First off, I'd like to say that this review is not intended to be a diary of my vacation, just some things I thought might be helpful to someone who might want to consider cruising on Carnival's Victory.
Embarkation: After reading several posts about some of the nightmares since September 11th, I figured I might as well get to the port early to avoid the crowds. I arrived at approximately 10:30 a.m. and was able to check my bags and was in line inside the terminal by 11:00 a.m. There were about 150 or so people in front of us, but only 2 people checking passengers in. Around 12:00 several Carnival employees showed and 2 additional lines were opened. Those of us who were already in line, had to wait in our original line. Those customers who walked in at around 12:00 were promptly checked in. We were finally checked in around 12:30 or so and proceeded to pick up our sail and sign. The ship began boarding around 1 pm so the whole embarkation process lasted around 2 ½ hours. Not too bad, in my opinion
The Ship: The Carnival Victory is a beautiful ship. As many have described her in great detail, I will spare you the redundancy. She's beautiful. Most public areas were clean. She looks a little worn in, but I would expect that since I think the Victory has been in commission since 1999.
The Cabin: The cabin was spacious; we were on Upper deck aft balcony cabin. Personally this was one of the few instances where I was a little disappointed. The entire deck (deck 6) seemed in rough shape. The carpets were stained, and should be replaced. The bed linens had stains and cigarette burns in them. On the balcony, the 2 chairs had stains on them, and there were some heavy scratches on the protective glass underneath the railing. I asked my cabin steward to please change the sheets and to have someone clean up the balcony a bit. She did so, yet the new bed linens had similar stains on them. Over the next few days she changed all the sheets several times, but all seem to have these similar stains on them. Our cabin steward told us that she had just been reassigned to our deck due to many complaints. She did an admirable job and was very nice. My biggest disappointment was that my cabin (6412) was positioned directly over Promenade deck (deck5), specifically right over the Red & Black Seas Lounge. The first couple of nights was not a big deal but on the nights before Grand Cayman and Ochos Rios, I wanted to get some sleep and found it hard to get any until after 3 am. If you are a light sleeper stay away from Upper Deck cabins!
The Food: I've traveled twice before on Carnival's Imagination in 1997 and then on Carnival's Paradise in 1999. The menu was the same, yet the food in the main dining room was much better on Victory. On a scale of 1 to 10 I'd say the food was probably a 7. Not too bad in my opinion, considering you're on a cruise ship. On lido deck I was also pleasantly surprised by the food. I thought there was some pretty good variety on the buffet for lunch. Breakfast on lido was what you'd expect, powder scrambled eggs, bacon and so on. The dinner buffet was the only one I though needed some work. I tried it one night and was disappointed at the lack of choices on the buffet. The food was edible, just not something to look forward to. The Mississippi Barbecue was actually pretty good, I wouldn't call it barbecue food, but pretty darned good burgers, steak sandwiches, and grilled sandwiches. I tried the East River Deli once and thought it was pretty gross, same goes for the Chinese restaurant. Pizzeria was ok, they never had all of the different pizzas available, but was as good as I remembered it.
Ports of Call. This is my 3rd cruise, and it's also my 3rd time sailing Western Caribbean. In Mexico we went on the Passion Island excursion. Lots of money, nice beach, simply not worth the $128 my wife and I paid for it. In Grand Cayman we tried the Wreck & Reef Snorkel. This snorkel tour was awesome. We had a great time, beautiful coral formation and a ton of fish. In Jamaica my wife and I decided to do the Ochos Rios Highlight A tour. We had a blast, although we didn't do the "Dunn's River Falls" we though everything else was great. Shaw Park is beautiful, fern gully was interesting, and the shopping, we thought was fun. Worth the money.
Staff/Service I was one of the guys who thought that since Carnival had implemented the "auto-tip" policy that service would suffer. In my humble opinion, we received the best service to date. The staff was extremely friendly, my waiter in the dining room was the best yet, bar tenders were great, I can't say enough about them. I had read on several threads about the cruise director, John Heald, being "the best" and didn't understand it. I can't remember the cruise director of any of my previous cruises. John Heald was great. He was very funny, extremely friendly and warm. My wife and I were very impressed with him and how he would involve passengers in some of his bits. For those of you who sailed on this cruise, you know what I mean. "Richard Wooden" was hilarious. And the week long saga of Rita and her less than romantic husband, and ole Arv from Georgia... We though it was a riot.
Misc. My wife and I attended several of the art auctions. We very much enjoyed them not only to bid on some very beautiful art pieces but to learn a little bit about some contemporary art. There were all kinds of art work up at extremely competitive prices. Dali, Max, Fanch, Kincaid, etc. This was one of the highlights of our cruise.
The lowlight has to be the smoking situation on board. It kind of felt like a smoker's convention. There was not a single place, aside from the main dining room, buffet room on lido and the show lounge that wasn't smogged out by cigarette smoke. Absolutely disgusting. I could not believe the amount of smoking going on. I was at the Trident bar one night outside the casino and had to leave because my eyes were burning from all the cigarette smoke. On my balcony my neighbor loved to light up. This usually isn't a problem but his cabin was forward of mine so all of his cigarette smoke would blow onto my balcony. This is where I missed the Paradise the most. Even on Imagination in 1997 it wasn't as bad as on Victory.
Debarkation: Well, if it weren't for the late start it would have been the easiest yet. But there were a bunch of non-US citizens who didn't report when they were supposed to and customs held up the entire ship until all of those people were accounted for. They started general debarkation for all US Citizens around 11 am and I was off and in my car by 11:45. Not too bad here either.
Conclusion: All in all we had a great week and had a great time. A lot of things exceeded my expectations but there was definitely room for improvement. Aside from the cabin location issue, any other issues or complaints I had, someone was willing to "fix" the situation as best they could. Keeping this in mind, I think next time around I'll sail Paradise again or maybe try a different cruise line. I've talked to friends who've sailed other lines and say that smoking isn't a big deal. Hopefully this helps someone out.