A Little Background
When I take a cruise usually I'm looking to have a lot of fun, meet new people, eat too much, and take a break from my "normal" life, and if a Carnival cruise doesn't fit the bill then I don't know what does! So back in 2001, my first cruise on the Triumph (7th cruise overall) left me with with a suitcase full of good memories and looking forward to my next cruise.
7 years and several cruises later, I found myself heading back to the Triumph with entirely different goals in mind. This time I was simply going to get so rest and I figured a cruise offered more pampering then I was going to get sitting around my home. So when an incredible deal came up I grabbed it, and three days later I was on a plane heading to Fort Lauderdale for another cruise on this circa 1999 lady. I was a little apprehensive, can you enjoy a Carnival cruise if your idea of fun is a nap? Happily, the answer in my case was yup!
Arrival and Boarding
When cruise newbies ask for advice I always say the same thing: whatever you do fly in a day early. So taking my own advice I few down the day before and spent the night in the suburbs of Fort Lauderdale (a couple of conferences and spring break meant getting a room near the beach or the airport was too expensive) I got a room at the Hyatt Bonaventure and a rental car through Priceline. The hotel had beautiful grounds, a great main pool and lovely rooms, but the outdoor hallways were more motel than 4 star. For what I paid though, it was an absolute steal.
Having a rental car freed me to pick up last minute items and do a few things locally. While it may seem odd I returned to car to the Fort Lauderdale airport instead of Miami and then took a "shared cab" to the Port of Miami (a deal at only $18 per person and maximum ½ hour wait, far cheaper than what SuperShuttle charges for the much shorter distance from the Miami airport)
Admittedly I got to the port late, around 1:30. The crowds were large but the process moved along smoothly. Carnival has moved into new terminals and what a difference! Much nicer then the warehouse-like facilities of the past. Once through the x-ray and metal detectors we were given numbers. There were more than enough seats to wait in. Once called it was another 20 minutes or so in line. Check-in was painless. I travel on a foreign passport and a work visa which usually means no end to the confusion. This time it was seamless, and it continued to be throughout the cruise. I was at the counter a couple of minutes and then I was off, room key/sail-&-sign card in hand, trying to avoid the photographers. Overall, it was around an hour curb to room at what looked like the peak ship boarding time.
I've been a Carnival fan for a while due to the great rates and the great times I've had. I've been on a mixture of Fantasy and Destiny Class ships, and in my experience the newer the ship the less extreme the decor. Now, no one is going to say that the Carnival ships are subtle, but Triumph is relatively restrained compared to some of the others.
First off the ship is in great shape, looks like she was in dry dock not too long ago. I didn't see much in the way of wear and tear, and much of the carpet looked new, everything seemed to be working fine and there were even a few improvements made since my last cruise on Triumph.
First impressions happen as you enter The Capital Atrium. The use of copper and dark woods as opposed to chrome and shinny surfaces lends a more refined air, though the neon is still ever present as is that "Las Vegas at Sea" feeling. Now the brochure says something about a "10-story" entrance. In fact it's a 4-story entrance with another 6-story light well off to one side. There is an abundance of furniture in the lobby, although it's been rearranged since my last cruise and doesn't seem as crowed. The information and tour desks, along with the lobby bar, are in this area.
Overall I have to say the ship feels a little closed in on itself, but let's start with the good. The restaurants are nice on the Triumph. These two-story affairs knock the socks off the low-ceiling, almost claustrophobic counterparts on the Fantasy class ships. In particular, the "South Beach Club" buffet has a wonderful amount of detailing and is a pleasant place to eat (Hint, the upstairs is almost always empty and there are drink stations up there. Now that Carnival FINALLY has trays in the buffet, getting your food upstairs isn't an issue) Elevator lobbies and stairways are roomy, and the shops are big for a ship. The Rome show lounge is nice except for the hideous chandler, but it should be noted all those support poles and railings give about half the seats in the balcony an obstructed view.
"Triumph way" is the main thoroughfare on deck 5 but it doesn't particularly feel like a promenade. The casino spills out into this area, and in the evening when many photographers set up "along the way," it becomes crowed. Instead of going all the way to the back of the ship, "the way" detours into a mini atrium called Worlds Way. Hidden off this hallway is the Venezia Lounge, a nice enough lounge but I kept forgetting about it. Club Rio, the secondary lounge at the back of the ship, is also off this hallway but is too small and was rarely used on my cruise (Adult Comedy happened in the Rome lounge after the second show.) Also back here is the Big Easy Piano Bar. Oyster shells embedded in dark blue plaster is the main decorating element here, and nope, I still don't like it! The Underground Tokyo video arcade is interesting, done up to look like a cave with the odd cluster of video monitors here and there. The Hollywood Dance Club was interesting, with TV monitors everywhere, a sunken dance floor with a bit of light show. Next up, the California wine bar is a nice place to grab quick before dinner drink. (make sure to check out the glass art in the cabinets around the bar.) There is the wonderful Oxford Bar just below the Disco. This is a great bar for a before-diner drink if you are dining in the Paris Dining Room. There used to be this stupid, stupid set of staircases between the disco and the Oxford bar that let the music and noise freely pass between the rooms, but thankfully these were removed and closed off. Note that the Oxford bar is also the cigar bar so consider yourself warned. The Internet cafe is hidden off the Oxford lounge, and if the smoke doesn't scare you away the price to surf the web will!
The casino is what you would expect on a ship, enough said. The Worlds Bar is for all intensive purposes in the Casino and unless you love the pinging of slots, it isn't the nicest bar on the ship. Since I'm not a gambler it was a while before I stumbled on the Olympic sports bar. There is a small opening into the bar from the far side of The Capital Atrium, and of course a huge opening into the casino. Very low key for a sports bar, and at night this is basically the other bar for the gamblers.
Rounding off the Promenade deck is the Vienna Cafe where for only 1or 2 dollars you get some truly great desserts and cookies, and an assortment of stores charging standard prices for duty-free stuff and outrageous prices for everything else (like you would pay in any hotel sundry shop.)
As an aside, smoke wasn't a big deal this cruise. Only in the casino, Olympic bar, Oxford bar and the port side of the pool deck was it an issue, but then again this is exactly where the smokers are suppose to be.
I did us the fitness facilities and they were top notch. Sauna and steam rooms feature floor to ceiling widows which is nice as it gives these normally closed in rooms a nice feel. The gym is large with windows gazing out on the sea, so spending the extra time working off dinner isn't quite so bad. There is a good assortment of Cardio and Resistance equipment, along with some hand weights. The hot tubs are enclosed by glass walls at look out on the gym. One slight flaw is the windows don't go high enough so when you are on the Stair Masters or Elliptical Trainers you can't look out to the horizon, just down to the sea. The juice bar a floor above seemed to always be closed, and scheduled classes were combination of free stretching and aerobics along with yoga and spinning classes for a charge. Club O2 and the kids facilities were scattered on the same floors as the gym and spa, but with no kids in tow I really can't say much about these facilities or programs.
Deck space was a mixed bag. The New World Pool in the rear has sadly lost it's nice cushioned loungers, and with people getting food from the grill, pizza and ice cream stations it's a little like sunbathing in a restaurant. The waterslide by the main pool is a lot of fun and worth climbing all those stairs. Hot tubs (more like warm tubs) are scattered everywhere, but expect a kid or 2 in there most of the time (the ones in the spa are kid-free). Finally, right off the lobby on deck 3 are two outdoor half Promenades under a lifeboats, one on each side of the ship. At night many couples wander along here hand in hand, and during the day the loungers are great for readers trying to find some shade and quiet. Unfortunately high winds closed these decks several times on my cruise. Added since my last cruise were a nine hole mini-golf course and a small basketball (¼ court?) on the Sun deck forward.
What is a problem on the main decks is that closed in feeling. While it is nice to have an "enclose-able" pool, the New World Pool in the rear is closed in on all sides making it feels like an indoor pool with a missing roof. The main pool, the Continental Pool, is closed in too. All those tiers of seating, which look like a good idea on paper, in actuality all have railings and no open visas across the deck, and sadly the whole area looks much smaller than it is. The tiered areas also have their sea views blocked by solid metal windscreens. The children's' outdoor play area is small for a ship this big. The infamous topless deck seems to be gone and is now marketed as "adults only." Finally, there is nowhere to eat a meal from the South Beach Restaurant and smell the sea air, all tables are under cover and separated from the sea by floor to ceiling glass. On the Fantasy class ships, the two rear decks off the buffet restaurants are my favorite places to eat.
One big issue is deck chairs. Now this is an issue on all ships, but I've never seen it as bad as it was on this cruise. On our first sea day some of the upper decks were closed due to high winds, and I'm not kidding when I say you were stepping over people who had laid their towels on the deck trying to find a place in the sun. It was unreal and by far the worst crowding I've experienced in all of the 14 cruises I've done! Hopefully Carnival will look into installing some windscreens so those upper decks can stay open when it's windy. There were a lot of people with cloaking devices on this cruise since much of the time the deck chairs appeared empty expect for a towel, go figure!
Movement around the ship is hampered a bit by the design. There are three decks of cabins between the promenade deck and the pool deck, and the two-story London dining room was forever forcing me up and down stairs. The photo gallery was always crowed and made getting to the Rome show lounge a bit of a pain. However since I've been on the ship before I got in the habit of using decks 1,2 and 5 for getting back and forth.
The upgrade fairy was kind, and my 1A guarantee became a 6A outside. Wow, are those rooms huge! Two twins made up into a King, a twin-bed sized sofa, a small arm-chair and an adjustable height table. Housing a small family in here would be an easy. There was more closet space than I could use, lots of shelves in various cabinets, but only 3 large drawers. The bathroom and shower is among the largest I've had on a ship (although anyone having experienced Disney cruise line's split-baths will be disappointed.) A basket of one-trial size products was in the bathroom but not refilled, shower had a shampoo and body wash dispenser. The safe was a magnetic strip activated, I just used my AAA card so I didn't demagnetize my room key. Once I heard my neighbor's TV and occasionally people in the hallway, but by and large the room was quiet. The room was in pretty good shape. The carpet was brand new (it left all kinds of fluff on my suitcase so I knew that for sure) and the bathroom really clean. The upholstered headboard had seen better days and the sofa was in rough shape (it was clean but one side looked like it was falling apart.) As for the Carnival Comfort Bed, well, it's nice and all but I prefer a softer bed (Cabin Steward couldn't find a pad for the bed, but he did put an extra duvet underneath that helped)
The inside cabins are virtually identical to every other Carnival inside cabin. They are a nice size but no sofa. I stayed in one of these insides on my last cruise and the thing had five beds: the two regular twins, two bunks stored out-of-sight into the ceiling, a fifth bed stored under on of the twins. This is an example of "just because you can, doesn't mean you should." I cannot imagine five people sharing that cabin together, at least not five people who wanted to talk to each other ever again.
Last cruise I got a chance to see a friend's 1A outside cabin at the very front of the ship. The room was at least 50% bigger than the insides despite being cheaper. It could easily sleep three, one on the single twin bed, one on the full-length sofa and one on the bunk over the sofa, and there were two portholes for some natural light. At the time I was jealous (since I had an inside that cruise) until my friend called me saying "you've got to hear this!" Sure enough, with every wave we hit, it sounded like someone struck the side of the ship with a rubber mallet, so consider that when looking at those 1A bargain rooms! Also, while many of the 1A's are outsides with a single bed and a sofa, watch out! There are 2 inside 1A's with bunks and no sofa.
I've also seen a few category 8 balcony rooms. While smaller than the standard outside cabins, with only a loveseat instead of a full couch, there is that wonderful balcony. While small and not deep, it must be nice to have your own little piece of deck!
This cruise I was at the late, late (8:30 PM) seating. Food at dinner was unbelievably good. Not sure if I ordered well or if the ship was having a good week, but WOW it was the best cruise ship food I've EVER had! If you're on a Carnival cruise and the white chocolate bread pudding is on the menu, GET IT. In fact, go book a Carnival cruise right now just so you can have it! Carnival has also expanded the number of standard dishes (chicken, steak, fish, etc.) for picky eaters who don't want to try the daily dishes. I had the New York steak substitute one night and it was really good. Also, hot chocolate melting cake is on the menu every night, and it is fantastic too.
Service was really good in the evenings. Gone is the tag team approach Carnival tried a few years back and they're back to the standard waiter/assistant waiter setup. Our team was great, preferences were remembered and slip-ups corrected immediately. Service was fast, we never waited long for anything. Our team wasn't as friendly as some I've had, but they were more than pleasant and I have nothing but compliments for them.
I had a few meals in The South Beach Cub and the food was only ok at the main buffets. Triumph has a traditional buffet arrangement (2 inside and 2 outside with less selection) instead of the now-popular "action stations" and lines were slow all the way round. Sandwiches at the deli were really good, and the oriental counter has really improved. Gone is a faux Chinese food replaced with Thai, Indian and Asian fusion food, which is laudable but not always successful. The grill was opened for odd hours but the line was always long so I never tried it. Sushi is offered every night near the world's bar on the promenade and was pretty good (although not much of it was actually raw) Pizza was a little hit and miss which surprised me as I've always enjoyed Carnival's pizza in the past.
The biggest service flop was the open seating breakfast and lunch in the Paris dinning room. Breakfast menu never changed but frankly anything I could have wanted was on there. Lunch on the other hand was not good. The menu was limited and one time I didn't see anything I wanted. Service was terrible, as in so bad if I was on land I wouldn't leave a tip! Slow, indifferent, never asked if I wanted coffee or dessert. One time the waiter was literally throwing dirty cutlery into a bin right by our table so loudly I couldn't talk to my tablemates. He might as well looked at us and said "get out." I felt like I was inconveniencing the staff just by being there. This might have been a fluke, but wow I didn't come back after that!
You have to understand something about me. When I go to Vegas I see Cirque du Soleil. I've heard tribal drums played, I've seen Stomp and Blast and Blue Men group. I love chamber music. I've been NYC nightclubs and know after-hours=5AM. I think modern, acrobatic dance is really cool. I've seen a bit of Broadway but I'm not really a show fan. My father is Trinidadian, so I know the difference between Calypso and Soca and love both.
In short, I am the nightmare for anyone programming cruise entertainment. But I remind myself that this is a cruise ship and well, you get what you paid for and you didn't pay $100 for show tickets in the theater.
That said it surprised me that after 6-7 year the exact same shows were playing on Triumph as on my last cruise! I went to the Rome Theater most nights and the shows were pretty good for what they were. I'm not a fan of the "hooray for Hollywood/Broadway/etc" revue shows but "Century Cafe" was done flawlessly and the other production show, "Wonderful World," not as successful (ok, it was bad.) Both shows had the usual costume changes and good set design. "New Wave Magic" had some pretty impressive production values for a cruise ship show. The guest hypnotist was good both for the G-rated and Adults only shows. The other adult comedy shows were pretty funny too. Carnival is going out on a limb and testing a midnight "adult's only Vegas style show" which had the magic guys back, more suggestive routines and costumes for the dancers, provocative music, a super high cheese factor and a general lack of good taste. The opening greeting included "if you're offended by material of a suggestive nature, what the hell are you doing here!" so people were well warned before hand!
The poolside band was ok, the jazz trio seemed good and people were enjoying them (I'm not a big jazz fan), the classical trio were wonderful if unappreciated on this ship. The rock band was all from Asia; you only get that on a cruise ship! There were a lot of spring breakers on this cruise so when I walked into the disco and realized I was about 15 years older than everyone else, I didn't give it much of a chance.
Since I was resting a lot I did turn on the TV more than once. Satellite feeds were hit and miss. There was a cartoon network and discovery channel stations that appeared to be old episodes on tape. Other offerings included ship information, an on-board infomercial channel, the cruise video, shore talks, 3 movie channels (but no real guidance on when the movies started) and a smattering of national feeds from, of all places, Colorado? The interactive system was working, so you could check your folio, order movies and book shore excursions if you wanted (it was slow though.) There was an option to view the day's dinner menus, but these never seemed to be correct.
Our ports of call were half moon cay (a lovely beach, but the weather didn't cooperate), St Thomas, San Juan and Nassau. For me this was a lot of "been there, done that." St Thomas I went to Secrete Harbor resort to use their beach. The resort restaurant was really good and reasonably priced (for the islands) but the beach wasn't so nice. San Juan I wandered downtown and went through "the other fort" Castillo San Cristobal which for $3 was worth the effort. Nassau I was going to stay on the ship but ended up touring Atlantis. It's a cool place in a Disney kinda way, but too expensive. It was $32 to tour the grounds (staff posted around the resort were checking wristbands) and an astounding $105 for use the waterpark and pools for the day. Glad I went but I won't rush to get back.
Much improved and relatively painless even though we were a bit delayed. Skip the self-serve if you're not too rushed, it's a pain to haul bags around the ship. Instead of colors Carnival uses numbers so you know what order you'll be called. You'll be ushered into the Rome lounge and then taken off in smaller groups, which means there isn't the "everybody crowd around the door" mess like there was on my last cruise. Immigration is now handled in the terminal so if Mr. So-&-So doesn't hear his name called the whole ship isn't held up. Forget to pay your bill? Expect to be caught as the door when you scan your sail and sign card for the last time, I saw someone sent back. Immigration finally has their act together and for the first time in 14 cruises I had no work visa issues (yeah!) Baggage is now on carousels like at an airport (no more warehouse of bags to sort through.) My transfer to FLL was held up until we filled the bus (hate that) but otherwise Carnival really had their act together!
I can't end this review without singing the praises of the AirTran supervisor on duty when I flew home. With winter storms up the east coast and throughout midwest, the system was in chaos. This angel somehow managed to get our plane to right gate, clear the plane, check our connections and board the plane by herself without a computer (radioing our information to someone at another gate) and getting us off the ground only ½ hour late. Unbelievable!
This was a really good cruise. I got the rest I needed and I was well taken care of for the whole week. There have been notable improvements to the ship since I cruised her last in 2001, and there were improvements in food and service since my last Carnival cruise a year and a half ago. Sure, there was a service lapse here and there, but overall I enjoyed my trip. The Triumph offers a solid cruise experience and all the basics are there. Now, there is no rock climbing wall, skating rink or supper-clubs, but frankly the cost differential to be on a ship with those features is better spent in the spa or on more memorable shore excursions in my opinion. This Triumph cruise was an amazing value, and for people who are up for a Carnival cruise experience, I can fully recommend this ship.