For the second year in a row we have Cruised through Christmas. This year the family and I were excited to try the new edition to the Carnival family here in Australia, the Carnival Splendor.
Carnival’s catch phrase ‘choose fun’ is a true representation of the brand. They employ a fun squad, who’s job it is to ensure the passengers are doing just that, making the most of their time onboard. Each night, at your turn down service (fyi- rooms are serviced twice daily), you will receive a newsletter delivered to your room, called the ‘fun times’. This will give you a run down of the extensive activities for the following day and night, so you can plan your activities in advance. There is also a Carnival hub app that you can access with free WIFI, the app lists everything from the fun times plus more. We found the WIFI a little touch and go on this ship at times, it tended to work best in my room and not very well in the common areas. I did purchase a high level package, so I could get my emails and use social media but it was often hard to get great reception. I did not mind being locked out at times, as the idea of the Cruise was to have some time out. Thanks, Carnival, for the enforcing my rest and relaxation. Ha!
Whether you are in a port of call or not, there are literally 100’s of activities you can choose from. They have various forms of trivia, games, live entertainment, sporting competitions, lessons, seminars, meet up’s, special brunches, tours, or just crazy games like a lip sync battle or a hairy chest competition. The biggest reason my family enjoy Cruising is because there is literally something on offer for everyone. It is a perfect holiday for multi-generational families trying to spend some time together. You see them all coming together at dinner time whilst enjoying different activities during the day.
Carnival do not limit the number of kids they take on each Cruise like some of the other Cruise lines, so be prepared. School holidays and especially Christmas Cruises see a large number of kids onboard. I can’t complain too loudly as I have 4 of my own, but sometimes kids/teens (even adults) just need to be told how to behave properly. Adults can take refuge in the adults only areas on the ship. There is the Serenity pool area at the ships rear, or the casino area where the games are only for adults. Kids club is included in the fare and there are special groups for each age ranging from 2 right through to 11, plus teen clubs up until the age of 18 with their own dedicated hang out zones.
Onboard, Splendor has two dedicated kids water play zones, one mid ship which seems more for very young children, having small water jets and the other is for all ages. The second one also comprises of the two featured water slides and another water play zone with smaller slides and a get wet bucket. The two featured slides have become synonymous with the Carnival Cruise line here in Australia with Carnival Legend and Carnival Spirit both having them onboard. This was the key selling point for my kids. They loved the slides and spent a lot of their time onboard requesting to go on them. There is a green slide and a yellow slide. The green slide is a bit scarier looking than the yellow as you literally drop straight down through a trap door. I gave this one a miss but the rest of my family, including my 7 year old, all gave it a good go. I had one quick go on the yellow slide through peer pressure and found that scary enough. It circled around numerous times at a great speed. If we were not at the slide area, we were relaxing on a sun lounge on the Lido deck, which was by the pool.
The Lido deck itself had much more to offer than just the pool. It did tend to come alive during the day, with a tequila bar, a rum bar, a burger joint and a pizza bar standing on each of the four corners. There was regular entertainment on offer here, with a large screen for dive in movies and a stage for various performances. On other Cruise ships we have been on, there are 2 main pools kids can use, which I do prefer. We found if one is out of action for one reason or another (e.g.-a kid vomits in the pool and it needs to be drained and sterilized), then you have a second option. On this Cruise the pool did spend a lot of time out of action, unfortunately. Just up the stairs there were two smaller spa pools as well, which we did use more often, as the water was much warmer.
The other hub for activity was in the ships lobby, with an atrium spanning several stories high it was a great place to gather and join in with the fun. This was the place where they often had singalongs, dance lessons or just fun parties. You could get right in on all the action from the dedicated bar or dance floor, or just join in at a distance from one of the balconies above. We had a lot of fun here singing all the 80’s anthems at the 80’s rock and glow party. Plus, on Christmas evening we sang Christmas carols and they made it snow from foam machines on the levels above, which was pretty special. From the lobby you could access the theatre for the evening’s headline show or the dining room for dinner each night. It was a great meeting point as it always offered entertainment in one form or another.
For those that have not Cruised before, each ship has a dedicated entertainment crew who perform the evening’s theatre production, they usually have a couple of singers and dancers and they always do a good job. There are usually 2 sessions for the show, one at around 730pm and the other at 930pm, so you can always fit the show into your evening schedule. If you’re not into theatre, singing or dancing, there is another theatre which offers a comedian’s line up or areas offering live musician’s performing from various genres. You could join the pianist in the piano bar or head to the night club and listen to the DJ pump out the latest tunes, there is even a sports bar, or perhaps dive in at the movies? The hardest thing to do, is choose what to do, as the list of options is very extensive.
I always get asked about food when it comes to Cruising. Again, there are several options. Generally, you get assigned a dining option, whether it be early dinner, late dinner or anytime you choose dinner, and this is the time you have a reservation within the restaurant to eat your three course meal. Carnival have a lovely menu where you have a choice of approx. 5-6 meals in each course, which differs each night. Most nights we ate here, but there is the option of going to the buffet. I’m not a huge fan of Carnival’s buffet. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a good buffet, but it has to have a great selection, and hot food. Having eaten meals on many different Cruise lines, I don’t think these have been designed as well as others. I feel they have tried to spread people out a bit by offering food by the pool, as mentioned before with the burger joint and the pizza (which we loved). They also offer Indian cuisine and deli style sandwiches at the rear of the ship near the adults only area, which are also lovely. But the buffet itself, always had a long line, did not offer huge choices and the food did tend to be somewhat cold. My recommendation on Carnival Splendor, would be to avoid the buffet and enjoy the other delicious food on offer throughout the ship. You won’t be hungry and you are spoilt for choice. On top of these options they have further options, at an extra expense. Specialty dining at the Fahrenheit steak house and higher end seafood at the seafood shack (within the buffet area), freshly squeezed juices, barista made coffees or the cherry on top lolly shop. For drinks, they are at an extra cost. They do offer some included drinks at the buffet which was very basic tea and coffee or super sweet juices that even I needed to water down and I love sweet. They also offer ice water at all bars and in the dining room, but generally soft drinks, beer, wine and cocktails are at an extra expense and added onto your onboard account.
Other extras, besides a spot of shopping in the duty free shop, or small ship boutique might be a professional photo, day spa experience or shore excursion. For the professional photos, if you have not Cruised before, each evening you will have the opportunity to pose in front of a staged background and try and get that decent family photo to use as a memory. You can get as many photos taken as you like and choose your favourite at the end. These photos were $30 each. They also had photos taken when you get off at each port which cost $20 each and ones taken out and about which were $15 each. We ended up spending about $200, but I was really pleased with what we chose. There were about 20 photos that we did not purchase ourselves. They must throw away mountains of unwanted photos at the end of each Cruise.
The cloud 9 day spa offered many treatments (at an extra expense). I got a massage which was $150 and a facial which was $130 (negotiated), and both I found really relaxing and well worth the extra expense, as they are not things I do very often. They had all types of massages and acupuncture as well as the usual day spa options like pedicures, manicures etc. They also have a thermal treatment spa and room that you can pay to use for the duration of the Cruise, It’s a lovely relaxing space. The ships gym is also located here, where you can use a treadmill or attend one of the gym classes.
Our ports of call this time were Noumea, Isle of Pines and Lifou. All New Caledonian islands which we enjoyed. Each island we carried off our snorkelling gear and reef shoes and searched for the beach. Last time in Noumea we did the hop on hop off bus and explored the island that way, which was great. This time we were keen to do something different, and coming from Melbourne we were keen to get into the beautiful South Pacific waters. The ship offers a number of shore excursions which you can book onboard but as we were aware of what each place had to offer, we chose to do our own thing. In Noumea, you can go into the port building and pick from a number of local tours. We bought our tickets (in Australian dollars) and headed off to Duck Island. Duck Island is a small island not too far off the coast of Noumea, it takes about 10 mins by bus and then 3 minutes by water taxi to get there. It was well worth the trip. The snorkelling was pretty special, there is a large coral reef and the further you swim out by the numbered buoys there are large schools of fish. We loved swimming with millions of bait fish on the reef and really enjoyed our day here. We rented a sun lounge from the locals for about $25, and enjoyed our day swimming, snorkelling and just generally admiring the fish and coral. The water taxi operated every 15 mins, so as soon as we had enough, we packed up and made our short trip back to the ship.
At the Isle of Pines, again we knew what was on offer, as we had been here before. The island is really interesting to explore but quite large and you need to do a tour to see it fully. You can book an ‘on ship’ tour or again get off the ship and book with the locals who set up shop just as you exit the wharf. We did a local island tour last time. The bus was old and dirty, but we saw the sites and learnt all there was to know about the Isle of Pines. This time we were again keen to just swim and snorkel. Most of the ship’s passengers were exploring the rock area which we did last time as well, so we just laid our towels (Carnival give you beach towels to use) on the white sands and played in the water for the day. You get some great “insta” worthy pictures here as the ship is floating in the background. Another day was spend enjoying the beautiful blue waters of the south pacific.
Our third port of call was Lifou and this was our first time here. We had been told on the ship that this was the place to get our girls hair braided. My girls were on a mission to get this done, once off the ship there are several little beach huts set up with locals offering hair to be braided for $15 to $20, depending on what you want. They also do massages and sell some coconuts to drink. The main optional ship booked activity here is Jinek Bay. I was disappointed to learn on the second day of the Cruise that all tickets to snorkel here had already been sold out. My tip for Lifou is buy tickets to Jinek Bay on day 1 as soon as you get onboard. They limit numbers to 100 people in the morning and 100 people in the afternoon to try and preserve the coral. We walked over to have a look (from the shore) and it was similar to Duck Island from what we could see from the outside. It only cost $30 for access to this nature marine reserve but it is on a first in best dressed basis, so be quick. The other thing that sells out, that you need to buy on day one is the behind the fun “scenes” tour. This is $99 and well worth doing. You see places like the bridge, the ships kitchens, and everything that goes on down under. We really enjoyed it and found it very interesting the last time we did this tour that I believe is offered on all Carnival ships.
We have now been on a few Carnival Cruises, a few P&O Cruises and a few Royal Caribbean Cruises, each Cruise has been similar but they each have areas they excel in. I think Carnival’s area is the entertainment. Christmas was made very special onboard with a special Christmas eve dinner, Christmas day lunch plus the carols and snow that I already mentioned. Santa visited and they really did go out of their way to make our holiday fun and filled with wonderful memories. If you are planning a special occasion a Cruise with Carnival is a great choice. Carnival is a great option for families, especially with kids under the age of 15 as the slides and water play areas will keep them entertained for hours on end.
I’m always available to chat if you’re thinking of Cruising and can’t decide on which one is for you. Just remember if you want to #choosefun #choosecarnival
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