BACKGROUND INFO: Family of eleven embarks on second family cruise. Members are as follows: my Great Grandma (GG), a youthful 87; my Grandma (GMA), 65; my Grandpa (GPA), 67; my Great Aunt (GA), 53; my Uncle (UD), 42; his kids, ages 11 (boy) and 13 (girl); my Mom, 44; my Dad, 43; my boyfriend, 26; and myself, 23.
It's a long list. I might mention that cruising is the only possible vacation option when ALL of us are going because of the variety of activities/dining options it provides. We love each other and enjoy each other's company, but a week in a resort with all 11 of us would be certain hell.
HOTEL INFO: We flew out of Detroit on the day before embarkation. We always do this, because we find it's much less stressful than panicking about missing a flight, losing luggage, etc. It also gives us more travel-recovery time so our first day on the cruise isn't wasted in bed. We flew Delta with no problems. We stayed at the Coral Gables Miracle Mile in four rooms, which I got on Priceline for $70 apiece about five weeks before the cruise. They had an airport shuttle. The hotel was just fine for us; it was a little old, so therefore a bit shabby, but the employees were nice and the rooms were clean. The hotel was within walking distance to the Miracle Mile, which features many shops and restaurants. The restaurants we found were mostly upscale, and since we still were in our traveling sweats, we settled for Jimmy John's.
EMBARKATION The next morning, we called a cab to get to the port. We rode in two vans, and the price was $25 per van. My parents are part of the Carnival Vacation Club, so we got priority embarkation. We all agree that it was worth the money to buy the membership just to go to the beginning of the embarkation line. Yes, really. We sauntered past the sweating masses and were ushered into a private room with couches, where we sat and waited to assign our credit cards. We then walked through security to the room keys, and on the ship we went. Easy.
SHIP INFO: I have traveled on the Conquest and Valor previously, so I knew what to expect. The Victory is a smidge smaller. The differences we noticed from the Valor and Conquest were: No basketball court, bigger topless deck, no refrigerators in the rooms, no second buffet line, and no seafood restaurant above the lido restaurant on deck 10. Other than that, it's basically the same. We all agreed that this ship is much more aesthetically pleasing than the Valor. I've heard people say that they find the decor on the Victory somewhat obnoxious, but I thought it was great. The blues and greens were much more calming than the in-your-face patriotism of the Valor. My grandma did have a few run-ins with the seahorses on the stairs though. . .use extra caution so as not to run into their snub noses. Also, the ship had great photo opportunities. They took photos at the head of the stairs on the 5th floor atrium. The ceiling is gorgeous there. I also noticed lots of new backgrounds we hadn't seen in December.
STATEROOM: Our steward was Jonesie, and he was truly exceptional. Once, I beeped him because he'd forgotten to leave new beach towels, and he literally knocked on the door while I was still on the phone. He's that good. Our stateroom had a different layout than what I've seen before. the bed was horizontal as you walked in, rather than vertical, if that makes sense. There was a chair and more cupboard space than normal, perhaps due to the absence of the minifridge. I'm not sure if the layout difference was because we were on the 10th floor, rather than the 6th and 7th previously, or if it was a Victory thing. Either way, we preferred the new set-up.
DINING: We had room service only once this cruise; it was delicious and efficiently delivered. The Lido buffet was comparable to the Conquest and the Valor, with a variety of salads and hot foods for lunch, and the traditional bacon/eggs/pancakes gig for breakfast. I didn't necessarily like everything I tried from the buffet, but I'm not holding it against Carnival. I will say that room service (based on a single experience), pizza, burgers, deli, and dining room food were all superior to the Lido buffet in my opinion. Also, the ice cream on the Victory is amazing. I'm kind of picky about soft serve, and this was the right temperature and texture. It was much better than on the Valor or Conquest. They had chili dogs at the Mississippi BBQ grill as well, which I didn't recall seeing on the Valor or Conquest. They were great.
Our service in the dining room was excellent. Joel and Elizabeth, both from the Philippines, were very experienced and helpful. They also served a special dessert on Halloween night. There were two choices: chocolate cake and pumpkin cheesecake. Both were made festive by marzipan pumpkins and bat or ghost garnishes. The chocolate cake was to die for. I managed to eat most of it, after ordering spinach stuffed chicken and filet mignon. :)
ACTIVITIES: My boyfriend and I didn't participate a whole lot. In fact, with the exception of the last two nights, we went to bed at 10:30 pm. I think it's because we had so much to eat for dinner. The rest of my family seemed pleased with the quality of the shows, and I can personally attest to the fact that the Carnival Legends show was very entertaining. They conducted the standard activities: Hairy Chest Competition, Newlywed-Not So Newlywed, etc. One activity noticeably absent was the Carnival Colors. We had a card on our table that said we were the blue team, and I heard people asking game contestants what team they were on, but that's as far as it went. We didn't mind. We think the Carnival Colors thing is kinda goofy and pointless. :)
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We opted to just walk around San Juan, since it was 5 pm when we got there. My boyfriend and I walked quite a few blocks. Most of the places that were open were souvenir shops or restaurants, and that was fine with us. We felt pretty safe; it wasn't any worse than any other American city. We ate at a place called Cafe Berlin on Calle San Francisco. We shared a plate of fetuccine and I had fresh squeezed orange juice that tasted great. It cost us $20 for one entree and two nonalcoholic beverages. Then we went back to the ship and ate again, because that's how we roll. :)
In St. Martin, we did the 4 x 4 excursion, which meant we got in 4 person jeeps and traveled around, stopping to shop on the French side, and hang out at Orient Beach. We had a great time and the excursion lasted an extra hour and a half. They gave us lots of free soda, water, and rum punch. We HATE being herded, but this excursion managed to downplay that aspect pretty well. They lined us up on the pier, marched us to a bus, which then took us to the jeep place. There was a bar and shopping at the jeep place. And beautiful bathrooms. The excursion ends at the same place it begins, and you get on a bus to go back to the pier. Ladies: Don't pee at Orient Beach if you can help it. The place they take you is gorgeous, but the toilets have no seats. . .awkward. Which isn't to say that no place at Orient Beach has good toilets, just this particular place whose name escapes me.
In St. Thomas, my boyfriend and I walked forever in super hot sunny weather. We saw a few roosters, a few lizards, and a car accident. A woman in a small car rear-ended a lady in a pick-up truck. BF helped a local man push the car to a parking lot. We also shopped a little downtown, which has better shopping than Havensight Mall. We did a catamaran snorkel excursion with the fam afterward. It was a GREAt time. The catamaran was called "Castaway Girl" and the crew was enthusiastic and informative. We saw a shipwreck and a huge turtle while snorkeling. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed complimentary beverages and pretzels all the way back to the pier.
IMMIGRATION: Immigration at St. Thomas was kind of a disorganized mess. We received instructions under our door the night before which stated immigration would end at 8:45 a.m. We set our alarm for 8 a.m., figuring we'd just throw some clothes on and run down there with time to spare. We were awakened abruptly by Malcolm on the loudspeaker (not in our rooms, thankfully, but it was LOUD) at 6 a.m. And again at 6:15 a.m. And again at 6:30 a.m. You get the idea. Finally, at about 7:30, I'm so sick of trying to sleep and having Malcolm ruin my slumber, that I drag BF out of bed, we throw our bathrobes on, and head out the door to immigration. On our way, we hear Malcolm again, this time saying "Last Call for Immigration." It was 7:45, an hour before immigration was scheduled to end. When we got down to the Adriatic Lounge, the immigrations official said "You didn't think you had to get dressed for this?" I'm a pretty respectful person with a pretty good idea of what's inappropriate, but I didn't feel inappropriately dressed in my huge Carnival bathrobe. I could've been entirely dressed in a tee and shorts and he wouldn't have known, because the robes are so big. I immediately thought he was kidding, but he continued, "This is a federal inspection." I ended up ignoring him as he nudged his buddy, saying, "They didn't feel like they had to get dressed for this." For the record, his colleague didn't even bother glancing in his direction, and acted generally annoyed by him. Now, I was under the impression that an immigration official was supposed to inspect my passport, not my fashion sense. My BF defended himself, saying, "I have on a T-shirt!" We clearly were not breaking any federal laws by wearing our bathrobes, as we were allowed to pass through immigration. We were a little frustrated by this time, as we were told we had another hour to go through immigration, and we were harassed by the immigrations official. I'm not sure what went wrong with the timing, but I do not remember it being such a huge hassle on the Valor last October. Somebody wasn't doing something right that day. And now I know that I have to wear clothes to immigration!
MAN OVERBOARD: Not really. We had a false alarm on Friday night while getting ready for late sitting dinner. Malcolm first came on the loudspeaker and requested all housekeeping staff to report. He then came on and told us to stay in our rooms so the stewards could count us, as a guest reported a possible man overboard. They counted us, then asked for staff and crew to report. Finally, they decided we were all accounted for and we all breathed a sigh of relief. It was pretty scary. The ship didn't stop, but we did slow to about 7 knots. It was strange to be sitting in the airport after the cruise and learn that the Conquest had a real man overboard situation the day after our false alarm.
MALCOLM: Malcolm is a peculiar creature. He's awful on the loudspeaker, with repetitive "Ladies AND gentlemen," "again," and "of course" interspersed with all the important information. You can also tell when he's reading off some information sheet. However, he's great in person. During the shows, he does a great job off the cuff. It was a strange combination, since he was unbearably annoying on the loudspeaker: "Well, Ladies AND gentlemen, of course it's a sea day and again we will be having an art auction in the adriatic lounge. Of course it's a beautiful day at sea again, and we hope to see you, ladies AND gentlemen again tonight for the Carnival Legends show, of course in the Caribbean Lounge." I'm not exaggerating. He was also quite calm during the Man Overboard false alarm. I think he's a good guy, but he needs to work on those announcements.
DISEMBARKATION: No problems there. We didn't go the VIP route, because we don't care how long we're on the ship. Our hotel was Amerisuites Miami airport, where we stayed Sunday night. The service was pretty awful, but the rooms were just fine. When I say the service was awful, it was because the people behind the desk took about an hour to check us in. They were generally pretty dim. We ordered in pizza.
SUMMARY: We had a great vacation and can't wait to go back. We are the kind of people who understand that things can go wrong. We don't let little things ruin our trip, but maybe our hour. :) We love cruising, so there's really no such thing as a bad cruise for us.