Sunday, September 12, 2010

Carnival Splendor Review 8.29.2010

Carnival Splendor Review 8.29.2010

Just the Facts:
Cruise: Carnival Splendor-Mexican Riviera
Date: August 29--September 4, 2010
Captain: Giorgio Pagano
Cruise Director: John Heald
Hotel Director: Renil Kuruvilla
Ports: Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, & Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Weather: Beautiful

This was my 21st Carnival cruise and 1st cruise on the Carnival Splendor.

Day One--Sunday-Embarkation-Long Beach California

When traveling for a cruise holiday it is best to arrive a day before debarkation to acclimate yourself and allow for any potential travel problems. As we were traveling west and gaining time we chose to travel on debarkation day, but this made for A VERY LONG DAY. We left the ranch before 5:00 am in order to make our 8:30 a.m. direct flight from DFW airport to LAX. The 3 hour flight was very smooth and we arrived, having gained two hours, about 10:00 am local time. We had not purchased Carnival airport/pier transfers, but saw the Carnival representative and arranged for the transfer ($26pp) on site. This was very convenient and certainly the way to get to the ship if flying into LAX. We were dropped off at a designated area in front of the check-in and able to check bags directly with the waiting porters. This was a very easy process. We proceeded to the VIP building and checked in for the cruise, a great system for Platinum and suite guests. Boarding was scheduled for 1:30 much later than other Carnival cruises from other ports. The embarkation process does not seem to be as smooth as other ports, but most of the people were very friendly and helpful. The weather was very pleasant as we waited outdoors with others until the terminal opened. The time passed quickly after we were spotted by other Snooze Cruisers from the Cruisemates roll call. It's great seeing your friends before you even board. Many of them had stayed on the Queen Mary so walked over to the cruise terminal for embarkation. After boarding the wedding parties and handicap the VIP guests boarded just before 1:30.

The first thing we noticed upon entering was the décor: PINK everywhere. We headed direct to the Lido Buffet as we were both very hungry, it was well past lunch time in Texas. I have always enjoyed arriving early at the buffet so that you can appreciate the presentation of the food and the buffet lines looked very nice. The food and choices were very good. I had roast beef and a nice green salad. Of course I had to also get a bowl of beef and vegetables from the fantastic Mongolian Grill before it got too busy so I had a very nice buffet lunch. The room itself follows the general pink theme of the ship and I did like the small Venetian style glass bulbs. Cabins were to open at 2:30 so we went down to our aft cabin and it was available although some were still not ready. The cabin location is our favorite on deck 8 aft, but it is a bit different than the Conquest class ships. The balcony is covered which I like very much and the interior is better as well so we are very pleased with the first impression. DW had a nap and I went to the Internet Café to ask a question. Teryn Francis, from South Africa, is the manager and very very helpful (and cute too). She is more accessible than I have found on other ships. I then went to the Liner Bar on Lido deck aft for the usual Carnival sail away drink of the day, a Funship Special, and to visit with friends in our group and roll call. Boat Drill closed the bar at 4:45 and the safety drill was well done by CD John Heald. As with the recent changes you did not have to retrieve your life jackets from your cabin before going to your muster stations. After boat drill we received our luggage and met our cabin steward so we were able to settle into the cabin. We are fortunate to have two adjacent extended balcony cabins that we are able to use for a nice sail away party. It was beautiful weather, perhaps even cool to us Texans and we had a nice sail away from Long Beach. With so many beautiful sailboats, large pods of dolphins, friends, cocktails, and the sunset, it was a fantastic sail away. One of the best I have experienced.

We have late dining in the Black Pearl Restaurant. It is a very beautiful room but I’m still not used the pink decor. Our group has two very nice tables in the center of the room and share the same wait team, just as we requested. For dinner I had the featured Tomato Soup, Sweet & Sour Shrimp, the Grilled Tilapia, and Soufflé for dessert. The Welcome Show featuring John Heald was at 10:30 pm. in the Spectacular Theater but being so tired we retired after dinner. It was an enjoyable, but very long day.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
A beautiful morning with cloudy skies and the sea was fairly calm. The plan was for this to be a relaxing day at sea. I had a very nice breakfast of Eggs Benedict in the Gold Pearl dining room & DW ordered room service as usual for our first day on a Carnival cruise. The California crowd seems to eat later as it was not busy before 9:00 am. and they were still serving breakfast as late as 11:30 am. in several places on the Lido deck. After returning from breakfast I caught CD John Heald’s ‘Morning Show’ and he prominently mentions Cruisemates and our little Snooze Group on board. Very nice. He later sent gifts to all. We set out to explore the ship and look at all the public rooms. I still haven’t quite caught the grasp of the overall theme of the decor. It is a very interesting ship for sure. I had a Rueben sandwich for an early lunch and visited with friends. Around 3:00 the clouds broke and it was beautiful and sunny the rest of the day. Passengers took advantage and the pools were packed. The aft pool is designated for adults only. I had a great nap in the afternoon and a nice balcony party during cocktail hour. Everyone in our group received some very nice gifts from John Heald the cruise director and the champagne extended the party. Thank you John! This is Elegant (formal) night and the Captains reception was this evening on the Lido deck. For dinner I had the excellent Pumpkin Soup, Stuffed White Mushrooms, and the Shrimp & Lobster. After dinner we attended the first production show: The Beat. It was very good and featured a variety of dancing and musical styles. After the show we saw many of our group dancing at the Oceanview (casino) Bar so we joined them for a while. The musical acts they have around the ship all seem to be very good. I hope to see them all. This was the first night of the NEW comedy club performances and they had four shows, two for general audience and two ‘R’ rated. I think this will be a big success. I will catch some of the acts later. Our cabin was a welcome site so we moved the cute doggie towel animal and ‘hit the hay’. It was a relaxing, but busy day!

Day Three-Tuesday-at Sea
The seas are very calm and we have perfect beautiful weather today. I slept a little later and had another full breakfast in the dining room. Still not busy after 9:00 am. I explored more of the ship discovering the Serenity (adult) deck on deck 12 forward. They have padded lounge chairs, lounging areas, and a bar. It’s a bit noisy from air exhaust or intake fans, but there are some quiet areas away from the fans to catch sun away from the busy pool decks. We had lunch at the Rotisserie that features Grilled Chicken, Baked Potatoes, Macaroni & Cheese, and select Salad fixings. This is designated group shirt day. Everyone purchased shirts or blouses in the same Hawaiian print, red with white hibiscus. Passengers do a double take when they see so many dressed in the same shirts. It also got some special attention and favors from ships staff. The afternoon was ‘party time’ as our group had their private cocktail party in the Grand Piano Bar. We had a great time posing for photos, visiting, and keep our bar server very busy with cocktail orders. Following the private party we attended the ‘past guest’ party in the Spectacular Lounge. Our cocktail server from our private party saved us seats in the lounge and already had our cocktails ready and waiting when we arrived for the show/party. I must say they have really improved the complementary h’orderves and there were plenty of servers to assist the full house. They had the orchestra and a production singer perform and CD John Heald recognized our group during the show. Following the past guest party we had a photo session with John. Since it was by then almost time for the second scheduled ‘past guest’ party most stayed for that one as well. I have to admit there is some gap in my recollection as to what we did the balance of the day. I know there was a Mojito special at the Oceanview bar. I do recall: everyone in the group had on the same shirts at dinner, and the sun down was beautiful. We move time forward one hour tonight.

Day Four--Wednesday-Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Another great nights sleep and again calm seas and nice weather. We arrived at our first port on time and I had a great breakfast omelet in the dining room and allowed the anxious pax to rush off the ship. Since we had a big excursion planned for the evening most in our group decided to taxi into PV and walk the Malecon. First stop was the beautiful old Church of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. We then proceeded down the Malecon stopping for samples of tequila, looking at shops, and just enjoying the stroll with a wonderful view of the sea. They have interesting statues and monuments along the way. We ended at Diamonds International so that the girls could get their local port charms. We returned to the ship, but before boarding DW and I visited the local Walmart located across the road from the cruise ship terminal. It was fun and I bought some spices for home cooking and diet coke for the cruise. Very handy, and I know the crew members love it.We were back in time for a nice late lunch in the Splendido (Lido) Buffet, the Pork Cutlet and the Baked Ham from the carving station were very good. Just enough time for a wee nap before the big excursion.

At 4:00 pm we met for our Rhythms of the Night evening. We boarded tenders to travel across Banderas Bay to Las Caletas, former home of film director John Huston. This is a beautiful location only reached by boat. We had eleven in our group and they had a nice table prepared for us and a wonderful Mexican buffet dinner. We had choice of two wines, several mixed drinks, or water. Food items included: several salad choices, guacamole, pico de gallo, grilled Jalipenos, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, grilled vegetables, potatoes, rice, beans, tortillas and much more. After dinner choices included: Mexican coffee (add your own Kahlua), flan, rice pudding, coconut pie, chocolate cake, brownies, fruit, cheese and more. After dinner there was time to explore the grounds before the ‘big show’. The show itself is very interesting with the natural stage built in the jungle and natural Mayan style temple as backdrop. The semi-historical theme of man & nature included a lot of dance, music, drums, and fire. There was even a comedy bit as a pre show. On the return the crew of the tender did a dance show. It made the 40 minute trip across the bay go by quickly. We arrived back at the ship just before the 9:30 pm. sail away. We had to take advantage with a late sail away party by having another champagne balcony party complete with our own magical lighting.

Day Five-Thursday-Mazatlán, Mexico
The weather was again very nice over night and during the day. Hot, but not as humid. I enjoyed another dining room breakfast as we docked in Mazatlán about 9:00 am. Today we are breaking away from the group to do our own exploring of the interior and Sierra Madre Mountains. When leaving the ship you take a tram to cruise terminal where you will find 100’s of people trying to sell you something. We arranged for a private taxi for the day. On the way out of town we saw he ‘largest shrimp fleet’ in the Americas, the industrial area, and the home of Pacifico beer. Not the best scenery until we actually reached the highway going north into the interior and the rural areas. The two primary places I wanted to visit was Concordia and Copala. Concordia is an old colonial town (1565) with a nice square and old church. This was a nice clean town and a good spot to walk the square, do some banking, visit the Farmacia (got some meds), and a get a coca-cola light. The area is very green as it is the rainy season and the mountain scenery is wonderful. Copola (1565) was originally a mining town as old as Concordia, but so remote it hasn’t changed much in all those years. All the streets are cobblestone including the road into town from the highway. The San Jose church is well over 400 years old. The buildings are colonial and built in the small arroyos with the church at the top of the hill. There are two restaurants, we ate at the most wonderful spot, Chavis. Our table was under a huge avocado tree and the food was wonderful, what we would call Tex-Mex. I had a Mexican Platter and the Chili Rellano was the best I have ever had. Quesidllias, Chicken Taco, Tacos al Carbon, and Guacamole all very good. Some local mariachis entertained while we dined. We visited with the owner for a good while and learned about the recent history of the area. A very small colonial town that has not changed a lot in hundreds of years. Our taxi returned us to Mazatlan and we had a brief city tour seeing the Golden Zone, Old Town, Malecon, and the Monuments. We returned to the ship about 5:00 pm. The rest of the group had a great adventure, but I’ll let one of them post about that one on this thread when we return.

Our group had another great sail away party from the balconies, we are making progress on the 24+ bottles of champagne we have (as a group). We went straight to dinner from the sail away party, I had Farfalle Pasta with Chicken in creme sauce, the Neptune’s Delight (scallops & shrimp in creme sauce), and a wonderful Grilled Pork Chop. Bitter & Blanc and Tiramisu for dessert. After late dinner was the Guest Talent show and the opportunity to hear John Heald’s infamous ‘Bedtime Story’. Quite a famous routine in the Carnival cruise world.

Day Six--Friday-Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
We arrived very early as scheduled at Cabo and anchored, but the Captain wasn’t satisfied that we would be able to tender because of high seas so tentatively canceled the port call. However he moved closer towards shore using the lee of the rocks and initially said we would be able to tender from that location and extended port time an hour in order to make up for time lost. However it wasn’t long after that announcement that they then canceled the port call. False hope and of course there are a lot of disappointed passengers. The beach did look to be the best of the cruise and at least we did get a very good view of Lands End, but that’s it for Cabo. Time now for a proper breakfast of fried eggs, et al in the dining room and a morning movie. I had time for some posts and to check my ship account and I did purchase another future Carnival Cruise certificate. They added ship activities and bands on the Lido and Promenade decks during the day. The lunch venues were very busy, but DW ate at the Burrito Bar and I had a selection from the Grand Buffet. The Southern Fried Chicken and the Roast Beef from the carving station were very good. The pools and most venues were very busy, but I used the day to relax! An in-cabin movie, nap, and cabin time filled the afternoon until our aft balcony happy hour. before late dinner. This was the second ‘elegant’ night and dinner was good. I had Escargot, Broccoli Soup, Chateaubriand, and Baked Alaska for desert. DW said her Baked Vegetable Pot Pie was the best veggie dish of the week. The production show was Vroom. It featured popular songs from the rock and roll period. The singers, dancers, and orchestra were great. It was really one of the best shows I have seen on board ship. Very unique costumes from R&R period and of musical groups. The Beatles characters, Kiss costumes, and Queen costumes looked great. We turn back the time tonight before retiring and gain our hour back.

Day Seven-Saturday-at Sea
We tried to sleep in a little later, but with gaining an hour I was still up and around about 8:00ish. Another wonderful Eggs Benedict breakfast in the dining room to start the day. It’s a bit cloudy with time of fog mid-morning. The ship’s fog horn being used a few times. Another in-cabin movie and a Bible study meeting by some in the group to fill the morning. I had the Tandoori Grill for lunch. They have always had an Indian Food grill in a “Taste of Nations” station usually one day in the buffet, but I’ve never seen a dedicated Indian Food venue on a cruise ship. Our group met in the beautiful lobby bar after lunch for a wine sampling. Everyone brought the wines remaining from their wine packages and perhaps a few contraband as well. Several attended a Veterans Meeting that was arranged earlier in the week by some in our group. The pools were all busy as were the shops on board. I had some nice cabin time watching opening week of NCAA football. I had already written my comments about our waiter and discovered that others had the same opinion so tonight almost everyone in the group decided to eat in the Lido other than in the dining room. It was fine, but the last night was probably not the best night to pick to eat there -lol. It was fine food, just not a wide selection. The Legends show was this evening and they delivered the tequila we had purchase earlier in the cruise (WalMart). We picked up a few last minute gifts before retiring.

Debarkation--Sunday-Long Beach, California
We tried to sleep in again as we are in no hurry to leave. I went to the dining room and it was busier than any morning of the week, Everyone came early since they had to leave the ship soon. Good breakfast and I did make it every morning of the cruise. Debarkation was going very slow. I packed this morning and we stayed in the cabin until they announced we had to leave. We met friend on aft Lido and waited until last call as we are staying next to the ship in the Queen Mary Hotel. It was almost 11:30 am, very late for a Carnival Ship.


Ship Stats: Built: 2008, Tons: 113300, Passengers: 3700, Speed: 22.5, Length: 952, Beam: 118. The Carnival Splendor is only two years old, the second newest ship in the Carnival Fleet. As mentioned the decor is eclectic and dominated by the color pink. It ‘grew’ on me by the end of the cruise becoming a little more welcoming. The ship is very clean and the crew seem to take great care in maintenance.

The staff and crew for the most part are very good at their jobs and friendly. The entertainment staff is excellent especially with John Heald, Carnival’s senior Cruise Director on board. The weak link was our head dining room waiter, he would be in my bottom 5 of waiters experienced on 60+ cruises. He did improve as he discovered I expected better service. Our Stateroom Attendant, Adi, was fantastic and he had some extra work because of a few parties as well. The room was always neat and clean, the cooler in ice, notices & messages delivered in timely manner, and a very nice man. He would be in our top 3 all time of cabin Stewards. Sylvia, the group services coordinator was very helpful. We had some great bar servers, bar tenders, and our dining table location was exactly as requested.

We had cabin 8461 an 8N aft balcony on deck eight. It is an average sized cabin and a nice extended balcony. The safe has a button keypad and there is a hair dryer, flat screen TV, one electrical plug on the vanity/desk, robes, three section wardrobe, small couch, small stocked refrigerator, and the usual. Carpets and furniture all clean. The advantage of the cabin is when combined with the cabin next to it you have a compartmentalize large private balcony area. (the ships superstructure acts as partitions) The balcony is also covered. I like the design much better than the Conquest class cabins in the same location.

We had second or late seating for dinner and we received tables just as requested, so thanks to the Miami office and the Maitre’d, Shane or Mr. ‘Hello’. There were a few new dishes on the menu, but it is primarily the standard Carnival menu. The buffet food was good to very good, the dining room menu was average to good. DW really enjoyed the Burrito Bar, she said it was excellent. The Deli was good as was the Rotisserie. The Tandoori was different and the Mongolian Grill was always very busy. There are several ice cream and yogart machines with vanilla and chocolate flavors. Room Service was good, but sometimes slow. We do use Room Service more when we have a balcony cabin. DW used it for light breakfast every morning. We also used it a few times in the afternoon for snacks or party items.

The weather was very nice especially considering that we were still feeling the effects of Hurricane Frank.

Platinum Perks
The check-in building at the pier was very nice. We used the laundry twice and it was wash & fold service; fine for undies, socks, t-shirts, denim short, but not cotton shirts, dress clothes, or better items. Had we needed it the priority tender would have been handy in Cabo, but we did not need it.

Personal Comments
The poor service at dinner was very disappointing-enough said. I had never sailed this ship nor visited these ports so I wanted to experience them. Having now sailed them I doubt I would ever repeat. Fine to experience once, but I can cruise the Caribbean, with better ports, much easier. This is a great cruise if you live in southern California and have easy access to Long Beach, but if you have to travel by air I would frankly recommend another cruise. We did have fun, but we always have fun!!

Cruise Highlights
The group of people we sailed with was the highlight for us. John Heald is very entertaining and was perhaps the highlight of the ship. We did enjoy the production shows especially Vroom. Our favorite port was PV our least favorite was Mazatlan (only two we had).

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