We just returned last Saturday from a 7-day cruise of the Eastern Caribbean on the Carnival Triumph. We're New Yorkers who have traveled widely, but only cruised once before. Here's a detailed review in case you're considering this ship or itinerary.
The ship: The Triumph is big—about 2800 passengers, and 1000 crew members. But that doesn't mean it's overwhelming. Most of the activity was concentrated on only a few decks, especially the bustling Lido deck with the main pools, whirlpools, sunning areas, and buffet restaurant. So with a total of 12 floors of cabins and public rooms, there were still spots available around the ship where you didn't feel crowded. It also had a FANTASTIC gym, which was not crowded. Plenty of machines, and you look out directly over the ocean at the front of the ship. Wow.
Although the ship is almost a decade old, it seemed very well maintained. And the dEcor is toned down—by Carnival standards. There's plenty of color, but nothing loud or garish. Much less so than our previous voyage on the Carnival Imagination (which was just renovated last month, and hopefully now has toned down the decorating scheme).
Our stateroom was spacious, about 185 square feet, and spotless. The bathroom was nicely laid out, but could use a color makeover (it was a pinkish coral color). The shower had good pressure and very hot water 24 hours a day. We had a small loveseat in our room, as well as two beds that connected into a king bed. Comfortable. Our balcony was a good size, though narrow. It fit two chairs and a small table. Don't expect a lot of moments of quiet reflection on the balconies, however. They're connected, and you can hear your fellow guests chatting away on all the balconies around you.
Be aware that the ship is designed that you always seem to end up on the Fifth Deck, the Promenade Deck, which is the easiest way to traverse the whole length of the ship. That means you're always walking by the casino, gift shops, and the main bars; hopefully, your willpower is strong.
Dining: We had our dinners on the balcony level of the Paris dining room, it was nice. Many tables for four and two on the balcony (unlike our previous sailing); mainly larger tables on the main floor downstairs. Our wait staff was pleasant, but not fantastic. Very professional, but the dining room staff wasn't particularly personable.
The food was generally good. Every night there was lots of selection on the menu. Seafood and lamb seemed to be uniformly good. But the Master Chef's selections (a different one is highlighted on the menu with a crest each evening) were also routinely tasty and ambitious—but maybe not for everyone.
During the trip, there were two formal nights. On the first (only) they served lobster. The lobster, which was very good and not chewy, was served with grilled shrimp—so it was a good sized main course. And our waiter offered us seconds, without us even having to ask. No one went hungry that night!
Throughout the cruise, you had plenty of alternatives to the main dining rooms, including a buffet restaurant open for every meal (which had okay food but often-long lines at peak dining times). There was also 24 hour pizza, 24 hour ice-cream and a hamburger/hot dog grill open until 1 a.m. most nights. Another alternative to the buffet was an Asian food counter and a deli counter, serving delicious sandwiches and paninis.
Entertainment: The shows in the Rome show lounge were all very good. Highlights were the shows by the two stand-up comedians (Mike Panzeca and JR McCollum). Both also had adults-only late night shows that were excellent—but definitely not for your kids. Karaoke was fun in the Rio lounge, but the MC lacked personality and wasn't nearly as good as the woman on the Imagination. The Legends show on the final night, which featured some of the guests as singers, was hilarious. We didn't care for the magic show, however. Too much dancing; not enough magic.
The ports: Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. This private island was the only port where you needed to take a tender boat to shore, and that went surprisingly smoothly considering there were 3,000 guests to be transported. The setting was fantastic. Great powdery sand and crystal clear water. Crescent beach. Lots of chairs. Like a movie set. The lunch served on the island was very good (jerk chicken, burgers, salads, fruits). Not to be missed!
St. Thomas. Rather than going with Carnival's more pricey offering, we took the Sunny Liston tour for $25 and it was exactly what we were looking for. We got an hour of shopping in downtown Charlotte Amalie followed by a tour of the island, stopping at the Mountaintop observation station for a banana daiquiri (yum), and then were left at Sapphire Beach for a couple of hours. It was not particularly impressive and the water was murky and much of the beach had coarse coral sand leading to the ocean, which had many rocky spots. Good for snorkeling—if you could see the fish. After swimming, we were picked up by the tour tram again and dropped at another shopping area next to the dock (which had many of the same stores as downtown). For a first time visitor, the tour was a great value introduction; next time, we'll head directly to a cleaner beach.
San Juan. We chose this sailing because it visited San Juan in the daytime. Great choice. We spent hours on our own walking tour of beautiful Old San Juan, the historic areas next to the docks. [you can find a good walking tour online] No need for a guide, if you can walk long distances. A highlight was the El Morro fort; allow a good hour for that. Old San Juan was full of beautiful old buildings, that reminded us of Buenos Aires. Some interesting shopping, and plenty of pastry shops (we tried two on Calle San Francisco).
Grand Turk. Beautiful island. Not much to do, so we stayed at the beach next to the dock. Beautiful sand beach. Lots of chairs. Small fish swimming around you in the water. We saw both a small barracuda and a baby sting ray—and we weren't even snorkeling. A very nice island getaway, but it's flat—not pretty and hilly like St. Thomas. We also went for a walk down the beach, to the right side of the dock. Away from the crowds, it was more rustic and there were plenty of large shells that had washed up on the beach.
There are a few shops, but the big attraction (other than the beach) is the world's largest Margaritaville. It's not as tacky as you'd think. Huge, resort-like pool areas. Steel bands and dancing. Frat-boy behavior and overpriced drinks. But it's free to use the facilities/pools/etc., and the party atmosphere was still fun.
Embarkation and debarkation. Everything went smoothly getting on the ship. Got there at noon; we were at the buffet by 1 p.m., even though there were lines checking in/boarding. Getting off the ship was relatively easy, as well. We recommend doing self-assist debarkation if you don't have much luggage so that you can stay on the ship longer (we didn't debark until almost 11 a.m. and had time for a leisurely breakfast and some last-minute tanning).
General comments. This was a great vacation. We don't understand why a lot of people criticize this ship. It was very nice. Carnival is certainly not 5-star, but it has good service great value, and plenty of fun activities that even New Yorkers can appreciate. Plus there was a wide mix of people and age ranges—not just the grannies. There also was a big NASCAR (Rusty Wallace) fan group on board. About 400 people. But the ship was so large, that you barely knew they were having some of their own events. So unless those specialty groups are much larger (900-plus), you probably shouldn't worry about booking a vacation on the same sailing. We'd definitely do this trip again!