Carnival Victory Reviews

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68 User Reviews of Carnival Victory Cruise Ship

Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: December 14, 2003

My mother and I (I'm 23) flew from Richmond to Charlotte and then Charlotte to Miami, but our second flight left about an hour late because they had to de-ice the wings, so we landed in Miami around 1:10 pm. There were a lot of cruisers on the flight so everyone was anxiously awaiting their bags.

There were several Carnival reps around gathering people for the buses. We hadn't arranged for that and after asking about it, decided to stick with our plan of getting a taxi.

We got to the pier around 2 pm and as soon as we stepped out, a porter gave us a list of guarantee cabins so we could find our cabin number (we booked a balcony guarantee). We found it, he marked it on the tags, and we went into the terminal. After security, we joined the line and it took us probably about 30 to 45 minutes to get through everything-the initial checking of documents, getting our cards, getting our pictures taken, and actually getting on the ship.

We went directly to our cabin to check it out. I was really happy going with a

guarantee cabin because we were on Deck 8, mid-ship (8-375), and it was a great location. It was really convenient to the Lido deck-we could just pop right up there so quickly to grab a drink, some food from the buffet, etc.

 

I should probably add here that both of us are first-time cruisers. I had researched everything so thoroughly and read so many good things about having a balcony (and I love balconies anyway) that I decided to go with it, and I'm probably spoiled now because I don't think I could ever resort to an inside or oceanview cabin!

After checking out the cabin, we went exploring around the ship-checking out all the bars, the dining room, the casino, the pools-just wandering and finding our way around.

One thing I will say about the Victory and the ships in that class is that at first it's kind of confusing getting around, and it gets less confusing as you go along-but I don't think we really got the hang of it until the last day, and both of us are good with directions!

There is one particular thing that makes it difficult to get around-the position of the Atlantic Dining Room. There are two dining rooms, the Atlantic and the Pacific. The Pacific is the main dining room, used for Open Sitting for breakfast and lunch as well as the 5:45 Main Sitting for dinner and the 8:00 Late Sitting. The Pacific is located on decks 3 and 4 Aft. The Atlantic is used for just the 6:15 and 8:30 dinner sittings, but it is located on decks 3 and 4. in the middle. So it's closed most of the day, and there's no way to get around it.

There were many a time where we were trying to get to the Pacific dining room or the bottom floor of the Caribbean Lounge and ended up standing in front of the Atlantic dining room, looking at closed doors. It was so confusing that the Info Desk put a sign up that said "How do I get to the Pacific Dining Room?" Basically, we had to go back up to Deck 5, walk across, and then walk back down to Deck 4 or 3. I'm sure there's a good reason for why the Atlantic has to be there, but it is the one design flaw I saw with the Victory-and I assume the other ships in that class are the same way. My advice-walk AFT as far as you can before going down to get to the Pacific, and FORWARD as far as you can before going down for the Caribbean. It takes a while to get the hang of it.

As far as the rest of the ship goes, it's beautifully decorated. The theme is "seas," and everything is named accordingly-Aegean, Atlantic, Pacific, Adriatic, Caribbean, etc. Most of the ship is done in greens, blues, and dark wood. I'll admit, some of it gets to the gaudy side-the Mediterranean Restaurant for one-but most of it is really well done.

The two most striking rooms on the ship, in my opinion, are the Adriatic Lounge and the Ionian Room. The Adriatic is very classy; it's where they have the Captain's Cocktail Party, art auctions, and music in the evenings. The Ionian room is done in a classic Greek style with columns, marble and maroon leather chairs. They have a jazz trio play in this room, and they also have a classical trio some afternoons for "Classical Music and Tea Time," which is a great way to relax before dinner. It's also the only indoor place where you can smoke cigars. There's a Card Room to one side and the Internet Café to the other.

Of course, there are bars galore-a Lobby bar, 3 pool-side bars, a casino bar, and a whole row of them on the 5th floor Aft. We frequented the Irish Seas Piano Bar the most. It's a nice room with dark green paint and a mural ceiling, and best of all, Ron the Piano Man plays there nearly every night from about 10 pm-2 am! The piano spins while Ron takes song requests, plays and sings. It's a lot of fun and he did a great job even though he had a cold during our cruise. By the end of it, he was up for drinking martinis instead of TheraFlu, but he did remark that this was the quietest cruise he'd been on since Canada. We heard similar remarks, so I guess our cruise crowd was pretty dead. Still, we had a great time in the Irish Seas. They have full bar service thanks to a few barmaids who make sure you keep getting drinks. I recommend getting there early and sitting at the bar, and I definitely recommend going at least one night! We loved it so much we went back again and again.

And now for some grades.

Embarkation: B+ Pretty much as expected with wait time in lines. I'm sure it's probably a lot better getting there earlier but since our flight was late we came in a little later than planned and during a pretty big rush. Everyone was in a good mood, so waiting in line wasn't too painful. After the really big initial line, everything spaces out pretty well and then everyone wanders up to the lunch buffet once they get on ship.

Food: A- The only reason I'm giving it an A- and not an A or A+ is because I didn't particularly enjoy the Lido deck buffet. Basically you can eat at the Mediterranean Restaurant (Lido deck) for breakfast (8-12), lunch (12-2), dinner (6-9), or you can eat in the Pacific Dining Room for breakfast and lunch, and then your normal sitting for dinner. I would recommend going to the dining room. It's Open Sitting for both breakfast and lunch so they'll put you with other groups of people, but this was never a terrible thing. Sometimes you end up with a group that's chatty, sometimes not.

Breakfast is really good and you get more of a selection than you do with the buffet. For lunch, though, there is a better selection at the buffet, and we normally would eat at the buffet instead. They do post the menu for the day outside the Pacific (Lower Level), so you can check out the lunch entrees and decide. Anyway, the buffet wasn't terrible, but it's not nearly up to par with the dining room food. They do have nice fresh fruit and frozen yogurt and ice cream, but I wasn't really impressed with the entrée selections. On the other hand, the Pizzeria and the Mississippi BBQ (burgers, hot dogs, fries) are both good. There's also a deli and a Chinese food place, but we never tried those. Dinner, every night, was great. A+.

Service: A+ I read so many varying things about quality of service so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Our room steward, Joseph, introduced himself the first night and did a great job the whole week keeping the room clean and producing some very cute towel animals. Our head waiter Carlton and assistant Primosz were both attentive and always gave us whatever we wanted. Every other employee we encountered was unfailingly friendly and polite. They were always working on cleaning the ship and we never saw an employee idle. We ordered room service one night and it came very quickly. I'll agree that the service wasn't really that "personal" - it was more on the efficient side-but they did their jobs really well and we felt that the service was great.

Condition of ship: B+ Yes, there are water stains on the carpets in the cabin hallways. This is not really bothersome considering that you spent about 0.3% of your time in those hallways. The rest of the ship was kept in good condition; the employees were always cleaning, vacuuming, or polishing.

Entertainment: B+ We did spend a lot of time in the Caribbean Lounge for shows and other activities, and we saw nearly every show. The Las Vegas-style shows, in my opinion, are not great. Maybe they are to some people, but I'm just not really into that kind of show. There were 2 of them, "Livin' in America" and "Vrooom." The comedians were both very funny (although we didn't go to the R-rated show either night). A magician was scheduled for one show but didn't make it, so Steve (the Cruise Director) did an amazing juggling act, which was great. We also saw a sword swallower, which was pretty cool.

Other entertainment. Bingo is expensive but we played and played, never winning. the Newlywed/Not-So-Newlywed game is a must-see. Horse Racing was really funny, I would encourage placing bets... Trivia was fun although the questions seemed more suited for the middle-aged crowd (which I am not a member of!). Overall the activities and shows were very entertaining. This being my first cruise, I wasn't aware that they would have a guest talent show, but we went and were so impressed-your fellow guests may be very talented!

Ports: A- I picked this ship particularly for its itinerary because I wanted to go to St. Maarten and wasn't interested in Nassau. For some reason, I just knew I would prefer St. Maarten, and it turned out to be my favorite of the three. By the way, I did not do a Carnival shore excursion at any of these ports-they are all simple enough to do on your own if you're willing to be flexible and explore.

The only slightly negative part about the ports is that the San Juan stop is at night. Still, Old San Juan is nice at night, especially if the weather is pretty mild-we had a good time strolling around the streets and just exploring, but of course it'd be nice to see in the daytime. Since it is the first port, everyone rushes to get off the boat at 5 so you may encounter lines in the Deck 1 Forward stairwell. For the other two we didn't really have that problem.

In St. Maarten I would recommend Dawn Beach, which is beautiful. However, it's good to know that taxi fare in St. Maarten can be high especially if you're traveling alone or with one other person. It cost two of us about $27 round-trip to Dawn Beach, which is still on the Dutch side. It is a fairly long ride from the pier, but if you're planning to take a taxi to the French side, it might be pretty expensive. The water taxi right off the pier will take you to and from downtown Philipsburg for $5 per person.

In St. Thomas you can walk right from the pier to the Paradise Point Tramway and take it up to the top. It does have some beautiful views and there are a few shops and a café at the top. There are taxis everyone with drivers constantly asking if you want to go downtown or return to the ship, so getting into downtown is very easy. There is a shopping mall right at the dock but downtown Charlotte Amalie is pretty and has a little more atmosphere. I would have liked to go to Coki Beach or Magen's Bay in St. Thomas, but I had sunburn from Dawn Beach so we skipped that and went back to the ship to swim in the shade while the top decks were empty.

We had a very annoying US Immigrations visit when we docked in St. Thomas. Starting at 5:30 am, US Citizens had to report with their passport to one area, non-US Citizens to another. We learned about it in our Capers the night before, but the start time of 5:30 was recommended for those on early tours, so we took our time (mainly because I wouldn't get out of bed) and went at about 7:30. The line was ridiculous. We had to go to the Adriatic Lounge, but the line stretched almost to the front of the casino (quite a distance!). We were in line for a good 30-45 minutes, which was unfortunate since I was a little hung over from the "Riviera" drink special of the night before. We eventually got processed through and were given a little white sticker that seemed to have no purpose, as no one ever asked me for it again. Anyway, apparently that had its benefits because we didn't have to go through Immigration when we docked in Miami.

I did find it a tiny bit taxing to do 3 ports in 3 days. I really feel for those who have 5 ports in a row, and I would never want to be on a ship with that kind of itinerary! The good thing about Victory is that the times you're in port vary-it's not just 8-5, 8-5. Besides, I think it's pretty unlikely that you'll spend all 7 hours (or 10 in St. Thomas) in the port, out and about. We couldn't do it; maybe some people can. So plan your time accordingly and don't feel rushed-we came back to the ship for lunch, showers, and a break in both St. Maarten and St. Thomas. Then we'd go back out to do shopping or poke around a little more. All the ports are beautiful and I want to go back to each of them.

Debarkation: A+ This gets an A+ because my mom and I did something called "self-assisted debarkation," which was announced during the Debarkation talk and in the Debarkation Capers. Typical debarkation, as you may or may not know, consists of setting your luggage outside your cabin door between 6 am and midnight and then leaving when your luggage's color tag is called the next morning starting at 9:30 am. However, if you had not gone over your Customs limit, had nothing to declare to Customs, and chose to take all your luggage off the ship yourselves, you could leave between 7:30 and 8:30 am.

My mom immediately jumped on this idea even though our flight from Miami wasn't scheduled to leave until 5 pm. Once we found out that we could standby on an 11 am flight, I was game. We only had one suitcase and a couple carry-on bags, so it was really simple for us. At 7:40 am, they made the announcement that self-assisted debarkation had started, so we went down to the lobby, joined the line, and were off the ship in about 20 minutes. You'd think that taking all your luggage off yourself might deter those carrying 7 or 8 bags, but ohhh no. They were there too, but didn't slow things up too much. We got off the ship, went through the terminal, popped out to a taxi and got to the airport around 8:30. If you can do this and it's an option, I would highly recommend it. I would have liked to stay on the ship, have breakfast, laze around, whatever, but we ended up getting home 6 hours earlier than planned, and after 7 days, that was pretty nice.

A few last things-- I had read about the Cruise Director on the Victory as some British guy Mike, but our CD was a guy named Steve Cassel and the ACD was Tim Somebody. I gathered that Steve is a pretty seasoned CD, and he was funny in a kind of. goofy, nerdy way. He is a fantastic juggler, but I wasn't totally thrilled about him as a funny, approachable guy. I liked Tim more because he seemed more real-Steve at times could be a little fake. He did a good job with everything, but I never really "liked" him.

The in-cabin movie selection sucks. They show movies I've never heard of and then repeat them at the end of the cruise. They did have a couple good movies, but overall it was pretty poor. I know, I know, some of you are saying, "Like I would want to be watching a movie in my room when I'm on a cruise!!!" but sometimes you do, and we ended up watching an Olsen twins movie one night when we were getting ready for dinner. Bleh.

I had a great time during my first cruise on the Victory and although I want to check out some other ships, I would sail on her again. If you get involved in all the activities and explore the ports, you'll have a great time too. I hope this review has been helpful!

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Carnival Victory
Publication Date: October 17, 2003

2 day Cruise to Nowhere from Norfolk Oct 17-19, 2003

Arrived in downtown Norfolk about 12:20pm, parked in the Town Point garage, and walked across the street to the cruise terminal/pier at Nauticus. There was no line and we were through check-in, security and photos, and onboard by 1pm. We had decided to save money this year and just get and inside guarantee. We were assigned cabin 6289 on the Upper deck. A large room, with beds made up as a king.

Having been on Destiny, which I did think was very "neon" in décor and a bid gaudy, the Victory was a pleasant surprise. We knew the layout of the class, but liked the Victory's colors and décor.

We sent directly to the Atlantic dining room, to which we had been assigned for late seating at 8:30pm, only to find that we were seated at a table for eight and had requested a table for two. Marko, the Matre d' was very accommodating and set us up with a nice table on the upper level.

We enjoyed embarkation lunch in the Mediterranean restaurant on Lido deck, where the Chinese wok, deli, buffet

lines, Mississippi BBQ, and Pizza kitchen were all open. Lifeboat drill was about 25 minutes later than scheduled, so we sailed about 4:45pm. It was a sunny day, in the low 70's, the outstanding pool band Ecstasy was playing, and Karen even sunned in her bathing suit. With sunset about 6:20, we were still in the Hampton Roads channel at sunset.

We found our favorite wine and martini bar at the Caspian Bar and enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails. At dinner hour we reported to the dining room only to see from the entrance that someone was seated at our table. I asked to headwaiter to check, and she moved the couple. She said to wait a few minutes until the table was ready. No one came to advise us, and finally at 8:45 we just walked to the table and sat down. The wait staff did an outstanding job of accommodating us at that time and by the time of the main course we were right on line with everyone else.

I brought my own wine to the dining room each night, prepared to pay the $10 corkage fee. We were not charged either night. The waitress, however, knew little about wine other than how to uncork it..not offering me a taste and immediately filling my wife's glass to the brim. The second night I asked her to just let it breath after opening and I'd pour. We had no trouble with it during boarding. They x-rayed the boxes and asked if it was wine. I said yes and they sent me on my way with two bottles of champagne and two of dinner wine. I had carried a copy of the policy from the Carnival website FAQ's that allow it.

The menu the first night was not memorable, but good. I had gazpacho, and rack of lamb and Karen had catch of the day: tilappia. Dinner the second night was outstanding. I enjoyed smoked salmon, strawberry bisque, Caesar salad, three lobster tails, and cherries jubilee, followed by birthday cake.

Both nights the dining room staff paraded and danced during dessert. They actually appeared to be having fun and enjoying it.

The shows both nights were outstanding, possibly some of the best we have seen aboard Carnival. The lead songstress, Diana LaSalla, has an awesome voice and vocal range, and Kevin Jayroe, the lead singer, was very good. The dancers dressed both nights like a Vegas review and were excellent. They were so good that neither of us fell asleep either night!

The weather on day two was as bad as last year, raining till late afternoon, and eliminating the normal pool activities and making the food lines very long and slow. They moved some activities inside, and the Siren's Pool on Lido deck, with the retractable cover, was busy. A blackjack tournament made the casino the most crowded I'd ever seen on cruises. They did have nickel slots and me made our customary donation. Photo portraits were available both nights. Camp Carnival was in full swing, including a coketail party and formal dinner for them.

There were far fewer men in formal dress than on any other cruise we have been on, including this same cruise last year. Women were mostly formally attired. At the captain's welcome aboard party, in the Adriatic Lounge, there were plenty of free drinks and appetizers even after the Captain and other officers were introduced and left, an uncommon situation.

There were a nice variety of music/dancing venues both evenings, from 70's to jazz, classical, rock, etc. A Filipino band, The Bestsellers, was awesome. Because of the rainy day on Saturday we did attend a matinee comedy show with two comedians. TV is VERY limited. No CNN and intermittent movies. They did have Saturday college football in the sports bar by the casino.

The ship returned about 7am Sunday morning but we were able to stay aboard with luggage in our room until 9:20. We enjoyed breakfast in the Pacific dining room, the larger of the two dining rooms. I thanked the matre d' for his attention to our table problems. Leaving was easy, and we walked across the street to the parking garage, deposited our luggage and returned to the park adjacent to the terminal to watch the ship sail and then attended the Town Point Wine Festival to make a who weekend of it. We had a nice weekend holiday. But two years in a row of lousy Saturday weather stealing our sun time, darn.

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Eastern Canada
Publication Date: August 18, 2003

This was my tenth cruise, our fifth as a family, and the second time we've sailed out of New York City. It's a delight to be able to drive from our home in Connecticut and be on the ship, in our stateroom, in less than one hour -- which we did this time, much to our surprise.

The boarding procedure was painless. It wasn't supposed to start until 1:30, but we were already on board by then. Tip: Have all your documents filled out and your passports in hand, and all will move quickly. Lose any single piece of paperwork and you're toast. You can carry on your bags if they're small enough for an airport-style X-ray; otherwise check them at curb-side and be sure to tip the stevedore. One lady we met lost a bag at check-in and it never was found in the next five days.

The ship is very, very big. Our cruise in mid-August was sold out and jammed with kids – more than 800 of the 3500 passengers -- so the Carnival Kids Club was jammed, but still accommodated them nicely. The Kids Club counselors are

very attentive. I tried to walk into the disco where my daughter was at some kids' event and I was politely challenged at the door. They even asked if I had booze in the Diet Coke I was carrying. That's the kind of care for my kid that I expect, respect and appreciate.

When you first step on board you must find your own cabin, but the map they hand you makes that easy. Baggage was delivered in about an hour. We had two cabins -- one outside with a balcony (Our first, but not our last. They're worth it!) and an inside cabin nearby. Both were well appointed and roomy by cruise ship standards.

Lifeboat drill was fine, if a bit cursory. We were supposed to sail at 4:30 p.m. but finally got going about 5:15 p.m. We had a 5:45 p.m. sitting in the Pacific Dining Room, so we missed most of the harbor as we sailed out.

The food was great, the menu diverse and the service impeccable. We enjoyed the fact that our family had its own table and we didn't have to share our meals with strangers. Our fellow passengers on a previous New York to Bermuda cruise had been a big disappointment -- low class, rude and pushy. This time they were fine. It's just that there were so many of them.

The crowding was worst on Promenade and Lido decks. The buffet style Mediterranean Restaurant was fine, and the optional Deli and Chinese food windows a nice touch, but the crowds made dining less than enjoyable, so at most meals we opted for the more formal sit-down fare.

At the self-serve restaurant they offer plates but no trays, perhaps to cut down on gluttony. In the main dining room the portions were small, but requests to our waiter for an extra appetizer or dessert were met with an enthusiastic "why not?" We avoided the midnight buffet, so I can't help you there. Our one experience with room service for pre-port coffee was fine.

Our cruise director was Mark Price, a bubbly Brit with a fun sense of humor who seemed genuine and was very effective. I usually can't stand cruise directors, but this guy was real and very funny. The shows on our five-day cruise were super -- especially nights two and four, when the dancers performed elaborately staged numbers. The comedian on the first night was OK, the magician on night three was adequate but nothing new. The ballroom seats 2,500 and usually provides two shows a night (one for each dinner seating), but get there early as the place fills up fast. The upper two decks are steep, stadium-style seating. We opted for the main floor. There's usually a game of bingo in advance of the show.

If you drink a lot of soda (or your kids do), get a "Fountain Fun Card" at any of the bars as soon as you board. They allow unlimited sodas for about $5 a day vs. a standard price of $1.75 per glass (with built-in tips). We found some of the bar staff treated the cards with scorn, but we never lacked a cold beverage, and tipped staff an additional buck or two if they were helpful, say, in the main ballroom.

The staff came from 53 countries, with a strong presence of Eastern Europeans and Asians. They were all friendly and helpful, and language was never a problem. They worked very hard, and it showed. Never once did I see a piece of trash or a smudge mark on a glass door. The ship was immaculate, despite carrying 4,500 people in all.

My wife visited the Spa and had what she said was a great massage -- followed by a sales pitch for overpriced lotions and such.

One does get the sense on Carnival that you are always being pitched something. The cruise director was always on the PA promoting some crappy jewelry or watches on sale in the gift shop, hawking shore excursions, selling us on bingo or flogging the video being shot of the cruise. We understand that such "revenue centers" help keep down the cost of the cruise, but please! Enough with the K-mart blue light specials. We came to relax, not shop.

It was the same thing with the one "port talk". On the Caribbean cruises this session is like a giant infomercial for merchants ashore. On this cruise there were almost none, so he hawked the approved shore excursions (i.e., the ones that Carnival profits from). How about a little history of the cities we're visiting? Something about the culture? This is a continuing gripe of mine with all cruise lines: It's always about shopping!

The photographers were very good, and formal sittings were plentiful with different backdrops and photographers each night. We ended up buying three group shots (at $20 apiece), a new record for us. Work with the photographers and they'll give you whatever you want, or just say "no thanks" and they'll leave you alone.

There was one "formal night" and the dress code was observed by most, to my surprise. Tuxedos were few, but most folks at least wore a blazer and tie (or didn't go to dinner if they chose to stay in their shorts and t-shirts).

In-cabin TV was disappointing. There's a nifty digital log showing where you are, the ship's speed, wind direction, and the temperature in each of the four pools, but aside from a couple of HBO reruns, all the other movies were pay-per-view at $9 apiece. They did pick up the TV networks, and carried CNBC for the markets and even a Canadian channel when we left Halifax.

Our cruise had two ports of call: St John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

St. John was tiny and offered only a few tours. My wife and 11-year-old daughter went on the kayak and lobster-bake, as recommended on this site by others, and they had a gas. I opted for a walk around downtown and also enjoyed myself. The natives are not only friendly, they're great. The cruise ships mean a lot to their economy, so they go all out to make you feel welcome. And the booths on the pier selling arts and crafts were filled with unique items at good prices. Shop there and you'll find some nice souvenirs to take home.

In Halifax we booked a taxi in advance, also at the recommendation of others on this site. I'll do it again in other ports -- anything to avoid the tour bus and the cookie-cutter, overpriced tours offered by Carnival. Our driver was Bob MacLintock (www.tourbytaxi.com), who took the three of us by Mercedes down the coast to Peggy's Cove over some beautiful back roads. Peggy's Cove was a madhouse, but he showed us equally lovely coves where nobody was cluttering up the landscape. On the way back, he showed us the sights of Halifax -- homes, the Citadel, downtown, etc. -- and had us back to the dock in less than five hours for only $144 U.S. I recommend him highly. He has a number of different tours and with three or more people, they're a bargain compared to the buses.

On the dock in Halifax is an excellent museum of Canadian immigration and more crafts shops. Bob told us everything the shops sell is reviewed in advance, so you won't find any of the usual made-in-China crap. The U.S. dollar is very strong, so don't look like an ugly American and try to bargain down an already reasonable price.

We had another day at sea, this time with fog, and we were home again by 7 a.m. in New York. Debarkation started at 8:30 a.m. for those who could "self-assist" (i.e. schlep all their own bags). We started toward the elevators about 8:45 a.m. thinking we'd missed the rush, only to be stuck in roller-suitcase gridlock for about a half-hour. Still, it was faster than putting our bags out the night before and trying to claim them in that sea of humanity, as those passengers get off last.

This was our second cruise on Carnival (following a somewhat favorable New Year's Cruise out of Tampa on the Inspiration). We'd previously gone only on Holland America (Caribbean, Panama Canal, Alaska), Celebrity and NCL, but Carnival compared very favorably and we'd take them again -- especially anything they offer sailing out of New York City!

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Eastern Canada
Publication Date: July 3, 2003

This was my 4th Carnival cruise and my second sailing on the Carnival Victory. Quite frankly, it's time to move on. Not that I don't use other cruise lines. Not that Carnival hasn't served its purpose. I have only sailed Carnival on 4-day cruises when I've wanted to stretch a holiday weekend. For longer cruises there are much better choices in the cruise industry. The pity is that while Carnival appeared to have a very good product, it seems to be in decline. At one time Carnival seemed to be a leader in the short cruise market (at least in New York). The cruises were offered on some of their newest ships as opposed to other lines, such as Royal Caribbean that do their short cruises on their oldest ships, such as Majesty of the Seas. This decline was all the more apparent when the last cruise I took was a fabulous 7-day vacation on board Celebrity's Millennium. Whereas Celebrity is re-branding itself and trying to add a lot more special touches to their cruises Carnival has either removed features or lowered the quality of the product.

One feature that was better

was the embarkation. Check-in took no time at all. I arrived at the passenger ship terminal and there was no line. After showing my ticket ot the security officer, I proceeded to the x-ray and metal detectors and straight on to the check-in lines. I located a line with only family ahead of me, who were actually finishing up and had my Sign & Sail/room key card in a matter of minutes. One more stop to take my photo for the card (for security reasons.I skipped the bon voyage photo) and I was on the Victory. I went directly to my cabin 1205 on the Riviera Deck. Since I carried on my luggage I dropped them off at my room and headed to the Lido Deck for the Mediterranean Restaurant, the casual buffet on the restaurant. Up until then I thought things looked pretty good. The ship didn't look brand new but looked fine to me. Upon arriving on Deck 9 I already noticed that this was going to be a crowded cruise and that I would need to work at finding my own space. The pool area looked very crowded and congested. So did the Med. Restaurant. I sampled a little bit of Chinese food from the Yangtze River and found it to be very good. My main goal, though, was to get to the Mississippi Barbecue for a steak sandwich. There wasn't much of a line and I was told it would take about 10 minutes. No problem since I had the taste from the Yangtze. The sandwich was ready in less time and it was as good as the last time. The actual buffet at the Med. Restaurant had long lines and the food did not look appetizing. I would avoid it during the entire cruise. The Med Restaurant was therefore on my list of places to avoid. Too crowded and too noisy for me. Fortunately, there are other places to dine on board the ship, so at least I knew at the get-go to plan other arrangements. One thing I did notice while crossing the by the pool to get to the Med was that pool towels had to be signed for. I have seen this when people are going off the ship but never at the pool. Apparently Carnival is adopting a reform school attitude towards its passengers.

I spent sail-away at the very front of the ship on Lido Deck #9. From there I had a spectacular vantage point for viewing the sights along the Hudson and New York harbor. Once we sailed under the Verranzano Narrows Bridge I returned to my cabin to unpack. I met my cabin steward who asked me to sign a list showing that he had introduced himself. Perhaps this shows that Carnival is concerned about the quality of service, but requiring a signature goes way too far. My cabin steward was the best staff member assigned to me during the cruise. The cabin was always kept neat and clean and well stocked with towels and toiletries. I mentioned I had late seating and he always took care of turn-down service after I left for dinner. I never came back to a cabin with wet towels on the floor. In contrast, one of my table mates mentioned that her cabin never got cleaned until 4 pm. My table assignment for dinner was in the Atlantic Dining Room, 2nd seating, which commenced at 8:30 pm. The 2 dining rooms' seatings are staggered by ½ hour, I suppose to prevent over-load in the galley. However, 2nd seating show times in the main show lounge were 10:30 pm sharp and I found it difficult, especially with the slow service we had, to manage to get to the lounge in time for the show, and also to find a decent seat. The Caribbean Lounge has plenty of seats with poor sight lines due to obstructions and partial views. To add to this, the orchestra level is not raked steep enough to see both above the heads of the audience in front of show and see the feet of the dancers. Upstairs is a lot better for the production shows, but then you run into the partial view and obstructed view problems.

As I mentioned, dinner service was slow. For the first 2 nights the head team waiter was the only one serving us. It was difficult to get a refilled water glass. Every evening meal service would come to a screeching halt in order for the waiters to put on a "show." I would have preferred the show to be done at the end of the meal so that I could have made it to the lounge sooner to get a decent seat for the shows. The place settings did not provide for separate forks for salad, appetizer and main course. Each time the waiter picked up my plate he would return the fork to the bread plate. This is extremely tacky. Anyone who attempts to think Carnival offers "fine dining" has another one coming! The quality of the food was good for most meals. But after 4 cruises with Carnival, the same old same old is getting tiresome.

For breakfast and lunch I used the dining room. Both meals were open-seating and only available at the Pacific Restaurant which is located at the very back (aft) of the ship. This required a bit of a hike. Also, the galley causes an obstruction and one must traverse the ship either a deck below or above in order to access this dining room. Lunch was very good on both days. Breakfast offered more of a challenge but only one dish actually came out totally unacceptable. I found both dining rooms to be a bit difficult to navigate due to the number of poles, waiter stations and tight fitting of tables and chairs. At one meal the waiter had to really squeeze between my chair and a pole to serve. Noise level was pretty high in the dining rooms too.

I did order room service breakfast on the first 2 mornings. It arrived on time on the first morning and I like the fact that they deliver bagels and lox in the morning. The 2nd morning I got tired of waiting and after 25 minutes I proceeded to the dining room. I did let them know that I was leaving. One afternoon I ordered brownies. The order # is for cookies and brownies. I asked for only brownies. I got only cookies. I called and told them I only wanted brownies. I get a phone call 5 minutes later, "Do you only want brownies?" I said, "Yes." I wondered what that was about. When the room service stewardess arrived with just brownies (hallelujah!) she told me that they were going to send "more cookies" and that's why she called me since she couldn't figure out why I wanted more. Apparently the person taking orders is also taking English lessons (or rather, needs to take English lessons).

Formal night, in word, was a joke. Many men did not bother to wear jackets at all, let alone a tuxedo or a dark suit. I even saw adult men in t-shirts! The women faired better but you wonder why the ship photographers bothered to set up. Speaking of this, I found they had way too many stations set up for photographs and this added to the congestion problem on board the ship. The atrium became an obstacle course by the late afternoon.

>From the first show when the cruise director (Gary Linton) introduced himself, I could tell that he was not going to be very good. Most, if not all, of his talks, whether it be chit-chat or informational, were delivered poorly (My favorite faux pas was when he acknowledged the band during the first night's show and remarked, "Aren't they gay errr.great?"). In addition, he did not seem to offer any talent, unlike the c.d.'s I encountered on previous cruises. In fact, the c.d.s' talents provided an evening's entertainment on my 2 previous Halifax cruises. On this cruise, the passenger talent show was used as fill-in for the evening. On the other cruises, the passenger talent show was done during the day since the show lounge was booked every evening with a proper show!

My days at sea were spent relaxing and avoid the crowds. I used the outside promenade on deck 3 to lounge and listen to music. Unfortunately the crew was busy working and one side was shut down and the other was noisy from work. It would have made more sense if the crew worked on one side at a time so that passengers could enjoy at least one side without any intrusions. One interesting aspect of the first day at sea was the amount of fog we encountered. The ship had to blow it's warning horn all day. This leant a bit of an Agatha Christie atmosphere which I thought was fun. Fortunately, no disaster occurred and we arrived safely in Halifax the next morning and on time. I had some activities planned for the afternoon but the sea air got into my system and I enjoyed some delicious napping

Halifax is a great place to visit. There is actually plenty to do. The locals are friendly and there are some very good restaurants. This visit I tried O'Carrolls, which is an Irish pub with a separate dining room. It was too late for lunch, but the pub food was terrific. I had fried Digby clams (a local delicacy) in a basket with onion loops (bigger than onion rings). The price was $9.95 Canadian or $7.30 U.S. which I thought was quite reasonable. I spent the day with friend who lives near Halifax and in addition to the lunch we look a ride into the countryside which is quite scenic. The big surprise was spotting 3 llamas on the side of the road while we drove through a small town. Apparently they're raised for their wool. The other wildlife encountered on the journey was a porcupine. Alas, the creature was no longer alive, but still, something I wouldn't normally see at all. I watched the port lecture on television out of curiosity. One important point was left out. That is the fact that there is an absolutely free shuttle bus which will pick up passengers in front of the passenger terminal and take them to several stops in downtown Halifax. Since Carnival doesn't profit from this I guess they don't feel the necessity in mentioning it.

The day at sea on the way back was more time out on the promenade. However, I did manage to participate in activities this day and managed to win the trivia contest. They awarded me a trophy. I thought they should have awarded me a life! The final night's dinner was a lot of fun. One of the women at my table celebrated a birthday and she got really into the waiters dancing on top of the tables (my ears are still ringing from her whistling). The maitre d', who never made an appearance at our table, hovered about the room for his tip. For all I know he's still there hovering for my table's tips.

I did try my luck at the casino and it was all bad! Losing got boring after a while, so I didn't spend a lot of time there, just a lot of my money (well to me because I'm such a sore loser).

We arrived in New York a little past 7 am. I did not need assistance with my luggage, so I was allowed to disembark before the passengers who had to claim their luggage in the terminal. I had a very nice breakfast (Glad the last meal on the cruise was a success. A lot of people feel that the last meal is rushed and poorly served). I returned to my cabin and watched tv instead of going to a lounge to wait for the clearance to disembark. Last year on Carnival Triumph we were allowed to stay in our cabins until it was time to leave, but this year they wanted everyone to pile into the lounges, which is so inconvenient! I kept an eye on my porthole and noticed people walking with their luggage in the terminal, so I just picked up my bags and wheeled myself off. My elevator, on the way out went up one floor too many, and I could see the confusion in the halls, so I was glad I didn't bother heading for a lounge (I'm such a rebel!).

My previous cruise with Carnival was on Holiday, one of its oldest vessels. I was not pleased with that cruise in comparison to my previous cruises on Carnival Victory and Carnival Triumph. It lacked the variety of dining, entertainment and activities. Sadly, however, the Carnival Victory, while still offering more of a variety is not as superior as it had been only a few years before. So it's time for a break from Carnival. Probably for a very long time.

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Western Caribbean
Publication Date: May 25, 2003

We just returned from the Western Caribbean on the Carnival Victory. 32 of our closest friends and family members were traveling to celebrate my stepfather's 70th birtday. It was my 30th birthday as well.

To make this easier to read, I will break my thoughts into categories.

Food - mediocre at best. The presentation was beautiful, but the taste was lacking. Lines for the buffet were a mile long. The pizza was good though. Our wait staff at dinner we wonderful though, very helpful. One member of our party was a big eater and often ordered 2 entrees or desserts. Our waitstaff was always gracious and patient.

Stateroom - Our cabin steward did not introduce himself or make his presence known other than a casual hello in the hallway. On a previous cruise with carnival, our cabin steward was friendly and attentive to our needs. The room itself was adequate. I will never sail again unless I get a balcony cabin. It makes all the difference.

Entertainment - If you like Vegas shows, you will like this cruise. There were a lot of interesting performances. Most of the time though, we played cards win the

Ionian room and it is directly below the disco...poor planning on Carnival's part. It was often so loud we couldn't hear ourselves think. Nonetheless, it is the most comfortable room to sit in and provided us with a place to play cards and drink until the early hours of the morning.

All in all, it was a good trip. If you want something affordable,good for children, or a party cruise...Carnival is the way to go. This was my 3rd Carnival cruise, and I don't think I will go on another. I think I will look into other cruise lines and pay the extra money for the "extras" that Carnival forget.

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: May 4, 2003

Sunday, Day 1- Embarkation in Miami

I live about 2 ½ miles from the port so getting there was no problem. The last time I cruised was on a Friday and there was lots of traffic, we left early as a result just to find absolutely no line at the pier. They had greatly relaxed the security measures so we just needed to show our tickets to the guard, no ID needed and we were in, this was at aprox. 10:00am.

The traffic started when we were getting ready to turn into Carnival's piers 8 and 9. We were early so the previous passengers from the Victory and Paradise were just getting off and the huge shuttle buses were paralyzing traffic. We sat there for about 20 mins. before we made it the 900 feet or so to the parking lot. We paid the $70 parking fee and found a perfect spot close to the entrance of the lot.

We wheeled our luggage to the terminal and found out that because the luggage from the previous passengers was still inside we had to wait a bit until they set up the

cranes for us to turn in our luggage. We just hanged out in the shade watching the previous cruisers lugging off their booze and feeling the pain for those that can't tan but still tried and ended up walking out in pain while looking like a lobster.

We had an Oceanview Guarantee so we had the gray TBA tags, a Carnival Rep found our cabin number on the list and just wrote it in the tag. We didn't need to change color tags. The porter simply picked up the luggage and loaded it up but I tipped him anyway to make sure that I wouldn't see my luggage floating in the bay during sail-away.

Made it inside the terminal, line is just starting to build up; it is now between 11 and 11:30 am. Go through the security checkpoint where my big bracelets, jewelry and biker belt overwhelm the metal detector after going in they hand out the popular FAQ flyer and a letter letting us know that although they would let us board early, we couldn't go to our cabin until 1:30pm because they were still being cleaned.

We finally make it to the check-in counter and discover that the nice lady handing out the flyers forgot to give us our SARS questionnaire. This form is very simple and we filled it out in seconds. We were checked-in in no time and proceeded upstairs to pick-up our Sail & Sign cards. We got our cards in no time but it was still early (about 11:45am) and boarding hadn't started (the only people allowed to board at this time were members Wedding Party).

We sit around, make ourselves comfortable, I pulled out my Carnival book to locate our cabin and strategize on the best routes to get to all of the interesting places. Pretty soon the place starts to fill up and the chairs run out. Apparently I had an "I know it all" look on my face because many people kept asking me questions like "What is going on right now?", "Why aren't we boarding?" "When will we board?" "What happens next?" They seemed to like my answers so much that the same people kept coming back to me the whole week to ask me questions; amazingly enough I always had an answer. I should bill Carnival for this service since I saved a lot of people a trip to the Purser's Office.

At around 12:10pm people started to get impatient and rude. As soon as boarding started everybody forgot the concept of courtesy and manners and the "First come First served" concept went down the drain. It felt like a stampede of anxious cruisers trying to cut everybody off just so they could be one of the first ones to board.

We were still among the first 20 or so passengers to make it up the long walk through the terminal to the gangway. This time they took our pictures before we got to the gangway, according to the embarkation picture it was then 12:23pm. We got our pictures taken for our Sail & Sign card and we were onboard.

First impression is: "Atrium is pretty but not as nice as the Fantasy class ships". Second impression is: "I don't think the green is gaudy, I kind of like it" (with one exception I will mention later).

First thing we do is head to the Atlantic Dining Room and find our Maitre 'D. We requested late seating but got assigned early and there is no way that my boyfriend and I would make it to dinner at that time. We were the first person there, Vito, the Maitre 'D actually looked surprised that there were passengers boarding already (apparently he hadn't looked at the time in a while). With just a few clicks in the computer our assignment was changed to 8:30pm in a booth for 2 on the second floor of the Atlantic Dining Room right next to the bandstand. It was a relatively quiet and romantic location but I'll expand on that later.

After that we headed to the Lido Deck to get some lunch. The buffet was nothing out of the ordinary but was good food. After eating we walked around to get familiarized with the ship and then headed to our cabin.

The Cabin: We were in a category 6B Oceanview on the Main Deck. At first glance it was a traditional Carnival Cruise cabin, same colors and type of decoration. It looked just like our cabin in the Fascination with 2 exceptions. This cabin was longer but narrower. The passage way from the door past the bathroom and closet felt very cramped. The added length to the cabin accommodated a sofa, something we didn't have in the Fascination.

For the first time the 2 beds were already pushed together so we didn't need to call our steward to do it for us. A couple of hours later we met Octavio, our cabin steward. He was nice but spoke supper fast with an accent so we didn't understand half of what he said. We didn't get a towel animal on the first night but we got a different one every night after that, we carefully moved them off the bed to different locations in the room so by the end of the cruise our cabin looked like a zoo and we had tons of towels.

Our luggage arrived little by little relatively early and I was all unpacked before the drill. The lifeboat drill was quick and painless. I enjoyed the fact that our muster station is right by the lifeboats instead of one of the lounges like in the Fantasy class ships.

I missed the Cruise Critic meeting after the boat drill for some unknown reason. I remembered it was taking place but I guess I just got busy eating pizza and doing stuff that it was sail away before I knew it.

We spent the afternoon hanging out and relaxing until dinner where we met our waiter Lucas from Colombia and Assistant Waiter Gabriel from the Philippines. They were nice and professional but we made very little small talk, there was not much conversation with them during the cruise. Gabriel was very shy at first but really loosened up and started smiling a lot more after the first night. Lucas was very nice and always made sure we were taken care of. He would make suggestions and was always telling us "if you don't like it let me know and I'll get you something else". We were never without water thanks to them.

On this evening we met who would become our regular barmaid for the week. Luciana Pinheiro from Brazil goes from table to table during dinner offering drinks. She is so nice and sweet that we were never able to refuse a drink from her; she was very good at making suggestions when undecided.

We made it a point to go to the Alternative dining every night before the actual dinner so we were always pretty full during the actual dinner (this worked great for when we couldn't find any appealing dishes in the menu) We went to the Welcome Aboard show and met our cruise director Mike Price, the guy is hilarious and energetic. This was followed by a comedy show by Greg Ray, he was funny but not hilarious.

Monday, Day 2- At Sea

This was a very relaxing day, we got up late at around 11am and went to have breakfast on the Lido deck and then hang around the pool and hot tub. There was some deck chair saving but nothing major; there were plenty of chairs available. We got ready for formal night and posed for pictures before dinner. I don't remember why but we somehow missed the Captain's Party.

We went to the Purser's office to get a hole punched on our Sail & Sign cards since we brought lanyards and I sometimes didn't have a pocket to carry it. The Purser seemed to have a hard time understanding why she couldn't punch the hole on the side where the card goes in the lock to open the cabin door. She ended up having to print out new cards for us, this proved to be a nightmare on the gangway because they never worked right after that. They had to take our picture again on the gangway and even then the computer would keep buzzing and we had to present ID all of the time, very annoying.

The most embarrassing time on this cruise came after dinner when we were walking out of the dining room our waiter stopped us and sent us back to our table. I had mentioned to my TA that this was an anniversary cruise for my boyfriend and Iand she apparently made a note of it. Our dining team gathered around us and started to sing "Happy Anniversary" to the tune of "Happy Birthday" to us and brought out a cake. It's official now, as far as everybody on board is concerned, we are married.

After dinner we went to see the show "Livin' in America" it was nice but I'm not that fond of Vegas style shows simply because I don't understand the need for the dancers to wear thongs to perform their choreography. After that we stayed for the R rated comedy show with Greg Ray, he said some funny things about relationships and although this show was better than the first one, still didn't meet my standards for good comedy.

Tuesday, Day 3- Puerto Rico

This was supposed to be a sea day with a late afternoon arrival in San Juan. When we woke up in the morning we discovered that the ship wasn't going as fast as it was the night before. We later learned that they were having some mechanical problems with the propulsion system so we couldn't go as fast as needed, therefore our arrival at San Juan would be delayed to 9:30pm, technicians were on stand by in San Juan with the parts necessary to make the repairs to allow time for this the ship would stay in Puerto Rico until 6:00pm on Wednesday but we would miss St. Marteen.

My boyfriend and I were thrilled since I was born in Puerto Rico and hadn't visited for several years and he had never been there. I had been to St. Marteen before so I didn't really care; my boyfriend had never been there but didn't seem the least bit affected. Other passengers were not so happy, I was in line at the Purser's office to address a discrepancy with my account and I was surrounded by angry passengers complaining to no end. Most of their anger was out of ignorance because they were not paying attention to what was being said. Some where thinking that we would not make it back to Miami on time and kept yelling instead of listening to the Purser who was very patiently trying to clarify their understanding. I felt sorry for the poor girl who had no fault over the situation and was taking all the heat. I felt like helping her by explaining things to the people but some of them either were not smart enough or simply refused to listen.

After getting back to my cabin I realized that I needed to contact the car rental agency to change my reservation and avoid a penalty. We were not too far from land since I was getting a small signal on my cell phone but it wasn't enough to get the call through. I ended up paying $13.98 for an in-cabin call and our car reservation was adjusted.

We pulled up to the harbor close to 9pm, it was a beautiful view with the city lights, shortly before 9:30pm we were out the terminal, we took the first taxi we found to Charlie Rent-a-car's Isla Verde office, rented a 2003 Daewoo Lanos for $29.95 plus insurance, the car was really nice and had less than 1,000 miles on it. We drove to my parent's house and dropped by unannounced at aprox. 10:30pm they were extremely surprised but happy, headed back to the ship after 1am. There is no parking in the terminal in San Juan so we drove around trying to find an open garage, we parked in the Covadonga Parking Garage across the street from the terminal, and their rates are very cheap. Secure parking totaled up to $6.50 for 8 hours, I really liked the automated cashier, it completely eliminates the line to get out.

Wednesday, Day 4- Puerto Rico

We woke up at around 8 am, had breakfast in Lido as usual and we walking towards the car by 10am. I drove my boyfriend around town pointing places from my childhood growing up there. We went to San Patricio Mall and browsed around Castle Books, and then we headed to Plaza Las Americas and walked around the mall and shopped at Borders Bookshop. Did some more driving around and headed to the Condado area to drop off the car. There is some major construction taking place on Dos Hermanos Bridge which divides Old San Juan from the new city, traffic was horrible in that part. Dropped off the car, the shuttle was out at the time so they gave us $10 to cover the cab fare to get back to the ship. We walked aprox. 2 blocks to the Whyndham Condado Plaza and took a taxi that dropped us off at El Morro Fort.

We didn't go inside El Morro but we took some pictures and started the walk through the Old City. I ate some delicious fruit ice cream from a street vendor and my boyfriend had a "piragua" (shaved ice). We walked around through the cathedral, El Convento hotel, and many tourist shops. We tried to go to "El Parque de las Palomas" (Pigeon Park) to feed to Pigeons and enjoy the view but it was closed. Found a place that sold Miami Vices and bought one to rehydrate myself. We walked through the "Paseo la Princesa" and the San Juan gate before walking back to the ship for our 6pm departure.

We sailed out of the harbor just as the sun was getting ready to set, the view was beautiful, we took some nice pictures of the fort while leaving the bay. As usual had dinner in the alternative dining before heading to the Dining Room. We were so tired from that day that we just relaxed the rest of the night and went to sleep early.

Thursday, Day 5- St. Thomas

We woke up in the late morning as usual, had breakfast in St. Thomas. I had been there so many times before that I didn't care much what we did. We took a personalized tour with a guy named Daniel aka Chihuaha; he was very good and showed us views and places that the organized tours didn't offer. We took some really breathtaking pictures of the view from the mountains, including Magen's Bay. He did such a good job that we tipped him extra after he dropped us off in the shopping area.

We shopped around, I bough some Passoa liqueur that I was never able to enjoy (more on the liquor saga later). I got my hair braided (just a headband, not the whole head) for $40 (this is the cheapest I've ever been quoted since I have a lot of hair). After that we headed back to the port and walked around Havensight Mall, same stores that we saw in the downtown area with the same or higher prices, haggling is not as easy here. Just bought 2 mini bottles of alcohol, 1 Kahlua, 1 Tequila which I had no problem bringing onboard.

Tonight was the guest talent show, I didn't see it so I can't say anything about it other that it was constantly playing on the TV after that.

Friday, Day 6- Day at Sea

Finally another chance to just relax hanging out on the decks and reading on the lounge chairs on deck 3. Tonight was the second formal night but I wasn't in a formal mood. It is amazing how my boyfriend used to hate having to be all proper in the dining room and loved the lido actually insisted on going to the dining room so I tried to dress up a little just to go.

I completely missed the happy hour; we went to dinner and then headed to the Caribbean Lounge for the show. Although the actual show starts at 10:30pm, they play a video related to it from 10pm with a biker guy talking and several music videos. Being a biker myself I really liked the show, most of the songs were really good although they could have done better by removing a couple that were not too impressive. This show was much better than the first one.

We stayed for the comedy show with Marvin Bell at midnight. It took me about 20 minutes to start laughing. My boyfriend was having a blast from the beginning but it was harder for me to laugh since I already knew the jokes. I own a joke e-mail list and I was convinced that the guy got 97% of his jokes off the internet. That is why I prefer true stand-up comedians, it makes for more original humor. I finally started to enjoy some when he started talking more about himself instead of just making random jokes but I decided not to bother going to his next show the next day.

Saturday, Day 7- Nassau, Bahamas

Got up at around 11am, did the usual race to get ready and make it to Lido before they closed the breakfast line. Then we got ready for Nassau, it was pretty to watch us sail in and dock. We were next to the Majesty of the Seas, the Fascination and another small and rusty ship from one of those "luxurious" lines that I can't remember now. I really didn't want to be in that one. But my boyfriend and I were trying to figure out a way to get on the Fascination since we like that ship better.

We had been to Nassau not too long ago and we're not beach bums so we skipped the tours and just walked along Bay Street window-shopping. Stopped by the Pirates' Pub and bought a Bahama Mama and after seeing most of the shops headed back to the port. The shops on the port are not interesting but I got to satisfy my craving for popcorn and bought some roasted pecans that I love. Then we headed back to the ship.

After we set sail I attacked the gift shops and did all of my purchases, there weren't as many deals and those available were not as good as in previous cruises. Most of the deals were repeats from earlier in the week. Due to the lack of variety and high prices I didn't buy much. Then I headed to the Photo Gallery to buy our last sets of pictures and went to the cabin to start packing.

I had purchased 3 booklets of drink coupons from Carnival before our cruise and we still had quite a few left. My boyfriend doesn't drink much but he loves to get me tipsy so I had quite a few coupons to use before the end of the night. Needless to say I was quite tipsy.

I didn't really feel like going to dinner that night and I stuffed myself too much during the alternative dining at Lido so we decided to skip it. We showed up while they were handing out the desserts so we could say goodbye to our waiter and assistant waiter and took a picture with them then we started to look for our Maitre 'D to give him his tip and take a picture with him. We stayed for their last performance. The dining room staff sang "Leaving on a Fun Ship" to the tune of "Leaving on a Jet Plane" I don't know if all of the drinks that I had so far made me very sentimental but the lyrics were so emotional I had to try to keep myself from crying.

After the performance was over we headed to our cabin to finish up packing, we decided not to go to the last show since the juggler had been on the Fascination on our last cruise and although he was for the most part good, he did make several mistakes and the show was not that entertaining, the comedian that night was the same guy from the previous show and I didn't feel like listening to recycled jokes.

After our luggage was out, we decided to do a last walk around the ship, get our last slices of pizza, eat our last soft serve ice cream and drink my last Miami Vices. We spent a good deal of time on the Lido deck before heading back to our cabin to watch TV and try to sleep, not looking forward to the next day.

Sunday- Day 8, Debarkation

We left an order for Room Service breakfast on our door the previous night requesting delivery between 7:20 and 7:30am. We get up, shower, get dressed and leave the room at 8:30am with no word from room service so we decide to go to Lido instead. At 9:20am my boyfriend goes to our cabin to get the last of our stuff out and he gets a call from Room Service asking if they can deliver the order in the next 15 mins.!? I'm hypoglycemic (sp?), I would have passed out by the time room service arrived hadn't I gone to the Lido deck.

We just found a table on the Lido deck and sat down to wait for debarkation, I didn't like the fact that they closed the breakfast line at least 45 mins before debarkation started and everything else including the ice cream machines were unavailable. Debarkation was greatly delayed due to the fact that people would constantly be at the Lobby area even though they were constantly announcing over the PA that the process would be delayed as long as people were there. After a minimum of 5 identical announcements, debarkation started, it was slow going for the most part.

Our color was called at aprox. 10:40am and we proceeded to the terminal just to discover that the luggage for the 3 colors that had been called simultaneously was not ready yet. After waiting on the terminal for a couple of minutes, the luggage is finally ready and a stampede ensues barely knocking over the employee that was guiding the passengers. We didn't have much trouble locating our luggage, we handed out our customs declarations and were out to the parking lot in no time just to find out that the car had decided that it liked sitting there and refused to move. We decided to take a taxi home and just worry about the car the next day.

Summary

Embarkation- A Carnival handled the process smoothly; it was the impatient and rude passengers that made this process annoying.

Dining- A- When not traveling, I'm a vegetarian, I don't eat burgers, steaks or hot dogs but I'm not fond of most vegetables dishes and salads. I like pastas, rice and other non-meat dishes. Something I don't like is that Carnival only has 1 vegetarian option each dinner and it is usually a fancy dish that I dislike. As a result, I find myself "sinning" (my personal term for eating a dead animal) during my cruises by eating some of their meat dishes. I wish they had more options for the picky veggies just like they do for the picky carnivores.

Many people look forward to cruising with Carnival because the President's Butter that they offer is to die for. Although this is not a reason why I cruise, I definitely look forward to it so I was sad to discover that they completely ran out of it after the embarkation lunch. We had plain butter after that.

Alternative Dining- B+ The food was very good but the lack of trays made juggling several plates and a drink a big mission, this was especially a hassle when trying to find a table on the 2nd story in the Mediterranean Restaurant.

The pizza was ok, but the garlic bread would take absolutely forever and they would serve very little. Carnival shouldn't offer garlic bread if they dread it so much that it becomes such a hassle.

They would close breakfast lines even though the place was full of people in line and would leave just one line for aprox. 50 hungry guests, many of which were holding up the line waiting for an omelet since many would not let people go around them. With so many people, the staff was a little slow in replenishing certain items.

Room Service- D- The worst of all of my Carnival cruises. The first time I ordered, they got my order all wrong although it was entered somewhat correctly in the receipt. The second attempt was on the last morning, as mentioned earlier, the meal was requested for 7:20 to 7:30am but they didn't bother to call until after 9 am. Didn't bother to wait for it.

Entertainment- B- Not as good as previous cruises but still enjoyable. I usually tend to love the comedians but this time they were not that funny. The show "Livin' in America" was nothing out of the extraordinary but I did enjoy "Vroom".

This is the most boring cruise as far as activities go. (I was never really bored because I like relaxing but..) The capers didn't seem to have as many activities as it used to, we actually found ourselves with plenty of time during the day and went some nights trying to figure out why there was nothing interesting going on as a result this is the most TV I have ever watched on a cruise.

Service- A It depends on what department and who it is but it was acceptable overall. Many crew members were efficient and nice but only a handful actually exceeded and it was still up to par compared to the service received on previous cruises.

The Cabin: A Very good size, longer than Fantasy class ships but also narrower. Really liked the sofa but the space in between the closets and the bathroom is really narrow and cramped in making it uncomfortable to carry things in/out or open the door for someone.

The ship: B+ The ship was clean and well maintained in general with the exception of the carpet in the hallway on our deck, it was just disgusting! There were stains everywhere, some looked like spilled drinks, others like vomit, and god knows what else. I wasn't going to let this ruin my experience so I made sure I didn't walk barefoot in that area and I would avoid looking down while walking. Although they were constantly cleaning around, it seemed that they never bothered to replace the couple hundred burned out light bulbs throughout the ship, not that this is a big issue for me but it would diminish the area's appeal.

The layout is not as well planned as in Fantasy class ships. The public areas are smaller or at least felt more cramped (except for the Caribbean Lounge) and many of the lounges were too crowded for our tastes. I was surprised that with such a big ship there were only 2 main decks (5 and 9 with 4 and 3 being partially useful) it seemed like almost every deck was a passenger one. Neptune's way in deck 5 is too narrow for being the main area to get anywhere on the ship, I had to hold my breath every time I walked by because the place was full of smokers.

A word about the public restrooms, either they were not cleaned often enough or the passengers were just pigs because they were always nasty. Some of the bathrooms were so small and cramped that if somebody was drying their hands in the air dryer, nobody could walk through. They are not designed for overweight people. I watched this very heavyset woman squeezing herself through the space between the counter and the stalls, she could barely fit and it was very uncomfortable, I felt very bad for her.

Shopping: C- The gift shops were not as interesting and lacked the variety offered in the Fantasy class ships. The specials were nothing to die for.

The more cruises I travel on, the more commercial they become. The constant sales pitches were just background noise for me but I was actually amazed at how much they pushed "Super shopper Donna's" shopping maps. She was on the TV at all hours in the morning preaching on how you should only buy on these stores or you would suffer for eternity if you bought from anybody else. That was a little too much for me. I appreciate the advice, but it is my problem if I want to take the risk and buy from somebody that is not "Carnival certified", she was really pushy on this aspect.

Movies: C- Worse selection ever. I used to enjoy "First-run movies" but this time they had movies I had already rented from Blockbuster almost a month ago. The selection and quality was poor and they repeated the movies every couple of days making channel surfing a frustrating experience.

I didn't purchase any pay per view movies since I didn't find something I hadn't already seen or that I preferred to pay $3.99 in Blockbuster instead of $8.99 onboard. My boyfriend and I considered the adult movies but with a $13.99 price tag we got picky enough not to choose any of the cheesy titles.

Photography: B+ Very good in general although I have never seen more photo ops in any other cruise ever. Every night they had different backgrounds set-up on every available corner on deck 5. I got sick of smiling for pictures during dinner. I tried to avoid most photos to keep myself from buying but I still bought the boarding and port of call pictures along with a couple of dinner portraits, formal and casual pictures. Although their prices are not my favorite, I'm willing to buy them if they look good but I hate the fact that almost everything is an 8x10, I don't want to have to buy the original to get a smaller print so I end up buying the big ones so I have spent a fortune on frames and I'm running out of wall space in my house.

In the Fascination they have boxes with slots to discard the pictures, on the Victory they had regular trashcans, on more than one occasion I found people just scanning through the trashcans laughing at other people. This is not fair for those that don't think they came out good and don't want anybody else to see them.

Debarkation: D- The biggest zoo ever! Debarkation has never been a sweet cake but it has always been bearable. On this occasion I found it to be very disorganized and chaotic. They called luggage colors even though the luggage was not ready at the terminal almost causing a mob, when it was finally ready I was surprised that the resulting stampede didn't cause any injuries.

In general I really enjoyed the trip but I think that I will stick with the Fantasy class ships unless I get a really good deal on a Destiny class.

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: May 4, 2003

What a wonderful cruise!! Despite everything I'd read regarding how generic Carnival was and so on, this was an awesome experience. Flew into Miami and stayed at Holiday Inn Marina Park (fun location, lots to see and do). Sunday at 1200 arrived at pier for boarding, this went quickly (about 20 minutes in line). All our luggage arrived (this was a new experience for us, usually the airlines loses it all)and our cabin was ready at 2:00 or so. We had an excellent cabin for a family of 4 and our room steward-Adam was excellent.

The dining experience was perfect, Villim our waiter was a doll and we never wanted for anything. Sure the buffets were pretty average but hey when you're feeding the masses, I wouldn't expect more. The shows were wonderful and the cruise director was great. I'd heard that the island excursions offered on the ship were overpriced-NOT! We had a great trip from St. Thomas to St. John's Trunk Bay for snorkeling-great price and fun time for all. We had only one mishap, technical difficulties (we later learned the propulsion system, i.e. engines, were sluggish) had us stay overnight

in San Juan and missed St. Maarten.

 

The staff were great about keeping us informed and we were routed to the Bahamas after St. Thomas in lieu of our missed port. Wide variety of guests on the ship, although fewer teens than we'd expected (to my 14yr old dismay)and lots to do and see. Can't wait to go again.

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Western Caribbean
Publication Date: April 13, 2003

This was absolutly the best vacation of a life time. from the moment we arrived it was nothing but fun. i thought i would be going on a well deserved relaxing vacation. but it was the complete oppissite. we partyed from geginning to end. we just let our self enjoy the non reality. it certently was a dream come true. the kids enjoyed it so much. i had a seperate adjoining room for the kids at a resonable price. and it was well worth it. getting the kids their ouw room was a big plus to this vacation. the weather was great. the ship was beautiful and the food wasn't bad either.

24 hour room service was one of the best conviences on this trip. we learned right away not to buy and excursions on the ship. you can do everything on your own for half the price. this certainely is a great family vacation. something to do for everyone. and you meet great people

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: December 28, 2002

We have had the opportunity to sail for New Year's Eve the last 3 years. We have had excellent success except for last year's New Years Cruise. As most of you know, New Year's Eve is by far the most expensive time to cruise. So our experience on the Victory was very disappointing.

It was obvious the Staff was not very happy about being on the Victory. There was constant bickering amongst the Staff. Our waiter, who was quite good at times, could not delivery dinner in under 2 hours. At one point, we were at dinner for 2 hours and still didn't receive our entree. Food was mediocre. However, the most disappointing time was New Year's Eve itself. The party started at 10:30 and was over at 12:20. The band just stopped playing. Worse than that, the band was horrible playing nothing but hard rock that was impossible to even dance to. Once the band stopped, the party was over and there was only one other place to go and that was the DISCO. The DISCO was great but was so crowded you couldn't even move. The rest of the

voyage was the same with a very disgruntled staff who made no attempt to make the cruise a happy one.

We are again sailing for New Years Eve but are switching to Royal Carribean. Hopefully, this will prove to be worth the money.

In summary, we have travelled on 4 different Carnival ships and by far Victory was the worse.

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Western Caribbean
Publication Date: December 22, 2002

Why a cruise?-some background

"You'll be up and ready to go at 3:30 in the morning", Lisa said. She wasn't far off. At 4:30 I was up and ready to get going, although I had been awake since 2:30. Today was the first day of our Christmas holiday land and cruise vacation. Our flight was to leave Kansas City International Airport at 11:30 that morning, but the limo would be here to pick us up at 8 AM. This would be easily 2 extra hours of waiting at the airport but what the heck, better than waiting at home.

"You're like a kid on Christmas morning", she said. True.

I had been waiting far longer leading up to this day so a couple extra hours at the airport were nothing to me. Our last cruise vacation had been 6 loooooooong months ago. Due to school activities with the girls (we have two, Sydney17 and Whitney15) we had to skip our fall vacation. I (my name is Chris, the husband and father) am self employed. For the last 10 years, while we were building our business, we took about 8 days off.

That was about it. Lisa (the wife),in the healthcare business for 30 years, has accumulated enough time off to take a walking tour of every city in Europe, at a slow pace.

 

In August of 2001 we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with a short 4 day cruise out of Miami on Carnival's Fascination. We opted for a shorter cruise because we didn't want to be "stuck" on a ship if we didn't like it. I mean, how many old people can you take? My idea of cruising was a boat full of senior citizens sitting on deck chairs, wrapped in shawls trying to keep warm while waiting for the next bingo or bridge game to begin.

The whole family went and, to make a long story short, we fell in love with cruising, Carnival Style. When it was over we all agreed that it was the best vacation ever and that the Carnival slogan of being "The Fun Ships" was totally on the mark, not just some advertising gimmick. This is comparing to our only other vacation in the past decade, a $10,000, no expense spared week at Disney world, promoted as the happiest place on the planet, when the kids were 10 and 8 years old and fought the whole time. I never could figure out how that was possible in such a happy place.

I dubbed it the Dreary World vacation.

Since that time I have learned that there are many other cruise lines, offering a variety of "products". In addition to critical and valuable information about cruising in general, I have learned from cruise message boards such as cruisecritics.com that there seems to be a hierarchy among cruise enthusiasts concerning which line is best suited for each individual. And the choices are plentiful.

We liked that Fascination cruise so much that we booked the Carnival Victory for Christmas 2001. That cruise was on a much larger ship and on a 7 day itinerary. The idea was to start a family tradition that could be carried on well after the kids were off in the world creating families of their own. This turned out to be a great idea. The kids made some great friends with some really nice kids that they still talk to online almost every day. We booked the Victory again for Christmas 2002 as soon as we got back home. In addition we booked Carnival's Ecstasy out of Los Angeles for spring break 2002 and the Victory AGAIN for Summer 2002, this time a different itinerary. We had a lot of time to make up on vacations that should have been and had found the perfect vacation experience in cruising and Carnival.

We love Miami

On our first cruise we flew into Miami the day of embarkation (cruise talk for when you get on the ship). That made me, the planner of the bunch, crazy. I was sure our flight would be delayed and the ship would leave without us. Didn't happen but on the next cruise we opted to come into Miami a day early, allowing time for any airline foul- ups that might happen.

This decision would change our lives forever.

Coming from Kansas, and a cold winter climate in December, to Miami is simply intoxicating. We fell in love with this city and decided we would need to live here someday soon. Sydney, looking forward to choosing a college pretty soon, listed the University of Miami towards the top of the list. We decided to let the younger one, Whitney, finish high school first, then move. At least that's the plan. So instead of our vacation being just about cruising (as if it were not enough) we started adding days on before and after for time exploring Miami, framing the cruise which would always be the primary subject of what could almost be called a work of art.

And that brings us to now and this vacation.

Planning

On previous pre-cruise stays we used the Best Western Marina Park hotel, across the street from Bayside Marketplace, a fun shopping, dining and entertainment area of Miami and minutes away from the Port of Miami, where our ship would be. We had always been pleased with the hotel. It was nothing really fancy but a good value and great location. Since our last cruise they had begun the process of becoming a Holiday Inn. I have not heard bad reports of the hotel during this transition but I have not heard good ones either.

When planning our vacations, I spend a lot of time and effort researching and planning up to the point of embarkation then from debarkation (getting off the ship in cruse talk) to home to eliminate as many variables that could go wrong as possible. The time between embark and debarkation is intentionally left unplanned, promoting a leisurely cruse vacation that is right in line with Carnivals credo that "its your vacation, do what you want".

And we do.

This would be a good time to bring up the subject of cash. Bring plenty, in some form. Although Carnival warns you that the ATM machine on board may run out of cash during your cruise this had never happened to us before. This time the ATM machine was broken the whole time. Not a big problem as I had brought plenty of cash. The really important cash to bring is small bills. Ones and fives for baggage handlers and a little something for room service on the ship (tip not included here because it's complementary- 24 hours a day), tens and twenties because local merchants frequently cannot break bills of higher denominations.

If you fail to bring enough or just plain spend more than you anticipated, even if the ATM machine is on the fritz you are not lost. In the casino, you can still "buy" coins or chips to play with. There is a 3% surcharge for this but on, say, $100 its not all that much more than you might pay for an ATM fee. Also, if you're on the Western itinerary and can hold out till you get to Grand Cayman you'll be fine. There are banks all over the place with ATM's that dispense American dollars. Good luck finding one in Cozumel or Jamaica.

Make it yours

Lisa enjoys reading half a dozen books in quiet places on the ship, the girls meet new friends and think the disco is just great. I am a casino freak (only on a cruise ship) and find the facilities and staff on Carnival ships first class, not to mention their Ocean Players Club which I'll go into later. If you've heard that Carnival=rowdy you've heard wrong. I'm not sure where that comes from but it has not been our experience on any of our Carnival cruises. Surely, if you want to party dang near all day and night, you can. There are bars, lounges, shows and bunches of party hardy people on board. But at the same time there is Camp Carnival, an awesome program for kids that involves the parents as well. There is everything from an Afternoon Tea on days at sea to deck parties, golf excursions, vegas-style shows, a full service internet cafe, and, yes, bingo, to name just a few. You'll see people from all age brackets and all parts of the world on board too. Even in the bingo games. Ok enough with that, now to the details of this cruise vacation aboard the Carnival Victory.

Getting in town

We arrived Thursday afternoon at Ft Lauderdale International Airport (FLL). We choose to fly into FLL rather than Miami as the flight availability is generally more flexible and the prices are good. Our American Airlines flight was right on time and we were greeted by our chauffer from Holland Limousine at curbside. We had previously used ABC Limo service but on the last trip they had us waiting for about an hour for pick up. No good.

There are several options for transportation. If you buy air through the cruiselines you can buy transportation too. The big negative to that is that they take you in big tour busses (which I avoid like the plague) which is ok except that they hold the busses till they are full (logical) with passengers arriving from all over the place at different times (inconvenient) I don't like the lack of control but if everybody did what we do then there would be a shortage of limousines and cabs so please book your transportation through the cruiselines so I don't have to arm wrestle you for a ride.

We arrived at our new choice for accommodations, the Intercontinental Hotel, in about 45 minutes. The Intercontinental is a full service and first class hotel located across the street from Bayfront Park, which is right next to the Bayside Marketplace but closer to where the ships dock as far as viewing from your room is concerned. A must do is booking a room with a harbor view. Waking up on the morning of your cruise and seeing your cruise ship waiting for you is quite a thrill. Better yet, wake up early and watch as it pulls into port.

You'll need to get up right at 5:30 to see this but it's quite a sight to see your ship come into port, turn around and dock. On departure day for our Victory cruise, the first ship into port is Carnival's Paradise, a smoke free haven for those bothered by smokers. She (ships are ladies) arrives about an hour before the Victory and takes her place in the front of a line of ships that will include a couple of Royal Caribbean (RCL) ships including Navigator of the Seas, the one with the ice skating rink, rock climbing wall, miniature golf course and fast food restaurants for those who would prefer to believe they are at an amusement park, and the Norwegian Sun.

The Intercontinental has various rate plans and rooms or suites. We chose a club level room on the 30th floor which includes 24 hour access to the ship's health club (a good one) and services of the club concierge as well as access to the club level lounge. The lounge offers a nice continental breakfast and an afternoon happy hour both included in the price. In addition, their 24 hour room service is great to have and they do a very nice job.

We learned the hard way about the importance of room service when traveling into a strange city. When we took our spring break cruise on Carnival's Ecstasy out of Los Angeles we booked a hotel close to the pier. Unfamiliar with the area we quickly found out that the hotel was also close to a heavily gang populated area. That was pretty scary stuff for a nice little family from Kansas. The closest we get to gang activity here is when Whitney thugs around the house doing her best little suburban white girl gone hip hop routine. Room service has been important ever since then. I would highly recommend the Intercontinental and will use them again in the future, until we live there anyway.

We enjoyed the Intercontinental on Thursday night, Friday and Saturday, using it as a base from which to do our exploring. Since Whitney hates the beach (white as a sheet that girl is) we opted to check out the Miami Seaquarium on Friday. Don't waste your money. What a dump. Sea World in Orlando is much better. That out of the way, we spent time in South Beach (a must), Bayside and the hotel. The city of Miami was putting on a Christmas Village carnival/display in Bayfront Park. If you're in the area go see this. In addition to a beautiful holiday display sure to put you in the spirit of it all, they have a huge carnival with tons of typically lousy but awesome food. If you're a fan of traveling circus' and carnivals you know what I mean. If you're not then you think I'm nuts but you will before this is all over anyway so we might as well get that little issue out of the way right now.

I bring up this Christmas village mainly for one reason. What appeared to be an innocent fun-for- all amusement park turned out to be a great (and fun to watch) lesson in life for our naive and apparently sheltered teens. Today they learned about fast talking carnival workers. To the tune of sixty bucks each, trying to win a stuffed toy no doubt worth 69 cents.

"I can't believe you just stood there laughing while that guy took all our money", Whitney said. "That guy didn't take anything, you gave it to him!" I replied. Lesson learned. Not exactly a great memory to end our pre-cruise stay with but one that they'll carry with them for a long time I am sure.

The big day

The next day, Sunday, brought our ship into port right on time and the day of embarkation. We took a cab the short distance from the hotel to the pier. I think it was $7 and about the most cost effective method other than walking. We arrived at 10:00 as the previous cruise's passengers were disembarking. After giving our luggage to the porters gathering Victory luggage we proceeded inside the terminal. Surprisingly, we were one of the first ones there. On previous cruises we had arrived earlier and were not first. I think this was a fluke. I like to go early (duh) because I want the maximum amount of time onboard. About 11:15 we went through security, checked our cruise documents and proceeded upstairs to pick up our Sign and Sail cards.

The cruise documents are part of what is needed to board the ship. In the document package is the contract between you and the cruise line, boring but important reading. There are also several areas that require you to provide additional information such as the credit card you will use to pay for your onboard purchases. It always amazes me that there are people who have not filled this stuff out. What were they doing for the weeks before the cruise? Those people hold up what can be a very long line of other passengers who will be giving them dirty looks for the whole cruise if not arranging for them to "accidentally" fall overboard out of international waters and into the path of some Cuban patrol boat out looking for somebody to fill a vacant bed for life in a dreary prison.

The Sign and Sail card

The Sign and Sail card is your method of paying for stuff on the ship. Your cash is no good on board, till the end of the cruise. You can put down a cash deposit if you want to but you'll have to stand in the never-ending line at the purser's desk on the ship. Avoid this area except at 3 AM when everybody is asleep. If you're going to use cash you might as well use a VISA check card. We do, have never had a problem, and don't have to stand in any additional line. If you like lines you'll have plenty of other opportunities if you so desire. If you don't like lines the embarkation line can be the last one you stand in for a week. With a little planning this really is possible. Email me if you want to know how to do this and if I think you're worthy I will tell you how.

Boarding

After picking up the Sign and Sail cards you wait in a large but comfortable room until the ship is ready to be boarded. The time varies on this wait and although it has not been our experience I understand that this can take quite some time if there is some problem with immigration or customs concerning the last bunch of passengers. If you come early and see a herd of people leaving, you're probably ok and things are going according to schedule. In our five Carnival cruises we have never been delayed and are usually on board between 12:15 and 12:30 as witnessed by the embarkation photo taken as you board.

This will be the first of many photo opportunities and I highly recommend you do a few things regarding this. Decide in advance what configuration your group will take to pose for candid pictures. On our first couple cruises the more aggressive members of our party were front and center and the more docile ones were but a head peeking over the shoulders of the others. Also, practice smiling at a moments notice. The mirror in your bathroom at home will work nicely for this and provide a fun activity to fill time during the dreaded "anticipation period" between when your travel documents arrive and the cruise begins. You might set up a ramp propped up on the tub or commode to simulate getting off the ship at a port if that helps. You local sporting good store can provide life preservers too. Buy one, paint the name of your hometown on it and hold it in front of you as you practice smiling. Remember, you're in the privacy of your own bathroom so no one can laugh at you. When you've mastered this, invite the rest of the family in to practice with you. When onboard, take advantage of every opportunity to get your picture taken. Carnival's photographers are great and you are under no obligation to buy any of the photos they take. Later in the day, your pictures are displayed with the hundreds of others in the ships photo gallery for your approval. They're not all that expensive (little ones cost six bucks) and make great Christmas gifts for relatives that either out of town or that you just don't like all that much. In addition to these candid shots that are unavoidable anyway there are opportunities to pose for a photo with various backdrops for a more formal look. Again, there is no obligation to buy. I only wish they had the ability to cut my head out and insert Brad Pitt or Jon Bon Jovi.

After the photo opportunity we stop to have an ID picture taken to associate with our Sign and Sail card. In addition to charging all your onboard purchases it is also used to get on and off the ship. Security scans your card as you leave to and then when you get back on the ship. I suppose when the ship is ready to leave a port if there are some passengers not accounted for they view the pictures and decide if they want to go looking for them or not. I'd bet the ugly ones and those that did not practice posing in the bathroom get left behind. Because Carnival IS the cruise line for beautiful people and if you were not beautiful and somehow managed to board anyway you will be beautiful before you get off with a few spa treatments and a couple acts of God (which is not reason to get cruise fare refunded as per that contract in your cruise documents should you not like the new you).

So the entire embarkation process was totally successful. I give it an A+.

Our Staterooms

After embarkation the first stop for us on the Victory is our cabin. We originally booked a category 11 suite, a very nice cabin with a little larger balcony than some other categories. A couple months ago a category 9 cabin with a huge wraparound balcony came open. Cabin 8428 is one of just a few all the way aft that sports a balcony that literally wraps around its corner location. So instead of us all being in a larger category 11 cabin we split up and put two of us in the corner wraparound balcony cabin and two in an inside cabin just across the hall. This is the first time we did this but it is surely the way to go when traveling with older kids. I wouldn't think of doing it with young children but with older, responsible teens this arrangement offers a lot of advantages. First and foremost it allows us 2 bathrooms for the group, a definite timesaver when getting ready to go do something, like formal night. 4 people bumping into each other getting ready for formal night, for example, is not a lot of fun. In addition, this arrangement lets everyone have their own bed. Not a rollaway, pull out, or hang down bunk but a real bed of their own. Those two reasons are ample to justify the nominal extra charge (I think it worked out to a little less than $200 as opposed to us all in one cabin)

I must mention too that their inside cabin was very nice. Other than the absence of a window or balcony, it was just perfect for two teens who like to sleep in. No annoying tropical sun or ocean surf sounds to wake them up. In fact, with our all the way aft location, foot traffic around our cabins was nominal, providing a nice, quiet cruise. If that's what you're looking for, I'd suggest picking a cabin that is not "on the way" to someplace like this one. Located on the Verandah deck, just under the active Lido deck, we found this area to be just perfect. I had heard some comments that noise from the area above could be annoying. I never heard a sound. Others, however, did hear quite a few sounds on occasion. Actually there were two occasions worth mentioning just for how well Carnival handled them.

One occasion was the night and early morning of the crew's Christmas party. I had remembered from last year that they closed off the aft part of the lido deck for this purpose from last year but never really thought much of it this trip. Remember, our cabins were located on the Verandah deck, right UNDER the lido deck. Well I guess that in other cabins on our deck the party was really loud with music, dancing and general relocation of chairs (musical chairs?) and some cabins complained to the Pursers desk (the 24 hour place to complain if you must). Our kids said they didn't sleep but kinda liked the music and that one passenger they knew of took their pillow and slept in the hallway in a more forward hallway. They went on to say that they had also called the Pursers desk to find out what was going on. Respectful of the crew's right to celebrate also they left it at that. The next day they received a letter from one of the Junior Pursers saying how sorry they were for the noise and offering a 10% discount on a future cruise. I thought this was dang nice of Carnival and would surely be put to good use. Actually, by then I had emailed our TA from the ship's internet cafe to order this cruise again for next year and wished I had that letter then. Oh well, we'll surely use it.

Another incident that happened by our inside cabins involves some of the what I thought were well behaved (for their age) kids on board. Somehow they managed to set off the fire sprinklers in their cabin and the adjacent hallway. My first thought on learning this was of a post I had read on some cruse bulletin board about some people who had a cabin with wet carpets throughout their cruise. I wondered if this was why. The I impressive part of this was how Carnival handled the situation. First, before the sprinklers had even stopped a small army of security personnel swarmed the area. I heard all the commotion in the hallway and went out to see what was going on. Within minutes of the sprinklers being turned off, they were attempting to extract the water from the carpets in the hallway and that room and had brought in giant fans to help dry the area out. Then, after working on that cabin for a while, I guess they decided that it would not be dry in time for the next guests coming on board so they replaced the carpet. All I can say is that I can't think of anything else they could have done to fix this situation any faster. Good work by the maintenance department (or whatever they are called). I wondered what happened to the kids that did that. I think they should have had to pay for it but I doubt that they did.

Carnival's policy is that you cannot book two kids in the same cabin without an adult, I wonder if this might not be a reason for it. But those two well handled incidents (hey things happen) aside, this is still my favorite location and agree with those who had recommended it to me.

I had also heard that this is a great location because it is located right next to a set of "crew only" stairs that open up right by the bar and pizza place on the lido deck providing a great way to "pop up there for a quick snack". I don't think it is a good idea to use those crew stairs. I did a couple of times and felt as if I had invaded their privacy. The crew, it seems, sneaks out there for a quick break from time to time. I felt like I was being rude using this area. Maybe it was just me but on this cruise I saw passengers popping out of "crew only" designated areas quite a bit. Not sure why that was but it seemed awkward.

Our Cabin Steward

As we were checking out our cabins, we met our steward JESUSCHRIST who was from BUMFUCKEGYPT and a really nice guy. His service was excellent but unobtrusive, just the way we like it. I must say though that if making animals out of towels were an art this guy should change his name to Picasso as he was surely a master. The monkey hanging down from the ceiling of our cabin that he made one night was truly incredible. I don't have any other specific stories to relate about him saving my life, making ornate towel animals that were dead ringers for muppets or teaching me his native language while cleaning the toilet but he did a good job. What more can one ask for?

I give the cabin and cabin service an A+.

Stuff we do first when we get on board

Our next stop is always the dining room to check our table location. Although I don't really believe that there are any bad tables in either one of the dining rooms we check anyway and like to meet the Maitre d' prior to the first meal. On this cruise, however, we had a real reason for going. Our travel agent had not linked the two cabins as far as dinner reservations were concerned (they CAN) and we had been assigned different tables. We like a table for 4. The maitre d', JESUS CHRIST, was happy to help and quickly solved the problem. More on the dining room staff and food later.

Now it was time to pop upstairs where we traveled down the promenade deck and were offered holiday champagne at every turn. Nice touch. The Promenade deck is where the casino, disco, arcade and shops are located as well as one way to access the Caribbean Lounge, the ship's showroom. From there you can also access the lobby bar, pursers desk, information desk and photo gallery. If ever in doubt as to which button to push on the elevator, pick the Promenade deck. All areas kind of flow from there and it makes a great starting place. Any elevator from this deck will go up to deck 9, the Lido deck, where most of the food is located.

Today they are serving the welcome aboard lunch at which one can try any of the various offerings available. I went directly to the Mississippi BBQ for a steak sandwich, one of my persona favorites. Kinda disappointing. Somebody made the mistake of deciding it was a good idea to precook the steaks then heat them back up on the grill prior to serving. In addition, they cut the steak a little thinner, to the point that it is not the same product I have raved about in these reviews in the past. I hope somebody fixes this. The overall food quality here was simply excellent. This stuck out like a sore thumb.

Norwalk talk

Due to the recent headlines citing "outbreaks" of this common virus on cruise ships we decided to take a few precautions just to be safe. We stocked up on hand sanitizer, a product we had never used before, to take along. One of the first pieces of literature we see upon embarkation is a letter from Bob Dickinson, president of Carnival, that tells me these hand sanitizers do no good against Norwalk and that frequent hand washing is a much more effective prevention. Makes sense to me and we do but I'll still use the hand sanitizer anyway because it makes my hands smell lovely.

We also decided to stay away from the buffets, knowing for a fact that many people are not fastidious about their hand washing and that transfer of ANY virus is most likely through touch. I knew this from my previous life in the restaurant business and Lisa knew this from her hospital work. I really believe that chances of the foodservice personnel washing their hands with appropriate frequency are much greater than the average guest. I guess this thinking goes back to my planning credo of trying to eliminate as many variables that could make things go awry as possible cited earlier.

I must say that I am not totally convinced of the seriousness of this "outbreak" and really believe that the media has blown the whole thing way out of proportion. I think they're just chomping at the bit trying to find a terrorist link in all this. Now that IS sick. Still, when dealing with the closed environment a cruise ship at sea provides, it is very prudent for Carnival to be concerned. This is something that star fleet has known about for years. No way Captain Picard would go on an away mission without being passing through the Enterprize's quarantine procedure to insure that some foreign virus or attached creature would not infect the ship. Heck, even old Dr McCoy from the original series knew that. I tip my hat to Bob Dickinson for bringing up the issue early in the cruise. In addition, I saw many more of the service crew working gloved than in the past, one obvious sign of their concern. Good job Carnival.

I guess the true test of all of this is the reported number of incidents of sickness on the cruise. There were none that I know of and there were a whole bunch of people using the buffets. With so many kids on board, the buffets were very popular.

Handling the Norwalk thing: A+

At sea

Being at sea is one of my favorite parts of cruising. To me, being cut off from land, surrounded by ocean as far as you can see, is just awesome. I don't need to do anything to have a great time, but the possible activities make up a daunting list. There truly is something for everyone. One of the more popular activities which is not listed anywhere is people watching. This takes place in places with almost as much variety as the people on board. From any of the lounges, seating areas or decks you can see this going on. If you like to watch people, you'll have an abundant supply of subjects on this ship.

Another popular activity is figuring stuff out. Where things are on the ship and how to get there, what to do in port, which shore excursion to take, where and what to eat and what clothes to wear occupy a lot of time. As you step foot onboard you are handed a pocket sized diagram of the ship that can be helpful with a few guidelines. I highly recommend that future cruisers go to carnival.com and memorize the deck plans. Better yet, if a flip booklet of all the decks ever becomes available before you cruise, get it or if its included in your travel documents, study it. Someday a good travel agent will start including this critical information in the stuff they all send you before your cruise and it will catch on instantly. On the Victory it is important to remember that not all decks run the length of the ship, a detail that is not real apparent in the little guide you get on embarkation. I like helping confused people find their way and often tell the nice ones some shortcuts that I have learned from our previous cruises on this ship.

People are so trusting.

I could have told them to go through a door that leads to the ships dungeon and they'd take it. Don 't worry about this though because even if I am not on your cruise there are members of the crew positioned all around the place available to ask for directions. I wish they were more aggressive about that though. You'll have to ask for directions. I have seen little family groups bumping into walls and tripping over each other looking for their cabin while the crew waits for the question. This might be a cultural thing though. With many countries represented in the international crew, looking bewildered might be a mating ritual in Borneo causing the crew to keep their distance (understandable).

All in all I would have to rate the crew as very helpful. This is one of the big reasons we have been on this ship three times. I have never once encountered a crew member that was anything but friendly, cheerful and attentive. I don't know about the crew you never see, such as the slaves who man the oars on the decks below, but even the non-guest-contact crew like carpet cleaners and other maintenance people are really nice. We are always made to feel welcome by this crew which appears to be genuinely eager to make your cruise great in all they do.

The Captains Night

A perfect example of this is the Captain's Cocktail Party, held tonight, which precedes the Captains Gala formal night dinner (or Lobster and Prime Rib night as we know it). Held in the Adriatic lounge, aft, this is a great part of the cruise experience. Servers mingle about with trays of beverages such as champagne, manhattans, daquaris, martinis and fruit punch for the kids. Other servers have trays of little appetizers like meatballs, tiny pizzas, chicken mcnuggets and a crab Rangoon-like thing I think is really good. The important thing here is not what is being served but that it is happening. Maybe you'd rather have another Corona or wish the appetizers were hot like they probably were when they were first cooked but that's not the point. Here you are, on vacation, all dressed up, in the middle of the ocean, having cocktails with your party and your fellow passengers, about to meet the captain and his senior officers who are frequently positioned outside the room, greeting you as you arrive. A band plays, some people dance, it's an elegant and well done part of the cruise experience not to be missed. It is one of several expertly orchestrated events that will totally take you away from the real world you left behind.

And you gotta do that.

The Cruise Director

The down side is that at the end the cruise director, Steve Cassell, comes on stage to introduce the senior officers and the Captain. This was an awkward moment. I'll try to be as nice as I can about this. It was about like having Homer Simpson introduce the President of the United States. Except that Homer IS a funny guy and Steve is not. It just didn't fit. The officers and captain are a classy bunch of guys. Cassell belongs in a hillbilly review in Branson, Missouri. It was almost disrespectful of them to be preceeded by him. Having said that I though it only fair to turn on the TV in our cabin and review some of the tapes of events over which he presided. Unfortunately I was not impressed. If you have read other reviews I have written or my book you know that, in general, who the cruise director is does not matter to me all that much.

But compared to the other ones I have cruised with, Simon Pendergast, John Heald and even Corey Schmidt, Cassell is just not up to par. His lack of enthusiasm about the excursions, probably one of the most useful talks to first time cruisers, for example, was shocking. It was a lot like listening to a tour bus driver that you just know has driven groups of people a zillion times down the same road, saying the same lines at the same time till they can do it in their sleep and it sounds like they are indeed snoozing. I have no clue what a cruise director does behind the scenes but the well planned menu of activities seems pretty standard to me from cruise to cruise so contemplating what to do next is probably not one of his duties. I must say in all fairness that he does have a good voice. Perhaps he could be a dj in the disco? But this is not a really big deal, nothing that would ruin a cruise experience but if one were to list his qualities, endearing would not be high on the list.

Concerning cruise directors in general, I don't know what the cruise director does behind the scenes but I think he needs to be very visible. If there are a lot of planning responsibilities and other administrative tasks to be completed he needs to have somebody else do them. I don't know if we cruise passengers have Loveboat-itis or something but I think we expect to see the cruise director out and about during the cruise. The social hosts are great but we want to see the top dog from time to time. And he (or she?) needs to be a sociable, likeable person who has at least a small amount of charisma like a decent Maitre d'. He needs to be the glue that appears to tie everything altogether. I think you need to get to know him early in the cruise then hear from him throughout as the voice of a friend. I could so do this job.

The cruise director gets a C-

Ok lets move on.

The Dining Room

After the cocktail party we went right to dinner as we had the early seating in the Pacific Dining room. Our friend, Francesco JESUS, was the Maitre d' and, as usual ran a top notch dining room. Here IS a guy with charisma. A stark contrast to the bland cruise director, Francesco, his assistant, JESUS CHRIST and able hostess', have schmoozing the guests down to a science.

Last night, the first night in the dining room for the guests, and the first night of the cruise, is always a hectic one for them. Guests requiring assistance are lined up 15 deep at the front desk of the dining room. From where our table was located I watched as Francesco and his staff played them like a piano, each one leaving with a smile on their face. If this bunch ever wanted to open a land based restaurant I would invest in it in a second.

The service, from start to finish was impeccable. We never, ever, needed anything as our needs were anticipated and met before we could think of them. What more could we ask for? Nothing but we got more anyway. Our waiter, also named Francesco from El Salvafor, and his assistant, JESUS CHRIST from PLUT0, were right on the job, taking care of countless details in a pleasant and professional manner.

I guess there's something about textiles and cruising that must go hand in hand. Just as our cabin steward make fantastic animals out of towels, a great little detail, our waiters folded our napkins seven different ways, one for each day of the cruise. I hadn't noticed this before but they were quite proud of their daily creations.

I noticed several great changes as compared to our last cruise six months earlier.

First, the service staff did not appear to be as rushed as they had on previous cruises. I'm not sure why this was but whatever they have done differently has resulted in more time on the floor and at tableside by the waiter and his assistant. It was more the rule than the exception to see waiters chatting with their guests on a frequent basis.

In addition, they have a new practice of not loading the table with silverware for the entire meal but beginning with a basic place setting then presenting additional flatware when needed depending on the individual's order. To me this came off as a great move which I bet eliminated a lot of awkward moments for guests trying to decide which fork to use for what.

Another service item that was a wonderful addition concerned the service of salad. On a night when Caesar salad was one of the selections it came to the waiters station in a large bowl which the waiter plated individually for each guest in his section of the dining room who had ordered it. What a great idea. In addition to providing the guest with a really good and fresh salad, it encouraged the waiter to time the individual courses among his tables so it was possible to do this.

The only service point I saw as odd was in the presentation of wine. The assistant waiter does this which is fine and ours did a great job with it except that the cork and first taste from the bottle were presented to the lady, not the man, for inspection. I thought it was usually the other way around but it was done so well that it was no big deal. Come to think of it, I have never sent a bottle back so Lisa might as well handle this anyway. Unless it tasted like battery acid I would just nod and drink it as though I knew what I was doing.

Finally, but probably most importantly, comes the dining room "entertainment". In addition to a live trio or quartet playing quite appropriate background music the service staff performs for the guests. This happened every night and is one of those great things Carnival does that absolutely forces you to leave your real life behind and truly relax.

Not that this is a relaxing show.

From a conga line going around the dining room with all the guests encouraged to join in to a rousing rendition of "La Bomba" to their own version of the song "Leaving on a jetplane" (with funship substituted for jetplane) the entire staff gets involved in one of the best things they do all week. It's a high-energy portion of fun served right after dessert along with a few comments from the Maitre d' about where you've been and where you're going tomorrow. Very well done.

In every way I proudly rate the service A+

The food

While service is of great importance, it can only be as good as the food. On this cruise, the food was the best ever. As I mentioned, we ate most of our meals in the dining room in part due to the Norwalk scare so I will begin here. I must say before I get too far with this that if you do not use the dining room, opting for the alternative food venues instead you are simply cheating yourself out of one of the truly great experiences the Victory has to offer.

The dining room menu remains pretty standard from our previous cruises on a 7 day cruise. What the kitchen staff does with it, however, can vary. In prior reviews I have rated the quality of the food on all the ships as good to very good, the best being on Carnival's Ecstasy out of Los Angeles. It's pretty easy to compare with the standardized menu between ships too. I have to change my rating now though. The Victory's culinary staff has taken that standardized menu and breathed new life into it.

This food was excellent.

Everything was as close to perfect as it could be, and I look really hard (sometimes too hard probably) at this area. Let me give you some specific examples. Cold, leafy salads were crisp and fresh, no easy task when serving so many people at once. Hot food was hot, soups almost too hot to eat right away, as they should be. Plate presentations, all of them, were works of art. In fact, our cabin neighbors had just been on a Costa cruise a couple months earlier. Known far and wide for their fine food and service I was told that this cruise surpassed the Costa cruise by a wide margin. The executive chef here has done a great job. In the past I have heard reports of Lobster that was rubbery and overcooked. On this cruise it was as though it was prepared tableside; just perfect. Another outstanding area was in the bakery. Also a service point, the bread served with the meal was hot and fresh, as though it had been baked moments before we got there. I don't know how they pulled that one off but I was impressed. Desserts, most notably the German Chocolate Cake and Grand Mariner souffle, were just wonderful, best I had ever had.

In the other food venue's with the exception of the bad call on cooking the stuff ahead in the Mississippi BBQ (that still disappoints me) the food was very good. I think here is where I see a big difference. On our previous Victory cruises I rated the food well but all about the same high level. On this cruise the dining room has pulled into a clear lead which is quite a complement since at places like the Mississippi BBQ, Yangtsee Wok and the Deli the food is prepared pretty much right before your eyes.

The buffets are separate categories that demand a separate rating. I did not eat at them much so I cannot give a first hand account of the quality of the food concerning how it tasted. I can, however, tell you that from my observations, they were well maintained, attractive, had a nice variety and were quite popular. Always a hit with families that have antsy kids, the buffet areas were always packed during this cruise. With over a thousand kids on this holiday cruise its no wonder.

Even without rating the buffets I give the food an A+

After dinner it was off to the casino for me, off to on a hunt for new friends for the kids and off to book reading land for Lisa.

The Casino

Good and bad here. The bad part is that I lost at my game of skill, slot machines. I like to win so this was not good. I thought about playing some of those mindless table games but stuck with my slot machines even though they were not kind to me. In the spirit of the Christmas Village workers at Bayside, I wished I could just go into the casino, give them all my money and have them let me spin up the three triple diamonds I needed to win the ultimate payoff from my (yes "my") machine and be done with it. Instead I spent all week trying to get close but never quite hit it. I still wish they had those counters on the slots like on the Ecstasy, at least you can take great pride in seeing how many "points" you have rung up during the cruise. Then, sometime after, as a member of the Ocean Players Club, you get a consolation prize which is better than the nothing you walked out of there with.

Casino tip: if the cashiers know you by name, you're going there too much. Worse, if they already know you will want $100 in quarters and have them ready when you get to the counter, you're probably sick like me. Still worse, if seemingly unknown cocktail servers come by you playing your slot machine and not only know what you drink but have your Sign and Sail card's number memorized, you really need to be in the infirmary.

The good part was the casino itself and the staff. As on our other Carnival cruises, the casino staff was in top form. Specifically, Veronica from South Africa was just wonderful. Even though she would not accept my bribe to loosen up the slots she was a wonderful host. During the Blackjack and slot tournaments she really made everyone feel at home.

The Ports

First stop, Cozumel, and for us a day at Playa Sol. We purchased this shore excursion in our cabin using the interactive "Funvision" system on our cabin's television. This is great. Before Funvision, one would have to go to the Shore Excursion desk, located in the lobby across from the Pursers desk. You can still do that if, for example, you want some more personal attention or recommendations. But this is much easier. Playa Sol is basically a beach with extra goodies. For a price you can go there and enjoy their beach, a beach chair and umbrella, snorkel gear and other stuff. For a little more throw in an open bar for an all-you-can-drink deal that can't be beat.

This would be a good time to mention that there is no drinking age in Mexico. If you're 12 years old and have the right color (pink) armband given to you as you enter, you can get smashed. I've never really seen this happen but it could, legally.

While at Playa Sol I recommend a beachfront massage for anyone with a body. Its $20 for a half hour of the "stress reduction" type and it's a bargain. The offer "deep massage" and other kinds too but the stress reduction pretty much did me and the girls in for the day.

In addition they offer some good, authentic, Mexican food. We had some of the best nachos on the planet here. They also offer an upgraded package which includes a Mexican buffet. We didn't try this but I noticed that many people did. The buffet has assorted Mexican stuff plus (go figure this one) spaghetti. I guess even here they'll do anything they can to shut the kids up.

You'll want to bring your people watching skills along on this excursion also. The entertainment staff of Playa Sol holds several events throughout the morning and afternoon, some of which are a lot of fun. Water balloon throwing contests, beach volleyball and others make for a good time for those who are not satisfied to just sit, relax and take in the great beach and view of the pretty blue ocean.

Grand Cayman We're not big shore excursion nuts and frequently go for a nice beach, something we lack in Kansas. On our last cruise we tried 7-mile beach and were kind of disappointed. At that time there were so many people there that it was not the serene and relaxing beach experience it might have been.

So this time we tried the Nautilus Submarine underwater adventure. Whitney had just finished a class in Zooolgy in school so it seemed like it would be a winner. It was. We purchased the tickets, again, from our cabin on Funvision which were delivered to us the night before. I must say that Carnival has done a great job planning and executing these shore excursions.

For the Nautilus Submarine tour we were to meet in the Adriatic lounge (same place as the Captains Cocktail Party and Returning Guests Party) at 7:45. From there Carnival representatives led various tour groups to tenders that took them ashore all together. There is an opportunity to buy some stuff on the way. Underwater cameras, tote bags for things you might buy ashore and bottled water. Get the water for sure.

As you leave the tender there is an opportunity to get your photo taken behind a life preserver noting Grand Cayman as the port. Do it, remember there's no obligation to buy. Remember the smile you practiced.

From there you go to a staging area where you hook up with other passengers on the same tour and a tour guide. It's important to remember not only what the name of your tour is but what number it is also. The names of many tours sound or look a lot alike. For example, there is a Nautilus fully submersible tour (ours) and a semi- submersible tour (not ours). You'll wait in that staging area until someone comes to get you and take you were you are supposed to go.

In our case we were led down the street, through a gift shop and to another tender that would take us about 900 yards off shore to the submarine itself. I think it's a pretty safe bet that if you see a gift shop between you and your tour that you will be led through it.

The sub tour itself is about 45 minutes underwater at depths of up to 100 feet below the surface. All the time there is a tour guide describing what you are looking at. They did a good job with this too. One of the big reasons I don't like things like this in general is that the narration seems so canned and practiced that the tour guide could easily do it while performing open heart surgery, typically a more difficult task. Not so here. Their interactive technique made it fresh and fun for the passengers, probably for them as well.

After the tour we walked around town doing some shopping, stopped by a Canadian bank for some cash and had lunch at the Hard Rock cafe. I had asked some locals for dining recommendations but as it was a holiday (Boxing day, the day after Christmas) most places were closed. We stopped by the Tortuga rum cake factory outlet (not impressed) but ended up buying CAPTAIN MORGANS cake at a store in a shopping mall that had tons of samples to try (well done). I stopped in a cigar store called Havana House to pick up some Cuban cigars for some cigar-smoking (yuk) friends back home at a good price. While it is not allowed to bring them back into the United States, I have never had a problem with it and bring them back every time.

Jamaica

Last year we opted for a tour of the island by cab and wanted to do this again this year. Jamaica CAN be a scary place if you don't know where to go or what to do. I don't know if drugs are legal here but they sure are readily available. We were pleased when we found our same cab driver, Lincoln Short, was available again. A native of Jamaica and Ocho Rios, Lincoln was able to provide us with a fun filled tour of his home highlighted with stops at out of the way (but safe) places and an occasional singing performance that can only be pulled off by a native. We did stop by THE big attraction, Dunns River Falls, but were not all that impressed. Living in Kansas, we are not all that far from the mountains of Colorado. Colorado is not all that far from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks both sporting falls that make Dunns River seem less than spectacular.

Shopping in Jamaica, for us, includes buying a years supply of Sunday morning Jablum Jamaican Coffee, touted as the best in the world. One of the "ships recommended" stores in the Sony's Plaza shopping area has the real thing. This "ships recommended" stores thing is important to mention. Besides a buyers guarantee these stores offer top quality stuff for sale as opposed to some cheap imitations one might find in another store. Pay attention to this when shopping.

All in all this was a great cruise, probably our best. If I had to label it I would call it the "relaxation" cruise. We stayed clear of the busy areas of the ship (well except for the casino) and had a quiet, peaceful cruise. As usual we will be sad to leave the Victory but look forward to next Christmas and being onboard again. Some people say we should try other ships (we will) or other lines (we won't) but I say when you've found a winner you stay with them, tell all your friends and when you disembark start counting the days till you can return.

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