This cruise was not up to Carnival's usual quality. The port of Miami is in general, a disappointment. While on this ship, I was both pleased and disheartened at the same time. Pleased by the crew who all did a yeoman's job servicing a full ship, and disheartened by the following. As a licensed gemologist, I earned my degree in California, and coincidentally, ran into a former classmate who runs jewelry stores across the Caribbean, including St. Maarten. I know this person quite well and vouch for his integrity. He told me in order to get 'recommended status' with Carnival, one must PAY the cruiseline the sum of $1500 USD annually, per location. Most travelers depend upon the preferred rating. Its sad to think that even Carnival is prostituting itself by demanding such a sum from merchants, most of which are honest businessmen. Sad indeed.
Next port: St. Maarten. The port of Philipsburg is the newest thing you'll see on this stop. The former port was destroyed by a large hurricane that struck the island three years ago. The rest of the island just hasn't recovered. Its beautiful beaches are still littered with trash and damaged properties. make no mistake. St. Maarten is a third world country, with its run down villages and its littered and clogged roads. Certainly my last visit to this destination.
Third stop: St. Thomas. Mega-ships are wonderful things, but when six of them descend upon St. Thomas, traffic grinds to an absolute halt. Roads are clogged with taxis and brave tourists driving rental cars struggle in 10MPH lines, or are stalled altogether. Best suggestion here is to get out of St. Thomas as fast as you can. Take a ferry over to St. John, or get over to Megan's Bay for a great day at the beach. Ship tours there are RIPOFFS so just take a tour with one of the many operators right by the cruise ship dock. LIQUOR BUYERS TAKE NOTE!!!! If you buy liquor in St.Thomas, your allowable purchase is FIVE LITERS. While liquor is cheaper in St. Maarten, your allowable limit is ONE LITER. Shipboard purchases allowable is ONE LITER. shipboard personnel won't tell you this, because you'll never buy on the ship. JUST REMEMBER TO SAVE YOUR RECEIPT FROM ST.THOMAS! A clerk on the ship's gift shop OUT and OUT LIED to ME about this. One last word about Megan's Bay. Its really beautiful, but I'd like to know what the government is spending the admission and parking fees on. The beach was fairly clean, but the restrooms are filthy and old. The 'parking lot' isn't much more than a sandy field near the beach. With a few bucks and some astute planning, Megan's bay beach could be one of the world's best. Sadly, its not.
ACCOMMODATIONS: The cabin was of good size, and the cabin staff was top notch. I had to search out my steward to give him an extra $20. ALWAYS found the cabin crisp, neat and clean, with plenty of towels and ice.
FOOD: Lets remember that this is a value priced cruise experience. In the dining category, you get more than you pay for. NO one goes hungry. The 24/7 pizza venue offers a good product. Seems to always be a line, but you seldom have to wait more than five minutes. Deli sandwiches were quite good. The barbeque offered a great steak sandwich, complete with serve-yourself mushrooms and onions. The dining room itself (Pacific-Upper) was of excellent quality. The food was well presented and satisfying. Again the waitstaff did work hard at pleasing everyone.
SUMMARY: Although worth the money, there are better itineraries and better ships. Victory seems to have a lot more mileage under her keel than just being built in 2000. The interest of late seems to be toward the mega-ships, but I have the feeling that the line is not carrying sufficient staff to adequately service the customers. I've had far better cruises on much smaller ships. Its no secret that cruise lines add outrageous mark-ups to shore excursions. In 90% of the cases, you can book the SAME excursion on-shore with a reputable operator for a fraction of the price. In essence, this means that you can spend the same amount of money and see TWICE as much if you do your homework, search the internet for shore excursion operators, and know what you are buying. Its important to realize that Carnival would never pass up an opportunity for a new profit center. they will try to bleed you every chance they get. However, if you have some self-decipline and some basic savvy, you can get a good value on Carnival. Sorry if I have been long-winded on this review, but these observations are made in an effort to insure fellow travelers with all the material needed to enjoy their cruise experience. BON VOYAGE.......AND caveat emptor.....