West Coasting Along On The SPLENDOR (MV CARNIVAL SPLENDOR Preview Cruise)

Carnival Cruise Lines

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In 1982, I took my first Carnival cruise, a seven night opus from Miami to San Juan and St. Thomas on board the 27,000 gt TSS CARNIVALE, which now lies half demolished on the beach at Alang, India as the TOPAZ. I have many fond memories of that Scottish built ship and the cruise, itself, which was a whirlwind of non-stop, partying fun.

In the two and a half decades since my my initial Carnival adventure, through brilliant marketing and strategic planning, the company grew from its original line up of three converted former British ocean liners (MARDI GRAS — ex EMPRESS OF CANADA, CARNIVALE — ex EMPRESS OF BRITAIN and FESTIVALE — ex TRANSVAAL CASTLE) into the kingpin of the modern cruise industry with a fleet of twenty two ships under its own banner and another four score or so in a Carnival Corporation-owned myriad of subsidiaries that includes Cunard, Holland America, Costa, Seabourn, Aida, Iberocruceros, P&O;, P&O; Australia and Princess Cruises.

CARNIVAL SPLENDOR departs Long Beach on March 19, 2009 for San Francisco. Photo by and copyright Tom Nicolai 2009.

The latest Carnival vessel, the $640 million, 113,300 gt, 3006 (4,914 total berth) passenger CARNIVAL SPLENDOR is the largest ship in the fleet. She is a modified, slightly expanded version of the CARNIVAL CONQUEST blueprint, which, itself, was a larger version of the CARNIVAL DESTINY, the first of the company’s ships to exceed 100,000 gt.

CARNIVAL SPLENDOR builder’s plate.

CARNIVAL SPLENDOR was built by the Sestri Ponente (near Genoa) division of Italy’s state-owned Fincantieri shipyard and delivered in July of 2008.

After a round South America positioning voyage from Florida, the SPLENDOR arrived in California earlier this month. She would make a pair of cruises to nowhere to introduce Carnival’s latest, most advanced hardware to the West Coast market. I joined the ship for her Los Angeles-based preview cruise.

March 24, 2009


A brilliant March morning greeted the SPLENDOR on her maiden arrival at Los Angeles today. The ship was slightly delayed by high winds and seas as she returned from a two night preview cruise out of San Francisco, and did not berth until 11:00 AM. I ran into my traveling companion, Tom Nicolai, in the Catalina terminal parking lot across from Pier 93, with cameras pointed at the balconied behemoth we would soon embark.

The 952 foot CARNIVAL SPLENDOR is a well-proportioned ship whose 116 foot girth is somewhat softened by the trio of facets in her forward superstructure. She is immediately distinguished by the shape of her funnel, which is stouter and lacks the curvilinear wing-to-base contours of her CONQUEST class sisters. The SPLENDOR also features a sliding glass magrodome over her midships pool area, which serves as the ship’s dual level Seaside Theater (with a large bandstand and 270 square foot LED screen) and a 252 foot water slide by her Thunderball pool. Other new features include Serenity, an adults-only area adjacent to the Cloud 9 Spa (the largest Carnival spa to date), special spa staterooms (with exclusive amenities and spa access) and Camp Carnival (a 5,500 square foot children’s play area — the company’s largest). As with all ships in the fleet, the SPLENDOR is the creation of in-house Carnival designer Joseph Farcus, who drew his inspiration from “splendid things: a celebration of the magnificent, lustrous and elegant”.

Spa Stateroom 1021, facing starboard.

1021 balcony, facing aft.

Our stateroom, 1021, was a nice category 8P Spa Stateroom on forward/starboard Deck 10, just four cabins down from the open observation platform. It featured a warm palette of ochre, maroon and bronze soft fittings, two twin beds (featuring excellent “Carnival Comfort mattresses, duvets, fluffy pillows and high quality sheets and linens) and a convertible sofa, writing desk, closet, flat screen television, phone, individually-controlled air conditioning and a balcony with two chairs and a cocktail table.

Cloud 9 Spa Stateroom 1021 bathroom.

Carnival basket of samples.

Cloud 9 Spa stateroom amenities.

Regular Carnival amenities include two disposable shavers, shaving cream, toothpaste and hair gel in addition to special spa cabin Elemis soap, moisturizers, shampoo and conditioner. The spa cabins are all non-smoking and provide complimentary access to the thermal suite and thalassotherapy pool as well as priority reservations for spa treatme

Midships from port Deck Twelve.

The race was on to capture as much of the ship as possible before she filled with fellow passengers, so we began at the top on Sky Deck (14) and worked our way down from there to Sun (13), Spa (12) and Panorama (11) Decks.

Under the Panamanian flag.

A huge Panamanian flag billowed over aft Lido Deck (9), which on SPLENDOR is open air and not sheltered by a magrodome as on the ship’s sisters.

SPLENDOR spectrum.

With a separate, forthcoming full Decked! blog tour to feature a top to bottom look at the ship and most of her public areas, I chose a few Farcusian highlights for these pages. The SPLENDOR is definitely not your grandmother’s typical, low key, pastel-hued floating hotel. Rather, she has all the glitz of Las Vegas, the buzz of Times Square and the fiberoptic finess of Ginza.

Fused glass detailing in Splendido Lido.

There is much quality in her details, which include impressive fused glass fixtures in the 1,396 seat Splendido Lido.

Undressed for success.

The brightly painted mannequins outside the Red Carpet Disco will never get past their symbolic velvet rope, but the SPLENDOR’s guests have perpetual VIP access.

Red Carpet Club, facing port.

The 211 seat disco changes colors with its evolving playlist.

Empress origins.

All Carnival ships have an Empress Deck, in a nomenclature dating to the company’s original ships, MARDI GRAS and CARNIVALE, the ex Canadian Pacific liners EMPRESS OF CANADA and EMPRESS OF BRITAIN, respectively.

Black Pearl Restaurant, facing forward.

The Black Pearl Restaurant seats 744 passengers and is the first of two balconied main dining rooms on Lobby Deck (Three) and Atlantic Deck (Four). Its complement, the 1,122 seat Gold Pearl, is located at the stern of the ship.

SPLENDOR Atrium, facing forward from Deck Five.

At the heart of the ship, the Atrium soars from Lobby Deck (Three) all the way up to Spa Deck (Eleven), featuring a quartet of panoramic elevators.

Tom Nicolai runs into an old friend at the Cloud 9 Spa.

Some rather fit mannequins are strategically placed in the Cloud Nine Spa passage.

Spotted: salmon!

Totally random carpet shot.

No color, concept, or combination thereof is off limits in this floating Farcusian folly. Something new and stimulating awaits in just about every nook and cranny of the SPLENDOR.

Seaside Theater, facing forward.

In the Seaside Theater, Sara Righi’s “Butterfly Lace” is a bronze sculptural focal point.

Pillar of blogdom: Spectacular Spectacular Theater.

The three deck, 1,400 seat Spectacular Spectacular Theater is a soaring, shiny, steel-surfaced stadium draped in silvery bl
ue fiberglass curtains.

Hunted and gathered in the Splendido Lido.

As the ship filled with guests, it was time to take a break and head to the 1,396 seat Splendido Lido for lunch. The massive facility has a huge variety of food, from deli sandwiches, burgers and pizza to a Mongolian barbeque, a burrito station and Tandoori cuisine. I didn’t get much further than the salad bar and the station offering delicious chicken scallopini and fresh grouper. Carnival’s food quality and variety has come a long, long way in 37 years and, in my opinion, is still vastly underrated by many cruise pundits.

Muster on Deck Four.

At 4:30 PM, our thorough but quick muster was held on starboard Deck Four, which features long promenades that are not generally in passenger use.

Balconies are a many splendored thing!

At 5:00 PM, we stood atop forward Lido Deck (Nine) which has wings that extend to either side atop the bridge. Most Carnival vessels have great forward observation areas, something that is often overlooked in modern cruise ship design.

Angel’s Gate, Los Angeles.

We backed into the channel, past the historic Victory Ship LANE VICTORY, and along the San Pedro waterfront, with container terminals on the port side and Ports O’Call village to starboard. Soon, we were disembarking the pilot off the Angel’s Gate lighthouse and breakwater.

Bridge to Catalina.

Having grown up in the hills of Los Angeles, a “Catalina Day” was one of the rare, clear days when Catalina Island could be seen on the distant horizon. This was a “Catalina Day” in its most perfect sense!

The Pinnacle, facing forward from port.

We joined friends for a cocktail party in the Miles Davis-inspired ambiance of Club Cool, then headed to the Spectacular Spectacular for a show featuring singer Marcus Anthony before our 8:30 dinner at the Pinnacle.

Versace in the Pinnacle.

The extra tariff ($30) eatery is located on aft Spa Deck (Eleven). Settings include two Versace china patterns, starched linens, ergonomic silver cutlery and tall stemware. Reservations are required and dining is staggered throughout the evening to provide the very highest levels of service.

Elena presents….

Our waitress, Elena, welcomed us with a display of aged USDA prime beef cuts.

Sushi starter in the Pinnacle.

Starter courses include Escargots Bourguignonne (baked in garlic herb butter), Pumpkin and Feta Cheese Parfait (served in a light roasted pumpkin cream), Beef Carpaccio (tenderloin with shaved parmesan cheese over marinated mache lettuce), Sushi P
latter (salmon, lobster and shrimp with pickled ginger and wasabe), Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail (black tiger shrimp with American cocktail sauce), New England Crab Cake (on roasted pepper remoulade), Lobster Bisque with Vintage Cognac (fleuron and fresh cream), Baked Onion Soup “Les Halles”.

Caesar perfecto.

Salads include a Classic Caesar (hearts of romaine lettuce traditionally prepared tableside with dollups of anchovies and fresh grated parmesan), Baby Leaf Spinach With Mushrooms (with blue cheese dressing and warm bacon bits) and Tossed Garden (greens, raddichio, purple onion rings, tomato and watercress with choice of house, ranch or blue cheese dressing).

Broiled Supreme of Free Range Chicken.

Main courses include Broiled New York Strip Loin Steak (14 oz. cut), Grilled Prime Rib Chop (18 oz. cut), Classic Porterhouse Steak (24 oz. cut), Surf and Turf (seared lobster tail and grilled fillet mignon), Whole Dover Sole Meuniere (panfried and served with beurre noisette), Broiled Lobster Tail (served with drawn butter), Broiled Supreme of Free Range Chicken (with blackberry port wine reduction), and a Mushroom Streudel on Asparagus Fondue (stuffed tomato with green peas and truffled Mac ‘n’ Cheese). Available sauces are Three Peppercorn, Wild Mushroom and Sauce Bernaise and side dishes include Baked Potato With Trimmings, Sauteed Medley of Fresh Mushrooms, Gold Mash With Wasabe Horseradish and Sauteed Spinach With Garlic.

Cheese cake with a touch of Eero Saarinen.

Desserts? How bout a Citrus Cheesecake With Hazelnut Biscuit (burnt basmati and mango ravioli with almond and mascarpone jam), Washington Apple Tarte Tartin (served with chocolate and lemon balm salad), Chocolate Tart With Bitter Chocolate Pate (pineapple tart and tiramisu notre facon), Fresh Fruits (seasonal, served with homemade sorbet) or a selection of International Cheeses?

Some splendid evening atop Sun Deck (Twelve).

Service was impeccable and every dish a triumph of flavor and aesthetics. On land, the equivalent of this dinner would cost many times its mere $30 price per person. The evening was balmy and temperate, so we walked some of the meal off on the upper decks, admiring the winged funnel, whose proportions were similar to those of the lamented SS FRANCE of 1961.

Nocturnal splendor on starboard Deck Three, facing aft.

In order to hear the gurgle of the sea, one must seek out the finite promenades on Lobby Deck (Three). And so we did.

Plush towel animal.

A waffle-ply towel animal and two Carnival chocolates awaited upon our return to 1021. With a full sea day ahead, it was a chance to get some often elusive sleep.

March 25, 2009

Full steam ahead in the Coffee Shop.

Carnival Splenda!

Upon my late morning awakening, I headed to the Coffee Club on Promenade Deck (Five) for a double shot cappuccino to start the day. Despite a rather long line, the wait was short and well worth the effort.

Serpentine SPLENDOR.

My personal agenda was to continue documenting, eat, and hopefully work out in well-equipped gym. Tom managed to sneak in a few rounds on the massive waterslide.

A full array of scheduled activities included Big Screen Trivia, various concerts in the midships pool area, Team Trivia, Name That Tune, Match Game, Karaoke, various live music venues, Latin Dance Music and an Interactive Travel Trade Show hosted by Carnival’s Gerry Cahill and superstar blogger/senior cruise director John Heald.

Pirates’ par.

Up on Sky Deck (Fourteen), the mini golf courses were in full swing.

Keeping track of Deck Twelve, facing forward from port.

The jogging track enjoyed its share of rubber-souled romps in the brilliant afternoon sun.


Bell of the bow.

From the fo’c’sle head on Atlantic Deck, the view included the ship’s massive face and shiny bell.

Aft Lido Deck at sea.

The open air pool area on Aft Lido Deck served its share of sun worshippers.

QUEEN MARY on the Lido Deck.

NORMANDIE on the Lido Deck.

Meanwhile, remarkably accurate half models of NORMANDIE and QUEEN MARY were mounted on the bulkhead between the ship-shaped bars on Aft Lido Deck, which were somewhat reminiscent of the 1985-built HOLIDAY’s liner-themed Funnel Grill.

Nytasha builds a bountiful burrito.

Burrito Bar below.

I could not resist the Burrito Bar, which like a sea-going Baja Fresh, had a choice of meats, cheese and various toppings. I went with a handmade burrito by Nytasha featuring the chicken chorizo, fresh pico de gallo, lettuce and jack cheese with a side of medium hot salsa. All very fresh and up to California standards, indeed (except maybe for the guacamole, which should never be served in a squirt bottle).

Mr. Blue Sky on the big screen.

“Sun is shin-ing in the sky. There ain’t a cloud in sight….” Did I actually hear my Electric Light Orchestra bellowing from the giant LED screen on midships Lido Deck? “Mr. Blue Sky” was thundering its way across the pool area, followed by some other magical nuggets like “Livin’ Thing” and “One Summer Dream”.

Elliptical illusion.

Thermal Suite.

Thalassotherapy under the dragons.

In the late afternoon, an invigorating workout in the Cloud 9 gym was followed by a visit to the thermal suite and a ionized dunk in the thalassotherapy pool as snarling dragons loomed overhead.

Pizza panorama.

I undid all the work with a couple slices of absolutely perfect Pizza Margherita, made freshly at the pizza bar and inundated with reggiano parmigiano and a smattering of red chili. Supremo!

Sunset at sea.

A following sunset put an end to a blissful day at sea.

Cut and curled crustacea in the Black Pearl.

Second seating dinner in the Black Pearl was scheduled at 8:15. After last night’s meal in the Pinnacle, our Carnival cuisine barometers were set on high. Service and food were excellent, once again. I began with a Greek Farmer Salad (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, olives and feta served with yogurt marinated chicken kebabs) and a Grilled Breast of Corn Fed Chicken. Other Starter choices included Strawberry Bisque (chilled strawberry soup), Minestrone Milanese, Roasted Pumpkin Soup and Baked Stuffed Mushrooms. A choice of Carnival Classics starters featured Fresh Fruit Cocktail, Black Tiger Shrimp Cocktail and Caesar Salad. Spa offerings included fresh fruit and spinach salad. Main Courses ranged from Spaghetti Carbonara to Supreme of Hudson Valley Duck, Grilled Perch Fillet, Broiled Caribbean Lobster and Prime Rib to Chili Rellenos. Classic included Norwegian Salmon my chicken choice and Flat Iron Steak.

Slumdog spectacle!

Just before dessert, the wait staff paraded around the dining room in what we expected to be the usual Baked Alaska, “Hot, Hot, Hot” routine. Nothing doing tonight, which featured a highly spirited and delightfully well-choreographed “Jai Ho” with waiters synchronously gyrating from all available counter tops to the catchy theme song from “Slumdog Millionaire”. A fresh approach to an old tradition!

Chocolate melt in the Black Pearl.

The chocolate melt was highly recommended but I wanted to get some sleep, so I went with..

Caramel Apple Tart in the Black Pearl.

an absolutely amazing caramel apple tart. The caramel was so fresh and tasty, I could have just eaten it with a spoon but the flaky tart and cooked apples were irresistible! I watched part of “Vroom!”, the huge production spectacle in the theater, then retreated to the cabin to pack. Our short sampling of the SPLENDOR was nearing its end.

March 26, 2009

Serenity on SPLENDOR, facing forward on starboard side.

Alas, a gloomy, misty morning awaited as we parted the curtains, finished packing and rushed off to the Lido for a quick breakfast. I had a fresh omelet with onions, tomatoes and cheese. I lingered a bit longer to finish documenting the last few elusive spaces, then disembarked, drove home and repacked for my next adventure, an Adriatic cruise on Peter Deilmann’s MV DEUTSCHLAND.

Under SPLENDOR-dome.

Hats off and respect to Carnival for maintaining and even continuing to better its standards in a time when the cruise industry is hurting. They set the bar for the competition to match and are the barometer for the U.S.-based mass market cruise industry. The SPLENDOR and her fleetmates are unpretentious palaces of fun, designed to make people interact and have a good time. And the food and service cannot be beat, especially for the price.

A full Decked! tour of the CARNIVAL SPLENDOR is coming soon to MaritimeMatters.

Special thanks: Buck Banks, Martin Cox, Tim Gallagher, Vance Gulliksen, Steven Kravitz, Stu Newman, Tom Nicolai and the free, strong wifi signal in Venice’s San Basileo terminal!

End of CARNIVAL SPLENDOR Sea Treks blog. Posted March 29, 2009.

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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