DH was determined to sail the Southern Caribbean for our annual Anniversary vacation. Given the time of year Carnival Victory was our only option. Being honest though, we likely would have chosen Carnival anyway based solely on price as we (like most others) are on a budget and airfare from our city to San Juan and the related expenses basically tripled the price of this cruise. That said, while we are grateful for having had this opportunity to cruise, we have basically decided that if, in future Carnival is all that we can afford, we'd rather just stay home. The product offered is just not to our taste and even though prices are low, we don't find it a good value for the money.
We arrived in San Juan late the evening prior to boarding after having been delayed twice enroute by the American Airlines labor dispute. We stayed in the Condado district in a small hotel called Windchimes. Very unlike a large chain hotel, we really enjoyed the "local flavor" and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. Cab fare to the port was about $15.00.
We arrived at the port around 11:30 at which point boarding had already started; it was very busy at this time. We dropped our luggage with the porters outside and left to enjoy San Juan for the day. When we returned at 4:30 there was about a 15 minute wait outside the terminal but check-in was very quick once we made it past security. NOTE: I had lost all our boarding documents and made a panicked call to Carnival where I learned that they weren't necessary anyway. Incredibly all we needed was our passports after a terminal agent confirmed our names on the manifest.
Our cabin was ready when we boarded. We were on Panorama Deck (10) in a 4J that overlooked the "secret" front deck, which is a little-used deck at the bow that spans the entire width of the ship. This deck substituted for a private balcony and was a great place to observe the ports as we approached (we are early risers). The cabin itself was run-down and had worn, mismatched furniture, an antiquated tv and an extremely uncomfortable bed (although the linens were nice!). When I requested feather pillows I was told the Victory didn't have any, which contributed to our discomfort. We did appreciated the bathrobes which were well used during late night runs to the hot tubs and sunrise coffee on the secret deck.
We found the public spaces on this ship to be very unattractive. Possibly the "darkest" ship in the fleet with deep colors and low ceilings throughout. There were tons of fake verdigris painted surfaces throughout that were damaged, worn and simply hideous, as we're the battered sea horses flanking each stairwell. The main showroom seating is worn and uncomfortable. The theme-decorated lounges ranged from cozy (Casino bar) to downright bizarre; Farcus on crack must have decided that a buttercup yellow and gold Austrian drawing room complete with provincial furniture would make a good comedy/dance club (Adriatic Lounge). While the decor did not appeal, it was clear that good effort was taken to keep everything nice and clean, including the public washrooms. We also found the Victory inconvenient to navigate as the galley isolated fore and aft on several decks.
PUBLIC SPACES 4/10
We requested and rceived early dining in the MDR and were seated at an 8 top with three other couples. The company was pleasant and none of us misses a night at dinner. Our wait-staff were, like all wait-staff now seem to be, were too busy to make our dining a special experience. Numerous times throughout the cruise orders were delivered incorrectly and not once in 7 nights did we get coffee or iced tea without having to ask. Bar service was prompt though and the bottle of wine we ordered on the first night was stored and served subsequent evenings.
What can you say about the food? In general I think food quality on all cruise lines is declining so fast one doesn't even have time to adapt. What we will content ourselves with on board because it is "free" would most certainly be rejected on land if paying ala carte. While the menu was very similar to what we were offered two years ago on the Destiny, most dishes were barely recognizable. MDR dishes were ok, with the exception of the infamous warm chocolate melting cake which varied night to night from hockey puck hard to raw and cold in the middle - a huge disappointment to many at our table.
Buffet food was truly almost intolerable. The layout of the food lines made for long waits and frustration as many people waited in more than one line only to find that all the selections were the same; probably the most limited buffet menu I've ever seen. Omelette station and deli were pretty good but the line-ups were super-long. The far-aft grill station was usually accessible, but they were deep-frying the hamburgers and wieners to speed up the cooking. That my friends, is gross.
We ordered room service more often on this trip than we ever have before; the sandwiches and cakes were a better alternative to lunch on the Lido. Delivery times were reasonable and our orders were correct every time. I did absolutely HATE having to order ice though. Not having it provided as part of routine service is unacceptable.
We attended every show in the show room and tried all the comedians. Long story short - we've seen better and that Legends show with the passengers in it was just pathetic. We also really like the idea of Seaside Theater and would have loved spending an evening out there but the movies were crazy-old. Back to the Future and Notting Hill alternated as the evening features!?! What a mis-use of this screen, it's almost as if they don't want anybody to enjoy it. The in-cabin free movies were much more current and we also bought pay-per-view twice.
We did not make it down the waterslide although we had intended to - long port days and early dinner precluded it. Nor did we find time to mini-golf. Several evenings were spent in the Serenity hot tubs and we would have done it more but the tubs were extremely hot and not too comfortable on such a warm weather itinerary (weird because the last 3 cruises we've taken all on different lines including Carnival we found all the tubs to be unusually cool).
Scheduled activities were limited as the Victory was in port all but one day. Things like the wine seminar, casino gaming lessons and mixology contest were all packed into a few short hours and impossible to juggle. There was a free galley tour (first time in decades I've seen this) offered but it was scheduled while we were in port and I'm sorry we missed it.
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES 5/10
The general ambiance was probably what we liked least on this ship. Canned party music blared on the Lido deck almost non-stop and the week's biggest events were the late-night deck parties that were roaring past 2:00 a.m. All due respect to all those who enjoy this; it is simply not our cup of tea.
Service crew were ok but nobody stood out. They all did their thing but lacked either the time or the motivation to go out of their way. This included staff at the Purser's desk. We had a minor incident whereby the laundry lost the stud-buttons off my DH's formal shirt. It took three enquiries to have it settled up. The best resolution we were offered was to have the price of the cleaning refunded (we had requested that the buttons be replaced with something similar from the Formalities shop). Not the end of the world, but a missed opportunity for excellence in customer satisfaction for sure.
ATMOSPHERE & SERVICE 3/10
We had relatively early flight out of San Juan and received Zone 2 tags. We ate cereal for breakfast in the Lido as we didn't have time to do the MDR, and assembled before 8:00 in the main showroom. We were walked off quickly and easily and found our luggage. Customs took a really long time - not chaotic, just super-slow. We were in a cab to the airport just after 9:00, which on this day was more than soon enough to make an 11:30 flight. I'm told the airport gets MUCH busier during high season though, so YMMV.
One thing we did notice in meeting people around the ship is that cruisers generally fall into 3 categories. The first is the brand-loyalist that is very familiar with the product and find it very well-suited to their taste. They are usually quite happy with most conditions on-board. Seco nd are the first-time cruisers, who are a delight because they are so wowed by the whole experience and it's cute to talk to them. The third are like us; seasoned cruisers who for one reason or another find themselves on a line they don't prefer. Luckily we're experienced enough to know how to piece together a great vacation even if we didn't have a great cruise. I've detailed our time in port in the appropriate sections at the end of this review.