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Carnival Spirit

by Stephen Mencik last updated on 07/25/2008 Disclaimer

This cruise on the Carnival Spirit was the 5th cruise for my wife and me (September 2005). We are extremely fortunate that her parents are willing to watch our children each fall so that we can get away for a week by ourselves.

We left Baltimore on Tuesday afternoon 9/13, to fly to Vancouver the day before the cruise. We did not want to take a chance of flying across the country on the day of the cruise and having travel delays that caused us to miss the sailing. While we were concerned about the Northwest Airlines mechanic's strike, the flights went off without a hitch. Upon arrival we took the hotel shuttle to the Quality Inn - Vancouver Airport. This hotel is adequate at best, and I would not recommend it for others. The front desk clerk was very helpful though and recommended a Vancouver city tour for the morning that would drop us off right at the Canada Place pier in time to board. We took his advice and booked that. We then went across the street to a local Greek restaurant and had a very good dinner.

On Wednesday morning, the tour company picked us up at the hotel and off we went for a whirlwind tour of Vancouver. We got to see many of the highlights of town, including Granville Island and the view from the top of the tallest building in the city. The view was somewhat obscured due to the marsh that had been burning for several days. There was a lot of smoke in the city. In any event, the tour was worth the price we paid, and it did drop us off right at the pier.

Embarkation was not too bad, though the U.S. border folks were not very efficient. They only had 2 people working the line for U.S. citizens, while they had 4 or 5 for the non-U.S. citizens. It took at least a good 30 minutes to get through that line alone. Once through that, we then had to check-in with Carnival. However, because of the delay at the border patrol, there was no line for Carnival and we sailed (no pun intended) through there. We then had to wait to get the picture for our Sail and Sign card. There was only one person working there. They had 3 machines there, but 1 was broken. When the one person working had to do something else to help someone with a problem, we were all stuck waiting until they came back. While it didn't really take that long, when you are anxious to get on the ship, it seems like forever.

We went right to our room to drop off our carry-on bags and then headed to the Lido deck for a snack, as we had late-seating dinner and didn't want to wait that long before eating (Typical cruisers aren't we?). One thing that I noticed is that the Spirit appeared to be more crowded than some of the other ships I've been on (Triumph, Paradise, and Destiny). I will say though, except for certain areas of the ship at peak times, I didn't really notice that most of the rest of the cruise. When we went back to the room after the snack, our luggage had already been delivered. We pulled everything into the room, but didn't unpack right away, as it was time for the lifeboat drill. After that, we went to a Cruise Critic meet and greet by the Fountain Cafe and got to meet a number of fellow Cruise Critic members. Some of them were lucky enough to be staying on after our cruise for the sailing to Hawaii!

We ate dinner in the main dining room every night, and the food was up to the usual Carnival standards. The selections seemed to me to be a bit less fancy than our previous cruises, but I don't know if that is because of the Alaska vs. Caribbean itinerary, or because Carnival is cutting costs a bit. I was disappointed that escargot was never on the menu. That is my favorite Carnival appetizer. Don't get me wrong though, the food was very good. Our waiter was excellent, and even brought us a few special entrees that were not on the menu (without us asking for them). He stopped giving us a dessert menu, and simply brought us one of each to try. One night, my wife and I were very happy about that, as the one dessert we probably would not have tried turned out to be the best of the bunch. We bought the soda cards for the cruise like we normally do, and had a little problem the first evening at dinner getting our sodas. However, after that, our server was right on top of things every night. All in all, the dining room worked out great. In fact, this was the first time that we have sat with tablemates, which we seemed to have something in common with us. It was a pleasant change.

We ate all our breakfast/lunches on the Lido deck. While the food is not as good as the main dining room, it is quite acceptable and the variety is better since there are a number of specialty lines. These include the New York deli and an Oriental line. The Pizza was as good as ever.

The first day of the cruise is a sea day, sailing the inside passage. What tremendous scenery! If you have never been to Alaska, you are really missing out. Even though we were on the last sailing of the season, the weather was still reasonably warm. The wind was very strong though. Trying to go from the bow on deck 9 to get inside, the wind nearly knocked me down. Those of you that have seen me know that I am not a small person, so that wind had to be blowing pretty hard.

The second day we stopped in Juneau. What a small little town for a capital city. The only way in is by plane or boat. We took a tour of the city (5 minutes), the Salmon hatchery, and Mendenhall Glacier. The salmon hatchery was very interesting, and our first glimpse at glaciers was pretty neat too. We didn't see a whole lot of wildlife, but we did get to see a few bald eagles.

The next day was sailing in Glacier Bay. If the views in the Inside Passage were tremendous, I don't know what to call these views. We went to within about a quarter-mile of the Johns Hopkins Glacier and one of the others (name escapes me at the moment). The captain basically turned the ship on a dime so that everyone on either side of the ship could get a good view. While we didn't see any calving of the Mendenhall Glacier, the Johns Hopkins Glacier put on a nice show for us.

The second port stop was Skagway. We signed up for the White Pass RailRoad and Trail Camp tour. This tour caused us to get up VERY early. We had to be in the show lounge at 7:20AM. If you knew how hard that was for me and my wife, you'd be sympathetic. Anyway, we got on the train and headed up the mountain. About 6 miles out, the train came to an abrupt halt, as there had been a rockslide between the morning check of the rails and when we got there. We had to back up all the way back to Skagway. They sent out a crew to clear the tracks and rescheduled our tour for the afternoon. So, into town (all 3 blocks of it) we went. The Alaska T-Shirt company was having their end of season sale, so we bought souvenirs for our family and a bunch of stuff for ourselves too! With t-shirts at $3.00 each, golf shirts for $6.00, and other great bargains, who could resist? I guess this is one of the advantages of traveling late in the season. My wife also bought herself a nice alexandrite ring. We took all of our stuff back to the ship, ate lunch, and went back to rejoin the tour.

It turned out that the rock sitting on the tracks was a piece of granite the size of a VW bus. The maintenance crew had to drill into it, and blast it into pieces to clear the tracks. They also had to replace some of the rails that were damaged. However, they got it all done in time. The train ride was great. The train was built as part of the gold rush of 1898. Prior to the train, the prospectors had to walk over the mountain. How they did that is beyond imagination. The railroad was built on some very steep grades, and some very narrow plots of land. When you look out the left window of the train, there are places where the drop is 1000 feet straight down. Don't miss taking this rail trip when you get to Skagway.

The third port stop is Ketchikan. This town is actually big enough to have a traffic light! The only problem here is that they get about 15 feet of rain every year. Bring an umbrella or rain poncho, as you are going to need it. We did the Saxman Native Village and Lumberjack show tour. The native village was okay, but I could have missed it and not really cared. If you like totem poles and want to learn a bit of the history of the area, you'll enjoy the tour. The Lumberjack tour is very popular, and after seeing it, you'll know why. It was a very enjoyable show. Not a lot of shopping, but my wife did pick out a nice bracelet for me to give her for her birthday. That's another nice thing about cruising in September. My wife's birthday is early October, so I don't have to do any shopping!

The last sea day is sailing back down the Inside Passage. It is all the same scenery that you saw on the way north. However, we did get to see a group of killer whales along side the ship on the way back. That was pretty neat.

Our cabin was the standard Carnival balcony cabin, which is quite nice - plenty of storage room, and still room to walk around. I do wish that Carnival provided more than one electrical outlet though. If you need to plug in more than one thing at a time, be sure to bring a power strip with you. It was nice having a balcony for the Alaska trip. You could see the same thing there as up on deck, but when you got a little cold, you could pop inside and warm up for a few minutes. I used the balcony a bit more than I did when in the Caribbean. Our cabin steward did his job well, though he was a bit stingy on the towel animals compared to previous cruises. (Gee, I think I'll write to Bob Dickinson and complain!) :)

The comedy, juggling, and magic acts were excellent, especially the midnight comedy. We did not attend the talent show or the stage productions. The stage productions are okay, but my wife and I would rather spend that time in the casino. Speaking of the casino, the one on the Spirit is one of the largest that I have seen so far. It was not very crowded except for the last night. I was quite lucky at 3-card poker and the slots on night 2, with my winnings on that night covering nearly all the losses for the other nights. While it was lousy giving that money back, it was fun playing from the side of being ahead all the time, instead of playing catch-up like normal.

We didn't spend too much time in any of the bars, though we did spend a bit of time at the lobby bar where we ran into Vitaly from Lithuania, whom we met on the Paradise 4 years earlier. He remembered us as well, as he was early in his first contract when we met him the first time, as was another Lithuanian (Adita) on that ship. We befriended them both on the Paradise because of my wife's Lithuanian heritage. We also did not spend any time in the dance club.

We did visit the Spa. I went for the Hot Stone Massage. My wife had some other thing done at the same time. When my wife saw me, she said it must have been great, as I had not looked that relaxed in a long, long time! She was right, it was great!

We purchased a transfer to the airport while we were on the ship, so we could take advantage of the on-board check-in. Once we put our luggage outside the door on the last night, we didn't see it again until we were in Baltimore. That was really nice. The only problem we had was having to get up early (sounds like a theme!).

The flights home were uneventful, though we did get to watch some of the planes landing with the nose gear sideways while we were eating dinner in Detroit airport. I also ran into a former co-worker in that airport. Kind of funny where you run into people you haven't seen in years.

All in all, it was a great cruise. Of course, I don't think there is such a thing as a bad cruise. I would not hesitate to recommend the Spirit or Alaska to anyone. If you haven't been, you should book soon!

This review appears on Cruising.