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 overnightin 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.
Well, I must say I have another fabulous cruise under my belt! There are so many detailed reviews about the Victory that I will spare you another reenactment. What I will try and do is to share my Victory experience and compare it with other cruises lines (NCL, RCL and Celebrity). Hopefully, that will add a unique perspective to this Victory review. But first a little side note....
When I first became a committed cruiser, I made it a goal to sail all of the mainstream lines. The first few cruises I picked, I was overwhelmed by the choices. At first I thought there were no differences, cruises were all the same...wrong! However, I do believe that the differences between the cruise lines are not nearly as dramatic as some would make them out to be! I can remember reading about the differences between cruise lines and getting statements like, "there are nothing but teenage drunks on that line, or the food was awful the entire cruise". I began to wonder how people could make such sweeping generalizations based on one experience. Then there were people who advised to the other extreme.The die hard fanatics.."Oh Carnival is the best cruise line or RCL is the best cruise line" when you scrolled down to see their sailing history---you guessed it - they had only been on one cruise line. So, this strengthened my resolve..I must see them all for myself! Here goes. so flame me if you must ...I will give MY honest opinion anyway!
Embarkation We arrived at the port very early, say 10:30ish. We expected to wait as boarding usually begins in the early afternoon. We immediately got our documents processed, (sail and sign account, boarding passes etc) then we were sent to another line (upstairs) to pick up our sail and sign cards. Afterwards we were told to sit and wait until time to board. About an hour or so later, I asked a Carnival rep when we would be allowed to board. Within the next few minutes we began making our way to the embarkation photo. At that point we were stopped for another fifteen minutes, then photos began (around noon). The final stop was to have your security photo taken for the sail and sign cards. To start off, three of the four machines were not working. A few minutes later, the fourth one stopped. We stood and waited another 5-10 minutes, the machines began working, but stopped again shortly thereafter. About five minutes later we were finally onboard. This wasn't nearly the embarkation from hell that I was warned to expect, but it did have a few minor mishaps. My only criticisms why didn't they keep someone on hand who knew how to repair the machines? The reps sighed as though machine troubles happened often, yet they had no clue as to how to fix them. Secondly, why couldn't they have periodically made announcements to let us know why we were waiting. It would have been less frustrating if we weren't left to wonder what was going on.
Cruise line comparison 1st place - Norwegian 2nd place - RCL 3rd - Celebrity 4th- Carnival
Cruise Director Everything I have heard about John Heald is true. He is the best cruise director I have encountered. Always funny, he made many of the mundane cruise activities an unforgettable riot. Yes. U Screw and Dick Wooden were on our sailing also!
1st place - Carnival 2nd place - RCL 3rd - Norwegian 4th - Celebrity
Ship I braced myself to be horrified. I knew the Victory was very green, but actually it worked. Whereas green is not the color I would have chosen, it was in no way tacky. Yes, I did see patched up holes, carpet stains, occasional trash and burnt out light bulbs. It in no way detracted from my cruise and I likely would not have even noticed had it not been discussed on these boards so often. I did find that the Victory was difficult to navigate at first. I think that having ship maps posted would have made that easier. After awhile, you do get the hang of it. Overall the ship was clean and in decent shape. When it comes to ships, RCL's Voyager class can't be beat. I do believe their ships are superior when it comes to onboard amenities. As far as ship board decor is concerned, I prefer the sometimes bold, always contemporary style of Celebrity ships.
Grade B+ 1st place -Celebrity/RCL 2nd place-Carnival 3rd Norwegian
Service- I had no complaints as far as service was concerned. Our room steward, Glendon got to be our buddy and I loved our waiter assistant Sandra from Croatia. However, I did find service to be slightly better on several other lines. There were a few extras that I did miss. For example, I enjoyed eating in the buffet/poolside restaurants and having staff carry your trays to the table. I also miss being brought drink refills even when I was not in the dining room. Overall, I think Celebrity did the "pamper thing" the best of the lines I have sailed.
1st place- Celebrity 2nd place- RCL 3rd- Carnival 4th Norwegian
Cabin- Our cabin (Cat. 6B) was located on the main deck, aft. It was nice, especially the size. Even cabin storage was adequate. We also had a very nice view. Definitely the most spacious cabin of the cruise lines I have sailed. It was the first time either of us had sailed aft. I was little worried about feeling the motion and excess cabin noise from the ship. That wasn't a problem. There was a little cabin noise leaving Jamaica but the rest of the cruise, we didn't hear a thing. Of course that included many of the announcements. We would hear the chimes and race to open the door to see what was being said. Major announcements can be heard within your cabin. I believe they have two intercom modes, one for major announcements, muster drill, evacuation etc. and then another for the minor ones (they are heard primarily in the hallways).
1st place- Carnival/RCL 2nd- Celebrity 3rd Norwegian
Food One thing, I did like about Victory dining, there were actually four dinner times. We were usually in and out within an hour. (we sat at a table for two) I think that this eliminated spending hours at meal time which is definitely a good thing. I think food ranged from so-so to very good. I must say poolside dining was excellent in both taste and variety. There were more choices, deli sandwiches, the grill, pizza, Chinese food and frankly Carnival did it better. Unlike other cruises, when I was hungry, there was always something open. I definitely give Carnival the nod in this category. I do think RCL's food was slightly better in the dining room. Neither, as far as dining room food is concerned can top Celebrity. Celebrity's grand buffets, desserts, food taste and presentation easily surpassed Carnival's, RCL's and definitely Norwegian's.
1st place- Celebrity 2nd place- RCL/Carnival 3rd Norwegian
Fitness Facilities Yes, I am one of those "weird ones". I do still exercise, even when I am on vacation. I used the fitness facilities at least three times on this cruise. The weight machines were adequate. There were both free weights and the hydraulic machines. I used ab balls, abdominal machines and of course..mats. In terms of cardiovascular exercise, there were stationary bikes, stair masters and treadmills. I do remember seeing bench aerobic classes, spin classes, abdominal and a few others. RCL's Adventure of the Seas had the best (on ship) fitness facility. They had more machines and the workout space seemed larger.
1st place- RCL 2nd place- Carnival 3rd- Celebrity 4th Norwegian
Entertainment This is a little tougher to call. I give the edge to Carnival when it comes to the scheduling and quantity of activities available. I was never bored, and I must admit that is pretty hard to do. Unlike other ships, the nightlife was great too. The entire ship did not go to sleep at 11. Most times, I left before many of the other cruisers (1- 2am). The shows were good too. I preferred Vroom to Living in America, though. I think Carnival's special effects, including costuming where more Vegas-like. However, RCL's Voyager class is phenomenal. It represents innovative, must-do's in cruising. The variety of activities onboard these vessels cannot be surpassed. The ice show, well, I've just never seen anything like it! Celebrity can't compare to either in this category. It still has plenty of activities, but some are yawn- stifling. It is definitely a cruise line for the person who prefers hours of relaxation instead of non-stop activities.
1st place- Carnival/RCL 3rd- Norwegian 4th Celebrity
Debarkation I've been lucky. Debarking has always been sad, but never a painful experience. Carnival did nothing to change that. I enjoyed being able to wait in the stateroom until 10 am. Even though we were the very last color to be called, debarking seemed to be orderly. We got off the ship about 11:00am.
Ports of Call I never take ship excursions. I find them to be double the price and half the freedom of doing them on your own. I usually spend a great deal of time researching the ports of call beforehand and prepare my own to-do list while docked.
Cozumel, Mexico This was my third trip to Cozumel. I really wanted to see the ruins of Tulum (pronounced Tul-loom) this time. The ship charged $77 per adult and $30- $35? per child. Trust me folks, you can do this much cheaper if you have the desire. We first took a cab ($6 per cab) from the dock to the Muncipal pier. We paid $19 pp round trip for the ferry ride to Playa del Carmen. The ferries departed at 5, 7, 8, 9,10am, noon, 2, 4, 5,6,8 and10pm. Remember that this is Cozumel time (one hour earlier than ship time). We docked at 7:00 am, actually got off around 8 (ship time) and were easily able to make the 9 am (10 ship time). There were Mayan Palace representatives across the street from the Municipal pier. They were actively recruiting tourists to visit their rental properties. We knew that this was a time share pitch. For 90 minutes they show their condos, feed you breakfast and try and sell their timeshares. At the end you emerge with $100 cash and a free cab ride to Tulum. (They will substitute Tulum for Xcaret and a few other Playa attractions). We had planned to take the bus to Tulum, however, we could not resist this! The ferry ride itself lasted about 40 minutes. The ferry was nice. Finally, a ferry boat that looked as thought it could safely transport you somewhere! I also noticed life vests and inflatable rafts onboard. (What can I say, I'm a safety gal ) Portions were inside (air conditioned) and others were outside. I thought the little rows of blue seats reminded me of being on an airplane. If you decide not to do the Timeshare presentation there are other ways to get to Tulum on your own. First, you can get a cab (right outside the ferry stand). The official posted prices are $300 pesos per cab ($30 US). We did find that there were cab drivers willing to take lower prices. The cab ride was roughly one-hour. The lowest rate offered was $200 pesos ($20 US). Then there was the bus. We saw several cruisers traveling this way. The price (one-way) was $30 pesos ($3 US). The buses ran every 15 minutes. Travel time was about 1 1/2 hours by bus (it makes several stops). I was advised to get pesos before entering Tulum. There was a currency exchange place located right were the bus/cab drops you off. Once you get to Tulum, you can take a tram (I think it was about $1 or $2 US) or you can walk about a mile to the entrance. We chose to walk. Admission was $35 pesos or $3.50U.S. I heard that if you did not have pesos the charge was $4.50 US. It is true Tulum is very hot. We brought refillable flexi-straw mugs of water with us and we were still dying. I do still think the experience was worth it though, if you have never been. We took a ton of pictures and stayed about an hour or so. We started to take the bus back, but the cab driver lured us back with a lower rate (200 pesos $20 US dollars). When we returned to the pier we browsed in the stores for a few minutes before taking the 3pm ferry. The return ferry times were 6, 8,9,10,11am,1,3,5,6,7,9 and 11pm. When we returned to Cozumel we took a cab back to the ship. Tulum was great, even better because we did it for about $35pp, less if you take the bus/share a cab. I think I would have been disappointed in Tulum for $77pp.
After dinner we returned to the island to go miniature golfing. The cab ride was maybe $6 but we split it with another couple. The golf course was very beautiful and definitely had the tropical feel. Afterwards we walked back to the ship. This wasn't intentional. We started off just wanting to take an evening walk. About a mile later we had exited the shopping area. by that time we figured we were almost back to the ship, so why rent a cab. My boyfriend and I are the athletic types so we challenged each other to walk the remainder of the way. Almost 4 miles later we returned to the ship. It was a looooong walk. Hey I couldn't give up and let him win could I? However, I don't think I'd make the walk again, especially with sandals on!
Grand Cayman We missed this port due to swells! We were disappointed but not angry. After all, they made that decision with our safety (their liability) in mind. :D I was impressed to see the other cruisers handling it well. I expected that there would be many people raging about the missed port, but I didn't see any evidence of that. They did refund ship excursion money and port charges $25 pp. The money was credited to your sail and sign card. I definitely don't think Carnival can in any way be blamed for this, but I did wonder why we didn't stop at another nearby port. Or perhaps we could have arrived in Jamaica a day earlier. Instead they lengthened our port day in Jamaica by only two hours . Definitely disappointing!
Ocho Rios I really enjoyed this port. I was kind of surprised too. I have heard so many "just stay on the ship" reports that I was reluctant. It was a pleasant surprise that this became one of my favorite ports ever. We signed up for the Peat Taylor tour ($20pp). I booked Peat online a few days before departure. He e-mailed me back within fifteen-twenty minutes. He met us right outside the dock. I was impressed because we arrived an hour earlier than planned due to missing the Caymans. We expected that he might not have gotten word about our early arrival. He had! He was there waiting and we departed early. He took us to the Dunn's river falls ($10pp) first. They do charge extra for shoe rental $5 and locker rental $8 (three dollars returned when you return the lock and key). We had to wait there for nearly an hour because it did not open until 8:30 am. It was great though because we were still the first to climb. I definitely believe you will have a better experience before the crowds arrive. The climb was AWESOME and lots of fun. I took a ton of pictures, some before, some during and some after the climb. I'm sure my best shots will be before the falls were swarming with bodies . It was hard to get an unobstructed shot then. We did have to pass through the market on the way out. There are some aggressive sales tactics used there. I am used to that sort of thing and kept going. I did not see any locals that did not take a firm NO for an answer.
Next, Peat took us through Fern Gully. That was beautiful. We stopped at a stand for T-shirts, crafts etc. I bought a nice T-shirt for $10. I was amazed by the ladies reaction who sold me the shirt. She looked elated! I realized that $10US to me was $500 JD to her. According to Peat, for a lot of locals that is good money! Anyway, I thanked the lady and we were off. Talk about receiving a reminder of how blessed I am..that was it! We saw fire-eating men and of course the Fern Man! I am not exaggerating. There was a man dressed up like a fern. He had attached leaves all over his body and tied himself in huge red bow. Hilarious! I had to take a picture, because no one would believe me if I didn't. (They do expect tips though) Then Peat gave us a choice of eating lunch at a local restaurant or returning to the ship. Our group elected to go back to the ship to eat. Peat gave us about an hour and a half and returned to pick us up for the second half of the tour. This part was great because Peat customizes it to what each person wants to do. He dropped some off at the market to shop and some went snorkeling. We went to Coyaba River Gardens and then on to Margaritaville. Coyaba River Gardens was absolutely beautiful. Well worth the $4-5 bucks we paid to get in. Peat picked everyone up who wished to be taken back to the ship. We had him drop us off in Margaritaville to shop and swim until time to reboard. It was definitely a port worth visiting. I would also like to return to Jamaica some day to see Montego Bay, Negril etc..
P.S. I was never approached to buy drugs, but my boyfriend was.
Additional comments Overall, my first Carnival experience was excellent. Personally, I liked the Funship atmosphere. Hey, where else do the waiters dance on the tables? The age range really suited me too. I would say the majority of cruisers were under 45. The nightlife was better and I liked the fact that lemonade/fruit punch was available around the clock. The attire was more relaxed and I haven't found a line with nicer, more outgoing cruisers than I met on the Victory. I would not hesitate to sail again on Carnival. For that matter, I wouldn't hesitate to return to Royal Caribbean either. Celebrity was awesome, but the lack of nightlife was a big minus for me. I would definitely sail Celebrity again, but only if I was in the mood for a more relaxing cruise. I WOULD hesitate to sail Norwegian. In my opinion there were just too many negatives. I would probably go again for a really good rate, but I think the other lines give you much more bang for your buck! So far, I really don't have a favorite line. I think each has a lot to offer today's cruiser.
Any questions??....fire away!
I have been on a CCL cruise once before and really was happy with the overall experience. But decided to give them another try this time with 3 kids ages 12-17. We choice the Victory because of its size and destinations. To my surprise the Cruise was really great! The food and dining room service was well above what I had expected.
It truly was excellent! Our cabin steward was also fantastic and met our ever need! The excursions we choice were all a great value and well worth every penny. As for the entertainment on board it was average. The overall ship experience was very pleasant and above all a great value!!! The Victory ship is truly worth a try!
I will provide a little history on the planning of the cruise. About 3 years ago, my sister Debbie and her husband Derek went on a cruise aboard the Carnival Paradise and had a wonderful time. After talking about their trip, we came up with the idea of putting together a family cruise that we would take in the Winter/Spring of 2002.
About a year after that, I started doing a lot of research. The first thing that I found was that most Travel / Cruise Agencies were not booking cruises that far out. I kept on searching and finally found a cruise agent who tried several options on getting pricing for us and finally went to the Carnival Group Department and received a quote for us. I received quotes on several different cabin categories to give my family several options. After much discussion, 3 families decided to book this cruise. Family #1 was myself, my husband Paul, my daughter Chelsea (9 years old at the time of the cruise) and my son Andrew (5 years old at the time of the cruise). Family #2 was my sister Debbie, her husbandDerek and their son David (17 years old at the time of the cruise). Family #3 was my sister Kim and her husband Bryan. After a little back & forth, we all decided on CAT. 9A cabins. Larger cabins with larger balconies. We made our deposit in September of 2000. Now we just had to wait and save our money.
Well the time for our cruise had come. Two days prior to our departure, my family along with Debbie, Derek & David flew from the mid-west down to Miami. We stayed at the Renaissance Miami Biscayne Bay. We had nice rooms that overlooked the Port of Miami. The hotel will be undergoing massive renovations starting this month so it should be a very nice hotel by the end of the summer. After checking in around 6:00 p.m. we all headed down to Bayside Marketplace for dinner. What a fun area. It's right by the water and there are all kinds of shops, restaurants & entertainment. We ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp and had a very good meal. The service here was also first-rate.
On Saturday morning, we all headed over to Miami Beach to spend some time here. The hotel ran a shuttle for $3 each way. We were there fairly early and there were already quite a few people of the beach. We walked down the beach for a while, Andrew & Chelsea chased sea gulls, took pictures of the art-deco lifeguard stations and saw a few topless sunbathers. For lunch, we ate at a Cuban restaurant, which we all enjoyed. We left Miami Beach around 2:30 p.m. as it was really starting to get busy with the Spring Breakers. We went back down to Bayside and took a harbor cruise. This was a lot of fun and a great way to see more of Miami. We were even lucky enough to see a dolphin swimming next to the boat. For dinner, we split up. Paul & I and the kids went to a restaurant called Joe's On The River. I nice little seafood place right on the Miami River. Debbie, Derek & David enjoyed Bubba Gump's so much on Friday night, they ate there again on Saturday night.
On Sunday morning we woke up early and looked out the window. We saw the Victory as it was making its turn-around in the lower basin of the Port of Miami. We were all very excited, as we knew that we would be on this ship in a matter of hours. We had breakfast at the hotel and checked out around 10:15 a.m. We had a little trouble getting cabs to take us to the port. I guess many of them were busy with the arriving cruise passengers. We finally got a couple of cabs to take us to the port and we arrived there a little before 11:00 a.m. When our cab pulled up to the ship where all the other cabs were, I was very surprised when I got out and found my sister Kim & her husband Bryan in the cab right in front of us. They had flown out of Chicago that morning. It was great that we could all walk in together. We walked right in, through security and up to the check-in area. We waited in line here for less than 5 minutes before we reached an agent. We all had our documents filled out so we were processed very quickly. A couple in front of us did not have theirs filled out, so they had to step aside to fill them out. It is highly recommended to fill all this out prior to check-in. We walked right on past them and into an area where we had to wait until they cleared the ship for embarkation. I would say we were here for about a half-hour before they started moving people. We had to work our way up to receive our Sail & Sign cards (or Sip & Sign as Bryan called them) and then on to pictures. I would say we were on the ship and in our cabins by 12:30 p.m.
CABINS - We all had CAT 9A cabins. We were on the Verandah Deck (Deck 8) in cabin 8427. Kim & Brian were also on Verandah Deck in cabin 8433 and Debbie, Derek & David were on Upper Deck (Deck 6) in cabin 6461. 8433 & 6461 were aft corner cabins with very large balconies. I had wanted one of these cabins but they would not accommodate 4 people. Our cabin was very large and held 4 people very easy. Our balcony was larger than a CAT 8 cabin but not as big as the wrap-around balconies of the corner cabins. We designated Debbie, Derek & David's balcony as Party Base since we spend a lot of time there as we departed from Miami and as we arrived into San Juan. The bathrooms were a nice size and our showers had great water pressure. The shower unit also could be used as a hand-held, which came in very helpful when it came time to shower our 5 year old. There was plenty of shelf space for all our toiletries. I had mentioned to my kids ahead of time that the toilets tend to make a lot of noise when they are flushed so they were a little nervous when I showed it to them for the first time. When I flushed it, they thought it was so funny at how loud it was. After that, Andrew couldn't wait to go to the bathroom so he could flush the noisy suction toilet. We had a nice amenity basket that included shampoo, deodorant, body wash, Tylenol PM and several other items. This came in very handy throughout the week. We also had 2 nice terry-cloth Carnival robes that were hung up for us to use throughout the week. I had brought along a bungee cord and we used this several times throughout the week to keep our balcony door open. It was great to hear the ocean right outside our cabin. You just had to be a little careful when you had the balcony door open and then you opened your cabin door. A big breeze and then a big "slam" of the cabin door when it shut.
After checking out the cabins, we all headed up to the Lido Deck for lunch. They had burgers, hot dogs, salad bar, buffet, pizza, Chinese food and the New York Deli up and ready to serve all of the early arrivals. It was a very nice variety. They also had iced tea, lemonade, fruit punch, water & coffee to drink and of course, they had their self-serve ice cream & frozen yogurt machine. Several members of the family visited this many times throughout the week. After lunch, we explored the ship. We were assigned to the Atlantic Dining Room for the 6:15 p.m. Main Dinner Seating. This was exactly what we wanted. Early, but not too early. We had table #174, which was a table for 9 on the first level in the center, not too far from the center staircase. We were very satisfied with this. Then is was off to visit Children's World, the various lounges and the various pools and waterslide. The water slide looked like a lot of fun and we couldn't wait to try it out. Before we knew it, it was time for the Muster Drill and then up to Party Base to toast our departure from Miami. We were finally underway. After finishing the champagne, it was time to get ready for dinner. Our waiter was Ronald and both he and our assistant waiter were excellent. They went out of their way to spoil the kids and the kids just ate it up. They have a special children's menu if they don't want anything off the main menu. The young ones appreciated the cheese pizza, cheeseburgers and hot dogs on several occasions. We enjoyed many meals in the dining room as well as some in the Mediterranean Restaurant on the Lido Deck. I would rate the food as being very good to excellent. It seemed like every time you turned around, it was time to eat again. Favorites included the Rueben Sandwiches, Goat Cheese, Roasted Garlic, Mushroom & Sausage Pizza, Filet Mignon, Lobster, Carmel Crème Custard & Grand Marnier Souffle.
CAMP CARNIVAL - We utilized Camp Carnival for both our 5 year old and our 9 year old. They both enjoyed it very much. Either Paul & I had to sign Andrew in and out but Chelsea signed herself in and out. Andrew's activities were primarily in Children's World (located on the Spa Deck - forward) and Chelsea's activities could be anywhere on the ship so this made it a little hectic for dropping off and picking up. Chelsea participated in an Overnighter for the 9-11 year old group and had a lot of fun. She did need some quiet time in the cabin on Saturday morning but that worked out ok as I used this time to start packing. Even though Chelsea could sign herself in and out, we asked her not to do this, as we wanted to drop her off and pick her up. We didn't feel comfortable with a 9 year old having run of the ship. On the first day when I dropped Andrew off, he was off playing with his new friends before I was even done with the signing in process. I guess there was no problem with separation. He never had a problem and looked forward to when he could go back. The kids even had an Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday and along with the usual candy, they each received a Carnival camera. On the last full day at sea, I gave each child 2 phone cards to give to their counselors who they spent most of their time with and they were all very tickled to receive these. I'm sure it was something they could all use.
The following is a brief accounting of some of the things that we did each day:
Sunday (Arrival) - The Welcome Aboard Show was at 10:30 p.m. and it was pretty funny. Our cruise director was John Heald and I had read a lot about him prior to our cruise. He was great with the audience and all who participated on stage. Of the people he brought on stage, one of the gentlemen's' name was Yu Screw (not sure about the spelling) and Dick Wooden. Of course John had a great time with this and throughout the cruise it was not uncommon to hear a public address announcement relating to one of these guys.
Monday (Day at Sea) - Today we hung out around the ship. Many of us visited the workout room in the Nautica Spa to work out on the treadmills and other equipment. It was really nice up there. This day the seas were a little rough so when you looked out while on the treadmill, some were getting a little dizzy. Paul participated in Sports Trivia and won the coveted 24 Karat Gold Plastic Trophy (Ship on a stick). This was prized by all and we were so proud! I was not one to go out on deck at 6:30 a.m. just to reserve a deck chair and by the time I did get up there all of the things that I had read about saving chairs were true. There were many chairs with towels, books or shoes on them but no people. After a while, I finally found a chair but was not real happy about this whole process. There are signs that say no deck chair saving but no one enforces it. Until they do, this will continue to be a problem. This was the 1st of the 2 formal nights and we all got dressed up, went to the Captain's Cocktail Party (never did meet the Captain - doesn't he doe this anymore??) and had a great dinner in the dining room. Most of us had the lobster - even the kids. The show in the Caribbean Lounge was the 1st of the 2 Las Vegas-style shows (Living in America) and it was very good. We also had some formal pictures taken at the various photo backgrounds. Paul & Andrew (mini-me) had matching tux's on and they looked very sharp.
Tuesday (San Juan) - Worked out again in the Natica Spa after dropping the kids off at Camp Carnival. Loved those treadmills! Some of our group also walked on the jogging track quite a bit. Prior to our arrival into San Juan, we all met at Party Base to toast our arrival into San Juan. This was a lot of fun. Coming in right past El Morro offered some great photo opts. As far as the shore excursions go in San Juan, Kim & Bryan did the City Tour & Shopping and thought is was a waste of money. Debbie did not get off the ship right away, as she wanted to get ready for dinner. Derek & David got off to take some pictures but then got back on to get ready for dinner. We wanted a tour but didn't want to pay for 4 city tours. So we asked a cab driver what he would charge to give us a 45-minute tour of Old San Juan and he said $30. This seemed very reasonable to us so we took him up on the offer and got a very good tour. Just enough. Had dinner at the Mediterranean Restaurant since we missed our 6:00 p.m. dinner seating in the dining room. The meal was very good. After dinner, we dropped the kids off at Camp Carnival for a while and Paul & I went off the ship where they had a little shop. We bought some cigars, mini bottles of Bacardi and some postcard. We had spent enough at this shop to get a free bottle of Absolut. What a deal! When we came back on board we went up the gangway that was opposite of where the liquor table was, so I just took our package up to our cabin. Very easy!
Wednesday (St. Croix) - Today we were in St. Croix for the day and they told us that because of Easter we were going to get extra hours in port for the Harbor Nights festival. I had read about this previously, so I'm not sure how unique this really was but hey, more time in port was good. We had decided early on that we would rent a car to drive around the island. I had rented the car through Avis and through their web site was confirmed that we could pick up the car at the cruise ship pier in Fredricksted. Well, when we arrived, I could not find any location for Avis. After wandering around for a while, we asked a policeman and he said Avis was at the airport. My husband was getting upset. I went to the payphones and called information for the local Avis number. When I got a hold of someone, they told me that they had recently closed their location at the pier and we should have been told to call Avis when we arrived and they would pick us up at the pier and take us to the airport to pick up the car. When I received my confirmation from Avis, it did not say anything about this. We were all a little miffed, as we were wasting precious time. They did come and pick us up and after a while, we were on our way. My husband did not feel comfortable driving on the left-hand side of the road so I did the driving. It really wasn't too bad. The traffic was manageable and this helped me out a lot. One challenge that we did have was with the maps. None of the ones we had were very good and the roads were not always marked. We spent quite a bit of time just driving and were not always sure exactly where we were. After a while, we just started driving by feel and seemed to make out pretty well.
We drove over to Christiansted and had a picnic lunch by the water. My husband found a brewpub so he was extremely happy. We stopped there to have a drink and buy a couple of t-shirts. We walked around a little and did some shopping but then got back in the car and took off. Chelsea wanted to go to a beach and swim. We drove along the northern coast towards the East but were having difficulty finding a beach. After a while we drove past a nice area that looked like a private beach club. We decided to stop and see if we could take pictures. To our surprise we found out that it was a public beach with a beach bar and restrooms and there was no one else on the beach. Too cool! We decided to camp out here for a while and the kids got in the water, played on the beach and collected seashells. Paul & I each got a drink and sipped them while lounging on beach chairs. It was a very nice time. After a while, it was time to get back in the car and continue our journey. We went to Point Udall, which is the Eastern, most point of the island. This was a great area to take more pictures. by this time it was starting to get late and we needed to head back to the airport. We were able to find the airport fairly easy, dropped off the car and got a ride back to the cruise ship pier. We were too late for dinner in the dining room so we went up to the Mediterranean Restaurant. Later we dropped of the kids at Camp Carnival and the adults went into town for the Harbor Nights celebration. Kim & I decided to get toe rings. After the initial discomfort of them jamming them on your toes, they looked pretty neat. We walked around to some of the other vendors, got a couple of drinks and listened to the band that was playing. It was a lot of fun. Then it was time to head back to the ship, go to the show and watch the ship pull out at midnight.
Thursday (St. Thomas) - Debbie, Derek & David took the island tour excursion on this morning, Kim & Bryan decided to lay low on this ship, as they did not get much sleep the night before due to water leaking into their cabin from the pool above them spilling over, and we took the kids to Coral World near Coki Beach. This was a nice park and we saw many fish, sharks, and other creatures of the sea. We headed back to the ship for lunch and then went back out and took the tram ride to the top of the mountain where we saw an incredible view and took some great pictures. Later in the day, Paul & I went downtown to do some shopping. It was very crowded, as there were 4 other cruise ships in port that day. Also, may it's just me, but I didn't think the prices for a lot of things were not that great in St. Thomas. Paul wanted to buy some Absolut to take home and the prices on the ship were better than what we found downtown in St. Thomas. We decided to head back to ship and I did a little more shopping at Havensight Mall, right next to the ship. There were a large variety of shops here. Then it was time to get back on the ship and we pulled out promptly at 5:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday (Days at Sea) - After the 3 days in port, it was nice to have the relaxing days at sea. Spent some time at the pools and waterslide and on Friday afternoon, everyone on deck was treated to a whale jumping out of the water. It was so amazing to see. Debbie & Derek and Paul & I went to the Carnival Repeat Guest Party and had a really nice time. Open bar and very nice appetizers. Then it was time to get dressed for the last formal night dinner. The show in the Caribbean Lounge was another Las Vegas-style show (Vroom) and again, it was very entertaining. On Friday night, it was time for Chelsea's Overnighter and we decided to take advantage of the after-hours babysitting service for Andrew so we could spend some adult time together.
On Saturday, it was time to start packing. It was hard to believe the week was almost over. It went by way too fast. Spent some additional pool and waterslide time and the kids had their Easter Egg Hunt. That night we gave out our tip envelopes and said our good-byes. The waiters did a fun song & dance presentation at dinner.
Sunday (Debarkation & Return Home) - I really appreciated how Carnival is now handling debarkation day. Instead of being assigned to a public lounge where you have to wait with hundreds of other people for you color bag tag to be called, you can now wait in your cabin and relax or watch TV. The made the wait much more enjoyable.
After a little while the ship was cleared and they started calling colors for people to start leaving the ship. Once ours was called, we made our way off the ship and down to the huge storage area for the luggage. We had 5 pieces that we were looking for and they were scattered all over. One at the very front, one at the very back and then the others scattered in between. We eventually found them, got a porter and headed toward a cab. We all piled in and headed toward the airport. I said my good-byes to Kim & Bryan in the luggage are, as they were heading to Chicago on American and I knew we would not see them at the airport. Debbie, Derek & David had left the ship earlier but I knew we would see them at the airport because we were all flying home together. We got to the airport and I couldn't believe the lines. We waited in line for about an hour to get up to the ticket counter and then had to wait another 45 minutes just to get through the security checkpoint. There was one family in line for the airline ticket counter that had just come off the Voyager of the Seas and they had a 9:30 a.m. flight. Well, it was 11:30 a.m. at this point so they obviously missed their flight. The airline told them that all of their flights were booked solid for the remainder of that day and also for the next day. I can't believe anyone would try to book a flight that early. You are just asking for trouble. We had a 1:30 p.m. flight and we didn't have a lot of time to spare due to all the lines. After a slight delay, we finally left Miami and made it home later that night. We were all truly exhausted.
The Victory had washers and dryers on the ship and I thought this was great. We were able to do a few loads of laundry throughout the week and this came in handy for our workout clothes and whites. I do have a couple of suggestions though. There was no garbage can here and people were leaving their empty detergent boxes and dryer lint sitting on the sink or on the washers/dryers. Also, it would have been nice to have a change machine, as it was sometimes difficult to come up with the needed quarters.
Each deck has an ice machine and vending soft drink machine. This was very convenient when you needed more ice and didn't want to bother the cabin steward.
Paul & I took Motorola 2-way radios and these worked out very well for us. I would highly recommend them. I say many people using them throughout the week.
We located the "secret areas" at the very front of the ship on decks 6 & 7 and it was a great place to look out on the horizon and the best part was that no one else was ever up there.
The ship was filled to capacity with almost 3400 guests but I never really felt that crowded. Lines moved along fairly quickly and we could always find seats together for the shows. There were a lot of kids & teens on board but at this time of year, you have to expect this. I didn't have too much trouble with the teens congregating but then again, I didn't spend a lot of time in the areas they seemed to be.
You could get your pictures developed on the ship and we took advantage of this. I think we had 12 rolls of film developed. We did have one roll (our underwater disposable camera) that was lost. They have our name & address and we told them what was on the roll so they will mail the pictures to us if they find them. We will see. The price for the film developing came out to $.37 per picture but this included double 4 x 6 prints and you also received a Carnival brag book with each roll. This is more expensive that what we usually get but be thought it was worth it to get the pictures the next day and be able to share them with the family before the cruise was even over.
I thought the ship itself was beautiful. I loved the color scheme of the greens; blues & aqua's and I thought the tile work was exquisite.
Overall, I would rate our cruise an 8.5. I thought we received exceptional value for our money and I would not hesitate to sail on Carnival again. I love cruising and can't wait to go again!Dawn
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
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 thevoyage 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.
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.
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.
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+.
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.
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+
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+
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.
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.
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.
For those who know the story about the lady who didn't have a passport or birth certificate-she didn't show. She lost $549.00.
Embarkation: Our bus was met by a Carnival Rep who wanted to see everyone's passports or birth certificates. There were a couple of people in our group of 54 who had copy of their birth certificate. They had to complete additional paperwork. What type of additional paperwork-I don't know. You start the process in the warehouse where you claim your luggage upon arriving in Miami after your cruise. From there one eventually ends up in the air condition terminal to check in. From there you go upstairs for you sail and sign card. Then you go to another floor to take a picture for your sail and sign card. A lot of walking. If you need wheelchair assistance let the rep know at the entrance of the warehouse and you bypass the line to check in. I did have a roller suitcase filled with water and coke. I had a bottle of wine wrapped in my son's jacket. I was asked to open the suitcase and what was inthe jacket. I told the rep a bottle of wine and another rep came over and asked me why I had the wine. I told her a special occasion and she s smiled and said to have a nice time and to have a toast for them. By the way I carried the same bottle of wine back home. We left late due to someone having a head injury or sick. My son saw the ambulance transport the person off of the ship. I have no other details.
Carnival Victory: The ship is huge and very nice. Yes, it is green in the atrium. It isn't an overpowering green. The casino is very smoky. The walkway next to the casino is smoky. To get from the Spa deck to the Pacific dining room- take the elevator to the 5th floor and walk over then down two flights. The food in the dining room was good to me. Although, sometimes a person beef was tough, but you could send it back and get something else. Our waiter Domingo went beyond his duty. Every evening he asked if we were going to need a diner to go for my grandmother. A couple of time we took soup to her in addition to her entree. He found a cup for us for the soup. The waiter danced on the tables 3 nights. They danced on the table where they put the trays, not on the tables where you eat. The guests were encouraged to get on the tables to dance. The pizza and burgers were delicious. My son and I got our burgers from the grill. The Yangtze Wok is only opened 2 hours per day- 1200 - 2:30PM. It took us 3 days to catch it open. The spring rolls were delicious. I wasn't impressed with the desserts. I did love the Crème Brulee and Baked Alaska. If you don't like the cocktails that are being served during the cocktail parties ask for something else. My 10 y/o didn't do Camp Carnival. I had no problems with the Camp being on the Spa deck. I did have to tell a couple of kids on the Main Deck to stop running and making noise at 11:30 PM. They politely stopped. There is a slot machine called the Pigs near the cashiers cage in the casino-that machine was loose. I spoke with people who were on the Millie and Norway. The 40ish mother and daughter on the Millie stated that they were bored since their ship had a lot of older people on it. The person on the Norway stated that she was having a blast. The Victory had a good mixture of both young and old.
Staterooms: My cabin was located on the spa deck. One felt more motion the higher the cabin. It didn't bother me at all. The room has ceiling to floor windows-very nice. There were two adults and one child in my cabin we had more than enough space. There were two night stands and three closets. Also, we were able to push the suitcases under the bed. Also, we had a wheelchair and balcony chair for my grandmother to use while she bathe. We did clean the chair when she finished. My parents had a balcony cabin on the Panorama Deck. My cabin was larger than theirs. The inside cabins do not have sofa's as some shown in stateroom.com. My cabin steward Galena was very nice. My grandmother who is very ill with pancreatic cancer shared a cabin with me. Galena worked around her and often asked how she was feeling. My grandmother stated that she often sat and talked with her while the group was at dinner and asked if she needed anything. She went beyond her duty and was tipped extra.
Tours: Don't do any tours in San Juan. Not worth the money since it is dark. I've been to San Juan 2 times before. My suggestion is to take a taxi downtown and shop. St. Maartin and St. Thomas. - didn't do any snorkeling like I wanted to. We were able to negotiate with taxi drivers at the dock and got a cheaper rate than on the ship. We paid $15.00 pp for tours. I did bring home Carnival's price list for the tours. In St. Martin- one can buy spices very reasonable priced. I did notice a lot of the vendors were not going to lower their price no matter how hard you tried.
Debarkation went fast. The only problem was getting out of the luggage area. On this cruise the porter stated that they started a new procedure and didn't like it. People were very impatient.
I have over twenty cruises under my belt so I know good from bad Here Goes - In a Word - One Third Right - Two Thirds Wrong ! ! The right third - The cruise was a typical Carnival Cruise - alot of wild kids, good entertainment and good value for the money But . . . . The wrong two thirds - Getting on and getting off. What a joke ! We drive to Miami and parking has gotten nothing but worse ove the years but this time we parked close to terminal 10 - but still had to wait almost two hours to board.
Getting off was even worse intead of terminal 10 the ship docked at terminal 8 - 3/4's of a mile from my car! They did offer shuttle service but it was over a 1/2 hour wait and we took a taxi.
Carnival should take a lesson from RCL and Princess and figure how to get passengers on and off the ship without the hassles. Also RCL and Princess know how to treat their past passengers with perks other than the cursory Cocktailparty.
I'm not bitter - just realistic Carnival is Carnival !
..setting the proverbial stage, we're both from Dallas and in our mid-twenties. While the Victory was my 16th cruise overall (I was raised at sea, I think), it was Ms. Green's first, so it was exciting to see how two completely different perspectives meandered through 7 days in paradise and ended up in the same place.
GETTING THERE/EMBARKATION/OTHER "HAVE-TOs": We bought all our air/transfers through Carnival, mostly for peace of mind and what have you. Our flight arrived in MIA from DFW around noon, right on time; what happened next, however, was the beginning of a long and painful embarkation process. We made our way to the baggage claim and immediately spotted NCL representatives running about like they were going out of style. Beyond them, RCI/Celebrity had a check in desk as well as a uniformed representative. No CCL rep in sight, but no big deal, we had luggage to wait for anyway. Our carousel was one of the first few in the long row of carousels, and after only about 5 minutes, all four of our bags were in our possession. At this point, after each of us has takenturns walking a few carousels in either direction looking for any evidence that Carnival is, in fact, an actual cruise line that does exist, we were a touch concerned. Finally, a bit on the frustrated side, Ms. Green approached a NCL rep who was nice enough to tell us that the Carnival reps weren't meeting people, you had to go to them about 300 yards down at the opposite end of the baggage claim. This is fine-I don't mind the walk, and I understand that while NCL and RCI only had one ship each to deal with, CCL had two (Victory & Paradise), meaning more flights; but it DOES get to me a tad that there was no way of knowing where the rep would be, especially when 15 times prior this has never been an issue. When we finally hauled our luggage through the crowds, we discovered a mob scene reminiscent of a Russian bread line on baking day. Throngs of people believing that lines were mere "suggestions" swarmed around the area, blocking the doors out to the bus area and creating much confusion. At this point, we heard our FIRST (of many) thick New York accent declare "never again, Carnival!" and had to laugh. Crowds can suck, they surely could have handled this better, but hey, it's embarkation. It's a hassle, it happens, it's worth it tenfold in the end. We were taken outside with our luggage to the second bus lane, where we waited about a half hour in the sweltering Miami humidity. Finally, the bus pulls up and it's off to the Port of Miami-possibly the greatest place on earth at that moment. As we hit the port, a bus traffic jam occurs and sticks us just yards away from the ships... once I actually lay eyes on the ship I'll be calling home for the next week, boy, I'm cruising. Stuck on the bus for 15 minutes, it was all I could do to stay in my seat. One of those light Miami sunshowers was going on outside, but it felt good and really cooled us all down a touch. We were one of the first groups off the bus, and quickly found a porter we tipped well and scurried off to the pier. Here is where things changed drastically from my past experiences cruising: The line snaked OUTSIDE the buildings themselves and into the parking lot and the blistering heat. I thought that surely this was just the line for some new post 9-11 security checkpoint, and assured Ms. Green that this was the case. After a few minutes, however, I realized how wrong I was. Our line circled around once, and I suddenly had a view into a large warehouse type building (where they were loading the luggage) and realized there was a massive line snaking through this dreadfully hot space. This was NOT the air conditioned Port of Miami building I'd checked into so many times before, but a poorly ventilated warehouse like one you'd see in a gangster movie. To make matters worse, the line snaked back and forth in several coils, and there were no ropes or rails to signify where you curled, which line was which, what was what. In retrospect, the line probably appeared longer than it actually was because of the poor organization. Once we got up a small staircase in the warehouse and to the mouth of the air conditioned port building, a Carnival rep was telling jokes and splitting the line into TWO lines. He did this, however, after the two of us went up the steps, starting another line along side us. The problem with this was that once we all went through the NEXT doorway (the security checkpoint now in sight), the line merged back into one, meaning that no fewer than 50-75 people were given a free pass past us in line. A minor irritant, but after 2 hours at this point in sweltering heat, it DID steam us a bit. This line wound around for about 45 minutes before we came to two security checkpoints. Once we were through here, we were home free. The line to actually check in came next, but that literally took five minutes, no lie. If you have your stuff together, forms filled out, and identification in hand, you'll have no problems. At this point, giddiness overcame us. Since they no longer use the interior of the port for much of anything with all the lines outside, we went through long corridors, up escalators and through concourses to get to the next stop. At this point though, the lines were over and the Victory was just outside the window and we were THERE. We picked up our S&S sign card by last name, then proceeded up an escalator and to a machine that took our pictures while we inserted our cards. Then, it was the welcome aboard picture and on the gangway! The whole final process-check ins, cards, pictures, etc.-took a maximum of 15 minutes, while the rest of it all took 2 ½ hours plus. We were on board at 3:45pm, and the Victory didn't even sail until past 5 because of the embarkation delays. But, as I've said before and will say again, it was all well worth it....
THE SHIP, GETTING THERE, STAFF, ETC. (this whole review is one big "etc.", isn't it?): And so we were onboard. Suddenly, life had meaning. Trees were greener, skies were bluer, and Vanilla Ice was singing the hits again! (well, ixnay on the last one, but I digress)... The Victory is a stunning, stunning ship. It was my first time on a Destiny class ship, and this atrium blew me away. The decor is so intricate, there's not a single aspect of the ship where it's not reflected. I found myself taking pictures of barstools, tabletops, and moulding for Pete's sake! Even the elevators have the theme working; the blues and greens, the snaking tentacle-like tubing with tivoli lights embedded running around the ceilings-a real sight to behold. You can say what you want about the theme, concept, or whatever else, but no one could say Carnival spared any expense. She's beautiful and fully decked out for the ball. Our room was 8289, Verandah (deck 8) amidships, an outside w/ balcony. When we arrived, we had a canapé tray and drink/photo coupons waiting for us, compliments of my folks... a great surprise to kick things off. One of my more memorable moments came after devouring our tray, checking out the robes, funvision, toiletries, capers, and other goodies, and then running out to explore. We went up to Lido Deck, walked through the Mediterranean Restaurant (little did we know how much time we'd spend there) and to Siren's Pool in the back. Ms. Green turned to me, beaming (we're drinking the "Fun Ship Special" by this point), and said "If I had known how cool this was, I'd have been a lot MORE excited!! Now I know why you were going so crazy!" This alone would have made my week, and I knew then she was "one of us." Ahhh, now I can relax. :) Anyway, we checked out Promenade Deck and explored up til sailaway, and that means this is a good a place as any to give brief run downs of select areas on the ship and my impressions of them over the course of the week. So there.
CARIBBEAN LOUNGE (main showroom): More than lives up to its reputation as the coldest room on the seven seas (or anywhere else north of Antarctica, for that matter). I'm the kind of guy who likes to sleep with the thermostat at about 65 (Ms. Green does not appreciate this) so I was generally okay, but it was a sweatshirt most nights for her, and for many others as well. That being said, we spent more time in this room that just about any other non-eating area onboard, seeing as we attended just about every show, trivia contest, bingo game, etc.-It's a nice room, nothing just mindblowing, but very in with the theme of the ship. The big gold palm trees that flank the stage and line the walls are very cool, especially when the twinkling white lights embedded in them are on. Above the stage is a giant reflective blue surface that looks almost like blue mirrors and winds back through the center of the room's ceiling and edges below the balcony terraces. The big squid-tentacles chandelier is impressive, and surrounded by faux-stone blocks engraved with octopus, dolphin, and other sea-themed characters. Seating is as advertised-get there early for the big production shows if you want a good seat. Seats on the lower level are good only if very close or in the middle benches. Side seats are obstructed by the balcony overhang. As for the balcony, we only had to sit up there once, for a magic show one evening, but I will say this: It gets cramped and hot up there when the theater is packed. As cool as the lower level is, the balcony has individual seating that is packed a lot tighter and by the end of the show, we were sweating something fierce. Bar service is dependable yet unobtrusive in this lounge, and we were never without a full drink, yet at the same time didn't feel hassled once. LOBBY BAR: A big people-watching hotspot. Since it's located at the hub of the ship, this area would always be packed early evenings when traffic was heavy and passengers would check out each other's dinner duds, particularly on formal night. Again, service was always prompt and with a smile at this bar. Considering it's in the atrium (Oceanic Hall), the view is ALWAYS great, and the classical trio (Amadeo Trio) that played there just behind the bar always added greatly to the ambience. When the bar was open, it seemed busy from the second we boarded the ship until last call Saturday night. Busy but offbeat is a good way to put it, since the area was crowded but somehow never felt cramped or frenetic.
AEGEAN BAR (sports bar): We got a drink at the Aegean right after we boarded (I think every bar on the ship was open upon embarkation), and little did we know that it would be our last. It's an attractive spot, and done in different colors (gold, black, white) than the rest of the ship. While this seems odd, it does work in the context of its location, since the Aegean is off the casino/atrium and not really along Neptune's Way promenade, thusly it feels a bit "out of the flow." I think it was because of this that the bar never seemed very active, and was kind "forgotten" except by a select few. There are never any "events" at the bar, and it's probably the only place that holds that distinction on board. All we saw about it was "Aegean Bar, open 12pm - 12:30am," and that was it. If you DO visit the Aegean, you'll notice the televisions are large with good reception, and that there are video slots/poker machines embedded in the bar in front of each stool, which we thought was very cool.
SOUTH CHINA SEA CLUB (casino): The big blue foo dogs weren't the eyesore they're made out to be by a lot of people, they actually fit the theme pretty well. The SCSC was your basic Carnival casino, done up in a far East Orient motif. When we boarded the ship, we found a $20 bill under our lifejackets (!!), so we took this as a sign we should hit the casino. 20 minutes and 20 dollars later, that idea went by the wayside. We didn't spend much time here, as it wasn't very good to us, but several others did. It wasn't the packed madhouse many Carnival casinos become, but it still stayed lively until late. The slot tournaments drew a big crowd. CORAL SEA CAFE: The CSC is really nice to look at, with the glass table-to-ceiling cylinders filled with various coral and shell arrangements the highlight, along with several gorgeous half-circle lamps that are very colorful and each one unique. Here, you can get various coffees and pastries for a nominal fee. We did try the cafe, but only a few of the selections; she tried the famous Carnival Chocolate strawberry (HUGE berry half dipped in white chocolate and half dipped in dark) and said it was incredible. I had a huge chocolate chip cookie that was one of the best I'd ever had. The cakes, though very good, were about the same quality as anything you'd find elsewhere onboard, and elsewhere it's free. The coffee/espresso/cappucino machine wasn't working when we tried it, so we got drinks at the Trident Bar next door and ate at a couch on Neptune's Way.
SPEAK OF THE DEVIL (or the god of the sea, whichever)..... : I've always loved the promenades on Carnival ships, they've always exemplified the "buzz" and the sounds and feel that make Carnival special for us devotees. For some reason, Neptune's Way seemed narrower than those on the Fantasy class ships I've sailed (Ecstasy, Sensation, Imagination), though I'm sure that's just because there were more people and more "stuff" on the Victory. The sea foam green sofas and chairs lining the starboard side of the promenade were VERY comfortable, and became one of Ms. Green's favorite spots. It was a great place to sit and watch the world go by but still feel part of the action, and a great place to enjoy food or drink on one of the shell tables held by a giant seahorse. :) The ceilings were that famous green square pattern so prevalent on the Victory, with darker and lighter shades at points, small spotlights scattered about, and a backlit feeling that gives you the feeling of being under the sea. Along the far side, one of those tubings I mentioned earlier with the tivoli lights snakes its way the length of the deck, adding to the effect. Trident's Bar is the midway point of the deck, located just past the casino. It's done in the same decor as the rest of the deck, creating the sense that it's just part of the walkway, not a separate entity you would single out going to. There was no color-changing sign, no scheduled activities (save at the casino, which would draw a crowd at Trident's), and all this made the bar seem more like a place you would just stop by and grab a drink at while strolling to the other end of the ship. Service here was always good, and the bar was open until 3 am nightly, attracting much of the casino crowd and those from Club Arctic heading forward. Right across from Trident's was a elevated stage area with a baby grand piano and large slanted fun house type mirror behind it where Dan the piano player would belt out mainstream hits like "Margaritaville," "Brown Eyed Girl." and "Two Pina Coladas" nightly through the early evening until 10 or so while passersby drank, talked, and gambled. A neat feature just a bit aft of Trident's bar was a giant interactive map showing the ships itinerary, location, and vital information with flashing red, yellow, and green dots. There was a scrolling ticker-type electronic banner above the map, featuring information such as ship's position, water temperature (even in each of the ship's pools! ), speed, etc. This map almost ALWAYS had a small crowd gathered before it, and part of this crowd was always interested in the kiosk set up next to the map, a touchscreen monitor that allowed each guest information about and directions to any public area on the Victory, information on each port of call, and even info on other ships and itineraries within the fleet! This was a great interactive feature that helped a lot of novice cruisers who might have otherwise felt overwhelmed. Neptune's Way was always bustling and full of energy, but was still a marvel to look at and enjoy curling up and watching the sea go by at the same time. It CAN get a bit crowded on formal nights, when photographers are set up all the way along the deck to take pictures with their backdrops.
There WILL, however, be a photographer set up just forward of the casino in the atrium area (where the promenade basically forms a British-style roundabout circling Oceanic Hall), and though she NEVER had a line, she has a GREAT backdrop already built in: the green tiffany-glass lower ceiling of Oceanic Hall, which when lit up at night makes the most beautiful photo backdrop you could ask for, and is distinctively Victory.
The VICTORY SHOPS are in this area as well, on both sides of the circle around Oceanic Hall. The starboard side is the shop with jewelry, watches, leather items, perfumes, etc. (there was always some sort of special going on), and the port side shop (forward of the Aegean Bar) was the logo shop, with your more basic souvenirs, rum cakes, liquors, clothing, logo merchandise, candy, etc. You could also get your essentials (batteries, Bonine if you needed it, AC Adapters, things like that) in this shop. Both shops had friendly staff and reasonable prices with some good deals to be found, especially towards the end of the cruise.
CLUB ARCTIC, moving aft: Jumping back aft, Club Arctic was the ship's dance club and seemed to be the headquarters of Camp Carnival during the day. First of all, I have to say that for a full ship with 3,000 passengers, the kids on this ship were never very noticeable, so Camp Carnival must have done an outstanding job. Back to Club Arctic, the icicle/seal skin theme is very cool (no TERRIBLE pun intended), and the fiberoptics that light up under the ice-like barstools are a real treat. The walls of TV monitors move with shapes and colors forming giant patterns that go with the music and are very hypnotic to watch. The dance floor and large wrap-around bar were very popular places on several nights of the cruise, but even more enjoyable for myself was the stadium seating type bar areas that surround the dance floor and provides some great views of your fellow cruisers on the dance floor. Also, there's a large window on the wall beyond the dance floor which opens out onto the landing of the staircase between decks 4 and 5, which creates a very unique storefront type situation where you can stop on the landing (in Odyssey Hall and by the Pacific Dining Room) and watch the people dancing inside. All in all, we didn't spend a whole lot of time in Club Arctic, but there was always something going on and you couldn't help but feel a lot of energy in this room on into the wee hours.
the ODYSSEY HALL area: This was the most noticeable difference, to me anyway, between the promenades on the Fantasy-class ships and on the Victory. As you go aft past Club Arctic, you come to the Caspian Sea bar located portside, kind of forming a semi-circle with two rows of bars and stools. The theme here is the Russian empire, as evidenced by the portraits of the Czar and his wife on the back wall. We never really tried this place out, though Ms. Green expressed a small bit of interest here and there. At the Caspian you can get wines and caviar, etc., for a fee; the bar was never really crowded, and only a couple of times did I notice more than a few people here. Still, it's great to look at, and really adds a sort of elegant "anchor" to Neptune's Way. Now, to Odyssey Hall-the hall consists of three lounges and a little mini aft atrium, with the famous giant fish suspended in the middle. The fish is impressive, and is larger than I expected. It's a great photo op, with so many vibrant colors and such a unique look. The three lounges that surround this area are the Irish Sea Bar, Red & Black Seas, and Adriatic Lounge. I'd always read on here how raucous and packed the Irish Sea (piano bar) would get, but we never really saw that on this trip. Now I should say that it's quite possible we missed the wilder times seeing as we DID spend so much time at shows, etc., but usually the scene was all but dead by the time we'd stroll by around midnight. It also probably had something to do with the fact that there was a group onboard that had the room rented out a few times here and there, and I'm sure there were livelier times, we just missed them. The R&B Seas really surprised me, as I found it to be far more impressive than it appears in pictures I'd seen. This room actually illicited the first big "wow, awesome!" from Ms. Green on our initial walkthrough. I won't bother describing it-lots of red, lots of black, etc. etc.-but check it out, it's a funky little bar that's a lot of fun. Karaoke was always held here, and if you plan on coming, COME EARLY. Every time this took place, people were seated on the floor, spilling out into Odyssey Hall, etc. It's a fun, popular event, and even though I really enjoyed the R&B Seas, I think they could probably hold this event in Club Arctic or the Adriatic and people would be a bit more comfortable. Every evening when there wasn't karaoke going on, you could find live jazz or singalongs being played here. As for the aforementioned Adriatic Lounge, this was another room that pictures didn't do justice to. Honestly, this was probably the most beautiful space on the ship, in my humblest of opinions. It's tiered on multiple levels, and features gorgeous ivories and pale yellows that are far more attractive than they sound or appear to be on film. The art auctions are held here, as is the Captain's cocktail party and past guest party. There was a three piece band called Music Mix that played nightly, everything from American standards to love songs to disco. We also met for a shore excursion here one morning, and the beauty of the room made it much more bearable to be up at 6:45. The Adriatic is probably the best spot for romantic dancing as well. A great room, take the time to check it out, organized activity or no.
BUFFET, LIDO DECK, etc.: I'll start here with the Mediterranean Buffet (from here on out the Med-I type ENOUGH at work) on Lido Deck. Compared with the Holiday and Fantasy class ships I've been on, this was another source of WOW for me. The Med is very large and very comfortable; it's decorated elaborately and thoroughly. This was the first Lido restaurant I've ever been in that I felt could have been dropped down a few decks as a regular restaurant and not looked out of place one bit-just awesome. Buffet lines were seldom the huge problem I'd feared. The gala buffet, of course, drew a crowd, as did breakfast a few times during peak hours, but other than that it was always easy to get everything we wanted. The two lines made things a lot more manageable and the line move far more quickly as well. There is a separate station in the middle of the Med for desserts, danishes, pastries, etc., depending on the particular meal being served. We even ate here on two different evenings, which I never would have even considered on previous cruises. The food was good, the best buffet food I've had at sea bar none, and the options were more plentiful than anyone could ever ask for. The alternative buffet areas- East River Deli, Yangtze Wok, Mississippi BBQ, and Pizzeria Arno-were a huge treat for me, considering I'd never seen anything like them on other ships I've sailed on. I really hope Ms. Green doesn't think ALL ships are like this!  As for these dining options, the Deli and Wok are set up as little windows on either side of the Med, just inside from the pool area. The Deli has the best hours of the three (Pizzeria, of course, is 24 hrs.), the BBQ is open for lunches, and the Wok seemed to be open less than the other three and never had a crowd. I had heard so much about the spring rolls at Yangtze Wok, but they never had them available the times that we tried. The food we DID have, however, was good (I enjoyed a Cantonese Pork dish especially). Mississippi BBQ is located opposite the pizzeria, outside of the Med in the Siren's Pool area aft, starboard side. Line could really get long here (relative to the other dining options), so we only ended up trying it a few times. It's been my experience that shipboard burgers, hot dogs, etc., are AWFUL. They pretty much always have been on my past cruises-but these were GREAT. The hot dogs were huge-very much like something you'd get at the ballpark. I wished they'd had a bar with onions, jalapenos, etc., but they were great just covered in mustard. Steak sandwiches could be served on a sliced French roll or sesame seed bun, and were good either way, as was the plain chicken breast they'll serve on any bun you wish. The hamburgers were great, and covered in melting cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato-or of course made exactly to your order. French fries came with every dish and were always hot and delicious. Going inside from Mississippi BBQ, you'll find the East River Deli-let me just say that my motto for the cruise could have been "He who says Man can not survive on Rueben Sandwiches alone hath never sailed the Carnival Victory." The Deli's Ruebens visited my stomach every day, and were some of the best I've ever had. They're put together and grilled on both sides, then they're ready to go (grill marks make everything taste better, don't they?). I ate them there in the Med most of the time, but sometimes I would just carry them right downstairs to the cabin and eat them there-whatever suits your mood! There were always two chefs stationed at the deli, so the line always moved fast and I never had to wait more than 10 minutes or so. The menu at East River also offers corned beef, pastrami, turkey served hot or cold, smoked salmon, tuna salad, etc., on many different kinds of bread and rolls. Everything I tried there was excellent, and it stayed open until 11 most nights, unlike the BBQ and Wok which were never open past 6. As for Pizzeria Arno, located opposite the Mississippi BBQ on the Port side outside Siren's Pool, I have mixed reviews. No problems at all with the pizza itself: it was great, the best I've had at sea in fact. The first night onboard, we stopped in around 2am or so and were treated to the DeChevre (goat cheese, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes) and Margherita pizzas. These were both delicious, and I was more than excited about the week's worth of late night pizza eating I had ahead of me. The problem was that in the six or seven times we attempted to get pizza the rest of the cruise, there was never anything offered but cheese, pepperoni, or vegetable-and usually only one of those was available at a given time. There's a large menu and display case set up right in front of the counter at Arno with all kinds of exciting exotic pizzas that are absolutely delicious, but for the majority of the time, that menu is just a series of suggestions that shouldn't be taken seriously. The basic pizzas were good, of course, but I wished they'd had more. The general buffets in the Med were always tasty-it was your traditional set up, salads, fruits, cheeses, then four or five entrée selections-but the kicker was the final station, with one chef on either side pan cooking something right in front of you. Made to order omelets in the morning, usually a pasta or seafood dish in the evenings. Not to mention the giant bread basket (sun dried tomato baguettes were out of this WORLD) and loads of President butter. I know it's been covered ad nauseum on these boards, but that President butter has earned it's reputation; three more days onboard would have given me a heart attack I used so much. It might be the number one food product I miss from the Victory-Oh, how I wish I could score some of that stuff here in Texas. The Gala buffet was very impressive to look at, but wasn't so good as far as the little "eating" part went. All the others, however, were the best Lido food I'd had onboard ship bar none.
About the Siren's Pool area, that's something else that was very unique and impressive. The décor of the Med carries out into the pool and surrounding areas, which is something I've never seen before and was very impressive. Even the deck area around the pool (which has a retractable roof) wasn't the usual teakwood style decking, but a red Spanish tile with small hand-painted tile diamonds at each point where four tiles met. This was very impressive, because the use of the tile alone gave the area a different feel, and the fact that each of the hundreds of small tile diamonds had a different little pattern painted on it just added to the very unique poolside atmosphere. Also, the deck chairs had big, thick cushions with a color and pattern unique to that particular area.. not to mention , the tables on the back side of the pool overlooked the stern and the wake of the ship, one of my favorite spots. An odd fact: The bar at Siren's Pool is open until 4am nightly, the consistently latest nightspot onboard. It's located port side, across from Pizzeria Arno.
In both the Siren's Pool area and Triton's (main) pool area, there were large glass & steel sculptures around various edges of the water, which were very impressive and added a lot to the overall atmosphere. Two bars flank the pool on either side and point inward to the outside buffet lines of the Med. There are plenty of tables and chairs for outdoor eating, and though there are plenty of deck chairs, the chair saving was in FULL effect on this cruise. There are signs, warnings in the Capers, all sorts of noticed about this problem, but people just don't care. My favorite irritant was seeing three chairs, one with one shoe in it, one with the other show in it, and one with a cap in it. Delicious. Regardless, unless you just HAVE to be immediately poolside, you'll be able to find loungers all up and down decks 9, 10, 11, and 12. The topless deck by the funnel is ALWAYS more than half empty (and sorry guys, no one was topless) as is the area by the little used King of the Sea (waterslide) pool, though that is usually a hotspot for children. Also up near this area is the Nautica Spa, gym, jogging track, and juice bar, which looked very nice though we never tried it. A giant kids' play area is outside the bar area, complete with slides, playhouses, etc.
The poolside areas (mainly Triton's Pool) featured the usual reggae band playing most afternoons, as well as traditional Carnival poolside daytime entertainment, such as Survivor, hairy chest contests, ice carving demos, some trivia games, etc. There's enough entertainment poolside to have a good time and give you something to look forward to, but it's never so intrusive that you can't lay out in peace.
ENTERTAINMENT (and whatnot. I LOVE some good whatnot):
Line of the week: "In addition, this afternoon's scheduled meeting of the Apathy Club has been cancelled due to lack of interest. Thanks, and have a great day!" - cruise director Steve Cassel, over the PA during his afternoon announcements.
This was my third time to sail with CD Steve Cassel, and I still think he does a bang up job. I've sailed with John Heald twice, and yes, John is the man (as Steve himself once mentioned on the Victory), but Steve is one of Carnival's top 3 or 4 CDs bar none. He's goofy (to put it lightly), knowledgeable, approachable, and the self-professed "master of the bad joke." His talks were helpful for the first time and veteran cruisers alike, his juggling act is borderline amazing (Steve outperformed many of the "serious" performers), and the "If I were not upon the sea" bit he did with the crew after the talent show was hilarious. In fact, it gave me a great photo of Steve in a leotard, tutu, and blonde wig. A.J. is still there as the lead social host, and though several people said he wasn't very good as CD the past few weeks (filling in between John & Steve), we thought he was hilarious and likeable. In my humble opinion, I think A.J. is ready to move up the ranks of Carnival CDs whenever he's given his own ship. With only one notable exception (Newlywed/Not so, which Steve did), A.J. emceed just about all the events-both poolside and in lounges-that involved audience participation, and did a great job. Jo, a British ex-dancer, generally ran trivia and bingo, both of which we participated in regularly. The production shows, Livin' In America (Monday night) and Vroom! (Friday night) have been covered here several times, but we loved both of them. The crowd got much more involved in Livin' In America, and that performance seemed to draw more raves, but a lot of that probably had to do with the timing of the performance. Both shows involve elaborate set and costume changes, and lots of impressive technical work. The singers, Wayne and Yolanda, were both very talented and charismatic. There were three "R" rated midnight comedians-on my past CCL cruises, this show was always held in the "alternate" show lounge (in this case it would have been the Adriatic), but on the Victory they were in the Caribbean. This was a good move, as the shows always had overflow standing room crowds in the past. Jim Brick held the first show, David Sayh the second, and Percy Crews II the third. Both Brick and Crews were hilarious, had me doubled over in laughter, and generated a ship-wide buzz after their shows. Sayh wasn't very funny, though he had the most impressive credentials. Sayh's performance was even mocked by the crowd at Crews' show the next night. I think it spoke volumes that both Brick and Crews did a main general audience show as well, whereas Sayh only had the one performance. Manuel Zuniga (isn't this man on every Carnival ship every week?) performed his juggling/comedy act, which was a big hit, and the passenger talent show, though only three acts long, featured two singers that could have performed as professionals and STILL earned their standing ovations. The only show we didn't really enjoy was Rand Woodbury's magic show-Ms. Green thought Woodbury was drunk, I just thought he was a pompous ass who took 90 minutes to do three tricks, but either way, his "what I do can save the world" bunk was wasted on us. Now in all fairness, the show was technically impressive, and a lot of people seemed to enjoy it, but I think a lot of our discomfort had to do with the fact that this was the show we arrived to 5 minutes before curtain and had to sit up in the scorchingly hot third level for. Still, entertainment was great all week and we took in most of it. The knobby knees contest, newlywed game, Austin Powers dance class, comedians, jugglers, magicians, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, bingo, horse racing, several types of trivia, art auctions, singers, bands in every lounge, galley tours, ice carving demos, limbo, dance contests, karaoke, ask the crew, informative talks, in-cabin movies and radio, golf driving net, putting contests, ping pong, full gym & spa, you name it-if you are bored on the Victory, it's your own fault. And remember-sometimes, it's quite all right to just do NOTHING. We enjoyed long, leisurely meals, wandering the ship, taking naps, and sitting out on our balconies as much as anything else. Remember: you're on vacation!
DINING ROOM/ROOM SERVICE:
We asked for late seating, and after hoping passionately that we'd get the 8:00 and not the 8:30, I was more than pleasantly surprised to see that we'd received the 8:00 seating in the Pacific Dining Room. We were seated on the second level, port side. I can see what some people say about it seeming like "the action" is on the lower level, but it never really bothered us. The area we sat in was a series of booths for four lined up against the glass half-wall looking down onto the lower level. Next to us on the other side was a strip of five or six tables for two, with more booths for four on the other side. Although we were eager to meet our tablemates, not only did they not show the first night, they NEVER showed. Not one meal. Our waiter, Atilla from Hungary (imagine that), said that he'd checked in the computer, and there was a couple scheduled to be there, yet they never showed-very odd. The large picture window overlooking the back of the ship is a nice feature unique to the Pacific Room, but you CAN see the horizon move up and down if you look at it from a distance, so this probably plays a part in why you can feel what little motion there is in the Pacific more than in other areas. Food was excellent, and you can tell the improvements Carnival has made in this department over the years. Ms. Green labeled her Long Island Duckling as one of the best meals she'd ever had, and I did the same with my almond encrusted Pacific salmon with creamed spinach and potatoes. Incredible. The West Indian pumpkin soup is every bit as good as advertised, as was the decadence of chocolate, a must for ANY Carnival cruiser. We both agreed that soups were a strong point, as every one we tried was delicious. If I could suggest one thing to Carnival, it might be to have soups available up on the Lido deck as well, as we couldn't get enough of them. Desserts were great, as was every seafood dish I tried, and I had plenty. Ms. Green loved the food as well, and there wasn't anything we could really complain about. The bread is brought around at the beginning of your meal, and there is always a wide variety to choose from, from rye to plain rolls to baguettes to sun dried tomato rolls and so on, and all with that President butter just waiting seductively, taunting you from its cold silver tin... but I digress.. We often times ordered two starters or two soups or two entrees, whatever, and they were always more than happy to accommodate us with a smile. Bar service was prompt and friendly from the nearby Ionian Room (don't freak out when you see charges on your bill to the Ionian Room, that's where the dining room drinks come from), and couples around us enjoyed various wines all week. There are daily wine selections from the chefs and maitre'd listed in the Capers daily if you're so inclined. But don't feel intimidated if that's not your thing-just as many folks were enjoying an ice cold Coca-Cola with dinner as well! Formal nights saw all kinds-from Sunday attire to full blown tuxedos and formal gowns. I wore my tuxedo the first night, and though I was nervous at first that I'd stand out, I saw more men in tuxedos on the Victory than I had on any ship prior. Again, fear not, a whole rainbow of fashion is represented and anything is welcome.
One evening, Atilla and other waiters from the section came bounding out with smiles and cakes in hand, and we learned that every single couple at the tables for two next to us was on their honeymoon! As thr are presenting all the cakes, Atilla comes up to us and says "I understand you're celebrating a honeymoon this week?" We sat there smiling dumbly until we said, in a tentative unison, "Uh, no, we're not, I don't know.." He then shook his head and determined that our phantom tablemates who never showed were on THEIR honeymoon! Draw from that the conclusions that you wish, but either way we got a Happy Honeymoon cake and were part of the big group singing to 8 or 9 honeymooning couples! We got a huge laugh and a lot of pictures out of that one!
The second formal night is distinctly less formal, as black tie gives way to a more fun, creative kind of formal. The waiters don't do the big baked-alaska-or-cherries-jubilee on their heads parade anymore, but there is still the singing & dancing-just a touch toned down. Baked Alaska is the only dessert automatically brought to your table (cherries jubilee isn't), and even then if you feel like having something else, they'll gladly bring you that as well, as a full dessert menu is still available.
Room service was wonderful, and the menu is far more diverse than it was in the past-despite this newfound diversity, we stuck to our old favorites. Ms. Green couldn't go a day without her toasted bagel & cream cheese, and almost a week later I'm still tasting my roast beef & brie sandwiches along with some of the best potato salad I've ever tasted. Service was always quick, with a smile, and as long as you remember to tip just two bucks each time, you'll be well taken care of and Enjoy a midnight snack, pre-nap bite, or meal out on your balcony as the moon & stars roll by.
As for service in the cabin area, though I can't speak for everyone on board, I can say that our service was for the most part excellent and with a smile. Our steward was Marvin from Jamaica, and he was very friendly and efficient yet never too aggressive or neglectful at the same time. The only complaints I had were little ones, such as not having a do not disturb sign at the beginning of the cruise or not being given an envelope to tip the maitre'd, but we took care of all of that very quickly. Not to mention we had an "illegal" bottle of rum in our room and not only did Marvin not care, by the end of the cruise he'd ice it down for us in one of the two buckets of ice we had. The towel animals were once again a nightly player (and one of Ms. Green's favorite things) and the beds were pushed together and fitted under king size bedding just like that within the first couple hours on board. The Carnival terry cloth robes we were given were very light and very comfortable, and the complimentary basket of toiletries came in very handy as well. I found television onboard to be much better than on previous ships as well. Funvision was very effective and useful, with only a couple of differences from my last CCL cruise on the Imagination 6 years ago-You could no longer order room service from your television, but you can order first run movies, and a wide variety at that, for a nominal fee. Also, it's a great way to avoid lines, crowds, or tours filling up, as you can order tours off the in cabin television as soon as the Victory sets sail. It's easy, hassle-free, and gets all your "busy work" taken care of from the comfort of your boxer shorts. Of course, if you'd like more information before you book (info sheets on each tour will be waiting for you in your cabin to begin with), Steve gave very informative talks on each tour and each port of call in the Caribbean Lounge, and tours rarely sold out.
We slept very comfortably - I always sleep better on cruise ships than anywhere else-and were never disturbed by noises, etc. in the nighttime hours. Insulation between cabins was excellent, as I never once got the paper-thin sensation I've gotten on most other ships. The only negatives were napping could sometime be difficult in the afternoon, as we had a group right across the hall from us that was part of a large group on board celebrating a 15th birthday, and they spent a good amount on time IN THE HALLWAY playing music and talking very loudly. A dirty look here and there helped our cause, and it was no big deal. Announcements aren't as annoying as has been reported-there's a long one about 10am every day and another around 5:30pm, and other than that there are just a few here and there. Plus, they're never piped into your cabins unless they're mandatory (which is only lifeboat drill & debarkation stuff), so the noise is minimal. We only heard deck chairs being moved around above us once (we were directly below the Lido deck), and it was very brief and a non-factor. There was plenty of closet and storage space for the both of us, and although our coral-colored sofa was used mostly as a catch all for bags, papers, etc., I feel like we utilized our given space fairly well.
The Victory was remarkably smooth-almost TOO smooth. There were times when we were sailing and I'd have sworn we were on land if I didn't know better. Not only was there almost no motion, there wasn't even a hint of vibration for the most part. Only once or twice was there even SLIGHT swaying, and even then it was brief and hardly noticeable. Ms. Green, on her first cruise and understandably worried about seasickness going in, mentioned more than once that it just felt like we were in a huge hotel. Great job by the captain, crew, and of course the Victory herself.
Just down the hall from us was one of the laundrettes (there are several throughout the ship, check out leatherbound cabin services directory in your stateroom), and the only times it was really packed were in the afternoon hours before a formal night, mostly with women ironing, pressing, etc. In port it was almost always empty, and during sea days there was moderate activity. You can buy detergent from a machine, and there are several washers and dryers as well as an ironing board and good Panasonic iron.
Oh, and before I forget, the internet café-it's off the Ionian Room, starboard side opposite the Card Room, and there are a number of terminals that actually have a very good connection. We only used it a couple of times to check on things from back home, so we just went with the 75 cents a minute standard, but for those of you who plan on spending more time online (and there were several on this cruise), there are a number of affordable plans with which you can purchase minutes. The Ionian Room itself is a gorgeous room located just across from the entrance to the Pacific Dining Room and below Club Arctic. Yes, it IS odd that such a nice, subdued room is located below a loud party area like Club Arctic, but it's not as ridiculous at some reviews make it seem, since never are the two rooms open and going at the same time. By the time Club Arctic is up and pounding, the Ionian Room has long since wound down. The Ionian room is the one place on the Victory where cigar smoking is allowed and encouraged (grab those Cubans while you can!), and a classical and jazz trio will play in the evenings here nightly. The full bar along the back of the room is gorgeous, and ties into the room well. One night, every musician on the Victory got together in the Ionian for a 3 hour "jam session," and what we heard of it was a real treat.
Okay, now on to the ports o' call!! I'll preface this by saying that I've never been one who's looked forward to every port with marked anticipation. I enjoy the ports, I've had some good times seeing the ports, and a week I spent in Grand Cayman is one of the best vacations I've been fortunate enough to have-but that being said, I've always seen ports as being a byproduct of being able to get on the ship for a week! My cruise on the Victory, as great as the ship is, did a lot to change that attitude.
We docked at what is actually the old pier, down a ways from San Miguel and slightly bigger (deeper) than the newer pier. We were docked next to HAL's Maasdam, and we could see the Holiday docked down at the new pier further down the island. We met on the pier at 10am for the Fiesta Party Boat tour, and had no problems whatsoever getting off the ship, we simply popped our S&S card into the machine and strolled off. The S&S card is all we ever needed getting on and off the ship. The Fiesta was right around the corner, and we quickly boarded and headed up to the third deck of the tri-deck boat. The 1st and 3rd deck had bars, and the second deck had a souvenir stand. We headed along the island's coast to Playa Sol (after picking up some passengers from the Holiday who had been tendered from their ship to the Victory), with a Mexican band playing some cruise standards (UB40, Macarena, etc.) and some local favorites. On the first level of the boat (with the band, stage, etc), the Fiesta crew was talking over the speaker system, getting the crowd involvment going, etc, and allowing the children onboard to go after a pinata. The whole way to Playa Sol, free rum punch and Pepsi was offered to the passengers, and despite the ominous clouds here and there, we all stayed in an upbeat mood, laughing and enjoying watching fellow passengers take failed Macarena lessons. Finally, we arrived at Playa Sol, where we were ushered off the boat and given a quick talk on all that was available for us there. The coolers of rum punch were brought off the boat and onto the beach at the end of the pier, and the punch continued to flow for our two hours at the beach. Playa Sol is a cool place, with tons of loungers, food & drink options, watersports, and a whole pavillion area where a fountain marks the entrance to a long strip of shops, and a freshwater swimming pool with swim up bar sits in front of a large covered buffet area. We walked down through the shops and Ms. Green found a lovely turquoise ring we bought from a shop with a Mexican man who was very helpful and accomodating and not the least bit pushy, as we had a hard time finding the ring she wanted in the perfect size-ladies, remember, if you've been in the sea for a while first as we had, your fingers are probably a bit swollen from the salt water. We learned this the hard way, as Ms. Green's ring is now a bit loose! As I said, we spent a good bit of time playing in the Caribbean, sipping rum punch and wandering around the grounds taking pictures and meeting some very friendly passengers from the Holiday. Finally, it was time to head back on to the Fiesta, and that's when the party cranked up. On the way back to the Victory, not only was there free rum punch, but free Dos Equis was brought into the mix! Conga lines formed, dancing picked up, everyone filled up the bottom deck, and a limbo contest was won by the most flexible woman I've ever seen. Needless to say, the whole ride back (a ride that went a lot slower than the way there) Ms. Green and I put away our fair share of Dos Equis and were feeling very good as we debarked the boat-a great time on the Fiesta! They DID take a photo of us wearing matching rainbow colored sombreros, which we purchased for 10 bucks and which I'm very fond of. As we debarked, we decided to check out the pier shops-To get to the island by foot, you have to walk through these shops, as the entire pier is basically an enclosed mall. There are some great deals on alcohol, tobacco, and souvenirs here, and if there's anything I can suggest about the ports, it's that you should do as much of your shopping as possible in Cozumel, as the best deals by far are found here. We bought a large bottle of rum and 6 Cuban cigars for 15 bucks total and headed out of the mall to the little area of jewelry shops and bars on the island. There was a Senor Frog's and Fat Tuesday's to out immediate left, and after we stopped into Fat Tuesday's for another drink ( I had a Montejo, a Mexican beer that was new to me but one that I really enjoyed), we headed to one of the recommended CCL jewelry stores, where Ms. Green got the pair of five dollar Tanzanite earrings for being a Victory passenger. The other Tanzanite stuff was.uhhh. just a bit out of our price range. As we headed back to the ship, we stopped at a bar (sense a theme here?) on the other side of the pier called the Crazy Pelican. This bar was very cool, as it had a mini-pier of its own where Ms. Green laid out (laying out at a bar!!) and I sat by her side taking pictures (including one that's my all-time favorite) and drinking Negra Modelos while she sipped Coronas. This isn't even mentioning the bartender who gave us impromptu shots of Cuervo when we walked in-but that's another story. Finally, we'd had enough and headed back to the Victory. We ran the rum through the x-ray machine, made NO effort to sneak it on, yet they let it right on through, and suddenly we had a bottle of run in our cabin for the duration of the week!! Then, after stopping at the Med for a little 4pm snack, we took what was supposed to be a little nap, and ended up sleeping until close to 10. That's what a day on the party boat and at the "Crazy Pelican" will do to you, I suppose.. What a day.
I'd spent a week in Cayman before, and Ms. Green knew from my wistful ramblings how I felt about this island, so there was a lot to live up to here! We pulled in bright and early. well, actually dark and early.. And since we had to meet in the Adriatic for our tour at 7:15, I was already awake and able to watch us sail in and anchor along with the Voyager of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas, and Inspiration. We met at the crowded Adriatic and waited about 15 minutes before being led down to the tender area, and though it wasn't the most organized thing you've ever seen, we were still motoring over to Cayman within a half hour. The confusion came once we got to the island, as there were a number of tours there and no real way to tell where yours was meeting. After heading the wrong direction for a piece, we were directed back to our bus to Stingray City and boarded just in time. From here on out, our worries washed away. We had the famous "Singing Bus Driver" of the Cayman Islands, who sang at the top of his lungs the whole way there-no, it's not as annoying as it sounds, it's actually quite hilarious and entertaining. He was the nicest guy in the world, and after driving us through Georgetown and to the pier to meet the Sundancer he wished us well and sent us on the way. The crew on the Sundancer was very informative and were all Americans, which you'll only find in Cayman. The water is clearer here than anywhere else I've ever seen, and the trip of about 30 mins to Stingray City was great because of it. Once we got there, Ms. Green, who previously feared any and all things related to the ocean, saw the Rays and took off-she had the time of her life, and wore the hickey she got on her hand like a badge of honor. We bought the cup of squid to feed the rays (only a dollar) and it was well worth it-they also have a large digital underwater camera, and you can get your picture taken holding a large ray that they'll put on a floppy disk onboard the boat and sell to you for 10 dollars. We bought the picture, and we also got photos of a ray swimming underwater and a photo of the Sundancer itself. The stingrays wher an awesome experience, and though I'd done it twice before, I had never recalled it being so enjoyable. Ms. Green called it the coolest thing she'd ever done, and I think that alone made her week. On the way back, I had to get some change at the bar to tip the folks on the way out, and upon breaking my 10 I bought Ms. Green a small stuffed stingray and us both a couple of Stingray beers, a local Cayman brew that I fell in love with a few years back. We debarked the boat and waited for a few minutes before the singing bus driver returned to shuttle us back. On the way back to town, you have the option of getting off at Seven Mile Beach, where you can stay until the bus returned in a couple of hours. We wanted to do some shopping and walk around town, so we stayed on. We wandered around the shops a bit and strolled down to the Stingray beer logo shop, where we bought some shot glasses, t-shirts, and a six pack of the beer. On the way back, we stopped at the famous Tortuga Rum store and bought some of the famous rum cake. mmmmm. After that, and walking around Cayman exploring a bit more, we headed back to the tenders about an hour before sailing. We never had the slightest problem or wait getting on or off the tenders. A great tour and great day in Cayman.
Point blank the biggest surprise of my cruise. I first visited Ocho Rios more than 13 years ago on a cruise onboard the Holiday, and I'll never forget that experience. The CD warned passengers to walk with your hands in your pockets, avoid taxis, and not to make lengthy eye contact with certain locals. Outside of the safety of the organized tour, a visit to town was highly disturbing, with a large group of angry young men shouting obscenities from behind a chain link fence holding baseball bats, etc., and merchants that were pushy to the point of being frightening. Needless to say, having not been to Jamaica for 6 years, I wsn't expecting much; I just wanted Ms. Green to get a chance to do the falls, and hurry back to the Victory. When I woke up and walked out onto our balcony to find us docked in the beautiful, developed locale, I was stunned. It's not even the same place anymore, at least the part that we see isn't. We met up with the Cool Runnings catamaran at the pier at 10 o'clock-- again, no problems whatsoever getting on and off the ship. The catamaran was impressive-- it was sparkling clean and appeared to be brand new. We stood up near the front of the boat, and watching the cat slice through the waves was an impressive sight indeed. We made it to the falls, where we disembarked and met with our climbing team, who were some very charismatic jamacians who made the whole climb a lot more fun without being the least bit pushy about buying their wares. We did the climb (no falling!), got some great pictures, and headed back to the Cool Runnings, where there was free rum punch, free rum & coke, and one dollar Red Stripes. The ride back to the Victory was a blast, as it was very rough and wavy (they warned us the way back would be this way) but believe it or not, no one was queasy and it added to the whole scene tenfold-- It was a BLAST. They were playing authentic reggae music and teaching us Jamaican dances while everyone drank and enjoyed the sun. I got some great pictures of the dancers with the Victory in the background, and we were sad to get off the catamaran. A great tour, the most fun i've ever had in Ocho Rios. Afterwards, we decided to get daring and headed back to th ship to change, and then into Island Village, a shopping area just off the pier. Yes, we were offered marijuana a few times, but they all took no for an answer and before long we were in a gorgeous, clean shopping area full of souvenir shops, music stores, and at the end of it all, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. Margaritaville was a blast. The waterslide winding through the bar, people dancing on the bar, shakers of salt missing from the tables (!!), JB videos on all the TVs, and the BEST nachos we'd ever had (Volcano nachos)-- and we're from Texas. Nothing like some shopping, nachos, JB, and Red Stripes to top off our Ocho Rios experience. We made it back to the ship 5 minutes before 3, and regretted not using those 5 minutes on shore. Yet another incredible time, from a port that's really changed its stripes.