In 2005, America was in the middle of a huge poker craze. Like many other people, my husband and I spent many Friday or Saturday nights at the local Indian casino playing low-stakes poker in their non-smoking poker room. (This was before the ban on smoking in public places so it was the only place I could play as I am allergic to cigarette smoke.) I had not managed to talk him into going on a cruise until we discovered Card Player Cruises. Finally, my chance to get him onto a cruise ship! We chose the Mexican Riviera cruise on Carnival, due to both the date (December) and the cost (low). Being the cheapskates that we are, once again we had an interior room. I learned on my last cruise where not to stay (rooms were assigned and mine was under the stage.) This time we had a choice, and we selected a nice quiet room on a floor with nothing but other rooms not only on that floor, but the one above and the one below as well. I also carefully selected a room near the middle of the ship as the closer you are to the middle, the less movement there is, and I sometimes have problems with motion sickness. I was always the kid who got carsick, seasick, or sick on the rides. Now even a swing can make me nauseous, but amazingly enough I have yet to have problems on a cruise ship! Anybody who does have seasick problems on a cruise ship might also want to select a room on a lower deck because the higher you go, the more exaggerated the motion. You also get the added advantage that rooms on the lower decks tend to be cheaper.
At the time we took this cruise, my niece lived in San Diego. She picked us up at the airport, and following a nice visit and a night at her house, she dropped us off at the dock. After the usual embarkation procedures we came on board and found our room. Unlike my daughter, who enjoyed posing for all the pictures cruises take, my husband had no patience for them. He waved them off with a glare, in spite of the fact that he is a photographer himself. Rarely ever would he stop for a photo. We hardly had any pictures to look for, and none worth buying. I rather missed the fun I had with my daughter looking for our photos on the previous cruise. Although I am about as photogenic as a baboon with diaper rash, if there are enough photos I can usually find one I can live with.
My husband spent practically every waking moment on board in the poker room, but I like to have some time to do other things. So I explored the ship by myself and found several nice quiet places near windows to sit and read. And the gym, the shops and the promenade deck where you can walk (or jog) around the whole ship outside. I even found little laundromats to wash and dry clothes for a few quarters, and iron them for free. Overall the Spirit was quite a nice ship. I was a bit disappointed that the water slide had a sign on it that said closed for repairs for our entire voyage, yet I never actually saw anyone working on it. I really wanted to try it too. Then again if it was open it might have been infested with many noisy children and I may not have tried it anyway. I haven’t got much patience for waiting in line for anything if I don’t absolutely have to.
There was one thing I seriously did wonder about in the design of the ship though. Who in their right mind would put a cigar bar right in front of the entrance to the main dining room where everyone has to go? Wouldn’t that be better located in some out of the way place where you wouldn’t stumble across it if you weren’t actually looking for it? So every mealtime (unless eating on the lido deck) I had to hold my breath and make a run for it. OK walk fast enough not to run out of air before reaching the dining room door. Actually running probably would not fly. Obviously some people liked the cigar bar or the cigars would have stayed harmlessly unsmoked in their boxes while the lonely attendant stared into space wondering if his shift was over yet. I wonder if they have relocated that cigar bar to a less populated area by now? It is not currently listed on the deck plans to the ship on their website, but I do not recall whether it was back then either.
There were two poker rooms, open only to the people who booked through Card Player Cruises, and not the other passengers on board. One of them was near the entrance to the dining room and thus, my arch-nemesis, the evil cigar bar. The other was up one floor and quite nice. To be fair, the games rotated from room to room, so I only played when the low-stakes games were in the upstairs room.
I found a little miniature replica of the ship in the form of a Christmas ornament in the gift shop, and it has hung on my tree every year since. I bought 2 and sent the other to my daughter to hang on her tree in Australia where she has lived since her senior year in high school when she went as an exchange student with the famous last words “It’s only for 6 months.” Don’t let your daughters be exchange students. They’ll never come back!
I think the other passengers had assigned seats in the dining room, but the ones who booked through Card Player Cruises could sit anywhere that had a Card Player sign on the table, so we pretty much sat somewhere different each meal. Some of the waiters were definitely faster than others. More experience perhaps or just more efficient. The poker room closed for dinner and whenever the ship was at shore. Otherwise some people may have spent the entire cruise in it.
Our first stop was in Acapulco. We booked a shore excursion on a bus tour that took us to see the cliff divers. The tour guide was one of the best I’ve ever seen. He had previously lived in the US for a time and spoke English quite well. He taught school full time and only did tours a couple times a month or so, yet made more money in tips than teaching. He explained that the reason many Mexican houses have rebar hanging out the top is that the occupants add rooms on to their homes as they can afford it.
“Don’t feel sorry for those people,” he said as we passed a group of squatter shacks pieced together with whatever scraps of wood or metal people could find. The group surrounded their hovels with barbed wire, and spliced into nearby powerlines for stolen electricity. “In a few years these will be nice homes,” the guide claimed, hard though it was to picture that. “And whoever’s land that was will have lost it to the squatters by then. People who want to keep their land have to keep the squatters off of it.”
Even the Mexican government loses land to squatters. You learn some interesting things on a bus tour if you have the right guide.
The cliff divers were quite spectacular, diving from great heights into a narrow channel where they had to time their jump so that they would land as the waves came in to avoid bashing their heads on the rocks below. They passed a tin through the crowd to collect tips when they finished, and I must say, they certainly earned whatever people gave them, though they seemed to quite enjoy earning it. Good thing they are not in the United States where L& I or OSHA or some such agency would probably shut them down.
After the show, the bus took us to an open air restaurant in a quiet cove where we had a nice snack. We walked across the road to a beach where we saw people riding horses. Probably rental horses. I was quite glad I was not on them as they looked somewhat thin and one struggled under the weight of a person too heavy for it. People there do what they can to earn a living and even the animals work hard for a meal. Most anywhere there are people selling things, and cute little boys calling “lady, lady, lady” as they try to get you to buy something.
Next, the ship stopped at Zihuatenejo. This was a tender port, so the ship anchored out in the bay and they dropped the life boats that double as tenders to take people to shore. We did not schedule a shore excursion for this port, so we just got off the ship and went to see what we would find. We passed some people on the beach renting jetskis. Or at least most people would call them jetskis. I once had a friend who was a jetski fanatic, who insisted that only the stand up sort are real jetskis, so in his opinion those were watercouches. Not having swimsuits with us, we passed them by and checked out all the little shops. Many of them were in temporary tentlike structures rather than permanent buildings, and most sold the sorts of things tourists like to buy. I bought a bracelet that I thought was opal at the time, but is probably actually some sort of shell. Still pretty though. When we ran out of things to look at, we asked the jet ski guys how much. The price was not bad and as it was kind of late, they were willing to negotiate extra time into it, so back to the ship for swimsuits we went. We just rented one and rode double (cost half as much that way and as I mentioned before, we like things cheap.) It was really fun, I had never ridden one before. We did circles around the ship and zipped all over the bay.
After we got on board and it was nearly time to leave, they kept announcing several names to check in with the crew. Perhaps they hoped these people had somehow managed to slip in without sliding their cards through the scanner that keeps track of who is or is not on board. Because when they say the ship leaves at 6:00, they mean it leaves at 6:00. Not 6:05. A quartet of people from the card player cruises group learned that the hard way as their cab pulled up to the dock just in time to see the back end of the ship cruising out of the harbor. They had one expensive cab ride to the next port. They did get a joke award at the end-of-cruise presentation for the card player group though. That was one pricey award. I’ll stick with my free card player cruises t-shirt.
One day they had a formal night where everyone was supposed to dress up for dinner. My husband did not want to dress up, and did not bring any nice clothes with him. So that night we ate on the lido deck. And found out that the menu in the main dining room included lobster. LOBSTER! We missed lobster because he didn’t want to dress up. You can bet that the next cruise we went on he brought some nice clothes!!!! Even though we missed the lobster, he still says the food on the Spirit measured up to his standards, which are quite high as he has been to many 5 star fishing lodges.
Another night they had a midnight dessert buffet. That one we didn’t miss. All the deserts you can imagine lined up one after the other. More things than any one person could possibly try. YUM
Our last stop was Manzanillo. We took another bus tour there, but without such an interesting guide. This one stuck to the scripted speech. We drove past two active volcanos, one of which had a plume going, and on to Colima and Comala. We saw some recently discovered pyramids under partial excavation, a church with scenes of the Mexican Revolution painted in large murals on the interior walls, and a museum of the history of the area. The early residents of the pyramid era had a lot of artifacts involving fat dogs, which it seemed they raised for food.
Too soon, the ship returned to San Diego, the end of another cruise. We could hardly wait to book the next one.
Links to information about Carnival Australia
My trip on the Spirit was taken long before Carnival Australia existed. For information relating to Carnival Australia, see my blogs about the Legend. If you are looking for general ship information or differences between Carnival Australia and Carnival America try Carnival Legend.