Sorry this is kind of late. And yes, I tend to get lengthy so I'm apologizing in advance. Take a deep breath, readjust your monitors so your eyes don't glaze over, and dive in!
This is our seventh cruise; fifth on Carnival. My husband is 44 and I'm 34 from the Northern New Jersey area. We took this cruise with our daughter who is four and my mother who is 57 (ooooh, I hope I don't get in trouble for publishing that). It was the third cruise for both my mom and daughter. I always go to the boards when getting ready for a cruise and this time was no exception. There was an extensive discussion about the Victory and bad experiences but about the same number of good experiences so I knew not to board the ship with pre-conceived notions.
The ship has a reputation of being hard to navigate as a passenger and I understand what is meant by that. BUT, if you take about 10 minutes to review the little card with the location of everything, AND keep in mind that you cannot walk bow to stern on decks three and four, you should be fine. One thing that tripped me up twice was which elevator to take when needing to be in the back of the ship. Let me elaborate: my brain could not process that the Atlantic Dining Room was not located forward, but more like mid-to-aft. So, when I would attempt to take the second bank of elevators down, I would end up in front of the Atlantic Dining Room. If your stateroom is six or higher and you're eating in the Pacific Dining Room, you will need to walk all the way to the back to the last set of elevators in order to be dropped off in front of the Pacific Dining Room. That is also the slowest bank of elevators on the ship; probably because they take you right to the buffet as well. I advise not using this elevator bank.
Speaking of elevators, there is no shortage on this ship. We mostly rode on the glass ones which allowed you to see the underwater mosaic on the inner wall above the atrium. One would think those would be slow or often crowded but they weren't at all. We used the stairs as much as possible (some subconscious effort to justify eating more, no doubt).
Lots of public rooms and lounges on this ship. The Ionian Lounge is underneath the aft staircase on Deck 4...I overheard passengers having a hard time finding it (turn around!). Most bars are on Promenade Deck 5 and in the aft. The one bar right off of the casino is actually low-key and kind of cool. We watched the USA vs. Brazil qualifying World Cup game in there (it's like the sports bar of the ship). You can smoke in there so if you're like me and don't like the smell of smoke, oh well...but I wouldn't call it "smoky." You can also play video poker and slots at the bar itself in there. The Adriatic Lounge in the aft is large and dim and was never really full. The Irish pub is right next to it and every time I walked by, it wasn't open (I think it opens later than the other bars). The Coral Seas Cafe offers the largest pieces of cake I've ever seen and even though you can get coffee for free anywhere and cappuccino for free in the dining room, there was always a line for java there. The chocolate-covered strawberries were flying off the plates too and reasonably priced (3 for $2). The library was disappointing in terms of book offerings so I'm glad we packed our own for our daughter. They did have lots of board games too. I renamed the hot tubs on-board tepid tubs. There was no heat in either of the two hot tubs at the main pool (did not try the one at the back pool or the waterslide). I hope that was remedied for other cruisers.
If you like going to the main theaters for shows at night, the promenade is on one side of the ship (starboard side) so that entrance to the theater backfills and subsequently the seats fill up...do yourself a favor and cut over to the port side and you'll find adequate seating...providing you aren't too late into the show. Also, you can enter the theater from three levels which is very nice (decks 3, 4, and 5).
Our stateroom was great. We were on the Lido Deck (cabins 9229 & 9233) and wondered about noise but we were quite forward and didn't hear anything from the buffet or pool areas. We got two balconies next to each other but opted not to have them joined together (you can ask your cabin steward to remove the partition between them). Since our daughter was with us and staying in my mom's room, we were not comfortable with the idea of her trying to get from one room to the other via the balcony so we kept them as-is and often re-enacted what could be likened to a Laurel & Hardy or Three Stooges skit in the hallway instead. Your TV remote is interactive and so you can look up your dinner menu every day from your cabin...if knowing what's being offered ahead of time is important to you.
There is plenty of closet space: I had one, hubby had the other. Bring some extra hangers though if you're like me and hang almost everything up! Drawer space is okay: three. The closet that houses the safe though has open shelving which holds a good deal of clothing or other items as well. HINT: The self-assist laundry rooms are great. Actually, as soon as my luggage arrived, the first thing I did was take my clothes to one and iron everything. The iron in the laundry room on Deck 9 (Lido) worked just fine. I didn't have to worry for the rest of the trip about doing it or reaching into the closet for something that had wrinkles (I'm not a good packer...and pay less attention to packing when I know I can iron on the ship). There are a bunch of them too...look in the binder in your cabin for their locations...I think there is one on every deck practically.
The bathroom space was ample indeed. Nice big counter and a mirrored medicine cabinet to tuck away your toiletries so they aren't sitting out looking all cluttered and messy. Besides, I always feel bad for the steward who has to move them or attempt to clean around them so I put everything in that cabinet instead. The free toiletry samples in the shell waiting for you in the bathroom were fun. We had four different flavors of toothpaste, his and her razors, fabric softener sheets, and....(drum roll please)...a book containing four excerpts from Harlequin Mystery & Romance novels. I really laughed at loud and couldn't wait to bring my copy and my mom's copy home to my friend who is in a graduate program for her M.A. in English Literature. We had quite the chuckle thumbing through them and realized that we have potential second-careers ahead of us after all! The shower was fine and the water temperature was easy to negotiate. My husband swore he must have been the first one taking a shower every morning though because it took a very long time for the water to run hot. I never had that problem later on in the day or evening.
The weather was funky. The first at-sea day was rainy but didn't bother us. All of a sudden though, you would look out the window and see nothing but white fog. It was cool and creepy all at once. Now I really know what zero visibility is! The fog horn had to sound like every other minute and you got used to that. But I'm telling you, when I say you couldn't see a thing...you couldn't see A THING. Even the water below wasn't able to be made out clearly! The last at-sea day was sunny and very windy and then bam! The fog was back with no warning. I guess we hit that same area on the way back as we did going out. Again, creepy and cool.
I was slightly disappointed with the activities on the ship. As I recall from previous Carnival cruises, the activities on-board were extensive. I didn't find that this time. The first sea day seemed to be quiet in terms of activities. While the Carnival Capers at first glance appeared to have a lot going on, as you look more closely, you see they advertise a lot of their "extra fee" services in the spa, casino, or that waste-of-money bingo (sorry…but do the math: look at how many people play, what you pay, and what the pay-out is…they make a killing on bingo). For an at-sea day, I would have expected some more activities going on. The last sea day had enough almost to the point that you couldn't get from one to another quickly enough. I would have liked to see them spread them out more over the two sea days.
The cruise director Malcolm (whom I hope doesn't get hit with a lawsuit for his nickname…you can figure it out), was great. He wasn't in-your-face like some CDs…though some like that. He delivered all the same jokes that every Carnival CD does…but his delivery was much better and almost extemporaneous, not well-rehearsed, which is crucial in joke-telling. Even though you knew the punch line was coming, you can see how those who haven't heard the "which elevator takes me to the front of the ship" joke would find it very funny. He wasn't always on the PA system, which I appreciated as well.
Service was always with a smile and I did not encounter any problems. Every staff member smiled and was so courteous no matter where we were. Our cabin steward Kevin was fantastic…leaving a cookie for my daughter at turn-down. And there were two nights of towel animals: our cabin had them waiting for us on our bed while my mom and daughter's cabin had one on the counter (an elephant) and a monkey hanging from the ceiling.
I had to go to the purser's desk the next day after boarding because evidently they entered my credit card number incorrectly. For those of you who hand-write in your sail & sign information, make sure to write very legibly. I thought I did but I was wrong! Or, at embarkation, ask them to swipe your card for you anyway so you know it goes through electronically vs. manual input. The line at the purser's desk was average and my problem was corrected quickly so no complaints there.
Carnival offered a bunch of different shore excursions for the port of Saint John. I looked over them and found many to be very interesting and potentially fun. However, we've had success doing our own "thing" in getting around and this time was no exception. We knew we wanted to see the Reversing Falls but did not want to commit to an excursion to do so (read below).
Upon looking out at Saint John from our balcony, the one word that immediately came into mind was CLEAN. I couldn't see a single piece of trash, cigarette butt, piece of chewing gum, nothing on the roads or sidewalks. Pretty buildings too. Upon debarkation, we were warmly greeted by the folks of Saint John. Every woman was given a rose and all passengers were offered a map or approached to see if we had any questions. At first it might seem like many other ports where passengers are hounded to sign up for excursions or buy things. Fortunately this was not the case. The people of Saint John were just plain nice and hospitable! It was refreshing change from how you're greeted in many ports of call.
I planned ahead re: visiting the Reversing Falls and found out that for $2.25 per person, you can catch the local bus (WEST) from the Market Square stop at the light and it takes all of maybe eight minutes to get there. We got off at the stop closest to the Reversing Falls, walked down the street through a local neighborhood, and came upon them just after low tide. We were under whelmed by them. It's a subtle change…you see the water flowing rather rapidly in one direction but you can see the waves cresting in the opposite direction as if they are trying to go back. Also, there is a HUGE industrial plant nestled right up along the bank so it's not the most picturesque sight to see. We stayed there about 15 minutes, walked back up to the bus stop, and lucked out with the bus (EAST) approaching the stop. Turns out it was the same bus we took there and the driver didn't charge us to get back to the center of town…which was really nice of him. Note: if you decide to do what we did, buses require exact change, they take the US dollar, and the trek back up from the falls to the bus stop is a respectable incline so if you are not good with concrete hills or are not interested in a quick butt-buster workout, choose wisely! I'd say the walk from the stop to the falls is about 1/5-1/6 of a mile long. I'm bad at judging distance.
We walked over to the Old City Market which is a closed-in small area where local produce and goods are sold…not much in terms of knick-knacks to bring home but nice to visit. We also visited Barbour's General Store and the museum in the Market Square. One place that I researched ahead of time and was pleased in doing so was Nougatine et Chocolate. It's on Prince William St and it's an authentic French patisserie. I was lucky to score some lovely French chocolates to bring back as souvenirs for friends.
We did not eat lunch in port and returned to the ship instead so I cannot comment for foodies what kinds of fun things await your palette in port! Sorry!
And while on the subject of food (everyone's favorite part)… Since this is our 7th cruise, we knew better than to bother with the buffet for any meal during the trip. No offense to those who enjoy buffet dining; it's just not for us. We enjoy sitting down to a set table and being served. My husband quipped that the service at home is better though…he has a fun time ribbing me when the opportunity arises. But I digress. The breakfast and lunch services in the dining room were fine…more hurried than dinner but each wait staff member we had was pleasant and efficient. No complaints. The scrambled eggs are quite tough so if you prefer them a bit more fluffy, you might want to eat your eggs a different way. The home fries in the buffet are different from those in the dining room (dining room serves two mini-hash browns vs. the buffet's diced up taters with onions). My daughter likes Belgian waffles so we ordered that for her in the dining room but I was disappointed. They were extremely heavy and sweet…more like a boxed cake recipe than what you know a Belgian waffle should taste like. If you like Eggs Benedict, ask for extra hollandaise sauce upfront because they don't give you much at all.
I love the cold soups Carnival serves at lunch and was happy to have enjoyed two of my stand-by favorites: the creamy avocado and the curried apple soups. Yum! The chilled asparagus was very good also. The ribs are not tender at all and I never had a burger but cut plenty of them up for my daughter and second-guessed letting her eat them…I was not impressed with how they looked upon closer inspection. Shoestring French fries…always a hit. The "focaccia" sandwiches often advertised are nothing like real focaccia so you might be disappointed. My husband enjoyed his fish dishes like the King Clip.
Dinner was what we expected: good service and good food. The best way I can sum up the dinner food is: edible. To give you a reference point: I've eaten at chains, fast food joints, diners, and places like Jean-Georges, Le Cirque, Gotham Bar & Grill, Fresco by Scotto, etc. Where does Carnival fall? They try to plate and present like a high-end restaurant and come close…but taste-wise they are about at a catered wedding meal at a place where three other weddings are being served simultaneously. EDIBLE. I don't expect much so I'm not really disappointed. For those who are being told the food is great on the ships and you'll love it, etc., you might be disappointed (read: you=foodie). So my best advice is not to expect gourmet up the wazoo. They try and I appreciate that and applaud their efforts. I respect that they are cooking for a huge amount of people…and I really respect that they will make pretty much any accommodation you need.
I always order lobster when it's offered on any cruise ship even though it's not Maine lobster and tends to be Florida lobster. Even though I said the food is completely edible, I give props here to the Victory chefs. My lobster was the biggest I've ever had on a ship (yes, including Celebrity) and it was the most succulent. Usually it's a wee bit dry from being under the heat lamp or simply trying to cook 50 million tails and keep tabs on where they're at temp-wise. This was great and my husband echoed the sentiment so it's not like I got a freak lobster or something. Also, I had the prime rib on two nights and asked for as bloody as it can get (they only offer medium rare or medium well and I want it mooing). I found it was juicy and pink. Some complain about it being fatty but ummm, it's prime rib! Yes, it's in the marbling, I know. But again, it was good. Side dishes are unimaginable…you basic starch and veggie with no big twists or x-factor.
Desserts are very good. The chocolate melting cake everyone melts over is indeed tasty and moist…the vanilla ice cream has one word too many in its description though…it's simply vanilla ice. I found myself crunching on it a few times from being thawed and re-frozen over and over. The cake was yummy. Didn't opt for the baked Alaska or cherries jubilee; two of their signature crowd pleasers (neither interest me) but I enjoyed the desserts I ordered when I had to room to indulge (I prefer to have multiple appetizers instead!). My husband doesn't have a sweet tooth so he opted for the cheese platter every night and that was very good, as it always is. The cappuccino (which is free in the dining room) was like drinking from an ashtray. I couldn't finish mine and never ordered it again…way too strong and well, ashy-tasting for me. I can't promote it as "strong" coffee (which many java-lovers prefer)…it's not that it was strong, it just had that used cigarette taste to me (which I loathe).
For first-time cruisers who drink wine: if you order a bottle of wine at dinner and don't finish it, they tag it for you and have it waiting at your table the next night. Buying by the bottle is a far better deal than by the glass...and there's a larger selection. The mark-up is high (as it is anywhere) but it's not bad at all. The rule of thumb for wines by the glass is that the price for the glass is basically the price of the bottle if you bought it in a liquor store. So, if you see a bottle you like on the wine list (and it's a respectable list), and divide the price by 5.25 (approximately 5 and 1/4 glasses per 750ml bottle), you'll have a good idea if you should buy the bottle or by the glass.
Formal night: one on the 4-nighter. I was pleased to see many men in suits and many ladies in cocktail dresses/outfits. I like formal nights (touchy subject, I know). I will say I was very displeased (but didn't let it ruin my night) to see the table next me was seated ON FORMAL night in the dining room with one young woman in a Nike zip-up jacket and another in jeans and a tank top. Two other ladies in their party had dressy outfits on...the others were dressed as if it were any other night in the dining room. Other than them, I didn't see any "breach" of dress code that night in the dining room...but again, I wasn't looking around...they just happened to be at the table next to us.
The maitre'd was very hospitable and personable. He sang each night…usually a Frank Sinatra tune and did it well. And yes, the wait staff performed two of the nights. Call me a sap and even though I know it's coming, I well up whenever they all band together and sing "O Sole Mio." I can't help it! I love that tune and I love how they sing it, broken English and all…it's even more endearing that way. Our waiter Ivo took our daughter up with the rest of the crew and sang and danced with her…she loved it.
And so I segue to Camp Carnival with the mention of my daughter. It was not a disappointment at all! Mind you, I can only speak for the 2-5 year old group. They are very committed to safety which is of course very comforting. Only the person who signs in the child can pick up the child unless specifically approved at the time of drop-off for the other parent to pick-up. You get your pager, which is kind of antiquated because if you don't wear a belt, there is no way of clipping it to your pants and it's kind of chunky to keep in your pockets, ladies! When you go to sign your child in, you must have your beeper with you in addition to your sail & sign card so don't forget to bring it. You don't necessarily have to register your child the first night on the ship (which they did in the Adriatic Lounge) but we did because you get to meet all of the counselors. You can register the first time you attempt to drop off your child at the camp itself; just be mindful if there is a line behind you for those who are pre-registered and waiting to sign-in.
Anyway, our four-year old daughter loved it. She got to decorate her own Freddie Funship t-shirt (free of charge), she came back to us with face painted differently each night, she got to play in the space maze, draw, read books, play with all kinds of child-friendly/age-appropriate toys. They have like a dozen computers set up for games and a huge screen for television and movies. They also have all kinds of electronic gaming like Playstation, Gamecube, and yes, the Wii. There is something new…like a Build-a-Bear workshop they offer and it's not cheap at all so we didn't bring our daughter when that was going on. Our geographical location has us surrounded by malls, each adorned with a store that has you stuff and dress a bear.
At pick-ups, I witnessed the counselor brief other parents when there may have been an accident. Not an accident like a severed limb or something but a scrape on the knee or paper cut…they were very diligent about pointing it out. In the space maze on the last day, it turns out our daughter was pushed by another child and the counselor called the child's parents to pick up their son and he was not allowed back to camp. So parents, rest assured your children are in good hands with the counselors aboard the Victory. They were very nice, had lots of activities, and took good care of our daughter (I won't say "kids" because I obviously cannot speak for other parents). I also didn't notice a "tip" bucket for gratuities to the camp counselors so if you'd like to give a little something extra, grab another envelope from your cabin or the purser's desk.
In terms of entertainment, here is where I give the big thumbs-down. I'm sorry, I've been on six other cruises and this was by far the worst entertainment I've seen in the big theatre. The dancers tried their hardest, I'm sure…but many were off-beat…the productions themselves left little to be desired…the stage props were elementary, and there were some technical difficulties as well. The best shows I've seen on a ship (that I can recall) are the ones the Norwegian Dawn put on last summer.
We saw the two PG-rated shows put on by the comedians. The one guy was funny…not like howl-out-loud funny but like internal "hey, that's funny!" funny. The other guy did not connect entirely with the crowd…I think because he was what some might call more politically incorrect in his jabbing…but those who didn't mind did indeed howl. We couldn't stay up late enough for the 18 & over shows so I can't comment on whether or not they got funnier…though some equate spewing obscenities with being funny. The karaoke was fun to watch. We went one night and those who sang tried really hard or you can tell sing karaoke in their lives off the ship as well. I didn't see anyone doing it completely for kicks…like impersonating the artist or being comical about it. Kudos to those who sang on Sunday night!
If you like posing for portraits on the ship, I give kudos to Carnival for the huge variety of backdrops they have available to you. We didn't because my daughter is at the age of not smiling for the camera (last year on NCL we did it. She didn't smile but she sat still...I have that photo in my office and she has the look of "Help, these aren't my parents" in my opinion).
Disembarkation went smoothly, in my opinion. They really started getting passengers off the ship early and quickly. We did not opt for the self-assist debarkation but for those who did, they flew through each deck, it appeared. We waited in our room until around 9am (Kevin was so gracious about that) and then went down to the atrium lobby to wait. Our color was the second called after the self-assist was complete so we lucked out in that regard and walked right through without much of a line at all. Our luggage was right there and we grabbed it and left for New Jersey.
All in all, a great time was had by all in our foursome. Of course we can't wait to cruise again (who can?). Would we cruise with Carnival again? Yes. Would we continue to cruise other lines as well? Yes. I have no big beefs with Carnival for the quality, value, and convenience (oops! That's a big shop-from-home company). If I had paid a lot for this cruise, I would be disappointed. But I didn't and provided that the prices of Carnival cruises are appealing, I probably will never have big complaints. You get what you pay for. Happy cruising to all and to all a good cruise!