We took a bus from upstate NY to the port. Baggage handlers took care of our bags from bus to ship. They do expect a tip. Not part of Carnival. Arrived around 11am, was one of the first few hundred in line. That sounds like a lot, but not that many people. The port had chairs for about 300 people and then queuing after that. Very organized and orderly to board. No crazy rush. Lines are broken out by cabin section, so everyone isn't in one line. When you get to the front, it's very quick if you filled out your Fun Pass on line. They just swipe your credit card, give you your room keys, and you are off. Takes longer if you didn't fill out the Fun Pass on-line, as you have to do all that at the desk. Next is security...a quick bag x-ray and you are on your way.
If you board on 3rd deck, stop by Purser's desk and grab the Carnival Capers (activity newsletter) and a map of the ship for your first day and head up to Lido Deck 9. They are on the counter. No need to wait in line. Check your room key for your dining seating. If you don't like it, you can wait in line at Purser's desk and try to change it. We had the early seating, as we requested, but later I'll tell you why I'd prefer the later seating. Take the elevators in the center of the atrium. You won't be able to get into your room for a few hours (they'll post the times), so take your carry-on bag, get a good seat (by the pool, near the pool, or in the restaurant) and make yourself comfy.
Take a good look at all your food options, as many people didn't discover them until Day 2 or 3. You have a small international buffet...continuing toward the aft or stern (that's the back of the ship), you'll run into the Deli (small but nice option), continuing on is the main buffet in the Mediterranean area. There are 2 identical buffets here. Continuing around further aft, you'll find the 24x7 pizza place (I admit I ate one slice of goat cheese and mushroom and garlic every day), Mississippi BBQ (really just burgers, dogs, fries), and another pool. Heading back into the Mediterranean area, you'll find an Asian offering, and lastly by the main pool areas, you'll have another burgers, dogs, fries buffet. Don't forget the free flowing, self-service, soft-serve ice cream or yogurt. Then there are drink stations. Water, iced tea, fruit punch, and some juices are free. There's also hot cocoa, coffee, and hot tea for free. Soda comes from the bar for a cost. That's your first lunch.
Be sure to bring a carry-on bag to allow you to be comfy during this time. If warm, drop some layers (many were in swimsuits sunning by noon) or add a hat & sunglasses. If cool, be able to pull out a jacket. You might want some reading material if you had a long journey to the ship. Since I had a short drive, we took our carry-on bag and started to walk off our lunch. The ship is very large at first glance, but after day one, I could navigate the entire ship (and I am very directionally challenged).
Day One will allow you to check out the gym/spa, as they will give tours. Enter the gym via his/hers locker rooms near the spa reception desk. They offer free seminars throughout the voyage too. Do make time to go to the gym or walk on the track every day you are at sea, or you will see your weight creep up. Bring fitness gear, as many people learned about the need to exercise and were walking in flip flops and jeans. Bring the gear and plan to use it. Excursion days will have enough walking for you. Find your dining room (Atlantic or Pacific). Check out the Caribbean Lounge where the nightly shows are held and figure out what will be your preferred seating (Deck 3 was for "Orchestra" ; Deck 4 was for "Dress Circle"; Deck 5 was Balcony). You'll see the details for your first night's show in the Capers.
Finally, your room will be ready. Don't be worried if your bags aren't there. Lots of bags to load and deliver. Eventually they'll be outside your cabin. If your cabin steward comes by soon enough, they'll actually be in your cabin.
While husband was napping (who could sleep with so much to see & do?), I mapped out our afternoon and evening using the Capers. If you didn't book your excursions on-line, there is still time to do so at the Purser's desk. There will even be a lecture on the ship to tell you about them on your At Sea Day. If you miss the lecture, they'll broadcast it to your TV later. Your TV will have some US shows and news (from Denver!?), but you can stay connected to US. You'll learn about tides and temperature; you'll see a webcam of the Lido deck to see if it's crowded or raining, so check out your TV. When bags arrived, unpacking was easy, plenty of room for our clothes. Nice free amenities in bathroom & good shower pressure. Soon it's time for lifeboat drill at around 4:30pm. Grab your life vest in your room and head toward to elevators/stairs. Crew will direct you to your muster station. Expect chaos, as it's poorly organized and very crowded. Even if you wanted to listen, you really can't because they don't control the noise level or ask people to be quiet. If you are short, then you are really in trouble b/c you can't see the demonstration and you can't hear the instructions. Pray for a safe voyage.
Leaving NY is so fun, so drop off your life vest right after the drill, grab your camera and head out to the deck. I suggest the deck right behind the Carnival "Tail." It takes about an hour for the ship to head out of NYC and go under the "bridge," but it makes for some great photography. Empire State Bldg, Statue of Liberty, NY Skyline, other boats, etc. If you can, stay until the ship goes under the "bridge." What an optical illusion…especially if you are behind the "Carnival Tail." You are convinced it won't fit under the bridge…your eyes will play tricks on you. If you have the early dinner seating, this event may not be possible. For the 6pm seating, they won't allow you in the dining room after 6:30pm. Reason #1 why we wish we had the later dining time.
Dining: Dining room dining is nice with a nice number of selections. I tried the Spa Cuisine a few times, and always found it unsatisfying. Portions are fine, not too big/small. If you are a big eater, order more. If you don't like it, replace it. Few dessert options each night. I abstained for the first few nights, but eventually caved in. Expect to be seated at a table of 4-8 people.
We tried all dining options during the cruise: room service (free 24x7), buffet, and dining room. They all had their advantages. The room service menu was nice and had a good number of options. They guarantee delivery within a 30 minute window for breakfast. The buffet gives you the most variety for different foods and portion sizes. Lines can be long, even with all your different buffet stations (i.e. Asian, Deli, main, Pizza, etc.). Dining room can take a bit longer too, as it's cooked to serve. Ports: Take an excursion. Those who didn't were not fond of the ports. Those who did enjoyed the ports. On your own, they are dull. With a guide, they have their charm. As a minimum, the double decker bus tour in Halifax is a must.
Activities - few notes:
Captain's reception - we skipped it. We read a few Critic reviews we didn't like. Instead we watched a movie by the pool and ate at the buffet. People who went told us they didn't like it (long wait for drinks and never met the Captain), but they wouldn't have wanted to skip it either.
Tea time is around 3:30pm on your At Sea Day. Go! Lovely music, tea, and pastries (even cucumber sandwiches). The first At Sea Day isn't so crowded. We had 2 cups of tea and 2 rounds of pastries. Then the word gets out. For the second At Sea Day, the room is packed by 3:30pm. We got a seat, waited for 30 minutes, and by 4pm, we left, as we couldn't get any service because there were too many diners and not enough pastry carts (which travel to your table).
Galley tour on last At Sea day was fun. Acupuncture offering in Spa was interesting. I've never been a human pin cushion. Golf lecture was very informative.
Caribbean dining room - we saw each show almost every night. Music, magician, dancing, comedy…different each night.
Evening activities: disco was always dead, most clubs were smoky, the one non-smoky club had a loud one-man-band. Shops are open for a short while but after one visit, you don't need to go back (though they try to draw you back with nightly sales). So despite the list of offerings, we never found much to do at night after our show.
Why I'd take the later dining seating: 1) leaving NYC port is relaxing…not having to rush to 6pm seating. 2) Port days are a bit rushed…touring….back to the ship….wait in line….change…to dining room by 6pm. 3) Evening activities…dinner ends at 8pm, show in Caribbean goes from 8:30 - 10pm. Then we couldn't find anything to do until midnight activities or shows. So we went to bed by 10:30pm and missed the midnight activities. Later dining would have kept us busy to midnight.
Packing tips: bring layers. From hot in NY harbor in August to chilly in Canada. Be able to layer up and down. Plan for rain or mist. Don't be upset or disappointed. Plan for it and dress accordingly.
Debarkation - we attended the briefing (it will be broadcast to your TV if you miss it) and followed the tips for self-exit. Took about 30 minutes to leave the ship. Be patient.
Summary: First cruise…we thought the ship would be too big and crowded. It's not. You can always find a private space on this ship. Food was nice … healthy options if you want them. Service was good (not great). Malcolm was our Cruise Director and made the trip fun for 3,000 people (funny and energetic). Overall, Carnival Victory to Canada was a very nice value for your vacation dollar.