Background: We were booked on the Carnival Triumph for the week of Thanksgiving-- Saturday to Saturday on their Eastern Caribbean itinerary. We had a group of three in two inside cabins (8210 which belonged to my boyfriend's brother, age 25, and 9227 for my boyfriend, age 26, and I, age 24). Both rooms were standard inside staterooms with the king size bed arrangement. This room seemed larger than our previous inside rooms and we really like that they shower fit into a corner and seemed larger than what we remembered. This is my 3rd cruise (all Carnival), BF's 2nd (all Carnival) and BFs Brother's 1st. We are young professionals just a few years out of college, so some of my review will focus on ways that we were able to save money and the value that I felt we received from it. I am attempting to break this up into a somewhat organized report, please let me know if you have any questions!
Traveling to Florida: We drove from Atlanta to Miami-- 1400 miles round trip! We left at lunch on Friday and drove to Melbourne, Florida to spend the night. I had booked the Rialto Place Hilton (***) on Priceline for $55/night about a month in advance. We were very impressed with this hotel and had a nice stay overnight. We got up early and drove the remaining way to Miami on Saturday morning. One note about the drive: in our previous trips to south Florida, we have always been able to book inexpensive airfare—ranging up to $160 round trip per person. Since we were traveling the week of Thanksgiving, airfare was more like $400+ round trip per person, so we decided to make the drive. We knew that there were several tolls involved, but we surprised by the amount of money that we spent on tolls—over $20 each way. Of course, this is still a bargain compared to the airfare, but you should be prepared with plenty of quarters and ones.
Arriving in Miami: The Port of Miami raised their price of parking from $15/day to $20/day after we booked our cruise (which is higher than the daily rate for the Miami Airport!). After a little Cruise Critic research, I found a company called CBM Parking that offers a much better deal. There are some keys to getting the best price, however! I booked about two months prior to sailing directly with CBM. This is important. Several websites offer bookings for CBM, but you have to pay a deposit AND they add a percentage onto your booking. By calling CBM, I was able to reserve parking for $6 per day without having to pay anything upfront. They also provide a free shuttle to and from the port. If you do not book in advance, you WILL be charged a significantly higher rate. The lady in front of me in line was very upset to hear that because she did not have a reservation; her rate was $12 per day. Note: This seems to be a family owned/operated business—and business was booming! So you can get a bargain, but arrive very early and be patient.
They took us to the Port of Miami in a 15 passenger van and helped us transfer all of our luggage directly to Carnival Cruise Lines employees. We tipped them well for getting us around the pushy porters that have always handled our luggage in the past.
We arrived at the Port at around 2pm—much later than we had planned b/c I got lost driving around Miami. But that is another story for the MapQuest challenged. The new Carnival terminal was very beautiful and you get a good look at the ship as soon as you walk through the door. At the entrance, you are handed a plastic card with a group number on it and are asked to have a seat. They call you up to check-in by that group number. The first stage of the process, including waiting for our number to be called, was about 30 minutes. After checking in and receiving our Sail and Sign cards, we were told to go up the escalator to the second floor. They take your picture upstairs (for souvenirs, not for the ship's security) and then you make your way to the gangway. Once on Deck 3 of the ship, they take your security photo, and you are free to roam!
Our Vessel: The Triumph is a beautiful ship. I have previously sailed on the Ecstasy and the Imagination, and I felt that the Triumph was must less "Las Vegas" than the other two. The décor, especially in the public areas, was much more subdued and elegant than the fluorescent lights of the Imagination.
Though she truly is a beautiful ship, there are some minor signs of aging. Though these (for the most part) did not distract us from enjoying our vacation, they were noticeable. For those of you interested in details, I'll list some of them. The first, obvious thing that we noticed while waiting to board, was the rust on the exterior of the ship. There were small patches that needed to be resurfaced and we saw crew members working on this in various ports. The second was the carpet in the hallways. This, too, was being worked on as we sailed and the carpet on the Lido Deck hallway was replaced while we were docked in St. Thomas. Other than these minor things that were being improved before our very eyes-- there was one major problem that resurfaced during our entire trip: The Ship's Plumbing! I would say that five of the seven days, our toilet did not flush properly, in either cabin (on different decks). Sometimes, we would press the button and nothing would happen. Sometimes we would push the button and it would flush two minutes later. Our steward worked with us on it all week, but the problems just kept getting progressively worse. On Thanksgiving Day, we were docked in Grand Turk. We left the ship while they were working on it and it still was not flushing when we returned. Eventually, we were able to get it to flush late Thursday night. Though it did not ruin our trip, it was certainly frustrating and is something that Carnival needs to get working immediately. I'm guessing that this is why Carnival is rumored to be putting the Triumph back into dry dock because they cannot continue to sail with the plumbing in this condition.
Our Fellow Cruisers: Cruising the week of Thanksgiving, we were expecting to see a lot of families. We still underestimated the number of children onboard. They announced that of the 3,000ish guests on board, over 1,000 of them were children! For families, I'm sure that this was a good thing and a grand opportunity for the kids to make friends. For us, it just seemed like they were everywhere! Somehow, Carnival was able to match us with two other young couples for dinner and there were no kids at our table. It was great to eat dinner and not have kids running everywhere. So if you're looking for singles events, other young professionals, this is not the week to sail! We still had a good time, but it would have been nice to have more people in our age demographic onboard.
The Service: Our room steward Dee Dee was fantastic. He had learned our names by the second day and was constantly there to take care of our every need. His English was a little bit broken, but we had no problems communicating what we needed.
Our dining room staff was also great. We were seated in the London Lower for the late (8:30pm seating) at table number 171. Our main server was David (from Peru) and his assistant was Jerome (from the Philippines). When we asked about his tenure with Carnival, David told us that he is the youngest head waiter on board and about how quickly he had been promoted. It was very obvious why—he has a great attitude and really engages all of his guests. He gave us ideas for very port and places to go that were more "off the beaten path". Jerome was also a lot of fun, and was VERY excited to be going home. He actually left to go see his family the same day that we arrived back in Miami. He hadn't seen them in over eight months—he was like an excited child when he talked about it. They had great energy!
We only had one experience with a Carnival crew member that was less than superior. This was a waitress in the Paris Dining Room during breakfast. When my order came out, something was missing. Instead of offering to go get it and correct the order, she told me that I was mistaken and that is not what I ordered. I was not about to argue with the lady about whether or not I ordered a side item, but she was not friendly about it at all. Finally, she said that she would go order it for me then, and we never saw her again. We finished the rest of our meal and left without it.
The Food: Overall, I would rate the food on this as sufficient. Not great, but decent. There were a few items that we thoroughly enjoyed, but for the most part, we were very disappointed with their food. At dinner, I did enjoy the lobster, crab cakes, lamb. But their steaks and other dishes were not up to the standard that we have experienced on other cruises. We were even disappointed with the desserts—the worst being the "cheesecake". It tasted more like flan with strawberries than cheesecake.
The breakfast buffet was pretty standard and we ate it all but two mornings. We had room service one morning (which was good) and the Paris Dining Room's breakfast another. The Paris breakfast was very good, despite our server.
The only time that we had the lunch buffet in the South Beach Club was Saturday in Miami before sail away. It seemed like every time we would go to get food, they would be closing it down. We found a similar situation with the Sushi, Chinese Food, and NY Deli. We hardly ever saw them open. I think this is mostly because our itinerary was very Port-Intensive. On a seven night cruise, we only had two sea days. So by the time that we had ventured out to the ports and made it back to the ship, they were closing up the buffets. I wish Carnival would be a little more accommodating on port days and keep the buffet open just a little longer so that those of us who ran out of time in port to eat could have options when we got back on board. That being said, the pizzeria was very good as was the Hamburger/Hotdog place; but after so many days in a row, you've had enough!
Onboard Entertainment: We were never board on this trip! Actually, we'd end up arguing over what we were going to pick to do! My boyfriend and I really like Trivia, so we did enjoy that several times on board. We did not win a Piece of Ship, but we did get medals in "Win, Lose, or Draw" (I had to draw Symphony Orchestra)!!!!
The pool areas were always packed, buy only kids seemed to be in the water. Most of the adults seemed to prefer sunning on the decks. The main pool area stayed very crowded and we never saw open chairs there. We had much better luck at the aft pool (which is home to the adults only hot tubs). There is also a retractable roof back there, so if it starts to rain, you can stay right where you are.
The forward portions of decks 11, 12, and 13 remained closed for a large part of our trip due to very strong winds. This means that the slide, mini golf, basketball, and children's wading pool were off limits for at least 4 days. But we made it down the slide on the last sea day—it was fun! Nothing builds humility more than being two-and-a-half feet taller than everyone else in line for the slide.
We made it to the casino a few times, but we are not big gamblers. I did like that the casino was very big and very open—which helps lessen the smoke fog that forms in other ship casinos. Another interesting note: they decided to put the Sushi Cart and the Coffee Shop right next door to the Casino. Though this casino was not as smokey as I have seen in the past, I was still would not have wanted to have sushi in that environment.
Karaoke was the only disappointing entertainment on board. My boyfriend LOVES to do karaoke, but the host for karaoke was terrible. He was an older gentleman and did not seem to know exactly how to operate the equipment (resulting in 3-5 minutes breaks before each guest could go) and did not get involved with the guests at all. Maybe we have just had outstanding hosts in the past, but this guy seemed like a dud. On the Imagination last year, the host would dance with people as they performed and she really kept the crowd into it all night. This guy was oblivious to each performer and ignored them completely once they got on stage. One girl's microphone stopped working in the middle of her song, and he didn't even help her fix it! He just let her sing the rest of the song without the microphone. Additionally, he wouldn't let my boyfriend perform any song he picked. On the first night we spent 20 minutes going through their books of "approved songs" to find the perfect song (he has to be able to show of some dance moves—he things he's a comedian when he's up there). Then, he turned it in and we waited 45 minutes for his name to be called. Once he got up there to sing, the guy told him that he wouldn't allow him to do that song because there were families in the audience (mind you it was after 11pm by this time). So my boyfriend picked two other songs and he said no to both of those as well, so we just left. One of the songs that he picked was "I like big butts"-- a song he's performed on a Carnival ship in the past, and always gets BIG laughs! We didn't go back to Karaoke any other night.
We did see several organized shows at night. We liked the hypnotist and the comedian. The stage show on formal night started out very slow, but got much better towards the end. We skipped the Carnival Legends show as well.
Ports of Call: Sunday: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas This is a beautiful island! Guests who had booked excursions were given priority numbers for the tenders. We made it onto the first tender of the morning and had a few minutes to enjoy the island before it was crowded. The water is spectacular and clear and the sand is perfect—just like everyone has said! We had a 10am parasailing excursion and LOVED it! Only four of the eight people that had booked the 10am trip showed up, so we got to stay up a lot longer than most. It was a beautiful way to see the island!
By the time that we got back, the beach area was PACKED! We finally found three beach chairs together and made a bee-line for the water. The only thing that Carnival/Holland America could do to improve this stop is make a larger beach area. There was barely room to walk on the beach once everyone was on the island.
Lunch on the island was actually better than we anticipated. We were expecting hotdogs, hamburgers, french fries, and fruit. They did have the hotdogs and hamburgers, but also jerk chicken, fresh fruit, a desert bar, salads, and chips and salsa. All very tasty! The island does not have a fully stocked bar. The only had two cold beers to choose from and two frozen drinks (but they were tasty!).
Tuesday, St. Thomas, USVI We did not spend a lot of time on St Thomas. As soon as we cleared customs, we got off the ship and took a cab to Red Hook. We took the hourly fairy from there over the St. John, then another cab to Trunk Bay. Everyone that I told that we were going to St. Thomas had recommended that we do this—and they were right! Trunk Bay was spectacular! You can rent snorkel gear ($5 rental + $25 deposit) and snorkel out to a reef from the beach. By the way, the locals call snorkeling tourists "one finned butt fish" which we thought was pretty cute. There's even a dive shop that is named after it and you'll see people wearing the t-shirts everywhere.
Trunk Bay is part of the USVI National Park, so there is only one shop and one restaurant and they both close at 3:00pm local time (2:00pm ship time). We had read this in advance and took snacks and water with us in backpacks to avoid being stuck with nothing to eat/drink. Note: by doing this excursion ourselves, we saved $15pp, and were on the beach at Trunk Bay a good two to three hours before the first organized excursion arrived. We left St. John on the 4pm ferry and arrived back in St. Thomas with plenty of time to shop and see the Havensight area before sail away.
Wednesday, San Juan, Puerto Rico We did not book an excursion through Carnival in San Juan, either. As we exited the pier, a few uniformed vendors approached us and offered tours. We decided to take a $10 tour that ended up being two hours long and was worth three times what they charged for it! Javier was our tour guide, and his father-in-law Hector owned the tour company. Javier is a native Puerto Rican and if you get on his tour, you will not be disappointed. He showed us the areas surrounding "Old San Juan" and stopped to let us take pictures at the capital building, Fort St. Cristobal, and el Morro. The tour finished in the heart of the Old San Juan shopping district where we spent the afternoon shopping and taking pictures. This city is very beautiful, and I took over 150 pictures there! You have to dig to get around the typical tourist junk, but we did find some unique souvenirs and added some exotic cigar boxes to our collection for $2 each (they make great artistic storage). We had plenty of time in San Juan and were back on board with over an hour to spare.
Thursday, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos I had read that the ship was very close to the beach and Margaritaville—but close is an understatement. It's right there! You walk off the pier and literally, you're in the sand! It made it very convenient to go back and forth if you needed something off the ship. When we first arrived, we got off the pier and headed right (if you're facing the plaza, away from the ship) and away from the beach chairs and crowds. The shore is very rocky and I highly recommend water shoes to protect your feet. We were able to pick up some Conch shells that had washed a shore and been bleached by the sun. They lose a lot of their color, but the stark white looks great sitting on my desk at work!
After exploring for a little bit, we decided to take our shells and things back on board and then go find some beach chairs and enjoy the water. The area designated for swimming was still pretty rocky, but with our water shoes, we were fine.
At 3:00pm, we were scheduled to drive Dune Buggies. I was not very excited about this excursion, but it was the one thing that my boyfriend was emphatic about doing the whole trip. And he was right--it was a blast! You have to wear helmets that have enormous visors that annoyed me at first. The visor was hard to see out of and I thought that I was missing some of the scenery. Then we went through the first mud puddle and I instantly knew why they were insistent that I leave the visor down. We were COVERED from head to toe in mud-- the only spot that was clean was the area of my face that was covered by the visor. If you bring a nice camera, I recommend putting it into a plastic bag and only getting it out when you're stopped.
This excursion is almost a two-for-one deal. We got the adventure of driving the dune buggies, but also a tour of the island. We stopped at the highest point on the island to take pictures and again at the light house. The tour operators were very knowledgeable and we learned a lot about the island. I would also recommend making this the last thing that you do on the island. We were the last tour booked for the day and we actually late getting back (one of the dune buggies was having problems, so we had to stop and change the battery), but of course the ship waited for us because we were on a Carnival excursion. As soon as we got back on the ship, we headed straight for showers and couldn't sit on the bed or touch anything without getting it covered in mud/muck. I am a classic girly girl, but this excursion really brought out the kid in me—and I didn't mind getting dirty at all.
Debarkation: Since we were driving back to Atlanta, we were not in any hurry to get off the boat and sit in the car. We waited on the ship as long as possible to get off and made our way down as part of the last group on the ship. It was still a little bit of a mess in the new Carnival Terminal. Our luggage got put onto the wrong luggage carousel, so we had to go find it on our own. Even being the last few people out, there was quite a line at customs, but we made it out to the sidewalk by 11:30am.
We called CBM Parking once outside and had to wait for over an hour to be picked up and taken back to our car. If you use their service, I do recommend calling them as soon as you get in line for customs so that you are standing outside with your luggage for an hour that we did.
Overall: This trip was well worth the bargain price that we paid, especially for a Thanksgiving trip. Once they get the plumbing fixed, I would sail the Triumph again in a heartbeat. She is a beautiful, elegant ship! We really enjoyed our ports of call and want to explore the rest of the Eastern Caribbean now—as all of our previous cruises have been to the Western Caribbean. I would give this trip 4 out of 5 stars based on cost of the trip versus the memories that we created.
PS—I am still getting all of my pictures together (I took over 500 on the trip!) When I do, I will come back and post a link to them.