Cruise editor Brian Major and his 16-year-old son, Derek,
joined an eight-day cruise to Belize, Costa Rica and Panama aboard
Carnival Cruise Lines' 2,214-passenger Carnival Spirit. His report
Carnival Spirit is the first ship in what Carnival calls the
Spirit class, a series of vessels designed to be as large as
possible while still narrow enough to transit the Panama Canal.
The ability to transit the canal was key for the line, as it
needed a large, feature-filled ship to cruise the high-yield Alaska
market in the summer and the core Caribbean arena in the
True to Carnival's intentions, the vessel -- which debuted last
spring -- will split 2002 between the Caribbean and Alaska. The
Spirit will offer eight-day Caribbean voyages through March, plus
Hawaii and Panama Canal cruises in April and May.
Following those voyages will be seven-day Alaska sailings
through early September. The ship then spends November and December
back in the Caribbean.
The Spirit is an unusual ship in other respects, the advantages
of which became clear during the course of our trip.
For starters, the ship is fast. Designed to cruise at 21 to 22
knots with a maximum speed of 24 knots, the Spirit is faster than
most other large ships. Its speed was intended to expand the
vessel's range and, thus, its itinerary options.
The ship's current itinerary illustrates the benefits of its
design. The Spirit's unusual eight-day program -- one day at sea; a
call in Belize City, Belize; another day at sea; back-to-back calls
in Limon, Costa Rica, and Colon, Panama, followed by third and
fourth sea days -- would not be achievable on most cruise ships
departing from Miami.
The vessel's speed also enables it to wander to farther-flung
ports less visited by mainstream ships. That was certainly the case
during our voyage.
Our journey began with a day at sea, a great way to begin any
cruise. Sea days enable passengers to relax, explore the ship and
prepare for the upcoming port calls.
The trick worked here, as groups of passengers strolled the
Spirit's generous open decks and lounged around each of its three
pools throughout the first day. Our ship was full, the weather was
excellent and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Much of the enjoyment was due in no small measure to the ship
itself. The vessel offers a little bit of almost everything.
Staterooms are spacious and tastefully decorated, and facilities
offer a diverse collection of attractions and activities.
Service is friendly and efficient, although some areas need
The ship's decor parallels that of a contemporary upscale hotel,
with a variety of wood and leather furnishings, metal and marble
accents and richly colored soft goods. I found the Gauguin
reproductions in the Deco Lounge particularly welcoming.
The vessel gives an overall impression of a cruise product that
has become better as its passengers have matured, and Carnival has
changed with its passengers.
To be sure, our fellow passengers were -- like the line's
passengers throughout its more than 30-year history -- in search of
Carnival's core experience: Fun.
But though the line once was known for its younger clientele,
our Carnival contingent consisted largely of 40- to 60-year-olds,
people who I found to be heavily drawn from among professionals,
business owners and civil servants.
This passenger group was easily the most ethnically and racially
diverse I've encountered in nearly 10 years of cruise
There were quite a few honeymooning couples, and although there
were some young parents with young children, there were probably
more 40-something parents with their teen-age kids -- a category
into which I fell myself.
While there was plenty of organized daytime action around the
midship "Sun" pool during our sailing, the Spirit also considers
passengers in search of more sedate outdoor, daytime areas, with
several spots that are practically secluded from other areas of the
Most passengers appeared to be quite content with the ship's
facilities, no matter what their area of interest.
Derek clearly fell into that category, as did most of the
friends he made within days after boarding. In fact, he told me
most of his friends turned down their parents' invitations to
participate in shore excursions. Many were simply happier to walk
around port areas or stay aboard the ship.
And why not? The Spirit has all the features that make a large
ship so enjoyable. Deck 2 offers Pharaoh's Palace, a two-level
showroom; the Fountain Cafe, a quiet spot for drinks, and the
Champion's Bar, a sports bar with banks of televisions and
memorabilia adorning the walls.
Also on Deck 2 are the Louis XIV casino, which was
well-patronized during our voyage, and the ship's main lobby, which
also serves as the ground floor of a soaring atrium that rises to
The second deck also holds a dance club and the Empire
Restaurant, which like the Pharaoh's Palace extends two levels up
to Deck 3.
Deck 3 is another hotbed of activity, with a library and
Internet facility, a chapel (the first on a Carnival ship), a piano
bar, a flower shop and a row of stores and boutiques that together
form the most retail space available on any Carnival vessel.
Next is the Deco lounge, a quiet spot for intimate conversation.
Directly adjacent is a cigar bar with a small but well-chosen
collection of cigars.
Decks 5 through 8 are largely made up of passenger staterooms,
with the exception of a children's fun house on Deck 5.
Deck 9, the ship's lido deck, features the three pools and an
indoor/outdoor food facility that offers a variety of options from
24-hour pizza to grilled food, Asian specialities, pasta and deli
The midship pool features a retractable cover, and there are
three whirlpool spas.
Deck 9 also features a fully equipped gymnasium that overlooks
the bow and extends up one level. The facility also includes a spa,
beauty salon and a whirlpool spa.
Deck 10's highlight is the Nouveau Supper Club, a terrific venue
that successfully creates the atmosphere of an intimate supper club
with live music, low lighting and a very good steakhouse menu.
The Spirit's cuisine is excellent, particularly when compared
with other mass-market operators.
The only complaint here is the service. Intended to be leisurely
-- so that passengers enjoy their company as well as their meal --
the service toes the thin line dividing leisurely from just plain
Worse yet, our hostess, an eastern European woman, was very nice
but not very experienced and clearly not familiar with North
American passengers or their preferences.
Then again, with a relatively new ship like the Spirit, matters
such as these are usually worked out after the vessel has cruised
for a length of time.
There is no better example of the ship's diversity than the
habits of my son and myself.
While Derek preferred to stroll around the ship with his
friends, bouncing from the video game room on Deck 4 to the disco
to just about everywhere else, I was content to find a quiet spot
to read, sunbathe and enjoy the excellent weather.
Within a day, I found the perfect spot -- the sunbathing area on
Deck 10. Secluded and relatively difficult to notice, the area was
always quiet, drenched in sun and frequented by no more than 10 to
15 people throughout the cruise.