Spirit Review

Jim wrote this review of our latest Carnival Spirit Cruise for a “Cruise Critic” posting.  (I contributed, edited and typed).  Thought some of you might be interested in more details on what we did March 3-11, 2010.  (You’ll see a mention of a great taxi cab driver/tour guide, Misael, in Acapulco.  We told him that he would be recommended on the internet!!) 

After 3 ½ months of staying at home for remodeling after flood damage, we resumed traveling.  (The reason we retired early).  We got a good price on a suite so decided to take the Carnival Spirit to the Mexican Riviera for the 5th time, starting 3/3/10.  It stopped in Acapulco, Zihuatanejo and Manzanillo.

Usually the weather is in the 90’s and very hot and humid.  This time we lucked out as it stayed in the 80’s with less humidity.  Sweating was reduced considerably.  We had a Meet and Greet on the first sea day and 5 officers showed up and spent almost an hour with us.  We had about 20 CC’rs.  Carnival provided coffee and water for us; they are not quite as liberal as some of the other cruise lines.

Living in southern California makes it easy to take these cruises out of San Diego or Long Beach;  One hour drive to both locations.  This was our 24th Carnival cruise and we took it mainly because we wanted our 25th to be to Hawaii on 4/11/10.  Carnival gives us 25% of whatever we paid our travel agent for the cruise as credit on our sail and sign card. $3000 = $750 and we have 100 shares of Carnival Stock so we get another $100 credit; $850 will go a long ways toward paying for tips, bar bill, purchases, etc.  Not too bad!!

The Spirit is a nice ship with many balconies, so unlike the older Elation and Paradise, you can usually get a good price on a balcony.  We check for the best discounts: past guest 55+, military, and California resident.  Also, since we are flexible on dates, we can qualify for significant reductions in fares.

Most of the Carnival ships have reduced their orchestra to 8 musicians and only have 2 lead singers for their Big Las Vegas style shows.  They also use recorded music to supplement the orchestra.  Being a retired musician, this bothers me.  The Spirit has added a second trumpet and a 3rd saxophone and all the music is live; plus they have 4 lead singers.  This resulted in some of the best shows that we have seen on Carnival (“Jazz Hot” and “Big Easy”).  They even had a night for “Big Band Music” in one of the lounges (Club Cool) which was really great.  They flew in Ned Rifken, the “Carnival Ambassador of Swing” for another night with the orchestra.  This was a “don’t miss” performance.  Good musicians were all around the ship, except for Peter in the piano bar.  (Sorry Peter)  He plays fast and furious, non-stop like he is afraid to interact with the guests.  We normally hang out at the Piano Bar, because it is a place where you get to know others.  Most piano bar players joke around with the patrons and there is a lot of personal interaction.  Peter played a lot of notes, could sing decently; but he was so loud that those singing along could not be heard.  We checked out the other venues, instead and they were top notch.  Enjoyed “High Rise” in the Club Cool, two nights.

Being seasoned cruisers, we don’t buy into Carnival’s over priced excursions.  Internet research and comparing notes on the CC forums helps us decide what to do.  Since my cousin and wife joined us on this cruise, we became tour guides.  In Mexico, we usually walk off the ship and negotiate with a licensed taxi driver at the pier/dock for a 4 or 5 hour excursion.  In Acapulco, we lucked out and got Misael T. Valdovinos for four hours for $80 for the 4 of us in a nice van with AC.  He spoke very good English and was very knowledgeable.  He is the President of the Coalition of “Informadores Turisticos” (all wear blue shirts), so a real find.  He took us to the Cliff Divers; jewelry shops (free beer and wine); Los Flamingos Hotel (owned by American movie stars for a while in 1940-50’s) and “Casablanca”.   movie hotel (both had wonderful views); Pie de la Cuesta Lagoon; and downtown for best shopping.  He ended up staying with us for 5 hours and was so great that with tip we gave him $120 ($30 each).

Zihuatanejo- We love this small, clean town; there are 2 trash cans in every block (clearly labeled) and the streets and sidewalks are spotless.  The ships tender out here, but close to the town.  When you get to the pier, turn right on along the beach.  Shops all along this beach side walk and restaurants.  The first few do not have beach seating, but if you go about a block you can sit in the sand under umbrellas.  There must be a “beer war” because 90% of the restaurant/bars sold beer for $1 USD each.  Most people tank up before returning to the ship.  Other things to do include the water taxi to a nice beach or take a taxi to Ixtapa for Cancun style hotels and all-inclusive resorts for a day fee.  We also do the internet in Zihua for 10 pesos for 30 minutes.

The last port was Manzanillo.  We have not only been here on the Spirit, 5 times; but we flew down in early 2008 and stayed 3 weeks in the Las Hadas area.  The city is the major seaport for the Mexican Pacific and is a bustling port.  Unemployment is very low, as well as crime.  This time we docked closer to town and were able to walk out of the secured dock area and negotiate with taxi drivers.  There is also a shuttle bus for $4 RT into the city center.  Downtown is large and busy and not touristy at all, no beautiful churches or museums.  We have ridden the city buses several times; you can go to Santiago (suburb with many Canadian snowbirds), Las Hadas resort area and the beaches of Miramar.  Most people opt to go to the beautiful colonial city of Colima.  It dates back to the 16th century and is a UNESCO city.  Several beautiful churches/cathedrals, museums, plazas and an active volcano.  Also recommended is to lunch at the neighboring town of Comala.  There are 5 restaurants in a row across from the city square.  You buy your drinks (overpriced), but you get free snacks, or botanas.  They keep bringing them until you say you are full.  They are varied and tasty.  Most times, there are dueling Mariachis; sometimes so many that you have difficulty hearing just one.  This experience is not to be missed; you can watch the drunks or even be one.  The ship offers this excursion for $80 per person.  We paid our driver (also a nice van with AC) $35 each and had control of where and when we went.  Most of the taxis were Nissans and would have been crowded with the 4 of us; so glad we found a van.  If you ride the local bus, you pay only 5 pesos or $.50 each.  There is also golfing and some of the best Deep sea fishing.  The city can be a bit smoggy because of all the industry and a huge electrical plant.  It does make for awesome sunsets, however.

The last 2 days are at sea heading north to CA.  This is time to kick back, read a good book and enjoy the pool deck.  Of course there is gambling, shopping and music.  They added a Fun Farewell party on the last night, in the large Pharaohs Palace.  Cocktails were complimentary, the orchestra played, there was a singer and a very funny comedy act (with props), Marcus Raymond.  We saw him twice and he is hysterical.

As you may have guessed, we do enjoy the Carnival Spirit, the ports and the days at sea.  Must be so, since on this, our 5th time we are still singing its praises.

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