Unique Sleeps: A foodie aboard the Carnival Spirit
When Carnival Spirit invited me to hop on board for an 8-day cruise to New Caledonia, I broke into a cold sweat. Let’s put it this way, my very first sail was 10 years ago on a much smaller ship, in the open sea. I haven’t been in a rush to hop back onboard another ship since. That particular horrifying experience was conjured up by a mix of rough, choppy Tasman sea and an all-you-can-eat buffet. Before I knew it, my face turned as green as the Wicked Witch of the West, followed by a close reenactment of the famous scene in The Exorcist. All I could remember afterwards was locking myself in the cabin, lying in bed like a dead fish with a pail, rocking back and forth into unconsciousness all the way to our destination.
However, I’ve chatted with so many friends who’ve had an absolute ball on cruise ships. They all assured me I’d have a great time. I still wasn’t 100% convinced but I packed my bag, snorkeling gear and a full box of motion sickness pills. I was ready for an adventure on the high seas.
From food to fast facts, here’s how I spent my time aboard the Carnival Spirit:
Carnival Spirit is the largest and youngest cruise ship ever to be based full-time in Australia. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, approximately 833,348 Aussies took a cruise last year. With an increase of more than 40 per cent over the previous program, Carnival Cruise Lines has even introduced another cruise ship, the Carnival Legend, down under. It starts sailing out of Sydney next year.
At 88,500 tonnes (equivalent to 77 Manly ferries), the Carnival Spirit is a big girl and as steady as a rock. She is 12 decks high and three football fields long, she can accommodate up to 2,680 passengers, plus 930 crew members; I actually didn’t feel like I was on a ship but a floating city. I could barely feel the ship was moving when she pulled out of Sydney harbour, and only noticed when the city skyline started disappeared behind us.
They don’t called Carnival Spirit “The FUN ship” for nothing. The “Fun Times” brochure was distributed daily; with the schedule of more than 45 activities held each day. Sports, games, shows, parties, classes, seminars and more – most free and open to anyone.
The ship’s most talked about activity, which all passengers should try at least once, is the ‘Green Thunder’. Located at the outdoor Water Park on the top deck, this 60-metre water slide begins with a vertical drop before twisting out to the edge of the ship and finishing with a big splash. There’s nothing like an adrenalin rush on the steepest and fastest water slide at sea.
This is just one of the fun activities on the cruise designed to keep the kids busy. They can try mini golf, basketball, table tennis and the thrilling waterpark. There’s also Club Carnival, a parent-free zone with designated ‘fun’ rooms, activities and programs for different age groups. Parents can organise babysitting for a small fee so they can sneak out for a date night. Teenagers tend to prefer to do their own things by hanging out in the cool kids lounge, playing video games or dancing the night away. There’s a good chance you won’t see your teens all holiday.
Honestly, there’s no end to the entertainment options aboard this ship. Head over to Pharaoh’s Palace after dinner and enjoy different live shows each night. Then join the cheeky Aussie comedians at The Punchliner comedy club, you’ll be in stitches in no time, especially during the late night “Adults Only” sessions. If the night is still young, then get your groove on at the Dancin’ Nightclub or the Piano Bar, and relive your 80s & 90s awesomeness!
Food plays a major part on the cruise and the choices are mind-boggling. Unless you were feeling a little under the weather and had to confine yourself in the room to rest up, room service should really be your last option. All main meals and snacks are covered in the cruise package. Yes, that means free food!
For those who are going in for the kill, The Lido Restaurant is the perfect battlefield. This all-you-can-eat buffet-style food hall features 10 international food stations where you can pretty much eat to your heart’s content. It can get crowded during lunch time, but if you do not mind queueing up for food, go for it.
We preferred to dine at the more relaxing, elegant two-deck Empire dining room that offered three course a la carte dining with friendly table service. It’s a nice gesture when waitstaff memorise and greet us by our names. Despite the sheer amount of orders the kitchen had to cater at every seating, the food was always well prepared and tasty. Make sure to save stomach space for the signature melting chocolate cake which will send you into decadent chocolate bliss.
If you’d prefer to dine a little fancy, Nouveau Steakhouse on the top deck is the perfect fine dining setting for special occasions. Don’t be put off by the $40 surcharge, rest assured you’ll be treated to the best of the best on board – from lobster, lamb rack to prime steak and filet mignon; matched with an exquisite wine list. It was absolutely value for money and all passengers should dine at Nouveau at least once.
For the foodies, you simply can’t miss out on the exclusive Chef’s Table dinner event ($75 per person). As an intimate group of fourteen guests, we were invited to an exclusive behind-the-scene tour of the kitchen, followed by canape tastings and a cooking demonstration before settling down to a 6-course degustation dinner at a ‘secret location’. It was definitely one of the highlights of our cruise.
Just in case you’re still feeling a little famished and after some midnight munchies, the 24/7 wood-fired pizza station at Lido Restaurant can satisfy cravings and cure your hangovers with piping hot pizza made to order.
You should never feel thirsty on the ship. According to Carnival Cruise Lines, guests drink enough juice, tea and coffee to fill the swimming pools three times over on an average sailing. There are also 16 lounges/bars dotted all over the ship. I was set a challenge to find them all but I was done after visiting just four.
(A touch of) France
Our 8 day cruise took us to New Caledonia, a little slice of France in the Pacific Islands. After a few days at sea, it’s time to spend the next few days island hopping. We visit Maré, Isle of Pines and Noumea, the capital city of the French territory of New Caledonia. Postcard-scenery, pristine beaches, crystal clear water and soft white sand await. Remember to bring your snorkeling gear to swim with friendly Nemos, or sit back and enjoy the serene surroundings while sipping refreshing coconut water. If you want to join tours or watersport activities organised by the cruise, make sure you book them on the first day to avoid disappointment.
Trust me, put your runners in your suitcase now. Over-indulging will eventually take its toll and food is the last thing you want to think of. Hit the gym, join pilates or spin classes and work up a sweat. For the early birds, cruise director Stu will be on the top deck waiting for you to join him for a 4km morning walk each day. Then pamper yourself to a top-to-toe full body relaxing Swedish massage, but book early as they fill up fast.
By the end of our cruise, most guests had relaxed and found their sea legs. For me, my fear of cruising was gone. I’d enjoyed the whole experience, and as the ship made her way back to Sydney harbour, I’d already started thinking about having my 40th birthday on a cruise ship. Until next time…!
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