November 28th, 2004 sailing on the Carnival Victory. My husband and I surprised our two daughters (ages 13 and 5) with a cruise on this ship. It departed from Miami.
Embarkation: The lines were long but we had completed a fun pass and we were through the line in about 20 minutes. The lady who checked us in and took our passports was excellent; she was very informative and friendly. We were able to quickly make our way through and board the ship.
Cabin: We were in cabin 8282 on the verandah deck which was an inside cabin. We had requested that the two lower beds be converted into a king with the two bunks above. By the second night our two beds were brought together but we were disappointed that the beds were still made as twin beds with separate bedding. We asked for the king mattress but it was never provided. The room was always kept clean and tidy and we had no problems with towels or bedding. The room steward brought cookies for our girls the first night and made towel animals 3 out of the seven nights.The cabin comfortably held all four of us without any major difficulty and other than the bed we had no complaints.
Dining Room: We found that our waiter Dennis and his assistant Ulla were excellent. They remembered the names of our girls and went out of their way to be nice to them. They always remembered to bring appetizers for our youngest at the very beginning and always provided crayons. In fact the dining room experience was the best we have had in any of our cruises and in fact it is the only time we have ever been excited about going to the dining room.
Alternate Dining: The deli food was very good and my husband ate many turkey sandwiches. The kids loved the pizzeria and the staff at the pizza place were excellent, going so far as to remember what kind of pizza our eldest ate and how many slices at a time and that she always had Caesar salad with the first two slices. The lines at the buffets were long and there were times that we noticed that the lines could have been alleviated by making some minor changes such as the placement of the omelet station. By day four of the cruise we noticed that they appeared to be rationing 2% milk and it could only be obtained by asking but it was always politely provided. The food quality was good, it was not the Ritz but it was always edible and always hot. We noticed that the staff in the alternate dining areas was not as talkative as we had become accustomed to on other cruises but any staff person that we initiated conversation with always replied cordially. The room service was excellent the food was hot, fresh and made just the way it was requested. We ordered BLT's for four as well as a few other things and had our order in 13 minutes. I was impressed.
Immigration: This is one of those areas that will bring up the negative. Because we were on the eastbound cruise we actually went through Immigration in St. Thomas. This entire morning was a disorganized mess. Our notice said 7 am but the PA started with the announcements at 6 am. The only credit that they get is that it did proceed in an orderly fashion row by row. Our largest complaint was that the ship was well aware that everyone on board was awake at the same time that day and everyone wanted breakfast. Why on this earth they had only one lane open at each buffet upstairs and only one dining room open we will never understand. We waited in line for 30 minutes with a hungry and cranky five year old and this is the exact same problem we had last year. Foolish me I thought that last year was an aberration but clearly it is the norm. This is something that needs their attention desperately.
Camp Carnival: For our five year old this was amazing and the camp alone made the whole trip worthwhile in her book. The staff was largely excellent with the exception of one girl who yelled at my eldest for taking a picture of her sister in camp. The staff person never could explain what the big deal was but we did not encounter this person again and all was well. The negative is that camp carnival falls apart in the 11-13 age group. Our eldest and several of her friends described this group as lame and they all expressed that the leader was not the best. I went to see what the problem was and found that the counselor was nicely curled up in a chair with a magazine and was not interacting with the kids at all. The program itself is strong but this particular counselor was not an asset to camp carnival. Overall we appreciated camp carnival and were extremely pleased with their efforts.
Entertainment: We thoroughly enjoyed the shows, especially vroom. We loved the Christmas show and that the dancers all stayed to have their pictures taken with the children. The dancers smiled and talked to many children and each and every one of the dancers we encountered were delightful. The cruise director was lousy, but really I am sure that there were cruisers that liked him but my husband and I don't enjoy comedians that have to laugh at their own jokes to get the audience going. The comedians were decent. The karaoke hostess was charming and we greatly enjoyed this. We avoided the casino because the smoke was just too thick.
Overall: Overall this cruise was excellent value. This was the first cruise with our children and we all enjoyed ourselves. The Victory was clean and tidy and the service that we personally received was good. The room steward could improve and the Cruise Director could stand to take up a different line of work but all in all we were very happy cruisers.
This report may well end up being the "tale of two cruises", as we sailed back to back cruises, but on different ships. Week one, was the Thanksgiving sailing of the Carnival Victory. Week two was the Celebrity Millennium.
You would expect them to be different by the very nature of the cruise product they are each known for. However, in this report you're likely to read about some details you might expect to be reversed.
I should start by saying I have previously sailed on quite a number of Carnival ships; The Ecstasy, Sensation, Destiny(3 times), Triumph (twice), Legend and Spirit. And I have always been very pleased with Carnival product, and value offered.
To the Details-
The Victory had recently returned from dry dock, and she was in remarkably good shape. Both cabin and public areas were very clean, and in well kept appearance.
I really enjoyed the ship itself. I had heard in advance of her "green color scheme", and in fact, we found we truly enjoyed it. We found the particular green tones used complimentary to each other, and offering a relaxing acetic attitude. Having sailed this class of ship before,we also knew about the "trick"; using Deck 5, public areas, for getting across the length of the ship, to avoid getting lost, or running into oddly located dead ends. (This is all caused by the location of the galley between the aft located, and central mid-ship dining rooms).
We had a CAT 9 A cabin, located aft, but not stern facing. This is one of the unique cabins on the ship, in that it's much wider than a standard balcony cabin, and not as long. It is quite large, and has a very long balcony, though it's standard width. A very nice cabin, with a standard washroom, with shower.
Our cabin steward introduced himself the first day, but after that we didn't see him. This is fairly standard practice, and not an issue if he's doing his job. This particular steward did his job to a minimum level of acceptability.
He did vacuum the carpet, clean the washroom, etc. However, the small things went unnoticed. For example, our bed was always made as for turn down service. We never saw the bedspread covering the bed. Certainly not an issue that would negatively impact our cruise, but also certainly not the right way of doing things. For the entire week I don't believe the cabin steward stepped out on the balcony. There was a piece of plastic in the corner, that was there the day we arrived, and was still there the day we left. I left a glass on the table one night, and it was remained there until I moved it into the cabin. Again. nothing to really impact our cruise, just proof of minimum effort.
We left the "automatic tipping" Carnival offers in place, but did not offer a bit of a higher tip, which is our normal practice, when service meets or exceeds our expectations.
Surprisingly, we found this "work to minimum levels" turned out to be the norm throughout the ship, rather than the exception. At least with those we had interaction with staff, from officers to servers to cruise staff, most seemed willing to do just enough to get by.
And the friendly Carnival fun ship attitude we have learned to expect was near impossible to track down, with the exception of the staff in the casino.
All in all, a very disappointing experience in regard to staff and attitude! Seeming one that is generated from the top, and cascades to the bottom.
Food quality in the dining room was very good, at least at dinner. I can't comment on breakfast or lunch there, because we never tried it.
I can't really comment on breakfast or lunch at the buffet either. Sadly, the lines at the buffet were so long, I could never get near it. Normally, I just avoid peak times at the buffet and have no problems with lines. On this ship, it seemed they were unavoidable, no matter what time you approached.
One problem is there are only two long lines of serving areas at the main buffet. At breakfast the made to order omelet station is located at the end of the buffet. Therefore the entire buffet line waits until each individual omelet is made, creating quite a mess, and mass of people.
Dining Room Service
It was a very good thing that we were having a great time with our tablemates, or the service staff would have heard about my displeasure much earlier in our cruise.
The first few days the mediocre service was really just an annoyance, as we laughed about the foibles in service etiquette by our servers. But, amazingly it continued to get progressively worse as the cruise went on.
The staff were obviously dramatically under trained! It was noticeable from the very first moment, when they served soup prior to serving the appetizers. Initially we laughed at this misstep because we figured the food was all going to the same place.
When the soup was served, each night. each and every soup bowl had soup drippings running down the side of the bowel (and in the exact same spot). It was if they had simply been dipping the bowels into the soup to fill them, rather than the soup being "lad deled out".
Again. a rather minor annoyance at first. But, as the week went on, all the courses started being served at different times. Then service degenerated further to where half the people at the table were being served a course, and then 5 minutes later, the other half would be served the same course.
By the end of the cruise they had convinced me that we had just experienced the worst service team we'd had in 40+ cruises!
It is the first time in all my cruises I have had to write on my comment cards that this service team should not be allowed to work in the dining rooms until they are retrained.
The Cruise Staff
To be blunt. unfortunately the Victory also featured the worst Cruise staff we had ever sailed with as well. Not one person in the group, including the Cruise Director, displayed any warmth or even a lively personality.
Most cruise staff hosted events were therefore like watching paint dry.
Very surprising to us because Carnival cruise staff are normally so energetic and fun, and very good at putting the fun on the "Fun Ships".
Being from Canada (and an alien) I am used to being called early on debarkation morning to attend US Customs & Immigration. It's a bit dreaded, but not an unfamiliar process at all.
The last night of the cruise we receive notice as to what time and where to appear. In this case, we received two notices. One said to appear at 6 AM, the other said 7 AM.
I decided to split the difference and show at 6:30 AM in the designated lounge. When we arrived, the lounge was almost full, with a row in the back of the lounge still being empty, and that's where we were directed to sit and wait.
Just before 7 AM they began the process, and in an orderly fashion, called row by row for people to go through the process. We sat there waiting patiently for 45 minutes, while this orderly process took place.
Then suddenly with about 100 people left to clear, someone got tired of doing things in an orderly manner, and yelled.. Now the rest of you!
There was a stampede toward the door where the customs agents were set up. Annoyed, and curious as to why the decision had been made to revert to mayhem, I stepped out of line to talk to the Carnival staff person who I had been watching run the process.
I asked her if she was the person "in charge" of running this "clearing process", and asked her name, and why they had chosen to handle the last 100 people in such a chaotic manner.
That's when she told me. "Shut Up! And get back in line!!". Shocked, I asked her if she had just told me, a guest, to shut up? She said again. "Yes! Shut UP! And get back in line!".
I was absolutely flabbergasted that any Carnival staff member, for any reason, would talk to a guest in this manner. Especially, since I was in no way rude to her, or "in her face". And this from a 2n Purser, none the less. Someone who works guest relations should OBVIOUSLY have better patience and skills.
This is not a new process for the debarkation team. They do it week after week, and should be able to handle it with skill and patience.
The following week on our Celebrity cruise, they showed I was right in thinking this was not a complicated process. Our reporting to Customs & Immigration the following week too less than 10 minutes.
Frankly, with the treatment I witnessed from staff on the Victory, the Hotel Manager, who's ultimately responsible for all these departments, should be given a severe reprimand, and if not demoted, be given a strategic plan to follow to rehabilitate an unfortunately very pathetic work force below him.
To some that may sound like a very severe assessment. However, had we been booked for back to back to cruises on the same ship, as opposed to changing ships for the following week, I would have exercised the Carnival "Vacation Guarantee" before even leaving port, and demanded a refund and left.
People pay "good money" for their Carnival cruise vacations, and have a right to expect that service and attitude this shoddy be dealt with.
This cruise did a disservice to us as paying guests, and to Carnival for sullying their growing reputation for constantly improving their product.
Perhaps oddly, when we boarded the Celebrity Millennium, the day we debarked Victory, we were greeted by the most friendly and helpful crew! We thought more likely to experience that on Carnival.
My friend and I, both in our 20s went on the Victory out of New York the first week of October. I was a first time cruiser, she had one cruise under her belt, but it was more than 10 years ago. Embarkation from the NYPST was much better than I expected. People made it sound like it was the worst experience ever, but we got through very quickly. We were on board by 12:30, had a few (okay, too many) drinks and then headed to our cabin around 2:00. In my opinion, the lifeboat drill was hilarious and I suggest anyone who is thinking of skipping it to go just to see everyone wearing their vests and running into each other. The actual drill is worthless - they really don't tell you anything that they didn't mention over the PA before the drill, but we got a very good laugh out of it. Four blue whatever-they-were drinks + lifeboat drill = fun for all!
Our room was more spacious than I expected, but still a little cramped for two people with lots of luggage and hair appliances. I was surprisedto see that there were no outlets in the bathroom. They are all in the main area of the cabin, making it very difficult for more than one person to use an appliance that requires the vanity mirror at the same time. I have heard a lot of people bringing those over the door shoe hangers, and I thought about it, but was glad that I didn't bother as there was a medicine cabinet with quite a lot of space for all our toiletries.
The ship itself was very impressive and always clean and well maintained. I had heard that the layout was confusing to some people, but we didn't have a problem with that whatsoever. Just follow the signs and it would be difficult to get lost or not know where to go.
Sailing away from NY was a great experience. The view was fabulous - it was a little cloudy, and very windy, but we stood on deck (starboard side if you want to see the Statue of Liberty) and it was a very nice way to officially start the cruise.
We skipped dinner the first night (and most nights after) and opted for the buffet in the Mediterranean restaurant instead. The food in there and the other "alternative dining" options were nothing to write home about, but they did the job of filling us up and I can't complain about that. Any other vegetarians out there: you will have trouble finding a lot of things to eat, but there is always something that you can have. It just usually isn't the main dish - that most of the time was something with meat included. However, it was definitely a better selection than most land based resorts that I have visited. Thumbs up for Carnival on that subject.
In Boston, we did the Duck Tour; had an awesome guide and a really good time. We also went to Faneuil Hall, walked a bit of the Freedom Trail, had a few beers at Cheers, went to a few other little pubs and then ended up at the Union Oyster House and can now say we have been to the oldest restaurant in America. Yay! Part of me wishes we would have just stayed in Boston rather than get back on the ship, but we caught a cab and made it back just in time to reboard.
That night, we went to the much talked about Irish Sea Bar and had a very good time. We spent at least parts of every night there, but this brings me to my first in what became a rather long list of complaints about cruising. Disclaimer: these are MY opinions, cruising isn't for everyone, I do not want to hear the "well, what did you expect?" comments after I say these few things. Everyone agree with that? Okay, great - I will go on then. My main concern before I left on this cruise was the mix of other passengers. I knew it would be an older crowd, I knew as a result of that there wouldn't be much to do as far as night life and I was right. Really, the only option was the Irish Sea Bar which was great fun for a few nights, but after 4 or 5, it was very repetitive. The same crowd, the same songs, the same jokes, the same rudimentary sexual comments, etc, etc..over and over and over again. Now, I am not saying that we didn't have a good time, b/c we have fun wherever we go, so that wasn't a problem. What I didn't like was seeing the same passenger faces over and over again (with the few exceptions of the great people that we did meet, of course). I felt like I was at a work-sponsored Christmas party or something. Everyone knew who would be coming in and the we let out a collective groan when a few select people showed up every time. There was never anyone new to meet, nothing new to do, nothing new to see, no new fun to have. Big time thumbs down for Carnival on that.
Ugh - Enough of that: on to Portland. Um.okay enough of Portland also. There was nothing there. We had lunch, walked around for about 30 minutes and went back to the ship. Many people took a trolley tour, and said it was great. We overslept and missed it. Oh well - too bad for us. This day was also the first formal night, which was a lot of fun to get all dolled up, but the food was horrid and our maitre 'd was a jerk. We swore off the dinning room after that. Pizza at 3am beats dining room food hands down. According to someone else at our table, we were sitting at the Captain's table but b/c we had late seating, he wasn't there.
The next day was a sea day which was nice to be able to really relax during the day. We watched part of the magic show this evening, which was quite good. I believe this day was the day we won our famous (or perhaps infamous) "ship on a stick". We each got one for being the phone-a-friend in a mock Who Wants to be a Millionaire game. Yay for us! We also played some Bingo - what a horribly frustrating (but strangely a lot of fun) game!
Next up was Sydney: It's a very cute town, I am sure it has something nice to offer, but we sure couldn't find anything other than a cute bartender at a restaurant called the Governors House or something like that. However, the big bonus about Sydney was that we kindly asked one of the customs officers to stamp our passport and he said as long as we promised to not tell any of the other passengers, he would do it just for us. This made the nerdy traveler in me very happy.
By this night I began to pinpoint my unhappiness with Carnival: it was the staff/crew. Not all of them - the service staff (our steward, the bartenders, table bussers, etc) were all VERY nice and extremely friendly. But, the entertainment staff - the musicians, the DJs, anyone who worked in any of the bars/clubs/lounges (with the exception of the wait staff) - were insanely pretentious and lacking in professionalism. The girls would talk to each other non-stop and then roll their eyes when someone tried to interrupt them to ask a question. Everyone would offer the fakest smiles I have ever seen and then laugh about people behind their backs. It was astonishing to watch and immensely disappointing. I guess I should have known that working on a Carnival cruise ship makes you better than everyone else. How silly of me. Big thumbs down for Carnival again.
On to Halifax: This was a very nice city - I would LOVE to go back again and spend more time here. We did the touristy things - the Maritime Museum, the Titanic Gravesites and then found a great part of the city a few blocks west of the boardwalk with lots of pubs and restaurants and did our own little pub crawl and had a blast. If ever in Halifax - you must go to the Wooden Monkey and have some of their nachos. Ohhh.they were so good.
Then we had one more day at sea to end our cruise which was just a lot of winding down.
All in all, it was enjoyable - what vacation isn't? However, Dana (the CD whom I cannot stand!), mentioned that Carnival's goal is to "exceed our expectations" and they certainly did not do that. I got what I expected and am happy I tried it out, but was not blown away or even really impressed by anything. Okay, maybe the towel animals - they were pretty awesome.
Would I cruise again? Not unless it was free :)
2-NIGHTS TO NOWHERE
This was our first "nowhere" cruise and we really enjoyed it. We sailed from Norfolk which was great. I wish Carnival had a ship here year round instead of NY.
We headed over to the pier about 11:00 and were quickly checked in and found our fellow CCers. Chatted for awhile and they handed us our sail and sign cards. We started moving towards the ship soon after this. Keep in mind that nowhere cruises are all "self-assist" luggage so they have to screen all your luggage with you at boarding. This takes a lot longer. Also, the ship was cleared late as a teenager on the previous cruise got drunk and did not make it back to her cabin. They found her passed out about 10 a.m. and sent her on her way. We got this information from our favorite bartender, Sandor, in the sports bar (Trident Bar). All this resulted in the ship leaving 45 minutes late and shops and casino opening late.
We were on board, dropped luggage in our cabin, had lunch and in a hot tub by 1:30. Nice, very nice. We got theupgrade we expected (from info we read here to check cabin number). I really would have liked to give at least part of this upgrade back. We were in cabin 8321 right under the lido deck and it was very noisy. We had a great cabin steward and he was rewarded with the alcohol of his choice from the ship's store at the end. Cabin was in good condition and very clean. Our gifts we ordered with our Capital One points were waiting for us.
I had ordered drink coupons and figured I could use the leftovers on our upcoming Holiday cruise in Sept. Well Sandor makes the best blue margaritas and I only have two left. We slipped him a five each day but he gave us great service even before we offered the additional tips.
Food on the buffet was average with the desserts there being above what I expected. We did not do breakfast either morning so we can not comment on it. I think Carnival failed a little on anticipating where people would eat. One trip past the buffet they had only one side open and lines miles long. I believe this was the first night for dinner. The buffet was very crowded and seemed ill prepared to accommodate the amount of people who were eating there.
We were given late (8:00) seating for dinner even though we requested early. This was okay since our daughter wasn't with us and we had nice dinner companions the first night. We were seated at a great rear table for 10 with only one other couple. They did not attend the second night's dinner as it was formal and they did not bring formal clothes. Here is where I will complain a little. I booked directly with Carnival and was told no formal night. I found out by way of Cruise Critic that yes indeed there was a formal night. I was then prepared but many were not and they had been told by TAs and Carnival that there was no formal. For two nights I would have preferred to leave the formal at home and went with a cocktail dress.
All dining room food was exceptional, both lunch and dinner. It is the first time in a long time that the lobster was not overcooked and rubbery. I usually don't even order it because of the way they overcook it but I wanted something lighter than beef that night. Our waiter was ok, nothing more, nothing less. The asst. waiter was not doing much and the dining room was not busy. We had to ask for more water and tea and also rolls.
We skipped both shows as we have seen them before. We did make it to all three comedy and they were great. My favorite was Phat Kat but Pete Michael was also good. No comedy show was crowded and we had great seats for both. The only bingo we did was the 10 games for $10 and it was fun.
We donated in the casino and got to meet and experience the casino host, John Rush. The name really fits. Unlike other casino hosts who seem cool and together while overseeing the casino, John always seemed rushed and a little overwhelmed but still managed to do a terrific job. He remembered names, was always in the mix and just generally did a great job. We both did the slots and blackjack tournaments. Very fun and cheap entertainment.
Now another complaint, we needed to make use of formalities to replace a broken champagne glass. The Capers gave incorrect times about when it was open; a Carnival employee got snotty with me and said that the Capers plainly said it didn't open till 7. I didn't get my Capers out in time to show her that it also said it was open 2 to 6. Finally got there for the champagne glasses and after being told that they did not sell ones with "Romance" on them, I showed the woman the window display with them and she sold me the window display. Box was beat up but I really wanted these. Also saw an overpriced gift that I wanted for the DD we left home. Guess what, they don't have it. Okay they will have it the next day out of the stock room because they do sale these. Four tries the next day and we gave up. Nicolete was working there and she was so clueless. If Carnival sold anything from this shop during this cruise, they were lucky. We were in the shop at the same time as some other unhappy cruisers (had to happen since we were there 5 times in two days just to be disappointed).
Shopping in the gift shops was just the opposite; fast, friendly and well-stocked. Only gripe is kids' items are too expensive or junky. We were unaware that on nowhere cruise you do not do customs and are allowed unlimited alcohol and cigarettes. Had we known we would have taken extra luggage. As it is we did some heavy duty shopping. They do charge a 3% tax since there is no duty or limits. I was ready to offer a 5% tax (just joking). They seemed sorry to have to charge it but here in PA we pay 6%, cigarettes are $42 a carton and I paid $16.50 on the ship. My freezer is well stocked with cigarettes and our rum and Kaluha is stocked.
I did not indulge in the spa but they were offering some really good deals. They now offer a gym package at an extra charge. Here is the nickel and dime-ing.
My least favorite part was the captain piped into the cabin at 7:00 on Monday to tell us he would like the ship empty by 9:30. Everything stayed open late the night before and we partook till 2 a.m.
This was a different kind of cruise for us and we really enjoyed it. I hope Carnival does afternoon comedy on sea days on other ships. I always feel there sea days are lacking but this time it was fun. I don't know if they built in extra because of no ports but it was fun.
Crusing is one of the most magnificent experiences, and yet there's something unholy about it, at least on Carnival Victory. The magnificent includes the staterooms, food, and service, and the unholy includes the value, overworked foreign staff, and blatant marketing. I took my first cruise ever, as a single, on March 7, 2004 for the eastern carribean out of Miami and here's my review. This review will help you if you want to take this ship, Carnival, or want to know what it's like to travel single.
ROOM: My outside stateroom in the aft on a low deck was clean, large, with a separate sitting area and a very italian chic decor. I reported a few broken lights and sink and only the lights were fixed. The AC is adjustable by a lever on the ceiling vent and leaving it wide open made the room comfortably 70-72. There's a hair dryer built in, no outlet in the bathroom, and only 1 outlet outside. There is no alarm clock; bring your own. The room will be cleaned twice daily and you get towel animals and chocolates in the evening. I saw insidemany inside cabins and they were significantly smaller than the outside rooms, with no sitting area, but many people loved them for their darkness and cheapness. I even met a honeymoon couple who loved theirs. There are no bathtubs except in suites. Bathrooms throughout the ship have a faint sewer smell, and I suggest this may be due to the fact that the ship makes its own water from seawater. It might also be a fault of the ventilation system. Keep in mind that the ship treats its own wastewater. Staterooms with balconies loose room to the balcony part and were quite smokey. Hint: in the front of the ship on decks 6&7, there are doors that lead to a public balcony spanning the width of the ship and going right up to the private balconies. This is the place to be when entering ports and refreshing at sea. There were signs saying this area was closed, but I went anyway and saw officers who did not throw me off. Others were there too. I think they want you to book a balcony...and not realize there's a free big one or two at the bow.
FOOD: I lost weight on this cruise, but that was due to high levels of activity, and small portions. The food in the dining rooms was very good, with a real gourmet flare only somewhat marred by second quality ingredients. There were 6 courses at dinner. They even had separate desert menus and replaced silverware with each course. I had lobster, chateaubriand, coquilles st jaques, escargot, chilled soups, creamy soups, broth, cherries jubilee, and baked alaska. Portions are small and I rarely felt stuffed at the end of a meal. Dinner was something to look forward to and took 1.5 hours. It was like catchup time where everyone shared what they had done that day. The dining room was glitzy and very bright, but tacky. Silverware was stained and worn, many light fixtures lacking bulbs. Giant mermaids with the stern faces of men stare at you from every wall. The dancing waiters is overrated. Quality of waiters varied and I happened to get two excellent ones, but some were much less so. Take the time to ask them personal questions and be friendly; it really made a difference. Avoid the buffet at all times except: try the Gala buffet on night 6 at 11ish, but beware, you must be early and patient as all 3000 people seemed to be there. See my comments under formal nights. (By the way, it would be so much more in the passenger's interest to have this gala on the last night, but Carnival wants you packing and turning in early this night so you don't delay disembarkation.) The deli is a small window with only one sandwich maker; lines were very long and slow. The chinese joint is less crowded, with very low fat and mediocre quality chinese. Dim Sum which means appetizers is simply a large circular dumpling. You get a choice at both of these "walk up windows" of about 5 selections. So, don't think it's like a real delicatessen or chinese carry out place. On the upside, everything from the window joints is very low fat.
FIRST AND LAST DAYS - Others are wrong when they say the first and last days are 1/7th of your cruise. Nonsense. Expect these to be days of transition and dedicated to transportation, not fun. On a 7 NIGHT cruise, one has a long first day of orientation, 6 days of glorious travel, and one day of crashing back to reality and leaving the ship ASAP. Think of day 8, Sunday, as time stolen from Carnival, and you will have the right perspective. They need to get the rooms clean, give the staff off, and make sure you get out. Many services are not in place on days 1 and 8 and crew even get to leave the ship. Note they also get to leave when you're in port, on a rotating basis, which is why the ship virtually shuts down in port. For example, in staterooms you get carnival robes, but they appear on day 2, as with towel animals. Day one is again, not a real, full "fun ship at sea" day. It's the staff's day off where they still have to work (and a Sunday if you're religious!). This is part of the unholy. I always assumed they would have one day off for transition, restocking, give the staff off. But no, work work work, maximize profits. All carnival owned lines, which is 80% of the industry, are this way. Fourteen hour days, putting on a cheery face, and constantly serving others, even paying for a lesser steward to clean their own rooms, is all part of the life of Carnival's hotel staff. God bless them because as you'll see below, they can be a highlight of the whole trip.
SERVICE: A hint to all new cruisers is to chat up the staff as much as possible; ask them questions about themselves. Formal etiquette dictates that these folks should be virtually invisible, but that's a poor tactic. The room steward, Ziang, was great and introduced himself while I was relaxing on day 1. Carnival's evil marketing comes in here again: you will be asked to sign a form indicating the steward introduced himself to you. I dismissed him the first night and told him to take it easy. He gave me a big handfull of chocolates in thanks. One way in which they spoil you is by coming to your room two times a day. To clean up in the am, and to turn down your bed, close the curtains, change the towels, at night. And of course, to leave you the famous towel animals--I got a snail, frog, heart, and swan. It's like the mother or loving spouse you never had! There is a steward and his assistant, and they were just charming, inquiring about your day when you met them with genuine regard. I had heard they look out for single travelers, and I certainly felt special. As I passed the stewards tidying the breakers' rooms, I saw the utter mess they left them--floors covered with shoes, papers, all manner of stuff--like messy dorm rooms. I also realized that there are beds under the beds and the sofa is a bed. Most breakers were 4 to a room, which made the fare around $300. Cheap! I wish I had known. That's the real necessity for the 2 cleanups a day. The fold out beds have to be made up. The ship automatically charges you $70 for tips, and this makes it easy. If your service is lacking, you may wait in line at the Information desk and they will adjust the amount (or so the policy goes). You may also change the amounts given to each person if it warrants it. But again, you have to wait in line at the pursers. If you are staying 4 to a room, I think it is fair and good karma to tip extra to the steward by maybe a dollar or so a day. More if you are piggish. I looked forward to seeing my waitstaff and they remembered my name and called to me outside the dining room when I met them. Galin and Diana are to be requested in the aft dining room, both Bulgarians and sterling souls.
At my table, there were 8 people total: two asian ladies who never joined in the conversation and who were I think lesbian lovers from French polynesia, two bahamian ladies (from the Bahamas) in the twilight of their lives, one eccentric gentleman who always wore suit jacket, bowtie, and shorts, who was in the evening of his life. He was a bit of a wine conoisseur and always made a big fuss over his selection. The young couple at my table mocked him so blatantly that he disappeared midweek to another table. His shorts always matched his jacket and he was intellectual, but he drew many stares. According to this gentleman, who I rather liked, the wine selection was sorely lacking. I never took wine with dinner, so I don't know. In the beginning I was so afraid of the spring breakers that I wanted to conserve money to take another cruise.
BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH! OR DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR? Which brings me to the bad parts of the trip. Spring breakers made their presence felt and there were at least 1500 of them on this sailing. They were the talk of the ship, with their obnoxious behavior and exhibitionism. They stagger spring breaks now so as to not overwhelm vacation desinations, I learned, so I advise against cruising in March in general. I had read how these kids can ruin a cruise, but with sheer willpower, you can still have a good time. The first day the lido deck was jam packed with sunbathers, and I could not find a seat. In the absence of the "dudes" and with at least one big companion, I would have thrown off the beachtowels "holding" seats and sat there. There was tons of this, but Carnival says it is forbidden. I don't think, however, that Raja and Jakarti the skinny security team would be much help if Jocko and his buds were pounding you for taking their primo seats. I recommend the lobby deck where there are nicer lounge chairs that actually overlook the water. It was hot on deck and the sun blazing, but with the breeze, you hardly noticed, and could hear the waves the bow made and feel a slight sea spray. Pools are small and saltwater and not recommended. The water slide is for all ages and recommended. The chairs on this deck have no view except of other folks. The upper deck is shaking with loud music most of its operational time and is rather strictly shut down around 5 pm. The first few nights I hit the gym around 4 pm and it was packed. This practice I quickly abandoned for jogging around the jogging deck. It's a separate small deck that goes all around the ship at the very top and I often said goodnight to the sun there. Again, not crowded and very inspiring. After a day outside, the sun and the seawater, you'll feel kinda dirty, so plan on showering and putting on fresh clothes for dinner. Most people didn't get in the pools, so only pack a couple of swimsuits. You can easily wash them in shampoo and hang in the bathroom. They'll be dry by the am. Or you can dry them in towels, as you get as many as you ask for.
SODA CARDS are for the aggressive: you can buy one for $32 and get as many sodas as you want, but for some reason the bartenders are quite put out by this. There is a gratuity included, but I got so much attitude and the tiniest juice glasses full of soda. Once I waited at a bar and saw everyone else get waited on who ordered alcohol, while I sat there, for at least 15 minutes. I kinda gave up and started hitting the iced tea station on lido deck. By the way, the iced tea comes out of the juice type dispenser, not from pitchers and is quite good and good for you. Towards the end of the cruise, I got revenge on the bartenders: I would go back every hour for another small soda and be quite vocal if I got overlooked. In one bar, I just sat there and drank the whole small glass, and kept asking for more until I was full. The bartender was miffed. Note: you can order sodas from any of the roaming bartenders. They have diet coke and diet sprite.
ALCOHOL It's easy to waste money on this as waiters are in evidence everywhere and drink prices vary wildy. Brandy is $5 while a singapore sling is 3.50 and champagne is $6.25. My advice: order the today's special for $2.95 and skip the plastic souvenir cup. It's small, but strong, tasty, something you won't get back home, and overall the cheapest drink. They have it at every bar all day for $2.95. I was erroneously charged $19.95 for wine. Save the receipts you get with every drink; I thought it would be unnecessary but saved myself $19.95. Note that you may purchase a bottle of wine or champagne at dinner and your waiter will keep it for you all week.
ART AUCTIONS--It was fun sitting in the fanciest lounge, sipping champagne, and learning about art, but I have to warn you that these are fake auctions. They have many copies of the same pieces of art; and the lithographs are just copies, not signed artwork. They auction them due to a legal technicality. Tip: you don't get champagne unless you sign up at the bar-Carnival brand marketing. The auctioneer is handsome and well dressed but speaks a sort of broken English with such a heavy accent that it was rather comical. Think "profit center." My honeymooner friends bought 6 pieces of art and thought the auctioneer's accent was sexy. I just don't think their $80 unisgned lithograph of Yellow Submarine was a good deal.
FRIENDLINESS--I went on this cruise to try and forget about the death of my mom, after taking care of her for 2 years through various surgeries and illnesses. I went alone, as a 32 year old gay male and at the last minute, with the hope that it would lift my spirits and it did. I met only one other gay person and he was a mincing latino who I had no interest in. But just by opening my mouth and asking the simplest questions like: how are you today? Is this seat taken? I talked with many great couples and they really enhanced the experience. I found it funny how people were so reluctant to start the conversation...but so happy to talk once you prompted them. My advice is to talk to everyone and keep in mind you don't need their names, or an introduction, and you'll probably never see them again. I even chatted up a few spring breakers.
SEASICKNESS--No one comes out and says this, so I will, you will feel the motion of the ship as it rocks back and forth and pitches forward and back. The curtains in your stateroom will move. Seasickness is apparently extreme vertigo that causes nausea and vomiting. I complained that the pills were not working, but they are only for nausea. Carnival doesn't offer the nondrowzy staple Bonine, but Med Eze or somesuch (marketing anyone?). The pills are free and steward, purser, and nurse have them. The more jockish and insensitive you are, the less you will notice. You will also feel the rumble of the engines in the lower decks on the aft end of the ship. People at the forward end complained of equipment noise. The ships do not use tow trucks but have bow and aft thrusters, tunnels through the ship with props in them. These make aft and fore locations less desirable in the bowels of the vessel. I was directly over one of the aft ones, because when we docked there was a loud noise, and I could see the ripples in the water coming from directly under my window. In the piano bar, one night a steward came to say that the noise was so loud it was bothering the people above, so Carnivalers being what they are, the crowd then increased the noise level. This is lowest common denominator style cruising. They sang songs like Barry Manilow and you literally sit at the piano.
ENGINE ROOM TOURS are not offered but you can purchase a video tour for $39.95 or watch a preview on the TV. Same for bridge tours. From what I saw, the engine room was crowded with machinery for optimum passenger space, and so probably would have made a lousy tour anyway. Officers are unfriendly and make themselves scarce, but given the overall quality of passengers, I hardly blame them. The cruise director, throughout his various talks, will give you examples of the "Top 10 dumbest questions" and various examples of low class americans. I believe this is considered part of the entertainment, although I found it in poor taste and got tired of being mocked by the cruise director and his buddy. The cruise director and his assistant make the funniest pair: the CD himself is tall, bald, and emaciated and his assistant is short, bushy haired, and aussie.
FORMAL NIGHTS were like going to the prom in tropical heat and humidity with your parents. They occur on night 2 and 6 and include the best food of the voyage. On night 6, the last hurrah, save room for the Gala Buffet, and get all liquored up, be there at 11 with a friend who likes to talk and get ready to hurry up and wait! The line was at least 100 people long, out the door onto the outside decks, and the food looks superb. Finger sandwiches, parfaits, tortes, desserts, ice sculptures. Sadly, I arrived at midnight to mass pandemonium and like many others, just went back to my room to sleep. People dressed up much more than I expected. There was about 50% tuxedos and the rest suits. Some wore only shirt and tie. Young women were dressed predictably, ala Paris Hilton, in clingy camisole style dresses and sandaly high heels. Some areas of the ship were too warm for suit jackets like the disco and the upper levels of the theater, but the main dining room was not too warm. Most people really enjoyed showing themselves off and looked good. On "nonformal" nights, just wear long pants. T shirts, jeans, sandals, all were okay although some dressed. On Carnival, it's prom on the formal nights and just long pants on other nights. Many girls wore tube tops and skirts. On the last night, many wore t shirts and shorts, although my waiter said that if the maitre d' had seen them, he would have asked them to change. He was rarely in evidence except for his two begging nights where he approached each table and made himself known. My honeymoon friends required his services, but were so turned off by the constant asking for tips, that they decided not to tip him at all. On several occasions, this guy begs or others do for him. Ironic that he was from Jamaica, which is known for its aggressive beggars.
DANCING-- I like to dance but had no opportunity because the breakers crowded this spot from day 1. It's a truly beautiful spot, with walls made entirely of chrome and TVs. Many lounges and a see through dance floor. There is also a glass wall to watch the goings on from the stairwell. The first night, the "singles" party is at 11:30 pm in there and it was so hot and packed with kids, that I couldn't stand it. From 9-11, it's for teens only, then, from 11-4 for college kids only during the month of March. I met an older latino couple who lamented they could not find anywhere to dance on ship and made fun of the breakers flip flops and tight outfits. I think there should have been more opportunies for dancing, both formal and disco, and more than one 30-minute class, which was held on the stage of the theater. Basically, there was no ballroom dancing to be had on Carnival Victory and they have no real venue for it except the one disco.
DECOR was among the best of what I have seen of Carnival, but still not that impressive. Sage green chairs were cool, but then bright brass railings and black granite floors clashed. The atrium is much smaller than it appears and no elevator has a view of the ocean. I never thought I'd tire of halogen lights, but they blare down on you everywhere, from lounge to dinner to elevator, and got quite annoying. I loved the carpet--turquoise with small waves in it, and the blue green theme was excellent. The artwork is rare and bad. The good pieces were for sale at the auction--no pricey originals here. I felt sorry for the last Czar and Czarina as they stared down on the champagne bar turned wine bar and the 7 teenagers sitting there guzzling beer and mocking the passing crowd. Public mensrooms were a joke. Light bulbs out everywhere, but overall a clean ship, and a pleasant decor, but gaudy in an italian kind of way. Hallways are small as I had heard and usually full of stewards, passengers, cleaning carts. Carpets were very stained. Beautiful etched glass doors that automatically recess into walls. Washing and drying a load of laundry costs $4 and I would heartily recommend doing so. They were usually empty and you really needed 2 sets of clothes each day. Short outfit for day, long pants and collared shirt for night, then something to sleep in. There's a clothesline in the bathrooms for your trunks.
ENTERTAINMENT was Carnival brand McFun. Overall, it was less entertaining than TV, reading, or just people watching. There was a lack of variety and not as many things to do as I had expected. Exercise classes mostly carried fees. Carnival has done market research and must think that the audience loves interaction because all performers are constantly addressing you in the style of "Are you ready to rumble? Let me hear you make some noise, people!" I've never been asked to clap for myself so many times before! "Give yourselves a nice hand." The cruise director is an excellent juggler, but I can't say much more for him. Beware of getting there early and getting those good seats! They are constantly picking people out of the audience, either for a joke at their expense, or to humiliate them on stage. For example, the "man show" involved two women rating 5 men as they acted like their favorite animal, crawling on stage. These ladies then had to rub the men down as they took their shirts off. The assistant cruise director Skippy from down under was so mocking that I sensed his real disgust. "I can't believe the things you people will do," he said often. Sad thing was that all the men on stage were middle aged, and none of the frat dudes who deserved this treatment got it. Also, the comedians picked on people who left their shows, "Hey man, why you leaving? Oh, you gotta pee, oh okay man, that's awight." And they also pointed out people who, they thought, were not enjoying their shows and poked fun at them. Low class, base kinda stuff. There's a latino comedian who does a special midnight show for adults only that gay bashes: he's against gay marriage and went on for about 10 minutes about how awful gays are and gay sex . I was offended, but he got heckled from some of the breakers for his lack of tolerance! Hooray, these kids are pretty enlightened. Throughout all the shows, the breakers coordinated heckling. A group would all shout out something on cue and it was funnier than the entertainers. A word about temperature here: if you're coldblooded, sit up in the balcony, it's quite warm up there. Only sit in the orchestra section if you like it cool--many ladies complained about the temperature--but men could sit here with a suit on without sweating. Ladies, guys may love to see skin, but a shaw or pashmina is in order with a reveling getup. It's only fair if guys have to wear wool suits. Also, it's classy to match: cocktail dresses go with suits, whereas long gowns go with tuxedos. You can rent a tux for $85. I was surprised that even some enormously large people were dressed in full formal wear. One lady who was obese had on the most beautiful pink satin floor length gown with a train! Her hair was up, and had been fancily done. And her even larger husband had on a tux and they looked fantastic! If you're going this far, buy her a corsage and him a buttoniere in the small formalwear shop. Again, it's like the prom if you want it to be and was fun. I wore a makeshift tux of leather suit jacket, black pants, white shirt and white silk tie (like they wore at the academy awards). But on Carnival, I'd have to say it's laissez faire, and one of my tablemates had on a plaid shirt and striped tie, both blue. Everyone showed up at my table to dinner on formal nights.
The bingo was awful: in the theater with about 1000 other people, 25 minutes of waiting for everyone to get a $20 card, then 5 minutes of an aussie dancer calling numbers. There were only 3 bingos total and the prize ranged from $750 to a free cruise. Teatime was nice, but the tearoom joins the disco with a transparent floor. Someone had left the strobe lights on in the floor, so all during this teatime, strobe lights danced above our heads in a quintessential carnival moment. During the second tea, I had to beg someone to wait on me, and the violin was off key for the Mozart piece. The trio was good, but not very good, and this was one of the few uncrowded things to do onboard. You should also know that the card room is now a gulf simulator, empty all the time because it requires a fee. On the magic shows, the first one was crummy, with him talking to the audience the whole time cracking dumb jokes, telling people they looked grumpy and the like. The second magic show was fantastic, although not first rate, and the finale a total flop. In carnial style, he spent half of his time in the audience, picking out people, children, asking for someone's ring, etc, cracking dumb jokes, asking us to clap for ourselves, etc. He builds up to this finale where all the dancers are standing on picnic tables, and two audience members are supervising. He drops a curtain, and then says, drop the first curtain. They tear this down, then drop a second curtain. Drumroll. He runs around stage, gets upset, and announces, it's not going to work, the curtains messed up, the curtain falls reveleaing the smiling dancers, and the magician runs offstage. Chuckles the cruise director rushes on stage and without even the least acknowledgement of what has happened, announces what else you can do: gamble, go to the disco, go to a bar, go back to your cabin, read a book, tip the Maitre d'hotel! Really absurd and a big letdown. When you're in port, there is no diversion whatsoever, the restaurants and lounges go on different, reduced schedules, so go ashore. The main shows were good, glitzy, contentless things. Dancers were generally very young and small. There were about 15 women and 4 guys. Some students around me mocked the male dancers for how gay they were. They did all seem pretty gay, with small hairless bodies, slightly muscled, and they were about the same size as the girls. A blond guy was slightly hunkier and bigger than the rest and did air splits pretty high in the air. The main singer was without sex appeal. The costumes were fantastic and extremely revealing for the women. The music in all venues was so loud that you could hear distortion in the speakers. This goes for music everywhere on the ship: nightclub volume LOUD. There is no culture in the shows; both are musical medleys of popular music thoughout the ages. And yes, they even come into the audience and want you to "participate." The library is on the photo level of the atrium and minuscule with a small and pathetic selection. It's an attractive and comfy room, but only open 2 hours when at sea, and staffed by an attitudinal ameican girl who will tell you the books are in no particular order. I think you can go in here just to sit anytime, but am not sure. The book selection is behind locked doors. The remainder of this floor is chock full of photos and videos for sale of you doing everything. Take your own camera; they have $1.00 next day developing! They have a camera vending machine, but they cost $17. Yuck, I give the entertainment a C-. I would recommend teatime, one art auction (only for champagne and to see the most beautiful public room), the main vegas shows, the second magician, and the black comedian. I wish they had had a movie theater. I attended almost everything, however, and kept myself very busy. Many teens smoked in the main theater even though it was forbidden, as well as many other such areas.
PORTS OF CALL were San Juan, PR, St. Martin, and St. Thomas. We arrived in the evening at San Juan so there was nothing but dinner or nightlife to do; a big ripoff as this is an excellent and large island. I watched the sun set from the lobby deck and admired the quaint spanish architecture. It was breezeless, about 85, and the same humidity here. In St. Martin, I took an island tour and was most impressed for my $35. An air conditioned cushy bus, a happy guide, a thorough tour. Don't listen to his info re Charlotte Amalie. This is the name of the Danish Queen at the time of the city's founding. Amalie does not mean "city" as my guide said. He seemed to be a McFun type, who made us clap for ourselves, etc. Shopping on the French side was fun, but the good beaches are on the Dutch side. Most people parked themselves at Divi Little bay and the talk of the town was the nude bathers from the french side. This island is hot, poor, heavily tourist-dependent, and known for its friendliness. But it is also everything you've seen and read about. Turquoise water, dark black inhabitants with smiles and waves, white sand, swaying palm trees, towering hills, lush vegetation, beautiful vistas. Beware that the sun is much stronger here than in the US and many people complained of burns despite precautions. Take a big hat and at least 15 SPF sweatproof sunscreen. Lines on and off the ship were not the longest of the cruise, but were still hurry up and wait. I suggest buying a bottle of the Guavaberry liqeur, $15. It is great with spite and a shot of vodka. It has a unique spicy flavor. We docked at all ports and used no tenders; although just to get off the dock you had to walk some 6 foot ball field lengths (our ship was 3 lengths and you exit aft, and then there was the carnival spirit which was equally as long). There is a very convenient shopping area here with places to eat. I suggest getting off if only to hang out here. There's calipso music and a view of the beach. St. Thomas was richer than St. Martin, prettier and larger, but they drove on the wrong side of the road, so I'd be reluctant to rent a car here. Beware: tour buses here are al fresco. No big coaches. We're talking pick up trucks with open air carriages on them. However, I did not notice the heat much as many cool breezes floated down the mountains we climbed up. Asthmatics should not take these open air tours. The old klunkers on the island and many trucks and tour buses including my own made the fumes very strong at times, especially when stuck in traffic downtown. This, combined with the heat and humidity, could knock an asthmatic out. The island is very mountainous, and the soil volcanic. Megan's bay is famous and deservedly so. But I would recommend the excursion to Trunk bay on the neighboring island of St. John. It's called the "5 star" and you cruise there on a yacht, but only get to stay half a day. Go to bed early the night before you arrive in St. Thomas as the best excursions happen in the first half of the day, and you have to wait in long lines at 6:45 am to clear customs. This is a big hassle; make it easy on yourself by taking your photo ID and birth certificate out of any holders or wallets. Hint: the line gets shorter closer to 8:15, but if you aren't there by 8:30, it's a big problem. St. Barts also seemed good, with many wealthy retreats. I was struck with how little beach space there was on these islands and the shabbiness and smallness of even the nicest houses. I couldn't imagine spending thousands on a joint where you have to drive down a steep hill to get to a beach littered with cruisers. On some days, the guide told me, as many as 8 ships arrive in port here and I can't imagine the crowds. When we went, it was not crowded anywhere. Such a blissful change from the ship! The tours know you'll want to shop and take you to many places that have either enclosed malls or open air bazaars. I did all my shopping in the malls after learning the black ladies in the bazaars were hard to bargain with. You're expected to haggle. They have a lot of african looking clothes and trinkets as well as island gear. I took back a shot glass $2, a polo shirt $15, a t shirt $8, and a fan $1.25. Plus t shirts for family and friends. All good prices I thought. I also got a calendar with great pictures and recipes for $7. So not as expensive as I thought. I advise skipping the coladas mid-trip as the combination of sun, heat, and booze seemed to wipe people out and many complained of how tired they were. I got a peach soda for $2 out of a machine here, and was content. I was advised not to drink the water or ice. Be advised that you are not allowed to take any food ashore! Someone had written that you can take sandwiches to save money, but you cannot. They will seize them due to quarantine regulations. You can't introduce foreign flora and fauna and foods can do this, so think again. Also, beware that you may not find a place to eat onboard after your tour, as the hours of operation vary by day and there is absolutely no 24-hour buffet. Posted hours for each day with strict enforcement. At 2:29, they have one hand on the steam trays, ready to wisk them away at 2:30. One can always order room service, but order a lot, the croissants are about 3 inches long, yogurt is about 1/3 cup, sandwiches half size. The fajitas are actually one fajita, cut up and artfully arranged, and cold. Nevertheless, it's one small fajita, and a rather pretentious fire-roasted tomato salsa. Don't be afraid to order 4 iced teas, equal about 16 ounces. Service took between 15 minutes on port days to 1 hour at night. Try the beef and brie sandwich on baguette. I also took several small bottles of hand sanitizer and always had one on hand. I forgot sometimes, but made an effort to use this before eating sandwiches and stuff. Neither I nor anyone else I met got sick on the cruise. I was concerned about the norovirus and other outbreaks. Don't worry, just make sure you wash your hands before you eat. Or take the sanitizer. It was so humid, I didn't really need hand cream either. Don't expect starry nights or spectacular sunsets because clear days always turned into overcast nights. It was still nice to be on the uppermost decks as you left port, and watch the lights go on, the ship maneuver, and the island slip away. Magical and largely ignored by passengers.
And I've saved the worst for last:
EMBARKATION - A nightmare of heat, Spanish, long lines, annoying college brats, delays, problems. It took 2 hours to get on the ship. The Miami airport is very crowded and busy, with small public areas for soooo many folks. The Carnival Greeters were not friendly and had no signs other than their binders. Other lines had signs. Getting to Miami, flights were overbooked and very cramped. In Miami, once you got your luggage, you had to drag it a long ways to the carnival shuttle then wait on the bus for it to fill. I did not see any taxis nearby. The port is a good distance away. Then begins the main fun, finding your luggage, and waiting in line. A note about tipping: I had been told to tip the guys who load your luggage from the bus to the bins, and did. The bus driver asks for a tip and engages in carnival behavior: asking you to hoot and holler and clap for yourself and how excited you are. But if you read the transfer coupon, it says that it includes a 15% gratuity for the driver! So I didn't tip him, just the other guy. Also, beware that multiple ships launch simultaneously, so not everyone on your bus is going on your ship. Once you get your luggage into the right bin, you go to a large hot warehouse and stand in line. You go through security first, and show your ID. Then you go through a line for the funpass, which was as long as the one without. Then you get to a counter, and get a piece of paper. I had asked for an upgrade, even offered to pay, and she says "What? With all these spring breakers? This ship is totally full." Then you get into line and go upstairs and wait in another line for your room key. Here it goes quick and you get hurried along and get your "card key" which is really your "sign and sail" card. It's your onboard ID/Credit card. Then you wait in another long line down a long hall to get your photo taken . This photo is just for your purchase of $15, so I suggest skipping this part! There's a fake background of a ship or somesuch and a foreign photographer telling you to smile. Then you go downstairs and the lines split. You fight teenagers for the best place in the shortest line. They take your card, put it in a machine, take your photo for the card, and then you're on the ship, with absolutely no direction. Luckily I was warned and took my brochure. The hallways are very, very long, 3 foot ball fields on cabin decks. If you have trouble walking, as my mom and stepmom did/do, I think they make special provisions for early embarkation. It took 5 minutes to go from bow to stern.
DISEMBARKATION involves you being up at 6:30 and getting out of your cabin. I was totally unprepared and greatly distressed. Unless you have little luggage or an early flight, I suggest checking your luggage the night before at midnight. You are slowly geared down on day 6, after all the proms are over, and talks turn to "mandatory disembarkation." I had to stay over in a hotel the night after due to flight availability, and this created much trouble for me. I planned and was advised to hang on the ship until about 10:30 and take my own luggage. Well, there was an error on my bill, and I got breakfast first. By the time I got through the purser's line, I got back to my stateroom and the steward was there, upset that I had not vacated the room yet. I had to hurriedly pack up my last few things, drag my bags to the lobby and then they tell me that self disembarkation is over. This happens from 7:30 to 8:30. I arrived at 8:35. There is a general feeling of "I don no nothing" and officiality to the lobby which is packed with wheelchair folks. My big bag got caught on one of the ladies chairs. I realized I had not emptied the safe! So dragging heavy luggage back, etc. Nightmare! So then I waited till an officer told me to get out of the main lounge at 10:30. While I was there I watched a biography of Gloria Estefan, who I never had much of an opinion on, and was surprised to see her proud cubana history. As for the Miami airport, let me just say, book the air yourself and do not stay a day afterward. They are not set up for this and it involves dragging your luggage miles and waiting outside for 2 hours and just all kinds of trouble. No cabbies knew where my hotel was. Carnival gave me no telephone number or address for the hotel and ti was a Sunday! (by the way, there are NO religious services onboard and not even a chaplain I think in an emergency). I couldn't find my pen. The hotel shuttle was unmarked! And the guy doesn't stop, he drives through looking for someone to flag him down! It was outrageous and I have to say that Miami is a tropical latino sewer; it was like being in Mexico City. Everyone I dealt with was hispanic and attitudinal. I will never return there unless I absolutely have to. I don't care what people say about embarkation at other ports, they cannot be more of a hassle than Miami is! Somehow, it seemed hotter than all the tropical ports we were in and more foreign. And I can speak Spanish!
SINGLE CRUISING - Well, I met no other singles, but have heard others say Carnival has many. They need to improve their singles parties, and not hold them in the disco at 11pm on the day of departure. There are some singles groups that are coordinated and I would recommend them. Other lines, I hear, have more than one single gathering and at better times and dates. March is a big time to avoid as well as the summer. Kids were not a problem, but I think in appropriate numbers and with irresponsible parents, they could be. For example, I stood behind a woman, clad in a bikini, barefoot, dripping wet, to get chinese food. I had noticed the lido restaurant floor was slippery and wondered why. So then I saw her. The worst part was when her kids came in dripping too, and I thought she should lose her parenting license. Many seniors ate in the dining room and I could just imagine one of them breaking a hip on the slippery wet marble floors because of "bikini mom" and her ignorant brood. Also, I advise going to the dining room for all meals and avoiding the buffet. You're basically forced to make conversation at the table, and I met many charming people this way. Even spring breakers. There are also some travel agencies out there that coordinate singles groups on mainstream cruises. That would be cool, but you can have a good time even if you don't find a best buddy to pal around with. Consider yourself an independent traveler, as the upscale lines call it, and that will give you the right attitude.
GAY CRUISING - If I couldn't pass for straight, I think I might have had a hard time and possibly a fight on this spring break ship. But I passed well and had straight guys calling out to me when they saw me around ship. Don't expect to meet any other gays though; I think most of us are pretty turned off by the low class of Carnival. Go on another line. The servants were very gay friendly (waiter and such) but the officers seemed very unfriendly and there were no FOD meetings. I was in the sports bar one time and heard the word faggot mentioned repeatedly, although it might not have been towards me. I think the one guy was criticizing the other as in "that's so gay, you faggot," like we used to say in highschool. The security staff, who I had to get involved with when my neighbors got locked out, were all Indian and very surly. It was funny to see them closely following the muscle dudes, because these Indians were rather puny and I can't imagine how they would keep order if the dudes wanted otherwise.
DECK SHOES - If you're sensitive to the motion of ships and don't have a great sense of balance, or have trouble walking, I suggest ditching the sandals for nonslip deck shoes like Sperry Topsiders as the marble floors were usually wet and slippery and often the crush of the crowd made you feel pressured if you slowed down. Consider this: if you fall down and hurt yourself on this ship, it's out of pocket expensive and unless your heathplan covers you while in Panama, could be a big problem. Breaking a bone would involve being airlifted to a hospital island like Guadaloupe, Puerto Rico, or Curacao.
SUMMARY - Airflights and embarkation/disembarkation were nightmares: try to board early and try a port near to your house; avoid Miami as the city is a swampy mexican hassle. The ship is a marvel, perhaps the best among the fleet in decor, but gaudy. Food is very good if you dine in the dining halls only. Entertainment is third rate and not as varied as you've heard. Avoid March as spring breakers can ruin your cruise. The ship will usually feel crowded and you must expect to wait in lines everywhere. The cruise is a fantastic value, very action packed as vacations go, but you get little time in ports, and there are many money pit extras that can double the cost of your cruise if you are not smart. Being friendly and outgoing can reap great rewards.
Now that all my "vacation laundry" is fianally washed, dried, and put back into 30 gallon totes, I have a free minute to write this! My husband & I, and our little girls ages 5 and 7 returned two weeks ago from the Western Carribean on the Victory. We had a great vacation, and look forward to going again next year.
Debarkation - the worst part was riding in the shuttle from the hotel to the port. (by the way- the Ramada Inn Airport north was a DUMP - I guess you get what you pay for......) It felt like it took forever to get there we were so excited! Once we arrived however, it was a snap. Let's face it- we're all in a hurry to get on, they're going as fast as they can, things just take a little time thats all.
The room was great. We decided to take this cruise at the last minute, and were just happy to get on - we had reserved an inside room, and were upgraded to an outside on level 2. Plenty of room, and a very practical set-up. I'll tellyou another thing- there's something to be said about NOT being on an upper deck........ when the wind blows 50 miles per hour they're feeling it a heck of alot more up there than you are down below!
The food was great. I am a food person, (complete with a published cookbook) and I see absolutely no reason for complaints. I read so many reviews about mediocre food, long lines, boring breakfast, blah blah blah. I wasn't concerned at all because you just can't please some people. SURE there were lines at the buffet at noon and six. Duh. What do you expect? SURE there will be things on the menu you don't like - just try something else - it's free you know!! I didn't care for how my chateau was prepared (actually it was just a bad piece of meat - but my husbands was great) so I exchanged it for the pork chop. It was to die for- and I mean that. Eating is such a big part of cruising. You have to look at dining on the ship as an adventure and try things you've never tried before. If you are "joe meatloaf and mashed potato guy" you're going to be dissapointed unless you stick to the deli and the bar-b-que.(which by the way should be called a grill - because it's not b-b-que chicken/ribs/pork, it's burgers, hotdogs, steak sandwhiches) But if you want to live a little- try the rack of lamb, the vegetarian fajitas, the escargot, and by all means do not miss that pumpkin soup!
The entertainment far exceeded my expectations. I am probably a little more critical than most as I have worked as a singer and entertainer for the past 20 some years. But I must say it was top notch- even the magic show - and I hate magic! The broadway reviews were excellent- I just wish they would rate them for us parents. Call me old fashioned, but I just don't WANT my 5 and 7 year old seeing a guy dancing like a stipper to "I'm too sexy" and ripping his pants off. So, for moms and dads out there- livin' in America is a "G" and Vroom is a "PG 13". The entertainment was good in the other lounges as well, particularily the piano bar guy.
The casino was really nice. I love to gamble so I was a happy little camper with blackjack, carribean stud, Fun21, and 5 card draw poker machines. There are gazillions of slot machines if thats what you like, and lots of gaming tables besides the ones I mentioned. And no, I didn't notice that the machines were any "looser" on the first couple of nights as opposed to any other night on the ship.
Camp carnival was wonderful. This is actually what made our trip so great. We had no intention of dumping the kids off and doing our own thing. We didn't think it could possibly be THAT fun for them. Boy were we wrong! We had them there from 2 to 5 daily, and even tho we begged them to come to the "big people dining room for fancy food" they preferred to eat with the kids. So, we found ourselves alone together nights from 6 to 10, and let them stay later a few nights. We only had them at the babysitting service 8 hours the whole trip- the best $80 we ever spent! What fun it was for us to go for drinks and dancing and get a little crazy a couple nights. It's been a long time, and we had a blast! They change activities with these kids every 30 minutes - amazing. They made new little friends, and the best part was that they got to excersize a little independance and be apart from each other. Not enough good things to say about camp carnival. Don't worry moms- the kids are in great hands.
The ports were a nice break. Since we had the kids along, naturally we didn't do any scuba or 8 hour tour type things. What we did do was go shopping in Cozumel with the kids for souveniers, and then take them back to the ship where we had the run of the place! We are not big fans of Mexico, so it was no big deal. It was nice to just lay on the deck and enjoy the weather, and let the kids go down the waterslide about 80 times each. We let them go to camp that night, so we could go in to town. Went to (oh shoot- can't remember the name of it- kind of like senor frogs) anyway, it was a hoot and reminded me of myself in college. Stayed long enough to share a giant margarita, and then left and went to the pelican bar right on the beach where the ships were docked. It was gorgeous! Sitting outdoors by the ocean, drinking margaritas, open air bar, DJ, dancing, fun night!
Grand Cayman was just beautiful. Too bad we weren't there very long. It was just as stunning as any picture you have ever seen. The water was a color I can't even describe, the weather was perfect, the sand was so fine and white. Hubby snorkeled, I layed on the beach, and the kids played in the water. I think it cost us about $30 for the whole deal - which included R/T shuttle.
I think I liked Jamaica the best. We really didn't even want to get off the ship in Jamaica from everything we have ever heard. But it was SO interesting! We got a cab, and for $60 the driver took us to see "the REEEEL Jamaica Mahn". It was such a cool tour. Saw the way people really live day to day in a beautiful country. Saw Mick Jaggers vacation house, which is a half mile away from people who live in little caves carved out of the roads, or little tin shacks. It was a trip. Just really a trip. You can snorkle anywhere. Take a tour of the "REEEEEL Jamaica".
Debarkation was no problem. They call you by colors, and naturally ours was in the last group to be called. No biggie. We were planning on staying in Miami another day anyway, and I didn't want to leave the ship. We sat out by the pool and ate frozen yogurt for 2 hours.
The best part of this trip was the unexpected amount of time my husband and I had alone together because of camp carnival. The worst part was that traveling with kids is difficult, they get tired and cranky, and it took untill Tuesday morning before they were really into the groove of things. Wish we'd have gone 10 days instead of 8.
A breeze! Used Fun Pass and was through the line in less then 20 minutes. We were at dock at 12:30p. No problems.
Fantastic in Dining Room! Pedestrian, but adequate, on Lido deck. Eat in dining room every chance you can, the food is great and the service is excellent.
Eastern Caribbean. San Juan, St Marten, and St Thomas. 3 Fun Days at Seas.
San Juan: Complete waste of time given the time we arrived, 5pm. Most shops closed. Senor Frogs was "hopping" but we had the kids.
St Marten: Orient Beach. Excellent! Lots of stuff going on. Kids got used to nudity. Hooked up with a great taxi driver who gives tours also (Man of the Land,)
St Thomas: Sapphire Beach. Highly recommend. Best snorkeling and water activities. (Quiet beach though if you are looking to party).
Fun Days at Seas:
Can not exaggerate the hassle of having to get up early each AM to "reserve" deck chairs. What a PIA! Maybe the nature of the beast on cruise ships but you can keep it! By the last day, people were up before 6:30a to "hold" their chairs. By the way, deck chair wars andthe loud music on Lido deck my only complaints. Everything else was great on the boat.
The Boat was in decent shape. You could tell it was well traveled but they do a great job keeping it clean throughout the cruise. For a big ship it was easy to find your way around. Elevators were ponderous though. I used stairs whenever possible.
The people were all polite and friendly. Dining room staff and cabin steward were excellent.
Like clockwork! No issues!
Well we just returned from a wonderful vacation on the Carnival Victory. I want to thank all the people who recently submitted reviews because I followed many of your tips and everything turned out perfect!!! Here's how my vacation began. We flew the day before the trip to Miami from New York. Review tip #1 was to stay at the Days Inn Downtown. I got a cheap rate on Orbitz $62.00 for the room and they shuttled us from the airport to the hotel and then in the morning they shuttled us right to the ship. That's a huge savings using the shuttles versus cabs. Tip #2 bring lots of single dollar bills for tips. On Sunday we arrived around 11:30AM at the port and the porters took our bags and off we went to the ship. To my surprise there was no one on line. This was President's week and all the kids were out of school. I was expecting a wait but we walked right up to the metal detectors and straight up to the sign and sail card desk. Now Tip #3 is make sure yougo to Carnival's website and pre- register http://www.carnival.com/mycruise/ this puts you in the computer and all they have to do is check your passports/birth certificates and then give them a credit card. This took 5 minutes and upstairs we went to wait to be called to go on the ship. We waited 15 minutes and on the ship we went!!! My first impression of the ship is it's beautiful. Not the interior design I'd like to live with but great for a cruise. Everything is nautical from the colors they use to the fish and mermaids in the dining room.
Food - the food on this ship is great and so are the choices. They have separate restaurants for New York style deli (roast beef, corned beef, pastrami and reuben sandwiches all day). Mississipi BBQ (steak sandwiches, grilled chicken and burgers) Pizza (not only cheese and pepperoni they made many exotic pizzas) Chinese food (lo mein, sesame chicken, wonton soup). Now these are just the snacks, the food in the dining room is better. The prime rib was the best, Lobster tails were sweet and the pasta's were unbelievable. In the past I've cruised on Princess (Dawn + Grand) and this food was better.
Service - this was disappointing. Our waiter and assistant were boring and unattentive. On Princess the waiters were much more experienced and fun. They were much more eager to please. It's hard to explain but on Princess the waiters knew me and my family after the first sitting. Every night our drinks were waiting without saying a word. Carnival's waiter caught on about half way through our trip.
Room Service - the guy who cleaned our room was great. We were 2 adults and 3 children in one room and he kept us in order. Speaking of room service my 13 year old and his friends on the trip had a ball calling and ordering BLT's chocolate cake and cookies whenever they wanted.
Ports of Call - in cozumel we swam with the dolphins. Don't miss this. It is a little pricey but worth every cent. We bought the video and have the greatest memories. At night Carlos and Charlies and Senior Frogs downtown. Drinks, dancing and henna tattoos for the kids, what a great night. On to the Cayman Islands we snorkeled at 2 reefs and then went and played with the stingrays. You stand about waist deep in water and take pictures of these beautiful creatures. Next we went to Ocho Rios Jamaica. You have to go to Duns River Falls It's great. We rented a van right at the port ($5.00US) per person round trip and worth every cent. I've heard so many bad things about Jamaica but after the falls we went into the town to do some shopping and we never felt unsafe. There are police everywhere. Here's tip #4 we never take the ship excursions. We did all the same things at the same places but at half the prices. As soon as you get off the ship there are tour operators that will negotiate with you for the same trip the cruise offers, you'll save hundreds.
Entertainment - we went to every late show and after that to the disco. The shows were great the comedians were good and the magician still has me stumped. He brought me on stage and right in front of my eyes made 15 showgirls disappear.amazing.
To rap this up in my opinion Carnival Victory is truly a fun ship. It's big, beautiful and has thousands of people on it (many of them children). With her size and # of people you have to go on this trip with the mindset that the little things are not going to bother you.
I have been waiting to write my review for 18 months. That how long this trip has been planned. It is long but I hope it will be helpful to future cruiser as your reveiws have been for me.
We left 5 inches of snow in Columbus Ohio on Sat 24 before the cruise, first time I have flown since 9/11. Big changes, but did just fine. We stayed at the Radisson on Biscayne Blvd. Great! We went to the Bayside Market via the people mover(free) but took the hotel shuttle($1 per person) back to hotel.
The room was to die for two of the wall were all windows over looking the bay. King size bed, down pillows and comforter, I felt like a VIP. The hotel also had a shuttle to the port ($4. per person)
We went to the port at 11:00 am got there by 11:15 and was on our ship by 12:30. This was our first cruise the ship is fantasic. Just like the pictures of seen.
We were upgraded from Rivera deck to Upper an inside cabin. It suited us just fine. Plenty of closetspace. I really like the one closet was made to hang long gowns very nice. I also liked the free use of the safe. I used my AAA card it worked just fine. We met our stewart Amick first thing and shook his hand, he was great, we saw him twice a day, they work so hard. Anything I need he got. Our luggage came before dinner. I told Amick, he was my new best friend. We got the lay of the ship and started eating (ha!) that's all you do. We,( we traveled with 32 people from my church adults only this time) walked around and stood up on deck to get a view of the bay. The crew did push the drinks and pictures, but we just said no thanks and that was that.
The muster drill could have made me sick and clostrophobic but it didn't last too long. If you aren't tall it could make you feel closed in. I'm 5'8" so that only bothered me a little.
Anything you want and as much as you want.
Dinner was something else, we had the sweetest little girl, her name is Patcharee, but she likes to be called Lilly, we were so fond of her that everyone in our group that had her gave her extra tips. She remembered how I liked my steaks, and how my husband likes two containers of dressing. She made our trip and she has only been working for Carnival for two months. Her helper didn't have much personallity, but maybe she was new too. But she worked hard also. You could have anything you wanted and if you wanted two you got it. She always wanted to make sure we liked our meal. If you added up all the meals, breakfast, lunch, dinner, 24 hr. pizza, mid-night buffet, and ice cream and room service for two it would have totaled at least $1000 for 7 days. I thought the food we ate was top notch. I'm not going into detail about every meal, but we were a group of 32 and had nothing but praise for the food.
They were good also, I especially liked how the comedian had a PG show and then they told you in advance that they also did a late night R show. There were 3 men they were really great. Two dance shows and a magic show. Wonderful.
Our CD Steve Castell was nice and a very talented juggler. They had bingo every day a little pricey $20 a game but lots of people participate.
They did alot of games during the day. Sorry to say after the first night of trivia, which I love, I quit going. The young lady in charge was being heckled by a man who had too much to drink, it was hard for anyone in the crowd to have fun. But at one point she nicely went over and put masking tape over his mouth, the whole place applauded. There was something truly for everyone. My husband did what he wanted and I baked in the beautiful sun.
Ports of Call:
San Juan, St. Martin, and St. Thomas
San Juan was a wasted stop, we all felt with all the history that could have been experience, we missed it because of the late time 5:00 pm. Also it was very dirty and we felt unsafe and we were traveling in a pack. You would think it would benefit the city as far as tourist money to come earlier.
St. Martin was beautiful, the shops, what bargains. the further you walked the cheaper things got. The water was gorgous. The venders really need to learn the work no. But I'm sure that's how they make a living. but beware, if you act like your interested they will swarm you like a hungry animal.
St. Thomas, was beautiful too. The bargain weren't as good as St. Martin. All three stops had a great amount of poverty, which really broke your heart.
This was a trip of a lifetime for us, we have been married for 27 years and this was the first trip without kids. Speaking of kids there weren't more than 150 kids on board if that many, and the ones there I thought were well behaved. A great time if you would rather be with mostly adults. There is something for everyone. Good music can be found everywhere, I especially loved the classical piano music in the lobby. I was surprised that there was no country music though.
I only had a couple of things ore this trio would be perfect but it was so close that I'm almost afraid to try another but I'm afraid I'm hook.
1. I only came across two people not pleasant but rude. One was at the excursion desk and the other was at the casino, okay so I just wanted play nickels and she wouldn't take my pennies. Then I need to cash a traveler check for some extra tip money and I got the same unpleasant girl.
2. The excursions, don't to it. They are overpriced.and buyers beware of the wording on the Carnival excursions..read the fine print. We only took one,(first cruise and limited budget) so we choose the best one for us. Trip to Mageans Bay and Paradise Point $35. NO water mat, no snorkel gear, and no tram ride. All we got a very expensive taxi ride. I wasn't the only one upset, there was four taxi-vans full that we not happy. At St. Thomas there is a Taxi commission that sets the fares for the rides and someone needs to give it to Carnival. I went to the desk and told them I felt cheated and why. The 1st Purser(title on his badge) heard me and tried to tell my the the tram ride was included and I just didn't give my ticket to the right person. He said he even heard the tour person and I just didn't do something right with my ticket. Then he read the description of the tour, yes it was nothing more than a taxi ride. I just about cried, and I told him how wonderful my first cruise had been but I was disapointed in Carnival for taking advantage of a new cruiser who trusted Carnival to giv eme the best for my money. The next day a received a letter from the person in charge of excursions with an apology and coupons for photo and he thank me for my input. I bet that poor cab driver didn't get much of that $35. But this didn't ruin my trip, but next time I will do my homework.
We weren't in any hurry because we were staying an extra day. The rest of our group took their own bags and left early. After everyone had their turn we were off the ship by 11:00. What a zoo though after you left the ship. Our luggage wasn't too are to find. But next time I'll invest in a bigger suitcase.
I hope this review is helpful. I had a great time! Thankyou CruiseMates for all your education. I know I was better prepared because of you.
Pamela S. Myers
Just got back from the Victory. First time cruisers traveling with our two daughters (ages 2 and 5 ½), and eight other family members.
We left Calgary, Alberta, Canada, at 7 am and arrived in Miami around 5 pm (connection through Houston). Grabbed our luggage and went looking for the Dollar rental shuttle. We decided to have a full day in Miami to sightsee before embarking on our cruise so we rented a van. This way we also had transportation to the Carnival pier the day of the cruise.
Sunday, the day of the cruise, everyone got up early so we'd have time to make a trip to the pier with half of the group, come back, return the van, and take the Dollar shuttle to the pier with the other half of the group. By the time we got to the pier there were tons of people lugging their luggage. The people who got there early already had their luggage in big bins, we on the other hand had to leave it where our shuttle left us, out there by itself in the middle of all the dust (major constructionat the Carnival pier).
I had filled out the Fun Pass for each member of the group so as we went in to register most of the group went to the Fun Pass line (which was as long as the other line, but does move faster because there's less paper work for you to fill out). My husband and I were told to go to another line because we had a stroller. People on wheelchairs or with strollers actually have a separate line. You then proceed into another big room where everyone is waiting to embark and you get your "Sail and Sign" cards. Then it was time to embark. You smile into a machine that takes a very flattering picture of you and in you go, through security machines and on to the gangway.
The first Carnival employee you encounter is a photographer, right on the gangway, to capture how you looked as you embark on your vacation (which is probably tired from chasing luggage and kids and filling out forms and getting in lines.).
The first thing we did was find our cabin, and even though it wasn't ready we put our carry on in the closet and went exploring. Up to the Lido deck to take a look at Miami and to find that our luggage was still in the same dusty spot (not a very comforting feeling). Then to the buffet for our first meal on the ship.
I will now summarize the rest of our experience in categories.
The ship: The Victory is a beautiful ship. We had never cruised before and were very impressed by the size of the ship. It has a "Seas" décor with everything related to the ocean. Our girls counted all the mermaids they could find. It's true that the carpet in the hallways is very stained, and I also noticed that the carpet in the buffet area is very dirty (you can't help but notice when your child is having a tantrum and sprawling herself all over the carpet).
The entertainment: Every night there is a show. Vegas style shows, comedians, a magician and even a talent show. Steve Cassel the cruise director was hilarious and did a great juggling act. There are quite a few bars, a disco, an arcade, a casino and plenty to do in the evening.
The food: Personally I thought the buffet food was boring. I always read about the midnight buffets and quite frankly they are not worth staying up for. Even the gala buffet was disappointing. Instead of the buffet, they should maybe have a fruit and small snacks table set up the whole evening. We really enjoyed the dining room and I think that if we didn't have 2 kids with us, we probably would have gone there for lunch and dinner every day. The food was great and the service excellent. All you had to say was "I'm not sure which one I want" and you'd get both.
Service: In the dinning room the service was excellent. On the Lido deck there are a lot of people working, not necessarily smiling all the time (they work 16 hour days), but you can ask for anything and you get it. Our room steward did not introduce herself and my husband didn't actually find out who she was until almost the end of the cruise. I thought the fact that most are not proficient in English lowers the quality of service you get. I don't think our room steward spoke English very well so she didn't approach us.
Maitre d': Saw him twice for a combined time of less than 30 seconds. Worth a tip? I don't think so.
Photos: They take a ton of pictures every day, and every day a ton of pictures ends up in the garbage. They are just too expensive. They make most of them in an 8 x 10 format, which costs $20. If you want it in a 5 x 7 it's only $6.99 but you need to buy the 8 x 10 first. I think they should make them in a 4 x 6 proof size and charge you for the actual size you want. We ended up spending $100US for 6 pictures. We would have bought more if they were more affordable.
Sail and Sign card: You can check your balance on the TV screen in your cabin. We did it everyday and found mistakes. I have a feeling that a lot of people don't check and assume everything on the bill is correct.
Ports: We stopped in Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios. We didn't book any excursions because we felt they would be a waste of money because we had two small children. Instead we enjoyed the beach and shopped at every port. We did notice that what we did do on our own was also offered by the ship as excursions, but it was well worth it to do it on our own. In Cozumel and Ocho Rios the ship docks so you can leave when you want. In the Grand Cayman the ship tenders. They told us to pick up a number at starting at 8am, so we went for breakfast and then picked a number by 8:30. We ended up being number 12 and having to wait 45 minutes for our turn. Piece of advice, pick up the number then go for breakfast.
Camp Carnival: What a great program!! They run activities from 7:30 am to 10:00 pm, with a break for lunch (12:00 - 2:00) and a break for dinner (5:00 - 7:00), this is when Camp Carnival takes kids to the Mediterranean dinning room and feeds them. The camp counselors do a lot of activities with the kids. They provide the list of activities for the duration of the cruise from which you can decide which activities your child will enjoy. You can also plan your activities around Camp Carnival. It is not only a good place to take them so the parents can have some "adult" time, but also a place where your child can play and have fun. In our case, because our kids are 2 and 5, I think if they didn't get a chance to just play, they would have been bored.
Debarkation: We had to get up at 5:00 am (to line up by 6:00 am) to pick up our passports and go through customs. The customs officials only showed up at 7:00, so needless to say we waited a long time in line. Not only did we have to be there early, the whole family had to be there to pick them up. By the time we sat down for breakfast we had been up for 3 hours. After breakfast we got our carry-ons from our cabin and headed to the Caribbean Lounge and waited for our colored tags to be called. It took quite some time. A lot of people kept being called to the purser's desk and until all those have cleared we all have to wait. Once we were on the gangway on the way out it didn't take long to get our luggage and get to the shuttle to the airport. I must say that with our luggage they decided to play a trick on us, because only one piece of luggage was by our color. My husband had to run around all the other deck colors to find the other two. We had Carnival transfers so we quickly got on the right shuttle and off to the airport.
Tipping: Carnival has a new tipping policy where $70 is automatically added to your account. Every sail & sign card gets $70 added. It works out to $10 a day. Some people in our group preferred the old envelope way of tipping, so the first or second day they went to the purser's desk and removed the $70 from their account. You can also do it on the last day if you want. We thought the amount was fair and we left it as it was but you can add or subtract from the amount depending on how you feel about the service you got. We also had to make sure that we had a stack of $1 bills, because as soon as you leave the ship you start tipping anyone who touches your luggage. Amazing how fast those bills go. We had Carnival transfers for the shuttle to the airport that specifically state that what you paid for them "includes fare and ALL gratuities", but when we arrived at the airport we were reminded by the bus driver "don't forget the driver" and he actually stood outside the door while everyone got out so we would tip him. I feel that he did his job, which is to drive the bus, which he is paid to do, so I didn't tip him, neither did most of the bus when they found out that the transfer already included the tip.
All in all it was a great vacation. One that I am looking forward to repeat in the near future. I hope my review has provided useful information. Delia DaSilva