Carnival Splendor is a big vessel with a huge personality -- and it has already set itself apart in grand style. For starters, Splendor has inaugurated a new cabin category, the spa cabin, which is as much about lifestyle as real estate. A retractable sky dome covers Splendor's pool deck, which is something new for Carnival; it means that passengers can swim when it's balmy -- and when it's not. And with Splendor, the line introduced its first-ever itineraries in the Baltic and South America, a notable expansion for the fleet.
Splendor is also Carnival's largest ship. Designed to accommodate up to 3,744 passengers, it deserves its own zip code. Remarkably, there is only an occasional sense of overcrowding, and there are plenty of quiet spaces -- like Serenity, the adults-only sun deck -- to seek respite.
The 113,300-ton Splendor marks a new class of vessel for Carnival. One of Splendor's most impressive features is its luxurious, 21,000-square-foot spa, the most elaborate in the fleet. Pan-Asian in design, the Cloud 9 Spa spans two decks and includes a state-of-the-art fitness center that easily rivals any at sea. And, with 22 lounges and bars, outdoor movies, a water slide and a singing maitre d', Splendor also delivers what Carnival passengers have come to expect: fun.
Splendor is designed around the theme of "splendid things," a celebration of the magnificent, lustrous and elegant. The center of it all is the atrium. I'm no architect, but when I first walked on board -- and I am not alone in reacting this way -- I felt under assault by a design that I can only describe as overwhelming. Carnival's longtime interiors designer Joe Farcus sees "whimsical" in the massive dining room chandeliers. I see a DNA helix. He sees "drama" and "excitement" in the squiggly pink and black image that appears on table tops, elevator panels and walls. I see an amoeba. And I've never stayed in a cabin that had bright pink crown molding and a pinkish couch before. Let's just say there is nothing understated about Splendor. Understandably, some passengers have nicknamed it "The Pink Ship."
Decor notwithstanding, Splendor has great bones and a festive spirit. I talked to a lot of passengers, many of them Carnival loyalists, and asked a single question: "Are you having fun?" In just about every case, the answer was an emphatic "yes."
The centerpieces of Carnival Splendor are its lobby on Deck 3 and an atrium that rises a stunning eight levels in a striking color palate of copper, gold, pink, black and silver. Even the dance floor gets the pink treatment with its pink and black stained wood. Lighting here -- and throughout many of the public spaces -- is dramatic with sparkling lights and neon.
The Promenade Deck, on Deck 5, is the social center of Splendor. The casino is a huge draw, and there are also a number of distinctively themed lounges, gift shops and cozy sitting areas. Atlantic Deck, on Deck 4, houses the library, which has limited hours and a limited selection. My advice? BYOB -- bring your own books.
The Internet cafe, open 24/7 on Deck 4, is tucked away, midship, in a small room that adjoins the Robusto Bar. There are 11 computers. Passengers can also use their laptops throughout the ship, which offers wireless Internet access. Pricing is the same for the ship's computers as it is to access the Web on personal laptops: $100 for 250 minutes, $55 for 100 minutes, or a pay-as-you-go plan at 75 cents a minute. There's a $3.95 activation fee, and printing costs 50 cents per page. Check out Carnival Capers, the daily newsletter, for special promotions.
With the addition of the retractable sky dome, the midship pool area becomes another public room -- in fact, the largest public room on any Carnival ship.
Splendor has a total of 1,501 staterooms, all fairly standard in their respective categories. The great majority are oceanview cabins and interior cabins, both configured at 185 square feet. Balconies, at 35 square feet, pop out of the oceanview staterooms.
Most of the suites range from 275 to 345 square feet, not counting balconies. But, the size doesn't really buy much in the way of extra elbow room, in terms of moving about the cabin. The "extra," instead, is found in larger bathrooms and closets and, in a few cases, slightly larger balconies. Unlike the other cabins, which are shower-only, the suites feature bathrooms with combination showers/whirlpools/bathtubs, bidets and double sinks.
Suites also come with "pillow menus," offering, for example, pillows made of goose down and goose feathers. But that's it when it comes to any difference in amenities. As one ship executive told me: "This is a one-class ship." To that end, every stateroom has a telephone, individual climate control, hair dryer, safe, mini-bar, bathrobes and a flat-screen television. (One thing I particularly liked was Splendor's interactive TV system, which lets you do everything from checking your account and selecting pay-per-view movies to ordering a bottle of wine or shore excursion tickets.)
With the sole exception of the spa cabins, no stateroom has much in the way of toiletries -- except for shampoo and bath gel dispensers in the showers, soap bars and an assortment of free samples -- a Bic razor, for example, or Pepcid, used to treat heartburn -- that product manufacturers give Carnival to promote their brands. Just think of the freebies, along with store coupons, that occasionally show up in your Sunday newspaper, and you'll get the idea.
Carnival completely ramps up its offerings with Splendor's spa cabins. Located on the Panorama and Spa Decks -- 10 and 11, respectively -- the cabins have some attributes that are subtle, but some are not. Unlike the rest of Splendor's cabins, the design theme is Asian to reflect the serenity of the Cloud 9 Spa. That includes drapes, bed linens -- even the carpet in the hallways. Passengers in the spa cabins also are treated to upgraded terrycloth robes, slippers and Elemis toiletries. Most of the cabins are located on Deck 10, directly below the spa, and are accessed by a private spiral staircase or glass elevator. Other amenities include unlimited use of the thermal suites and thalassotherapy pool, priority spa and cabana appointments, two complimentary fitness classes per guest and in-stateroom yoga mats and fitness bands. This is a concept just right for the times. Note: No smoking is permitted in the spa cabins or on balconies.
Twenty-eight of the cabins onboard are handicapped accessible.
Splendor also has several do-it-yourself laundry and ironing rooms. Washers and dryers cost $2 each and take quarters. However, Splendor runs a laundry promotion that is worth mentioning. Give your stateroom steward your Carnival logo laundry bag of clothing by 11 a.m., and it will be returned -- washed and folded -- by 7 p.m. The cost ($10) isn't bad.
Splendor largely gets it right on the dining front, offering everything that's become an industry standard, along with a few surprises: a super Indian tandoori grill, a sushi bar, a stir-fry station and a superb alternative restaurant. The Pinnacle supper club and premium coffee bar are the only venues that come with an extra price tag. The rest are included in the cruise fare you pay.
Splendor's main dining rooms -- The Gold Pearl, aft, and The Black Pearl, forward -- are grandiose venues, seating a total of 1,750 guests. Dinner tables are assigned -- the majority accommodate four, six and 10 diners with a limited number of two-tops. Seatings are at 6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., and they are orchestrated like a fine watch. When the maitre d' starts singing and the waiters jump up on the tables to dance, you know it is time to say good night.
The dinner menu is robust and features a half-dozen entree choices each evening, along with a "Carnival Classics" option that includes comfort food like barbecued baby back ribs, grilled flat-iron steak and broiled fillet of fresh Norwegian salmon. Entree choices are wide-ranging -- panko-crusted jumbo shrimp, chateaubriand with Bearnaise, seafood Newburg and rack of New Zealand spring lamb Dijonnaise. There's always at least one vegetarian entree -- black bean and vegetable enchiladas or vegetarian lasagna, for example -- and one main course from Splendor's SPA menu. The latter are lower in calories, sodium, cholesterol and fat, and salads are prepared with a diet dressing. The dessert menu also includes SPA choices, such as diet apple pie (prepared with a sugar substitute) and a diet banana gateau (prepared with low-cal banana cream and a sugar substitute).
Open-seating breakfast and lunch are offered in The Gold Pearl. Breakfast includes seasonal fruit, an array of hot and cold cereals and, from the bakery, muffins, bagels and toast. You'll find your standard breakfast entrees: smoked salmon with cream cheese and a toasted bagel, eggs Benedict, buttermilk pancakes or Belgian waffles, French toast and omelettes and eggs made to order, along with traditional sides. We found the formal dining lunch selections fairly original -- among them, Mongolian steak salad, egg and spinach fettuccini and chilled curried apple soup. Several SPA selections and a create-your-own-burger are also on the menu.
The Spendido Lido, a buffet that rises two levels on the Lido Deck, is a crowd-pleaser because of its uncommon variety and its proximity to the pools, hot tubs, water slide and sun decks. However, the lines can get long, so you'll want to time it just right. In addition to the restaurant itself, there are smartly positioned stations on deck that serve tandoori, New York deli-style sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as 24-hour pizza.
Splendido Lido serves a continental breakfast, beginning at 6 a.m., and then breaks out into a full-blown breakfast, offered from 8 a.m. to noon. (This is a ship that stays up late and sleeps in -- it's not unusual to see guests enjoying bacon and eggs at close to mid-day. For early risers, however, the wait for the 8 a.m. start of full breakfast offerings doesn't quite get it done.) Breakfast includes a made-to-order egg station and daily specials like eggs Benedict, an egg and cheese burrito and cheesy chicken rolls.
The buffet lunch can be pretty grand. Along with a salad bar, there are wraps made to your individual order, a chicken rotisserie grill, a meat-carving and pasta station and a quite impressive stir-fry bar. Here, you select a bowl of fresh vegetables -- onions, mushrooms, snow peas and carrots, for example -- that the chef then fries with chicken, salmon, pork, duck or squid. There's also a choice of sauces: black bean, Thai barbeque or Sichuan. Every day, look for a rotating "Taste of Nations" theme, featuring, for instance, a French, Caribbean or even chocolate theme. Last but not least, the dessert bar tops lunch off with selections that include cherry Jell-O, linzer torte, orange diet cake, banana cream pie and cookies.
Evenings, from 6 until 9:30 p.m., Splendido Lido serves buffet-style dinner with selections from the formal dining rooms, as well as a salad bar. I found it uninspired. The salad bar will seem familiar because it's a repeat from lunch, but the entrees, at least, are fresh and mostly come from the same menu served in the ship's main dining rooms. You won't see each and every menu item, of course, but there's a sampling that, on our cruise one evening, included penne Siciliana, lemon confit-topped grouper fillet, grilled flat-iron steak and cinnamon, pumpkin squash and yam pot pie. Among the featured desserts were diet New York cheesecake, amaretto cake and cherry upside down cake. There's no wait staff in Splendido Lido, so if you want a glass of wine or an aperitif to accompany the meal, you'll have to walk to a poolside bar to get one.
The only other place to grab a bite is on the popular Promenade Deck, which houses the casino, lounges and shops. Like most ships, Splendor has a premium coffee bar that sells Barista coffee, herbal teas, iced lattes, milk shakes, cookies and cakes. What's different is the innovative California Roll, open from 5:30 until 8:30 p.m., which serves sushi and, on occasion, tapas. There's no extra charge for food at California Roll. It's a nice concept, and it's perfectly positioned for passengers who don't want to venture topside for a casual food fix.
The Pinnacle, at $30 per person, is a great value when you consider the robust menu and the stylish venue. A skylight provides spectacular nighttime views of the stars, while a glass dance floor, suspended over a mini-atrium, is sure to be a conversation starter. As for the menu, starters include escargot, pumpkin and feta cheese parfaits, beef carpaccio, a sushi platter, jumbo shrimp cocktail and lobster bisque. The salad selection is basic but serviceable with a classic Caesar, baby-leaf spinach and mushrooms and a tossed garden salad. Selecting your entree can be a brain teaser, given the expansive options -- among them are broiled New York strip loin, grilled prime rib chop, classic porterhouse steak, broiled filet mignon, surf and turf, whole Dover sole Meuniere, broiled lobster tail, broiled free-range chicken and grilled lamb chops. The dessert menu is no less tantalizing: citrus cheesecake, Washington apple tarte tatin, a chocolate tarte and fresh fruits with international cheeses. When the maitre d' tells you to expect to linger over dinner for as long as two and a half hours, he means it.
One weak link in Splendor's offerings is the complimentary room service menu. The continental breakfast is fine: cereals, fruit, smoked salmon, breakfast breads, yogurt, coffee, hot chocolate and juices. But, the 24-hour menu begins and ends with sandwiches (true, there are 12) and salads (just two). There are also a few desserts, but overall, the menu is scant.
Also available on all of Carnival's ships is The Chef's Table dining experience, which affords a dozen passengers a multicourse dinner with a master chef, a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley and its operations. This dining option usually takes place in a nontraditional venue, such as the galley or library, and it can be booked onboard at the information desk for a per-person cost of $75.
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Not surprisingly, the pool, sun decks and sports decks are big draws. In all, there are three pools and six hot tubs, along with a water slide and water-spray park for kids. There's also an elaborate, nine-hole, mini-golf course. In fact, there's a golf pro who gives instruction and also leads golf tours ashore. Finally, you have no excuse to give up your daily walk while you're onboard. On Deck 12's track, 10 circuits equal a mile.
The central Splendido lido pool deck, popular with families, features a large, open, glass-walled area that's two decks high. It can be closed in inclement weather with a retractable sky dome. A highlight of this dramatic space is the Seaside Theater with its 270-square-foot, outdoor screen. One particularly nice touch is the placement of two hot tubs; they're inset into both sides of the deck and offer unobstructed sea views.
Splendor's aft pool deck is airy and open and, in the tradition of grand liners, provides passengers with unimpeded views of the ship's wake. Because of its proximity to the buffet and bars, it's a favorite hangout for adults. A small pool, the so-called Thunderball Pool, is located midship.
I enjoyed Serenity, the adults-only sun deck, way up on Deck 12 at the front of the ship. Splendor offers a real improvement because, in contrast to the other pool areas, Serenity is quiet. It's outfitted with comfortable lounge chairs and tables, making it the ship's sweet spot. Best of all? There's no fee to access it.
With the Cloud 9 Spa, the largest and most elaborate in the Fun Ship fleet, Splendor outdoes itself.
First, the two-story spa, with its Pan-Asian design, is gorgeous and features another first for the line: a soothing thalassotherapy pool, covered by a glass dome and featuring heated, ionized water and pulsating water jets. There's a thermal suite of four climate-controlled rooms, offering varying degrees of warmness and coolness. Heated chaise longues, or lounges, are lovely. If that's not enough, guests can apply different chakra muds to the body as they inhale herbal steam in the mud lounge. A day-pass to the thalassotherapy pool is a pretty pricey $95.
Cloud 9 offers an impressive menu of services: facials, various kinds of massages, acupuncture and body treatments, such as ionithermi cellulite reduction and cellulite and colon therapy. Elemis beauty products are used exclusively. One interesting offering is the Elemis SkinLab Facial Mapping Analysis, where therapists use advanced clinical imaging to identify specific skincare concerns. The spa services can get pricey -- $100 or more. It's a good idea to check for port specials, which tend to be less expensive.
The spa is operated by the ubiquitous Steiner, so beware of post-treatment product pitches; feel free to just say no.
The Steiner-operated salon offers everything from highlights and teeth-whitening to French pedicures and "regrowth tinting." Grooming services are also available for men.
The fitness center, open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., is first-rate. In addition to free weights and resistance weights, there are more than 30 treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes, each with its own TV screen. For a fee, consultants are available for personal training, metabolism-testing and nutrition-planning. On our cruise, there were also spinning, yoga and Pilates classes, $12 each or $30 for three sessions.
The gym also offers complimentary services that are widely available at sea today: stretching, aerobics and body conditioning classes, along with tabloid-titled seminars like "Eat More to Weigh Less" and "Secrets to a Flatter Stomach."
It's difficult to imagine how Splendor's programming for kids and teens could get much better.
Camp Carnival, for ages 2 to 11, is a 5,500-square-foot playroom on Deck 10 that has an arts and crafts component, a plasma movie screen and video and board games. Just above the playroom, connected by a private, secured stairway, is a fun-filled water-spray park. Age groups for supervised activities are 2 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 11. Specialty programs include H2Ocean, a science-based program that involves hands-on projects; SeaNotes, which introduces kids to different musical instruments and genres; and ExerSeas, a recreational fitness program. Note: Unlike many other lines, Carnival does not require that children be potty trained.
Circle "C," catering to ages 12 to 14, is a club on Deck 4 that features gaming consoles, late-night movies and a state-of-the-art sound system. Activities include dance classes with one of Splendor's professional dancers, swimming parties, karaoke, a Guitar Hero face-off and a Wii Sports showdown.
With its hip decor, Club O2, a lounge serving 15- to 17-year-olds on Deck 5, could easily be mistaken for an adult lounge. Activities include dance classes, smoothie tastings, teens-only parties with professional D.J.'s, and Ping-Pong and three-on-three basketball tournaments.
Splendor does offer babysitting services -- infants and older -- in the Camp Carnival playroom from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. and during specified hours on port days. The cost: $6 per hour for the first child and $4 for each additional child in the same party. In-cabin babysitting is not provided.
On our cruise, most of the 3,150 passengers were American, along with nearly 400 Canadians and a handful of other nationalities. There were a lot of families and groups of as many as 80 people, who routinely travel together. The age spread was all over the place -- from retirees to kids in strollers. In all, there were just fewer than 200 guests younger than 21 on our non-school-holiday sailing.
Casual attire is the order of the day. However, there is a dress code at night. On cruise casual evenings, men are encouraged to wear slacks, khakis, jeans or long dress shorts and collared sport shirts. Casual dresses, skirts, pants and tops, Capris, dress shorts and jeans are fine for the ladies. Not permitted in the dining room on cruise casual nights: flip-flops, bathing suit attire, cut-offs or sleeveless shirts for men.
On cruise elegant nights, men should wear dress slacks and shirts, and sport coats are recommended. Women should pack cocktail dresses, pantsuits or fine skirts. Expressly not permitted are T-shirts, sportswear and baseball hats.
One of the recurring complaints we heard from Carnival loyalists was the failure of many passengers to adhere to a dress code on more formal nights. It's a valid complaint. Probably one-third of the diners at our early-seating dinner on one cruise elegant night were dressed inappropriately -- any number wearing sports jerseys and ball caps. I, of all people, do not enjoy getting dressed up, but I agree with those who complained: It's time to raise the bar.
With 22 lounges and bars, a fully loaded casino, a state-of-the-art video arcade and Spectacular Spectacular (Splendor's main show lounge) there's no excuse not to be entertained.
On our cruise, the casino, open from 10 a.m. until 4 a.m., was packed with gamblers. The two, nightly, Broadway-style shows at Spectacular Spectacular were also hugely popular. And the lounges are distinctive, each with its own personality.
The D.J. in the throbbing Red Carpet dance club does a nice turn with, for example, 70's and 80's hour -- a crowd-pleaser that drives people out onto the floor. El Morocco recreates the famous 1930's New York supper club of the same name with its zebra-patterned banquettes and palm trees. There's one bar that will remind you of cool jazz and another that mimics a sidewalk cafe in Old Havana. Other popular spots include a charming piano bar, a sports bar with eight large TV screens, and the lobby bar, which features everything from classical music to soul.
Shipboard entertainment isn't confined to evenings. Day and night, live music is all over the ship. The 270-square-foot theater screen on the Lido Deck is in constant use, showing concerts, movies and headline news. And, what would a Carnival cruise be without bingo, trivia contests, bean bag tosses, the Love and Marriage game and the men's hairy chest contest? Now that's entertainment.
While its shipboard activities fill out the fun, Splendor desperately needs to work on its shore excursion offerings. How to describe our experience in a word? Dreadful. I love cruising because it gives you such a wonderful snapshot of far-flung destinations. On our seven-night cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, my husband and I booked shore excursions in all four ports of call. I can't tell you much about three of the four because the guides were, to put it gently, disappointing. In two of the ports, St. Thomas and Nassau, our so-called guides were actually taxi drivers. Sure, it was nice to see the Nassau post office, the local hospital and the (drum roll) two-story McDonald's, but what happened to the "historical highlights" tour at $28 per person? Or the "Best of St. Thomas Island Tour" at $40 a pop? I knew not to expect an onboard educational enrichment component from Splendor because that's not what Carnival does. But I don't think it presumptuous to expect real guides and real tours on ship-sponsored excursions.
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