We sailed on the Carnival Victory cruise which embarked in Miami, Florida on 10/21/06 with scheduled port calls in Cozumel, Mexico; Limon, Costa Rica; and Colon, Panama.
Our flight from Baltimore to Ft. Lauderdale on AirTran was right on time, and we had no trouble finding the Carnival representatives in the baggage claim area that would direct us to the bus and take us to the Port of Miami. The Victory had ended a cruise in Charleston, SC the day before and was sailing empty to Miami. We arrived at the Port of Miami around noon, and the Victory was nowhere to be found. Carnival was processing passengers and then sending them upstairs to a waiting area. They offered to sell us water, hot dogs, and chips for $1.00 each, with the proceeds supposedly being given to the United Way. The Victory finally arrived at the port about 1:30PM and it was after 2:30 before they started the process of handing out Sail and Sign cards and allowing passengers to board. In fairness to Carnival, the cruise documents noted that sailing was not until 7PM and that embarkation would be from 4:30 - 6:30PM. However, at the time we booked our flights, sailing was scheduled for 4PM and we booked our flights accordingly. With the anticipation of getting on the cruise, the extra wait time seemed like forever.
Once we finally boarded, we stored our carry-on items in our room, and headed for the Lido deck for some lunch, as by now we were starving. The food on the Lido deck was similar to what we've had on other Carnival ships, and was more than acceptable. While eating lunch, we looked over the shore trips for Cozumel and discovered that the trip to Tulum would indeed be offered on this cruise, despite Carnival representatives having told me beforehand that it would not. This was quite pleasing, as we have been to Cozumel twice before, but had never visited Tulum.
After lunch, we went back to the room and tried to book the tour via the interactive TV in the room. Apparently the accounts were not activated yet, as I was unable to make the booking. Not wanting to miss out, I went down to the Purser's Desk, and was able to make the booking there.
About 5:00 I went to Siren's Bar to meet others from cruise critic, while my wife stayed behind in the cabin to read. After the Meet and Greet, I went back to the cabin and found that our luggage had already arrived, and we then unpacked. We then took it easy until dinner time (8:00 in the Pacific dining room). We were assigned to table 344 in the back of the dining room. I don't know why, but I never seem to get assigned to a table where it is easy to see the entertainment. I had requested to be at a table for 8, but was assigned to a table for 4. The other couple happened to be among the folks I met at the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet a few hours earlier. Quite a coincidence.
Since I'm talking about the dining room here, I'll just cover it in total. My wife and I typically ordered 3 or 4 entrees so that we could try lots of different things. Overall, the food was very good. The first formal night was lobster night. The second formal night didn't have anything that memorable. The only dish that was disappointing was the Chateaubriand. The beef was quite chewy, and neither my wife nor I finished it. On the other hand, the Beef Wellington the night before was terrific. They served escargot as an appetizer on two different nights, prepared two different ways, which to me was great. Last year's cruise to Alaska didn't have them all. The desserts were all very good (and we had more than one per night!)
We ate breakfast and lunch on the Lido deck. For breakfast, we tended to look for the line whose scrambled eggs were cooked the most, as they were somewhat undercooked at a few of the stations. My wife complained about the grits being too watery at some stations as well. However, if you picked the correct lines, breakfast was just fine. Lunches went smoothly. The oriental cafe was quite good. The grilled Reuben was only okay, as it was kind of soggy instead of crisply grilled. The pizza bar was good as usual. It would be nice if their calzones had ricotta cheese in them though.
The balcony cabin we had was virtually identical to every other ship we have been on. Plenty of room to store our things and still have plenty of space to move around. The television programming was a bit disappointing. The network stations were from Denver for some reason. I thought the political ads back home in Maryland were quite nasty, but some of the races in Colorado are even worse. I guess there is no escape from the campaigns. ESPN was not on the in-room TVs. It was supposed to be in the Sports bar, but only ESPN-Spanish was in the Sports bar. For a Sports bar that has 6 big screens and two smaller ones, I do not understand why they only have 2 different programs on at a time. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, there are a multitude of football games that could have been carried, but weren't. If Carnival wants to call this a Sports bar, then it needs to improve the number of signals it can pipe into that bar.
Our room steward and particularly his assistant, did a fine job of keeping our room serviced. No complaints there. Somehow, they seemed to know every time we left, as whenever we returned, even from relatively short times away, things had been taken care of. Actually, it was kind of spooky. Did they have some kind of monitoring device on us?
Our shore trip to Tulum was fabulous. Our driver was very informative about the Mayan culture, and the ruins are spectacular. It is a long day when you take this tour from Cozumel, but it is well worth it.
On the 2nd sea day we were informed that there was civil unrest in Costa Rica, and we would be going to Colon, Panama first, and then hopefully double back to Costa Rica the next day. I scrambled to the internet cafe (like everyone else) to contact Mario to make sure we would still be able to do our tour a day early. He replied around midnight that it was no problem. We did the tour that takes you to the Gatun locks and to the San Lorenzo rain forest are, including Fort Sherman. It was a very well done tour. Getting to see the Panama Canal was easily the highlight of the trip. What a miracle of engineering. How the designers had the foresight to make the canal as large as they did what back in the 1910's is amazing. They will be starting construction on a yet larger set of locks next year to accommodate the many vessels that now do not fit through the current locks. The wildlife in San Lorenzo was quite interesting as well. It was probably the only time I will ever get to see a 3-toed Sloth outside of a zoo.
When we got back to the ship we were notified that we would not be visiting Costa Rica at all, but would be going to Ocho Rios, Jamaica instead. Back to the internet cafe I went in order to contact Phil Lafayette.
A note is in order here about the internet service. Of the five Carnival ships that I have been on, the internet service on the Victory was by far the worst of any of them. The connection to the internet was constantly disconnecting causing many reloads of pages, while still costing you connection time. This was true whether I used my own laptop or the computers in the cafe. Complaints to the purser resulted in giving me some extra time, but even with that, it was quite frustrating, and overly expensive. That internet service really needs to be overhauled. Also, the cafe is located in the Cigar bar, which at times made it very nasty to be in their. Most of you would tell me that I should be doing other things than using the internet, and you would probably be correct. However, with 3 part-time businesses, I need to be able to at least respond to email messages to tell prospective clients that I will get back to them when I get home, or to handle emergencies.
In Ocho Rios, we went with Phil Lafayette, whom we had used 3 years earlier on our first visit to Ocho Rios. Despite telling several people about Phil, nobody else came along. He drove us all over the area to show us parts of Jamaica that we had not seen the last time. We also stopped at Prospect Plantation and took the interesting tour there. Finally we did a bit of shopping before heading back to the ship.
The casino did not treat us very nice this year. I think they should have had a bank night deposit drawer on the wall with a sign that read, "Insert wallet here." In my case, it would have been just as effective. I don't mind losing money on my cruise, as I bring with me an amount that is allocated to the casino, and if I go home with any of it I consider myself a winner. However, I'd like to get a little bit of entertainment value for my money. When you put $20.00 into a quarter slot machine, and run through it without even a single payout of any kind, that kind of ticks me off. Oh well, I guess that's why they call it gambling.
The Spa services that my wife and I used were similar to other ships. Nothing spectacular, but not disappointing either.
The entertainment that we viewed was good. The comedians were all very funny and the magician was very good. We did not watch the production shows, as I really don't care for those kinds of shows. The cruise director, "Malcom in the middle" was okay, but after having been on a John Heald cruise, I'm spoiled. I did notice an abundance of announcements specific to individual passengers this time. Perhaps that was just an aberration.
Debarkation was the worst part of the trip. After all, who wants to get off of a cruise ship! The process went rather smoothly, but it means the cruise is over. We were able to get through Customs quickly and grab the bus to Ft. Lauderdale airport. It was a couple of hour wait for the flight and by 5:00PM we were home.
Even with the change in itinerary, it was a great cruise. Now I just have to figure out where to go next year.