Carnival Splendor Again: Embarkation Day

You know, Dickens cranked out his installments faster than this. I only know that he even wrote serials because of when Stephen King did it for The Green Mile and mentioned people waiting in the harbor for news of Little Nell. Let's get one thing straight: I aced-with-grease the GRE Subject Exam (in Literature) not because of what I'd read, but because of how well I researched what I was supposed to have read. And since Mike recently wrote a paper on Hard Times, I am that much more of a Dickens Dilletante, which would be a wonderful book blog name, by the way.

Which is how we come to this question: if Dickens were naming cruise ship workers, what sort of names could we expect? The stewards would surely be something like "Mr. Nebbersnuze" and "Ms. Yessington" as I don't know when they sleep and have never heard one say "no" to a request.

When last we left off the story, we were in Zone One (but barely):

Carnival Splendor - Zone 1 - Despite the Runaround

In fact, all kinds of folk called Zone One home. Special needs, weddings, early birds like ourselves... and every single person who was waiting for their loved one to disembark. Which meant that sitting space for those waiting to board was sparse - a shame considering that we arrived just before noon, were already checked in, and (thanks to thorough Customs) still waited an hour and a half before the last person was off and all the wedding people and VIPs were on.

If you're staying on the Queen Mary, Carnival's Long Beach cruise terminal is startlingly convenient, but the terminal itself is the poorest of... well, of the other one we've actually visited (San Diego - a snap!) and those I've seen on TV. You mean it's not the norm to prop yourself against a large concrete wall - under full sun if you're not lucky - for a couple of hours until you can board? You mean other terminals have chairs with... padding? Air conditioning? Faaaaaancy!

We did get a spot to sit, only by being a bit pushy with the "just here to greet someone" lot who are so prone to sprawling.

One problem is that everyone kept trying to form lines.

Long Beach Cruise Terminal - People Queueing Up for Nothing

And as soon as people started doing that, everyone would get anxious and leave their zones/spots to join a line... only to have that line be meaningless as soon as a Carnival employee walked over to a spot away from all the "lines" and called for a certain group to board.

After the wedding folks and the VIPs, Zone One was called. What about Special Needs? We told some disabled people by us that surely it was a mistake and they should come with us - on principle if not by rights. A minute later the announcement was adjusted to "Special Needs and Zone One." Heh. And of course the checkpoint person was on the opposite side of where all the wheelchair-folk had queued up by the rope as requested. This terminal is a mess... right up there with all the Zone Not-One people who were sent out of the Zone One line. People! I don't know what to say.

Once inside we were briskly through the X-ray machines, past the (not being used) check-in area (is it ever used? Paradise?), and up to the photography cattle-run. We were directed to the longer line in the back. "We don't want photos. Can we just cut through here?" We pointed at a gap in the whole business. "No. You have to wait in line." Harumph. So not San Diego. We defiantly went to the shorter line in front and, as soon as the people in front of us were done, walked through. Ridiculous.

I've since heard that you can take the elevator to avoid all this. I don't remember the elevator being convenient, but it's something to keep in mind... should the price ever be so right that we sign on for yet another same-old west coast itinerary. (Yeah, we're a little jaded.)

Then it was up the escalators and out to the bridge to the ship - argh, sidestepping another jam of photographers - but at least this time we didn't have to queue up.

And then we were there. Back on beloved Splen-Splen.

Since it was after 1:30, Mike hustled to the maitre d' to see if John Heald had been able to help us with a table for two. Good ole Miguel from last time was there, and he said we would've had a table for two anyway - something about how since Mike is "international," this is the custom. (Yeah, but he's Australian. It's not like it's a huge language gap. Still, no complaints if it means we get our own little world.)

Somewhat disappointingly, we would be in the Lower Black Pearl again. I really wanted to try something new, but again, can't argue with a table for two.

While Mike took care of that, I (and all of our luggage) visited the Steakhouse line to confirm our reservations for Monday and Friday and to make sure they'd noted that I'm a vegetarian. Done and done. Mike arrived and we were more or less moved along into the flow of traffic - hmm, the ship sure didn't seem this busy last time.

Although the wait outside was unfortunate, it was nice to be able to board and already have our room ready. (Well, mostly ready. Once again Mike had to spot-clean the window... and this from the man who cannot seem to see dirty laundry on the floor at home.)

Carnival Splendor - Mike's Now-Traditional Window Wash

Lunch? We left the bags and decided to first get our spa bracelets. The little elevator around the corner from the Panorama Deck to the heart of the spa was as convenient as I'd hoped. Last time we were very pleased to be on the Spa Deck, and I'd stay on it again any time, but if you're near the elevator on the Panorama Deck, it's nice to not have to walk by the forward elevators or in so much of the "public" area. (Maybe that's just a Fat People Concern.) I also liked having the extra cover over our balcony in cabin 1017, this time with no danger of being pelted with candy by teenagers on the Serenity deck above.

"Hi," I said to the English woman at the spa desk. "We're staying in a spa cabin, and I hear the policies have changed since the last time we did this, in 2009. In addition to needing our bracelets, I guess we now also turn in our Sail and Sign cards for a key every time we visit?"

She got us our bracelets and confirmed that things have changed. That was a bit of a bummer - how nice would having an elevator (almost) right from our door to (totally right in front of) the thalassotherapy pool have been? But, the new way wasn't so bad (especially since I'd always send Mike to turn in the key while I dripped by the elevator), and if it keeps out the losers who delight in sneaking in without paying, huzzah.

On to the Tandoor! I panned the grill pretty hard last time - the only veggie option then was a block of sawdust seated in an acrid smear of chickpeas - but this time I was reapproaching the grill with a blank slate. After the tasty Indian meal we had on Spirit (in addition to the usual yummy Indian Vegetarian Dinner on the first night), I told myself that maybe I just had bad luck last time.

We took a moment to marvel at a check-in/embarkation line that now went all the way to the Queen Mary stairwells and wrapped around:

Carnival Splendor - Embarkation Line Has Become Hideous

Okay, time to enjoy some Indian buffet...

Carnival Splendor - Tandoori Grill

Here it comes...

Carnival Splendor - Tandoor Grill Vegetarian Selection (Same All Week)

Okay, it was better this time, certainly with the naan (not shown above - that's fried bread) and even a bit with the paneer tikka... but as the menu changed all week, one thing remained constant: the vegetarian option. And this is Indian food, known for its variety for vegetarians. But no, every day it was the same "choice" for me: dry block of paneer with garbanzo beans covered in a smidge of acrid sauce. (I don't mind heat or spice, but this was just a sharp taste.) It wasn't as bad as last time, but it wasn't good enough to have twice. Meanwhile, the other dishes would all change and have lovely gravies, but day after day, always dry paneer tikka for the vegetarians. Even the samosas had beef (beef?!) in them.

This is one area where, as John Heald would put it, Carnival "can do better." Something with a sauce, that's all I ask.

I couldn't keep track of the number of times we said, "Can you believe we're back on Splendor?" We walked around admiring the ship. Here was a giggle:

Carnival Splendor - InfoCruise Encountered a Problem

We saw that trivia was happening by the casino bar, so - being nearly there anyway - we decided to check it out. Mike bought a soda card (that's right, we didn't wait until out of port to save money) and ordered a lemon, lime, and bitters. Here's the happy man:

Carnival Splendor - Mike by the Casino Bar

LL&Bs, as we call them, are what Mike usually makes for me when I get home from work. Refreshing with just that little edge of complexity that gives you the pleasure of sipping slowly. Pour in a couple fingers of lime juice cordial (if making this at home, try to get the imported stuff made with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup), add a splash of Angostura bitters, then fill the rest of the glass with a beverage like Sprite. (Here I don't mind the HFCS because I like Sprite's carbonation, but Mike prefers Sierra Mist - which is now only made with sugar - for its less artificial and more mellow taste.)

Soon a member of the entertainment staff joined us - Simon from England, who later we learned also goes by "Chocolate Thunder." Just when we thought Trivia wasn't going to happen, another couple came over, so Simon hustled us through 20 general questions, all pretty fresh, which we commended him on. (One reason we weren't planning to do trivia on this cruise was because it seemed on the last cruise like Carnival only had so many questions. Thankfully, Simon likes to make his own.)

A photo of always-friendly Simon, taken later in the cruise:

Carnival Splendor - Chocolate Thunder (Simon)

We did well, getting about 17/20 if memory serves, and beat the other couple by more than twice as much, but Simon gave them medallions as well, so that was more fun and less awkward. (Alas, Simon said that ships on a stick wouldn't be given out for trivia until later in the cruise. I wonder why?) I won't say what any of the questions were, but it was amusing to hear Simon rant against Hershey's chocolate; he and Mike could almost do a duet: "Cacao Apoplexy in Stereo." I guess those Commonwealth peeps just don't appreciate waxy plastic chocolate like we Yanks do.

With Indian in our bellies and and a medallion to rest on top of them, we returned to the room to unpack.

Carnival Splendor - Mike Begins Unpacking the Electronics

There's Mike, unpacking just the electronics. (Kindle... book light... another Kindle... another book light... netbook... camera... camera lens... camera lens... camera lens... a thousand different chargers...)

(And yeah, I know I use the old kit lens in P-mode 99% of the time. I suck.)

Time to mosey to the Safety Briefing. We decided to hang out in the Alexandria Library.

Carnival Splendor - Smoky Alexandria Library

I need to see the library on Carnival Magic because if Elation-Spirit-Splendor have taught us anything, it's that the newer the ship, the poorer the library. But, Splendor's seemed more well-stocked this time, and we looked forward to checking it out. Alas, when we stepped inside, we discovered that it reeked, and I mean reeked, of cigarette smoke. The smell was so fresh and strong that we couldn't even suck it up (so to speak) and try to get used to it, like we do when in casinos at home. Pee-ew.

Mike let someone know, and we went early to our muster station, even though this time we'd vowed not to (for once) be one of those suckers who gets there so early that you end up squished and gasping for breath in an obedient sardine line in the back while glaring at the drunken late arrivals who stumble in to the spacious front, oblivious, and get to leave first, too.

To our surprise, our line was around the corner on Deck 3, in the front part of the ship, and in some sort of wind tunnel. This short corridor only permitted three rows of people, so everyone could breathe easily, which is important when you're laughing at everyone's hair standing on end. Really, I guess there was some kind of huge fan blowing somewhere? We never did tried to check it out later; I think this whole section was in a non-public area anyway, by the way the crew was hanging back to make sure we all left after it was over. The noise of the fan made it almost impossible to hear the announcements. I was aware of talking, but that was about it. It didn't help that the drunks (there are always drunks) were crabby about having to be there at all and kept groaning and shouting whenever announcements came on or continued after a pause. (As much as I respect and enjoy Carnival, I don't think this is what the Coast Guard expects to be happening during these briefings.)

But, uselessness for hearing anything aside, this is my second fave muster drill spot ever. The strong wind rushing past us at all times kept things refreshing and not physically unpleasant, which is the norm. (My fave spot is on the Lido deck on Elation, gathered around the stage.) Mike had just had a haircut, so he doesn't really do justice to the hair-on-end phenomenon:

Carnival Splendor - Mike's Hair Blowing Up at Muster Drill

Now what? Well, I don't remember the exact order of things, but I think it went like this: "Hey, spa tours are over, right?" "I think so." "Let's go!"

Everything was exactly as exquisite as I remembered. The aromatherapy room seemed more citrusy than eucalyptusy than last time, but Mike isn't sure I'm right. Still, it was just as perfect. Once again (since I assume people who are reading this probably didn't read the last Splendor trip report), we are NOT NOT NOT spa people. I'm 41, Mike is 38, and we're both big fatties who normally cringe at the idea of massages, pedicures, facials, or being seen in public in swimwear. And yet, the Splendor's spa is so great that we just ignore all that and enjoy.

Having researched a bit for a possible Alaskan cruise with my father-in-law next year, here is where Carnival Splendor's spa (and I assume the other Cloud 9 spas on the newer ships) has an advantage over, say, Princess or Royal Caribbean or Norwegian or even Disney. Everything is co-ed. The thalassotherapy pool is co-ed. The steam room has aroma AND is co-ed. The different saunas are co-ed. Often I'd see great facilities on ships from those lines, but every time, some of the thermal suite facilities (usually the steam) would be single-sex.

(That said, due to completely being sick of Carnival Spirit plus it not having a thermal suite, we're leaning toward the Norwegian Pearl for Alaska. Thoughts?)

When we got to the thalassotherapy pool on this first night, it was already occupied by three bobbing kids as their father sat on a bench and watched. A spa worker was speaking to him, and he was joking with the kids, something about how they'd have to wait until they were 18 to enjoy it. At first I thought the tours were still going (and some kids had decided to make the tour more interactive than usual), but it turned out that some guy had simply brought his three kids there to enjoy the thalassotherapy pool, which they were doing - with squeals and dives - even as the spa worker was trying to kick them out. I don't know how he got in, but it's not like the pool is that easy to get to. He knew better and must've hoped they wouldn't get caught. Asshole.

(Later that week we saw another person with his young son being told - as they headed into the locker room to change - that the son couldn't stay... this was after the son had enjoyed the pool and the steam room. So, the new system if turning in a Sail and Sign card isn't perfect, but I can only imagine how bad things got before they felt the need to change it.)

Refreshed and already looking forward to ending the week with skin that doesn't flake to the touch (it's a harsh life here in the desert), we dressed (with a lowercase-d: capris with blouse for me and dark jeans with Polo for Mike) for dinner and headed down to the nook-like entry where one queues for the Lower Black Pearl.

The table for two we had last time on Splendor was okay. Not great, being hidden behind the stairs and wedged between the waiters' computer and a table where the huge biker guy always not only sat behind me (instead of his petite wife), but always sat a foot from the table at least. We really hoped we might have a table for two by the window, such as we enjoyed at breakfast on Splendor one morning, but we were grateful for anything we might get. (Nothing can really compare with the lovely tables for two isolated along the upper rail in Carnival Spirit's dining room anyway.)

So, when we found ourselves at almost the same table as last time, except hidden behind the other side of the staircase, we had to laugh.

Carnival Splendor - Happy (but Hidden) Table for Two

Hey, a table for two is a table for two - for those of us who would skip the dining room without one, you have to be grateful. And if I did harbor a teensy bit of disappointment, as the volume level in that section was very noisy and our waitstaff ended up not reaching the expectations set by previous cruises, such thoughts disappeared when I saw these two-tops nearby:

Carnival Splendor - Less Pleasant Tables for Two

Bleh. Now I see why people complain about tables for two on Splendor not really being tables for two. We did get lucky. (And that table-for-two in the Lower Gold Pearl that I coveted from last time? Not even there this time.) Oh, and I have no idea why that couple in the photo decided to sit next to each other at that table instead of across, but I'm sure the gentleman to their right was thrilled.

We had the late seating for dinner, what with Your Time Dining being all booked up, and the way events were scheduled on this particular cruise, for the first time we were really aware of how many activities we missed. All of the game shows and evening trivia, for one thing. This didn't happen the last time we had late seating (on Spirit), and we were definitely into the trivia on that cruise. That's another reason that I'm eying Norwegian for Alaska: no assigned dining times. I really-really hate to stray from Carnival, especially before we make Platinum status and especially when we can't beat their spa without bumping up to HAL or Celebrity, but again, this cruise really felt like it was planned around the early dining set.

You know, a couple of cruises ago, I said I wasn't thrilled with Stephanie Meads' onstage persona. It seemed very arm's distance, scripted, and corporate. (Although I'm sure she herself is a great person.) I thought her demeanor was more in keeping with leading activities for a company retreat than a Fun Ship, which is not meant as a put-down, just an observation that her skills may be slightly misplaced.

Anyway, two cruises later, I have to give her kudos if she's the one who did the scheduling on our Carnival Spirit cruise. Plenty of trivia scheduled (as is appropriate for a crowded Spring Break cruise, just like the one we were on now) so no one missed out, events always started on time or at all. On our last cruise, we had three occasions where no one showed up to run trivia (or arts and crafts) with zero or little explanation. (Once an entertainment staff member said there must have been a printing mistake, and another time he said they were short staffed.) On this cruise, as I said, all of the gameshows/trivia (except sports - yuck) coincided with late dinner, as opposed to an hour earlier so both dining times would be satisfied. There would be doubled-up trivia/similar events in the morning, but then dead patches in the afternoon. The focus seemed to be much more on music, which held little interest for us. (But, per last spring break cruise, why not both?)

So, a belated thank you to Stephanie Meads for her organization skills. I can see now why John Heald is a fan. Since we see more of the entertainment staff than the CD, I'd rather have a well-organized, thoughtful CD than an entertainer who isn't managing things behind the scenes. (But what I'd really like to have is !)

So, scheduling aside, how was our cruise director this time? (Felipe.)

He was fine. Not really our type, but I'm sure he's popular with people who look for someone to be very hyper in order to get excited themselves. I like the more low-key stylings of Stu Dunn and even of Goose, and on the videos John Heald looks pretty perfect in terms of understated comedic timing and showmanship. It takes all kinds, though. No complaints, always seemed very nice on the morning show, just not the kind of person where I looked forward to an event because he was running it. (Compare to, say, Sam Pile, aka Sam Stephen.)

For the first time ever, we caught the Welcome Aboard show. It wasn't as easy to get a good seat in Splendor's theatre as it was on Spirit, but after enjoying The Big Easy and other shows on Spirit, we were determined to not walk away this time, as we did on Elation and Splendor before.

Mind you, it's hard when people are literally setting their children down in the aisles for people to step over. (Not just any aisle, but the main thoroughfare, right next to the stairs.)

Carnival Splendor - File Under 'Kids as Speed Bumps'

I have to say, my allergy to people really reared its head during this cruise. Our last Spring Break cruise was one of the best. Our first two cruises, including the previous Splendor cruise, were wonderful, and they were during June and full of kids. But nothing on previous cruises that made my eyes roll (including being bullied by teens as described above) really worked my nerves like some of the thoughtless happenings on this cruise. Maybe the ship was just more crowded this time, but I think it's me. I think my tolerance is getting lower. Am I ready to put aside my casual wear and sail Holland America? (Am I ready to put aside everything in the pantry except beans and rice and sail Cunard?)

I don't know. Maybe we just need to mix it up a little: new ports, maybe even a new ship. The west coast itinerary is just... OLD.

The show was okay. This towel animal, the one we call "THAT Towel Animal" because we have no idea what it is but it seems a bit rude, awaited us:

Carnival Splendor - THAT Towel Animal

Before the cruise, we became aware that you can make a thread in Carnival's "Funville Forums" before you go that can be accessed later onboard, even if you don't buy a WiFi package. Unfortunately, you can't add photos straight from your hard drive to the thread, so our plans of sort of "sharing as we go along" were thwarted.

(And here it is June, and I can't even get past day one. Now that school's out, perhaps that will change. Ever since the last cruise, I find myself not blogging because I feel like I have to finish cruise reports first, so the posts won't be all out of order and hard to follow. And so life marches on, unrecorded.)

Anyway, here's what Mike posted on the Funville site before we went to bed:

Just before midnight and officially without Internet.

Had an extremely enjoyable return to Carnival Splendor's amazing thermal suite and thalassotherapy pool. Every single other person who entered the pool commented that it "wasn't hot" - It's a common misconception that it's supposed to be a hot tub - this is good because I love the tepid water and bubbles and if the crowded tubs on other decks are anything to go by, I'd prefer this one didn't share their appeal for the other guests. Kudos to the spa staff member who promptly booted out the cavorting young teenagers from this peaceful, over 18s pool.

Finally saw Carnival's "Welcome Aboard Show" which was quite fun.

Now it's time for a little reading and finally - the chance of some sleep. I was still awake at 5AM this morning, even after only 4 hours sleep the night before. 7 hours of sleep in two days doesn't seem to have caught up with me yet, but all the same I'm hoping for 8 hours tonight and a restful day in the spa tomorrow.

12 June 2011 |



Hamsters

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