Carnival Spirit: The First Day (Oops, Make That "Hour")

So there we were, on our beautiful third ship, sitting in the Deco Lounge and waiting for the maitre d' to be open for the begging business of getting a table for two. (For those of you who do not cruise or perhaps just those who do not cruise Carnival, there is absolutely no tipping involved in this procedure. All tips will be refused... until the end of the trip. The maitre d' is the only person for whom you do not have the option to prepay gratuities, or the service charges, if we're to start making inroads on using better nomenclature on these twisty, twisty situations.)

The Deco Lounge is lovely. Despite being one of the first parts of the decor to strike me, I never got a picture of the Arthurian scenes along the far wall, the one a meeting room lies behind. (On the stateroom decks, the scenes drew more from Greek mythology, with the same art on each floor, just in a different colour. Deck 7, our deck, was green. Or maybe it was blue and Deck 8 was green. This is what happens when you don't take pictures.)

Several people were already sitting in the lounge, dressed for a wedding, which was apparently taken place behind a mural of Tristan and Isolde. One of the younger members of the party was Emma Grace. I'm sure everyone knows Emma Grace. Maybe not personally, but surely you've heard her running and shrieking in circles around the room. With a little stamping. Perhaps those on the East Coast missed it, but it had to be audible at least as far as Kentucky. Or, to be fair, maybe you didn't know that sound was Emma Grace, as her parents didn't ever raise their voices above polite conversation level. But now you know. Where you may have put a "WTF???" on your calendar in the little box for March 27, you can now scratch that out and write in all-caps, "EMMA GRACE."

Someone always thinks I'm mean and anti-kid when I write things like that. Not at all. Three cheers for Emma Grace, running around and being excited about life. Now, this early Willy Wonka-style of parenting ("Emma Grace... Stop... Really..."), that I could have a few more words about.

But let's move on to how I abandoned Mike to the shrill refrains so I could patter back over to the atrium, specifically the Shore Excursions desk, and book the Behind the Fun tour before it sold out!

I believe the "Behind the Fun" tour is now available on all Carnival ships. This tour is offered on only one day during the cruise (one of the last sea days), and there are two tours on that day, each with around 16 people. (This can vary a little. Some people say 12. We actually had 17, which I'll talk more about whenever I get to that part of the trip report. Perhaps check back in October? But this is why I was hop-skippitying to get a ticket.)

The tour is at least three-and-a-half hours long (an hour less if you're on a shorter itinerary) and involves steady walking, which is why I was only buying admission for one. Mike hurt his knee somehow around the time when he was in the hospital. Or maybe he hurt his foot. It's hard to tell which injury came first. Anyway, he has a little velcro foot support now that has helped greatly, but he didn't want to push it while onboard.

This made for a rough decision on my part. The Behind the Fun tour doesn't permit cameras. Mike wouldn't be with me. Not only would I not have the usual fun of chattering with Mike about everything we just experienced, but I wouldn't even be able to show him what I saw. Even back in the Bad Old Days of the Nineties, when we were separated by the big blue sea which has since become our holiday friend, back before our first digital camera, I would regularly - sometimes daily - take photos with my old Rebel G, develop the pics, and scan them in so Mike could be part of my world. Did I really want to spend part of our cruise doing something without Mike? Something I'd only feebly be able to describe in words?

Bah, as if Mike would barely be awake by the time I got back. I was going Behind the Fun!

The computer system was down when I got to the desk (where, after already having one person cut in front of me and another couple about to try the same, I may have been a little too puppy-doggy when I grabbed a stack of the tour flyers and breathlessly croaked, "I want to go on THIS!!"), but the excursion agent said the ticket would be sent to our room. Yay!

I returned to Mike a minute later (already we were beginning to note the smaller size of this vessel), who to my surprise had not taken a lamp to the back of the heads of Emma Grace's parents, despite Emma Grace now leading a fast-motion bunny line of other small people in the screaming and running. A few feet away, I could almost makr out her father repeating, "Emma Grace. Come sit down. Emma Grace..." Some parents say you don't get to criticize until you've been in their shoes, but that kind of floppy logic runs both ways. Don't criticize me for getting irritated by ongoing public disruption when you don't know what it's like to normally have a modicum of peace and quiet. Apparently.

But, as I'm sure someone will point out, there is more than one room on the ship, so despite having an equal right to the waiting area by the maitre d' and a general sense of allowing the terrorists to win, we gave up and decided to wander, perhaps peek at the Empire dining room again.

As we approached the doors, a member of the crew was leading two people on a tour and opened the doors of the dining room to show them the inside. And Mike innocently followed. Brave Aussie!

See, we knew our table number already, because your seating assignment for dinner is printed on the Sail and Sign card. (Lunch and breakfast are open seating. You don't get to sit wherever you want, but you tell the host/ess whether you wish to sit with others, and they seat you accordingly.) We just didn't know where table 415 was. Was it one of the big circular tables in the middle of the room? A booth with another couple? Something, oh please oh please oh please, cozy for two?

The man with the guests came out. Mike did not. The man with the guests continued the tour elsewhere. I waited. I took a bad photo.

Carnival Spirit - Empire Room and Sanitizer

I told myself I would take a better photo later. (An ongoing lie.) Here you can see that Funship Freddy is reminding us to sanitize our hands often, and the sign out front says the maitre d's hours for guests needing to discuss the dining arrangements.

Mike came out, cautiously optimistic. Around the upper rail, looking down into the lower part of the dining room, were tables number 403, 405, 407, 409, 411...

...and then they stopped. The waitstaff was still setting up, and the tables beyond didn't have any numbers on them. But 403? 405? 407? 409? 411? All tables for two. Oh please, oh please!

With nothing better to do (room not ready, Lido deck all crazy, and our four carry-ons hampering a satisfying exploration), Mike decided to ask the Guest Services desk (purser's desk) if they could tell him where table 415 was located. Maybe we didn't need to queue at all?

So it was back to the lobby, which is completely pretty (as always), with perhaps a more spacious feel than on Splendor or Elation, although I can't put my finger on why I think this. Anyway:

Carnival Spirit - Atrium

Carnival Spirit - Atrium Elevators Coming

Alas, Guest Services could not report on the table location. Mike joined me on the floor above (Deck 3, Atlantic Deck, which has a walkway around it, and yet for traditional reasons, Deck 2 is the Promenade Deck), which is the photo gallery.

On Splendor and Elation, this area was always a miserable traffic jam. On Spirit, it usually wasn't too bad. (I should make it clear right now, because there are a lot of people who love to hassle Splendor even more than I love to hassle Emma Grace's parents, I strongly prefer Splendor to Spirit. Now that they are doing nearly identical itineraries while in Mexico, it will be very tough to ever sail on Spirit again unless we're blessed with a trip to Alaska or Hawaii. However, Spirit is a nice ship, and she does do some things better than the others.)

The photo gallery is an important part of the cruise... at least for some people. I'll cover the ship's view of this enterprise when I go over the Behind the Fun tour, but for passengers, who are given many opportunities for professional photos throughout the cruise, this is the where you come to stare at the walls, eventually find your photo, and try to decide if you want to pay $20 for each 8x10. This is where every exit is guarded with an alarm, should the cost of that ninth or tenth photo start to tempt you into thievery. This is where the photo albums, memory cards, cameras, and scrapbooking supplies are sold. This is where the signs are posted saying you may not take photos of your photos. This is also where people walk through a meter-wide space to get to the dining room; with two-thousand passengers on board, the cluster situation can get interesting.

But for now it was empty, the photo cabinets closed.

Carnival Spirit - Closed Photo Cabinet

The ship is themed after different art and architectural styles, which some might call a cop-out of patchwork, but I liked going from China to Paris to Egypt all in a single stroll. But then again, I live in Las Vegas. I don't know what the style of the photo gallery was, but here's the mural from the top of the curved lobby staircases, above the atrium bar.

Carnival Spirit - Mural above Atrium Bar

Emma Grace still being in full performance, we decided it wouldn't hurt to go down one deck and wait in the Artists' Lobby directly underneath the Deco Lounge, Mike could run up and down the steps periodically to check for the maitre d'. What good is the foot brace if we don't put it through the motions a bit?

(I feel like I'm fulfilling some fat-people stereotype by telling a drawn-out tale of our first hour on board, and how it was spent in pursuit of the perfect dining experience. Any judgemental types - and I address this from the experience of periodically deleting hateful comments from this site, be it strangers who want to make sure that I'm aware that I'm disgustingly fat with a face like a leather-hilted axe, or simply those who like to tell me how stupid and nasty our dwarf hamsters are, said comment being offered on the obituary of a beloved pet - should remember that most of the ship's populace was actually eating up on Deck Nine. Or guzzling the first of many drinks of the day. Luckily, there's room for so many different kinds of fun on a cruise ship, including dorks like us who just like to sit, hold hands, watch the waves, and try to see if we can do more of the same at dinner.)

(Now, if you want to criticize me for the occasional thin-skinned and tedious rant, you're on surer ground.)

Carnival Spirit - Artists Lobby

Carnival Spirit - Mike, Artists Lobby, Midway

The Artists' Lobby has my favourite chairs on board the entire ship. There's just something so stately yet comfortable about them. The photos don't do justice to their steamtrain elegance, and I was such a sucker for the little portholes in the arms:

Carnival Spirit - Favourite Chair Arms

Time to check upstairs for the maitre d' again. Ack! A line has started!

Luckily it was two guys, traveling together. We started chatting and it turned out they are from Henderson, and they were hoping to move from Early to Your Time dining. They were nice guys, that we enjoyed bumping into now and again during the rest of the cruise, so I can see why more social types really enjoy the friend-making possibilities onboard. We never got their names, but we started calling them "Kevin and Garrett," and when they show up again later in this trip report, this is who I'm talking about.

The maitre d' line grew longer. We kept chatting with Kevin, Garrett, and the newcomers, except I did it from over by the stairwell because I have this theory about how to get good customer service. If it's on the phone, I think I do pretty well. (I hate the phone, though, so I'd rather suffer the small stuff rather than make a phone call.) Interestingly, people who meet me after a phone conversation say that I'm not what they pictured at all. And there is disappointment. Which leads to me standing around corners while Mike deals with any customer service issues face-to-face. He is tall, cheerful, well-spoken, and has one of those knicker-knotting Australian accents. I am... not those things, so there you go.

The line grew longer and longer, but you may be surprised to read that I think the current dining system works pretty well. From accounts across the net, it seems that most people get what they want. Not all, but the majority, and that's pretty amazing. Sure, though, I'd love to be able to request a table for two ahead of time. I would even pay extra to ensure the privilege (or punishment, depending upon who you ask) - do you hear that, Carnival? I would pay extra to guarantee a particular table or type of table. Just like how you can pay extra to guarantee a specific room or type of room. Cha-ching, Carnival beards, that's all I'm saying.

But having said that, the maitre d' does work hard to accommodate everyone's wishes, and look, the line has started to move!

Carnival Spirit - Maitre d' Queue

(The poster by the sanitizer is advertising a special wine deal where you pay one price and get a variety of wines paired with your courses throughout the cruise.)

I saw Kevin and Garret come out. They would have Early dining tonight, and by tomorrow they would know if they got Your Time. I waited for Mike. And waited. Oh no, was he having to beg? On his bad knee?

Mike came out. In the words of Mr. V, the maitre d', we had a "lovely table for two." OH HAPPY DAY!

And now, it was 1:30, time for our stateroom. to be ready.

But, you know, our cabin really deserves its own post...

03 May 2010 |



Hamsters

 WE BUILT A HOUSE 

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 CRUISE REPORTS: 

Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)