Ok I will try to keep this review orderly, but forgive me in advance if I jump around because this was the best cruise ever and I'm still really excited about it :)
Carnival Victory 1-28-07 to 2-4-07:
We arrived just before noon and were on the ship within 30-45 minutes. (We only live 2 1/2 hours from the port) There were 6 ships in port that day. Carnival Valor, Freedom of the Seas, Norwegian Pearl and two others (RCCL & NCL respectively) To park in the garage in the Port of Miami it's $15 per day now. The check-in line was out the front door of the terminal, the longest I've encountered on the 5 cruises I've taken, but we never stood still til we were at the counter checking in. It went really fast and we were thrilled to board the ship. We went right up to Lido deck to get lunch at the buffet. (They passed out the standard notes advising us not to go to our rooms until after 13:30 hrs)
13:30 hit and we headed to our room. I had booked an inside guarantee with a roll away bed, since I was travelling with 4 minor children. We never spend much time in the room anyway so I really didn't care how cramped it was while we slept. What a surprise I was in for!! We got to our room (1235) and my oldest said "YESSSS! We got a window!!" before we even opened the door. Nice upgrade for us, and we enjoyed that window all week long. Would have been fine without it, BUT it was VERY nice to have!
We wandered around the ship until about 15:15 and then went and got our life preservers for the muster drill that was scheduled for 15:30. Nothing spectacular, just a requirement by law that we have to get through before the fun starts!! Two of my children had to wear the armband with their muster station (A) in the event there's an emergency while they were at Camp Carnival, and I had to hunt someone down to get it. If I wasn't already aware of this rule the kids wouldn't have gotten their armbands until they made it to Camp Carnival. (On a side note, the Camp Carnival staff will check to make sure your kids have their armband, and will issue a new one if it comes off. They aren't hard to get off so check your kids!)
We ate in the Pacific dining room (lower level) at the rear of the ship, first seating which was at 17:45 hrs. Our head waitress was Xue (pronounced Sue) from China & she was fabulous. NOBODY asked us if we wanted anything but water to drink but we didn't care. We weren't home and I didn't have to cook!
Camp Carnival's parent meeting was at 19:15 hrs so we missed it. (Dinner ended around 19:30) Later I stopped by deck 11 fwd & picked up their version of the Capers for each of my kids. (ages 8-10-12-15, so I had one in almost each age group) Each age group had their own Capers, and it listed ALL activities planned for the entire week. Grab two because you will need your own copy to coordinate family activities. ALSO bring a couple of highlighters & highlight the activities you want to do as a family so everyone knows the schedule for the day. (You can get extra copies of the "grown up" Capers at the purser's desk or at the bar by the casino, or the coffee shop on the Promenade deck. (I'm sure other places too but that's where we got extra copies)
We went to the family welcome aboard party held in the Arctic Disco on deck 5, and it was SO much fun. Then we went to Karaoke in the Black & Red Seas Bar. My oldest found Club O2 that first day and hit it off with a bunch of kids his age right away. Those kids were known as "The Crew" for the rest of the week haha. They posed for tons of pics with the ship's photographers, and the one I bought was of the 12 of them....lying on the floor looking up with the photographer over them. It's soo great!
Days at Sea
The kids and I spent leisurely days by the pools (we liked Siren's at the back by the pizzeria or the one by the water slide), pigging out on pizza & ice cream, etc. We took the Saturday Night Fever dance class where my 8 year old daughter made a friend in a funny way. As the class wrapped up, this older man pointed out to the instructor (who was a Victory dancer) that he was the oldest in the class (at 91!!) and she was the youngest (at 8!). It was cute. For the rest of the week she ran up and gave him a hug every time she saw him. He even taught her the Electric Slide at the Repeaters Party!
The cruise director Malcolm Burn ("Malcolm in the Middle") did a great job. He connected everyone by starting EVERY announcement with "WOOO HOOO" and ending it that way as well. By the end of the week we were all saying it and it was pretty cool. He said it was just a small way of tying us all together. The assistant cruise director Josh AKA Big Sexy was great too. He was the ACD on my Elation cruise in September with Jorge who is currently on a 2 week personal break. Malcolm was just filling in for him during his time off. Jorge is FUNNY so if you miss Malcolm don't worry, Jorge is just as great!
Costa Maya Mexico
We played around on the beach, lazed around in the hammocks for awhile and did a little shopping. BUT most of that day was spent on the ship because the kids wanted to play on the water slide and most of my money was being saved for our other ports :) The water slide is open 10 am on sea days and noon on port days I think. The first day's Caper lists the times on the back side I believe, I'm just too lazy to get up right now and look.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman
I compiled my favorite advice from online and planned on finding our own tours once we were off the ship. We got tender stickers and went back to our room to wait since we were literally down the hall from the stairway leading to the gangway. This was the only disorganized part of the whole trip & it wasn't entirely Carnival's fault. People were getting in line well before their sticker #'s were called, and the Carnival employee just let them go. If she had turned them away until they were called it would have been a lot better. But again, it was mostly the fault of the impatient passengers who didn't have the common courtesy to wait their turn :)
We got off of the tender and walked towards the Hard Rock Cafe area. We found a female named Maude who charged $20 per person to go to Hell, the Turtle Farm, Tortuga bakery and a scenic tour of the area. Admission to the Turtle Farm was only $7.50 for adults and $5.50 kids 12 & under IF you arrive with a cab driver. The kids got to hold sea turtles, we mailed some postcards from Hell, the standard touristy stuff. Maude also gave my daughter one of the Grand Cayman dollars to keep as a souvenir. It was just the 5 of us on the tour & she really gave us the personal touch. We were dropped off where we started and did a little shopping, the kids spent a little time at Margaritaville's water slide and then we went back to the ship. Getting a tender was easy (there were 2 Carnival and 2 RCCL ships in port there).
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Write this down: firstname.lastname@example.org That is the way you contact the best tour guide I've ever met. A single mom with 4 kids alone in a country where I read a lot of reviews saying "don't go by yourself" I was a little nervous about this port of call. He only charges $55 per adult and $42 per child for a scenic tour where you get a good view of the ship from the mountain, the fern gully/rain forest, Dunn's River Falls and Tubing. We didn't do the tubing part so it was $100 total less for the 5 of us. He took us to Dunn's River Falls first and walked us all the way in to the point where we meet our guides. I chose to walk along the side of the falls but all 4 of my kids walked up the falls IN the water. They have two guides and one photographer/videographer. Everyone joins hands and they have you walk up like a chain. I wasn't sure I liked this, but it seemed to work well. (They said they scrub the rocks every day so they don't get slimy where they tell you to walk) They took photos all the way up and a really good video that I bought. ($40 for the DVD & yes it works fine) I got tons of great photos from my vantage points as well. This took most of 2 hours. I dreaded getting through the craft area because I read all of those reviews too, I just kept my head down and said No thank you over & over. Only one got nasty towards me because I didn't miss a beat or even slow down. And one stopped my 8 year old daughter and put a bracelet on her wrist. He said he didn't want money, just wanted us to spread the word about him. Of course he asked if I had a donation to give him and I said nope he took the bracelet right off of her arm. Off we went haha! I had warned my kids of this before we went through and told them not to stop for anything. I also told them not to give their names because I read about how they start carving your name into stuff so you feel obligated to buy them.
Next we went up the mountain to look down on the ships and it was a beautiful view, and then we headed to the fern gully. He gave such wonderful information and he quizzed my daughter (who he let sit in the front seat next to him because this tour was just the 5 of us too) throughout the tour. As you enter the rain forest/fern gully be prepared to see some obscene "statues" carved out of wood. My 12 & 15 year old caught sight of them and their giggles made it really hard for me not to laugh. Just make sure if you have little ones you remember to have them close their eyes as you enter. Once we were out of the fern gully he pulled over to a roadside stand and had a guy chop up some sugar cane & coconuts for us. He showed the kids how to get the sweet stuff out of the cane & then let them drink coconut water and eat fresh coconut. Pretty neat of him to do that.
Then we went back down, he showed us around some middle class neighborhoods, stopped at a few points of interest and wound up at TajMahal where I wanted to do some shopping. He actually WAITED for us for over an hour while we shopped and my daughter got half of her hair braided. My 15 year old learned that you can drink at 18 in Jamaica so he scammed a few samples of liquor while her hair we getting done. Nothing to freak out over, but if you don't want your teen to drink make sure he/she doesn't go off alone even in that secure little complex. My teen was also offered pot 4 different times but politely declined and they left him alone. I was able to keep an eye on him the whole time we were in the braid shack because the shack is in the middle and all of the shops face it.
Like I said, this was the best port of our whole trip. And to see my 4 kids get along, laugh and work hard TOGETHER getting up those falls was PRICELESS. I never worried about their safety (OR my own) the entire time we were in Jamaica. If you book with Trevor learn this and see what he has to say: (I'm spelling phonetically because I have no clue!!) rain-a-fall n dirt-i-tuff It's a proverb he taught my 8 yr old that means the rain is falling and the Earth is tough. :) A woman who works the 1 hour photo at our WalMart is Jamaican (she told us when she saw Ashlynn's braids) and when Ashlynn told her the proverb she was impressed.
Anyway the food on the ship was excellent, I'm not picky so any day I don't have to cook is a great day for me. We ate from the BBQ, Pizza, buffet and my son tried the chinese but I didn't. Room service chocolate cake is a must if you're a chocolate fan. The icing is like fudge. And if you're not into the runny eggs on the morning buffet the omelette stations WILL make sunny side up or scrambled for you there too. I hate runny eggs so I had an omelette every day.
Shows were the best I've seen so far on any ship I've been on.
Casino is great as long as you treat it as an arcade for grown ups. I played $20 til it ran out at roulette, and it lasted quite a while :)
Arcade is pricey, $1 per game. If you're not opposed to shooting games the mummy one where two people can shoot them together ($2 total) is fun, my son & I blew $6 on that game in no time hitting "yes" on the continue question...
Photos are the great quality I've come to expect from Carnival. Just take as many photos as you can, it doesn't cost anything but a few minutes of your time and you might just see a photo you can't live without. They did one of my daughter on formal night resting her head on her arms on a piano with a rose and it's priceless.
Camp Carnival, the kids spent more time there than I wanted them to. (We won a "ship on a stick" for family name that tune too---beware the Grease Megamix is "Greased Lightning" in that contest!)
All around a great cruise that went way too fast. We're looking for Hawaii in the fall but I don't see any Carnival itineraries I like. NCL looks like it's going to be the winner there, any comments on NCL please send them my way!
Feel free to ask me anything I didn't cover. I do have all of the capers for the week, including the kids ones for 6-8, 9-11, 12-14 & 15-17 so ask if you want to know specifics. Sorry this was sooooo long!! I wrote a lot but I'm sure I forgot tons :) Happy cruising!