We arrived at the sparkling new port building for the Triumph around 12:30pm, after a quick taxi ride from the Miami airport (flat rate of $24). The new cruise terminal had just opened, you drop your bags at the curb, walk through security and then there she is-the Triumph! Glass windows extend the entire height and length of the building--while waiting in line you are gazing at the ship. Awesome way to build excitement! Embarkation was very smooth--the lines were completely full(there were four lines) but they took only 15 minutes to get through completely. You head upstairs, get your photo taken, then cross over to the ship (interestingly, the gangplank takes you over, then back, then over--evidently designed for large traffic flow). Entrance to the ship is on deck three in the main lobby (the Capitol). We walked over to the tour desk and purchased our excursions straight-away (we picked them out on the plane) and then headed down to deck two and our cabin.
The Triumph is nearly all balcony cabins, but my friend and I opted for more room in the cabin than a balcony. Our room seemed enormous for cruise standards, with a full length coach (it could have doubled as a bed!) and the two twins. Our room was literally just steps from the stairs, and despite that close proximity we never heard the elevators or hall noise. Unfortunately, it is under the Pursers Desk, and the sound of chairs being pulled across the floor at 7am did wake us on more than one occasion (not enough to keep us awake, but I thought I'd mention it for light sleepers) Our cabin steward, Roderick, was fantastic--I swear he cleaned our room four times a day (and yes, we got the swinging towel Monkey, too:-) Our luggage arrived within minutes of our arrival, so we took some time to unpack before heading up to the South Beach Club (buffet) for lunch. Food was fine--I judge everything by the simple fact of "is it good enough to be served in a restaurant?" Well, the buffet food was as good as any buffet food so I was happy eating it while looking out over Miami.
Explored the ship before the muster drill and was delighted to realize that the ship layout was very similar to the Elation, which I had sailed on previously. Deck 3 hosted the lobby, pursers desk, tour desk, atrium bar, the London and Paris dining rooms and the ground floor of the theater. Deck 4 had the huge photo shop, the second floor of the London & Paris Dining Rooms and the Oxford Bar (off of which was the Internet Cafe). Deck five, which you can traverse the ship from one end to the other, housed the shops, the Olympic Bar, the promenade, the casino, the piano bar, two dance clubs, the coffee cafe, a wine bar and the huge Club Rio (home of karaoke and past guest parties, etc.) Decks 6-8 were cabins (although the famed "secret doors" to the front of the ship are found on decks 6 & 7). Deck 9 was the Lido deck, with pools and food options, deck 11 was the spa.The muster drill was fairly painless, get there early and you get to lean on the wall (a plus when it is hot). For departure, we went through the secret door on deck six, and enjoyed a beautiful view of Miami with just two other people (amazing--don't people all read Cruise Critic boards for this information??)
We had the late dinner at 8pm in the Paris Dining Room. Our waiter, Wiexen (we-sing) was very eager to please, and we never had to ask for anything twice. The food was all restaurant-quality, nothing really stood out as fantastic (except the butter--gosh I love the butter they have on Carnival) but nothing was bad or just ok, either. Good quality, good food, and when you break down the price of your trip to just $87 a day for food and room, heck I'm not going to complain at all! We certainly got more than we paid for, and if it isn't spectacular, that's ok!! It was all good, but just good, not great. Our service, however, was phenomenal, and we purposefully ate in the dining room to have that time of enjoying our waitstaff of Wiexen and Iwayon--two of the best! In addition, we met three other women traveling just as friends without husbands and children (did Carnival purposely but us with other women travellers? Interesting coincidence.) at our dinner table--eight days later I truly believe I have three new friends for life!
Ports: Half Moon Cay is the BEST way to start your vacation with a day at the beach. This is perhaps the prettiest swimming beach in the Caribbean! Clear turquoise waters, plenty of chairs, plenty of waitstaff, and a beautiful private little island. We took the first tender over and the last tender back--it was an awesome experience. Our excursion was the Eco-Lagoon tour (umm, not the best, the guide showed us a sea cucumber and remarked it was of the Kingdom Animalia!! lol) which did take us out to see the reefs in addition to the tidal lagoon. Overall, this the best "beach day" you can have.
St. Thomas was hot, sticky and great to be on in September with only one ship in port! We benefited by this "slow" day on the island with quite afew nice jewelry deals (and I sell jewelry for my job, and was pleased at the prices). We took the "Ultimate Island Experience" which separates you into groups of 20 with local island guides. We had Dave, who was very knowledgeable. Our trip took us all over the island, and included two hours of swimming at Magen's Bay (which is lovely, but we preferred Half Moon Cay!) Our last stop was Blackbeards "Castle" which is nothing more than a watch tower and few museums (which I loved, so it was well worth it for me).
San Juan had no excursions that interested us, but we hoped on the local "Happy Tour" for $20pp right at the port. Jonathon took us to New San Juan to a park (conveniently next to a souvenir shop!), then through the capital building (very cool), and next up to Fort San Cristobal. The tour took an hour and a half, and dropped you off in the heart of Old San Juan with its shopping! We went back to tour the Fort ($3), enjoyed the sights, and shopped until departure. Must remember next time to pick lighter souvenirs!
Grand Turk has the Margaritaville cruise area to recommend itself. Instead of snorkeling (which was incredible last time we were there) we did the Island Bus Loop. The Lighthouse was old, the Prison was old, the shopping pretty sparse and we were happy to get back to Margaritaville! The island has a $60 million resort going in the middle of the island that has just broken ground, it will be interesting to see how that effects this little place. I am hoping it becomes like Provo!
Days at Sea: The thing that sets Carnival apart for me is the abundance of activities that you can do onboard the ship. We did "Ladies Day" in the spa for $60. It was 2 hrs. of DIY pampering with spa products with 20 other ladies and two spa girls to guide you--very, very fun and you get done with skin that feels like a baby's. We enjoyed High Tea, a backstage tour at the theater, trivia games and of course, all the fun that takes place on the Lido deck. Repeatedly we heard that Carnival was working on bringing more and more activities for everyone--we were very impressed that there truly seemed to be something for everyone.The best thing about our Carnival cruise was the staff. Smiling faces everywhere. Pleasant and eager to please. From the room steward to the cafe barista and the pizza maker, smiles and kind comments. I started asking about the ship, and repeatedly heard that they had a good captain--that La Fauci set the tone for the entire staff. We saw that first hand when we met the Captain while having our photo taken after dinner; he was on his evening walk through of the ship with the staff captain and the senior doctor when I asked the photographer if "those men in uniform" could join us. Poor Sergei, the camera guy,, was like , "that's the captain-agh!!" but the captain overheard and said "we never say no to our guests!" and we had the photo taken with him and his senior officers. The next night, we bumped into him on his walk and he made certain we had our photos, and took the time with his officers to personally sign them for us. Needless to say, we were delighted. When showing them off, we heard even more remarks about the Captain and just how much his crew respected him. To be quite honest, I would not hesitate to take any Carnival cruise, regardless of ship size, if I knew La Fauci was the master--he runs a great ship!
We had decided to wait to disembark until our number was called, but a chance meeting over drinks after dinner blew that out of the water when we realized we forgot to finish packing and get our bags outside of our door before midnight. So we self-disembarked with 3000 other people (it was very crowded) at around 8:00 am (although there were crowds, we waited only about 15 minutes to get off the ship). Customs took another 10 minutes, and were on the curb and had a taxi at about quarter til.
By far, another great Carnival cruise...I am looking forward to Platinum status with this cruise line!