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Carnival Splendor 2-nights to "Nowhere"

Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Splendor
Sailing Date:
March 21, 2009
Itinerary: Round-Trip
San Francisco to "Nowhere" (Day at Sea)


This cruise was a 'preview' for travel agents and press, not a normal sailing.  The entire purpose was so agents such as myself could tour the ship, experience the service, and be better informed to sell this brand new beauty as she begins life as Carnival's 7-night Mexican Riviera ship from Long Beach (LA).



The Carnival Splendor:


The Carnival Splendor is a 'one and only' ship.  She will have no 'sisters' that are exactly like her, even though the Carnival Dream launching in 2009 will have many of her same innovative features.  As of this writing in March of 2009, Carnival Splendor is slated to be the year-round permanent resident in Long Beach, California, sailing 7-night cruises every Sunday to the Mexican Riviera.  The Sunday departure will make her a popular honeymoon departure (compared to the Saturday-departing competition).  And the Sunday departure is better for those flying in from out of state as well as those needing to drive a distance to Southern California.


Splendor has some low points and some high points.  In my opinion, the highs outnumber the lows, but I'll discuss all of the quirks I noticed in this verbal virtual tour so you can just be informed.  The décor you're going to notice first and foremost is that there is a funky pattern of pink zebra stripes on all of the elevator lobbies.  So, that's in a lot of public places you'll see.   However, as you go down the hallways to the cabins, you'll see more soothing colors, great mottled colors on the doors, and kind of an 'art deco' feeling with poses of old style folks in fancy clothing.  (You'll have to look at the photo album to get an idea of what I mean.)  I kind of got used to the pink after the initial shock of it.


First, Deck 5 is the main deck for walking forward and back (aft) on the ship.  (Promenade Deck)  Just keep this in mind so you don't get frustrated.  Like most Carnival ships, there is a dining room in the center, and another one at the aft.  And in between those two two-story dining rooms is a huge galley that we cannot walk though.  So, you're going to walk forward or aft, you'll need to do it on Deck 5 and then descend up/down to your destination.  (Or walk forward and aft on the sleeping decks 2,6,7 or 8.)


The amidships dining room is called the Black Pearl Dining Room and is actually easy to access from the bottom of the main Splendor Atrium on Deck 3.  Just walk aft off the center atrium for the Black Pearl and proceed into the dining room that spans decks 3 and 4.  There is also an entry on Deck 4, but on my cruise they wanted everyone to enter on Deck 3.  I presume on a normal cruise if you were seated on the upper level you could enter on Deck 4.


The second dining room at the aft of the ship is called the Gold Pearl Dining Room and there is a mini-atrium at the aft stairway spanning Decks 3 to 5 so you can look down at the dining room's entry.  Both dining rooms are good.  The décor is similar with black 'pearls' everywhere, or gold 'pearls'.  The Gold Pearl Dining Room at the aft has lots of windows for great views, but the Black Pearl Dining Room is in the middle of the ship and less bumpy if you were on a rough itinerary.   I would personally suggest the Black Pearl for Mexico, since it can be a bit bumpy on the ride home from Mexico to California.


The main Splendor Atrium goes from Deck 3 all the way to the roof, with a glass canopy at the top, and is located near the forward elevator bank.  It's fun, but it's pretty narrow straight up.  Not really expansive.  It's fun to hang over the upper decks and look down.  There are porticos so you can view downwards on the higher sleeping floors.  The bottom three decks have pretty lit up stairways taking you from the bottom where the dance floor, bar, purser's desk, shore excursions desk and outdoor walking is.  Speaking of that, this ship does NOT have a wrap around Promenade.  That's a down side.  There are two long 'strips' you can walk on outside on Deck 3, but they're not full loops.  You have to jog and walk far up high on Deck 12 on the Sports Deck.


The main showroom, which has the strange name "Spectacular Spectacular" is forward on decks 3, 4 and 5.  It is quite well designed, with comfy chairs and lots of drink tables.  The upper levels have steep seating so you never seem to be looking at the head of the person in front of you.  And there are a few pillars, but they're easy to avoid.


Deck 4 is the really funky deck that will frustrate you if you're looking for something on it.  Right at the atrium at the front is the photo gallery circling the entire atrium.  And then the useless library (only a few books and games, and seemingly often used as a meeting room) in the corner.  Right next to the library, was you're heading towards the entry of the Black Pearl Dining Room you can find the 12-14 year old kids area "Circle C".  This is a great hangout for the kids of that age group.  They have PlayStations and Wii in there.  (Charles tried the Wii Bowling on our ship tour.)


OK, then there is the Black Pearl Dining room blocking your way to go aft.  If it's not a dining time, I suppose it's possible they'll let you walk through.  However, this is where I said you'd most often be walking forward and aft on Deck 5.  Nevertheless, if you do walk straight through the dining room on Deck 4 you'll pass through the amidships stairway and elevator lobby, and just beyond that is the "Board Room", a "true" meeting room.  Pretty sizable. 


If you continue aft from the Board Room down a skinny hallway, you'll come to the expansive Robusto Cigar Bar.   This place has all about red leather furniture.  And it even smelled like leather when we toured the ship on our own.  However, it is the only place you can smoke cigars onboard, and there is also a lot of cigarette smoking there, so in the evening it's smoky.   Something you don't want to miss though is that the small little internet café called "Web" is actually tucked into the port side corner of the Robusto Cigar Bar.  You must walk through Robusto to get to Web.  And it's a small place.  We couldn't believe there were so few computers there.  However, there is ship-wide Wi-Fi, so my guess is they believe most folks that want to hook up will use their own devices.


Just outside the doors of Robusto is the aft stairs / elevators and the 'Gold Pearl Atrium' to get you into the aft dining room.  The Gold Pearl Dining Room spans decks 3 and 4 here.


Now that we're aft, let's go up to Deck 5 and see all the great stuff there is to do and see on the main Promenade Deck.  We'll move from the aft back towards the main atrium at the front.  The very back of Deck 5 has the El Morocco Lounge.  It's a sizable cabaret lounge with good alternate entertainment that is situated above the dining room.  And the décor is neat, with a dance floor and lots of seating areas.  In my cruise there was Karaoke there, but my clients who had just disembarked said there was a great variety of good entertainment here nightly.


Surrounding the aft stairway / Golden Atrium there is a Piano Bar on one side, and a Jazz bar called The Cool on the other side.  The Cool had really neat décor of Jazz musicians on the walls, a good sized dance floor and bar.  It was also non-smoking.  Right next to the enclosed Piano Bar was El Mojito Wine Bar kind of in the hallway / walkway.  Just a small little place that had wines and only a few other drinks.  Not a full bar.


And now you can stand and get a good view down Deck 5 main walk way / Promenade that is on the Starboard side of the ship.  There are sitting areas all along the way here.  You can stop and get a drink or something to eat and have plenty of space to relax and look out to the ocean through the many windows on the starboard side.


The first place you'll arrive at on the left is the Red Carpet Dance Club.  This is a really neat disco, with red glass all along the perimeter, and lots of red inside.  And this disco is very big.  And there are video screens all along the dance floor, and the floor itself is clear with flashing lights and patterns.  It's quite a popular place at night.  And one of the great features was a glass window at the dance floor so that if you were back at those aft stairs in the Golden Atrium, you could actually see the feet and lower legs dancing in the disco.  Outside the disco in the Promenade hallway there are faceless mannequins of all different colors behind a red rope making it look like they're trying to get in.


Right next to the disco is a really big video arcade.  It has a hallway that with a door onto the Promenade but it takes you back to a tucked in larger arcade area.  Don't be fooled by the narrow hallway entry.


Back to the Promenade the California Roll Sushi Bar is on the left, followed by the teen disco "Club O2".  The 15-17 year old teen area plus disco is not nearly as large as Red Carpet, but it's not shameful either.  A great hangout for the teens.  And the back side of the Club O2 has it's own Karaoke lounge and a doorway into the arcade I just mentioned.


Walking forward along the Promenade, the next place along the left is the Coffee Shop, where you can get fancy coffees and desserts.  And there is also another desk there, which might become their future cruise sales if they decide to add that.  (I heard they were working on it.) 


Then we get to one of my favorite places of the ship, the Royal Flush Casino.  The Oceanview Bar is a very large not enclosed bar on the left and then the casino is beyond that.  I've never in my life seen a larger ship casino.  It is massive.  And there are some video screens scattered around to actually help you find the games you're looking for!  What I loved really though was the décor.  Since my husband and I like to play poker, the "Royal Flush" theme was really fun.  There are big wavy "cards" as the wall in many places.  Where there is tile, it has hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades (in the floor, in some bar areas).  And the ceiling had more cards and some video screens that changed from the back side of a red deck of cards to the cards that would, naturally, make a Royal Flush.  (Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Ten of the same suit.)


If you're not into the casino, don't worry, there is still the same walkway and comfy seating on the Starboard walking side.  Here it's called "Oceanview" though, to go with the big Oceanview Bar that is there in the casino.

And then once you hit the atrium, you've come to the shopping.  On most sides of the Deck 5 part of the atrium they have their shops.  Just a few.  The usual shop to get Carnival stuff, and then another side with jewelry and cosmetics and such.  Not a ton of shopping.  Also along the atrium here is "Formalities" where you can buy or rent dress up clothes and there is also a bulk candy section.  (Can't quite figure out THAT combo.)  And on the opposite corner, towards the port forward corner of the casino is the "Our House Sports Bar".  This is a really neat little sports bar, with lots of baseball stadium photos and décor, and tables with sports balls as the legs.  The downside was it was one of the main smoking bars, and it's a tiny little place, so it was REALLY smoky in there.  Even though I love sports, I didn't get a chance to look around in there until disembarkation day.  Really cute décor if you can check it out when it's not packed.



That covers it for the lower entertainment and dining decks.  Now I'll talk about the high public decks.  The centerpiece of the upper decks is the Splendido Lido Pool on Deck 9.  (the main pool) It's not a huge pool, but what's so great about it is the whole area / atmosphere.  There is a LOT of deck in front of the pool.  Room for rows and rows of deck chairs.  Or dancing, since there is often entertainment at the stage out there.  To the sides there are some lounge chairs and some tables for outdoor Lido Grill and Buffet dining.  But the BEST parts are the fact that the pool has a retractable roof AND the huge LCD screen (Carnival's Seaside Theatre).  You can possibly find popcorn near the port side bar.  (I saw a few folks with popcorn boxes come out of that area, but I didn't investigate in detail.) The screen is UNDER the roof when closed.  So, no matter the day, you could hang out there and be comfortable.  Also, other ships I've been on that had a retractable roof usually made for a steam room atmosphere.  Not so here, as the area it's covering is simply so large.


There are two bars at the forward end of the deck area.  And at the aft, there is a grill on one side and a pizza place on the other side.  So, if you want those kinds of foods, you're going to go to the pool area to get them.  Aft from that is the Grand Buffet, which I'll discuss in the dining section.  Forward of the main pool area are cabins on Deck 9.


Aft on Deck 9 is the "Liner Pool" and more seating.  And also the deli.  I thought this was an interesting area, because it basically is decorated to make you think of Cunard.  Black and red fake smokestacks line the walls.  The bar has more of that liner look.  And there is a cutout of the Queen Mary (the original) on the wall.  So, if you want an outdoor area to hang out in should the main pool be covered, this is the place.  And it's also the place to find outdoor Jacuzzis.


Deck 10 aft has an elevated second level of the main buffet and the deck plan shows "rotisserie".  In my one full day on the ship I didn't get to check this out, but I'm guessing there are yummy things up there.  I remember on another Carnival ship hidden gems on the upper level.


Deck 10 amidships has Camp Carnival, the main kids area with a small water park.


And Deck 10 Forward has an outdoor, unobstructed viewing area.  Nobody is going to know about this except the spa category folks and you who read my review!  Check it out!  It would be great for sailaway!


Deck 11 aft has the beautiful Pinnacle Supper Club alternate dining restaurant.  I felt it was somewhat challenging to find the entry here when approaching from the outdoor decks.  Use the aft stairs and elevators instead.  It is high with views out to the sides, but in the center of the restaurant you'd look down on the buffet, which is not interesting!


Deck 11 amidships you can find Carnival's signature water slide.  There is also an outdoor pool there called the "Thunderball Pool" but the slide itself ends in a chute, not into the pool.  This would be the best pool for kids to hang out in.


Deck 11 forward, and also Deck 12 forward is the Cloud 9 Spa.  This spa is 23,750 square feet and is an "Elemis" brand spa, like most cruise ships offer.  It is one of the largest at sea and truly one of the masterpieces of this ship.  Approach it from the front / main atrium elevators and stairs.  The spa has a nice fitness area (including pay extra spin and Pilates and a few other things).  And it also has the usual array of treatment rooms and relaxation areas.  There are charges to use it's Thalasotherapy Pool ($20 a day) and Thermal Suite ($20 a day) relaxation area.  However, they have a great policy that let's you use all these things any time of day on a day in which you have a spa treatment planned.  So, you don't have to go hang out right before or after your treatment.  You could go up and enjoy the spa early, and have a treatment late.  It all works!  My only complaint was that the T-pool was overcrowded and it's not very big.  It's possible this was caused by my cruise only being one full day, but do keep that in mind.


The men's and women's locker rooms were really pretty with digital locks and lots of wood.  And there was a wide variety of saunas and showers to relax in as part of the whole Thermal Suites experience.   Please read in the 'cabins' section about Spa Staterooms and more details of the spa!



Carnival Kids Programs:


Carnival has great kids' programs.  Since they start at Age 2, they're ahead of most other cruise lines that take kids only 3 and up.


Carnival has three main age groups for kids.  They have Camp Carnival for kids 2-11, but this camp is further divided by age groups within the facility.  Kids of all ages do age-specific activities.  Then Circle C is for pre-teens 12-14 and older teens 15-17 have Club O2.  These three main groups have their areas in completely different sections of the ship that I mentioned on the ship tour.






We had an inside cabin, which on Carnival is not a bad thing.  All cabins are 185 sq feet or more.  The ship has the typical complement of insides, oceanviews, balcony cabins, and suites.  They also have some 'special' categories that are absolutely worth gushing about.


If you like aft-facing balconies, they've gotten a clue finally and have two special categories for you.  They have 8G which is an 'extended' aft-facing balcony.  And they have 9A that they call a Premium Balcony that is significantly larger and is on the aft CORNERS of Decks 6-8. 


The cabin had a very nice earth tone décor theme, with brown and tan flecks in the walls.  The only obnoxious pink we had was a steel molding around the top perimeter of the cabin.  Everything else was great.  I love the blue counters and flooring in the bathroom.  Check out my photos for more details.



Spa Category Staterooms:


The Splendor is the first Carnival ship with "Spa Staterooms".  The Carnival Dream will also have them, and if they turn out to be popular I can see other ships being redone to create the category out of regular cabins.  This is a new rage, as Celebrity and Holland America already have them, but I actually like the location and amenities of the Carnival ones better.


The spa category cabins are physically located near the spa.  They're at the front of Deck 10 and right behind the spa on Deck 11.  They will cost more than a regular inside / oceanview / balcony or suite because they offer some additional amenities.


First, they are a little bit different décor than the regular staterooms.  I have to be honest, I thought the décor was good in the regular cabins, but these are a bit different.


Second, guests in Spa accommodations will have exclusive entry access to the adjacent Cloud 9 Spa facilities and will receive a wide array of special offerings including priority Spa appointments, unlimited use of the Thermal Suite and Thalasotherapy Pool, complimentary fitness classes and upgraded in-stateroom amenities.  I thought the 'exclusive access' was REALLY cool.  There is an elevator at the very front of Deck 10 that takes you straight up to the spa very hidden.  There is also a very neat spiral staircase to get there.


Spa Amenities...


Only 1st and 2nd guests in the Spa stateroom will receive the access and amenities; 3rd and 4th guests booked in Spa staterooms and suites are not entitled to spa access and amenities.

Amenities and offerings available to all the Spa accommodations include the following: 

  • Welcome Reception/Ritual
  • Priority spa appointments for reservations made by 6:00pm on Embarkation day (as stated in the Welcome Letter).
  • Unlimited access to Thermal Suites:
    • Laconium
    • Tepidarium
    • Oriental Steam Bath
    • Aroma Steam Bath
  • Unlimited access to Thalassotherapy Pool:
    • Detoxify, unwind and revitalize your body in a pool which is gently heated to body temperature.
    • Ideal for alleviating arthritic pain, soothing sore muscles and offering relief for sport injuries.
  • Two complimentary fitness classes per person (Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi)
  • Spa-branded bathrobes and slippers for use during the cruise
  • Cloud 9 Spa Carnival Products in Stateroom:
    • Elemis Carnival Shampoo and Conditioner
    • Elemis Carnival Sharp Shower Gel and Vitamin Rich Body Lotion
    • One hand and one body Elemis Carnival Soap Disk

They will also have access to "exclusive Cloud 9 Spa Packages".  These rates can only be found on the ship.





My overall opinion of the food on the Splendor was that it was good quality, it was presented well and tasted good.  Like most cruise ships, the Splendor has three main dining options – the Lido casual buffet, the main dining room, and a pay-extra higher service higher food quality establishment.  Splendor's is called Pinnacle Supper Club.


I'll start with the best and say that if you cruise on Splendor you should try the Pinnacle Supper Club at least once.  The up-charge is $30 per person for dinner at Pinnacle.  I'd say you should have a reservation in order to get into it.  Ask for a window table, as the 'other' view would be down onto the buffet.  I can't imagine that being very 'special' to look at, even if the food is really good.   There is also a dance floor in the Supper Club, but a Carnival rep said the dance floor is rarely used, and they're considering doing away with dancing as part of your dining experience there.  (Presumably to add more tables to the Supper Club.)  This was a 'fleet wide' comment, and not specific to the Splendor's Supper Club.


The next thing I'll discuss is the main dining room.  This is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you want table service.  I didn't ever get to the dining room for breakfast or lunch, but many don't so I'll just skip right to dinner.


Carnival only offers 'traditional' early and late dining seating.  There is no flexible time dinner in the dining room because a big part of the Carnival 'experience' is the singing and dancing waitstaff.  The shows were quite fun both nights.  And they were done after the entrees were done and around dessert and coffee time.  I thought the food and service we had were quite good.  And the lobster was particularly good on the second night.  


With traditional dining you are usually seated with folks you don't know if you didn't bring friends or family onboard with you.  In my case, we were good friends with two other couples so we did a 6-topper table both nights and really enjoyed ourselves.  (It's great to travel with friends and family!)


Now that I'm done with that part, let's move on to casual Lido deck dining.  Again, the selection was excellent.  And it was well organized.  There is a made-to-order omelet station at the very aft inside for breakfast (plus a ton of other stuff).  That's my favorite though.  AND the breakfast was open until noon when it switched to lunch.  Gosh, if I could just give someone a hug for realizing there are folks that like to sleep late on vacation! Besides the main Lido buffet that has two sides and lots of seating, there is a hamburger and hot dog grill was out by the main pool on one side, and pizza on the other side for lunch and dinner.   And the spreads were great.  And they have some themed 'late night' buffets also.  We saw a great Mexican food one our first night.


There were also trays in the buffet.  This may sound stupid, but the last TWO cruises I went on (Westerdam and Mariner of the Seas) there were no trays for you to put your plates and drinks on.  I realize that times are tough and they don't want us eating a lot, but that is just an outrageous thing the other lines are doing.  Thanks Carnival for being logical!


Special food – On Deck 5 amidships there is the California Roll Sushi Bar offering free sushi in the late afternoon.  The lineup is sizable.  They also offered Tapas here pre-dinner on our second night.  You'll find this along the Oceanview walkway not quite as aft as the Red Carpet Dance Club.  Keep your eye on your daily program for the open hours.


Like on other Carnival ships, they also have a 'premium' coffee place.  If you can't live without your Latte, this is the place to go.  They also have huge multi-tiered cakes and chocolate strawberries that you can purchase if you must have those instead of the free desserts in the restaurants.  This was always a busy place.





The quality of the entertainment was good.  I've mentioned many of the venues in the ship tour discussion, but of course there is more. 


In the main showroom you can have a variety of production shows with singers and dancers (we saw Vroom! which was fun), singers, comedians, magicians, etc.  Each cruise will be unique.  The main Motown singer from our first night did a matinee performance out by the pool the second day.


Besides the showroom though, there are many small venues with good music and variety.  And one of the new entertainment choices Carnival is going to have across the fleet is an acrobat group called G-force.  These guys were amazing and they performed before the singer on the first night in the main showroom, but also in the atrium one night, and at the small stage near the casino one night.  They really just popped up all over the place.  And they made an announcement that at least two from their troupe would be on every Carnival ship.  (Not sure when that starts or if it's started.)



Dress Code:


The normal 7-night sailing has two formal nights, and 5 smart casual.  Expect on the Mexico cruises to have a mix of folks that really love the dress up and others that don't have a clue.



Lifeboat Drill: 


OK, how often do you think you'll ever see a section of my review for the lifeboat drill?  I'm thinking this is the first, although I might have listed a really terrible experience or two in the past.


The reason I'm writing today is that the drill on Splendor was simply the best one ever!  (And it was my 32nd cruise.)

What was great is they had us 'muster' out on the covered outer part of Deck 4.  They made some brief announcements.  They showed us how to put it on properly.  And then we were sent back to our cabin.  Extremely painless.


I have never seen a ship with this design either.  Rather than the lifeboats being just above you on the outdoor promenading deck, they actually had a 'crew area only' that was a full deck right next to the life boats and spanned nearly the entire perimeter of the ship.  (Too bad we couldn't walk out there!)  When it wasn't drill time, the doors out to this deck were closed and said "Emergency Exit".  Really interesting.  Great design!




In Summary:


Carnival Splendor will compete head to head with the Mariner of the Seas from Royal Caribbean for family business in the Summer when they're the only two cruise lines with ships on this route.  I really loved this ship, and I actually thought the service was better than my recent experience on the Mariner.  However, each person will have their own preferences and I won't force anyone to do one cruise over the other.  If the guests were totally open to either, I'd pick the Splendor for sure.  I'd guess that the Splendor will be a better value / lower price most of the time.


During the Fall, Winter and Spring of every year, there is also usually a 7-night Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line ship doing a similar itinerary also.  (Those lines have their Mexico ships doing Alaska in the Summer.)    That's a lot of competition doing the same thing.  And the entire answer as to which one would be better will again entirely have to do with the preferences of that person.  I would not hesitate to suggest Splendor for those wanting to try something new though!


For me personally, I'd love to sail on this ship again.  My two favorite things to do on a cruise are do the spa and play poker in the casino.  So, if I had friends or family that wanted to sail on this one, even though I GENERALLY prefer Princess, I'd for sure sail with them.  One of the reasons I prefer Princess so much is the flexible dining.  I don't like traditional fixed time and table seating with strangers.  However, if I can go with a group of friends or family to dine with, I have absolutely no objections to traditional dining.   And I've been to Mexico more times than I care to count, so it's got to be a good ship if I don't even care if I get off of it!  (I have a tendency to stay on the ship in ports I've been to before and have a 'spa day'.)


I'll add photos when I have a chance to this page.  However, you'll likely find more and faster at:

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