My Husband, 15 year old daughter, 12 year old twin boys, and I, traveled on the Carnival's Triumph Western Caribbean, November 29, 2003. We did the air ourselves through the internet. I saved about $1,000. I used the savings to fly down a day early. I figured if I went through Carnival, the air delay would be covered. So I better get down there a little early so I won't miss the ship. I read over 800-1000 reviews in the two months before departing. My family calls me the vacation Nazi. I believe that a good vacation is a well-researched vacation. I guess so do you, as you wouldn't be reading this right now! One word of advice here is to NOT limit yourself, to one ship, or one cruise line for that matter. I was going to the Western Caribbean and I found great tips on Alaska's cruises that worked for me. Read every thing you can. Especially on the ships that go into the same ports as you are going to. Ok enough about that, let's get on to them carpet stains.
Our plane arrived early into Miami. We flew from Philadelphia and stayed the night before at a Philly hotel. That way they held the car for free, and shuttled us over in the morning. Saving us the $8.00 storage per day for the car. We arrived early at The Sheraton Biscayne Bay Hotel, so we went to the pool. They were so nice. They stored our luggage and even gave us a large safety deposit box for my laptop, so I wouldn't have to take it to the pool with me. I brought it because every night I uploaded my digital camera into it. Clearing my disk for the next day. I did bring two 256 Disks and needed both. I also brought a 35mm camera, which I like better on real sunny days. Also a video camera with 6 tapes and three under water cameras. We stayed at the Sheraton because we had read that the cruise lines do the pre-registrations the morning of the cruise. All Lines but Carnival showed up. We ended up having to go over to the port and wait in the lines anyway. They went pretty smoothly, and everyone in line was talkative and excited about the trip. The hotel was great though. They upgraded us from a balcony to a suite, because our room wasn't ready when they said it was. Then later they gave us five free breakfast buffet coupons for the next day, cause they weren't able to get us more pillows till midnight. I would stay there again just because of how nice the people were. Although friends stayed at the Holiday Inn, and this was more centrally located across from the market place. Which is a cool outside market place that resembles a carnival or shore boardwalk.
Speaking of friends we met some great ones! We met on the Roll Call Board of cruise critics. It's a great place to find out messages, questions, and friends. We had at least 6 couples and a few singles and two families of 5. Some met up the night before in Miami for dinner. Others met in Fort Lauderdale, or at the Airport. We had talked for a month and even exchanged cell numbers so we could figure out where each of us was, at the start of our trip. We planned on an 11 o'clock Sunday morning get-together but all found each other on Saturday night. As a 6' 2" Blonde, married to a 6'7" man we were easily found.
We arrived at about 11:30 went through the lines and waited in comfortable chairs upstairs of the port. We were on the ship at 12:30. We went straight to our room, even though we were told our rooms would not be ready till 1:30, and to go to lunch. I thought what's the worse that would happen we could drop off bags even if I put them out on the balcony. But it was ready. We had a balcony room on Deck 8. Room 8414. Four doors down from the employee's stairs that lead up one deck to the Lido Deck. This was so convent to get late night pizza or a drink. Or even to meet friends or find kids who went up there for the late night grill. They only had two midnight buffets. One was the Gala and one was a Mexican buffet on Monday after being in port in Cozumel, Mexico. This was fine though because they had a lido buffet grill that was open from 11-1:30 on the aft Lido deck that was different every night. Also they had a fruit and dessert buffet set up near by. When they did the actual buffet it was done in the South Beach Buffet Restaurant. Both were great but I liked the extended time of the grill buffets, as you wouldn't miss the 12 o'clock late night shows. We did buy one of them large carnival drinks, even though the reviews felt like they were I rip off. I didn't think they were. They were about two and a half times bigger then the $2.95 drinks, and for $5.95 they made you feel like you were something special walking around the ship with your tropical drink with fruit and umbrella garnish. Although they did at times, become a pain to carry around during the week empty, just in case you wanted a drink. The only place you could refill for $4.95 was the Lido deck bars. I always seemed to want a drink in the wrong place, or didn't have my glass when I was in the right place. It's your call. I liked them cause when I did get a drink. I got a Drink! I did get my three kids soda cards right away as I came in at the main bar. These were $22 and well worth it. They could be used everywhere, even for dinner. Although not at night, during the show. I bought them virgin frozen drinks then for $3.95. I especially loved the Miami Vice. Half is a strawberry daiquiri. The other side is pina-colada. It looks as good as it tastes. Of course mine wasn't a virgin, and cost $4.95. Well worth it. I didn't think the drink prices were high, although I always drank the special of the day or the frozen drinks at the shows.
I was worried that the five of us would be crowded in our room, but we were all quite comfortable. We had a queen bed for us, a sofa which one son slept on, a bunk over top that my daughter slept on and a wide cot with a 5" thick mattress that the room steward would make up in the morning and slide under the bed during the day. When my other son wanted to go to bed at night he simply pulled it out. I could walk through from balcony to bath, but liked it pushed in when using the vanity area.
Our room steward was good, but not great. I had my three kids always picking up after themselves, but felt the room steward could have done a better job. Like dirty cotton balls, tissues or dirty cosmetic pads, were never cleaned up, off the vanity area. Empty plates or dirty glasses were left there too. One night after he cleaned the room, I was forced to put the last nights room service plates in the hall. Which stayed there along with everyone else's room service plates up and down the hall till morning. One morning we slept in after our first port day in Mexico. We all arranged to meet at 12 for lunch in the dining room. When I came back the room was just as we left it and stayed that way till after dinner. We had used all the towels and when my daughter took a towel to another room steward and asked to exchange it for a clean dry one for the pool she was told No! You must wait till 6 o'clock tonight. I wasn't around or I would have flipped. They really had no respect for kids on the ship. My son tried to order room service and was quite proud of having a $2 tip he saved from his arcade money for the waiter. But it never came, and he gave up waiting and went up stairs and brought it back. It was the waiters' loss, and his gain. I guess the kids run them around on the ship. But mine knew they had to tip as my husband, and myself, are both generous tippers.
Speaking of tips I think Carnival has really dropped the ball on this one. They say that it was what most of Carnival's customers wanted, but I believe this is not true. I didn't meet anyone who liked pre-tipping. I think Carnival does it as an employee promotion in order to solicit good employees away from the other cruise lines. I worked for years in the restaurant field and managed a bar/restaurant. I'm a generous tipper, but did adjust my tip on the last day, for the week. The very first day they added 68.25 for each of the 5 of us. For a total of $342.00. My children who the employees disrespected were still required to pay the same as an adult. I would have reduced it sooner than the last day. But I figured that if I could turn the TV on and check my balance, then the staff had a way of checking their tip too! I have a rule of never complaining about the food till after the meal. The two waitresses were very sweet young girls. I found myself asking them if they were new. But they worked on the ships for years. The service was like that of a very nice banquet. We had early seating and liked that. Giving me time to get ready for the late night feast again. But I always got the impression that I was being served to get out of the way. On the formal nights they always brought one special dessert and gave you no other choices. It was sat down in front of you and our table was made to feel guilty, if we asked for another. My other friends said that this was not so at their tables and that they were even told that they could have additional items that were never offered to our table. Every night I was asked if I wanted coffee, and every night I said yes. The second from last night I told the waitress that I always like Ice Tea with dinner. And then the last night I did get that without being asked if I wanted it. One thing about the service that really bothered me was that I always ordered two dinners and every night I asked to have them brought to me at the same time. This never happened; I almost felt this was a carnival rule. I was made to finish my plate before I could have the other. So, while I was eating my shrimp, my steak was sitting getting cold on a side table. The second dinner was always cold and usually more done then if it would have been served rather than sat on the side table. I just think the waitresses were in such a hurry to finish serving us, so they could do their little mandatory dance and the end of the meal. This was cute, but I would have liked the service instead of the show. Everything about the mediocre service could have been avoided if the staff felt like you were going to tip them rather than think that you paid for the tip with admission thus don't expect much. The word "tip" means To Issue Prompt Service. This has been all missed on Carnival. SAD!
We had one At Sea Day and then ported in Cozumel, Mexico. It was funny that no one on the ship knew what time it was on the island. I asked 25 crew and got 5 different answers 2 before 2 after, 1 before 1 after, or the same. Actually it was 1 hour after ship time but they felt you didn't need to know this information, and weren't shy about saying so. No, not unless you were meeting your rental car or tour guides at 8:00. We rented a car online. It was a Geo Tracker that cost us $44.00 including insurance. I originally rented a VW bug but was up graded to the $60 GEO Tracker. My girlfriend rented from enterprise and got a beat up old GEO for $79 with no sunroof in the sunroof. She got soaked with an afternoon down pour. I was very pleased with budget, they were polite, and they didn't even charge for the little gas we used that day. We picked up at the International Port which is a 10 minute walk and dropped off at a downtown location giving us an extra hour. Then took a $5 taxi back to the ship After picking up the car we went towards downtown. We walked around for 3 hours never purchasing anything. I had read to buy all my souvenirs here, because it was so reasonable. Not the case. Silver chains for $30 in the states were $80 to $140. My son was very disappointed as I told him Mexico silver was reasonable. The only thing it was...was tarnished. Badly at times. I didn't like how high the prices started out at. Things that you could buy at night for $7 were $40 in the morning. Tee shirts were $10 each and then reduced to 3 for $10 at night when they thought the ships were leaving. They were much more willing to meet a reasonable price at night then in the morning. So go snorkeling first. We got in car and headed for Chankanaab Park. This was recommended on the sights, and was truly a great snorkeling experience. The park charged $10 each to get in and $5 for equipment. Don't rent on the ship. You get so much better for less on the islands. For great deals, shop in the little stores inside the park towards the bathrooms. There is a small jewelry store where we went to after snorkeling, and stayed there for an hour buying gifts for home. Their names are Allan and Ricky and they were so nice. They had hand made jewelry and Allan worked a half-hour re-beading a bracelet for me and then only charged $3. It was beautiful. They also have unusual stones and was told all the meanings and cures for each. They also had great deals on true hand made items. If you do go, ask for them by name and tell them Jamie, the tallest, prettiest blonde, they ever saw sent you. Trust me they WILL remember me! And they will take good care of you.
The park was beautiful, and I wish we hadn't wasted time in town. We packed a picnic from room service the night before. I brought a soft-sided cooler and plenty of zip lock bags for ice and sandwiches. A note here: Get your sandwiches the night before and put on ice. Get fruit from the late night grill. Remember THERE IS NO ROOM SERVICE THE MORNING OF PORT DAYS. I guess lots of people pack lunches. We also brought a 12 pack of Pepsi and a 12 pack of snapples in a carry-on, onto the plane and then onto the ship. This gave us the extra room for souvenirs that we needed to come home with. I also brought those large vacuum bags and used then to pack dirty laundry and other bulky items on the way home. The seas were rough that whole week and it was tricky getting into the water at Chankanaab Park. The water crashed onto rocks and you dropped into 10 foot of water at the bottom of the stairs. My daughter and one son went back and rented life jackets for $4 (well worth it) and felt safer in the water. My kids are all strong swimmers, and have even taken lifeguard courses but the water was rough. My husband even borrowed the jacket cause he was just so tired from the rough waters. The fish and the coral were great and well worth the rough seas. When we got back we dropped off our liquor as we entered the ship. I didn't mind cause I bought it for home and I figured let them store it for the week rather then me. I did have a bottle in the cabin on my vanity that we brought from home. Pack it well and put it in your boarded luggage not your carry-on.
Back on the ship we went up to eat and just got into the Hot tub to soak with friends when the man came and said it was Midnight and the tubs were closed. We asked for 15 minutes more and he said no problem. Which I thought was so nice! Next day was a Sea Day. Always tried to eat in the dining room. This was the day that we slept in and paid for it with the room steward not cleaning it up. We could have really used fresh towels. My husband even had to kill our towel rabbit the night before as we had no clean towels and were too tired to ask. So after lunch with friends we played a little blackjack. I came in second in the Blackjack Tournament and later in the week Ray came in forth in another one which was pretty cool. We got players club shirts and some nice gifts including a nice towel bag that I used on port days. One thing that I can say about the casino is that they were generous with the cash. (We took home $300 of their money) but they should give free bar drinks like all the other casinos I've been in.
The Formal nights and shows were great. I really enjoyed dressing for dinners. And my husband got to wear his Tux that he bought on a going out of business sale. My daughter and I wore long gowns and my sons who both owned black suits wore bow ties. In the formal pictures they did look like tuxes. But guys please don't do this. Remember that only works on children. Don't think your suit will look like a tux if you wear a bow tie. Just wear a nice suit and tie. The formal pictures are what broke us! At $20 a pop, I spent over $550. And I think they were worth every penny. When do you get the family so dressed up? Take advantage of all the photo stations throughout the ship. We loved the photos. It's so nice to have your photo taken by a professional rather than a department store clerk. When we came home, we scanned them and gave as gifts. My mom and mother-law love them. They have some great backgrounds!
Next day we were in Grand Cayman. Again no one knew what time it was on the island and we ended up being 20 minutes late as the time was the same this time. I had booked a tour through Soto's cruise tours for the stingray tour. Through them I booked another tour at 12:00 for Hell and the Turtle Farm. The stingray tour was cancelled due to rough seas, but they were able to get Ernie on his cell phone and he came right away to pick us up. This was 4 hours early. We booked with Ernie and his E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org He charged us $15 per person and through the board we picked up three additional friends so there was a party of 8. He took us on a tour first. Saw the governor's house, and went to a public marina and found large conch shells. Then went to the Turtle Farm and Hell. Ernie also saved us money on the Turtle farm tickets too! I bought souvenirs at the gift shops and didn't think they were that expensive. I did get most of the family gifts in Mexico. I was surprised. I thought from the reviews that I would pay a lot more. This was not true. Post cards at the Hell Post Office were 3 for $1.00 and a stamp was 25 cents. I only wished I had remembered to send myself home a post card from Hell. My kids brought lots of friends and teacher addresses so they had a ball. It's a hole in the wall but worth the stop. The owner wears horns and his photo appears on many of the gifts and post cards. Then Ernie took us to an equipment rental store, where I also bought lots of wood and onyx gifts. Our snorkel equipment was suppose to come with the $19.95 Soto's tour that was canceled. But we didn't mind the $20 for the 5 of us. Ernie took us to Cemetery Beach, which is a breathtaking beach hid behind a beautiful cemetery. The snorkeling was incredible, and the water was so calm considering the water on the other side of the beach was so rough. We got back on the ship by 3. A Great Day! Thanks Ernie!
Next day was Jamaica, I also booked a private tour from the reviews with Dennis Mullings his e-mail is email@example.com True to his promise he gave us a tour of a lifetime. He charged us $30 each , which included the $10 Falls Tickets. First we did the Dunn's River Falls. Having climbed it 20 years ago on our honeymoon, it was fun doing it again with the kids. Dennis handpicked the falls guide, which was a special touch. After the falls and a rain downpour we went shopping at the craft market place. The people here have really changed for the better. They were polite and quite. Unlike the reviews and what I experienced 20 years ago when they were so loud and pushy. I even complemented them and told them that I would put it in the review. I was actually not looking forward to the pushy people but found just the opposite. I think they read the reviews too. My daughter and I agreed that this was our favorite island. Dennis took us up the hill to the rain forest. Made a few stops where he talked to the kids describing the trees, plants, buds and seeds. He had us smell different leaves and herbs, and guess what they were. He really missed his calling. He should have been a teacher. This made me realize that I gave my children a better education in a week than the school could of. Dennis got us back to the ship just as it was getting ready to leave. Only regret was I should have arranged to meet Dennis at 8 rather than 9 in the morning. Thanks Dennis you were the best!!!
Back to the ship for our last formal night. And then a day at Sea, before debarking in Miami. All in all it was a great trip. Carnival gives you a lot of Bang for the Buck. They need to work on the service, as it wasn't there. The food was good, being I didn't have to cook it, serve it, or clean-it up. Carnival needs to rethink the tip situation. Because even though you can adjust it, the staff figures you will and the service is lacking big time! Would I take another Carnival Cruise? Yes, in heartbeat. Then again our next cruise is on RCCL Navigator of the Seas, Eastern Caribbean. I have heard, once you do RCCL you don't want to go back. Then again I paid $2400 for 5 in a balcony on Carnival compared to $3600 for a family ocean view suite. You get what you pay for I guess. Will write again after my April 24th cruise. And remember, if you see a 6'2" Tall blonde, come up and say HI JAMIE!