After cruises aboard Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean (RCI 4 times), Disney and even the bankrupt Ocean Club Cruises, this was our first cruise aboard a Carnival ship and my expectations were pretty low.
I have heard that Carnival is a 3 Star experience, and is 'over-the-top tacky & gaudy'.
Joining us were my Mother and her friend Verna (both in their mid-80's) as well as my wife Kathy's cousin & husband (Ronnie & Art), who are first time cruisers. We chose Triumph because of the itinerary (4 ports) and the low Military rates ($589.00 pp for a balcony) that were available. Using my military discount, Carnival allowed us to get three (3) separate balcony cabins, all at the discounted rate!
We drove from Cocoa to Miami on Saturday morning, arriving around noon. We had Mom's handicap parking card and were able to use the parking garage free (a savings of $105.00 for the week's parking fee). ......extra money for the casino..... yea!!
Embarkation was slow because we had to wait for a wheelchair for Mom. Everyone else seemed to have little wait.
We entered via an impressive 9-deck atrium where 4 glass elevators (and 6 other elevators) were available to take us up to our cabin.
First Impression: 4
I was a bit surprised by the large size of our Category 8A cabin. Mom's handicap cabin was even bigger! She forgot to bring her walker, so I went down to the infirmary where they provided one free ($36.00 returnable deposit). The bedding was very comfortable, exceeding RCI, and we slept GREAT every night!
Then it was on to the buffet area on deck 9, where it was complete madness....too many people, too little space for all of us.....and extremely long lines. I don't know if the food was served hot because by the time we made it through the line and found a table, all of my food was cold. I found out later in the cruise that the buffet food was comparable to Royal Caribbean, but inferior to Celebrity and Disney. Also, the best place to get prepared-to-order food was the NY Deli (great for late-night snacks). The free beverages found at the buffet included coffee, iced tea and fruit punch. Sodas were $1.75 (+ 15% gratuity) per can. (Soda was free on Disney).
Thereafter, we ate every meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) in the main dining room where the quality of each meal was superior. There was no emphasis on hand sanitizing like on other ships.
Overall Food Quality: 3
Most of the public areas were fairly spacious and clean. The large casino and lounges never really seemed crowded. After that 1st day, the buffet was not crowded at all. There was plenty of space at each pool area with lots of chairs / loungers, but the music / DJ was too loud to enjoy. The pool slide for the kids seemed closed, as we never observed it being used.
I did not like the access to the shopping areas. Located on Deck 5 and looking down into the atrium, the walking space in front of each store was quite narrow..... And when they set up those tables out in front of each store (for their nightly specials), these was barely enough space for 1 person to pass. Opposite moving traffic was nearly impossible.
Also, this ship was really COLD! Our cabin, the dining room, the casino, all lounges.....everywhere on the ship was extremely COLD except out on the deck. This made it difficult to enjoy our meals and the shows. Mom kept her balcony door propped open to let in some heat!
Public Spaces: 2
Maybe it has something to do with my age (55), but I did not enjoy the on-board entertainment at all. Brad, our cruise director, was pretty good, but the production shows (singers & dancers) were ordinary. The singer in the piano bar was horrible. The live music bands on the pool deck were way too LOUD. This was one area that I had high expectations, as Carnival has been known for their on-board entertainment. Overall, I was unimpressed.
Our waitress, Zarrah, was probably the best that we've experienced in our 9 cruises. Not only was she proficient and friendly, she was quite attractive! (always a plus with me)! Our room steward Michael was also very proficient, keeping our room clean and organized throughout the cruise. Every staff member that we encountered seemed to enjoy their work and strived to make our cruise experience the best.
As I mentioned, one of the reasons that we chose Triumph was the ports. We have never visited San Juan or Turks & Caicos and were looking forward to adding those islands to our portfolio.
We were also looking forward to re-visiting Half Moon Cay.....a wonderful beach day on a private island.
Even though this was our 4th visit to St. Thomas, we really enjoyed our tour guide 'Chicago', who operates 'Flamon's Taxi & Island Tours'. He drove us to the top of the cable car mountain (normally, a separate $19.00 excursion option), where we took excellent pictures of the island. We toured many scenic beaches and then stopped for a swim and lunch (not included) at a beach-front resort; all the while 'Chicago' offered humorous and insightful history of the island (in English that we could understand....no accent). We highly recommend this $25.00 - 4 ½ hour tour. Email: email@example.com
San Juan is a 'city' rather than a typical tourist destination. We took a short city tour and then went shopping downtown (walking distance to the ship). Ever since our visit to Cartegena, Columbia; I have been searching for another 'quad-fold- hand-crafted leather wallet' in every port that we visit. I finally found it at a leather goods shop called 'Lord Jim'. (I bought 3). Phone #: (787) 722-3589. For jewelry purchases, we found Fernando, manager of 'A Touch of Gold', offered the best service, lowest prices and was most professional. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turks & Caicos looks unimpressive as the ship approaches the dock. It appears flat & barren, with little to offer. But first appearances can be deceiving. With a 7000 foot drop off only 200 yards from the beach, and the world's 3rd largest barrier reef, Grand Turk offers some of the best scuba and snorkel excursions in the world, including Power Snorkel. Visitors to the new 42 million dollar Cruise Center can peruse through 10,000-square-feet of duty-free shopping, and another 35,000-square-feet of upscale jewelry stores, an array of unique and world-renowned apparel and T-shirt stores, and locally crafted souvenir and gift shops. I understand that Carnival's commitment to make over 100 port calls per year with their ships had enabled Grand Turk to build the pier and the surrounding shops.....all within a short walk from the ship. We spent the day at the Caribbean's largest "Margaritaville"-themed bar and restaurant owned by music superstar Jimmy Buffet, where there is a huge pool, swim-up bar, music w/ DJ, and a restaurant. It was a GREAT day!
The weather was perfect all week! Ports of Call: 5
Debarkation was painless. We were off the ship by 8:30, got our bags, and breezed through Customs; retrieved the car, loaded the bags and were on the road by 8:50.
This was also a great itinerary for those who really don't want to do excursions. Every port had shops and / or beaches within walking distance of the ship.
Overall, my on-board experience was about what I expected (my expectations were pretty low), and when asked if I would cruise with Carnival again, I would say no (unless they offered a greatly reduced rate). As for our cruising companions, Mom and Verna said that they enjoyed the cruise very much and Ronnie & Art 'loved' it. They can't wait to go again!
Remember, you get what you pay for, but this was a pretty good value for the money spent. On second thought, given the same circumstances (low rate & new ports), I would probably go again.
To me, Carnival is great for first-time cruisers and younger couples / families. Seasoned cruisers may leave disappointed.
My Overall Rating for our Carnival Triumph vacation: 3.5