Just one week before embarking on my very first cruise came the news: H1N1, or swine flu, had emerged and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was advising against all nonessential travel to Mexico.
The Carnival Splendor at sea. // © 2009 Carnival Cruise Line
Initially, I assumed my week-long cruise was off. Time to unpack those bags, I thought.
Not so fast.
Within days of the initial CDC announcement, I heard from Carnival Cruise Lines, advising me that I had two options: wait to cruise to the Mexican Riviera at a later date or continue with my cruise, with a slight change in itinerary. Instead of leaving Long Beach, Calif., and heading south of the border, we’d now head due north, visiting San Francisco; Victoria, British Columbia; and Seattle. I opted for the latter and I’m glad I did.
The Carnival Splendor, like most Carnival ships, is designed with leisure in mind. Its vivid decor — accented in the glow of bronzes and bubblegum pinks — sets the tone for a lively atmosphere.
The Splendor is in a class of its own, quite literally, as the only Carnival ship designated as Splendor Class. Splendor is the line’s newest and largest ship to date, with something for nearly everyone.
As a cruising newbie, I had been warned by cruise veterans about the massive amounts of food I would encounter while onboard, and they were right. Carnival’s Lido Deck was always packed, especially with families who lined up in droves for the Mongolian barbecue or endless pizzas, hot dogs and hamburgers. Service in the main dining rooms, the Gold Pearl and the Black Pearl, was impeccable and, each night, I looked forward to seeing my servers, Raja and Nikki. If your clients prefer fine dining, I highly recommend booking a reservation for Splendor’s Supper Club for $30 per person, where I feasted on a delectable rib eye steak.
When I wasn’t busy refueling, I explored the rest of the ship. Multigenerational travelers, in particular, will love the Splendor’s family-friendly atmosphere and its expansive children’s programs. And even in the blustery chill of the Pacific Northwest, I still noticed kids and parents alike slip-sliding their way down the line’s signature, 214-foot-long waterslide. After hours, I even saw a few parents trying to slip into the Club O2 lounge to grab a freshly made smoothie from the bar.
When it was time to turn in, my Verandah-level stateroom was an ideal respite. Staterooms are deceptively larger than they appear to be, with all the amenities that clients could want, including standard toiletries, ample closet space, a flat-screen television and high-speed Internet access, which was fairly consistent.
When my connection wasn’t so strong, I’d mosey down to the 24/7 Internet cafe. However, if I had a say in the ship’s design, I would have moved the Internet cafe away from the rather pungent Robusto Cigar Bar; the only entrance to the cafe involves a walk through billowing clouds of cigar smoke.
Thankfully, no smoke and mirrors were required when it came to our three destination stops. In San Francisco, I took in a tour of the city, passing through famous neighborhoods and streets. In Victoria, I settled in for afternoon tea at the venerable Fairmont Empress. And in Seattle, I snacked on piping hot donuts at Pike Place Market, cruised Elliott Bay and took a ride up and down the city’s famous Space Needle.
More often than not, my fellow cruisers and I were wondering if Carnival would start cruising on this itinerary on a regular basis. Some of the cruisers I met had booked only a day or two before sailing, lured by favorably discounted rates and the new schedule. Now, however, the Splendor is back on its normal schedule, visiting the sun-kissed beaches of the Mexican Riviera. Current rates start at $389 per person, based on double occupancy.
So, even though I didn’t wind up soaking in much of the sun, I still had a good time. This cruise proved to me that, with the right attitude, atmosphere and service, a great vacation isn’t made by the destination but by the journey there.