This is our 30th anniversary trip -- just the 2 of us. We read previous reviews of this same ship/itinerary and saw a mixed bag in many areas so we weren't sure what to expect. Some of the negative reviews were about things we weren't overly concerned with so we went with an open mind. We viewed this as a great vacation where we didn't have to cook, clean, plan (too much) and got to see great ports and have built in entertainment. We went on a New England/Canada cruise in October 2012 on Royal Caribbean so we had a recent trip to compare it to.
Demographics of this particular cruise ship: Not sure if it is typical but since we left from San Juan, over 1/3 of the passengers were from Puerto Rico and many of them didn't speak English which I thought was a little unusual (but not bad, just different). We were also surprised to have 700 kids on the trip as we thought we chose a time of year when kids wouldn't be there. We learned PR schools just started their Xmas vacation. More
So only a few kids from the US and all the rest from PR. The kids were relatively well-behaved but a little rowdy in the pools and whirlpools.
Ship: the decor was not as elegant at the RCI ship but it was overallfine and clean. The ceilings were low and the main steps to each floor were a little uncomfortable to walk on. Not a fan of the metal strips at the end of each step, and it didn't help the decor. This is pretty typical of some of the other reviews we read. Again, not a deal breaker for us. It was still pretty nice.
Room: we had an interior room by choice -- we prefer it to be dark. The bed is very comfortable, and the nice robes in the closet to wear during the trip was a plus. The room looks small but everything fit in the closets and drawers. We really liked the shower -- the RCI shower was smaller if you can believe it! This shower had great water pressure which added to the relaxing part of the vacation.
Layout of the ship: overall ok but we didn't think the flow of traffic made sense in a few key areas. The walkway through the Casino was also an entertainment spot and where you met the Captain/officers one night. It was hard to be there because it was also smoky from the Casino. It made it difficult to walk from the lobby area to any of the lounges (or to the stairs down to the main Pacific dining room. There was no easy way to get to this dining room so you had to walk up stairs and then walk downstairs a short distance away.
Dining Room: low ceilings in the upper room and parts of the lower room. The decor was fine; nothing that stood out as great but not bad. We had the late seating at a table set for 8 but only one other couple joined us for dinner. A 3rd couple who only spoke Spanish came for one night but never came back. They were polite but it was obvious we couldn't converse so it was a little awkward. Many tables were relatively empty so maybe more people were at the anytime seating or chose the Lido Deck buffet. Most of the food was pretty good; especially the desserts (not that we needed so many desserts, but they were good). The steak and lobster and shrimp dishes were good; some of the other fish dishes were just ok. We didn't go hungry so honestly we can't complain. We know what to expect in terms of food quality. The servers were very good but not very outgoing which is different from previous trips we have taken. Again, not a complaint, just an observation. We enjoyed several sit down breakfasts in the dining room. Good opportunity to meet new people as well.
Housekeeping: similar to the Dining Room staff -- very good but not very engaging which is not a problem for us. I kept moving the trash basket out from under the chair and the staff kept moving it back under the chair. A little inconvenient but not a deal breaker by any means.
Lido Deck: food choices were decent - some food better than others. Salad bar was decent; grill food was good (tried not to eat too much of it but the burgers, fries and chicken nuggets were tasty. We liked the deli and tried some new foods (Caribbean style, curry, Italian) -- some were good; some were just ok. We wanted to like the Chopsticks (Asian) food but it was very oily. The 24 hr pizza is really good. The soft serv which isn't good for you was also very good. Even some of the desserts were pretty good. Favorite beverage was unsweetened iced tea with just a topping of lemonade (available on other ships too). The coffee was good which was very important to us. The lines at times were longer than we would have liked but not horrible -- with the exception of the omelet station which had a separate line so if you were in a line for other breakfast foods and wanted to also order an omelet you had to complete one line and then go into a separate line for the omelets. After 2 days we chose to eat breakfast in the dining room and glad we did.
Drinks: we are not big drinkers but we had wine with dinner a couple of nights -- oddly reasonable price for wine; the mixed drinks were much more expensive. There was a drink plan for $43/person/day not including tip. Every adult in the group would have to participate. You have to drink at least 4+ drinks to break even. 15 is the limit and we heard some people came close. I don't know how people used this because we were at 5 ports so not much time to drink THAT much. Plus many excursions provided alcohol (and non-alcohol drinks). Carnival used a good cross-Marketing strategy in the Punchliners Comedy Club. If your bar tab was over $10, the wait staff would mark it on the receipt which you could then take to the Casino that night to use as cash. We didn't do this, but it's a good strategy. One negative thing to note: since we cruised with Carnival before we received vouchers for a free drink but it could only be used at breakfast or brunch which was hard to do. We tried to use ours on the last morning but the server either lost our order or forgot about us. I sought her out and she said she was sorry and offered to fulfill the order but it would take a while. At that point, we already finished breakfast and had to get ready to disembark. So we never got the chance to use the drink vouchers.
Serenity Deck: this was the most pleasant surprise for us. Nice cushion seats, plus a couple of hammocks and quasi-cabanas (with an overhead covering to protect from the sun and wind. It was sometimes hard to get a seat here but we were successful a few times including the day we were at St Kitts and we stayed on the ship and read and napped in the cabana. Unusual location as it is right next to the start point of the water slide.
Spa: normally I don't partake in these services because I have access back home for a lot less $...but we went to a couple of spa "lectures" which were really great, and I ended up trying 3 sessions of the Ionotherapy which were great. The staff were pleasant and knowledgeable and professional. The gym was fine too (did the treadmill to counter the desserts!)
Activities: not as many offered at reasonable times. We were at port 5 days so I guess it was hard, but we usually go to trivia and other games but didn't get to any this time as they were offered less and at times we were either at port still or eating dinner. We saw the Newlywed Game which was ok -- we've seen it so many times it gets kind of old, but it was ok. We saw bits and pieces of the mixologist creation and did a little of the line dancing.
Entertainment: another pleasant surprise -- there was a punchliners comedy club in one of the lounges featuring 4 comedians during the trip. 3 of the 4 were fairly good; one was just ok. The main shows were good but we have seen better. The juggler was really great; the magician was good but had a little unusual attitude and didn't do as much. The dancers were very good as was the mail lead singer, but it appears they were missing the female lead singer so the shows were a little off because of this dynamic. Not very crowded for the shows -- possibly due to the demographics of the passengers. Other cruises we have been on had a much higher attendance for the shows. You can see the downsizing of the entertainment as there was no show on Day 1, and the last day was a karaoke performance by the passengers (with some of the dancers). No Broadway or Movie theme show. The holiday show was cute and involved the kids. The piano bar was good; the Latin lounge was pretty full and had great music. We didn't do karaoke because it was located in an area within the Casino which was odd. The few outdoor concerts on the big screen were good but the screen wasn't used too often even though it was on all the time (not sure why). The lobby singers were also good and they sometimes performed on the Lido Deck as well.
Logistics: boarding the ship was the easiest and we thought our last boarding from B'more was pretty easy. We flew in that day and took a taxi to the port. 2 people via taxi is almost the same price as the Carnival Shuttle so if you have more than 2 people, the taxi is definitely less $. Most of our luggage arrived early; for some reason the tag was missing from our large luggage and we had to find it at the front desk to "claim". A little worrisome at 1st, but the staff was very nice to deal with. Exiting/entering the ship for ports was also relatively simple. Final disembarkment was a little slow but overall not a problem.
Shopping experts: they were nice and were on board because we went to several ports known for good shopping. These experts do not work for the ship. They work for the shops. Not a bad thing but interesting to know to see who has your best interests in mind.
Cutbacks: It appears the midnight buffet is not offered now at all. Years and years ago there was one every night; The last 10 years, there was one at the end. Neither RCI or this cruise had one this year. There was one Mexican buffet at 11 pm and it was nice and not over the top by any means. A lot of people ate fruit -- we had just eaten dinner at 8:15 so we weren't hungry but went to check it out. No free drinks with the Captain this time (there were on RCI's); shows were scaled down; not as much entertainment.
Pricing: the trip itself was fairly reasonable. The cruise lines make money on the bar, casino, excursions and the spa. The excursions and spa services were overpriced (but see above because I enjoyed the spa) so there's a price for everything. We booked all of our excursions on our own after researching both Carnival's offerings and those recommended on Cruise Critic/Trip Advisor.
Ship Schedule: I saw 2 other reviews noting that the port dates changed. We did not notice this so maybe they booked much earlier than we did. We always had the correct dates so not sure what that's about.
Cruise Critic: it was nice getting to know some people in advance and making excursion arrangements with them. Also had a nice meet and greet. I had my Cruise Critic imprinted bag that I won which generated interest by other passengers who were not previously familiar with Cruise Critic, so Cruise Critic, you are welcome for the free advertising. Ironically, I sell imprinted items so it was funny that I won a backpack (that I actually sell to clients). Less
Carnival Victory Cruises to the Southern Caribbean
We had an interior room by choice and it was fine. Enough closet and drawer space even though initially it doesn't look like it. Bed very comfortable; nice comforter; shower decent size since we have seen smaller. Great water pressure in the shower. Nice touch by providing packaged toothpaste and shampoo/conditioner and lotion (not provided on RCI).
This is a tour we piggy backed onto from a fellow Cruise Critic member. His website is not easy to follow and we really didn't know what to expect but we knew it was an island tour that did not include Harrison's Cave. Some of the scenery was really lovely but the streets/homes were a little shoddy. There is a very expensive area on the west side but it is a gated environment. We were glad to see the island but couldn't imagine going back either for a cruise stop or actual destination. Drinks were supplied; we brought our own Cheerios and fruit. We arrived back at the port about an hour later than I thought which was ok but it keeps happening for all of the trips, so keep that in mind.
We had been to St Kitts once before and took a taxi around the island. It was ok but we had no need to see it again. It was a great opportunity for us to have an extra sea day and do more things on the ship. We heard others had a great time in St Kitts though.
This was our favorite stop. We actually were supposed to go to St Lucia in 2008 but the ship had a problem and couldn't make it. We went on a tour through COSOL (which is the same tour we wanted to do in 2008). We toured the island and stopped at a banana plantation (and were given bananas). We also stopped at a local market and were regaled with a spread of local foods which were mostly delicious. Water, soft drinks, Piton beer and rum punch were also provided. Next we took a water taxi to a beach where you could snorkel. The beach was nice and you could see nice cushioned chairs used by a resort. We were not allowed on those but we had regular beach chairs that were in need of repair or replacement but doable for the hour we were there. Then to Soufriere to see a volcano, waterfalls and the Piton mountains. Very nice scenery and great picture opportunities. We ended up at this local bakery where our driver did "carry out" and gave us warm break that looked like a turkey leg and cheddar cheese. This was delicious and obvious a local favorite because our driver brought home bread for his family too. It was supposed to be a 5-6 hr excursion but we got back about an hour later so keep this in mind. No need to take any food with you as it is provided. Highly recommend this tour and company.
We had been to St. Maarten once before and went to a beach on the Dutch side and did a little shopping. This time we wanted to explore the island more on both the French and Dutch sides so we toured with Bernard Tours (again with several Cruise Critic members). Glad to have seen these multiple stops. It's a pretty island with ease in getting to both the French and Dutch sides. We had several scenic photo opportunities with some interesting trees (cactus as well as lush trees). We stopped at Orient Beach for a couple of hours which was really nice. You have to pay $10 for 2 chairs and an umbrella but they are nice cushion chairs. The beach was nice but we didn't like that the vendors came right up to us to push their wares (there were so many of them that it was annoying but we were polite to say no thank you.) Again, we brought Cheerios and fruit with us but we also stopped at Serafina's bakery to buy an apple tart (very good). Our driver provided water, soft drinks and beer. Then we continued the tour to Maho beach where the planes land so close overhead (also good pics). The beach is nice and small -- you don't need more than 20 min. so the timing is good. We stopped at a quick souvenir shop before getting back to the port -- also about an hour later than we thought we would return to the ship. This was the only excursion we could pay via credit card. All the rest required cash.
We were with other Cruise Critic members on this tour. We got to choose a start time from the ship to the downtown "shopping" area where we were on our own. Then Godfrey picked us up at noon for the island tour that ended up at Magen Bay Beach. We chose the 9 am pick up and shopped and then visited the local synagogue there. Godfrey had a cold and apologized but he was still very good even though his voice was giving out a little. Beautiful island and beach. Most of the other people chose Cokie Beach (sp) for snorkeling but we heard that was only ok, whereas we really enjoyed Magen Bay Beach. It was very quiet and a slow ship day. I think there were only 2 ships in port that day but sometimes there are 10 or more. Godfrey supplied water, but you were on your own for food. I would recommend taking a box of Cheerios or other cereal from the ship to hold you over or you can buy food but it was late by the time we could have bought food. Also take note of the time. There was a lot of construction and we barely made it back by 4:30 for a 5 pm departure. He was great about finding a short cut to get us back on time as he was very mindful but the road was very winding and we were a little rushed so it was an adventure. We do recommend him.