty of Cabo made up for missing Mazatlan.  One note:  The people of Puerto Vallarta are stating there is more to see and do there than Cabo.
So overall rating, including the feedback of previous Carnival Passengers (This was our First Carnival Sailing), a 7!  The Splendor apparently is doing things differently than the rest of the fleet, and I hope it is not a plan of migration for all the rest.  Concerns for everyone to consider:
·         Family Friendly is not altogether true.  Though the children’s programs are excellent, the shows are not for younger kids, when considering the costume apparel which is way too revealing.  Leave it in Vegas.
·         The Captains reception was extremely lacking on this sailing.  Past passengers felt that they were not appreciated, because of the down scaling of this event.  Their perception is that Carnival is cutting back.
·         Unless you are a Platinum Member, don’t arrive too early, or you’ll be sitting around.
So there you have it.  As I now sit in my balcony stateroom, watching the sunset off the coast of Ensenada Mexico, I feel that I must try Carnival again, as past passengers have told us that other vessels have been better.  I have to say my kids really enjoyed themselves, all 4 of them.  My wife and I, for the most part, have been able to relax and enjoy ourselves as well.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is no better way to vacation.  I wil recommend this cruise to the following:
·         Newlyweds
·         Singles

I will be cautious to recommend to certain families, depending on ages of children, and affiliations.  Carnival’s Mantra, All For Fun, Fun For all lives up to its hype.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A World In Flux

     So many things in the headlines today.  Egypt's protests may have given the people what they have been demanding.  As I write this, Pres. Hosni Mubarak is expected to speak to the people of Egypt.  They are expecting that he will board a jet for some part of the world unknown for exile.  The military appears to be behind the people.  As I have said before, the rest of the world hopes that this ancient country will settle down so that the rest of the world can come visit and feel safe.

Caribbean Princess - Bonaire
     I have been so disgruntled with airlines lately, with adding fees, cutting back on services, making seats smaller...HECK...even charging you to call them to ask for help.  I am waiting with great anticipation on the finalization of the merger between Southwest Airlines and AirTran, which should be before June.  The Southwest family will roll out their great way of doing service to all the locations that AirTran currently serves, including Atlanta, JFK, and San Juan!  YES!  Southwest will begin flying to San Juan Puerto Rico, which is great news for those of you who have a bucket list item of cruising the Southern Caribbean, and visiting islands such as Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao (ABC Islands).  I say great, because airfare is better than competitive compared to other major carriers there.  No baggage fees. (WOOHOO!).  Really fun flight crews who make your flight much more bareable.  I am a huge Southwest Airlines fan and will fly them as much as possible.  I even own a Southwest Visa Card, which gives me even more rewards, FASTER, than the other carriers.  When flying other carriers, I feel punished and being sent to the corner by mommy, wearing a dunce cap.  I can't wait for more transportation options that will get us from here to there without feeling like a second class citizen who is forced to use what is available.  We need:
  • Bullet Trains
  • Bring back the Zeppelin
  • Jettson type cars
aelous airship travel
     For you basketball fans, those who have hated Jerry Sloan because of the excellent record of the Utah Jazz, will cheer today.  Jerry will no longer be coaching.  This is breaking news.  Sad end of an era.

We Are Here For You.

Monday, February 7, 2011

You Were Always On My Mind

     Only 12 days til we cruise to the Mexican Riviera on the Carnival Splendor.  We have family staying at our house.  We have bank cards available to use out of the country.   We have arranged for our wireless carrier to provide us both voice and data services without having to mortgage our youngest child.  We have found our shore excursions and booked them.  We have made sure we have all homeland security documentation to re-enter the U.S. when we come back.  We have reserved a hotel for Saturday night in Ontario, Ca.  All we need to do is pack!  Have I said before...5 speedo's and a jacket for formal night?
But I Digress.

     Egypt has been much in the news lately, and I sincerely hope that the good people there find a quick peace resolution, as Egypt is on my bucket list!  I want to ride a camel.  I want to stand next to the Pyramids and Great Sphinx.  I want to wander the streets of Cairo and Alexandria.  I want to explore their unique cuisine.

     So much of the middle east is steeped in history that you cannot find anywhere else in the world, and experiencing the grandeur of Egypt from a cruise ship would be everything I could hope for.  A floating Hotel, where you only have to unpack once.  Many itineraries have overnight stops in Alexandria, giving a full 48 hours to see, smell, and feel everything.  Yes, I hope to get there in the very near future.  That would be awesome.

     In the mean time, our focus is on the Mexican Pacific Coast, specifically, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas.  Good news from the Mazatlan area.  The cruise ships have returned after security personnel from each of the concerned cruise lines met with local authorities, and mapped out a security plan that ensures the safety of passengers, and also ensures the continued success of local entrepeneurs, whos whole life depends on cruise ships docking in the harbor. (Wow, that sentence was a run-on.  Sorry to all the english teachers).  We plan on shopping there with some good friends.  In Puerto Vallarta, we will spend the morning on a horseback ride.  In Cabo, we will secure transportation to Santa Maria Beach for some excellent snorkeling.  We purchased all our gear at Costco 2 weeks ago and are excited.  The rest of the time, I am sure we will come up with some additional plans as we are on the ship.  It is cool to be flexible and talk to new friends on the ship about what they are doing and considering new options.

     Until then, we are busy coordinating a group of over 300 going to the Southern Caribbean in May and another group to Alaska at the same time.  It's a good thing the cruise ships have wireless internet access, as we will need ot have access to email to still conduct business where needed.  So don't worry, all you vacation workers.  You can still have a relaxing time, while taking 10 minutes out a day to take care of business.  Then relax by the pool and sip a nice cold drink.  ahhh!

We Are Here For You.