Carnival Splendor: the Undisputed Glory of a Spa Cabin

I'm afraid of massages. They're... touchy. And my skin is annoyingly sensitive, so I'm wary of peels and scrubs and even new lotions. Teeth whitening? Not as long as I have this Shattered Wisdom Tooth Situation. Saunas? I live in the desert. Acupuncture? Why?

If anything, my biggest reason for wanting a spa cabin (on the Spa deck, as opposed to the Panorama, which I'd still take in a heartbeat if you're buying) was because these cabins are isolated yet close to the action. The other "spa staterom privileges" weren't so interesting. Special robes? Meh - we're too big for them anyway. Slippers? Never wear them. A different colour of beach towel than the other passengers? Um, isn't that for (choke, spittle, wheeze) sunbathing?

The special whirlpool and the aroma steam room sounded good but, you know, so did bingo and mini golf on the last cruise, and we didn't bother with either of them.

Still, I was keeping an open mind as we walked past the spa on the way to our room.

Elevators outside of Spa (Carnival Splendor)

The spa balconies are on the other side of these elevators. The four glass elevators are right behind the shot, which was really overwhelming at first, eyeballing 10 different elevators to see which one would land first. By midweek we were placing bets, and by the end of the week we were near-masters of psychic elevator prediction. Waiting for one elevator now seems so boring. What do you do - just stand there?

First Pic of the Room (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

The room was immediately pleasing. Apparently the Asianish decor is an exclusive to the spa cabins, so I'd be curious to see if the regular cabins match the pinkness of the rest of the ship.

We didn't have the (pretty but useless) barware cabinet as on Elation, and the flatscreen television seemed smaller, but we preferred the longer vanity area. I didn't even notice the upper bunk stored in the ceiling for days (then forgot to take a photo of it).

The Safe (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

Having the safe in a cupboard instead of the wardrobe was less convenient, but at least it was just as spacious. Splendor's room safes let you program your own code, instead of the "swipe any card with a magnetic strip" method on Elation. This is probably better, although a second or two slower.

Also seen in the photo: refrigerator cabinet to the left (had to be unlocked by the steward, and we ended up not using it), spa slippers in little tote bags, Mike's souvenir cup at far left, and the packet of ginger gum we have yet to use at far right.

Balcony (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

Balconies are a little larger (five square feet?) than on Elation, which meant it was easy to face forward and stretch legs a bit. I got used to looking directly out at the sea, but not until I locked my wedding band in the safe for the rest of the voyage. (Except for when in port - mostly because it's just that much more armor against men trying to be my best friend and sell me crap.) I just kept feeling nervous that the ring was going to sprout wings, lift itself off my finger (with a few stylish stunt turns), and go flying over the side.

After that, it was much more fun to lean over and look for fish, land, other ships. (We thought we saw Elation on the last night - we had to pass her at some point - but who knows?) One of the chairs reclined, which I realized on about Day Four.

Mike Tidies the Window (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

One of Mike's very first balcony activities was to detail the window. There was a smudge bothering him. Poor guy. He's been living with me for too long.

Mike and Puerto Vallarta Outside (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

(Just a general shot. Puerto Vallarta is outside, and Mike is putting on his shoes to go walk over to Sam's Club across the street. I wish I was kidding. There is a whole long story that goes here, but I will give you the abbreviated version: binoculars, 400 pesos, receipt doesn't say pesos, debit card - are you shitting me?, and no chocolate? Don't worry. It all worked out in the end. There is some talk of a sequel, though, tenatively titled, "Can you return sucky Sam's Club binoculars to any Sam's Club, even if you don't have the packaging?" I'll let you know if the script gets approved.)

Looking Down at Balcony (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

Thankfully, the view down to our balcony was not as good as the view from our balcony, although we did have an incident one night involving teens up on the adult-only deck right above us, throwing down candy and taunting us to buy them beers, be their friends, etc. Bullied on a cruise. Nice. Being used to asshat teens, though, the real story is Carnival's mismanagement of the situation. They were "too busy" when I called the desk, even though I was reporting a security situation. They said they understood, but there was no one to handle it right then, and they'd call me later to "discuss it." Um? I opted to stay on hold. Ten minutes later, they said they were still too busy and would call me back, absolutely, positively. Meanwhile, we've got a hailstorm of mini-jawbreakers looming above. They never called back, and we ended up in no mood to try to enjoy the balcony. Yes, I'm going to detail this corporate later. Right now, though, I prefer not to think about this bad patch.)

On a positive note, the bathroom in this cabin was great - practically arena-sized compared to the demi-suite's bathroom on Elation.

Toilet and Shower (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

I liked that the toilet was on an angle. We didn't use the shower gel or shampoo in the bath, though, because we had our own "special" spa toiletries.

Sink Area (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

Special toiletries that you can't see here because I'd already packed them away. Ha! I wish I'd put more thought into this photo, though, because you can't really get a feel for the nice glass shelves or the towel racks. Guess I better cruise again. Right?

Shower Clothesline (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

Our shower had a neat feature that's kind of hard to see here. A clothesline for wet swimsuits and such. Handy!

Of course, every night there were towel animals.

Puppy-Bunny Towel Animal

Dinosaur Towel Animal (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

Bunny Longs for Dinosaur (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

We were pleased when the dinosaur was undisturbed, and we moved the reclining bunny-thing to be by it. Alas, it morphed!

Towel Animal Friends (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

Monkeyish Towel Animal (Cabin 1101, Carnival Splendor)

That's not a monkey-like creature. That is something cute in a snowsuit. Maybe a kitten. I hate monkeys.

Me as Raggedy Anne on Balcony

Just for grins, a rare shot of me on the balcony. Apparently I have red hair. I did not know this. That "color protecting" shampoo I bought after the dye job didn't quite work as intended. Or maybe that's just Cruise Ship Magic, because here I am back in town, and finding nothing but that faded dirt look I've come to embrace. Or maybe I'm just back to being a wise vampire, avoiding both sun and mirrors.

(Except I really have to do something about the "stubborn grey" patch up front. It's like a widow's peak in reverse. Hey, maybe I should book a cruise and then get my hair done at their beauty salon? After all, it's just good grooming.)

I took this while we sailed away from Mazatlan. It was so windy, my hair and the sea are a blur. If I'd known there'd be that cool "hey, not my fault my hair is messy" effect, I would've taken more. (This will be my new excuse: "What's wrong with my hair? Phantom sea breeze. Once upon a time I was in this terrible accident where I was forced to separate from my cruise ship...")

On our bed when we arrived was a letter welcoming us to our spa cabin. In addition to the special toiletries, on the mantle was an aroma mister for the linens (smelled lightly of coconut) and a reminder that all spa cabins are non-smoking. (On the Puerto Vallarta morning, we were horrified to wake to the smell of acrid smoke, and we couldn't figure out where it was coming from. To me, the odor was as bad as a cigarette and very similar, but I wasn't sure it was the same. The smell dissipated pretty quickly, and Mike's eventual theory was that when the ship maneuvered into the dock, we traversed back across the wake of the ship's smokestack. Maybe. We never smelled it again, but that morning it was so strong we were scared they might charge us the $250 cleaning fee for smoking in a spa cabin.)

The letter told us to go to the spa cabin for a tour, and there we would receive our wristbands. We walked past the six or seven lab-coated girls to the front desk. The woman in front of me was booking her pre-elegant dinner ministrations, so I watched a man on the sofa get fitted with an orange wristband, the kind you get at conventions or certain concerts, with the holes and the plastic knob closure. It was bright orange.

I blanched. Mike took a step backward. "I am not wearing that all week."

The woman in front was apparently booking three or four treatments per day, so we decided to go back to the squad out front, who looked just like the people that kept us from visiting the spa on Elation. (I don't mean literally; its just that on Elation, they hovered there ready to hard-sell you into booking a session. Here? Meh.)

The spa-person (attendant? consultant? therapist?) was surprised that the bands weren't in our room, but without any fuss - not even asking to see our Sail & Sign cards - she went behind the counter to get a pair of white Livestrong-style bands. Nothing orange or temporary. Whew! (That guy must've been getting a day pass. Those run about $35, or $250 for the week. We paid around $20 more for our spa cabin than for a regular balcony, which gave us access and amenities and location, so just picture a lot of high-fiving on embarkation day when everything lived up to the hype.)

We took the tour (more details coming up), ending with an unfortunate visit to the gym. "Do you want to see the fitness center?" Mike, full of fresh cruise buzz, said "Why not?" Inside were two track-suited instructors. "Do you care about health?" Mike: "Should, but no." "But you do care about your health?" Me: "Not really." I mean, we were just being honest. We should, and maybe we do, but little has come of it.

This stumped them, causing all kinds of faltering as they tried to psych us up for their FREE FREE FREE seminars and we just sort of politely nodded while peering around them, looking at the fancy equipment. Despite both being fatties, we do like gadgety treadmills and bikes, and these looked like they had cool screens with interesting distractions (TV? games?), and then there was the panoramic ocean view.

We never did step into the gym again. I wish they kept it (and the spa) open all night. Every time we went to the spa, the gym was packed. Not that I could've even gone in, having only brought sandals, but the machines did look swell. That's all that's holding me back, you know. The right machine. Maybe we should book another cruise, just in the name of fitness. Health is important. I should call the insurance company tomorrow and see if they cover it.

The spa closes at 10 p.m., and by the time we were ready for it after dinner that night, it was too late. But we made it the next day, and that was one of the best decisions on the cruise. One, we discovered how wonderful the facilities were early on, and visited almost every day after. Two, we went again later during the elegant dinner, so it was nice and empty. Three, it was pretty much always nice and empty for those first few days, while everyone else was acclimating to the ship or staying out late in Puerto Vallarta. The last two days, the spa ran specials for treatments that included spa access, so we had to put up with actual other people getting into our pool - huff! - waving their "daywalker" bands on their undeserving wrists.

Grumble. Don't they know that pool is ours? After all, we peed in it. That's the universal symbol for marked territory, for pity's sake!

(I am totally kidding about the peeing thing. But I'm not saying I'm above it. If I really thought it would keep the dreaded Other People out...)

On our tour, we saw the couples massage room upstairs. The private whirlpool, for after the massage, could have come straight from the Poconos, if you know what I mean. Next to this room is the famed "couples mud lounge," aka "Rasul." We were going to do this (the plural pronoun may be ambitious here - let's just say that sometimes I'm a bully), but we were never up to making an appointment. (Spontaneity is key.) What they do is leave you alone in this three-chambered room for an hour. At the first part, you stand before a table with a pot of mud, a pot of scrub (I think?), and at least a dozen bottles of spa products. They close the door, you disrobe and play with the goods. Then you proceed to the "rainforest room." I think? Okay, I stopped paying attention to the spiel after seeing all of the fun goo - SOLD! - but I think it's a special steam bath, followed by showers.

So, we had the $240 in promotional onboard credit, which was terrific. Later I'll show photos of what it bought. And we were down to about $120 left, so I thought, yay, mud lounge! And I think Mike was thinking, yay, casino! And I was saying, um, we live in Las Vegas? And Mike tried using the "we can just play a little then take the rest of the credit out as cash," which apparently you can do, although maybe not with promotional credit? I don't know. Neither one of our Plan A's came to fruition, thanks to a little thing I call Bingo, Where Have You Been All My Life? But more on that later.

Maybe a nice travel or spa or health (because now I totally care about health) magazine would like to send me on a cruise to write an article about the mud lounge? Inside stateroom would be fine? I promise to proofread and everything? And write it in the third person? And not frame my thoughts in conjunction-headed uptalk lingo?

Spa Resting Area (Carnival Splendor)

One thing I didn't know about the spa beforehand is that it has this beautiful resting area. The beds look "Tudor Indian" to me. Is that a real decorating style? It should be. If a nice design magazine or mogul wants to send me back to the Splendor to investigate further, I'm available during all school holidays. I will even sit at a table for ten. Look, let's make this interesting, I'll even get a massage. And everyone knows I'm scared of massages! Say, if there's psychology magazine out there looking for an enthusiastic article on rubbedbyastrangerphobia...?

Spa Resting Area - Fruit, Tea, Water (Carnival Splendor)

The relaxation area is stocked with tea, ice water, and fresh fruit.

Bed in Spa Resting Area (Carnival Splendor)

See the light on the bed? That's from the wide ocean view. The beds were far more comfortable than they looked. Even picky Mike flopped out on one, calling it "pleasant."

Obligatory Foot Pose (Spa Resting Area - Carnival Splendor)

Check out the nice little details. My foot is in this picture because, thanks to a goofy moment when I was 12 and on a Jamaican vacation, keeping a travel diary for English class, it is my thing. My thing which I have forgotten to do for the past couple of years, but I'm bringing it back.

Also, if any pedicurists are having a convention on the Splendor soon and need some very raw material to work with, I can probably find the time to volunteer. Just saying.

There are no photos of the Thermal Suite because it is a thermal suite, hot and wet. The first room is the best, the aromatic steam room. It was so good, that I'm crying a little as I type, looking at Mike's powdery arm on the other end of the sofa. That steam room made us young again! Like someone turned our dials from "Rawhide" to "Calfskin." You can't do that to a person then send them back to the desert. This is just like Flowers for Algernon.

In each room of the Thermal Suite are heated, tiled sitting areas. Benches in the first steam room, lounges - yes, tiled and yet so comfortable - in the sauna, and chairs in the "other steam room and sauna," two rooms that differed in some way that I'll have to look up, because I couldn't tell how at the time, other than they're both small, and the other steam room doesn't smell like Beauty and Happiness.

(Taking a time-out here to grieve audibly, thinking of every stupid thing I ever bought that took money away from future cruises. Like... any food that isn't rice and beans.)

One thing we, strangely - since they're the first rooms on the right, didn't see on the tour were the changing rooms. We thought we'd have to just carry our Sail & Sign cards, or leave them by the side of the pool with our shoes. Carnival's ships are known for having people stagger through the buffet in their bathrobes (although I only saw this once, on Elation), so I assumed we just changed to swim/spa gear in our room and walked (the fifteen steps) over.

There are not only changing rooms, but lockers with key codes that you set yourself. There are also plenty of towels at every stage of the experience. Funny how we were careful to re-use our towels in the room, doing our bit for the environment, but we'd go through three or four or more towels during a spa session, slinging the used ones into the woven wood hampers and grabbing a dainty white one from the stack. You don't have to bring your special spa beach towel (tan, not blue like the others - photos to come later) at all.

Now we come to the crown jewel. The thalassotherapy pool.

Door to Thalassotherapy Pool (Carnival Splendor)

It's just through those doors and up the steps. Oh, wait, the sign says MEMBERS ONLY. That's okay, I still have my wristband. I can get you in.

Thalassotherapy Pool (Carnival Splendor)

I don't know what "thalassotherapy" means in this case, as the Wikipedia definition is vague and Google results are slim, but apparently they've added special minerals added to the water? I never smelled anything unusual, but it was nice to be in a non-chlorinated pool.

Keep in mind that is a whirlpool, NOT a hot tub. Remember how I said there came a day at the end of the cruise when the spa tourists were allowed to use our pool? Apparently those people complained that the pool wasn't warm enough. Apparently they kept complaining. Apparently the spa people were cross/intimidated/something, because the attendants got Engineering to make the pool warmer.

Later that evening, we went to the pool. It was empty. Yay! It was also boiling hot. Huh?

A lot of people say "boiling" to mean "really hot." Me, I'm pretty close to meaning exactly what I said.

You know how sometimes you run a hot bath, and it's unbearable to stick your foot in? But eventually, toe by toe, you manage to get in a foot, an ankle, a calf, and eventually a knee? Then later you make it past the thighs and it's so toasty and comfortable?

Yeah. We never made it past the fourth toe or so. I kept trying for that pinky while Mike went to get an attendant. Another guy came in. "It's really hot," I warned. He stepped in. He sprung out. "Jesus Christ!!"

Mike finally returned, attendant in tow, having convinced her to touch the water even though supposedly Engineering was keeping it a constant temp.

"Wow!" she exclaimed, finally breaking the mannequin reserve of her species.

Out she went, and a minute later another attendant came in to try. "It's HOT!"

They both told us about the complaints they'd had all day about it not being warm enough. I, in my Verucian campaign against uninvited (by me) people using the pool, have chosen to blame these people who only stopped in for the day and, being unaccustomed to the classy wonders of the thalassotherapian life, didn't understand that it's not a hot tub. I waggle my accusing finger - they broke it! Oh sure, I could blame the people who caved to their whining, or to Engineering for allowing it to get too hot, or I could even be compassionate and allow that maybe there was a temperature problem. But that would diminish my case for not letting other people into my pool.

(Anyone who books another Splendor cruise for me is, however, invited to use my pool. I will even return the gesture by buying you a lime and ginger facial. See, I am as generous as I am appreciative.)

So, no pool for us that night. They couldn't fix it before the next day. Disappointing, but we had the steam room, so it was still worth dropping by.

I should point out that it's not just a whirlpool. There are refreshing streams of water from faucets on one end, and a "grill recliner" (my term) on the other. You know how, in most whirlpools/hot tubs/etc., there is that concrete bench going around the edge for sitting? The thalassotherapy pool has, instead, a sort of lounger-shaped bench running along one side. It's not concrete, either, but row after row of metal poles, similar to the ones you use to get into a pool. This sounds uncomfortable, but not only is it extremely restful (you can lie back, or sit up on the hump that otherwise goes under the knees, or hang onto the poles and float around), it allows the throbbing, bubbling water to circulate all around your body. If it were an ultralounge, they'd call it "Immersion."

Me, Sad to Leave

There being nothing else to say about the spa (lest this become a three-hankie post), here is another self-shot of me. (This is what I get up to when Mike naps).

See, I am very sad. It's black and white, so you know I'm sad. With great joy comes great despair... and very dry skin. You can have your Jergens, I know of only one cure. Bring back, bring back, bring back my bonnie Splendor cruise ship to me, to meeee...

(Previous Post in This Cruise Report: Carnival Splendor - The Food.)

13 July 2009 |