Our Cabin: We were assigned cabin 2393 on Main Deck. The cabin was one section back from the bow of the ship. As previously mentioned, we arrived on Deck 2 at 1:30 and found the watertight doors closed. After a few minutes my wife opened them and discovered passengers already in the passageway. Apparently someone hadn't gotten the memo about opening the doors. We found our cabin relatively quickly. Call it a peculiarity, but I normally select cabins on the port (left) side of the ship, this cabin was on the starboard side and I was never able to completely reconcile myself to that location. Unlike other cruise ships, the Victory had no "tell" for left or right (aka odd and even). Many lines have different color carpet or stripes or some other method to let you readily spot your side of the ship. The Victory had gold signs with black lettering reading odd or even depending on the side of the ship. The signs while very impressive looking, do not make for an easy read. Several passengers voiced similar complaints about the signage and lack of tells.
Our cabin was relatively spacious. The bathroom with the stall shower was done in 1950s pink. This really didn't bother me as our bathroom at home is 1956 pink as well. Of particular note was the fact that the floor drains in the bathroom didn't work. The first time I took a shower I emerged to find the bathroom flooded. It almost reminded me of a scene from Get Smart. Yes boys and girls the shower curtain was inside the rim. I could look down at the soapy water just sitting on both bathroom drains going no where. A call was made to the pursers office and someone came to attend to the drains. Talking with fellow passengers, I found out that this was not a unique situation.
The two twin beds were pushed together with the nightstands to either side. The room also had a convertible vinyl couch in an off shade of pink. The couch looked very "cheap" in comparison to the other furnishings in the cabin. The Carnival bedding and pillows were extremely comfortable.
The TV in the cabin was a CRT type with Direct TV. For some reason, the feeds for the network affiliates were coming out of Denver, CO. I can tell you about every local story that happened during our week at sea. Carnival tapes a lot of the presentations from the Caribbean Lounge and airs them on one of the many in house channels. This is something that I don't recall seeing on other lines and is a plus. On the downside, Malcolm Burn (aka Malcolm in the middle) was there giving the same port talk everyday as well (at least that is how it seemed). As a result of Tropical Storm Hanna, we skipped our port of call at Boston. Nevertheless, the Captains Log (star date...sorry) still showed us stopping at Boston. There are two IT guys on board with a satellite link back to Carnival headquarters; couldn't someone make up a new slide for the revised itinerary? The TV has an interactive function that enables you to view your Sail and Sign card activity as well as the daily evening menu in the dining room. Pay per view movies are offered as well, but we didn't go away to watch movies in the cabin.
In addition to the TV, the cabin is equipped with a music system that does not work. There were 6 channels of white noise. PA announcements while played loudly in the hall were not played in the cabin. I was told that this was done so as not to disturb passengers who might be sleeping. Other ships that I have been on gave you the option of turning off the in cabin announcements (with the exception of emergency announcements) if you so desired.
One of the energy saving suggestions from Carnival is to turn down the cabin thermostat. Like most cruise ships, the Victory is not equipped with cabin thermostats. Rather, the temperature is controlled via dampers on the ceiling vent. You slide the lever on the vent to control the amount of air coming out. The range is from cyclone down to nil. You cannot, however, regulate the temperature. The cabin was always a bit chilly which was fine for me.
Another oddity was the lack of any sign in the cabin giving you the name of your cabin steward. On other cruises, there was generally a sign on the desk giving you the steward's name. While we saw him out in the hall each morning, he never gave us his name. He was very efficient and very polite. On the telephone there is an option to page your steward. I tried this twice and he never appeared. In all fairness, the second page was done during our time in Halifax which was an "off" period for him.
Tropical Storm Hanna: She deserves a comment of her own. We had been following Hanna's progress for the few days preceding the cruise. All of the forecasts agreed on the fact that it would impact the NYC Metro area on Saturday, 9/6/2008. Ellen and I had our Gorton's Fisherman gear on but it never did rain prior to our arrival at the ship. Shortly before departure, the skies turned dark and foggy and the rain began. Believing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, we took our Bonine at 3:00.
Many of our fellow passengers were disappointed by the fact that they would not be able to see the NYC skyline and the Statue of Liberty. We were sitting by the aft pool with a couple from down south and I was trying to do my best NYC commentary pointing out things through the fog. It was amazing how low the visibility was.
As we cleared the south shore of Long Island, things started rocking a bit. While we were sampling the free "booze" in the gift shop, the ship did a sudden roll and the saleslady and her wares almost went flying. A display rack also started to fall over. This was small compared to an experience that we once had on the Celebrity Zenith. I also have to say that we have been through worse than Hanna and were deathly seasick in 1979 on the Home Lines Doric.
Ellen and I went to dinner at 8:15 and returned to our cabin for a moment. Well, the cabin was rocking side to side just a bit more than normal. Mind you, we did not get seasick, I was just tired of moving back on forth. We decided to call it an evening. The rocking motion was generally from side to side just like a baby in the cradle. It was occasionally punctuated by the sound of something crashing to the floor in one of the other cabins.
The next morning we were out in the sunshine and were greeted by seasick bags taped up at the elevator banks; tacky, but effective.
Due to the end run that the captain did around the storm, we would not be stopping at Boston. Malcolm came up with a revised Capers by late afternoon for our new found "Fun Day At Sea". Perhaps Malcolm's greatest tour de force was the evening show. We were minus a magician who was supposed to get on in Boston and up one comedian who was supposed to get off in Boston. Malcolm presented a show consisting of a welcome aboard number by the Victory Dancers, a little bit of comedy material from Derrick Eason the now shanghai'd comedian and a very clever silent movie skit featuring Malcolm as the director of "volunteers" from the audience. The presentation was quite enjoyable and a hit with the passengers. With that having been said, I'm sure that Malcolm had this show "in the can" for occasions such as this, any CD worth their salt would have to. Nevertheless it was a wonderful evening. We were told that not many passengers made the welcome aboard show the first night due to the storm. This second night event would have been an apropos time for the introduction of the cruise staff, unfortunately, this was not done. Of the several ACDs on the ship, the only three that I can name are Dave Kolodney from Port Washington, NY (more on Dave later), Carl from Great Britain (very British, he could star in the re-make of Masterpiece Theater) and Misty the Karaoke Queen.
Dining: This is such an extensive topic that I will be breaking it down by meal. Breakfast: For 6 of the 7 mornings on board we went to the breakfast buffet on Lido deck. The breakfast was rather conventional fare. They had fruits, juices (no tomato), scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, oatmeal with assorted toppings, wheatena, ham, sausage, bacon, and either French toast or pancakes depending on the day. In addition there were omelette stations by the mid-ship pool and the aft pool. For those into eggs sunnyside up or over easy, they do make those as well, you just have to ask. Sugar free syrup and spreads were available. The breads varied by generally included some sort of whole grain bread, white bread, bagels and croissants. Ellen had the croissants and said that they were tasteless. The croissants and rolls looked like something out of a Panera Bread type operation. Although they had bagels and cream cheese, they were missing lox; for this you had to go to the dining room. Each morning they also had cheese, raspberry and apple danish. These were outstanding; obviously fresh made in the kitchen. If you like cereal, you would be all set; a wide assortment of Kellogg's products and 3 types of milk. Last year we cruised on the Crown Princess doing a similar itinerary. Their breakfasts were much more extensive featuring various egg creations and elaborate meat, fish and cheese platters. The breakfast on Carnival struck me more like a cafeteria type operation. The food wasn't bad, but it lacked a creative flair; advantage, Princess. For the coffee addicts out there, the coffee from the machines was fine. I believe that I saw them putting grounds in one of the machines but could be wrong. One sea day we decided to try the Pacific dining room. The wait was relatively short and our servers efficient. The menu while more extensive than the buffet was still not overly inspired. I was able to get my LEO (lox with eggs and onions) omelet. I give breakfast a 7.5. Lunch: We never did make the dining room for lunch, but dined at the Cafe Mediterranean on Lido deck. The lunch setup is basically very simple. Out by the pool on the starboard side (right) of the ship is a serving area with hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, onion rings, French fries, grilled chicken sandwiches and fixings. This same setup is by the aft pool also on the starboard side. On the port side of the ship by the mid-ship pool is the international section. The dishes here have an ethnic theme and change daily. If you are daring, give it a try; we never did. Continuing back on the port side is the New York Deli. They served corned beef, pastrami, turkey, grilled Rubens and wraps. While the quality of the deli wasn't up to NYC standards, it was nevertheless quite good. Their hours of operation are 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM so if you want an after theater sandwich, stop by. On the starboard side of the ship in the same relative position as the NY Deli is the Oriental Wok. The bulk of their dishes tend to be on the spicy side, but are relatively authentic. We had several of the items there and enjoyed them. The main buffet lines are on the port and starboard side of the ship. They are IDENTICAL so if one is shorter than the other, go for it. They had an interesting assortment of salads and hot dishes. While most of their items were uninspired, their carved meats were always EXCELLENT. One afternoon they were carving a whole turkey. I asked for the drumstick which filled a plate. You can only imagine the stares that I got; well someone had to eat it.
If you recall the old saying "all roads lead to Rome", on Carnival both buffet lines lead to dessert. The desserts are placed in the area which is used for the breakfast danish. While the table is rectangular, there are only two unique sides. The items on each side are mirrored on the opposite side.I was pleased to note that all of the dessert items were clearly labeled including those that were sugar-free aka "dietetic". Of particular note was the low carb cheesecake. Unless you are really desperate for low carbs, I would recommend that you stay away from this. Most of the dietetic cakes were acceptable. The range on the regular items ran the gamut from "eh" to "wow, this is fantastic". Their chocolate raspberry cake was fantastic and disappeared quickly. Unfortunately, not everything is replaced with the identical item.
On the last sea day they had a gala buffet lunch. The dessert table for this was fantastic. Biscotti, chocolate covered pecans, chocolate sushi and on and on. We arrived there late due to the fact that we were doing trivia and a fair amount of the table was already gone. As was their tendency, the Capers contained nothing indicating that this would be a special lunch buffet. The Capers will be mentioned in some detail in a future installment. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give the lunch an 8.5.
Dinner: We had requested and been confirmed for early seating dinner; our reservation on the Carnival web site reflected this. When we received our Sail and Sign cards, I noted that they showed our dining time as 8:15. We were told that the Maitre'd Andrea would be available in the Atlantic Dining Room beginning at 1:30 to take requests for dining changes. When the appointed hour arrived, we went to see him. There were already several passengers in line and it reminded me of going to see a judge or school principal. Andrea was at a raised podium that you had to go up a few stairs to reach. "Tell us your name and where you're from". It almost felt like a game show or visit to the principal of a school. We mentioned that our reservation was for 6:00. His reply was that the time was merely a request and not a guarantee. This was our fifteenth cruise and only the third time that we were told this. This first time was on the Carnival Triumph. The second time was on the Mississippi Queen out of New Orleans. In the former instance we were immediately moved to an early seating table. In the latter instance, we ended up staying with the late seating. If anyone has gone on the riverboat, you will remember that the average age has to be somewhere in the 70s. The passageways of the ship were always full of walkers in the evening. The midnight buffet was 10:30. I understood the predicament of that Maitre'd - everyone wanted early seating. But I digress. Andrea told us to come to the late seating for the first night and if he could accommodate us we would receive a card in our cabin the following afternoon with the new table number. When 8:15 arrived we went for dinner. By that time the ship was rocking a bit but not objectionably so. We were taken to a table for 6, but were told that it wasn't our table. Our table was the adjacent one, a table for two. Apparently the waiter switched the numbers to consolidate passengers into a single table. As it worked out, we were the only 2 people for the 8 spots and were moved back to the table for 2. The dinner was quite forgettable, I do remember steak and chocolate melting cake. The cake was as described by others on the Cruise Critic board - wonderful. Following dinner we went back to our cabin for a moment. By that time the ship was rocking pretty well and the Chocolate Melting Cake was beginning to catch up with me. Discretion being the better part of valor, we decided to call it a night.
The next afternoon still no new table; I decided to call the dining room and inquire as to the status of our request. Like something out of a spy movie just as I picked up the phone to call, a card literally flew under the door. We would now be in the Atlantic Dining Room at table 166; talk about service!!
That evening we went to dinner at 6:00 and met our new dining companions; Frank and Maria from Brooklyn, Bob and Shirley from Florida, and Ardythe and Beverly from Florida. Interestingly they had all asked for early seating and had originally been put into late. Speaking with fellow passengers it appears that the late seating was fairly empty. While I have nothing to back up my suspicions except good business practice, it appears that the Maitre'd was trying to load balance the passengers between the two seatings. Put some early into the late and if they don't complain, mission accomplished. A more cynical interpretation would be that when you go to see the Maitre'd you might feel obligated to extend a gratuity to him for granting your request. On the final day of the cruise an envelope was left in our cabin specifically for the Maitre'd gratuity.
Our waiter was Nemie originally from the Philippines by way of LA and Las Vegas and his assistant was Regidor. As previously mentioned this was our 15th cruise. Nemie was the kind of waiter that you always see at the other table, chatting with the passengers, interacting and making recommendations. Our experience with waiters for the most part has been you point, they bring. The service that we received from Nemie was refreshing; every evening he had his recommendations.
Overall the food in the dining room was quite good. Their meats were generally of good quality as was their seafood. Ellen ordered beef stroganoff that for some reason came with the egg white from a hard boiled egg; at first she that someone had made a mistake, but during the kitchen tour we saw the picture of the dinner in the kitchen, egg and all. In addition to their nightly menu, there were the Carnival Classics; animal, vegetable and seafood or poultry. I'm somewhat of a picky eater and there was always something on the menu that I could select without compromise. One of the nights they served lobster tail with shrimp; while tasty, the portion was somewhat small. We all requested a second lobster tail and received a complete dinner. The kitchen is run like an assembly line with the dinners pre-made and ready to go; the shrimp didn't go to waste. They also had filet mignon and Chateau Briand during the course of the seven nights. For those of you who like lobster bisque, you can take a pass on Carnival's version. This soup might have sat next to the lobster, but had an aroma and consistency more like 5w30 oil. The lobster bisque at Costco is far superior.
The desserts were always creative with a "dietetic" sugar free item on each nights menu. A cruise would not be complete without the Baked Alaska and Cherries Jubilee. Gone, however, is the parade of waiters coming into the dining room with the Baked Alaska flaming over their heads. Low ceilings, smoke and flame detectors... The Grand Marnier soufflE gets a 10 as does the Chocolate Melting Cake.
Each night around 7:15 the lights in the dining room would start to flash on and off almost like curtain time in a Broadway theater. This was the signal for the wait staff to prepare for their nightly presentation. They sing, they dance, and they entertain. Reading the expressions on their faces, it appeared that they actually do enjoy performing for the passengers. If you have a camcorder, be sure to bring it to dinner.
My one complaint with the dining room was the chef's failure to properly anticipate the amount of food necessary. One evening short ribs were the featured meat item. It seemed like an eternity until it came out of the kitchen. We found out later that this was their first 7 day cruise following a group of 5 day cruises. The two additional nights with their new menus appeared to pose a problem. I would almost find this acceptable but for the fact that Carnival did not start in the cruise business yesterday, they have literally boat loads of experience. The chef and his staff should know that when you offer this menu to these many passengers this is how the percentages will break out. If the chef didn't know this, then that is something for Carnival corporate to deal with. Hungry guests are not happy guests. It is no surprise that many people cruise for the dining experience that cruise ships provide. Hopefully subsequent cruisers won't have to wait as additional dinners are prepared.
I could continue on about dinner, but I think that I have mentioned the key points. I enjoyed the dining room menus, wait staff and table company, the overall rating for dinner is a 9. Other Dining: We didn't use the alternative dining for dinner as I really enjoy the dining room experience. We did use the soft serve ice cream quite a bit. The machine located on Lido Deck by the aft pool starboard side gets quite a bit of traffic; it is in service 24 hours. There are both dishes and cones available. Flavors are chocolate, vanilla, twist and the same in frozen yogurt. If you are familiar with Carvel, this was just as good. There are two other machines on Lido but they are not in full-time service. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the 24 hour pizza also located on the Lido deck aft. For those of you from New York or any big city, this is not "pizza". If you are used to Pizza Hut, Dominos or Papa Johns, this is probably better. They have a number of selections and if not completely authentic it was rather tasty. The one problem I had with the 24 hour offerings is that there were no cookies or cake available on Lido deck. With 24 hour coffee, tea and hot chocolate on Lido Deck, you need something to have with it. 24 hour pizza and ice cream is more appropriate to kids and someone having maternity cravings. It would not be a major investment to have a tray or two of cookies out. On the Crown, Princess bakes their cookies right in the Piazza and they smell wonderful. It still amazes me how a small investment in something like a cookie can have people lined up and raving about the quality; ah, warm, soft chocolate chip cookies. If you love sushi, like I love sushi. Sounds like an old Eddie Cantor song. Deck 5 right outside the casino is the home of the sushi Bar. I do NOT like sushi but it looked so interesting that I decided to give it a try. I had one with a salmon base and it was actually pretty good. Unlike other ships, Carnival does not charge for sushi. They also have sake available and there was a nominal charge for that. Try the sushi, you'll like it. Just past the sushi bar heading aft is the Gelateria. They specialize in cakes, cookies, chocolate dipped strawberries, specialty coffees and of course gelato (Italian ice cream for the uninitiated). As far as I'm concerned selling cake and cookies on a cruise ship is like selling ice to Eskimos. There is SO MUCH of that at every meal that you have to be addicted to it to pay for a between meal fix. The first day out they had a gelato tasting session. The gelato was indeed quite good. We sampled several of the flavors; one scoop for $2.75 and two scoops for $3.95. While this is described as a "nominal" charge, it is more expensive than my local Italian bakery which makes their own gelato (also to die for). The waffle cones for the gelato are baked in the Gelateria. The smell is absolutely wonderful. The gelato gets a 10+ if for the smell alone. High tea is served at 3:30 in the Ionian Lounge. While we meant to give it a try, it never fit into our schedule. We did, however, walk through while they were serving. It fare consisted of tea, little sandwiches and cakes. I can still hear Ellen saying, "how much can you eat?" maybe next time. It did look very elegant. The late night buffets were totally forgettable. They are set up in the Mediterranean Restaurant. The Mexican buffet was okay and the "Gala Midnight Buffet" was but a shadow of what they used to be. If you are tired, go to sleep and have a danish in the morning. We tried a few of the cakes and they were not as good as some of the luncheon desserts.
The Shows: I have to start off by giving Carnival very high marks for the Caribbean Lounge. There are entrances on decks three, four and five. This is an extremely large and well appointed room. Unlike the lounges on Princess, there are plenty of seats and the aisles are spacious with a table in front of each sofa unit on the lower level. The showroom on the Crown Princess looked more like a Hollywood screening room with pop-up tables coming out of the armrests and no room between rows. Carnival also does an amazing job on their room decor. The showroom on The Legend is one of my all-time favorites. We did not catch the Welcome Aboard show and I already covered Malcolm's improv silent movie. Monday night the Victory Dancers and vocalists Janae Longo and Sean Andrews presented "Livin' In America!". The show was loud and brassy and thoroughly entertaining. While none of the cruise ship shows these days are overly unique, this one ranks a 9. Ellen complained that it was too loud and she went into overload mode, aka sleeping. The Caribbean Lounge has state of the art video, audio, lighting and laser effects; their technical ability rivals just about anything that you will find on Broadway. Tuesday night's show was "Magic Moments" with magician Rand Woodbury assisted by the Victory Dancers (a ship board dancer's life is not an easy one). The show was one of the better productions of its type. Judging by the type of magic done I would go back to the old phrase "he does it with smoke and mirrors". Parts of the show could really freak you out. Overall rating 8. Wednesday night the featured entertainment was "The Comedy and Ventriloquism of Michael Zeigfeld". Michael was absolutely fabulous. He has two sets in which he interacts with puppets and for finale brings up "volunteers" from the audience who he uses as his dummies. He is an extremely talented and clever performer. He literally brought the house down and got a standing ovation. He gets a 10++. You might recall the old saying "leave well enough alone". Michael was also the star of an "R" rated show on Thursday night in the Adriatic Lounge. This was done sans puppets and consisted primarily of discussions of religion and banter with a drunken female passenger. IMHO religion and drunken women are not the things that hits are made of. The lounge was packed in anticipation of a repeat of Tuesday night's show. Alas, that was not to be. Root canal would have been preferable to sitting through parts of the show. As we were leaving the lounge, the overwhelming consensus based on exit polls (it is that time of year) from passengers was that the material was not funny. Michael would have well advised to stick to his material rather than trying to show that he was smarter than a drunken woman. Thursday night the singers and dancers returned for "Vrooom!" another excellent production rating a 9. The lounge was packed for this show. With roughly 10 minutes to go the group of people to our right decided to leave. The next time I looked over there was the Captain with a friend. From that point forward, I was telling people that we sat with the Captain at the show. Well theoretically we did. I tried to stop him to shake hands, but he moves very quickly. His next stop was the lobby where he had his picture taken with his friend. I am certain that it will be an excellent photo. I was wondering if $7.99 gets charged to his sail and sign card :-) The final night was the Carnival Legends show. This was the passenger show. We did not attend. Before each show there are warnings about taking photographs or videotaping. There are cruise directors in the house keeping an eye on what is going on. Avoid an embarrassing situation and stick with the program. The Cruise Staff: I have already mentioned the four cruise staff members who I could identify. Here is a brief synopsis: Malcolm Burn (aka Malcolm In The Middle) - Malcolm is your cruise director (totally not Julie McCoy). He hails from the Bronx, N.Y. and his sense of humor and wit is unique among CDs. I much prefer the American sense of humor to the British that you generally find on other lines. While a lot of Malcolm's "I ran into a woman this morning" type stories are obviously part of his shtick, he nevertheless crafts them so well that you have to laugh. I would have liked to see more of Malcolm before and after the stage shows rather than a disembodied voice. He has great stage presence and to quote the competition should "get out there". During our first two days on ship the Captain would come on and give us status reports on Tropical Storm Hanna. While the Captain is fluent in English, he does have a heavy Italian accent. Following the Captain's updates, Malcolm would come on and "translate" into Bronx-ese. One day when Malcolm came on with an update a fellow passenger said "where is the Captain to translate Malcolm into Italian English". I thought that it was pretty apropos. If you see Malcolm on board give him a Woo Hoo. He is a good guy and probably belongs to the Raccoon Lodge or the Royal Order Of The Water Buffalo. Carl - Thoroughly British and could host his own re-make of Masterpiece Theater. Dave Kolodney - Dave calls Port Washington, NY (on beautiful Long Island) home. We participated in several activities that Dave ran and always had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Dave combines a quick wit with an impish manner that you can not get upset with. During Game Show mania he made poor Maria a lady who screamed out an answer from her seat come up on stage and stand in the corner. He did it in such a kind and innocent manner that you had to laugh; even Maria seemed to enjoy it. Dave also ran the golf putting, super trivia, On Deck For The Cure Walk and who knows how many games of bingo. Dave told me that his background is in history and behind the scenes television work. I have seen many cruise directors in 32 years of cruising and Dave has the right combination to move from assistant cruise director to cruise director in short order. If you see Dave on board, tell him that the Long Gislanders from Bellmore say hello. Good luck Dave. Misty - Misty deserves a brass figdiggy with bronze oakleaf palms (for you Jean Shepherd fans) for doing Karaoke everyday. Talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. Everyone loves karaoke and Misty did an excellent job of encouraging people to "come on up". During our several stops in the Adriatic Lounge we heard some excellent singers and some who should turn the water in the shower up a little. That being said, when I sing the cat leaves the room. The Activities: The ship has a very nice mini-golf course. Due to the fact that we were sailing at a time when school was in session, the adults had the full run of the course. It was in very good shape and provided a nice challenge. Other activities included a golf putting contest, super trivia (a 2 day event), brain teaser trivia, name that tune, Sudoku challenge, arts and crafts, ping pong tournaments, bingo and a host of other activities. There was more than enough to keep you busy if you so desired. The bingo equipment was the most sophisticated that I have ever seen on a ship. The bingo board was projected onto a screen in the Caribbean Lounge that took up the whole opening of the stage. In addition to showing the called numbers, it showed the current number in two places as well as a picture of the bingo that you were trying to get. Once a winner was announced, their card was projected onto the screen based on the id number of the card, pretty neat. You could immediately see if they had a bingo or a bongo.
Port of Call: Due to Tropical Storm Hanna, we skipped our call at Boston.
Portland: The ship docked downtown and as we left the pier we were greeted by a host of people from the business community. One of the things which we received was a Maine Passport for Portland with discounts from local merchants; take one, they actually do come in handy. We had not been to Portland in roughly 34 years but had just been to Vermont and saw some of the attractions covered in the Carnival excursions. We decided that this would be an exploration port for the morning with a trip to Kennebunkport booked for the afternoon. We made a left turn on Commercial Street and followed the waterfront. It was pretty early in the morning and the merchants weren't expecting us in that early. The extra time again was attributable to our Hanna detour. The Portland waterfront is another area undergoing an urban restoration. There were a number of shops and restaurants and some beautiful scenery. As we walked through Portland, I saw a familiar sight, the Civic Center home of the Portland Pirates hockey team. They are the minor league affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres. At this point I got a brainstorm; as Canada is hockey country, I will collect local hockey team hat pins at our ports of call. A stop at the Pirates team store got me on the way. Downtown Portland is also the home to an L.L. Bean outlet store located on Congress Street. If you are into Bean's merchandise, they had some nice bargains and a 10% of coupon in the Passport. One of the shops that we particularly enjoyed in Portland is Maines Pantry located on Commercial Street. They have some wonderful items made right in Maine. The blueberry preserves were outstanding (free tasting). They had a number of samples in the store. The passport has a coupon for a free quarter pound of fudge with a $15.00 purchase. The fudge was also outstanding.
After lunch we went back to the tour marshalling area to board our tour bus to Kennebunkport. Our guide was Addie, an L.L. Bean employee working part-time as a tour guide, and our driver was Paul. The tour covered the scenic Maine countryside with narration along the way. We spent roughly 1 1/2 hours in Kennebunkport. It is a typical quaint New England town. There are a number of shops to browse in. On the way back to the ship we passed Walker Point which is the summer home of George Herbert Walker Bush. As the flags were flying when we drove by, we were told that they were at home according to Addie they are just regular folk. We arrived back at the ship at 5:30. This happened to be the night of the Captain's cocktail party. The party started at 5:15. By the time we got back to the cabin the party was over. We had thought about going to the later party, but finished dinner too late for that one. If you want a nice ride out into the countryside this tour should get top consideration.
Saint John: This was our 4th trip to Saint John. It is a friendly city but not the center of excitement. The ship docks in an area which while walk able to downtown is not as convenient as the location of the Princess dockage. There was a free shuttle continuous shuttle to the downtown area that dropped you off at the shopping mall. We tried walking it one time and it takes about 10 minutes. In Saint John I continued my Hockey Quest. The local team in Saint John is the Saint John Sea Dogs who play at the Harbour Station. The quickest access to the arena is via the overhead skyway from the mall. When we arrived there, the team store was closed. The ticket agent directed me to the team office location. We went upstairs and followed a corridor that ran behind the stands. At the end of the corridor was the team office. I explained to the lady that we were from New York and that I wanted to get a team hat pin. She opened the drawer and gave me one. That would NEVER happen in New York. Mission #2 accomplished.
Following the passageways back we went through the City Hall Mall and into the farmers' market. There we met two locals; Mr. Fudge and Danny who makes jewelry with Bay of Fundy clay. Mr. Fudge was very nice and talkative, but his fudge was way too sweet for us; it was almost like flavored sugar. Danny who ran the jewelry stand was likewise a talkative fellow. Ellen bought a 2010 Vancouver Olympics necklace from him. He was also giving out samples of Mr. Fudge's product.
Following our visit to the market, we walked through the downtown historic area of Saint John. If you are into architecture there are many interesting blocks that run parallel to Water Street. One of the stores that we stopped into was Hayward and Warwick . In addition to a wonderful selection of china, the also have a china museum adjacent to the store with free admission. They do not carry Hummels or Lladro. One of the salesladies told us that there are minimum order requirements from the manufacturers and they do not do the kind of volume that would allow them to meet those requirements. For anyone who has ever been to Front Street in Bermuda, this shop will make you feel right at home.
Leaving the china shop and heading to the water we passed a building with a lovely art gallery in it. If you take the tourist info when leaving the ship, you will receive a map of the downtown with many points of interest listed as well as galleries.
Our last stop was a store that specialized in repairing vintage hi-fi equipment. The owner and I schmoozed a little about the glory days of hi-fi.
In case you are wondering what Sally Struthers (Gloria Stivic in All in the Family) is up to these days, she is currently in the road production of Nunsense. The show was scheduled for the Imperial Theatre in downtown Saint John during September.
Before returning to the ship we stopped at the shopping area set up in the tent outside the pier. There are a number of interesting shops and the prices are CHEAPER THAN HALIFAX. One thing that you cannot pass up are the sugar coated nuts made fresh right before your very eyes. Although I have to watch my sugar intake, I could not resist and bought some for our son. We also stopped at the Moosehead Brewery store and got him an appropriate shirt. Moosehead is the local brew.
Halifax: This was our 5th visit to Halifax. The ship docked at Pier 21 between the Aida and the Maasdam. Pier 21 is also the home to the Canadian Immigration Museum. Once again there was a shopping mall adjacent to the ship. The prices here tended to be a little on the high side. We decided that we would explore Halifax on foot. There is a free bus that takes you around town call the Fred ; the bus passed us a few times but was always SRO. Our first stop was the Public Gardens. This is a magnificent garden located in the middle of the city. Take a few minutes to stroll the gardens. We were treated to some information courtesy of a guide who passed us with a tour group. From the gardens we went across the street to The Citadel . We arrived just in time for the changing of the guard; quite a nice ceremony. As admission was about $21.00 pp and time was short; we decided not to go into the fort. We took the steps down to Brunswick Street passing the town clock in the process.
The base of the stairs left us off at the Halifax Metro Center. This is the home of the Halifax Mooseheads . Yes, you're correct, another hat pin.
While looking for the Scotia Square Mall, we ran into Lynn, Ed, Lynn's mom and her cousin. They too were in search of the mall for the restrooms. Lynn's mom looks so young I mistook her for Lynn at first. It sounds like the old dish detergent commercial "only their hands tell them apart". We were ultimately successful in restroom quest. the entrance to the mall is near Duke and Barrington Streets.
Continuing down Duke street we arrived at the water. There is a walkway along the water lined with shops, restaurants and a maritime museum . You get some scenic vistas of the water and if you're lucky will see the Bluenose II in full sail.
We arrived back at the ship in time for lunch.
Following lunch we walked over to the Via Rail Canada train station. I'm a train nut and just enjoy looking around. While there were no trains in, the station and adjacent hotel (apparently former CN) were worth the trip.
The Carnival Capers: The Capers is Carnival's daily activity sheet. It seemed that the Capers for our cruise was a massaged version of the 5 day Capers. We were interested in the Walk For The Cure. The Sunday Capers said that the walk would be on Friday (the last sea day), the Monday and Tuesday Capers said "tomorrow". The walk was indeed on Friday. Doesn't anyone proof these?
The Wednesday Capers cover (a fun day at sea) had the dress code as "Cruise Elegant". Inside the Capers it said dinner dress code "casual dining". I called the pursers office for an answer, their reply "casual elegant", oy!! Malcolm eventually got on the PA and said that it was casual.
Sanitation: Bathrooms these days have automated sinks, soaps dispensers, paper towels dispensers and hand dryers. Carnival has gone one step beyond that with tissues on the inside of the bathroom doors to use when exiting. This is all well and good, but you end up outside the bathroom holding this tissue in your hand. Some bathrooms had a receptacle inside the bathroom calling for the 3 point shot; while others had nothing. Contrast this with the buffet lines which had no hand sanitizer stations at the entrance. The Crown Princess had sanitizer stations at each buffet station. Adding these stations would not take a major investment of either time or capital.
Debarkation: We availed ourselves of the self-debarkation. They announced it around 7:30 AM. The process went very smoothly. We wheeled our luggage to Lobby Deck, said goodbye to Dave (the one thing that actually did remind me of the Loveboat goodbyes), had our Sail and Sign card dipped for one last time and followed the line to Customs and Border Patrol. We got through customs fairly quickly, went outside and caught a cab to Penn Station. We walked in the door at home shortly before 10:00.
Overall Impression: Ellen and I had a good time. The ship did have some idiosyncrasies that I never quite got used to including the deck 3 and 4 dining room obstacle and the bar in the middle of the ship. The crew was extremely friendly and helpful, I don't believe that we ran into a single crew member who did not smile and say hello. The ship was not quite as "warm" as the Crown Princess. The Crown has the Explorers Lounge where a second show is presented each evening as well as The Piazza for daily street entertainment.
A very annoying part of the Carnival experience is their photo setups. They take a fair amount of deck 5 and almost make you feel like you are in Times Square getting hustled.
The shops on board lack the class of Princess. They do not carry high end merchandise such as Lladro and the employees are on the in store microphone "hawking" their wares. That reminds me more of "attention K-mart shoppers".
Would I sail on the Victory again, yes, but I would sooner sail on the Crown Princess all things being equal.
Well there you have it ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. If you had any trouble sleeping prior to this, you should be heading for La La Land now.
May all your voyages been safe and happy ones.