This was our 20th cruise, but the first in which I have written a review. My wife and I cruised the Western Caribbean with our two grandsons, ages 9 and 5. We hit ports in Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman; and Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We flew into Fort Lauderdale a day early and stayed at an EconoLodge in Fort Lauderdale. It wasn’t much but had a nice pool where the children could enjoy themselves.
We booked the cruise six months earlier getting a “guaranteed” balcony and were upgraded two categories to 8C (which simply meant we were higher on the ship). By checking the prices as the time for the cruise got closer, we estimated we saved $550 by booking early and accepting a guaranteed category. The ship’s passenger capacity was listed at 2758, but this was assuming two people per room. Since there were over 500 children on board sharing the rooms with their parents, the actual number on board was well over 3000. I would not have wanted to be on this cruise without children. As it was, we really didn’t have to worry about our grandsons being too loud or obnoxious because there were lots of others in the same category.
We left the EconoLodge at 11:00 AM on a Miami Port shuttle which I had found on the internet. We discovered that we could have taken a shuttle arranged by the motel significantly cheaper, but didn’t realize this was an option. We arrived at the ship about 11:45 AM even though the cruise literature stated boarding time was 1:30 PM. We had no trouble boarding early.
We signed up on the internet for our “Funpass” and had most of our documentation filled out before we got to the ship. The boarding process was relatively fast except for the obligatory picture requirements. For some reason, this seemed to take a long time (22 minutes). Upon entering the ship, I was hit with two opposing feelings. The first was the beauty of the ship. It was probably the prettiest ship we’ve been on (and we were on both the Grand Princess and the Norwegian Dawn within a year of their fleet inauguration). The second feeling was a significant let-down. On most cruise lines passengers are met by staff personnel who welcome you aboard with champagne, mimosas, or orange juice and escort you to your room (or the buffet if you have arrived early). We were on our own on the Triumph. The only “helping hands” were the waiters selling drinks.
We had lunch at the buffet and were then cleared to go to our stateroom. The room was quite nice with more than enough room for the four of us. In addition to a king bed, there was an upper bunk that came out of the ceiling and a love seat that converted to a bed. Even though the Triumph is an older ship (inaugurated in 1999), the rooms were still in relatively good shape. The lone exception to this was that some of the pegs holding the shelves were broken thus reducing storage space. But this wasn’t a major factor and we had plenty of space. Our balcony was fairly large with two chairs and a small table.
Room stewards: I found this aspect of the cruise a bit disappointing. Although our room was cleaned regularly and well, we almost never saw our stewardess and steward. They seemed to hide until they had chores to do and then come out of the woodwork. On many other ships, the steward/stewardess would introduce themselves, let you know their working hours, tell you where you could get service if you needed it, and were visible when you went to eat or left to go ashore. I much prefer that personal touch even though I can’t complain about the tasks that were performed. Additionally, our stewardess would normally leave a towel made into an animal for the children which was quite nice.
Dining: Our waiters were outstanding. Jovan, our head waiter was personable, friendly, attentive, and always smiling. He was quite attentive to the children and made sure they were happy. Our assistant waiter, Alfredo, was accommodating, but fairly new and intimidated. However, this didn’t stop him from being a major asset to Jovan. Unfortunately, the food did not measure up to the quality of the waiters. We did not have a soup the entire cruise (seven days) that was even adequate and the meat was tasty, but mostly tough. Selections were fine and the waiters accommodating as far as extra servings were concerned, but Triumph needs a new chef. The other disappointing factor in the dining room was the Assistant Maitre de (or lack thereof). He showed up at our table twice; first to say hello early in the cruise and then later in the cruise to make sure we were generous in our tipping. This was particularly poignant to us since we had recently been on an Alaskan cruise on Celebrity where the Assistant Maitre de had been at our table every evening saying hello to the children, making funny hats for them, and making sure everything was all right.
Having bad-mouthed the dining room, I have to say the buffet (South Beach Club) was outstanding. In fact, my wife claims it was THE best she has ever seen. The breakfast was particularly good with everything seemingly fresh. In addition to four buffet lines (which were normally a little long because of the large number of people on board), stations also consisted of a pizzeria, a hot dog/hamburger stand, the Hong Kong Noodle Co. and the New York deli. The noodle company left a little to be desired, but the other three were outstanding. The deli was particularly good. All the sandwiches were made to order, so the line was normally long (average 20-25 minutes), but the Reubens and pastrami sandwiches were delicious.
Activities: There were lots of activities scheduled during the day with live music almost continuously around the pool. It is difficult to believe that there would be any activity/entertainment that you would be interested in that wasn’t available. I have mentioned previously about the beauty of the ship. In addition to the Capitol (a nine-story atrium), the bars and other public rooms were very ornate and well decorated. The one negative aspect of the ship was the “partitioning” caused by the two dining rooms. At times it was necessary to go up or down a deck or two to get to spaces on the same level.
The pool area was quite nice with layered decks facing the pool. Of course, the “chair hogs” were always out in force early in the day to save chairs even though there were numerous signs asking people not to do so. Luckily there were numerous spots off the beaten track that were normally available. This problem was further exacerbated by the large number of people (particularly children) on board.
The Triumph has a 214-foot spiral waterslide that traverses three decks. Even though the lines were long, it was a major attraction for all the children (and many adults) on board. There was also miniature golf, a basketball court, a game room, and numerous pools and whirlpools.
Entertainment: The entertainment on board was excellent. The singers and dancers in the “extravaganza shows” were every bit as good as any of the ships on which we have sailed. There was also the normal array of magicians, comedians, jugglers, etc. The bands and small combos in the various lounges were also very good. The casino was well-equipped and, with the large number of children on board, was not very crowded. We did not take advantage of any of the spa activities, but the work-out room was extensive and modern.
Children’s Club: Camp Carnival was outstanding. Our five year old grandson couldn’t get enough of it. He would wake up in the morning wanting to know how many minutes until Camp Carnival opened. It even got to the point where he found he could dine with his friends in the evening so we didn’t see too much of him at evening meal. Our nine year old grandson was able to sign himself in and out of the club, so he spent more time playing basketball, putt-putt golf, swimming, and hanging out with his friends rather than the activities of the club.
Dress code: We found the “fun ship” to be significantly less formal than most of the ships on which we have sailed. Although people dressed up for the formal nights, there were more open-neck shirts and casual trousers than normal. The one area where the casual atmosphere was most noticeable was the buffet line. On all other cruise lines we have been on, there was a requirement for a cover-up over swimwear when in dining facilities. There was no such requirement on the Triumph or, if there was, it was not advertised or enforced. I enjoy looking at a bikini as much as the next man, but it just didn’t seem appropriate in the food line.
Shore excursions: The major complaint I had with Carnival’s excursions was that they did not give you the price on the internet. They merely gave you a price range and that wasn’t always accurate. (For instance, the Carnival site on the internet listed the Ocho Rios Shaw Park Beach & Dunn’s River Falls excursion as a single dollar sign indicating less than $50 per person when, in fact, it cost $63.) This made it difficult to assess the value of a particular tour beforehand and compare it with competing tours.
In Cozumel we took a taxi to Paradise Beach and it was excellent. There was no cost for beach chairs or umbrellas and you could rent non-motorized equipment for $9 per person. They also had a restaurant with waiters on the beach serving food and drinks. We spent about four hours there and really enjoyed it. Most of the ship tours went to Playa Mia which was significantly more expensive and no better.
We took the Grand Cayman Island ship tour in Grand Cayman. It included a drive through the city and along seven-mile beach. We then went to Hell where we sent postcards back to the states and viewed the desolate area surrounding this tourist attraction. After that we visited a turtle farm where they raise turtles for food, breeding, and to be released back into the ocean. We then went to the Tortuga Rum factory. Our guide was outstanding which made the tour all the more enjoyable.
Our final stop was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Here we went to the end of the pier, talked to one of the hostesses there providing information, and told her we wanted to go to a beach. She suggested Mahogany Beach and set us up with a taxi that took us there and picked us up four hours later. The beach was very nice. We had to rent chairs ($4 each). It was a beautiful beach and very relaxing with a restaurant available.
Our disembarkation was uneventful although the line after we got off the ship was quite long. We had arranged for the same transportation service to Fort Lauderdale airport that we used for embarkation. The driver was waiting for us and the flight home was also uneventful.
Summary: This was the smoothest cruise we have ever been on. There was hardly a ripple in the sea except for the last night when we went through a cold front. However, everyone was sleeping by that time, so it was not a problem. We were happy with the cruise and will probably consider Carnival again under the right circumstances. However, because of the lack of food quality, we would probably decide against it unless it was a particularly good deal.