My fiance and I set sail on our anniversary cruise aboard the Carnival Victory on April 23rd on a seven day Western Caribbean vacation. We had met on a Norwegian cruise three years ago, so we thought it fitting to celebrate our anniversary on the high seas! We were originally scheduled aboard the Star Princess, but due to the tragic fire, we were booked into the last available room on the Victory with the same sailing dates as our flights.
I'll try and break this down into parts to keep it shorter and hit on what we enjoyed and what we thought could be improved.
a) Transfer: The transfer service from FLL airport to Miami's port was a complete joke. Just total utter confusion at the baggage terminal. Unfortunately we lost our cruise tickets/transfer in the cab that morning, but Carnival was able to effortlessly look us up and provide us with a new voucher for the transfer. We enjoyed knowing that although we arrived on a later flight, we would still get to the ship on time with a Carnival transfer. After boarding the bus, we were dismayed that there was no air conditioning. To top it off, the bus was carrying people for both the Valor and the Victory, and drove to a Royal Caribbean port where the driver began dumping off our luggage. When we got that straightened out, and at the right pier, again, I was a bit miffed we could not carry on our own luggage, as we had on the plane.
b) Embarkation: Like I said, we lost our cruise tickets, but there was hope! I had printed my fun-pass out, which was supposed to speed along check in. The line moved fast, and it was air conditioned. Our representative was friendly and helpful, but it was almost like re-registering again. She did not even look at our "Funpass." We had to give a new credit card, and show licenses, etc. Total time spent to get on the ship was a quick twenty minutes.
c) First impressions. The ship seemed grand in the entry way, and there sure was a lot of green. At first thought, I really didn't care for the green vinyl chairs and sofas in this atrium, but after awhile, it made sense with the high probabilities of wet bathing suits. You could probably see about 7 stories up to the top, and the glass elevators were a nice touch in the lobby there. You immediately got the sense that there was a lot to do, as you could see several bars, photo-shop and stores above. Well, most people were just going a bit crazy when they got on board. The elevators were all stopped up with people, but lucky for us, we were just 2 decks down, so we took the stairs.
d) Cabin: The cabin was quite nice. We were situated by the elevator, and found it spacious. The oceanview window was large, and definitely not a "porthole." Our room was clean, we had a stainless steel bucket filled with ice, and several beverages available in the room. The couch was nice, and we thought the arrangement would suit us fine. We really liked the safe available in the room, as we do travel with valuables. The bathroom seemed larger than the one on the Norwegian ship I had prior. We quickly put away our things and went in search of some food.
e) Crew: In our search for food, we were greeted by a nice crew member in our lobby who directed us accurately to the buffet. During our whole cruise, we found that the staff was always friendly, and would smile at you as you passed. While at times you could tell some of the staff was aggravated, hey, that's life. Not everyone loves their job 100% of the time. Our cabin steward was pleasant, and we tipped him the first day. From the second day on, he would greet us by name in the hall ways, and would have our room cleaned about three times daily. Other crew highlights were our waiters in the Atlantic Lower dining room (Sorel and Jean (table 172) Both were a delight, and will be missed. We would play a game with Jean to see if we could finish a glass of water before he could refill it. Out of seven nights, no one ever won! Sorel was always joking around with us, and would bring us whatever our hearts desired from the menu. The only one we thought was a bit stuffy was the Maitre D'. He stopped by twice throughout our trip, but we never really hit it off with him, or understood his purpose there.
A funny note on the cabin staff - I asked our cabin steward for a sewing kit, and he said they did not have one but that they did have a shower cap if I'd like one. I was able to purchase a sewing kit in the gift shop for $2.)
d) Food: While we're on the topic - The food was better than average, with the fish being the star of most meals in the dining room. If we had not just flown in from such a culinary-forward city as Boston, we probably would have described the food as gourmet. We found the lobster abundant, but rather tough. Steaks were hit or miss, but the sauces, and appetizers were very good. Desserts seemed to only have 60% effort put into them, and half of that was in the presentation. On a few occasions, we found things not to be at the correct temperature, such as a hazelnut creme brulee that was warm in spots, or coleslaw which was served hot alongside your fish and chips. It also appeared that a described feature of the dish would be missing, but after you order, and the menu is removed, it's hard to be certain. I also felt that the ship could have benefited from having one or two additional pay-per meal restaurants with higher quality offerings.
Buffets: We only ate at the buffets for breakfast and enjoyed having an omelette made fresh for us every day. We always thought the staff was working hard, and the eating area was clean.
Wine: I really think a ship of this size would have had a sommelier. Maybe it's the crowd onboard or the "Funship" image that enables the absence. On several occasions while trying to garner more information on a particular wine, the staff would simply restate what the menu already said about it. Really... I can read.
Room Service: We loved the room service, and having coffee and croissants sent to our room in the morning was a great start to our day. The servers were friendly, but be sure you are specific with the time you wish your food delivered in the morning. We got more specific as the cruise went on, and got better service.
Other offerings: The East River Deli we found a bit too late in our journey. The sandwiches were made to order and excellent. There was usually a line here. Another note, we thought our ship had a sushi bar, but found it did not. They did offer a sushi lunch buffet once, but it was while we were in port at Costa Maya. Way to keep the cost down, Carnival.
e) Activities: Perhaps I was expecting more, or maybe I did not partake enough, but it seemed that the only thing to do was play bingo, and that was usually $20pp. We played on two of the fun days at sea, and the prizes are small compared to what they rake in(prizes start at $100 and usually only go up to $150, but there are some special games with a $2,000 jackpot). The other thing we did twice was have afternoon tea and listen to the classical music. That was relaxing, and the "crumpets" were delicious. Sure there were random games of this and that by the pool, and there was country line dancing, towel animal folding, etc. I don't know what I really expected, but it seemed that more often than not the scheduled activity was a talk on shopping, an art auction, or some other fund raising event for the ship. I am glad we brought a game ourselves, and a portable DVD player (which we could hook to our tv, but the standard remote made it impossible to access a video feed, so hooking it to the tv was fruitless.)
f) Shopping: Shopping on the ship also paled in comparison to the Norwegian ship we were on before. There were basically two stores. One, a jewelry/watch store, and the other a carnival clothing, liquor store, and gift shop store. Not impressed. Also the liquor was not very high quality, and for us, buying three bottles of Grey Goose vodka and trekking it back home was not worth the $6 savings. Also for sale are the various pictures that the Carnival photographers take on board the ship. They have random characters when you get off the boat at the ports, and take your picture with them. What a memory. In Jamaica, a guy with dreadlocks, in Costa Maya, a Mexican guy with a big colorful sombrero, and in Grand Cayman, a sad looking pirate guy with a drawn on moustache. The only picture we opted to buy was the old Western-style picture where you can dress up. These sell in amusement parks for double what we paid on Carnival, so we bought it.
g) Ship layout: The ship's layout was rather straight forward, mainly due to the simplicity of offerings. You had a two huge dining rooms taking up a majority of space, as well as the large concert hall where the shows are. The pool deck has two small pools, and I think there are about 5 jacuzzis on board. 2 near the pools, and 1 in the gym area. The spa is located near the gym on the upper two floors. There is the casual dining option - the Mediterranean dining "place" where the buffets are, for those on the pool deck. It was annoying at times that you always had to walk near the pools to get to the food there. We also found it odd that some rooms (like the tea room) were difficult to get to, as some stairways would not allow access to the places on that floor. We found ourselves consistently walking down two flights, and then up three to find the next set of stairs to come back down two again to get where we wanted. A bit frustrating. Mid ship on the promenade (deck 5) had a strong offering of bars, the "nightclub" and the casino.
h) Shows and entertainment: While the talent was excellent in the shows (very strong vocalists for the main shows), something was definitely lacking. I'm not saying we didn't enjoy ourselves, but I think the shows' major downfall was attempting mass appeal to too many different age groups. The shows featured virtually no semblance of a story line, and at times was just a mish mash of 1 1/2 minute song renditions or chorus'. Aside from clapping, there was no audience participation. I think with some story writing, and perhaps age specific shows, Carnival would have a victory. The "R" rated comedy was funny. The first night. We all laughed hysterically and looked forward to the next show. However, the second and third comedians had a tough act to follow, and basically crossed a whole lot of lines they should not have with much of their material coming from racial jokes, or jokes about the human anatomy. Again, we were entertained, but some of the jokes made us feel uneasy about the performers.
i) Pool scene: We agreed that the chair saving practice is very much in full swing. We got a seat by the pool once. However, out of 2,000 passengers, I guess it's not that bad. We almost always found a nice relaxing spot up on the top back deck. Go here if you're looking for a chair, without all the people. We also went to the hot tub twice. The first time, we thought it was the same temperature as the pool, so we didn't even go in. The second time, we went to a different tub, and found it a bit too cool for our liking again. Oh well... As for an "adults only" pool, we never saw any area that did not have kids and teens running around, so I have to assume that this is a myth. Another issue with the pool area is that you must bring your beach towel from your room all the time, if you want a towel.
j) Ports and excursions: I won't touch much on this, as it's not really a reflection of the ship. I will say that tendering into Grand Cayman was a bit of a pain, but it was worth it. They did the best they could with the available resources. We did not book any excursions through Carnival, or I would comment on them.
k) Bars: You can always find a nearby bar on the ship, or have drinks brought to you while you sit by the pool, or in a lounge. It's the livelihood of many of the crew members, and they truly do provide you good service. I would have probably tipped more had gratuity not already been factored in, but I'm sure there's people who would have tipped less too. We also found the soda vending machine a bit too late, and we could have saved ourselves .50 a can of soda had we bothered. We thoroughly enjoyed both the Irish Piano Bar as well as the large lounge adjacent to it. The sports bar just seemed very weird to us due to it's decor, so we ordered drinks, and left after getting them. The main atrium bar is very nice, and it's a place to be seen. Plenty of chairs to sit in, and something is always going on there. The nightclub left a lot to be desired, only in the form of music though. The design and layout were pretty good, but the music was "un-dance-able." I had wished they had more themed nights, dedicated to different age groups, instead of trying to include everyone again. The older people on the ship are asleep by 11 when the club opens, so I think it's safe to play a little hip hop.
Another comment on the drinks. Once at the pool, I was approached by a waiter, and I ordered a beer. The waiter said it's a much better value to order the bucket. I hesitated, and he said, hey, you can keep them cool and save them for later. That idea made sense to me, so I bought the bucket. When it came, I was dismayed, since it was four plastic cups filled with beer. I asked him how I could save these now that they were open, and all of a sudden he acted as if he did not understand English, and just placed the receipt in front of me to sign.
L) Spa Carnival: Or whatever it was called. My fiance and I booked early, and the Spa receptionist was able to give us the in-port deal before we got to the port. (Later on in the cruise, we saw an even better deal, so I know they have room to play around with the price.) Anyhow, we both were escorted to separate locker rooms, and given a typical paper to fill out about your history and goals for the session. We were each to get a facial and a massage (25 min ea). Soon enough, I met with my therapist, Ria, who was warm and friendly. She talked with me for about 5 minutes about life in general, and my spa paper I just filled out. The massage and facial were excellent. I did not feel uncomfortable at all during my treatments. At the end of the appointment, Ria had several recommendations for a daily skin regimen with me. While I may have used one of the products recommended, I did the quick math, and the laundry list of products was over $300 that she was recommending. I don't think I'm in that bad of a shape. I politely declined, and she was gracious about it. My fiance did not have such a good experience with her therapist. She said she would take lengthy pauses during the treatment, and it made her wonder if the therapist had fallen asleep, or was distracted by something. It's all reflected in the tips though.
M) Debarkation: This was maybe the most frustrating part. We had an early flight we had to catch in FLL, so we opted for the "self assist" debarkation process. This basically means you carry all your own luggage off (which I prefer anyhow.) The debarkation was to begin at 7:30 or so. They instruct everyone to stay in their room, and they will call each deck by deck. Well, we knew that would not work, so we went to the debarkation deck ahead of time. There was already a huge line wrapping around the theater. The worst part about this was people moving ahead of us to "be with their group." Finally, we had had enough and refused to let anyone else move ahead of us, regardless of where their group was. Debarkation began about 8:15, 45 minutes later than scheduled. They began by calling the Spa (11th) deck first. At that rate, we, on the first deck, would have been last out, and that wouldn't work. It pays to get in line early, regardless of what they tell you on the PA. Customs was quick and painless, and we were off.
N) Taxi to FLL - just a minor note. We were able to get a taxi easily right out of customs building. I asked the cab driver how much to FLL, and he said $60-65. Splitting it 4 ways, that's not so bad, so we all hopped inside. It was a quick and painless drive to FLL airport. However, the fare was about $75. With no traffic, I don't understand how the cab driver would not have been able to be more accurate with his estimate. No worries, we were all relieved to be at the airport in time for our flights.
Overall, the ship rates as average in my book. With a few tweaks such as additional restaurants, age group-focused entertainment and more shopping options, it could have rated higher. I'm sorry I wasn't able to keep it shorter, so I hope someone found this review helpful. Would I cruise on Carnival again, most likely, but perhaps not for a cruise as long as 7 days.