I selected this cruise primarily for the itinerary & price, as I was bringing my 18-yr old daughter for a graduation gift (and wanted to see as many places as possible for the money). This was my 3rd cruise overall, and the first with Carnival.
Although most of the CC reviews are favorable, I did make note of the few negative reviews (primarily bashing the age of the ship). Well, I can tell you a simple Google search will enlighten any prospective cruiser to the fact that the Victory is 12 years old - so no one should be "surprised" by this (and it is certainly no cause for a negative review). Although the Victory may not have all the "bells & whistles" of a more recently-built ship, I found her to be VERY clean, well-maintained, visually appealing, and much more spacious than I ever expected. Yes, upon a very detailed examination, the grout along the very bottom edge of my cabin's shower stall was slightly disintegrating - but it was very minor and I imagine this is the kind of normal wear & tear that would be remedied at the next dry dock (would be hard to do otherwise, since the cabins are only vacated for approx 3 hours between cruises). It was certainly NOTHING that put a damper on my vacation, and I've seen much worse at "nice" hotels. I truly believe that a vacation is what you make of it, and anyone who'd let a very small amount of discolored/disintegrating grout RUIN a perfectly good cruise is completely insane (and should consult a therapist). Victory is in BEAUTIFUL shape, especially considering her age. I believe the price of her cruises do reflect the fact that she is a little older than other ships; I was quite happy with the overall experience and she exceeeded all my expectations.
ARRIVAL/EMBARKATION: We arrived in San Jan the afternoon before, and split a cab with another couple from CC on our same flight... total fare was $30 for 4 people/6 bags, or $15 per couple. My daughter & I stayed at a quaint little "hostel" (Posada San Francisco) in the heart of Old San Juan, which was recommended by a fellow CC reviewer. $55/person (inc. taxes) got us a clean room, comfortable beds, and warm shower for the night, plus it was the equivalent of maybe 4-5 blocks from the dock (which we walked to w/our luggage the next morning). I believe we got to the dock around 11am, checked our bags, walked right up to the registration area and had our ship ID's in hand by 11:45am. We were told boarding would not begin for another 30-45 min., but were given a boarding group # and told we could wait in the lounge area. We opted instead to go back out and explore Old San Juan some more, made the obligatory last-minute stop at CVS across from the dock, and was back inside the cruise terminal around 3pm. The security line to board the ship was considerably longer at this point, but I don't think it took more than 30 min. to get through. Our luggage had not all arrived at our room yet, but I think the last bag was delivered around 5pm. We had grabbed a snack at the Lido buffet first thing, then set off exploring the rest of the ship before returning to unpack and make the room our own.
CABIN #6432: We had booked one of the few category 8A "Premium" L-shaped balcony rooms, which are priced the same as a regular balcony - but with twice the balcony length (due the unusual L-shape of the room). I had done a fair amount of research / weighed the reported pros & cons before booking this cabin, and I can tell you my initial hesitancy was completely unfounded. This cabin was FABULOUS in every way, and had no issues w/noise whatsoever despite being directly above one of the lounges below. The L-shape (built around a crew stairwell) made the room feel more like an actual suite, vs. the usual sardine can. Ours was the very last cabin on the port side of the ship, directly adjacent to the aft-wrap (corner) cabin. There was actually a separate door/entryway to access only our cabin and the aft-wrap, which provided additional privacy/peace and quiet (no little kids running outside our "actual" cabin door at all hours of the day & night)... it was pure heaven. Chaintai was our wonderful cabin steward, and greeted us by name after the first night/introduction, often engaging in conversation and asking how our day had gone, etc. We loved the towel animals set out for us each night, and my daughter actually bought the towel animal How-To book for $15 midway through the cruise. Our double-lengh balcony was THE BEST, and came furnished with 3 deck chairs and a side table plus room to spare (you easily could have fit 2 more chairs out there). I know some cruisers feel they don't spend enough time on a balcony to justify the add'l price, but I feel it's well worth it - if no other reason than to be able to prop the door open (bring a bungee cord for this purpose) and listen to the waves all night long while you sleep. I also love grabbing breakfast from the buffet (2 decks directly above us on this ship - quite convenient!) and bringing my plate back down to the room, so I can eat on the balcony while watching us pull into port. Balcony chairs are also great for drying your swimwear after a day in port (much easier than trying to line dry them in the air-conditioned bathroom). Rest assured, fellow CC members, I would NEVER dream of hanging my clothes over the railing - proper cruising etiquette (for all the newbies out there) forbids hanging your unsightly clothing/swimwear over the railing - not to mention it would likely blow overboard once you start sailing (*wink*). Anyway, the L-shaped cabins get 5 stars in my book, and I would take one again in a heartbeat!
FOOD: We had Anytime Dining, and loved our head waiter/team the first 2 nights. The 3rd night I thought maybe they would just seat us with that same team by default, so I didn't specifically ask - but we were seated on other side of the dining room and didn't have nearly as much fun with that team. For the rest of the cruise I made sure to ask for Emiliano, our original head waiter - and never had any problems getting him (never had to wait, either, but we usually went to eat around 7pm each night - right between the 2 "scheduled" seating times). I had seen sample menus posted in a few CC reviews previously, and I thought everything sounded really marvelous - my hopes were quite high in this regard. I will say that while none of the entrees I ordered were bad, I wasn't "blown away" by them either. I was more impressed by the appetizers and desserts than by most of the entrees I had - but again, nothing was bad... I just thought that by some of the menu descriptions it would be the greatest food I'd ever had the pleasure of swallowing. The service and presentation were fantastic, though, and in Carnival's defense I consider myself a bit of a foodie. I had sailed on the NCL Jewel 6 years ago, and I remembered those entrees having a "blown away" factor... or maybe I was more of a newbie and too easily impressed back then, who knows. The chilled (fruit) soups on the Victory were delightful, and something that was never offered on my NCL cruise. The salads on Victory were lovely and flavorful, and we were pleasantly surprised by most of the "Didja" appetizers - particularly the alligator fritters and shark rolls (both breaded items) which we thought were delicious. The chocolate melting-cake quickly became a favorite, and the few times we ventured out with other dessert choices usually came in a distant 2nd compared to the melting cake... so we ended up ordering that most nights. The entrees again were never bad, but just "okay" in my opinion - I was never so excited to get back home and hit up a Chili's.
ENTERTAINMENT: The only shows we ever went to were the 18+ comedy shows featuring a guy named Happy Cole... he was THE BEST comedian I've ever seen, my daughter were literally in tears from laughing so hard (highly risque and inappropriate)! We do have an ACME club back home in Minneapolis, so I've been to a few comedy shows before - and this guy was top-notch. I believe he's a veteran cruise comedian, and left the Victory partway through our cruise to move to another ship. In my opinion, he needs to be on SNL... seriously funnier than Eddie Murphy back in the day! We did peek into some of the big production shows in the theatre on various nights, but could immediately tell they were not our cup of tea (over-the-top costumes and glitz, the total "cheese" factor if you're into that kind of thing ). I actually love a good broadway show as much as the next girl, but broadway this wasn't. We instead migrated to the piano bar on several occasions, as that guy could sing/play anything we threw at him and was VERY good at it as well. We found it a very laid-back, unpretentious, and relaxing place to hang out with others we had met on CC or on the excursions we'd taken. The piano bar was toward the aft of the ship, directly opposit from the cigar bar (YUCK!) and just before you reached the comedy club at the very end. Also spent an hour or so in the casino on 2 different nights, where I'd given us each a $40 allowance. My daughter left the cruise with $60, and I left with the same $40 I started with (was up $18 at one point, but played that until it was gone). Keep in mind we only played penny slots (maximum lines), so I think we did quite well. :) There were several fun poolside activities on the sea day, most notably an ice carver who was pretty amazing and drew quite the crowd (I suggest scoping out a good viewing area BEFORE he starts, or you'll never be able to see him otherwise).
SERENITY DECK: simply amazing, peaceful, and everything I wanted for my sea day. There are cusioned loungers, chairs, and couches everywhere... though they do fill up by noon. Being a whitey, I needed a shady spot and there a few (but not many) of those to go around - I was able to snag one around 11:30am. I was up there for maybe 2 and a 1/2 hours, to read a book and enjoy some "me" time while my daughter hung out on the main pool deck with another girl she'd befriended. I didn't see anyone offering drinks or foot massages, and I don't know if those are ever offered on the Serenity deck - but (*note to Carnival*) I gladly would have paid for either!
PORTS: Enjoyed each one for different reasons, and had done much research of each before the cruise - so we pretty much knew what we wanted to see/do at each island, what it would cost and how to get there. I've learned from previous cruises that the ship's excursions are overpriced and limit you to what you can actually see/do (since they are only 3-4 hours at max). Going with reputable private companies, or doing it on your own, is generally much less expensive and you can see/do many more things (over a longer period of time). I have no interest in wandering aimlessly through shopping areas at each port, so I wanted as much time out & about / exploring the islands as possible - which rules out the 3-hour ship excursions. We took the $2 public taxi in St. Thomas to Sapphire Beach for the day (then later rode the tram up to Paradise Pt.); took the $.75 public bus to Payne's Bay in Barbados and snorkeled out to the sea turtles for free, then bussed it back to the port/walked down to Carlisle Bay; took a private land/sea tour of St. Lucia through Herod's Tours; took a ferry from St. Kitts to Nevis (my only regret of the cruise) before catching a ferry back and spending some time in the impressive shopping area there; and took a $2 public bus to Maho Bay in St. Maarten before coming back and exploring the port area/more shopping. I will review the ports in more detail under the Port Review sections of this website, but in summary we had a GREAT time doing things on our own. I'm not necessarily cheap, but nor did I want to spend $300 on each island doing private tours/excursions. I planned accordingly and brought more than enough cash to see/do what was important to us - with plenty of extra built in for souvenirs, snacks/lunches on the go, etc. - and thanks to info provided by other CC reviews, we pulled it off beautifully and my daughter had the experience of a lifetime!
DISEMBARKATION: We had a later flight (1:30pm) so were slotted for group #16 or something ridiculous like that. By 10am, they had still only called for group #8, I believe - and I was getting somewhat anxious. So, by the time they called for group #10 my daughter and I headed down to the gangway and walked right out (no one checks the group #'s). We had kept our luggage with us in the cabin the night before, because I was nervous something would happen and it would disappear on us - but it was kind of a pain to wheel it around the boat while waiting to get off (the cabin hallways are full of cleaning crews, carts, and other passengers w/luggage the last morning and in hindsight I should have just set it out the night before. From what I could see when we got out to the terminal, everything was very well-organized and people had no trouble locating their bags by the posted group #s. From the time we got down to the gangway to the time we were out of the terminal/hailing a cab, I would estimate maybe 30-35 min. (the line to get through the customs check is the longest part, which I'm sure is why they try to release passengers by small group #s). Outside, we looked around and found another couple who looked like they'd be heading to the airport, and asked if they wanted to share (took me all of 10 minutes to find a group of only 2, and they were of course willing to split the cab fare).
Overall we had a BLAST on the Victory, and I wouldn't hesitate to sail on her again. This itinerary can't be beat, and neither can the price. I could have spent more on a newer ship and saw less ports of call, but I'm still pretty active/adventurous and have not yet become a "cruise snob" - I have absolutely NO complaints about the Victory and would recommend her to anyone looking to get some real bank for their buck!