This was our family's first cruise and we chose the Carnival Triumph simply because we booked late and it was the only cruise available Christmas week. It could not have turned out any better. We are a family of 5 with kids ages 14,11 & 10.
Embarkation was very easy. While there was a long line to wait in, it was always moving. We really didn't keep track of how long it took to get on the ship as the line just kept moving in the right direction. Since we live in northern NJ near New York City and usually vacation at the Orlando theme parks during Christmas vacation, waiting in line for anything is in our blood. I have read many reviews complaining of the long lines to get on the ship and at the buffet line on the ship. These lines are nothing. Try waiting on line for 1 1/2 hours to ride a 6 minute roller coaster at Universal in Orlando.
We chose oceanview adjoining cabins on the Riviera deck a little aft of midship, 1362&1364. We were pleasantly surprised over how large the cabins were. Kids had 2 twins and a sleeper couch. Wife and I had twin beds pushed together to make one bed. Fortunately for us, the Triumph had just been in dry dock at end of October and all beds and linens were new. We all slept like a rock every night. By far the most comfortable beds we have ever slept in other than our beds at home. Cabins were spotless and always made up the moment we were out of the room. Room steward was pleasant but nothing to write home about. He charged us for a water bottle that we never had, but a trip to the Purser's desk cleared it right up. Kids loved the towel animals each night. They took pictures of them and wanted to by the towel folding book. The ship is extremely stable on the bottom passenger deck. We never felt it moving in our cabins. Location of the cabins were great because we were a short walk from the aft elevators that would take you right up to the buffet and ice cream on the Lido deck, but it was a hike to the Rome Lounge in the front of the ship.
The food was much better than we expected. Although we had booked a later seating, we were switched to the earliest seating at 5:45 in the Paris dining room. We usually didn't get to our table until 6:00 where we were cheerfully greeted by our waiter Alex and busboy Glenford. There were only a few minor complaints. We were seated at a booth for 4 people with a chair on the end. It was a little cramped but doable. While Alex brought us whatever dishes that we wanted, he could never remember to bring the kids glasses of milk each night until we were almost done with the meal. But other than that the food was always hot and very good. We ate in the dining room every night and did the Lido deck for breakfast and lunch when on ship. 24 hour pizza and ice cream is included and was great.
Cruise director was Matt Ross. I thought he was hysterical. He had me in tears the first night at the welcome aboard show. Entertainment was good most nights. Hypnotist was great but that might be due to the passengers that he picked for the show. I was rolling in the aisles. Magicians were good. Stand up comic was so so. Unfortunately I could do without the Las Vegas production shows. I walked out of the first one and barely stayed awake for the second. I guess it appeals to the older crowd. I never new bingo was so addicting. Of course I won nothing but was 1 number away twice. Finally, the newlywed game was very funny.
Ports of call were Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios. Cozumel was completely devastated and the docks are gone. Therefore they used large ferries as tenders. We booked all of our excursions privately in advance and had no problem getting off the ship on one of the early tenders. They herd people from the Rome lounge down the stairs to the bottom deck to get on the tender. We realized very quickly that all you had to do was wait for the last person in line to go by on the stairs and get right behind them. There is no reason to wait like sheep in the Rome Lounge for your group to be called. Just smile and keep walking. The tendering in Cozumel does take longer then Grand Cayman because the tenders in Cozumel were so much larger and they waited to fill them before leaving.
Christmas week is the biggest cruise. Ship was full and the only major complaint I have is the lounge chair saving. We had perfect sunny weather and if you didn't get on deck by 7:00am to save chairs (which I didn't) you didn't get chairs in the sun. So on sea days, we would start in the shade and wait for people to relinquish their chairs later in the day and move to the sun. We couldn't always get chairs near each other but we all had 2-way radios and knew where each other were at all times.
Gratuities: Early in the cruise, I went to the Pursers desk and removed the automatic $10.00 per day gratuity posted to the account. I preferred to tip in cash and did so directly for the Room Steward, waiter and bus boy. I did not tip the Maitre d' at the Paris dining room. As far as I am concerned he is management just like all other managers on the boat and should not be tipped.
Debarkation took a little longer than expected. They started at the top of the ship and worked their way down. CD Ross warned us not to leave the ship before our deck color was called or they would send us back. As it turned out, we thought that we had orange luggage tags so when they called orange we went. It turned out that we had some other color like orange, but not orange, but no one stopped us. Our whole deck left at that time and our luggage was ready to be picked up with everyone else's. It is like looking for a needle in a hay stack. None of our 6 bags were together.
Overall the ship was great. All of the Carnival staff were extremely pleasant and friendly. The ship was spotless and we can't wait to go on another Carnival cruise. I would highly recommend it.