Our decision to book on Carnival Victory was a last-minute one, as friends were going, and urged us to come along. We had cruised to the Eastern Caribbean on Celebrity Solstice from Fort Lauderdale in January, 2011, so we were eager to see more of the Caribbean islands.
Some reviews of this cruise have been on the negative side, so my husband and I had drastically lowered our expectations, only to be pleasantly surprised! The decor, while over the top in places, is interesting and appealing. The Sleep System in the staterooms is very, very comfortable. The stateroom as a whole was well-organized.
But what was most remarkable on the cruise was how friendly other passengers were. First off, a large contingent of passengers were Puerto Ricans who spoke Spanish. A Spanish-speaking Assistant Cruise Director hosted activities for them. A number of other cruisers hailed from South American nations such as Colombia and Uruguay. The cruise is also sold as a Barbados round-trip, so about 50 or so folks from Barbados come aboard on Day 4. And of course, there was a diversity of passengers from the U.S. with a number of African-Americans from the South and East.
This was just the friendliest cruise I have ever taken. You could not leave the elevator without folks saying good-bye to you and telling you to enjoy your evening. Once I entered a hot tub where four Spanish-speakers were already congregated and talking. They acknowledged me right away and engaged me in conversation in English. I would describe this cruise as welcoming and accepting of all peoples.
Carnival's focus on having fun, with the upbeat music playing on the lido deck and throughout the ship, the great shows, and the comedy, made this a very upbeat experience for me, my husband and our traveling companions.
We flew into San Juan, PR, and stayed one night at the Sheraton Convention Center hotel. One of Puerto Rico's political parties had a huge rally there the day we left, and from our perch in the Sheraton's pool, we were overlooking the high-energy rally. For me, it was a huge bonus to see the politics and culture in action. The hotel room was extremely comfortable, and the hotel overall was fine for a one-night stay, though dining options are limited and seemed expensive.
We arrived early at the cruise terminal, and experienced a smooth and fast embarkation. We were able to get to our stateroom early, and leave hand luggage in order to venture into San Juan where we toured the tropical garden at Casa Blanca, checked out the cathedral, and got a drink and appetizer at Picoteo in Hotel Convento in Old San Juan before returning to Victory for our 10 p.m. departure for St. Thomas.
Our party of five enjoyed the early dining option in the Pacific Dining Room. We had an excellent waitstaff who learned our preferences on the first night -- things like a plate of lemon wedges for our water, and decaf coffee at the end of the meal -- and flawlessly served throughout. A note on Carnival dining room food: No, it is not Celebrity, though I found a number of very tasty appetizers, main courses and desserts. The buffet could stand serious reworking of its menu and quality, though. I liked the complimentary sushi bar, and the pizza was tasty enough.
Entertainment on the ship included a fantastic juggler from Mexico, a motown crooner, a magician, and of course, the house band and dancers in City Lights. We saw three of the four comics who were on board during our cruise, and enjoyed the family-friendly shows.
The music on board gets high marks for quality -- especially the Latin dance band.
If anything, disembarkation was smoother than embarkation. We literally breezed through customs and were shepherded onto our bus #57 with Manuel for the transfer to the airport. There, a bellhop, whisked our luggage through agricultural inspection and checkin, and we suddenly found ourselves in the security line. Highest marks here.
We did not do any of the ship's port excursions, so cannot comment, but people we talked to seemed happy with their excurions. Carnival focuses on activities such as snorkeling, zip lines, beaches, ATV and more, though always has one or two beach-and-shop excursions.
Our stateroom service by Diah was excellent. Once she figured out we liked a bucket of ice, it appeared regularly. Room service breakfast of bagel, cream cheese and smoked salmon was excellent. The service was good, though one morning they lost our order, but rushed it to us when we phoned.
Service in the buffet was a low point. If you were a worker removing the skim milk cartons because they had turned sour, wouldn't you indicate as much to a cruiser who chose one? My husband ruined his cereal, and had to completely start over to get his breakfast. The pizza service one day was very poor due to lack of clear communication.
One suitcase was damaged after we handed it over to Carnival. We have been assured that they will pay for repair, but we will see.
I found the six ports very interesting, and we found fun things to do on each one. Due to a back disability, I need to avoid jarring roads, and that was easy to do on St. Lucia where the roads to Reduit Beach are good to start with, and our excellent taxi driver took particular care over speed bumps and broken pavement. I cannot say the same for Barbados, where our taxi driver assured us he would drive gently, then proceeded to drive a shortcut on horribly rutted, barely paved roads when other, better roads were available. On St. Martin, we solved the problem by renting our own vehicle to get to a far beach.
In summary, the Victory cruise was a winner because of the friendly folks, the nonstop fun onboard and in each port, the very good service and comfortable staterooms and beds. I would cruise Carnival again.