This was the 2nd cruise for my fiancE and I. We sailed last year on the Carnival Destiny, 7 days from San Juan. We are in our mid-twenties, though mature for our ages, and enjoy traveling all over the world.
EMBARKATION -- We arrived on Saturday night in Ft. Lauderdale and had family who supplied transportation from the airport and to the Port of Miami. The port was not hard to find, though terrible congested with the traffic of five ships sailing out that day, our ship the Victory, the Carnival Valor, Norwegian Gem, Freedom of the Seas and another I can't recall. Each ship had its own terminal, just like at the airport, so really the hardest part was finding the right terminal! We arrived at the terminal around 12:30 and did not actually get on to the ship until 2:30 p.m.! The embarkation process was a mess. As we entered the terminal, we were separated into two lines go pass though security. These moved rather slowly. Then you head upstairs to the check in area. Here we received a number and were told to wait in the seating provided until our number was called; we were #3. After your number was called you were allowed to wait in line to check in. Many people by-passed these numbers and simply snuck onto the ends of two separate lines (imagine those like you would encounter at a theme park!). Finally our number was called and we were allowed to wait in one of the two lines. There were maybe 30 attendants for each line waiting to distribute room keys and take credit card numbers for Sail & sign accounts. Needless to say, this line moved extremely slowly. After completing this we were herded upstairs again and through the Embarkation Photo area to wait in line again to cross the gangway. Here the two separate lines (each line came up stairs from the opposite side of the building) merged as one with ONE attendant standing at the foot of the gangway letting 20 people at a time across. Once we were allowed to cross the gangway we then encountered another winding line of people on the outside of Deck 3 as we waited to have our photos taken for the Sail & Sign cards. Finally we entered the Lobby on Deck 3 and made our way to our stateroom on Lido Deck 9250. It was around 2:30 p.m. The ship was scheduled to leave at 4:00 p.m. We headed for a quick bite at the Lido Buffet (terrible, as usual - but more on that later) and then waited for our luggage to arrive. It made it just under the buzzer for us to change into our dinner clothes. We had the 5:45 p.m. seating, which was just a tad too early, but not really a big deal because we had to be back on board for all of the ports by 4:30 p.m. the latest. This was a huge negative on the overall cruise. We definitely did not get enough time in any of the ports. After the muster drill at around 4:15 p.m. we finally set sail (late) at around 4:45 p.m.
THE SHIP -- The Victory was fresh off a two week dry dock in the Bahamas prior to our sailing. We were very nervous ahead of time, feeling that there would be incomplete jobs everywhere, but we hardly noticed anything. The most noticeable feature was the new Seaside Theater installed on Lido Deck. It was beautiful and large enough to see even from the mini-golf area on the Sun Deck but they never showed much on it besides some stock footage of underwater sea life. Supposedly they showed movies at night, but it wasn't until midnight and we were just too tired to lay up in the wind. We actually spent most of our evenings after dinner watching whatever programming we could find on Carnival's lackluster satellite tv. The Direct TV on Jet Blue Airlines was 20 times better! We had heard rumors of flat screen tvs being installed on the dry dock but we still had a regular old 20" and the satellite was not functioning properly for most of the trip so we could not check the travel map or our room accounts from the tv. I do not know about the rest of the ship but our stateroom definitely did not have new carpet. The decor was the general Carnival "Vegas" theme with bright colors clashing everywhere and the usual Mediterranean or Caribbean theme to public areas. This ship, in particular, had lots of dolphins & nautilus shells.
FOOD SERVICE -- We were assigned the 5:45 p.m. early seating dinner in the Atlantic dining room, which is the aft dining room and a nightmare to find. We had this problem on Victory's sister ship the Destiny last year. Thankfully these two ships have the same layout and we had no problem finding the dining room, I heard many others complaining though. Our Maitre 'D was Jean Pierre and he was very lively. Strict on the no shorts dress code (which the Destiny wasn't), but definitely entertaining and got almost the whole house (not us) on their feet for the dancing. As for the food, it was terrible compared to last year on the Destiny. (Sorry to keep comparing the two!) Even the lobster. I found myself ordering from the alternative dinning menu more nights than not. And the service didn't even compare. Most of the workers I talked to were counting down the days until their 2 month breaks (I was informed that they work 6 months straight (60-80 hours a week) and then get 2 months off - this was food service staff). My head waiter has been with Carnival for 7 years and he said he was done with them for good in February. His $1000 a month salary just wasn't cutting it and he was heading back to Indonesia.
We tried the open seating breakfast for the first time on this cruise - the many days at sea left us with a lot of free time. The food was better quality but the same as what was served in the Lido buffet and the same everyday: french toast, waffles, eggs benedict, omelet, cereal, oatmeal, etc. This is a great alternative to the Lido buffet, but only if you have the time. It will definitely take at least an hour.
Open seating lunch is also offered but we never made it between 12:00 and 2:00 p.m. We usually lunched on Lido where its many choices usually became few. The buffet changed daily with "A Taste of Nations" ranging from Caribbean, Mexican, "American" (not sure what that was), and Italian. There was also Yangtze Wok (delicious), Pizza (delicious), Mississippi BBQ (never found), East River Deli (never open even though the sign read 11a.m-11p.m) and the Grill featuring hot dogs, hamburgers & french fries (always stale & cold).
CABIN -- We were in a balcony stateroom on Lido Deck 9250. This was very convenient to everything and I will only stay on Lido in the future. The room was average-sized, probably around 280 sq. ft. There were two twin beds converted into a king with the fabulous "Carnival Comfort Bedding." I love this bedding. A lot. There was plenty of closet/drawer space (3 full size closets, 3 large drawers, and a three-quarters height closet with 3 shelves). My fiancE took the 3 drawers and I took the 3 shelves & we used one closet for our formal clothes and the other for our suitcases! The cabin was always cleaned immaculately, vacuumed & dusted. The bathroom was rather small (smaller than last time) and we had this strange corner shower that barely fit one person. Initially it was a little cramped but we asked the steward to remove a small table and chair (there was still a loveseat) and then we had plenty of room.
ENTERTAINMENT -- Our Cruise Director was a man named Jorge who we found out on the last day was just filling in for this one week. He was funny but we did not see much of him except at the Captain's Party & the Past Guest Reception. We did not go to any of the shows this time as we were not impressed last time, but we did go to see a magician (whose name I cannot remember) after our Head Waiter had performed magic tricks through out dinner and got us excited. The magician was actually very good and relied solely on audience assistance and a video camera - very interesting! Otherwise there was not much to do on days at sea besides the usual events on each of the three sea days - bingo, hairy chest competition, ice carving, survivor, art auctions, Super Shopper talks and, of course, the Casino.PORTS OF CALL --
Sunday: Miami Depart 4:00pm
Monday: At Sea
The weather was warm but overcast for most of the cruise. Our first day, Monday, was a day at sea heading to Cozumel. The Captain sailed at breakneck speed the entire cruise, 21 knots out of a max 22 for the ship!, and you could feel it. I took dramamine immediately upon boarding in Miami and needed it faithfully until Tuesday evening. Overall we were very bored and did not attend anything except the Super Shopper, now called Shopping Specialist, talks with Jason & James - our same super shoppers from the Destiny!! We woke up, went to the open seating breakfast, the shopping talk & then sun bathed for the rest of the day. It was also formal night & the Captain's party & lobster night! The lobster was not as good as I remembered.....
Tuesday: Cozumel, MX Arrive 8:00 a.m. Depart 6:00 p.m.
Tuesday was Cozumel. We woke early around 6:30 a.m. (the theme of the cruise - and all cruises), had a quick bite from the gross Lido breakfast buffet (thank goodness for their delicious pastries), and headed off the boat from Punta Langosta pier, where we were docked. Originally we had planned to go down to Paradise Beach club in the a.m. for a beach day with some shopping in the afternoon, but the weather fouled that up and we attempted to do the reverse. We wandered down the main road on the island from Senor Frogs to Los Cinco Soles. It rained on us pretty nearly the whole time. We were also the only ship in port (the Imagination arrived at around 10 a.m.) which resulted in us being hounded by every single street vendor and trailed around shops by workers. I almost got persuaded into buying a $2000 Persian rug! We picked up our charm from Diamonds International, a few Corona teeshirts and some ceramic lizards, and headed down to Paradise Beach. The club was empty, due to the rain showers and there only being two ships in port, I suppose. We picked out two chairs, no charge, ordered two yard-long drinks ($30!!) and used the umbrella to block the rain. There were maybe 25 people there total. The water was extremely cold and no one was swimming or using the water trampoline. The water iceberg wasn't even out. We had originally planned to check out Paradise then walk up to San Francisco Beach and further to Carlos & Charlie's Beach Club and decide which we liked best, but due to the lack of people at Paradise we just stayed there. We grabbed a cab back to the downtown about an hour & a half later. Made good use of the free (slow) internet at Paradise Beach to check the weather.... more clouds for the next few days.
Wednesday: At Sea
Wednesday was another boring day at sea. Another shopping talk for Grand Cayman & Ocho Rios. We nearly missed it because of the slow open seating breakfast, but we caught what we missed on the Carnival tv channel. After that we did some more sun bathing, had delicious pizza, chinese, and burgers & fries that were actually FRESH!
Thursday: Grand Cayman Arrive 7:00am Depart 4:00pm
Thursday morning we arrived in Grand Cayman. This was our first and only tender port. We had no idea what was going on, the Capers were not very detailed and we ended up having to watch the Cruise Director's port talk on Carnival tv, as we had not attended in the morning. We woke up early when our room service breakfast arrived at 6:20 a.m. (we asked for it in between 6:00 & 6:30 a.m. - cutting it kind of close!) We then rushed to the Casino bar where they began handing out tender tickets at 7:00 a.m. for those people who wanted to get off the ship but were not doing a Carnival excursion. We were in ticket group 2 and then ended up waiting until nearly 7:30 a.m. for the first tender group to be called. Apparently the ship sponsored excursion people got off first and took forever. Tendering was a mess. They asked people to wait until their numbers were called and then when called come down to Deck 0 and you could only take the stairs from deck three or lower. Needless to say everyone with a ticket of any number crowded in the stairwells and tried to tender. There was no organization at all. Many people had trouble getting on the tender due to choppy waters. The whole process took about another 45 minutes after our ticket was called and we arrived in Georgetown probably around 8:30 a.m. There were three other ships in port with us, Mariner of the Seas, Norwegian Dawn & the Conquest, which was doing its "Hogs on the Highseas" cruise resulting in Margaritaville being packed with tattooed bikers. We had decided to go to 7 Mile Beach but were not sure where because most of the beach was owned by hotels and was not public. We were in a taxi with three other couples who didn't know where they were going as well and the taxi driver took us to the Royal Palms. Now I knew how crowded this place was going to be later thanks to the boards and we asked the taxi to take us to the Public Beach. Two of the other couples did the same. So the taxi took us on down the road and dropped us off at what he said was the Public Beach. It ended up being the tiny stretch of land with the Seagrape restaurant. This was even less what I wanted and my fiance & I ended up walking about three miles along the coastline (beaches are public up to the high water mark) until we stumbled on Cemetery Beach!! There are no amenities there, just sand, ocean & a cemetery. There were maybe 6 other people there so it was very quiet and we mainly just snorkeled. After about an hour (plus an hour of walking) we hitched a ride back to town with an older couple who were vacationing on the island. It was good that we did because no cabs would have ever stopped for us on the side of the road. We got back to Georgetown & went to Margaritaville. It was terribly crowded from the Hogs on the High Seas and we ordered two Cheeseburgers in Paradise then left. There was not much diversity in the shopping in Grand Cayman. Nothing but jewelry stores. We did not have much time in Grand Cayman at all having to be back for tendering by 3:00 p.m. at the latest. We went back around 2:00 p.m. and had no trouble getting a tender back to the ship. Tonight was the past guest party.
Thursday. Ocho Rios, Jamaica Arrive 8:00 a.m. Depart 3:30 p.m.
Thursday was Ocho Rios Jamaica. We docked and were off the boat at around 8:00 a.m. We had booked a tour with Marva Shaw of knowjamaica.com and were taken by her son Javia. This was the highlight of the trip. There were originally supposed to be another family on the tour with us but they had not arrived on time so Javia took us ahead and we ended up being on our own private tour! We were nearly the first people to Dunn's River Falls but opted not to climb the falls.... it was WAY too cold. We hiked up along the side, got in and out a few times and it was nice enough. I decided to try myself at the gauntlet that is the vendor market "exit" of Dunn's River Falls. It might not have been as bad if we weren't the only people there but let me just say, you must have your wits about you. You will be hassled, followed, hounded by people in large numbers, barricaded in their shops/huts and given every sob story in the book. We actually bought a conch shell from one vendor who sent us to three huts over to get our change ($5) and then that vendor only had $3 and kept trying to sell me more stuff so that she wouldn't have to give me the extra $2! It took about 20 minutes to get my change! Javia was waiting for us when we got out and then took us to the White River for tubing! Again we were the only people there and had a guide all to ourselves. It was so peaceful and beautiful! You really don't have to worry if you didn't bring a camera because there are people there where it is their only job to take your picture and sell it to you, both there and Dunn's River Falls. There were actually a few guys at Dunn's who would offer to take your picture with your own camera and then expect money for it! Again, Javia was there waiting when we were done and he took us to Mahogany Beach (Reggae Beach was closed for renovations). This was a very cute little place with a bar, bay, and facilities - just what we needed. The water was very shallow and rocky but we swam and lounged for about an hour & a half and then headed for some jerk chicken! Javia was a bit late picking us up this time but that was really his only negative. Then he took us to a local jerk place, ordered for us & even got us two Red Stripe beers! He sat with us and ate & we talked. Then he dropped us off at the Taj Mahal for shopping. He took a photo with us, gave us some business cards to pass along & was on his way. He recommended a store which would give us a discount at his referral. Initially they did, but then did not actually charge us the discounted prices. The fiance some Blue Mountain coffee & Red Stripe tees and then we walked over to Island Village. What a tourist trap! Actually the whole of what we saw in Ocho really was. You just gotta say no and keep walking. We were running late (we needed to be back on board the ship by 3:00 p.m.) and just did a quick lap around Island Village - wasn't much. This was also our second formal night.
Saturday. At Sea.
Saturday was our last day and another sea day. We were so sick of everything on board at this point that we went to the debarkation talk and then sat through a country line dancing class and played bingo after.... We just wanted to go home by this point!
Carnival had a new feature called Self-Assist Debarkation, which they did not have last year so we tried it. I recommend this and don't understand why everyone doesn't do this! Self-Assist meant that you carry all of your own luggage off the ship instead of the crew doing it during the night. So you get to keep everything with you and not have to have it packed and outside the door by 10 p.m. But by far the best reason is that Self-Assist is called FIRST to disembark! Everyone is given Zone Tags the day before which you are to put on your luggage. This will correspond to the area where you will pick up your luggage the next morning. You are then called by Zone to disembark the ship. However, if you do Self-Assist you do not use the Zone tags and are called off the ship first two decks at a time. Disembarkation began at around 7:30 a.m. and we were through customs and off the ship by 8:15 a.m!!
Overall we were a little disappointed. The ship had no drawbacks, only the food & entertainment. The itinerary was really what left a lot to be desired. It was too short in the ports and there were too many sea days. I'm glad we're trying Royal Caribbean next year to see the differences.
Check out my webshots album for pictures from this cruise and last year on the Destiny!
Victory: http://community.webshots.com/album/561467871dmFzsy Destiny: http://travel.webshots.com/album/554589063FScGYK