Carnival Cruise Lines
Bright and fun with multistory dining and entertainment rooms and a reservations-only restaurant, the Spirit-class ships offer everything you'll need, but packaged in a more sane size than the larger Destiny- and Conquest-class ships.
Typical Per Diems: $60-$85
Legend Caribbean, from Tampa (year-round).
Miracle Caribbean, from Fort Lauderdale (year-round).
Pride Bahamas & Florida, from Baltimore (year-round).
Spirit Mexican Riviera & Baja, from San Diego (fall/winter). Hawaii, from Ensenada, Mexico, and Honolulu (repositioning, spring & fall). Alaska, from Seattle (summer).
When the $375-million Carnival Spirit debuted in April 2001, it ushered in a new class for the Fun Ship line. Bigger than Carnival's eight Fantasy-class ships and smaller than its three Destiny-class vessels, the 2,124-passenger, 88,500-ton, 960-foot Spirit, Pride, Legend, and Miracle update Carnival's rubber-stamp style with a handful of innovations and more elegance, placing them closer to the newest Royal Caribbean and Princess vessels than to Carnival's earlier Fun Ships. The Spirit-class ships eliminate the cluster of nightclubs in favor of stretching the music venues from bow to stern on Decks 2 and 3, and there's an appealing supper club, which the subsequent Conquest class has also adopted. A state-of-the-art "teleradiology" system enables the ship's doctors to digitally transmit X-rays and other patient information to medical facilities onshore for consultation on a broad range of medical situations.
Interestingly, the Spirit-class ships bear more than a little resemblance to Costa's Costa Atlantica and sister Mediterranea: Their hull and superstructure were built from identical plans, and Carnival design guru Joe Farcus did the decor for them all.
The Spirit-class ships have verandas on more than 60% of their cabins, though most are pretty small, with a wood-tone plastic chair, a small table, and a deck chair. (Cabins with larger balconies are amidships and aft on Decks 6, 7, and 8.) Their 213 inside cabins and outside cabins without balconies are a roomy 185 square feet (standard outsides with balconies are the same size plus a 40-sq.-ft. balcony). Of the 44 category-11 suites, most measure 275 square feet, plus an 85-square-foot balcony, while 10 located at the stern of Decks 4 through 8 measure 245 square feet, plus a jumbo wraparound 220-square-foot balcony. The six category-12 suites measure 300 square feet, plus a 115-square-foot balcony. On Deck 4, all category-5A cabins have lifeboats obstructing the view, though they do have sliding-glass doors that allow you to lean out into the fresh air.
In a subtle departure from the minimalist, somewhat cold cabin decor of the rest of Carnival's older ships, the Spirit's cabins are warmer and more sophisticated, with toasted-caramel wood-tone furniture and mango- and coral-hued upholstery, drapes, and bedspreads. The pointy lighting fixtures are more stylish but don't throw a lot of light on the desk mirror. Also, there are none of those great little reading lights over the beds like the rest of the fleet provides, just lamps on the night tables.
All cabins, even the least expensive inside ones, have a decent amount of storage space in both closets and drawers (with small leather handles that some people find difficult to grab hold of), plus a safe, TV, desk and stool, chair, well-designed bathroom with a shower stall that is a tad larger than on other ships, and glass shelves on either side of the large mirror to stash your toiletries. Just about all cabins have a small sitting area with a sofa and coffee table (some inside cabins have only a chair and table), and all have a real hair dryer (stored in the desk/vanity drawer). Like the rest of the fleet, all beds are outfitted with extrathick and comfy mattresses, duvets, linens, and pillows, and you'll enjoy the thick and fluffy towels and bathrobes, too.
There are 16 cabins for passengers with disabilities.
Unlike most of the fleet, the Spirit ships have one sprawling, two-story, 1,300-seat formal dining room (with traditional early and late seating, along with an open-seating option so guests can dine anytime between 5:45pm and 9:30pm). It's a pleasant places to dine, especially if you can snag an intimate booth or a table along the glass railing on the second level, with views of the scene below. The Spirit ships were the first in the Carnival fleet to also have an alternative reservations-only restaurant for more intimate and elegant dining from a menu of mostly steaks and seafood, for a cover charge of $30 per person. The newer Conquest-class ships also have these restaurants. The main drawback on the Spirit class: Rowdy crowd noise sometimes filters up from the atrium bar below. In the huge, well-laid-out indoor/outdoor casual buffet restaurant, menu items range from standard American to French, Italian, and Asian dishes; sushi is served in the buffet restaurant at lunch. The food is fine, but don't expect anything resembling gourmet.
As aboard the rest of the fleet, 24-hour pizza and Caesar salad are available from a counter in the buffet restaurant. You can get a tasty deli sandwich from the New York Deli all day long, and self-serve frozen yogurt and soft ice cream are also on hand.
Carnival designer Joe Farcus works his whimsy once again aboard the Spirit-class ships, blending marble, wood-veneer walls, tile mosaic work, buttery leathers, rich fabrics, copper and bronze, Art Nouveau and Art Deco themes, and all manner of glass lighting fixtures. Though a relatively subdued bronze color scheme defines many public areas, these ships still are glitzy and blinding in the same fun Vegas way as the rest of the Carnival fleet.
A string trio or pianist performs throughout the day at the lower-level lobby bar that anchors each ship's spectacular, jaw-dropping, nine-deck atrium, even more of a central hub than aboard earlier Carnival ships owing to its placement amidships. Just about all the indoor action is on Decks 2 and 3, where you'll find the piano bar (on Spirit, it's a neat Oriental-style spot with carved rosewood detailing, paper-lantern lighting fixtures, a red lacquer piano, and rich Chinese silk walls; on Legend, it's an understated tribute to Billie Holiday in stainless steel), a large sports bar, disco, jazz nightclub (where karaoke and other contests are held), cafe (where you can purchase specialty coffees and pastries), combination library and Internet center (with a ridiculously spare book collection), an elegant string of shops, a modern-style wedding chapel, and a sprawling photo gallery. The low-ceilinged lounge tucked into the bow on Deck 1, at the end of a corridor of cabins, is so well hidden that it's often empty.
The three-level showrooms are something to see; on Spirit, Farcus had Verdi's Egypt-themed opera Aida in mind when he covered it head to toe in brightly painted gold-and-blue King Tutstyle sarcophagi and hieroglyphics (on the Legend, it's a flashy Mediterranean-style movie palace). Sightlines are severely limited from parts of the Deck 2 and Deck 3 level, so arrive early if you want a decent view. The disco is a two-story barrel-shaped place with a giant video wall; on Spirit, the funky spot has a Jackson Pollockinspired splatter-painted design. On the Miracle, the disco was made to look like a Gothic castle in ruins with faux stone walls.
The ships' broad outdoor promenade is wonderfully nostalgic (almost), but unfortunately does not wrap around the entire ship; near the bow you are channeled through a door and the promenade suddenly (and oddly) becomes enclosed and narrower, turning into a cute but kind of odd jungle-themed area lined with comfy chairs and small tables with views through jumbo-size portholes. The kids' playroom and a video arcade are tucked away in the far forward reaches of the bow on Decks 4 and 5. Playrooms are divided into three sections connected via tunnels and kids can enjoy sand art, a candy-making machine, a computer lab with a handful of iMacs and PlayStations, and other diversions. The playrooms are of decent size, but nowhere near the size and scope of what you'll find on the Splendor- and Conquest-class fleetmates or on Royal Caribbean's Oasis-, Freedom-, Voyager-, and Radiance-class ships and Disney's Magic and Wonder. The video arcade is huge, with 30-plus machines, including air hockey and foosball.
Pool, Fitness & Spa Facilities
The Spirit-class spas are the only ones in the fleet to have any real decor; the rest have had a bland, institutional look, as though Farcus forgot to design them. The Spirit, for instance, sports a Greek-inspired motif of white fluted columns and images of Greek gods on the walls. The multilevel gyms are based loosely on a Greek amphitheater, and though they're more than adequate, with dozens of machines, they're a bit more cramped than the huge spaces on the Conquest- and Destiny-class ships.
In general, there are lots of places for sunbathing across the three topmost decks, including the area around the two main pools amidships on the Lido Deck, as well as around a third pool on the aft end of this deck. All told, there are four hot tubs (including one in the gym), plus a jogging track, combination volleyball/basketball court, and shuffleboard. A fun, snaking water slide for kids and adults is sequestered high up and aft on a top deck, and adjacent is a small, sort of forlorn, fenced-in kids' wading pool. With no shade up on this part of the ship, don't forget to put sunscreen on your kids' delicate skin -- and your own, for that matter.