Background Information My wife and I were looking for a longer cruise for our second cruise. We had previously cruised Carnival for five days from New York on the Canadian itinerary and were happy with pretty much everything. We had previously been to the Caribbean only once, spending a week in St. Maarten in 1998, so we decided on an itinerary that would take us back there. As we own a time share, we are members of an exchange group that allows us to exchange our vacation weeks, so we used the RCI exchange service to exchange for a cruise. Doing this we were able to get an 8E for about $600 less than the then-rack rate for a 8A, which was a pretty good deal as far as we were concerned. We flew American Airlines from Washington Reagan to Miami the morning before the cruise.
Hotel Info I hate staying in big cities, and Miami was insanely expensive that week for some reason. There's also the fact that I love the Florida Keys and they're so close to Miami... so we picked up a rental at the Miami airport and drove about an hour south to Key Largo. Had dinner on the water at Alabama Jacks in Card Sound and spent the night at the Holiday Inn Key Largo.
Travel To Port of Embarkation Left Key Largo around 10:00 on Saturday morning and drove back to the National car rental return at MIA. We asked National for a cab to the pier, but the courtesy driver at National was kind enough to run us over to Alamo where there was a free shuttle to the pier. We arrived at the pier around noon. It took less than 15 minutes for us to drop off our bags, clear security, get our Sail & Sign cards and be ON the ship. Carnival's "Fun Pass" system is completely electronic, so it is not necessary to print one out to take with you, but it turned out to be a good idea because the folks running the lines at the terminal had a separate line for people with hard copy fun passes that allowed us to circumvent the entire line of people without them. Strongly recommend you take a hard copy, even though you don't require one.
Ship Info Ship was beautiful (aren't they all?). Our last cruise was on Victory, a sister ship to Triumph so we pretty much knew the layout of the ship and what to expect. The decor on Triumph is, of course, a bit loud, but not nearly as much so as it was on Victory. Most everything seemed to be in working order with the notable exception of one of the aft hot tubs and the aft pool for the first day of the cruise. They were doing some sort of work on it. This was but the first of several disappointments on the pool and hot tub front. The main pool on the Lido deck, midship, was closed more often than not. When questioned why, the security folks in the area always said the same thing - sea's too rough. Not sure why the sea was too rough to fill up the midship pool but NOT so rough that they couldn't fill up the aft (Lido) pool or the forward (Panorama deck) pool. Wind was also the reason cited for closing many of the public outdoor areas (the promenade off of the Lobby deck 3, the areas on the bow, and the uppermost areas on decks 12 and 14) for a large portion of the cruise. While I'm on a negative note, I will also note that Carnival chose to have a crew party in the aft area of the Lido deck one night at sea and closed this entire area off to the public, temporarily moving the pizza and the grill to the poolside buffet lines near the midship pool bars. This annoyed a LOT of people who, like me, believed the crew is entitled to R&R but not at the expense of denying facilities to paying guests.
The rest of the public areas seemed to be well maintained - the cigar bar was very nice, the casino fun and friendly and the piano bar a blast any time of the night.
Stateroom Cabin 1047, Panorama deck, forward, starboard. Category 8E (balcony). The cabin was very nice, just like the one we had on Victory last year (8344), but a mirror image. As it was the wife's birthday, I had gotten the Happy Birthday cabin decorations and flowers. The cabin decorations were "cute", but probably better suited for younger people - after the novelty wore off the streamers kind of got in the way. The flowers were VERY nice and survived in perfect shape the entire week. Balcony was a nice place to spend the early morning, although the door wouldn't stay open on it's own like it did last time. Had to bungee it or jam a chair in it. Only other complaint, really, about the cabin was the water in the bathroom. It is VERY sensitive to temperature changes if you are in there and your cabin-mate either turns on the sink or flushes the toilet. Make sure you give (or get) fair warning! Bedding was acceptable, although I'm not sure why everyone raves so much about it. I have back problems and prefer extremely firm mattresses - one side of our pushed-together king was soft, and the other side was softer - so for me at least, they were unsupportive and not the most comfortable, but I was able to sleep ok, just a little sorer than I would have liked in the morning. Cabin stewards were Nestor and Karma - they did an excellent job keeping us clean and keeping our ice and wine buckets well chilled all week.
Activities We don't participate in a lot of activities, so not a lot to say here. I spent a lot of time in the casino - the craps table was a LOT of fun, but it usually didn't get going until later in the night, often completely shut down during the day and early evening. We did some random games here and there (trivia and some other things) and managed to have some laughs (and a few ships-on-a-stick!) along the way. We avoided most of the deckside games and activities since most of the time the deck appeared to have been taken over by Bluto, Otter and the rest of the Delta House.
Dining One of the highlights of the cruise. Carnival once again did a great job of seating us with compatible cruisers. We were at a table set for nine, although the same six of us showed up every night - not sure if there was anyone else even there. My wife is not the epicurean adventurer, so she stuck mostly to the tame stuff like the NY Strips and sirloins, Chateaubriand and the Beef Wellington, all of which she was quite happy with the preparation and taste of. I tried a little bit of everything and did not have a single dish I was unsatisfied with - with the possible exception of the "study in sushi" which was a bit weak. Rather than a study, it was more like a night class at the community college. I found the lobster tails to be quite good and well prepared - something that tends to get a lot of negative talk in the reviews. Desserts, as usual, were fantastic.
The alternate dining options were all pretty much what you would expect. A burger is a burger. Scrambled eggs and bacon on a buffet is, well, you know. I will say that on the next to last day they had banana pancakes on the poolside breakfast buffet that were outstanding.
Service Our stateroom service and dining room service were both impeccable. Our waiter (John from India) and his assistant (Emerico, Philippines) were cordial, knowledgeable about the menu and very attentive. Our sommelier in the restaurant was a bit on the slow side, although by the fourth or so night she knew what we wanted and was ready and waiting for us when we got there. Our Maitre d' in the London dining room was also very nice. He approached me on the first night and knew in advance that it was my wife's birthday on Friday and asked me if I would like to arrange anything special. Not only did he arrange for a birthday cake to be brought to the table, but nearly the entire waitstaff in the lower level of the dining room brought it out and sang happy birthday to her.
Service in the Oxford (cigar) bar was excellent as well. My wife is a whiskey drinker although she's never really tried any scotch, and certainly not single malts. The bartender at the Oxford gave her a quick education on single malts, highlands and lowlands and recommended something for her that she really enjoyed. A small act, yes, but certainly over and above what he had to do.
Shore Excursions San Juan - we were in San Juan at night and we did the Bacardi experience. We got off the ship and took a short (literally like 2 block) bus ride to a tiny little boat in the harbor. The boat was very strange, it pumped out continuous disco music across the harbor and served up QUITE a lot of rum punch, leading to a lot of very happy folks by the end of the 25-minute-or-so trip. From there we took another bus to the Casa Bacardi, which, while very pretty and lush, was not much to do. There was a movie, a little museum-type-thing you walk through, and then a bus tour back to the city, after spending your money in the gift shop, of course. On arrival back in the city we still had a few hours to kill so we walked about the city for a short while and then ended up at a giant spring break party at Senor Frogs.
St. Thomas - Having never been there, we took a "best of" tour around the island. It took us to a number of nice overlooks, the Great House, and up to Mountain Top (try the "world famous" banana daiquiris - they really ARE good). After the tour there was the option of returning to Charlotte Amalie or to Havensight. We chose to go back to Havensight where we did some shopping and took the Paradise Point tramway to the top and had lunch and some Bailey's Bushwhackers.
St, Maarten - As I said, we have been to Saint Maarten for an extended period before. So rather than a ship tour, we rented a car at Budget (right on the pier) and did our own thing. We had breakfast on Dawn Beach, drove to Orient, Grand Case, Marigot and back to Philipsburg with a few stops at some of our favorite spots from before (Lucas Point, Cupecoy Beach). We had some time to kill back in Philpsburg, so we went to the smallish zoo and then had a late lunch at the Greenhouse right off of Front Street near the pier where they serve excellent dry-rubbed jerk ribs.
Disembarkation Went very well. We had a late flight out of Miami, so we opted to use Carnival's shore excursion in Miami to go to Parrot Jungle Island with a transfer to MIA afterward. Parrot Jungle Island was great fun - they have a very nice bird show and a reptile show that kids would love. When it comes to animals, wife and I are both big kids ourselves, so we loved the place. Afterward, the bus took us back to the MIA airport around 2:00 or so for our 6-something flight back to Washington.
Summary All in all it was a great time. I have a feeling the deck crowds may not have been so concentrated if all of the pools had been open. While there were a LOT of spring breakers aboard, they were, for the most part, well behaved and didn't cause any serious trouble that I ever saw. I will definitely sail CCL again, although I don't think I would do it again in the February/March timeframe. Good value for the money - unpretentious and you know exactly what you're going to get.