Our enbarcation process was smooth--we had arranged our own air, and the taxi was only $21 from the airport. We arrived after 3:15, and while the ship was sailing at 4 pm, we were not even close to the last passengers to check in. We were on board under 15 minutes from start to finish, which was a nice change from our previous Carnival cruise a few years when it took over 2 hours to 'snake' our way through a line to get on board.
The ship holds over 3,000 guests, and is mammoth in may ways. The decor is quite modern, and a bit garish by my tastes--in the dining area up by the pool there are hundreds of 'eyes' on the walls, etc, which reminds me a bit of 'big brother' but that's just my opinion!
Our ports were San Juan, St. Thomas, and St. Martin. I would like to advise any future guests on this itinerary that San Juan is a major disappointment as far as a stop. We got in at 5:30 and by the time everyone who wanted to get off the ship made itthrough security, it was 6:30. There were no stores open, other then the 'preferred' ones the ship recommends. We walked around for a few hours, and tried to eat at Senor frogs, a very popular watering hole, but there was an hour wait to get in. We ended up having a quiet dinner on the pool deck on the ship.
St. Thomas was indeed the soppper's paradise (just ask my wife!). Since we have been there a few times before, we knew which shops to go to and again, relied on previous experiences and did just fine. Havensight shopping is also quite good (right next to the ship) and they have alot of items you can find in town as well. Jewelry is the big seller on the island as well as liquor, and we were successful in both areas.
St. Martin was nice. Because of the demand, they added a 3rd catamaran sail to a beach, which was nice. The waves were quite high on the way over 5-8' and a few guests got ill partially because they were drinking the rum punches on the way over! It was a nice beach just to walk down and swim in the Caribbean.
The days at sea were the most relaxing. We enjoyed sleeping in and the amount of activites available are too numerous to mention here. If you get bored, well, it's your fault! We had 4 days at sea out of 7, and it was great.
The cabin was nice and had adequate closet space. The small verandah was nice, and we were able to use it alot just to sit and watch the ocean. Our steward did a very nice job keeping it clean, though we never did meet him. As far as dining, we ate in the late (8pm) seating, and shared a table with 3 other couples. We all got along very well, and it was a very pleasant experience.
The food was OK--we've been on over 12 previous cruises, and we gave the food a 'B' rating. We were at sea over St. Pat's day, and I found it strange that there was no 'special' meal (corned beef and cabbage) to celebrate this holiday. Every night our waiters did a 10 minute dance show, and on St. Pat's evening, they danced the Macarana. Go figure! Not only that, there was no 'green' beer being sold (they tired to push every other drink when they could).
John, our M/C was simply fab! If I mention the name 'Dotty' and you were on board, you know how much we laughed this week. Between John and 'wee Jimmy' (he's from Scotland!) it was a non stop laughathon. You couldn't have paid a comedian enough money to hear and see what happened this week--let me just say that there will be a 'Dotty Reunion Cruise' next year on March 13 on the new Carnival ship, and she and her husband Steve are going to be guests of Carnival. The other nightly shows were good--Broadway reviews, a juggler, etc. There's something for everyone at night.
Getting off the ship was easier then I thought. If you've got your own air arranged as we did, you can get off between 7:30 and 8:30 IF you have your luggage with you. It worked out fine for us, and while we had a 2 hour wait at Miami Airport, it was better then the alternative!
Overall, we enjoyed the week. Carnival does the basics well, and while being with 3050 of my closest friends was a bit frustrating at times, the week did recharge our batteries. I hope they can work on the San Juan stop, but other then that, we had a relaxing fun week--that's what a cruise is suppose to do for you!
A copy of the letter sent to Carnival Cruise Lines
April 12, 2004
Robert H. Dickinson President and Chief Executive Officer Carnival Corp 3655 N.W. 87th Avenue
RE: Carnival Cruise Triumph, February 21-28, 2004
Dear Mr. Dickinson:
While I have been told by Carnival personnel that management decision makers are insulated from actually reading and/or acting on letters such as this, and the sum total result will be a form letter of acknowledgement, I still think it important to go on record. Such "customer service" is far different from the strategy presented by CEO Micky Arison's interview in Business Week Online.
My wife and I were disappointed in the mediocre level of service. We had been led to believe that you will be pampered on a cruise. Not on the Carnival Triumph. The cruise director openly begged and coached audiences to give "exceed expectations" ratings on comment cards, but never explained what to do if one had a problem. By the way, the purser informed me the cruise director was not available to speak to me, at any time.
Lines of 15-20 minutes were the norm on ship. From late morning until late afternoon, the snackbars averaged waits of 15-20 minutes. Perhaps another person working at these stations would have been considerate for the passengers. I experienced similar long waits at the bars by the pools, taking as long as 15 and 20 minutes for a bottle of beer. Schedule 40 minutes for a beer and a hamburger.
Breakfast and lunch food quality was on par of a Circus Circus Casino $1.99 buffet. The service would be better at Circus Circus. At the sit-down offerings, service was slow and indifferent. One day we waited 40 minutes for breakfast. As we had an appointment to make, we finally asked for a cup of coffee to go. The maitre'd merely shrugged at the slow service, and indicated they don't do coffee to go. Food was sometimes cold and dry from too long under heat lamps. A second cup of coffee or juice was the exception, as servers didn't return after delivering food or just didn't return after requests. Orders were in error or forgotten, but again servers didn't return so orders went uncorrected. A local coffee shop on main street would never survive with service like that.
Dinner was also slow and indifferent. Yes, we did arrive timely for our 8:00 pm sitting. And in fairness, others indicated their wait staff and service were excellent. At our table, seldom were drinks refilled, and we poured our own wine as no one bothered to come by. It wasn't unusual for our main course to arrive at about the time others were receiving their desserts and the staff was beginning their entertainment for the evening. Cold prime rib with coagulated au jus-yummy. Why didn't I send it back? One, it was already late, and two, our server wasn't to be found. Our dessert was offered as the staff was resetting surrounding tables for the next day. Only once, all week, did our server return to ask how our meal was, and that was at the end of the meal. When I did make mention to the purser about the service, the maitre'd and our server both acknowledged our concerns by scolding us for complaining.
The work out area could be quite nice. Unfortunately, the equipment was dirty, a number of pieces of equipment were broken, and there were no staff available in the work out area. The manager sniffed that the equipment was "checked and cleaned daily." During a subsequent walk through with her, she acknowledged the equipment was getting old, observed several pieces which weren't working, a quick wipe with a towel showed the grim (imagine what you couldn't see), and she acknowledged they were short staffed. But she assured me, that by next week the equipment would be repaired, cleaned, and they planned on having more staff.
The ship's daily news lists activities on the ship, including bar specials such as five different champagne drinks. Unfortunately, on two occasions, the staff was not aware of the special (we had to point it out in the publication), nor did they know how to make the drinks.
I did attempt to express my concerns to the purser. Again, the norm was a 15-20 minute line for the purser's desk. We had tried to call several times to avoid the lines. Unfortunately, they weren't answering calls. One time I had a staff member standing with me by a house phone across from the purser's desk, while it rang for over 15 minutes. The staff member just shrugged, he didn't know what to do either. The manager in the work out area also said they oftentimes could not get through to the purser. As an example of the purser's indifference to the needs of the passengers, when we disembarked at the end of the trip (a busy time at the purser's desk) there were only two people working the desk while the line snaked back and around to who knows where.
The purser told me it's a big ship, expect lines. She saw not problem with the waits for food, drinks or levels of service-including the difficulty of reaching the purser. Finally she begrudgingly said she'd "file a report" but no one would follow-up with me, that is not their procedure. (She was wrong; we did get a follow-up, the scolding from our wait staff.) We did get the obligatory form letter offering us 15% off on a future cruise. I asked to speak to the cruise director, and was told that wasn't possible, that I was talking to the purser and that is all their procedure allowed for. I also asked for a follow-up in my evaluation form, but I subsequently learned from Carnival's "guest relations" that Carnival's procedure is to not respond to requests for follow-up.
I will say the ship itself is a marvel. Our room was enjoyable, and steward was excellent. I actually relaxed and would enjoy another cruise. But it is clear that for the level of service that one is led to believe exists, you will need to search out a higher level of cruise line. I would insist on a cruise line that has a customer service operation that is readily available and responsive beyond sending form letters of acknowledgement. If you will note, Carnival Cruises does not prominently list their customer service phone number on their literature or web site. When I did track down a phone number, I was on hold for some 15 minutes (surprise).
CEO Micky Arison reputedly built the company by attention to detail and listening to his customers. It appears those working for him have lost sight of the customer. Today it appears Carnival is avoiding communications with the customer if it isn't in the form or coached, cajoled positive evaluation forms (they readily admit ignoring the negative ones).
WOW....where to begin! This was a FANTASTIC cruise!
I sailed with my Husband, Joe, my mother-in-law, Marisa and my two sons, Frankie, age 7 and Nicholas, age 4.
I have sailed with Carnival on the Jubilee in 1988 and with Sunquest on the Vasco Di Gamas in 1994.
I read several reviews after booking and was really afraid of what I would find, but all my worry was for nothing! The ship was brilliant. She is huge, clean and very "user-friendly".
We flew from Toronto to Miami at 6:30 am with American Airlines. The flight was good, although there was no breakfast served, so we were HUNGRY! Miami Airport is a MESS! There were so many people and it is HUGE! We found our luggage OK and the Carnival people were sure to find us and lead us to where we needed to be to catch our bus to the Port. We landed at 9:50 am and our bus was scheduled to leave for the Port at 11:00. Our bus ended up leaving just after 11:00 and we arrived at the Port at approximately 11:30. We had to tip the driver$1.00 per bag of luggage to have him take it off the bus and take two steps to put it into a holding container. We were then off to the Carnival building.
Very, very efficient, quick and easy. We filled out our Funpasses ahead of time.this is a MUST to save time. We spent about 10 minutes in line until we got up to the attendant. She took our passports and said she would keep them until the end of the cruise because we were not US citizens. No problem, she gave us a receipt for them.
We walked through and received our Sail N' Sign cards, which are your onboard spending cards (no cash is accepted anywhere on the ship) and also act as your cabin keys. We had our photo taken very quickly and then made our way up the stairs to the ship. We went right up to our cabin, number 9265 on the Lido deck. It was very clean and quite spacious as far as ship cabins go. We had a little balcony, which was very nice as well.
Our luggage had not arrived, so we went for a buffet lunch at the South Beach restaurant. We then decided to tour the ship. Our luggage arrived in our room by about 4:30.
This is a spectacular ship. We purposely went looking for water-stained carpets and found that the Riviera deck hallways needed to have the carpet replaced, but it was not THAT bad. There was also no smell anywhere on the ship. It was beautiful.
The water slide was a BLAST! The decks were always clean and there was always someone working on something (ie: touching up paint, washing windows, etc.)
Our cabin steward was very attentive and did a great job. The towel animals were very cute and the chocolates on the pillow were my 4 year old's favourite treat!
We had a beautiful table on the lower level of the London Dining Room (table #110) which had a gorgeous view of the ocean. We lucked out in that it was a table for 12, but we were the only family at the table!
The food was quite good, with quite a bit of variety. Always served hot and fresh. Our waiter, Jaco, was incredible, as was his associate, William. By the second night, they both knew the boys' names and had chocolate milk waiting for them each night. Each night, the waiters did a little show before dessert, which was fun. They work extremely hard to keep the guests happy.
We tried all of the different food options for lunch..Chinese, deli, pizza and the grill for hot dogs and hamburgers. There was something there for everyone.
The pools were clean and just the right temperature. The hot tubs were nice.a little crowded at times, but that's to be expected with over 2,000 passengers on board.
The children's' program was INDESCRIBABLE! My kids never wanted to leave when it was time to pick them up and BEGGED to go back! They did arts and crafts, Playstation, movies, games, dancing, and much, much more. There were times set aside where parents attended and played with the kids. There is not enough room to tell you how wonderful this program was. Very secure and the staff is excellent with children.
The shows were very good. The Magic Show was by far the best.how the heck did they do all that stuff?!! The dancers were very good too.
John, our cruise director was funny and made us feel like family. The bedtime story, which involved the guests was absolutely hilarious and with guests on board with names like "Willy Banger" and "Dick Wooden", how could the comedy not be good?!
Weeeeeeeee Jimmy was priceless. He kept everyone laughing all the time.
There were bars for everyone..quiet, karioke, jazz, piano, dance and much much more. Bingo was fun, the Casino was fun and the shopping was great.
We chose not to purchase any of the excursions through the ship as they were WAAAAY too expensive.
In Cozumel, we took a taxi to Chankunaab National Park. It cost $10.00 to get there and $10.00 for the adults to get in. It was beautiful and if you want to, you can swim with the dolphins. There was a little lagoon-like place on the beach for the kids and we had a lot of fun there.
In Grand Cayman, we took a taxi to Seven Mile Beach. We chose the beach in front of the Holiday Inn, as per Jaco, our waiter's recommendation. We had fun there too, but, in my opinion, the beach is nothing compared to Cuba or even Punta Cana.
In Ocho Rios, we chose to just stay on the ship. Our kids were too little to enjoy climbing Dunns River Falls and it was nice to have the ship to ourselves for the day.
Quick, easy and efficient. No problems whatsoever.
Our flight home was not until 7:30 pm, so we decided to do a tour in Miami. We picked "Parrot Jungle" and were so glad that we did. The kids got to feed the birds, we saw a serpent show, a bird show, humungous tortoises and monkeys and alligators too. The tour guide got us to the airport by 1:30 and the waiting began. I highly recommend doing anything in your power not to get a late flight. Sitting at the Miami Airport for 6 hours was pure hell. Not the way to end such a perfect vacation.
I wish there was something negative that I could say so that it doesn't look like I'm lying. This was truly the trip of a lifetime and I would recommend it to singles, families, couples young and old. It was simply perfect.
To whom it may concern,
My wife and I recently cruised on the Carnival Triumph. Or cruise departed Miami 01/03/04 and returned 01/10/04. I have to say that this was probably the single most disappointing cruise, or vacation, of our lives. There are many reasons for this. Each individual reason may seem minor to you, but I assure you they were not, and the cumulative effect was massive.
I should start by saying that the reason we chose this ship was that friends of ours were married aboard. The ceremony was very nice, as was the small reception afterward. I would also like to tell you that there were a few shining stars on this vessel, and I would hope that they will be commended for their hard work and attention. In case it is necessary, our stateroom was #1005 and we had the late seating in the Paris dining room. In the dining room, Desi was wonderful. She was very friendly happy, caring and very attentive. We had a friend with special dietary needs, and she was treated wonderfully. We met Desi at our reception seating and she was fantastic fromour first meeting to our last meal. Still in the dining room, our lead server Ana was equally great. She was never negative and always tried her best to keep everyone happy, even when dealing with adversity. As a matter of fact, on the last formal seating the newlywed couple found it necessary to leave the dining room since they were not feeling well. There was nobody available to deliver dinner to them, so Ana herself sprinted to the 9th deck to deliver them dinner without missing a beat. None of her other tables were neglected and she was back so fast I would doubt most even noticed. To us that was going above and beyond, and I know the other couple felt that way as well. I hope you are aware that these two individuals are a great asset to your dining staff
The next example of excellence would be our cabin steward Iryl. I believe her last name is Oliva. She was always there, no matter the time, to greet us with a happy face and a warm greeting. Our room never failed to be clean and kept up, and I have to say that the animals were a nice surprise and very well done. She was very accommodating and very unobtrusive as well. She was very alert and intuitive of our needs and we were very appreciative of her.
I wish I could say the same of the rest of our trip, but I cannot. I hardly know where to begin. We decided to arrive the night prior to sailing and stayed at a horrible hotel, The Airport Regency. I would be sure you do not recommend them to your guests. We were bussed to the port and set up outside of the baggage area and given very little direction from there. We had to drag all of our luggage with no assistance. Again there was no direction. We were set to embark at 10:30 for the ceremony, but had no idea where to go. Embarkation was fairly trouble free, but only because we had early boarding privileges. We had others traveling with us who were not so fortunate.
When we finally boarded the ship, we found our first major disappointment. The Triumph was probably beautiful on her first voyage. Sadly, she has seen her time and not been afforded any recent work. She was dirty! The carpets on many decks, but most noticeably on the 10th deck were stained and filthy. When we arrived I initially though it was that they were freshly steam cleaned. This was not the case, as they never changed. Many of the walls and carpets were in the same disrepair. We tried to shower before the ceremony and were treated to a deluge of water that filled the entire bathroom floor with 1-2 inches of water that receded very very slowly. I initially though it because we were in port, but the situation repeated itself throughout the cruise. It is not very pleasant preparing for dinner in a flood of water, I assure you.
Our first meal on the ship (at the reception), was very good. It was both flavorful and well presented. The coffee was fresh and the wedding cake was very good as well. This was not to be the case for our voyage. This is the first cruise that I can actually say that the food was terrible! The variety was fair, but the quality and presentation was abhorrent. The soups were horrid and served cold. They were salty and tasted terrible. The salads were sparse. The appetizers were meager. The entrees were usually bland and presented poorly, as well as generally being overdone, underdone, and cold. The coffee was piteous, and the desserts were generally inedible. The highlight was actually the breads. Your baker is great with breads, but terrible with desserts! As I said, Desi and Ana tried their best to make it tolerable. The kitchen staff decided to be counterproductive. One other thing really struck me as bordering on insulting. We did not see our Maitre D ( I believe Dario) for the duration of the cruise. Although I am aware of the responsibility that entails, I also feel strongly that any Maitre D worth his salt walks the dining room and sees to his guests needs. This was bad in my view, but the insulting part was on the final night having the audacity to be collecting gratuities was beyond reproach. Why would I possibly want to tip someone I never met, nor whose presence was ever obvious to me?
Moving out of the dining room and on to the rest of the dining on the ship, my experience was equally as bad. The buffets were tasteless and canned. The variety was unnoticeable. The attendants were disinterested. The bus staff did a fine job of removal. Unfortunately I noticed they disposed of many full plates. The presentation of the buffets was sorely lacking and far less grand then expected, and the Grande midnight buffet was a horror in people moving and uninspiring to say the least. The grill did a fine job with hamburgers and hotdogs and such and the deli was adequate. The pizzeria was fine, but I noticed an understandable lack of "right out of the oven" freshness.
Let me move from dining. After dinner I prefer a few things. I love a good port wine, a strong fresh cup of coffee and a cigar. I salute your sommelier for his choice of Dow's 20 yr. old port, as it was continually wonderful. Coffee in all dining rooms was terrible and at the buffet it was weak and tasteless. I was happy to see there was a coffee bar and spent a great deal of time there. My opinion is that it should be 24 hours, but it seems you have experienced a hard enough time keeping it adequately staffed during it's current operating times. You have one good employee there, and only one. Her name was Petra. everyone else there had no idea of what they were doing and had attitudes to boot. It got to the point where we would leave if Petra was not there instead of paying for terrible coffee based drinks. I also think it is a mistake that you have to pay extra just to have a good cup of coffee or espresso. I think a couple of dollars per person on the price of the cruise would not affect you in the least and it would add tremendously to the cruise. As to my last vice, we went to the Oxford bar one night for a Port and cigar and some Jazz. The jazz trio was terrible as well. The jazz played by the larger band in the casino far surpassed them. They were so bad that it actually drove us from the lounge. I would think that was the last thing you would want. I think that the Oxford bar itself was underused and I'm sure it's gross is well under that of the Piano bar and other lounges.
A very disappointing part of our vacation was the shore excursions. We had signed up for 3 of them. In San Juan we tried the evening horseback ride. It was cancelled for some unknown reason. We were credited the money and had a mundane time in San Juan. There is very little to do in a seedy part of Puerto Rico at night. We felt unsafe and unguided to say the least! In St Thomas we signed up for the Mini Boats and snorkeling. We were taken out in a downpour and led back to the dock in 10 minutes with apologies and told we would be credited for 1/2 of the price. After much arguing at the excursion desk my party was credited the full amount. I am not sure of the others on the excursion. We then tried the "Rhino boats" in St Marten. The rhino tour was terrible and not worth half of the cost of $89pp. You are led out to a horrible beach where snorkeling visibility is nil. I mean less than 2 feet. We were told to leave all of our belongings including wallets and money, towels and sunblock at the dock. By the way, no smoking as well. I think those of us who smoke should have been warned that this was a non smoking tour. The fact that it turned out to be about 1 1/2 hours was also misrepresented.
The entertainment was adequate enough in the Rome Lounge. It was not fantastic, but it was moderate. The band in the casino was very good and had a nice variety and sounded great. The Piano bar in the Big Easy lounge was jammed full of people and you could not find standing room. People seemed very happy and he seemed to be doing a tremendous job. You may consider moving that to the crypt of the Oxford Lounge. The in room entertainment was sorely lacking. The television did not give a great variety. With the satellites that are available I would think it would have been much better. The movies on demand was on par with most hotels, but a bit dated. The free movies were of no great variety and I would suggest you change the guide to ship time instead of military time.
I have to say I have a tremendous problem with the phone system. While on the cruise I had a death in the family. Two different people tried to call us to let us know and were left on hold for in excess of 15 minutes. Had we have gotten the calls we could have made arrangements to fly home for the services. We did not find out until Friday evening when we had a cellular signal again. We were deeply hurt by this and felt we had insulted some close friends and family members although it was out of our control. This is not an experience I would care to see anyone else deal with and I strongly advise that someone look into it.
The last grand debacle is called disembarkation. There seems to be no logic and no order. I would think that by now Carnival should be very proficient people movers. It seems I am mistaken. Moving to the customs area was more difficult than going through customs itself. We almost missed our 12:30 flight and we know of people who did miss flights due to this process. It was a cattle call with no rhyme or reason. We considered carrying our own luggage on the advice of some crew, and found that those who did were mixed in with us. We were glad we chose against it as we would have been exhausted and annoyed.
I think I have given you an fair description of our cruise. It was a horrendous experience! I have every intention of letting my clients and friends know of our experience as well as giving my opinion on as many cruise sites as I can find with ratings. Carnival is not the cruise line I expected it to be. I sincerely hope you take my comments and act on them. I hope I can somehow help others avoid having a vacation ruined as completely as ours was. It is my earnest hope that your guest relations is better than this cruise turned out to be.
Christmas on the Triumph 2003
My husband and I were on the Inspiration in 2002, we had such a great time, we just had to take the kids. I booked our cruise a year and three months in advance.
We booked the air/sea with Carnival. This was our second cruise booked with Alison Dorfman, a personal vacation planner with Carnival. Even when our cruise was a year away, she answered any questions that I had. She told me to phone every few months, to see if fares had gone down. We paid 75$ a person less than when we went in the summer. Alison is great and will book our third cruise with her. We got our tickets about a week and a half before the cruise. I would have liked to have them early, but didn't let that spoil the cruise. We were flown the day before from Winnipeg Manitoba. We stayed at the Windham Airport in Miami, it was great. We had hotel check-in, that was the best. When we got to the pier, we were on the ship within 30 minutes. We got tpo go ahead oftons of people.
We booked two rooms across from each other. We were on the Main deck at the front of the ship. We had an inside cabin on our first cruise and were fine with the same. Our two kids had a cabin with two portholes and two lower beds. One bed was a couch during the day then made up at night. If you don't mind not sleeping together, get the cabins with the portholes, it was larger than our cabin. It was a little rugh on the first two nights, but it got better after that
The kids were off on their own, and we only saw them at dinner. There were lots of activities but they made their own friends that they had met on the first day.
The ship was decorated for Christmas. I was impressed with the fact that the Jewish holiday season was included too.
We were on the eastern Carribean side, this was great. My husband and kids did the Bioluminessence kiak tour, sorry about the spelling. This was done in San Juan. I took a tour of the city, it was good, but wish it could have been during the day.
My husband and son went diving in St Marten, they were glad they did it. My son was sick in the boat, there were big waves, his stomach didn't like that. I went on an island tour, it was very informative, if you like that kind of stuff. I love learning about other places.
In St Thomas, we took a taxi to Cokie Beach, I have never seen such a beautiful beach before. We arrived before all the tours and saved 20 dollars per person.
The cruise was all that I thought it would be. If you have any questions, feel free to email me.
My Husband, 15 year old daughter, and 12 year old twin boys traveled on the Carnivals' Triumph Western Caribbean, November 29, 2003.
We did the air ourselves through cheaptickets.com. I saved about $1,000. I used the savings to fly down a day early. I figured if I went through Carnival, the air delay would be covered. So I better get down there a little early so I won't miss the ship.
I read over 800-1000 reviews in the two months before departing. My family calls me the vacation Nazi. I believe that a good vacation, is a well-researched vacation. I guess so do you, as you wouldn't be reading this right now! One word of advice here is to NOT limit yourself, to one ship, or one cruise line for that matter. I was going to the Western Caribbean and I found great tips on Alaska's cruises that worked for me. Read every thing you can. Especially on the ships that go into the same ports as you are going to. Ok enough about that, let's get on to them carpet stains.
Our plane arrived early into Miami. We flew from Philadelphia andstayed the night before at a Philly hotel. That way they held the car for free, and shuttled us over in the morning. Saving us the $8.00 storage per day for the car. We arrived early at The Sheraton Biscayne Bay Hotel, so we went to the pool. They were so nice. They stored our luggage and even gave us a large safety deposit box for my laptop, so I wouldn't have to take it to the pool with me. I brought it because every night I down loaded my digital camera into it. Clearing my disk for the next day. I did bring two 256 Disks and needed both. I also brought a 35mm camera, which I like better on real sunny days. Also a video camera with 6 tapes and three under water cameras.
We stayed at the Sheraton because we had read that the cruise lines do the pre-registrations the morning of the cruise. All Lines but Carnival showed up. We ended up having to go over to the port and wait in the lines anyway. They went pretty smoothly, and everyone in line was talkative and excited about the trip.
The hotel was great though. They up graded us from a balcony to a suite, because our room wasn't ready when they said it was. Then later they gave us five free breakfast buffet coupons for the next day, cause they weren't able to get us more pillows till midnight. I would stay there again just because of how nice the people were. Although friends stayed at the Holiday Inn, and this was more centrally located across from the market place. Which is a cool outside market place that resembles a carnival or shore boardwalk.
Speaking of friends we met some great ones! We met on the Roll Call Board of cruise critics. It's a great place to find out messages, questions, and friends. We had at least 6 couples and a few singles and two families of 5. Some met up the night before in Miami for dinner. Others met in Fortlauderdale, or at the Airport. We had talked for a month and even exchanged cell numbers so we could figure out where each of us was, at the start of our trip. We planned on an 11 o'clock Sunday morning get-together but all found each other on Saturday night. As a 6' 2" Blonde, married to a 6'7" man we were easily found.
We arrived at about 11:30 went through the lines and waited in comfortable chairs upstairs of the port. We were on the ship at 12:30. We went straight to our room, even though we were told our rooms would not be ready till 1:30, and to go to lunch. I thought what's the worse that would happen we could drop off bags even if I put them out on the balcony. But it was ready. We had a balcony room on Deck 8. Room 8414. Four doors down from the employee's stairs that lead up one deck to the Lido Deck. This was so convent to get late night pizza or a drink. Or even to meet friends or find kids who went up there for the late night grill. They only had two midnight buffets. One was the Gala and one was a Mexican buffet on Monday after being in port in Cozumel, Mexico. This was fine though cause they had a lido buffet grill that was open from 11-1:30 on the aft Lido deck that was different every night. Also they had a fruit and dessert buffet set up near by. When they did the actual buffet it was done in the South Beach Buffet Restaurant. Both were great but I liked the extended time of the grill buffets, as you wouldn't miss the 12 o'clock late night shows.
We did buy one of them large carnival drinks, even though the reviews felt like they were I rip off. I didn't think they were. They were about two and a half times bigger then the $2.95 drinks, and for $5.95 they made you feel like you were something special walking around the ship with your tropical drink with fruit and umbrella garnish. Although they did at times, become a pain to carry around during the week empty, just incase you wanted a drink. The only place you could refill for $4.95 was the Lido deck bars. I always seemed to want a drink in the wrong place, or didn't have my glass when I was in the right place. It's your call. I liked them cause when I did get a drink. I got a Drink! I did get my three kids soda cards right away as I came in at the main bar. These were $22 and well worth it. They could be used everywhere, even for dinner. Although not at night, during the show. I bought them virgin frozen drinks then for $3.95. I especially loved the Miami Vice. Half is a strawberry daiquiri. The other side is pina-colada. It looks as good as it tastes. Of course mine wasn't a virgin, and cost $4.95. Well worth it. I didn't think the drink prices were high, although I always drank the special of the day or the frozen drinks at the shows.
I was worried that the five of us would be crowded in our room, but we were all quit comfortable. We had a queen bed for us. A sofa which one son slept on. A bunk over top, that my daughter slept on. And a wide cot with a 5" thick mattress that the room steward would make up in the morning and slide under the bed during the day. When my other son wanted to go to bed at night he simple pulled it out. I could walk through from balcony to bath, but liked it pushed in when using the vanity area.
Our room steward was good, but not great. I had my three kids always picking up after themselves, but felt the room steward could have done a better job. Like dirty cotton balls, tissues or dirty cosmetic pads, were never cleaned up, off the vanity area. Empty plates or dirty glasses were left there too. One night after he cleaned the room, I was forced to put the last nights room service plates in the hall. Which stayed there along with everyone else's room service plates up and down the hall till morning.
One morning we slept in after our first port day in Mexico. We all arranged to meet at 12 for lunch in the dining room. When I came back the room was just as we left it and stayed that way till after dinner. We had used all the towels and when my daughter took a towel to another room steward and asked to exchange it for a clean dry one for the pool she was told No! You must wait till 6 o'clock tonight. I wasn't around or I would have flipped. They really had no respect for kids on the ship. My son tried to order room service and was quite proud of having a $2 tip he saved from his arcade money for the waiter. But it never came, and he gave up waiting and went up stairs and brought it back. It was the waiters' loss, and his gain. I guess the kids run them around on the ship. But mine knew they had to tip as my husband, and myself, are both generous tippers.
Speaking of tips I think Carnival has really dropped the ball on this one. They say that it was what most of Carnival's customers wanted, but I believe this is not true. I didn't meet anyone who liked pre-tipping. I think Carnival does it as an employee promotion in order to solicit good employees away from the other cruise lines. I worked for years in the restaurant field and managed a bar/restaurant. I'm a generous tipper, but did adjust my tip on the last day, for the week.
The very first day they added 68.25 for each of the 5 of us. For a total of $342.00. My children who the employees disrespected were still required to pay the same as an adult. I would have reduced it sooner than the last day. But I figured that if I could turn the TV on and check my balance, then the staff had a way of checking their tip too! I have a rule of never complaining about the food till after the meal.
The two waitresses were very sweet young girls. I found myself asking them if they were new. But they worked on the ships for years. The service was like that of a very nice banquet. We had early seating and liked that. Giving me time to get ready for the late night feast again. But I always got the impression that I was being served to get out of the way. On the formal nights they always brought one special dessert and gave you no other choices. It was sat down in front of you and our table was made to feel guilty, if we asked for another. My other friends said that this was not so at their tables and that they were even told that they could have additional items that were never offered to our table. Every night I was asked if I wanted coffee, and every night I said yes. The second from last night I told the waitress that I always like Ice Tea with dinner. And then the last night I did get that without being asked if I wanted it.
One thing about the service that really bothered me was that I always ordered two dinners and every night I asked to have them brought to me at the same time. This never happened; I almost felt this was a carnival rule. I was made to finish my plate before I could have the other. So, while I was eating my shrimp, my steak was sitting getting cold on a side table. The second dinner was always cold and usually more done then if it would have been served rather than sat on the side table.
I just think the waitress were in such a hurry to finish serving us, so they could do their little mandatory dance and the end of the meal. This was cute, but I would have liked the service instead of the show. Everything about the mediocre service could have been avoided if the staff felt like you were going to tip them rather than think that you paid for the tip with admission thus don't expect much. The word "tip" means To Issue Prompt Service. This has been all missed on Carnival. SAD!
We had one At Sea Day and then ported in Cozumel, Mexico. It was funny that no one on the ship knew what time it was on the island. I asked 25 crew and got 5 different answers 2 before 2 after, 1 before 1 after, or the same. Actually it was 1 hour after ship time but they felt you didn't need to know this information, and weren't shy about saying so. No, not unless you were meeting your rental car or tour guides at 8:00.
We rented a car from [email protected] the travel agent's name was Miriam and she went through Budget for the car. It was a Geo Tracker that cost us $44.00 including insurance. I originally rented a VW bug but was up graded to the $60 GEO Tracker. My girlfriend rented from enterprise and got a beat up old GEO for $79 with no sunroof in the sunroof. She got soaked with an afternoon down pour. I was very pleased with budget they were polite, and they didn't even charge for the little gas we used that day. We picked up at the International Port which is a 10 minute walk and dropped off at a downtown location giving us an extra hour. Then took a $5 taxi back to the ship
After picking up the car we went towards downtown. We walked around for 3 hours never purchasing anything. I had read to buy all my souvenirs here, because it was so reasonable. Not the case. Silver chains for $30 in the states were $80 to $140. My son was very disappointed as I told him Mexico silver was reasonable. The only thing it was.was tarnished. Badly at times. I didn't like how high the prices started out at. Things that you could buy at night for $7 were $40 in the morning. Tee shirts were $10 each and then reduced to 3 for $10 at night when they thought the ships were leaving. They were much more willing to meet a reasonable price at night then in the morning. So go snorkeling first.
We got in car and headed for Chankanaab Park. This was recommended on the sights, and was truly a great snorkeling experience. The park charged $10 each to get in and $5 for equipment. Don't rent on the ship. You get so much better for less on the islands. For great deals, shop in the little stores inside the park towards the bathrooms. There is a small jewelry store where we went to after snorkeling, and stayed there for an hour buying gifts for home. Their names are Allan and Ricky and they were so nice. They had hand made jewelry and Allan worked a half-hour re-beading a bracelet for me and then only charged $3. It was beautiful. They also have unusual stones and was told all the meanings and cures for each. They also had great deals on true hand made items. If you do go, ask for them by name and tell them Jamie, the tallest, prettiest blonde, they ever saw sent you. Trust me they WILL remember me! And they will take good care of you.
The park was beautiful, and I wish we hadn't wasted time in town. We packed a picnic from room service the night before. I brought a soft-sided cooler and plenty of zip lock bags for ice and sandwiches. A note here: Get your sandwiches the night before and put on ice. Get fruit from the late night grill. Remember THERE IS NO ROOM SERVICE THE MORNING OF PORT DAYS. I guess lots of people pack lunches. We also brought a 12 pack of Pepsi and a 12 pack of Snapple's in a carry-on, onto the plane and then onto the ship. This gave us the extra room for souvenirs that we needed to come home with. I also brought those large vacuum bags and used then to pack dirty laundry and other bulky items on the way home.
The seas were rough that whole week and it was tricky getting into the water at Chankanaab Park. The water crashed on to rocks and you dropped into 10 foot of water at the bottom of the stairs. My daughter and one son went back and rented life jackets for $4(well worth it) and felt safer in the water. My kids are all strong swimmers, and have even taken lifeguard courses but the water was rough. My husband even borrowed the jacket cause he was just so tired from the rough waters. The fish and the coral were great and well worth the rough seas.
When we got back we dropped off our liquor as we entered the ship. I didn't mind cause I bought it for home and I figured let them store it for the week rather then me. I did have a bottle in the cabin on my vanity that we brought from home. Pack it well and put it in your boarded luggage not your carry-on.
Back on the ship we went up to eat and just got into the Hot tub to soak with friends when the man came and said it was Midnight and the tubs were closed. We asked for 15 minutes more and he said no problem. Which I thought was so nice!
Next day was a Sea Day. Always tried to eat in the dining room. This was the day that we slept in and paid for it with the room steward not cleaning it up. We could have really used fresh towels. My husband even had to kill our towel rabbit the night before as we had no clean towels and were too tired to ask.
So after lunch with friends we played a little blackjack. I came in second in the Blackjack Tournament and later in the week Ray came in forth in another one which was pretty cool. We got players club shirts and some nice gifts including a nice towel bag that I used on port days. One thing that I can say about the casino is that they were generous with the cash. (We took home $300 of their money) but they should give free bar drinks like all the other casinos I've been in.
The Formal nights and shows were great. I really enjoyed dressing for dinners. And my husband got to wear his Tux that he bought on a going out of business sale. My daughter and I wore long gowns and my sons who both owned black suits wore bow ties. In the formal pictures they did look like tuxes. But guys please don't do this. Remember that only works on children. Don't think your suit will look like a tux if you wear a bow tie. Just wear a nice suit and tie.
The formal pictures are what broke us! At $20 a pop, I spent over $550. And I think they were worth every penny. When do you get the family so dressed up? Take advantage of all the photo stations throughout the ship. We loved the photos. It's so nice to have your photo taken by a professional rather than a department store clerk. When we came home, we scan them and gave as gifts. My mom and mother-law love them. They have some great backgrounds!
Next day we were in Grand Cayman. Again no one knew what time it was on the island and we ended up being 20 minutes late as the time was the same this time. I had booked a tour through Sotos' cruise tours for the sting ray tour. Through them I booked another tour at 12:00 for Hell and the Turtle Farm. The sting ray tour was cancelled due to rough seas, but they were able to get Ernie on his cell phone and he came right away to pick us up. This was 4 hours early. We booked with Ernie and his E-mail is [email protected] He charged us $15 per person and through the board we picked up three addition friends so there was a party of 8. He took us on a tour first. Saw the governor's house, and went to a public marina and found large conch shells. Then went to the Turtle Farm and Hell. Ernie also saved us money on the Turtle farm tickets too!
I bought souvenirs at the gift shops and didn't think they were that expensive. I did get most of the family gifts in Mexico. I was surprised. I thought from the reviews that I would pay a lot more. This was not true. Post cards at the Hell Post Office were 3 for $1.00 and a stamp was 25 cents. I only wished I had remembered to send myself home a post card from Hell. My kids brought lots of friends and teacher addresses so they had a ball. It's a hole in the wall but worth the stop. The owner wears horns and his photo appears on many of the gifts and post cards.
Then Ernie took us to an equipment rental store, where I also bought lots of wood and onyx gifts. Our snorkel equipment was suppose to come with the $19.95 Soto's tour that was canceled. But we didn't mind the $20 for the 5 of us. Ernie took us to Cemetery Beach, which is a breath taken beach hid behind a beautiful cemetery. The snorkeling was incredible, and the water was so calm considering the water on the other side of the beach was so rough. We got back on the ship by 3. A Great Day! Thanks Ernie!
Next day was Jamaica, I also booked a private tour from the reviews with Denis Mullings his e-mail is [email protected] True to his promise he gave us a tour of a lifetime. He charged us $30 each , which included the $10 Falls Tickets. First we did the Dunn's River Falls. Having climbed it 20 years ago on our honeymoon, it was fun doing it again with the kids. Dennis handpicked the falls guide, which was a special touch. After the falls and a rain downpour we went shopping at the craft market place.
The people here have really changed for the better. They were polite and quite. Unlike the reviews and what I experienced 20 years ago when they were so loud and pushy. I even complemented them and told them that I would put it in the review. I was actually not looking forward to the pushy people but found just the opposite. I think they read the reviews too. My daughter and I agreed that this was our favorite island.
Dennis took us up the hill to the rain forest. Made a few stops where he talked to the kids describing the trees, plants, buds and seeds. He had us smell different leaves and herbs, and guess what they were. He really missed his calling. He should have been a teacher. This made me realize that I gave my children a better education in a week than the school could of. Dennis got us back to the ship just as it was getting ready to leave. Only regret was I should have arranged to meet Dennis at 8 rather than 9 in the morning. Thanks Dennis you were the best!!!
Back to the ship for our last formal night. And then a day at Sea, before debarking in Miami. All in all it was a great trip. Carnival gives you a lot of Bang for the Buck. They need to work on the service, as it wasn't there. The food was good, being I didn't have to cook it, serve it, or clean-it up. Carnival needs to rethink the tip situation. Because even though you can adjust it, the staff figures you will and the service is lacking big time! Would I take another Carnival Cruise? Yes, in heartbeat. Then again our next cruise is on RCCL Navigator of the Seas, Eastern Caribbean. I have heard, once you do RCCL you don't want to go back. Then again I paid $2400 for 5 in a balcony on Carnival compared to $3600 for a family ocean view suite. You get what you pay for I guess. Will write again after my April 24th cruise. And remember, if you see a 6'2" Tall blonde come up and say HI JAMIE!
I picked this cruise for several reasons: because my grandma was turning 100, I knew I was gonna be in south Florida anyway; I'd not yet had a chance to see any of the Western Caribbean ports; Carnival's low rates were a bargain even for someone traveling solo; and since I was most interested in having the best chance to make it more than a hundred miles inland to see the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, I looked for the longest possible port call in the Yucatan. Carnival's itineraries, with 17 hours in Cozumel, fit the bill. Because of the special birthday celebration beforehand, I had the trip booked about nine months in advance. I didn't want to spend 13 hours on the Chichen Itza shore excursion, though, which is what it would take by ferry & bus; (3/4 of that would be spent just getting there & back) I wanted to fly. After going around & around in circles on the internet, where much of the "information" proved to be outdated or incorrect, it came down to Aero Ferinco, the only airline offering flights out of Cozumel. But their emailsystems weren't working too well, and by the time I actually reached somebody at their Cozumel office on the phone, it was only 8 or 9 days until I was due to be there. I naturally worried I'd put it off too long and that they'd be sold out. To my astonishment, I was told that I was the first person to make an inquiry about that date-- and they sure weren't gonna send up a flight just for me! I resigned myself to "Plan B"-- a shore excursion Carnival was offering to the coastal ruins at Tulum, which are less than an hour's bus ride once you ferry over to the mainland at Playa del Carmen.
I'll do this pretty much chronologically, starting with departure day, Sat Nov 29: After various birthday/Thanksgiving festivities, my brother dropped me off back at the Fort Lauderdale airport (I had pre-purchased bus transfers to and from the Port of Miami through Carnival) at about 12:15. Along with dozens of other cruise passengers bound for several ships, I waited about 35 minutes until the Triumph group walked out to our bus; this was the last point at which people had to drag their heavy luggage around. About 35 more minutes passed as we boarded the bus and collected a few stragglers before pulling out for the drive to Miami. Just as we pulled up pierside, at 2pm, a black cat crossed the bus's path...(hmmm!) Once inside the pier, some 40 minutes in line remained for security and check-in. The lines were long, but moved pretty quickly; Carnival must have had at least 30 people staffing the check-in counters to deal with the 3000 or so passengers boarding this huge vessel. I was onboard by 3pm; a Polish string trio playing classical music in the lobby greeted boarding passengers. I grabbed a bite at the buffet to tide me over until late-seating dinner. The Triumph was under way pretty much on time, shortly after 4pm. The day's high was only in the mid-60's, down about 20 degrees from the day before, and with 20-mph winds. As we sailed by the Keys the temperatures grew milder, but strong winds would continue to affect us for most of the week. This was my 6th cruise, but my first with Carnival. I'll leave most of my overall impressions of the Carnival product for the end, but at this point, let me mention a few design features of their 100,000-plus-ton Destiny-class ships which I appreciated: --Good use is made of her too-wide-for-Panama breadth-- even the corridors outside the cabins are wider, and these ships don't roll too much in rough seas. --Unlike many ships of recent vintage, there are multiple open decks facing forward, both above and below the bridge. (The bow and the deck above that are for the crew.) --Because the lifeboats are loaded before being lowered, from special emergency accesses on deck 4, the teak promenades along the sides beneath the boats (on deck 3) serve no safety function, and so, unlike other new ships, are lined with comfortably padded steamer chairs, as on the transatlantic liners of yesteryear. Nice! --These promenades are on the sides only; because they don't wrap all the way around, the cabins below aren't plagued by joggers banging overhead. (There's a track for joggers topside.) --The handsome Washington Library overlooks the lobby. It's usually open, although someone to open the bookcases and check books in or out is only there for a few posted hours each day. It also comfortably accomodated card players, because the former cardroom has vanished; see below. (Irritatingly, the key that locks & unlocks the bookcases had broken on the first day. The bookcases now couldn't be locked, except for one, which now couldn't be opened; naturally, that bookcase was the only one with stuff in it that I really wanted to check out. I was amazed that they not only didn't have a spare key, but that even though the crew can maintain and even repair diesel engines the size of a house while at sea, they evidently couldn't cut a new key.) The only design drawback is that the smaller of the two bi-level dining rooms, at the center of the ship, is generally closed until dinner; you have to go under or over that room, and the long galley area behind it, to reach the aft dining room or the popular Oxford cigar bar & internet area. (That bar used to have a card room off it, but a couple of months before my trip, it was converted into a golf simulator-- gotta bring in that onboard revenue!) I'd booked a minimum-priced (category 1A) cabin, for which I paid about $685 as a solo traveler, of which about $170 was port charges & taxes. On the Destiny-class ships, some of the 1A's are slightly-smaller-than-standard insides with an upper berth, others are outsides at the bow or stern. Mine (2217) was up near the bow, and was the same generous size that's one of Carnival's strong points, (about 185 sq ft) but with one bed rather than a pair in addition to the usual convertible sofa, and with two portholes in place of the usual picture window. The ride was smooth enough despite some strong winds, although any passenger not accustomed to a cabin up in the bows should expect some noises: the whining of winches and the roar of bow thrusters every time you dock, (an early-morning alarm clock that can't be shut off or ignored!) not to mention the disconcerting BOOM! that echoes through the hull when the bow comes down on a big ocean swell. "Good Lord! Did we just run over a yacht?" Apart from that, I hardly heard a peep from neighboring cabins, there's loads of storage space, and the bed was wide and comfy. When setting up my Sign & Sail account for onboard charges, I asked that I not be billed automatically for tips; I preferred to dispense cash myself, the old-fashioned way, so as to be sure that the people for whom it was intended were getting every penny of it. My next order of biz was to meet my cabin steward, (an Indonesian gentleman delightfully named Mr. Yayah) tip him up front, and urge him not too work too hard on my account, since I'm not fussy, and the cabin wouldn't seem like home if it were kept TOO tidy. At the shore excursion desk, I asked if I could post a little note, in hopes I could rustle up a few more people interested in that flight to Chichen Itza-- but they wouldn't allow it. (Y'know what every cruise ship needs? A bulletin board, that's what!) In addition to more pre-dinner classical music, there's also an excellent jazz trio performing nightly in the Oxford Bar-- which, alas, is the ship's only all-smoking venue. (Elsewhere onboard, in those areas where smoking is permitted, it's the usual shipboard setup-- "smoking to starboard, prohibited to port"-- which works fine for me.) I found I'd been assigned a table all the way at the back of the aft dining room. It was hot and crowded, everyone else was part of some huge group that had been taking vacations together for years, and none seemed much interested in conversation. And of course, the pitching of the ship and propeller vibration were at their worst back there.
Sun. Nov. 30: a day at sea; seas running 6-8 ft. Despite plenty of intellectual firepower, foremost among them myself, (he said modestly,) the men lose the morning's "Battle of the Sexes" trivia challenge, which the staff members conducting it inform us always happens. Usually, male-vs-female trivia contests are a slaughter-- in favor of the men. What on earth is going on here? Maybe that black cat... After lunch in that kinda bumpy aft dining room, (I give a Bonine to a tablemate who's turning a little green) I ask the maitre d' if any seats are available in the smaller midships London Dining Room; he arranges a new table for me at the late-seating dinner. In the afternoons on days at sea, in addition to Chopin from the self-playing lobby piano, the classical trio plays in the Oxford Bar as the staff dispenses afternoon tea, tea sandwiches and pastries. Luckily, the smokers are nowhere in evidence; I think the staff has even hidden the ashtrays away for this crowd. General announcements are made in English & Spanish, but special announcements are made occaisionally in German, Italian and Portugese for groups onboard for this cruise. Not exactly what I expected from Carnival! (I later learn that there are over a THOUSAND non-U.S.-citizens on this trip-- which winds up causing disembarkation delays on Dec. 6th.) That evening, I meet my new dinner tablemates: Sue & Roy from Ohio, Carnival veterans who are taking back-to-back cruises on the Triumph (next week, the Eastern Caribbean itinerary.) They dress up for dinner EVERY night, no matter the posted dress code for the evening. Roy's a crusty, conservative, taciturn ex-marine & retired cop. Sue is a real character-- a casino-lovin', cigarette-smokin', three-margaritas-before-dinner-sippin' gal who, though you'd never guess it to look at her, has 10 children, (youngest: 24) 27 grandchildren, (oldest: 23) and 3 GREAT-grandchildren, with a couple more of the latter on the way. A typical Sue comment, when I bring up a certain seasickness remedy: "Oh, I won't wear those Sea-Bands-- they'd clash with my jewelry!" We take turns buying wine as the cruise goes on. Sharing a table with them makes dining a fun occaision every night.
Mon. Dec. 1: Lots of wind, out of the north (across our beam;) and the day begins with a noisy bow-thruster serenade as we tie up in Cozumel. I wish I could phone up Aero Ferinco's office & ask if they'll be sending a flight out to Chichen Itza today, but they won't even open until an hour AFTER the ferry carrying Carnival's shore excursions to the mainland has left the pier. I decide I'd better forget about that slim possibility and go with the sure thing. I run up to the shore excursion desk and get a ticket ($79) for the tour of the Mayan ruins at Tulum, then up to the lido to grab a little breakfast to anchor my stomach. As we board our ferry a little after 8, a Carnival staffer is waiting by the gangplank holding a box of Bonine that looks big enough to soothe the stomachs of the entire population of Cozumel. And a good thing, too-- six-foot swells are a lot worse on a 90-ft ferry than on a 900-ft liner. I stand on the upper deck for the 45-minute crossing, with my eye on the horizon and the wind in my face, and manage without medication. Once over in Playa del Carmen, we meet our guides, who lead us to the ranks of coaches that will take us down to Tulum. Our coach is scented with rosewater, but I notice a cockroach (he must subsist on the crumbs that fall from the included snack packs) scuttling out from the seat pocket in front of me. Resisting the urge to sing "La Cucaracha", I quietly squish him underfoot as our guide begins his lecture on the Yucatan and its ancient cultures. It's less than 40 miles on a good highway to Tulum. About halfway there, we stop for a bathroom break & shopping at a big roadside store. I buy a nicely illustrated Tulum guidebook, and watch with admiration as onsite craftsmen on the portico create some of the traditional Mayan stone masks and figurines sold inside. (Also between Playa del Carmen and Tulum are Xel-Ha and Xcaret, a couple of coastal ecological/Mayan culture theme parks centered on the underground rivers and cenotes, or sinkholes, that are common on the Yucatan peninsula. There wasn't time to do this and the ruins on the same excursion, but the parks are very popular tourist draws. For that matter, there's a similar park, called Chankanaab, back on Cozumel island.) What the ruins at Tulum might lack in scale, they make up for in their gorgeous clifftop/beachfront setting. Our guide really seems to know his stuff; he walks us around for about 45 minutes, then we have a similar amount of time to wander about on our own until we head back to the parking area. There are more restrooms-- as well as loads more souvenir stands-- available here, as well as an exhibition of that spectacular stunt in which four traditionally costumed dancers, hanging upside-down, slowly spin their way down from a tall pole to accompanying drums & music. (I distinctly recall being thrilled by this act as a 5-year-old at the Mexican Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair!) After our bus ride back to Playa del Carmen and another churning crossing back to Cozumel, I opted to stay onboard as most people got off at the piers where most of the cruise ships were docked; the ferry then continued 2 or 3 miles up the coast to the center of Cozumel's only sizable town, San Miguel. (The Norwegian Sea was tied up there-- oddly, so was a U.S. Coast Guard cutter!) I dropped by Aero Ferinco's offices, and just as I'd suspected, they had not sent a plane out to Chichen Itza that day, so I'd made the right decision in going to Tulum. It amazed me that despite close to 10,000 passengers in town for the day on 5 big cruise ships, plus who knows how many thousand more who came by air, there weren't even ten people (half a planeload) interested in flying out to see Chichen Itza. (If I try a cruise that includes the Yucatan again, I think I'll look for one that calls on Progreso, a port that's a much shorter drive to Chichen-- no need for airplanes.) I wandered around San Miguel for a couple of hours more, until about 5pm, and was impressed by one beachfront shop that stocked 300 different kinds of tequila! Thank God they weren't giving out free samples! It began raining, and I took a cab ($6) back to the Triumph's pier, where I picked up a new belt just before reboarding. I guess Carnival's main reason for the exceptionally long port call here had less to do with any shore excursion than with entertainment: they had a local Mexican folkloric troupe come aboard to put a show on in the big theater. I missed it at the time, but it looked and sounded great when shown later on in-cabin TV.
Tues, Dec 2: At sea. Last night was bouncy, abating a bit for a sunny morning, then building up to 30-35mph winds and 10 ft seas. I'm glad to be on a ship this big & beamy, which handles it so well that I never even needed a ginger cap, let alone a bonine.
Wed., Dec 3: There's a region of extremely deep (5-plus miles) ocean right near the Cayman Islands, which cools the surrounding waters just a little, which apparently has the effect of diverting westbound hurricanes to the north or south-- the last big bad hurricane to blast Grand Cayman was in 1932! However, that doesn't mean there can't be a nice stiff breeze: by 4 or 5am, the in-cabin TV says we're up to force 6 winds and 8-12 ft seas. I figure they won't even be able to tender people off the ship (Georgetown, Grand Cayman has no pier.) But by the time we reach port, we're in the wind shadow of the western shore, and by using the ship as a further windbreak, loading will be no problem at all. However, the area known as Stingray City is not so sheltered, so all the shore excursions to see these beautiful creatures, Grand Cayman's biggest tourist draw, are cancelled due to winds & waves a bit too high for safety or comfort. I'd planned to skip the stingray mob scene and stick to land anyway. Despite the cancellations, people began lining up outside the big show lounge a good half an hour before 8am, when the doors were opened and the staff began distributing tickets to board tenders on a first-come first-served basis; I got one for group 3, which was called at 8:45. There are 3 other huge liners visiting, but we got here first and are anchored closest to the ferry dock, just a few hundred yards; once the ferry is full, it's a two-minute trip. The local information booths direct me a couple of blocks to a nearby square where minivan-buses assemble to take on passengers. As is common in the Caribbean, they stop pretty much any safe place they can pull over to let someone off or be flagged down. The #3 ($2.50 each way) takes me east, letting me off a 10-15 minute walk from Pedro Saint James, a seaside historic house ($8) with a good film and sound & light show that's a blend of house, family and Caymans history. The house itself looks a lot bigger than it really is-- it's almost all porch! There's a cafe & museum onsite as well. I found this an interesting and worthwhile stop. It's incredible how poor, mosquito-eaten, and close-knit the Caymans were just a short time ago, and how quickly things changed, beginning around 1960, when tourism & banking began to drive a rapid rise to their current prosperity. After returning to Georgetown for a little strolling & browsing, I head back to the ship for a late lunch, then a misguided trip down the famous twisting, turning 200-ft waterslide. The kids look like they're having such fun! I feel like I'm close to the sound barrier as I round the last turn, then splashdown, cramming about a quart of saltwater up my sinuses. No wonder I later come down with a headcold! That evening, they have to draw lots to see who'll perform in the talent show-- something like 13 hopefuls for eight slots. Most of the singing talent is exceptional-- people who sound like seasoned pros-- and I get an ovation for my poem about seagoing weight gain that the 800 or so attending seem all too able to relate to. All participants are awarded a bottle of bubbly and a gloriously tacky gold-toned plastic ship trophy.
Thurs, Dec 4: The weather's looking gloomy, but I'm up and out early after we dock at Ocho Rios, Jamaica, best known as the home of Dunn's River Falls (another reason I chose this itinerary.) We're the only ship in port-- not that there'd be room for more than one megaliner in this tight harbor. A taxi for the short ride to the falls would be $22, but I hook up with a group of 10 or 11 boarding a small bus, which will run each of us $5.50 roundtrip. Admission to the falls is $10; it's a few bucks more to rent grippy waterproof footgear for the climb. The falls are lovely, though smaller in scale than I'd expected. From the beach where guides start leading human chains up the falls to the exit point is about 160 vertical feet by my estimate. I stuck to the staircases & viewing platforms to one side of the falls to snap pictures of my fellow passengers making a splash. When you're done, after reclaiming your personal valuables from lockers (I think they may charge a little for that, too) and turning in the rented climb shoes, you can go straight back out the exit, or detour slightly to exit via an onsite "Craft Market" area, where the salespeople will practically grab your arm to drag you into their stall. Feel free to decline politely, or haggle if you see something you like. There's a stand to buy some Jamaican food as well. Our bus driver said he'd be back for us two hours after dropping us off. He was about fifteen minutes late. Just before he arrived, we had to take shelter, because it started pouring rain-- and it kept up for an hour. It was a good thing I got out to the falls as soon as it opened, or I'd have gotten as wet on the sidelines as the people who went in for the climb. As it was, I got a good drenching in the 30 seconds between the shelter and the door of the bus. But the weird event of the day was what happened before the rain started, as I waited for our bus to come back. I'd heard that many visitors to Jamaica are approached by natives wishing to sell them a bit of the local smokable non-legal vegetable product, but I was offered something of a more animal nature. There was this guy who I think was working as a cab and/or bus dispatcher in the Dunn's River Falls parking lot who was VERY persistent in trying to sell me some "pussy". "No, thanks; I'm good." But he just wouldn't stop: "Oh, come on, mon, don't you want some fine Jamaican pussy? Look at these beautiful girls, mon!" He was waving his hand at some attractive female parking-lot co-workers, as if they were part of his wares for sale! (They never said a word, just sort of rolled their eyes, which made me think he must say this sort of thing right in front of them all the time.) I just nodded & smiled weakly, but I felt like shouting, "Sweet Jesus! With that mouth you kiss your mother?!!" After the bus drops most of the people in our group off at Taj Mahal, one of the two big tourist shopping complexes in Ocho Rios, I tell our driver about Mr. pussy-propositioner back at the parking lot. He explains, apologetically, that there's a house of ill-repute right across the road from the shopping areas, and the guy who accosted me must have been moonlighting as a tout for the place. It's about 1500 ft from the little pier building to Triumph's front door. Even though I have an umbrella, it's raining & blowing so hard that I wait another half-hour before venturing out. One of the pierside shops helps pass the time by offering samples of the local bottled rum-and-cream concoctions, flavored with coffee, coconut, etc. Yum! The weather still looks so dicey I decide to forego a pricey cab hire (to see Fern Gulley and Shaw Park Gardens) for an onboard lunch and some trivial pursuits (Win, Lose, or Draw, followed by another version of Battle of the Sexes, which the men manage to lose AGAIN.) Naturally, as we pull out at 3:30, the sun has broken through, and it's sunny. Oh well... I guess I'll just have to come back to see more of this beautiful island. This is the second & last Formal Night. The ship's photographers are out in force-- I learn that there are 13 of 'em on this ship! That night, there's live music in 6 or 7 places going on simultaneously, as well as one of the big production shows in the main theater.
Fri, Dec 5: A calm, sunny, beautiful day at sea. The only dark spot on my horizon: reports of blizzard conditions blanketing the northeast. Will it take me days to get back home to Massachusetts? Will I need to call my kitty-sitter to let him know I'll be delayed? That evening, my tablemates Sue & Roy invite me for some pre-dinner cocktails in the lobby, then it's in for a last amusing dinner-- half due to Sue, half due to the surreal nightly waiters' dance routine. The standout of these spectacles is a wildly uninhibited little guy I've dubbed "Johnny Swivel-Hips". Then I'm off to pack up and hit the hay.
Sat, Dec 6: With our ship tied up pierside back in Miami, I head for the dining room and order a big breakfast-- I figure I'm gonna be waiting around airports all day. Carnival sensibly uses the same color-coded luggage tags they send out in your ticket package to disembark people by group at cruise's end. They also allow passengers who are capable of taking all their luggage off with them to leave the ship first, as long as they're also U.S. citizens and don't require special customs processing. I prefer to take advantage of this, because I don't have to have my big bag all packed up & placed outside my room by midnight, and I can get off the ship early, and not have to worry about finding my bag among 5000 others on the pier, or having it squashed under ten others as it's moved. I'm among the last of these "self-propelled" passengers off, just after 9am. Because of system-wide blizzard-related delays, my 2pm flight from Fort Lauderdale left around 4 o'clock. Luckily, I was scheduled to have a 3-hr layover in Philly, and made my connection without any problem; also luckily, the Hartford airport stayed open through the snow, so I landed pretty much on time. But I was troubled by what happened after I left the ship in Miami. Even though it didn't spoil MY travel plans, which I'd deliberately made with plenty of wiggle room for possible delays from weather or whatever, others were not so lucky. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth: Once ashore, I wind up waiting in my Fort Lauderdale Airport-bound transfer bus for more than two hours. For most of that time, it's just me and another couple from the Triumph. The bus won't be let go until it's at least half full. A bus dispatcher explains: until that huge number of foreign passengers, about a thousand, is processed by Customs, none of the remaining U.S. passengers will be called for disembarkation. While I hear that some passengers were told that any flight leaving after noon would be no problem, I'd been told 2pm, and booked accordingly, so I have nothing to worry about. But that other couple on the bus have a 12:30 flight, and then another couple boards (after the hour-and-a-half customs delay is over) who have a flight leaving at 12:10! As minute after minute ticks by, these poor people are sweating bullets! The situation grows more chaotic; at one point, somebody, either the driver or a luggage loader, decides there's not enough room in the hold for all the bags and starts pulling some back out onto the pavement; one guy almost has his bags left behind! by the time we get enough people on the bus that the dispatchers are willing to let us go, it's about 11:15, and we don't reach the first terminal at the airport until 11:50! I'm just asking: what's the use or value or meaning of a pre-purchased transfer from the cruise line if there's no spare bus? Should passengers who've alrady paid for their transfer have to shell out an extra 75 bucks for a taxi to make their planes? It's not as if Carnival didn't know about how many foreign passengers were on board this sailing; it's not as if the Customs delay couldn't have been anticipated. What a lousy last impression for them to make!
Some other suggestions, observations, gripes, or "Quibbles & Bits":
--There was almost always a long line at the information/purser's desk. Some people have financial transactions that must be handled in person, but maybe some other way could be developed of helping people who just need a question answered? Jotting it down & dropping it into a box, or typing it into a computer terminal, and coming back to read the answer in an hour or so? This could cut those lines way down.
--The "Please Make Up Room/Privacy Please" cards could easily be placed the wrong way or get turned around on the long cabin door handles, leading to confusion. Consider replacing it with two separate cards, in different colors.
--For those who love jazz but not tobacco, maybe one corner of the Oxford bar could be set aside for non-smokers.
--I found the lack of trays at the buffet a bit inconvenient, but I bet Carnival does this because it cuts way down on wasted uneaten food, so I'm not complaining.
--On World's Way, the main drag connecting various entertainment venues on deck 5, there's an art-nouveau-style Vienna Cafe where you can buy pastries & espresso. It's a nice place to sit & sip & read & chat-- or would be, if not for Underground Tokyo, the video arcade just aft of the cafe, from the open door of which comes a continuous stream of audio mayhem. Please, keep that door shut so that passengers can relax without having to listen to all the screams, car crashes, explosions and machine-gun fire?
--And as I've mentioned, a bulletin board for passengers wishing to share a taxi ashore, or connect for activities onboard, would be a great help.
Finally some comments about the Triumph and Carnival overall:
SHIP CONDITION: First cruising in the summer of '99, the Triumph is well-kept, although some wear & tear shows in a few heavily-trod areas like stairwell carpeting. The gym was spacious & well-equipped, with "weight" machines that use continuously adjustable hydraulic resistance, but of the ones that required seat belts, most had broken belt locks, which made those machines difficult or impossible to use with more than a little resistance. The man responsible for the decor of all Carnival ships is the infamous Joe Farcus, "the Morris Lapidus of naval architecture," as I call him. (Farcus would probably consider this a compliment; Lapidus designed the Fontainebleau and other cheesy overblown Miami Beach hotels in the 1950's.) There's a jarring jumble of "theme" styles, and plenty of neon, and colors rarely seen in nature-- and on these Destiny- & Spirit-class ships, his work is actually more restrained than previously! It's still a bit like being inside some vast floating pinball machine.
CABINS: Much larger than those on most other lines-- WAY larger for the money!
FOOD: The wine list is lengthy, with quite reasonable prices, and some really fine vintage bottles for a special-occaision splurge. With the exception of the last formal night's Grand Buffet, where the chefs try to pull out all the stops, the day-to-day buffet fare is where Carnival suffers most in comparison to its competitors. Much of what's set out doesn't even LOOK interesting, and much of what does look interesting enough to try disappoints when you actually taste it. Desserts at the buffets run mostly to mousses & mousse cakes, which look pretty but lack flavor. The always-available pizzas have toppings that are varied & tasty, but the crust is mass- produced/premade. But in the dining rooms, I was pleasantly surprised: there's plenty of choices, and I found the offerings to be at least as good, and sometimes better, than what I've been served on Princess and NCL. (Celebrity remains a cut above the other moderately-priced lines; their catering operation raised the bar for the rest.)
ENTERTAINMENT: I can certainly see why everyone says this is Carnival's strong suit. The only weak point was in-cabin movies. With the repeats, I think there was an average of one per day on offer gratis, and hardly things most people were rushing out to see when they first came out on the big screen. As for the movies you could pay to see, they included-- I swear I'm not making this up-- "Gigli"! If nobody wanted to shell out nine bucks for that turkey on land, why would they want to at sea? Instead of the usual CNN, Carnival gives you ABC, CBS, & NBC. It was a nice little luxury to be able to curl up in bed and enjoy my favorites like CBS Sunday Morning, and the late-night talk/comedy shows. From classical to jazz to rock 'n' roll to a big-band sound, the variety and quality of live music onboard was the best I've seen at sea. I never bother with those big production shows with all the dancers, but just the staging and sets looked very impressive when I peeked in. There was even an onboard sketch artist! I think Greg Hutson, the cruise director, is a better standup comic than the comics who were billed as such, with a great gift for improvisation and accents of all kinds.
SERVICE: The ratio of hotel personnel to passengers is stretched thinner than on more upscale lines, so you might wait a bit longer in the dining room, for example, but despite most passengers opting for the convenience of the automatically billed tipping, I hardly met one staff member who wasn't friendly and eager to please. And even though I asked my room steward not to bother doing much cleaning on my behalf, he kept surprising me with various charming towel animals, including a sea turtle for the Cayman Islands.
YOUR FELLOW PASSENGERS & ONBOARD ATMOSPHERE: As I mentioned, this was my first cruise with Carnival. While I knew that they'd toned things down from their earlier "floating frat-house party" atmosphere of years ago, I also knew that Carnival still does things a little differently, the choreographed "waiter floor shows" being a prime example. Other cruise lines may have a little Baked Alaska parade on the last night, but the waitstaff leaping up onto the silverware-storage cabinets to go-go dance and leading conga lines of passengers through the dining room on a nightly basis is something else again. It can be fun if you relax and let yourself get into the spirit of absurdity. Another holdover perhaps from Carnival's earlier years is a certain undeniable "slob factor". I'm far from the fussiest or most fashion-conscious guy, but some of what passes for "dressing for dinner" left me shaking my head in wonder. And it's worse during the day: shirtless guys can sometimes be found wandering around the elegantly appointed main lobby, or in the casual Lido buffet dining area. Look, buddy, I'm glad you placed so highly in the Men's Hairy Chest Competition, and I'm sure that's a very nice nipple ring-- but I'm trying to EAT here! Now, put something on, f'Chrissakes!
Still, despite sometimes uncooperative weather, "a good time was had by all"-- myself included. I went on this cruise already knowing that Carnival's not exactly my style, but with the right itinerary and price, I might well be a repeat customer.
Our sailing date was 3/06/04 on the Carnival Triumph throughout the western Caribbean. This was our second cruise and both had been on Carnival because we were attracted to the fun-sounding atmosphere the first time around and then the level of wonderful service we received during our first cruise sold us on this most recent one. I am 29 and he is 27, both college/graduate students who pretty much save all year long for vacations and have surprisingly been able to travel quite extensively (Spain, Costa Rica, Italy, and Puerto Rico) in both a tourist and semi-resident capacity. We feel that this gives us a good deal with which to compare this cruise. Also important in understanding my perspective is that I insist on booking everything on my own and in the interest of price most times. As we do not have children and are not yet accustomed to the finest quality travel accommodations, we can take advantage of our own flexibility and travel quite inexpensively.
I tried to make this as comprehensive as I could and as a result it is rather long!! Enjoy
We stayed overnight in Manhattan with family inorder to catch our super early 6:50am flight on Spirit Airlines from LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale on the 6th (day of sailing). The airline was offering the absolute best price (approx $190 round-trip including taxes etc) I had seen so I grabbed it with little regard to how we would get to the airport as we live in Rhode Island. Before I found this price, we were considering driving to the port so thank goodness for Spirit. The airline, although relatively new, seems in need of some capital investment!! Teeny tiny seating and old-looking aircraft but got us there directly on time!! Arrived in FLL at 9:40am and had baggage in hand and was looking for a ride to MIA by 10:20am. Taxis cost an alarming $55 per cab which can get higher depending on traffic. I guess if you have more than 4 or more people, this would work to your advantage, but we are only two so we opted for the shared limousine which is in reality a van that crams as many people as possible inside (not as luxurious as the word ¡¥limo' invokes but it is only $15 pp and we'd take it again in a flash as taxis certainly don't offer an illusion of affluent travel for such an increase in price!). To catch one of these limos, you simply wait in a line of people going in your general direction and the next available limo will pick everyone up. You could be waiting for a while as the limos do not like to leave less-than-full but if you are not in a rush, then this is a fine way to get to MIA. We arrived during spring break time so the ¡¥limo' made 4 or 5 stops at varying hotels before dropping us off at the port in Miami. We were not concerned for time or, as the very nice driver told us, we would have been his very first stop and the others would have had to wait instead. We didn't mind either way. Traffic was sort of heavy so it took us a good hour and a half to get to the port of Miami. (This is with 4-5 stops and traffic so count on much less in other conditions).
In the end we arrived at just about noon time¡K.the perfect time to try to embark! We dropped our bags with a porter after finding out our cabin assignment from a list and tipped him a buck a bag and went to stand in line with our fun pass completed and in hand. From this line to the take-your-picture-line to the sign-and-sail-card line to the enter-the-ship line took approx 45-50 minutes. Just like last time, we immediately went to find our room to see if it was already cleaned and it was fº We quickly checked out the room, liked what we saw, and then went to the lido for our first of thousands of meals.
This cabin, category 4B-inside (an upgrade from a 1a upper/lower), had what seemed to be a larger bathroom then the Destiny had, brighter in-cabin lights, TV was not bolted up high but on the thing that holds the life vests. TV, phone, and safe did not work upon inspection and all but safe were fixed within reasonable time. We gave up on fixing the safe and just basically trusted our steward to not take anything in our underwear drawer! We had no problems of course and we also did not take anything with us of tremendous value either. Bed was surprisingly comfortable as always.
We ate more often this than last time in the formal dining rooms for breakfast and lunch and dinner. There really was no reason but that we just wanted to try it¡K..and we were hooked! Breakfast and lunch are amazingly better than on the lido and as a result we attempted to make all servings in the formal restaurants. Not that the lido food was all out bad, but it was definitely more varied and tasty in the dining rooms. Dinners in the Paris Dinning room were fabulous! We do not happen to cook for ourselves very often and as a result eat out often at, sometimes, some of the most upscale restaurants around. Thus, we have ordered a darn tasty prime rib/tenderloin/rib eye in our day! But Carnival really impressed us as we were so happy with our beef cuts here! And their soups are fabulous!! And the dining room deserts are more than to die for!!! (Deserts on lido are pretty much nasty and even I avoided them). Pizza was wonderful as always and we love the ceaser salad on Carnival. Never caught the Hong Kong Noodle Co. as it keeps odd hours. Room service (only ordered once) was prompt and came with all needed things like utensils, jelly, creamers etc. (tipped lady $3 as we ordered a fair amount¡K¡Kjust because we could!!) All in all¡K.eat in the formal dining rooms as much as possible (breakfasts and lunches you can wear shorts/casual stuff) to get the most out of your dining choices!!!
Except for the purser's desk and one photo-nazi, every last one of Carnivals' employees were FABOLOUS!!! We made friends with nearly all of them that we came into common contact with. Our steward (Franklin from Africa) was personable, sweet-hearted, hard-working, and just plain great that we wanted to stay just to talk to him some more! Our dining team were also just fabulous¡K.we really developed a relationship with these guys as it was actually sad on the last night. Our tablemates (just one other couple) were also perfectly matched as they were same general age-group and interest level which is serendipitous because we were initially seated at a lonely table for two (Triumph seems to have a lot of these types of tables compared to the Destiny) at the early seating and asked to change to late seating (8pm) at a larger table. Apparently, our tablemates would have eaten alone the whole week had we not requested the change. Boy were they wonderful fº Last cruise I really disliked our tablemates and always hoped they wouldn't come to dinner! This one was way different!
If you've seen a Carnival-performed dance show before, you really have seen them all. They actually quite bore me at this point but I go anyway in case there are any surprises. The singers, at least I thought, were pretty off-key and too corny for me. The comedians weren't as funny as on the Destiny but they were worth the time to go anyway. The magic show (Triumph did two on this sailing: one ¡¥regular' one and one ¡¥adults only' one around midnight¡K..we only made the ¡¥adults only' one) was ok. It was only about a half hour long which seemed fairly short. This one gets rather nasty so definitely don't go if you offend easily or if you're not of age.
John, by far, was the most amazingly funny part of the entertainment (if he can be labeled as such)!! He had us in stitches whenever he ¡¥performed'. On the Destiny, I didn't even realize what a cruise director could/should be like until I heard about John and then experienced his wonderful-ness!!! He's a show all himself¡K.really! We LOVED him fº The marriage, newly-wed, game, trivia, various shows that John puts on are a MUST SEE!! Even his port and disembarkation talks are a pleasure.
Cozumel- first we walked through all the shops that Carnival recommends. Bought some liqueur made from honey (try some, it is amazingly yummy) and then went to the Reef Club to get away from the crowds. It is the next park right after Chakanaab, only $25 to get in (we didn't purchase any tours from Carnival as they overprice them we find) and includes alcoholic drinks, food, beach, snorkeling, banana boats etc for the whole day. They have a wonderful pool and a fairly nice beach (sand is nice, but initially very rocky in water) with bar service right on the beach. They include beach chairs but ya gotta score one first! We stayed until about 5 and then went back to the ship ($14 cab ride per cab each way from Cozumel town-area to reef club) to change and eat and get ready for the night life. Unfortunately we fell asleep for too much sun and food and woke up at 10:30pm!! It was too late to prepare and get out there for only an hour so we regrettably missed out on the fun there f¼
Grand Cayman-We booked through an independent local tour company for $25 pp for a 3-stop snorkel package that included the stingrays (sweet creatures!), the coral reef, and the barrier reef. I am a non-swimmer and (was) a first time snorkeler in deep waters (the spot was actually only about 12 feet deep) and I am officially in love with the ¡¥sport'!! Of course, the ocean in the Caymans was like looking into a pool it was so clear!! We definitely will go back to Cayman again one day. Georgetown was lovely and clean with nice people. Bought some rum cakes as gifts and then it was time to get back to the ship as it left at 3:30pm. Can't wait to go back here!
Jamaica- It rained ALL DAY here f¼ Still, we had a wonderful time. Again, we booked independently and locally for $45pp which included the Dunn's Falls tour (GREAT tour¡K.lots of fun and we thought it might be a bit boring as we've seen waterfalls all over the place before¡K.this one you actually climb up the sucker for a good hour through some pretty adventurous terrain¡K.it's lots of fun!!) and river tubing. We were the only 2 people on this tour so it was very personalized!! (We climbed the falls with huge amount of people but for the tubing it was just us two and the guide!) River tubing wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped as the river was very calm. I guess it was more relaxing than fun in the end¡K.and definitely pretty to tube on a beautiful river through the forest. It was also sort of cold due to the rain and no sun ;( I'd say skip the tubing and do the Falls even if it's a rainy day. After the tours we went to the Taj Mahal shopping center and I picked up 2 small J.Blue Coffee for $6. You can try it before you buy it in one of the stores which is what I looked for. It didn't knock my socks off but I bought some anyway so that maybe I can taste it up the way I like it here at home. Plus, I have a great friend that I always buy local coffee for when I travel fº Nice gift for any coffee lover! After shopping we tried some jerk and curry chicken at the local restaurant in Taj Mahal and for $32 total we ate VERY well and each had a very heavily poured drink ;) The food was so yummy¡K.the curry chicken was better I thought than the jerk. Give them a try. I noticed they had internet connections right there in that restaurant for cheap (I think $2 for 15 mins!!) so wait to use it here if you need to¡K.the ship rips you off as they charge a $5 initial connection fee and then some absurd amount per minute after that! My boyfriend used the internet for 2 minutes and was charged almost $8!!! In all, Jamaica was a great time in spite of the weather. Perhaps had the weather been nicer we would also wish to return here, but for now we'd say Grand Cayman was our fave!
Very organized and employees at all important check points to tell you where you should be going and what you should have out in your hands (passport etc). We did not choose to leave our baggage out the night before so we wheeled it off ourselves. Many people did this so go ahead and do this if you want to. Just make sure your stuff is on wheels and not too too heavy as there are times you may need to walk up a small flight of stairs with your luggage as they close of certain parts of the ship during disembarkation leaving navigation at times confusion. They offered the option of early disembarkation for ANYONE who wanted it (not just for those who can prove they have a early flight) and if we had wished to do that, we would have been off no later than 8:30 am!!! It went really quickly fº Even ¡¥regular' disembarkation went smoothly. It starts at 9:45am but our deck wasn't called until about 11am and we were out looking for a ride to the airport by 11:30ish. As discussed below, we hired a greyhound bus to take us to FLL. Arrived at FLL airport by 12:30 and there was absolutely no Spirit line to wait in fº We had a 3:20 flight but were able to switch (no charge) to a flight leaving at 1:30 so we had to kinda step quickly to make the boarding time of 1pm but we got there in plenty of time. We opted for emergency aisle seats this time and these were GREAT!! We even had an extra seat that was unoccupied to spread out into ;) This particular aircraft seemed much newer and well-kept than the other so maybe Spirit is the perfect option (cheap, on-time, and friendly). We arrived in LGA 15 min late at 4:45pm, had our bags by 5:45 and made the 3hr drive back home to RI in great spirits as we had expected to LAND at 7:20p and not get home until 11pm/midnight! Instead we were unpacked, rested, and heading to bed by 11pm and looking forward to a lovely Sunday free of any type of travelfº
Tipping- be prepared to be asked (more like coerced in most cases) for tips wherever you go. Especially Jamaica, Carnival porters and bus drivers. We have both been waitresses/waiters before and have lived off of our tips so we feel we are great tippers (at least 20%) but we felt something was wrong with the way they ASK for it here! As a specific example, we paid $16 pp for a transfer via Greyhound Bus lines from the MIA port back to FLL airport. That's PER PERSON. And the first thing the driver does once everyone is onboard and waiting to take off is tell us all how hard he works and for us not to forget our driver! Then he reminded us again before we got off! I guess I don't know that this driver may make waitress-like salary so that he lives off of tips, but it just doesn't seem that that is the case. I know he works hard, but 60 people just paid him (or whomever) $16each for the job that he is now to complete (drive us to the airport and load/unload our bags). That one 40-minute trip made $960 for the bus line or whomever!!! I know that that more than covers gas, salary, overhead etc (the bathroom was even out of service so can't include that kind of stuff on this trip)!! So asking for a tip just sounds like bad manners to us!! When you tip a server, he/she is getting paid about $3/hr because tipping is pretty much expected. You don't pay the server to serve you and then ALSO tip him/her!! It just doesn't make sense. Anyhow, we gave him a buck each because the driver makes sure to shake each passenger's hand as they leave and we pretty much felt guilty about NOT tipping him in that face-to-face situation.
Carnival's gold-by-the-inch may not be such a great purchase after all. My boyfriend bought a very nice-looking bracelet during our Destiny cruise last year and it tarnished after 2 weeks of normal wear! Of course, he'd already lost the receipt so he thought he was stuck with it until we booked this present cruise. He decided to see if he could return it as they were clearly selling the same exact type of strand that he had but they would only offer him another!! With no other choice, he took a new one (exactly the same) and by that evening one of the links was tarnishing!! We thought that this definitely would be cause for a store credit at least but NO¡K..he was offered (and had no choice but to accept) another!! So, now he has a third one and so far no tarnishing. Just a precaution to 1)of course keep your receipt and/or 2)actually attempt to tarnish it while still on your cruise while you still have the receipt so you are not put out in any way. To be fair, our tablemates had also purchased a pretty pricey piece and upon hearing our complaints attempted to actually saw through one of the links with a butter knife! Happily, it did not falter and they are now even happier with their purchase so either the strand of ¡¥gold' we got stuck with is faulty or who knows what else is wrong in our situation.
Finding deck chairs is still and most likely will always be a problem. We resorted to finding a onesie and then one of us went to work out while the other one stayed behind and waited for the people on either side to leave so that we could score two chairs side-by-side. It worked every time but I'd hate to have to find more than two together.
Another note of concern I've seen on the boards is THONGS. I saw only one on a woman. Yes, she looked nice in it, but I couldn't help but feel that maybe she was feeling too ¡¥out there'. This comment is coming from the same poster (on the boards) who said ¡¥who cares¡Kwear whatever¡K.¡¨. I still say that, but I now also appreciate that, boy, she must've felt a little too underdressed as she really was the only one. She was a bit older too, which dismisses the whole ¡¥spring break girls gone crazy' mentality.
Weather was very hot and sunny and wonderful except for Jamaica (rainy) and our last sea day (cloudy¡Ksun was hiding all day long). Last March on the Destiny weather was perfect all week long so I think in general March is a great time for sun in the Caribbean.
In close, I'd say that we definitely enjoyed ourselves via the many activities offered on Carnival. We did both come to a similar feeling of not wanting to actually cruise next vacation, however. After having studied abroad twice and actually lived in a foreign place for several weeks/months at a time and becoming more or less a resident, it is hard to walk out onto some of these ports and feel like a complete tourist. Add to that the few hours a cruise allows in some of these places and we feel like we get so much more out of a new place if we can really eat/live/sleep/make friends/study/work there for a while to really get a sense of it. Thus, our next vacation is going to be (at the very least) a land vacation to our most beloved ports (Aruba and now Grand Cayman) or head on back to Europe for another live-in situation. Nothing at all against cruising as we came back home with a smile on our faces, sun on our skin, and more than a few extra pounds¡K¡Kbut we just may not be the twice-a-year cruisers that we once thought we would be.
Hi, my name is Todd. My wife Rosemary, son Darren (8 yrs old) and I just returned from sailing on the Carnival Triumph January 10-18th. We sailed from Miami and visited Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica. This was my wife's second cruise, but the first for my son and I. We also traveled with our best friends and their three children. Our friends were renewing their vows on the ship and we decided since we were there the first time, we might as well be there the second time. My wife and I also have 19-month-old triplets and our family said that we looked like we could use a break. So our family all pitched in and helped look after the babies and off we went. We decided to take our 8 year old because we had not spent a lot of quality time with him since the babies were born and our friends were taking their children.
We flew down to Fort Lauderdale on the Friday with Spirit Airlines from Detroit. This was much cheaper than booking the air with the cruise line. Our friends drove down and tookour 8 year old with them. They picked us up at the airport and we just stayed at a hotel between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. On Saturday morning we got up early and headed off to the Port of Miami.
Port of Miami: We had no problems finding the port, but it is going through a lot of construction right now and it was a little confusing getting to the right Terminal to drop off the luggage and find a place to park for the week. No a huge problem, but don't waste time driving around, just get out and ask someone.
Embarkation: As our friends we renewing their vows on board at 1:30pm, we were able to board the ship early. The wedding coordinator met us at 11:00am at the Terminal entranced and helped us get through the entire process. This probably saved us a bunch of waiting around in lines, but from what I could see and hear I would recommend using the new "Fun Pass" registration that Carnival has on the internet. This allows you to skip one line and probably some time. I would also recommend getting there early rather that later. We had no problems with security and we were in our cabin before 12:00pm (again this is much earlier than most people due to the wedding).
Cabin: We had three cabins on the Empress Deck 7 (7343, 7347, and 7349). We had booked inside cabins but had received an upgrade a few weeks before sailing to all balcony cabins. This may have been because of the wedding, but it was a nice surprise. I was personally very surprised at how much space was in the cabin. There was plenty of room to unpack all of our things and we very organized in about half an hour. We had a king size bed and our son's bunk pulled down from the ceiling. We also had a leather couch and a table. The bathroom was a nice size and had plenty of space in the vanity cupboard for all of our things. The shower was more than big enough and the water pressure and temperature was great all week. The balcony was large enough for the three of us to sit out on and enjoy. I enjoyed having the balcony and the ability to go out there and see where we were or look out, but we did not spend a lot of time there. We may have spent more time if not for our son, who wanted to swim in the pool and use the waterslide. So we found our selves on deck most of the time. Our friends used their balcony more because their children were a little older and able to go around on their own.
Ship: Big..Big...Big. I was amazed at the ship itself..never having cruised before. Beautifully decorated and setup nicely. It is a little difficult to get used to how to get around, but if you remember that Deck 5 and 9 are the only two decks that you can really get from one end of the ship to the other you should be ok. I was a little worried about this ship because of the other reviews I read about. Yes the carpets have stains on them, but not a huge deal if you don't make it one. We did notice that some things weren't working all the time, but again I am not sure if this is a common things on ships this size. For example, the hot tubs in the spa area did not work for the first few days of the cruise, drink machines were often out of order, our light on our balcony never worked the entire cruise and our TV did not work very well (dark appearance and the remote). The water slide was also not opened if the weather was less than perfect.
Service: Overall we had great service. Our dining room waiter was Radu from Romania and his assistant was Camelia also from Romania. They were awesome. They were one of the highlights of the trip and I already miss our daily interaction. Our room steward was a little bit of a let down. I had heard great things about the service you get on a cruise and we were a little disappointed from this area. He did the basics, but never really went out of his way to do anything extra. I had heard about the towel animals and was looking forward to this being a little surprise for my son. On the first night..no animals ..second night...nothing. So finally I asked him quietly that I had heard about them on the Internet and for the remaining nights there was one left in all 3 of our rooms. Our service on the ship was fine. We did notice that sometimes our son and the other children were not always given the same level of service as us. This was most notable in the pizza place and with room service.
Food: The dining room was awesome. Great selection, ample portions and you could order as much as you wanted. Our waiter just asked that we order everything at the beginning. On the one formal night I had six lobster tails (my favourite) and they were twice as big as any that I have had before. The other dining venues were pretty good, the grill being one of our favourites, also the NY deli. The pizza was pretty good but not amazing. The biggest let down in the food area was the buffet. It was ok, but nothing to write home about. The gala buffet on Thursday night was the exception..go early though. We went to a midnight comedy show and then went to the buffet later and it was pretty picked over.
Cozumel: We did not plan on much here except shopping and maybe going to the beach. We went shopping in the morning and the weather was not great. Overcast and a little rain here and there. We took two taxis downtown for $6 each...on the way back we found a van taxi that took all of us back to the pier for $10. We went back to the ship for lunch and decided to just stay on board until dinner. After dinner we put the kids in the cabin with a movie and the four of us went off to the little shopping village just off the pier. My wife and I went into the Tanzanite International shop and were looking at a bracelet. Very nice..when we asked how much.the lady said $5,000 US. This was way more than we wanted to spend, so we tried very hard to leave, but they are very persistent. By the time we left the price was $2000 US..so my advice is to bargain like made.
Grand Cayman: This was an awesome port of call. Weather was perfect. We decided to book a private tour with Stingray City Charters. I had read about this company from other reviews before traveling and was not disappointed. We booked about a month before we left for Miami over the Internet and saved some money. We took the 3-hour tour, which included 2 snorkeling stops and the stingray city stop. We were picked up right where they told us to meet and we were driven in a van to the boat. It was a good size boat and there were only 20 of us on board. The snorkeling stops were unbelievable..we saw big fish, little fish, moray eels, stingrays, and all kinds of other underwater life. The captain was very helpful and took his time with everyone. Stingray City is just as cool as everyone says. We were in thigh high water with hundreds of these things. Our captain showed us how to pick them up and we got to take pictures. My son was a little nervous at first but quickly realized that there was nothing to be scared of. Definitely not to be missed. Then we were bused back to Georgetown and we went shopping and called back home to check on the babies. The cost of the tour was $31 US for adults and $20 US for our son. This tour from the cruise ship would have been easily $100 US per person.
Jamaica: This is a beautiful island and wonderful people. Again we did some research over the internet before leaving and ended up booking a private tour operator that other people had a great experience with. His name was Dennis Mullings and we were pretty happy with the way our tour went. His price was $30 US per person for the entire day. We met him right at the pier and he took all eight of us in his van (a little tight but not too bad). First he took us to Fern gully and the rainforest where he explained to all of us about the plants and wildlife of Jamaica. This was very interesting and the kids enjoyed it. He took us for a drive up into the mountains and showed us some of the poorer areas, schools and some awesome views. Then we went to Dunn's River Falls and this was included in our tour price. The normal cost to get to this is around $10-$12 US, so that makes our tour price only approx. $20 US. Dennis has his own tour guide and he took the eight of us up the falls on our own tour, not in the long line of 40 plus people going up the side of the falls. This was an amazing experience and one that I would recommend to everyone. He took his time and helped the kids whenever they needed it. One tip here is that we asked Dennis if we needed anything except our bathing suits and water shoes once we were in the park and he said no. Then when we got to the top the guide mentioned this is were we would tip him...not that he didn't deserve it, but would have been nice if Dennis mentioned this and we would have actually taken money in with us. A little embarrassing and could have been avoided. Then Dennis took us downtown to go shopping. Another tip here is that they are a little pushy, but don't buy in the first store..look around..we found many items cheaper the more stores we visited. Then he took us back up into the mountains to see how the rich foreigners were living. Then we went to a private beach for a picnic. We had ordered room service the night before and packed a lunch. This was the perfect spot for a picnic and a little swim before heading back to the ship. The only real problem on this tour was what happened next. When we were packing up the van, Dennis came over to me and mentioned that we needed to pay the man for using the beach and washrooms. I had asked Dennis to take us to a public beach and he never said anything about paying for this stop. When we drove up, the two guys were sitting around doing nothing. Then once they saw us they were up racking the beach and trying to look busy. This ended up costing us about $28 US for half an hour. We were really upset with the cost, but more with the fact that we felt a little taken advantage of. I guess this was a little lesson to ask specific questions. Other than that little problem Dennis was great I was honest with him about this little incident.
Disembarkment: No real problems here. We are Canadian and had to go to Club Rio at 6:45 for immigration. My recommendation for all non-US citizens would be to either be really early for this process..like 6:00am for wait until 8:30 or 9:00am. We waited in there for an hour or so and could have easily walked in at he end and done the same thing.
Overall: Great vacation for what we spent. We really needed a break and that's what we got, plus some unforgetable memories.
I am from Denver, Colorado. This was my fourth cruise. My other cruises were on the Paradise (March 3, 2002 and October 27, 2002) and the Elation (April 27, 2003). I booked as part of a group of around 600 singles from all over the United States, Canada, and a few other countries.
I flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before my cruise. When I arrived at the airport, another passenger thought I worked for Carnival so she thought I was taking her to the busses since I was wearing a Carnival polo shirt. In truth, I was looking for the Carnival representatives myself. They were fairly easy to find near the baggage claim. The Carnival representatives gathered us all together at the east end of the terminal, and then had us walk to the west side of the terminal where the bus was waiting. We went to the other terminals, picked up some other passengers, and left the airport at about 2:30 p.m. This was on Friday, and the Fascination was leaving that afternoon, so we stopped at the Port of Miami first before heading to my hotel. Wearrived at the Port of Miami shortly after 3:00 p.m. where most people got off. He then took me to the Sheraton Biscayne Bay where I checked in. I did a little shopping and then went to dinner at Bubba Gump's at Bayside Marketplace. The coconut shrimp was great. I was tired from my travels since I had to get up at an ungodly hour, so I went back to my hotel and got a good night's sleep.
Flying in the day before a cruise gives you a good chance to explore the port city as well as relieve any stress that a delayed flight may cause. You also get to shop for those little things you forgot to pack, which was not a problem for me.
The day started out fine. I went to a deli across the street from the hotel and had breakfast. After that, things went downhill until I actually cleared security at the port. Carnival did not have enough of their guests in the hotel, so they did not have pre-cruse check-in at the hotel. Carnival was supposed to send a bus to pick us up at 11:45 a.m., but by 1:15 p.m., the bus hadn't shown up yet. The Triumph was late getting into port, so this delayed the busses. There was no communication about this until another frustrated passenger called Carnival. I teamed up with a couple from Indiana and another couple from Iowa and split the cost of a taxi-van. We arrived at the port at about 1:30 when it started to rain, and the porter was anxious to get our luggage under shelter. This was by far the fastest porter I've ever seen at the Port of Miami. He definitely earned his tip as far as I am concerned. We then got into a line to go through security. The line wound into the warehouse where our luggage was being screened and sorted. Between the clanging of the metal cages, and the beeping of the forklifts, the noise was barely tolerable. Even though the line moved fairly quickly, it took about an hour to get through security, fifteen minutes to check-in, and another fifteen minutes for the remaining formalities of getting the sail-and-sign card, the security photo, and the welcome aboard photo before I finally boarded the ship. I just barely had enough time to find my cabin and grab a quick bite at the lido deck café before the lifeboat drill. Something remarkable did happen, though: my luggage actually made it to my cabin before I did.
Do everything you can to get to the pier before 1:00 p.m. I also question the value of Carnival's transfer service from the hotel to the pier. It might be more efficient to take a shuttle from the airport to the hotel, and a taxi to the pier. After the cruise, I talked to my travel agent, who gave me a $25 gift certificate towards a future cruise. As far as I am concerned, this satisfactorily closes this matter.
THE SHIP: B-
The ship is simply huge! The lounges were all attractive, and I especially liked the tiered seating on the lido deck. My cabin was at the very back of the ship, and it was a long walk to anywhere from there. It also took some time for me to get used to the fact that I had to go down to the promenade. Many people got lost trying to find the Paris restaurant, which cannot be accessed from decks three or four from the front part of the ship. The deck plans they hand out on the gangway do not illustrate this. There were a few bad seats in the show lounge, but I never had a problem finding a good seat. The ship was very well decorated, with the cities of the world theme throughout. The exercise room had plenty of equipment. I did not have a problem getting a spot on one of the treadmills. The equipment itself looked to be in very good shape considering how much use it gets. I did have a problem finding a quiet place to relax, but I found a couple good candidates. The cigar lounge would qualify, but I have a hard time with the cigar smoke. I also noticed carpet stains in all the stateroom hallways along the outside edges of the hall. Someone said they were glue stains, but they looked like water stains to me. I did see someone shampooing the carpet, and it did seem to make a difference.
Always try to get to a spot above or below where you want to go on the ship before you use the elevators or stairs. Most of the activities are on decks 5 (Promenade Deck) or 9 (Lido Deck), which extend the length of the ship
MY CABIN: B
I was in cabin 7409, which had a verandah. The room was spacious, except for around the beds and near the closets. There was a children's cot under my bed so I couldn't use the space for storage. I also had a hard time finding the life vests, but the cabin steward helped me locate them. The TV channel selections were very limited, and the six-channel radio only got three channels (at best) and two were repeats of the same thing. It was either jazz, light rock, or nothing. This wasn't a problem as far as I was concerned, though. The sitting area was adequate, but the TV is set closer to the beds, and watching TV from the sofa can be slightly awkward. The bathroom was spacious enough with excellent counter space by the sink. However, the medicine cabinet was a hinged door, and difficult to close. A sliding door would have been much better. The shower stall was fairly small, but adequate for one person. They had a handy retractable clothesline in the shower, but when you were drying your swimwear, you cannot take a shower. The balcony only had enough room for a deck chair, standard chair, and a table. It was just big enough for two to enjoy a dinner on the balcony. The beds were comfortable enough, although the pillows were thin. I noticed that they attached the mattress to the box spring with Velcro. The closet and drawer space were adequate for a one-week cruise for two. There was just enough space in the safe for my wallet, keys, and cruise package.
If you are a couple sharing a bed, or traveling with a small child (under 12), you will have plenty of space. Otherwise, be sure to pack only what you need. While you won't feel cramped, there isn't much extra room to spare. Be careful going in and out from the cabin and the bathroom since the hallway is narrow and if the person sharing the room won't have much room to get out of the way.
Some items were great; other items should have been fed to the fish. I loved the lobster, and the soups were very good. The pastrami on rye from the deli in the lido deck restaurant was excellent. The pizza was very good, too. I ordered a shrimp salad sandwich from room service as a snack, and it was promptly delivered. It was tasty, too. However, the beef Wellington was horrible. The selection of salads was also limited, too. Our group arranged for open seating, so I was able to sit virtually anywhere in the Paris restaurant. The room was quite spacious and I never felt cramped. I did notice that the outside tables were quite chilly, though. The lido deck restaurant was good, with the deli being my personal favorite. Service was good, although some tables were receiving their entrees while others were cleaning up their deserts.
If you don't like something, try something else. There was a lot more good food than bad.
They had all the typical cruise activities. Nothing too outlandish, but I've seen or done them all already. There never was a dull moment, though. I did notice one thing unusual, they did not do the Macarena once. The photographers were everywhere, and very efficient. They had you pose, take a picture, and left before you knew what happened. The casino was its usual self, although most of the blackjack tables had $10 minimums. I noticed some guests staking out their favorite slot machines before the casino opened after we left Sint Maarten. The disco was typical, although I did like how they set up the dance floor. They had a good variety of music at night around the ship for whatever your tastes leaned towards. The piano bar was particularly fun.
On the last night of the cruise, which happened to be Halloween, they had a passenger costume contest in the main show lounge. I dressed as MIB. Carnival vetoed some costumes as too risqué. Most people enjoyed it, though. Unfortunately, since this was packing night, we all had to high tail it back to our cabins to change out of our costumes and stuff them into our suitcases before final luggage pick-up
You can do or not do whatever you want. If you get bored, it's your fault! The only hard part is if you just want to go quietly sit and relax somewhere.
John Heald is the funniest cruise director I've ever seen. Carnival will loose a major asset when he retires. John integrated elements of the first show throughout the rest of the cruise. The shows were typical Carnival style with the cast doing their rapid-fire costume changes throughout. The costumes the dancers wear are a little on the skimpy side, but they aren't any more revealing than what people wear for sunbathing. They had a decent band on the lido deck stage, and a classical trio in the atrium before dinner. At other times throughout the day, they had a player piano playing light rock going. I never attended any of the comedy shows, but I never heard anyone complaining about them, either.
I've heard a rumor that John may be coming out of retirement for another contract on the Carnival Triumph. If that is true, do what you can to see him in action.
My cabin was always well cleaned and was done very efficiently. My cabin steward was very helpful when I could not locate the second life jacket. The bar waiters were friendly and efficient. I had a nice conversation with the waitress at the patisserie about how the crew handles rough seas. The lido deck restaurant staff were their usual over-efficient selves. If you leave your table for an instant, they will clean it up before you have time to reclaim your seat. The pool waiters were everywhere. You couldn't go for five minutes without hearing, "drinks?" They were less efficient in returning with your orders, though.
There is little you can do to really improve your service. The only advice I can give is to go to a bar directly if you are using a soda card.
PORTS OF CALL:
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: C+
The ship arrived around 4:30 p.m., which was too late to really do anything in town. There was a duty-free shop at the pier, where I bought a friend a bottle of rum, though. The shops at the pier were being renovated, and it looked like they were just really getting started. Since it was fairly late, most of our group wound up at Señor Frogs. The bar is only about three blocks from where the ship docks, and they had plenty of people near the pier handing out cards showing you where. The bar itself was a good place to hang out and party. I had been to the one in Puerto Villarta on a previous cruise, and the prices here were significantly higher. However, you really should only drink one yard-long piña collada anyway.
SAINT THOMAS, US VIRGIN ISLANDS: B+
I will never tire of looking at that harbor. Heaven must look like that! I took a taxi into town where I did some shopping. I found a shop that sells stuff that changes color when exposed to sunlight. I bought some souvenirs there for my family. After my shopping trip, I went on a sail and snorkel adventure to a nearby island. I saw some sea turtles and stingrays outside of an aquarium for the first time in my life. I got some excellent underwater photos. My younger relatives thought I took great pictures of Mr. Ray and Crush (see "Finding Nemo"). On the way back, they served free rum punch and sodas.
PHILLIPSBURG, SINT MAARTEN: B+
While not as scenic as Saint Thomas, it certainly was worth the effort in seeing. I did a pre-arranged island tour and beach bash at the famous Orient Beach. After driving around Phillipsburg, we drove to an overlook where you could see the French side of the island. We then went into Marigot for shopping. After some souvenir hunting, I was thirsty, so I raided a snack bar for a Coke. Then, we went to Orient Beach where we had lunch and relaxed on the beach. The little café only had one waitress who was overwhelmed by everyone arriving all at once, but I did have a good lunch of bar-be-cue chicken. I then hung out on the beach and played in the surf for a while before heading back to the ship. The water was a little sandier than I was expecting, but I still enjoyed it.
This island is a very good spot to go find a beach to hang out on. There was better shopping on the French side. Stores had prices marked in Euros, US Dollars, EC Dollars, and Florin. The island is unremarkable other than the fact that it is half-French and half-Dutch, so don't feel compelled to take an island tour.
Carnival began a program where if you were willing to take all your bags off the ship yourself, you were a United States citizen, and you did not need to pay customs duty, you could leave the ship early. They called people off the ship by decks between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. People who were waiting for early debarkation were sent into the Rome lounge to watch TV and wait for debarkation. I was in no hurry to get off the ship, so I passed on the early debarkation. They wanted everyone out of their cabins by 8:30 and I took advantage of this time to have a nice sit-down breakfast in the dining room. I was part of the first group called of the ship so I made my way to the baggage claim area. It was a surprisingly long walk, but they had moving sidewalks along the way. Going through customs took longer than I have ever experienced: the customs inspector actually read my form before sending me on my way. I found my bus to Fort Lauderdale International Airport, tipped my porter, and then boarded the bus.
If you have an early flight, the early debarkation is helpful. Otherwise, just relax and enjoy your last few minutes on board. Unless you are with a large group, or are in a hurry, consider the cruise line shuttles to the airport. I did not have an extraordinarily long wait, but having patience really helped. Also, do not pack books on top of each other in your checked luggage. I am pretty sure that is what got the attention of the TSA.
We had rough seas on the first and last day of the cruise. We had Buford force six winds (around 30 mph) and eight to twelve foot seas. We could definitely feel the wave action on board. I used ginger to combat motion sickness, and it was effective. A lot of people use sea-bands, and it seemed to work for them, too. As we pulled into San Juan, we just missed a thunderstorm. Other than the above issues, we had no weather problems. The ship ran at full speed on the last day to get into Miami early due to a medical emergency on board. Daylight Savings Time ended on the first night of the cruise, but the ship did not adjust the clocks until Thursday night because the ship was going to be in an area that operated on Atlantic Standard Time, which is one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
While there were some areas where there could have been improvement, I had a wonderful vacation experience. I would love to do this again, although I would look for a different itinerary for that ship.