This was the fourth cruise for my husband and me, all aboard Carnival vessels. We have spoken with dozens of avid cruisers about various cruise lines but we have stayed with Carnival because we have never gone home disappointed, and we believe we receive good value for our money. Because we did not want to feel pressed for time while getting from the airport to the pier, we decided to fly from Louisville, Kentucky to Ft Lauderdale the day before we sailed, rent a car, and drive the short distance to Miami the next day. We researched hotel and car rental rates on the internet about 6-8 weeks before the cruise, using information from the reader boards at this website as a guide. We spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express on SE 17th Street in Ft Lauderdale. We booked our room on the internet in February at a military/government rate of $107 per night, but because of a billing mistake made at the hotel that we FINALLY got corrected, we ended up getting the room at no charge! We were warmly greeted by the desk staff when we checked into the hotel and were very happy with our room. The location was in an area where there were several dining options within walking distance. I was hoping to find some good seafood, and someone suggested a place called the 15th Street Fishery -- it turned out to be an expensive disappointment. I had a house variety special that had shrimp, scallops, and fish cooked in a special sauce. There were three tiny shrimp, a couple small scallops, and a lot of fish, though the sauce was good. My husband had fish and chips, and we both shared a small appetizer of buffalo wings. The food and two draft beers cost over $50! The next morning we were pleasantly surprised with the continental breakfast provided at the Holiday Inn Express. There was an excellent variety of food items from which to choose, and everything was fresh and delicious (particularly the cinnamon rolls!).
RENTAL CAR MESS My husband researched car rental rates over the internet several weeks before we sailed and found Budget to have the best rates. Before booking a reservation, he called to get answers to the following questions: 1) Was there a Budget location close to the Port of Miami where we could drop off a vehicle that we had rented at the airport in Ft Lauderdale? 2) Was shuttle transportation offered between the vehicle drop off point and the pier at the port? The person my husband spoke to told him that there was a drop off point very close to the Port of Miami at 665 SE 8th Street and that Budget provided a complimentary shuttle that took customers to and from the rental location and the piers where the cruise ships were docked. Based on that information, my husband reserved a car before and after the cruise. The information turned out to be bad. When we dropped off the car at the 8th Street office we were told that there was NO SHUTTLE and we had to take a cab that ended up costing us $25. (There was a lot of construction going on a few blocks from the entrance to the Port of Miami in which four lanes of traffic had to merge into one single lane -- it took us over 30 minutes to go about 3 miles!) When we got back from the cruise we had to take a taxi back to 8th Street, and this time we got stuck at a draw bridge, and the ride cost us $19. BE WARNED!!! IF YOU ARE TOLD BY A BUDGET AGENT THAT FREE SHUTTLE TRANSPORTATION IS OFFERED TO AND FROM THE DOCKS, DON'T BELIEVE IT!!!!
EMBARKATION By the time we arrived at the docks a huge line was already formed, waiting to go through all the steps necessary before boarding. We are members of the Carnival Vacation Club and took advantage of our VIP status which gave us expedited boarding, and less than 15 minutes after we arrived we were dropping our bags off in our cabin. (NOTE: THERE ARE MANY RUMORS GOING AROUND ABOUT THE VACATION CLUB -- IF YOU ARE A MEMBER AND BELIEVE THAT YOU DID NOT GET ALL THE PERKS PROMISED TO YOU WHEN YOU SIGNED UP, PLEASE EMAIL ME AND LET ME KNOW.) We had a balcony cabin on Deck 7 and I was very pleased with the ample closet, drawer, and shelf space. We had more than enough room to hang clothes and stow other items. Our room steward was Romeo, and like at the room stewards we have had in the past, he did an excellent job of taking care of our needs. My husband and I both agreed that the Triumph was the prettiest ship we have been on to date. The color schemes were less gaudy than we have seen in the past, and except for a few minor things the ship appeared to be in good order.
DINING Food on the Lido Deck was plentiful and varied, and the quality was consistently good. My husband enjoyed the grilled Reuben sandwich served at the NY style deli, and on the aft Lido Deck there always seemed to be a line of people waiting for hamburger, hot dogs, and especially the grilled steak sandwiches. I was born in Philadelphia and am very picky about steak sandwiches, and I was surprised by the quality of the ones served. Of course, there was the usual 24 hour a day pizza, as well as a 24 hour self-service ice cream station. Normally we choose the early dining, but because of the way the excursions schedule was set up with several late afternoon reboardings, we decided to try the late seating in the Paris Dining Room. Our head waiter was Miguel, who was ably assisted by a young man named Ida, who my husband and I just loved. Miguel did everything within his power to accommodate the tastes and preferences of the people assigned to his table, and did it with grace, class, friendliness, and humor. The menu on this cruise seemed to be more exotic than the menus we had seen on our previous cruises, and this can be intimidating to non-adventurous eaters like my husband. However, there were always more traditional alternate selections printed on the menu each evening. The food in the dining room was consistently good -- the only thing I might say is that most of the beef entrees, with the exception of the prime rib served on the last night, was tough and under-seasoned and ended up tasting like nothing more than a piece of meat. The desserts on the other hand were always good! Be certain to have the warm chocolate melting cake at least once! On two evenings fancy desserts like cherries jubilee and baked Alaska were served, but for obvious reasons they could not be set afire during their presentation. Normally we eat breakfast on the Lido Deck, but decided to try eating breakfast in the dining room the last few days. We were very happy we did -- the food was better, we did not have to wait in lines and carry trays everywhere while looking for a place to sit. We also met new people to chat with every morning, and enjoyed chatting with them as we ate.
EXCURSIONS Our first stop was at Half Moon Cay, a privately owned island used exclusively by cruise ships. The passengers were taken from the ship to the island by several small tenders, so the entire process went relatively quickly. Even though we were in one of the groups that arrived later in the morning, we had no trouble finding beach chairs and spent time relaxing on the beach or wading in the beautiful clear waters. We were a little surprised at how cool the water wa, but once we got used to it it was great. It is important to note how much work goes into this stop by Carnival, especially for the cooks and the food servers. All the food and equipment needed to provide lunch for almost 3000 people had to be loaded and ferried to the island. After the guests have eaten and return to the beach, the workers have to clean everything up and reload everything to take back to the ship AND get ready to serve the evening meal in the dining room. I watched from our balcony as some of the tenders were loaded with tray after tray after tray of food -- we had a great time on Half Moon Cay, but it had to be a long day for the workers in the kitchen and the dining rooms! Our next stop was St Thomas, and this was the one stop on the cruise where things really got messed up! We had been told the night before our arrival that, prior to going ashore, everyone on board would have to have their documents examined by immigration officials, even those who were not going ashore. US citizens were to line up on Deck 4 beginning at 7:30 AM, and non-US citizens were to line up at the same time on Deck 5. My husband and I went down to Deck 4 at about 7:20 AM, and a huge mob of people was lined up in every hallway, nook and cranny of Deck 4. We tried to find the end of the line, but no one knew for certain where it was. We finally squeezed into an area to wait when a young girl wearing a Carnival uniform walked by. We grabbed her and asked what was going on, and she said that the immigration officials had not even boarded the ship yet. We decided to go eat breakfast, and by the time we got back the line was at least manageable, and a short time later we were cleared to leave the ship. However, we and other people with us had no idea where to go to get off the ship and spent a few minutes wandering around looking for someone to tell us where to go when we ran into a fellow passenger who instructed us to go to Deck 3, where there were signs posted on where to go to get off the ship. I had done some internet research on the excursions available on St Thomas, and I kept seeing rave comments about a private tour guide on the island named Sunny Liston, who had developed something of a reputation for being the coolest guide on the island. We were able to hook up with him near the docks and had a great time on his tour! We would pull into various stops on the tour where other tour vehicles were parked, with music blasting from the speakers and everyone singing along with Sunny and clapping our hands and laughing -- people would look at us and you could tell that that wished they were part of our group. I had learned about an ice cream stand on St Thomas called St Thomas Dairies, where they were famous for their milkshakes that were spiked with alcohol. My husband asked Sunny if we could stop by it, and Sunny readily agreed to stop for us. When we pulled into the parking lot, the ice cream stand looked like nothing more than a small hut with a service window, and people on the truck asked, "Why are we stopping here? We don't want ice cream!" and I said, "Yes we do." We got in line and we both ordered shakes made with coffee ice cream, chocolate ice cream, and kahlua. When we got our shakes we were not surprised to see that everyone from our tour group was in line ordering shakes! After the tour ended, Sunny agreed to take my husband and me back into town so I could relook at a bracelet that had caught my eye earlier in the day. I heartily recommend Sunny's tour -- it is fun, and he will take you to all the places the other tours go for about half the cost. You can check out his website at www.sunnylistontours.com. Our next stop was in San Juan, and because we had such good luck with our private tour guide in St Thomas, we decided to see if we could find a private tour guide in San Juan. We met a great gentleman named Bruno who loaded us into an air conditioned vehicle and took us to all the major attractions in San Juan and to an indoor farmers market. Bruno was friendly, informative, and funny and made several stops enroute to the big attractions so we could take photos, and he snapped lots of pictures for couples who wanted their pictures taken together. Our final stop was on Grand Turk. We did not take any excursions there and spent almost the entire time in the pool at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. It was very crowded around the bar and it was very difficult to get the servers' attention to order drinks, and my husband had to stand in line a very long time before he was served. NOTE: THERE IS AN AUTOMATIC 15% GRATUITY ADDED TO ALL THE TICKETS RUNG UP AT MARGARITAVILLE, AND MANY PEOPLE NEVER NOTICED IT BECAUSE THEY DID NOT LOOK AT THEIR RECEIPTS. THERE WERE SEVERAL TIP BOXES LOCATED AROUND THE BAR AS WELL, AND WE SAW ALMOST EVERYONE STUFFING BILLS INTO THE TIP BOXES AFTER THEY GOT THEIR DRINKS. REMEMBER-- THE GRATUITY HAS ALREADY BEEN ADDED, SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO ADD ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR OVER-PRICED DRINKS AND BAD SERVICE!
OTHER PROBLEMS We ran into another problem on the ship that would fall under the category of "onboard activities." One morning, a large crowd had gathered at the World Bar on Deck 5 to at 10 AM for Sports Trivia. Several minutes passed, but no one showed up to run the contest, and eventually a lot of the people got tired of waiting and wandered off. I finally called the information desk on Deck 3 to ask if the contest had been cancelled and was told that the person who would run the contest was "on their way." Finally at 10:45 the person showed up, and the contest was held for a small group of contestants. The same thing happened two days later for Name That Tune. Several people showed up to play, but most of them wandered off because no one showed up to run the game. It turned out that Brad, the pianist who plays for the sing alongs in the Big Easy Bar was scheduled to take safety certification training at the same time he was supposed to do the contest. If you get the chance, go see Brad in the Big Easy -- he was a lot of fun! We have to mention that the Triumph is the only Carnival ship we have been on where we could feel significant rolling and pitching. It was not a problem for us, though we saw and heard about several people who suffered from sea sickness. In closing, we have to say that this was not the best Carnival cruise we have ever been on, but we would drop everything on our schedule right now to be able to get back on board and do it all again!