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Carnival Spirit

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Five years since Carnival relocated its first-ever vessel out of the United States, Carnival Spirit has grown into one of Australians' favourite cruise ships. Like a true Aussie, it's laid-back, fun and friendly -- and that describes the crew, your fellow passengers and the atmosphere onboard. The mix of families, couples and singles works surprisingly well, with most children either in the pool or out of sight in the kids clubs, and adults escaping to the 18+ Serenity Retreat or enjoying the shows, spa, bars, restaurants and casino.

Above all, it's the crew that stands out. The Carnival Spirit team is five-star, even if the ship itself is not. From the beloved senior maitre d', Dessi, to the charming waiters, patient bartenders and unflappable cabin stewards, there's a real sense of community and comradeship. Crew members will remember your name and recognise you on your next cruise -- because, judging by the return rate of passengers, you will probably be back.

Spirit may not have many bells and whistles or a sleek and sexy design, but it has enough to keep people entertained, fed and watered. The Green Thunder water slide has long been Carnival's "child magnet" point of difference in Australia, and the free poolside food venues (and self-service soft-serve ice-cream machines) are very family-friendly. In our opinion, all of the dining exceeds expectations for such a mass-market ship, from the buffet to Chef's Table. The new Seafood Corner, added in January 2017, is another upgrade in between official refurbishments, serving local prawns delivered fresh from Sydney's fish markets at the start of every cruise.

Entertainment is low-key but popular, especially the Music Manila band, whose members have rock-star status among the regulars. Passengers can also sing with a live band at Carnival's next-level karaoke, see two comedians perform every night, attend music productions and game shows onstage or just soak up the buzz of the main pool deck. The optional theme nights are also a lot of fun, lasting until late at night, with everyone dressed in 80s, Mexican or Caribbean costumes.

Walking around Carnival Spirit is like taking a trip around the world. The Pharaoh's Palace show lounge is decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphics and murals; the piano bar pays homage to Shanghai; the Artists' Lobby highlights famed European artists; the Chippendale Library is straight out of an English country manor house; there's a Mexican kiosk and a Japanese restaurant; and the Empire Dining Room has a statue of Napoleon. Initially, the hodgepodge of styles can be overwhelming. Passengers will either love or hate the look, but eventually they get used to it. Once you start focusing on the activities, the food, the entertainment and interacting with the crew, the decor starts to fade into the background. Most importantly, it's spotlessly clean (except for the grubby seat, pod and hammock cushions in Serenity which could do with a daily scrub).

The ship was first in a new class for Carnival (its sister ships are Carnival Legend, Carnival Pride and Carnival Miracle) and it also introduced some features that have since become standards, including a fabulous steak house and a wedding chapel.

In August 2015 the ship underwent an AU$44 million refurbishment, the second such face-lift since it sailed into its new home of Sydney in October 2012. Even before it debuted in Australia it was treated to an AU$7 million upgrade where Australian power points were added to all cabins, local beers were added to the bar menus and the coffee was improved following the introduction of good espresso machines and trained baristas. The big additions in 2012 were the much talked-about Green Thunder water slide, billed as the steepest and fastest at sea, along with the Serenity adults-only area and a water park of mini-slides and drenching buckets for the little ones.

The next refurbishment transformed the midship pool area on the Lido Deck (Deck 9) with the addition of Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina and two bars; one serves tequila-based drinks such as margaritas; the other offers rum cocktails. Other added venues included a couple that are already onboard sister ship Carnival Legend -- Bonsai Sushi and RedFrog Pub. Also new is the Cherry on Top lolly shop, a big outdoor movie screen situated on the Lido Deck and the Alchemy Bar, which is a popular meeting place, where drinkers devise their own cocktails on prescription pads. This major facelift also included new carpets throughout the entire ship, revamped kids clubs and improvements to 300 cabins.

Carnival has a very relaxed dress code. Most evenings are "Cruise Casual" when passengers can wear anything from good jeans and dress shorts to trousers and casual skirts or sundresses. As long as you're not wearing swimwear, workout clothes or a man's sleeveless T-shirt, you won't be turned away from venues. One or two nights per cruise will be designated "Cruise Elegant" -- men are requested to wear at least dress trousers and shirts, with the option of a jacket, lounge suit or tuxedo. Suggested attire for women is cocktail dress or gown, or dressy trouser suits or skirts. Many people do dress to the nines on these nights, creating a festive atmosphere as couples and families pose for photos while other passengers people-watch in the Atrium Bar and Artists Lobby.

Theatre

Pharaoh's Palace (Deck 2): The three-level Pharaoh's Palace show lounge is decorated with hieroglyphics, 6-metre-tall stone figures and sarcophagi inspired by King Tutankhamun's golden mask, to set the scene for Vegas-style revues and guest comedians. Seating is in comfortable high-back theatre chairs, but bring a wrap or warm jacket -- as it can get quite chilling with the air-conditioning turned way up in there. There will usually be two shows in this theatre every night to coincide with the early and late sittings for dinner.

Carnival Cruise Line teamed up with company Playlist Productions to produce shows that embrace various eras and musical styles. Expect a band belting out 70s and 80s hits or a high-energy rock'n'roll pianist. Other solo acts may include singers, musicians, hypnotists and magicians.

Carnival's family entertainment -- "Hasbro, The Game Show" (playing giant Connect 4 and Yahtzee games) and the adorable Towel Animal Theatre production for the youngest kids -- also takes place in the theatre.

Versailles Lounge (Deck 1): This cabaret-style lounge is a little hard to find as it is below Pharaoh's Palace, accessed via a set of stairs inside that theatre. This is where the Punchliner Comedy Club is held, drawing a smaller audience, along with daytime exercise classes. There's a bar at the rear serving all the usual drinks. On my cruise, the two comedians were hilarious and a little risque. These late-night 18+ shows at 10:30 and 11 p.m. get progressively dirtier each night as the cruise goes on. Don't sit in the front two rows if you prefer to not get picked on.

Daily Fun

Carnival Spirit has plenty of free activities, listed in the daily Fun Times newsletter delivered to your cabin. There is a big emphasis on trivia, with three to four themed competitions, from music to wacky facts and Dr. Seuss. Staff-led deck activities include a beanbag toss, golf chipping competitions and family scavenger hunts, along with table tennis competitions, dance classes and towel-folding lessons. Health and wellness seminars occur three or four times a day, along with a couple of special interest lectures by the cruise director or a visiting expert. Sushi-making demonstrations in the Bonsai Sushi restaurant and ticketed wine-and-cheese tasting in the adults-only Serenity are held at least once on each cruise. Art auctions, cooking demonstrations and, of course, bingo are also popular.

At Night

Pub quizzes continue into the night in the RedFrog Pub, as well as "name that tune" competitions. Evening karaoke is a regular event in the Shanghai Piano Bar for two hours from 6 p.m., giving everyone a chance to have a go. Day or night, the Louis XIV Casino is buzzing with hopeful passengers trying to win a few bucks. Outdoor movies are shown on the new Dive-In Movies big screen on Deck 9 around 9:45 p.m., when passengers have most likely finished dinner.


Carnival Spirit Bars and Lounges

There are 12 bars and lounges, including three new bars, a new pub and a new-look sports bar. There's something for everyone, from those who like a pre-dinner cocktail with soft music to those who want to dance well into the night in the flashy 1980s-style disco.

RedFrog Pub (Deck 2): RedFrog Pub (which replaced the old Club Cool) is a combination of Caribbean bar and Irish pub. The beer range includes the usual pub selection plus Carnival's own Aussie craft brew called Thirsty Frog Summer Ale, which is produced at Sydney's Lord Nelson Brewery. The pub also offers pool tables and foosball (or table football). The bartenders ring a bell when someone orders a huge "lagoon" cocktail for four people (with four straws) and also take photos of the patrons that are then uploaded to the LED screens positioned around the bar. There's live music and dancing at night.

Sports Bar (Deck 2): Located next door to the RedFrog Pub, this bar is the place to watch sports while having a beer. There are 16 flat-screen TVs showing sports from all over the world. Two-dozen imported and local beers, including the Thirsty Frog Summer Ale and several imports, are on tap.

Louis XIV Casino (Deck 2): Compared to the rest of the ship, the casino is hardly garish at all. It has more than 200 poker machines and electronic roulette machines that take Australian coins. There are also tables for roulette/dice, blackjack and poker (including Three Card Poker, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud Diamond and video poker). Three tables are reserved for blackjack tournaments. All manner of betting games also take place such as the Melbourne Mug, the ship's own horse race at sea.

Spirit Lobby Bar (Deck 2): This bar at the bottom of the soaring atrium is a good place to meet for a drink. It's central to many places such as guest services, the shore excursions desk and Empire Dining room. Small bands and solo artists perform here on a stage above the bar in the evening; it's also a place for dancing. Cocktails, wines and Champagne are the main tipples here.

Artists' Lobby (Deck 2): This area with comfortable seating tends to be more of a walk-through area than a bar. There are replicas of famous artists' work such as Paul Gauguin's French Polynesian renderings.

Alchemy Bar (Deck 2): This sophisticated bar is the best choice for cocktail connoisseurs. Patrons use a prescription pad to devise their own drinks from a list of spirit bases and flavours (the latter including such items as limes, lemon, bitters, ginger, chocolate, herbs and spices). If that idea is too daunting, the brilliant bartenders at Alchemy Bar will make any manner of martini. A menu, which lights up when you open it, also suggests several delicious concoctions. There's limited seating at the actual bar, so get there early to grab a barstool. Otherwise, there are lots of lounges, sofa seating and long tables nearby. Mixology classes, singles meet-and-greets and ladies nights are held here sometimes; check the Fun Times program.

Dancin' Nightclub (Decks 1 and 2): Access to the adults-only nightclub is via stairs near the Alchemy Bar. It's a flashy two-tiered venue with crazy decor, a dance floor that lights up, a video wall with 1.2-metre-wide monitors and colourful, swirly designed banquettes and drink tables. It usually opens at 11 p.m., after the rest of the ship's entertainment has finished, so that all the night owls pour in at the same time to enjoy DJ Flo-Rin's party tunes.

Shanghai Piano Bar (Deck 3): The piano bar, decorated in a Chinoises style with walls covered in Chinese fabric and silk screens illuminated from behind, is the place to go for a sing-along, perched on a bar stool. There's karaoke on offer in the early hours from 6 p.m. until 8:45 p.m. The pianist starts tinkling the ivories at 9 p.m. Get there early and grab a seat around the piano; the place can get packed.

RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 9): One of the bars located around the midship Dome pool, The RedFrog Rum Bar serves beers (VB, Corona, Dos Equis, Kalik and Presidente) and rum-based frozen cocktails such as daiquiris and a Caribbean colada for AU$10.50, or alcoholic iced teas and mojitos for AU$11.50. There is also a selection of featured rums from around the world, from AU$9 to AU$12. Mocktails cost AU$6.50 and soft drinks are AU$2.75. This is a casual place to watch a movie on the Dive-In Movies screen or relax out of the sun.

BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 9): Next door to the rum bar, this watering hole serves Mexican beers (Sol, Corona, Tecate, Dos Equis; AU$7.50), local drafts (XXXX Gold, Tooheys New; AU$7.50) and tequila-based drinks such as margaritas from AU$10.50 to AU$11.50. The BlueIguana Tequila Bar's libations go well with the tacos and burritos on offer at the BlueIguana Cantina on the other side of the pool deck. You can save money if you plan to drink a few frozen cocktails by purchasing the souvenir glass for an additional AU$9.95 -- for the rest of the cruise, get 473ml for the price of a regular 355ml.

Serenity Bar (Deck 9): This undercover bar is in the adults-only Serenity area. It has bar stools, tables and chairs and a few sofas. Closer to the pool are hammocks and two-person sheltered pods (often referred to as cabanas), where waiters will come by and take your drinks orders. The usual array of beers, wines, spirits and cocktails are on offer. It's a popular place for good reason -- away from the kids and with views out over the ship's wake.

Nouveau Restaurant Bar (Deck 10): This small bar is used by passengers dining in the speciality steak restaurant, Nouveau.


Carnival Spirit Outside Recreation

Pools

Carnival Spirit has three pools all on Lido Deck 9.

The Dome pool is so named as it has a retractable roof, which can be slid across during inclement weather. This is where the new bars and eateries have been installed along with the big movie screen. There are plenty of sun lounges around the pool, in and out of the shade, and a handful of new blue and red in-pool sun lounges located within the pool, but not in the deep water! Note: the colours represent the red- and blue-themed bars.

The Sun Pool is located a little further forward toward the bow. It is a mirror image of the Dome pool, but minus the in-pool chairs. Both pools have an elevated hot tub beside them.

The Serenity Pool is at the rear (aft) of the ship on the same deck. It is an adults-only pool located in the Serenity area. It is smaller than the other pools and also has one hot tub. This area is dotted with two-person "pods," large sun loungers and a few hammocks. It is a lovely area, but often crowded and as a result often hard to find a spot. Get there early, but don't hog a spot all day. There's a bar nearby with table and chair seating.

The Splash Zone on Deck 11 is the place for little kids to get wet. There are two purple mini-slides and big tipping buckets and a wading pool.

Recreation

Carnival Spirit's (and Carnival Legend's) big point of difference is the popular and much-talked-about Green Thunder water slide, one of the fastest and steepest slides at sea. With speeds up to 65 kph, a big initial drop and a section that swings out over the ocean, Green Thunder is not for the fainthearted. The other slide is the signature yellow Carnival Twister Waterslide (much tamer). Other recreational areas are the nine-hole mini-golf course, a golf simulator on Deck 10 and a basketball court on the Sports Deck (Deck 11).

Sun Decks

The main sunbathing and lounging deck is Deck 9 around the Dome, Sun and Serenity pools. Another area for lounging (on pods) is both the port and starboard sides of Deck 9. Sun lounges are not padded. Pods can take two people, but the covering is vinyl rather than cloth, so they are not the most comfortable. Lay down a towel to make them more user-friendly. While there is a rule that prohibits chair-hogging, it seems to be the norm. There was rarely a spare sun lounge or pod to be found in the Serenity area (which also has two-person lounges and a couple of hammocks). You can, however, sometimes score a pod on the port and starboard deck sides.


Carnival Spirit Services

Carnival Spirit has a card room on Deck 2, tucked away to one side near the cafe. Further toward the aft is the base of the nine-deck atrium where you'll find the guest relations desk, the short excursions deck, a conference room and art gallery. Deck 3 has a chapel, shops and the photo gallery. The ship has self-service laundries located on the stateroom decks. There are two or three washers and dryers, and one iron and ironing board in each launderette. The cost is AU$3.25 per washer load and AU$3.25 per dryer load. Vending machines dispense small boxes of detergent and water softener at AU$1.50 per box.

The Chippendale Library and internet cafe are also on Deck 3. Wi-Fi is available across the ship and in all cabins by purchasing one of three plans. The Social plan costs AU$15 a day or AU$40 for the whole cruise, which provides access to social media sites and apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp. The Value plan (AU$30 a day/AU$115 whole cruise) can be used for all sites except Skype and music streaming such as Spotify. The Premium plan (AU$50 a day/AU$180 cruise) offers the fastest connection at speeds up to three times faster than the Value plan and can support Skype video calls and music streaming. Internet can be slow, even on Premium at times, but is generally good.

Spa

The Grecian-inspired Spa Carnival is located on Deck 9 at the front (forward) of the ship near the gym. The design incorporates Doric columns and hand-painted murals that feature a Greek vase motif and depictions of Olympic events. There are 10 treatment rooms for a variety of therapies ranging from aromatherapy hot stone massages and acupuncture to facials and body wraps. As on all ships, prices are steep, so look out for advertised combo packages and port specials, at discounted pricing. First sea day savings include manicure and pedicure with paraffin wax for AU$144, massage from AU$153 for 50 minutes, and a facial for AU$131.

A beauty salon offering haircuts and styling and makeup treatments is beside the spa, while the sauna and steam rooms (free) are located within the men's and women's changing rooms. The waiting room is small, and on my visit for a collagen facial (which was sublimely relaxing), all seats were occupied, mostly by men who seemed to be waiting for their partners.

Fitness

The two-level gym (on decks 9 and 10) is part of the huge ocean view area that includes the spa, beauty salon, locker rooms, steam room and sauna.

This is one of the best gyms I've seen on a mass-market cruise ship, built over two levels with a stepped or terraced design providing an ocean view from most pieces of equipment. There's also a hot tub in the middle of the gym, which is quite an unusual feature.

In addition to weight machines and free weights, the fitness centre offers stationary and recumbent bikes, cross-trainers, stair climbers, treadmills and a rowing machine. Be warned that the steam from the whirlpool does rise, making the temperature on the upper tiers a little warm. We went for a workout first thing in the morning on the first sea day and had to wait in line for a spot on a cardio machine. (Every machine was in use, with the exception of a stair-stepper and a recumbent bike.) We were told that the crowd thins out after a few days, but we simply switched our workouts to a later hour. If you've got a late dinner sitting, head to the gym at 6 p.m. The only people in there are crew members because they know it won't be crowded.

Nutrition programs and body composition analyses are available for a fee, and the free seminars found on most ships (Secrets to a Flatter Stomach, Eat More to Weigh Less, etc.) are held on Carnival Spirit, as well.

Free fitness classes such as Morning Stretch and Fab Abs are held but these were on at the Versailles Lounge on Deck 1 rather than in the gym. Yoga and Pilates are offered at a cost for around AU$12, along with group cycling classes. Boot camps are also held on deck from time to time and Carnival has a deal with the Biggest Loser trainer Shannan Ponton who comes onboard a few times a year to lead fitness-oriented cruises.

There are two jogging tracks onboard. The longer Deck 10 track is only available for running in the early morning or evening because daytime runners would have to hurdle lounge chairs, dodge drink waiters and race past passengers snapping pictures of their friends at sea. As it is, you'll have to dodge walkers and early-bird sunbathers who take over the deck. Three-and-a-half laps equal 1.6 km (or 1 mile). The Deck 11 track at the front of the ship is 14 laps per 1.6 km (or 1 mile).

Free Dining

Carnival Spirit has six options for free dining, which is quite a wide selection. Three new free eateries were added to the ship in August 2015.

Empire Restaurant (Decks 2 and 3): The 1,300-seat, two-deck Empire Restaurant has an over-the-top splendour, with ceiling domes painted with murals and hung with crystal chandeliers. Even the large portholes are trimmed in gold, and the grand circular staircase is decorated with a sculpture of Napoleon at his coronation. Flanking the entrances are pilasters in the form of female statues. Passengers can opt for assigned tables at one of two dinner sittings (5:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.) or choose Your Time Dining, open-seating on the starboard side of the upper level, anytime from 5:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. There are tables for two, four and six, but fewer than usual for eight or more.

Menus consist of starters (entrees, soups and salads), main meals and desserts, with healthier Spa Carnival choices and always-available Carnival Classics dishes such as Caesar salad, French fries, and grilled fillet of fish, grilled chicken breast and steak. Vegetarian items are always on the menu, but they aren't marked; be warned that the hot soups are typically made with chicken broth. Vegans and others with dietary requirement are catered for; on my cruise my vegan companion was well looked after. Food quality at dinner ranged from good to excellent. Waiters provide song-and-dance entertainment in the dining room most nights and patrons seem to love it, twirling their napkins and sometimes getting up to join in the dancing. Newcomers look a little bemused but soon get into the swing of it.

An open seating breakfast is served from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Deck 2 only and a Sea Day Brunch has been introduced for days at sea. This takes place from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. and replaces breakfast and lunch in the dining room. This is perfect for late risers or those who want an early lunch away from the hot sun and the buffet restaurant. The menu consists of breakfast items such as omelettes and eggs to order, as well as some interesting options such as "Hey Pork Chop," a thick-cut chop served with caramelised onions, Gorgonzola cheese and a side of chips and beans. Fruit platters, French toast and Caesar salads are also available. A Bloody Mary bar is set up for people to choose their own ingredients, from vodka to tequila (bar prices apply).

Afternoon tea is held in the Empire Restaurant daily for an hour from 3 p.m. although you have to call ahead and book earlier that day. Waiters serve the usual small sandwiches and cakes to individual diners.

La Playa Grille (Deck 9): This buffet occupies a large area on the Lido Deck between the main Dome pool and the adults-only Serenity retreat. There are 10 food stations serving a variety of food for lunch and dinner including Asian, carvery meats, deli sandwiches, pies and wraps, salads and desserts. The pizza and ice cream bars, which are found inside this eatery, are open 24 hours.

Breakfast includes a made-to-order omelette station, in addition to typical pastries, fruits, cereals and hot items such as pancakes and bacon. Breakfast pizzas, topped with poached eggs and spinach, can also be made in 10 minutes from the Pirate Pizza counter.

BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 9): This Mexican-style cantina around the main midship pool is open from 7:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m., offering breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros, and in the afternoon from noon to 2:30 p.m. Lunch options include a range of soft tacos with chicken, beef, fish and vegetarian fillings, and burritos with plenty of relishes, sauces and salsa to add to the mix. The food at BlueIguana Cantina is tasty and quite substantial.

Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 9): This open-air hamburger bar is located just a few metres from the cantina. This American-style burger joint is named after U.S chef, restaurateur and TV's Food Network personality Guy Fieri. Apart from the usual burger offerings, Fieri has created the Boomerang Burger, which has Australians' must-have ingredient: beetroot. But rather than adding a few slices of the canned stuff, this burger features a more refined beetroot relish together with Fieri's signature Donkey Sauce (a blend of tomato relish and aioli). It's not listed on the menu so you have to ask for it. Guy's Burger Joint is open from noon to 6 p.m.

Fat Jimmy's C-Side BBQ (Deck 10): Directly above the pool deck is this outdoor barbecue serving sizzling Black Angus beef sausages, smoked chicken breast, pulled-pork sandwiches, salads, jacket potatoes, grilled onion rings, mixed greens and other roast vegies. Don't miss the pork, which is bursting with flavour and slightly spicy, or the beetroot salad with feta cheese. The tantalising smells waft over the top deck at lunchtime. Open from noon to 2:30 p.m.


Fee Dining

There are four alternate dining options charging a fee. The variety is terrific and all are very good, particularly Bonsai Sushi, Nouveau and the Chef's Table, which are an outstanding value for the money.

Bonsai Sushi 2 (Deck 2); a la carte pricing: This Japanese venue is a winner, serving fresh food at reasonable prices. Servings are large and designed to be shared. Starters, priced at just AU$5, such as Wagyu Kakuni (braised Wagyu short ribs with caramelised onion) are delicious; miso soup and noodle salad are AU$3 each and a large California roll (which is about 10 small pieces) is AU$6. A bento box of soup, side salad, three pieces of sushi and California roll is $12. There are two desserts (a green tea cupcake and yuzu custard) at AU$2, Japanese beers (AU$7.50), wines (from AU9 a glass, AU$35 bottle) and sake. Bonsai Sushi is open for lunch (noon to 2:30 p.m.) and again from 5 p.m. to midnight. Items can also be ordered to your cabin via room service.

Coffee Bar (Deck 2): Just outside the RedFrog Pub is a kiosk for those who like good coffee -- the baristas are Australian-trained and can whip up a flat white, long black, latte and cappuccino in no time. There are also cakes on offer, all at a reasonable price.

Seafood Corner (Deck 9): Previously known as Freshie's Corner, this new venue was added in January 2017. A smaller version of the Seafood Shack found on Carnival ships overseas, Spirit's Seafood Corner is open from 4 p.m. until 11 p.m. (Earlier in the day, it is used as one of the food stations in the Lido buffet.) Much of the seafood (except calamari) is sourced from Sydney's fish markets at the beginning of each cruise, so you should eat here on the first day or two to get the daily catch at its freshest. We tried it on the fifth day of our cruise and it was still delicious. The menu includes fish'n'chips, lobster rolls, seafood platters, local prawns, oysters and fresh whole fish (barramundi, snapper and flounder).

Nouveau Restaurant (Deck 10); AU$45 per adult; AU$12 per child: The reservations-only, 152-seat Nouveau Restaurant at the top of the ship features aged prime beef cooked to order, classic dishes such as surf and turf (beef and lobster tail), lamb chops, grilled fish and lobster ravioli. There are also some 17 gourmet appetisers, entrees, soups, salads and desserts to choose from to make up a superb meal. Highlights include escargots, tuna tartare, lobster bisque and crab cake. We ordered all the sides: mash with wasabi horseradish, creamed spinach, steamed broccoli, mushrooms and baked potato with all the trimmings.

The cuts of meat are plump, juicy and attractively decorated with sprigs of rosemary. Sizes vary from a small filet mignon to a big, thick, half-kilo of scotch fillet. The surf 'n' turf is a perfect combo of steak and lobster tail. The service is excellent, the wait staff 'know their meat' and the sommelier will walk you through the wine list and help you choose the perfect vintage. At AU$44 for four courses (plus the cost of your drinks), it's a fantastic deal.

The restaurant has its own bar, which is the perfect place for pre- and post-dinner drinks. Many of the officers also use this bar after their shift as it is tucked away from view. Nouveau is entered via lifts or via a somewhat scary glass staircase. It's OK walking up, but going down the see-through stairs is a little disconcerting, especially after a few drinks.

Also in Nouveau, on the last day with no ports of call, is the Long Lunch at Sea. For AU$30 per adult, four courses are served (entree, soup or salad, main and dessert) while you enjoy a lazy afternoon of great food and service. Dishes include spatchcock, spaghetti with clams, duck breast, Wagyu burger and mushroom cappuccino with truffle oil. A generous cheese platter, coconut flan and raspberry and dark chocolate dessert are among the sweet endings. Add AU$20 for a 75ml glass of wine paired with each course.

Chef's Table (Deck 2): This wonderful degustation begins in the atrium with a glass of Champagne, before moving to the main galley for a tour with the executive chef or sous chef. Guests then stand around a table, watching all the action, and enjoying appetisers such as little cornets of salmon tartare, double-cooked lamb, and beef carpaccio on an air pillow with curly ribbons of apple. A mango sphere, delicately created to look like an egg yolk, bursts in the mouth. This part of the experience can be a little noisy as the pots and pans clunk away in the background but it's all part of the fun. The group then proceeds to Dancin' Nightclub where a beautifully decorated table has been set up under the mirror ball and disco lights (which are subdued). Here, another seven dishes, many prepared using molecular gastronomy methods, are served on elegant crockery on a table with exquisite decorations. Dishes may include blue swimmer crab stack, duck textures, tomato bisque and barramundi, but make sure you save some space for the Wagyu beef with bone marrow souffle. Dessert is likely to be a beautiful tasting plate of six sweet treats. If you can only fit in one, slice open the chocolate praline and scoop out the salty caramel centre.

While each dish appears small, they are rich and many people may find it a struggle to get through it all. Don't eat lunch is the best advice. Free-flowing red and white wine are served throughout the sit-down meal, followed by tea and coffee. Everyone takes home a copy of the menu, a recipe for Carnival's famous warm chocolate melting cake, and a group photo taken before dinner. At AU$90 a head, this has to be one of the best deals on the high seas. Chef's Table is held a few times during a cruise, depending on demand, with 10 to 14 people on each occasion. Book it as soon as you get onboard and frock up for the occasion.

Room Service: A 24-hour room service menu is available with items individually priced. The limited menu includes soup and salad at AU$4 per item; sandwiches, pies and pizza for AU$7; desserts for AU$4; and non-alcoholic beverages for AU$3. There is a separate room service continental breakfast, with items ranging from AU$3 for fruits and cereals to AU$4 for breakfast breads with spreads. Sushi can also be ordered to your cabin, priced from AU$6 to AU$8 for eight rolls. Full stateroom bar service is available from 9 a.m. until 3 a.m. at bar prices.

Carnival Spirit has 1,062 cabins; almost 75 per cent of these are "outside cabins" meaning they have ocean views via a picture window or a private balcony accessed via glass sliding doors. Of these "outside cabins" some 80 per cent have balconies. Altogether, there are 682 balcony cabins including 50 suites, (amounting to about two-thirds of all accommodation).

Seventeen cabins have been modified for wheelchair access; there are 42 sets of connecting staterooms.

All cabins feature attractive decor in pleasant, if a bit bland, earth tones. They are air-conditioned, have twin beds that convert to a king, new flat-screen colour TVs showing Carnival programming, regular TV and both free and pay-per-view movies, a vanity area with drawers, a safe, a hair dryer (in a desk drawer), mini-bar and a phone. Bedside lamps provide enough light to read by. Cabins are fitted with Australian power points. Closets provide ample storage space, but the hangers are the kind that can't be removed from the rod. You can ask your steward for more, or bring your own hangers if it's important to you. 

Bathrooms come with shower gel and shampoo dispensers in the shower, as well as bars of soap, but if you like particular shampoo brands and other toiletries, it's best to bring your own. Tissues are provided. The shower has a curtain on a curved rod to avoid clingy curtain syndrome. The showerhead is adjustable, and a retractable clothesline is perfect for hanging up wet bathing suits. There's plenty of shelf space in the bathroom for storing toiletries and plenty of towels.

Interior: The 213 inside or interior cabins measure 17.2 square metres and are pretty spacious for standard cabins.

Oceanview: Oceanview cabins measure 20.4 square metres. The family-sized Ocean View Quad option has a sofa that converts into a third bed while a fourth bed drops down over the sofa.

Balcony: Balcony cabins are also 17.2 square metres with balconies measuring another 3.25 square metres, 5.57 square metres or 6.96 square metres, depending on cabin category. Balcony cabins have sofas that convert to third beds and there's a fourth bed that drops down. Standard balcony furniture includes two metal chairs with plastic mesh seating and a small metal table. Obstructed-view cabins located behind the lifeboats on Deck 4 (category 4K) have French doors that open to allow light and air, but have no balconies.

Suite: Carnival has five types of suites: Junior, Ocean, Ocean Quad, Vista and Grand. All suites include separate dressing and sitting areas, double sinks and a bathtub. Many suites have whirlpool or hot tub baths. They have larger balconies with lounge chairs in addition to the regular table and two chairs.

Suite sizes range from 33.45 square metres to 43.2 square metres.

Vista suites are the ones to get if you have the money; they have wraparound balconies and are located at the stern of the ship (aft) on five decks, offering fantastic views of the wake. Grand suites are also at the aft of the ship, on the top two accommodation decks only -- decks 7 and 8. Balconies face directly over the wake, but don't wrap around.

Special: Interconnecting cabins: The ship has 43 sets of interconnecting staterooms: balcony to suite, balcony to interior cabin, double to quad and everything in between to cater for families and large groups. Cabins with connecting doors tend to be noisier, regardless of whether you have the connecting door open or not.

Deck 1
Deck 2
Deck 3
Deck 4
Deck 5
Deck 6
Deck 7
Deck 8
Deck 9
Deck 10
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