EMBARKATION: As expected there were long lines, but that is always a given so was mentally prepared for it.
SHIP: Similar to Destiny (4 years older than Victory) it was a tad bigger having an additional floor in the front, with the usual glitzy ornamentation with a "seas" theme. LOVED the big theater screen on deck. Watched three movies out there during the week. Sound system was great as well — made it seem like a real movie theater. Mini golf was fun too.
CRUISE CROWD: In the past, I have always heard reviews of Carnival itineraries out of San Juan being filled at the last minute by the locals but I never experienced that on the other two San Juan cruises, until now. I would guestimate 55% of the passengers were Puerto Ricans and another 20% were comprised of an African-American church group, leaving 25% the usual diverse cruise crowd. Just seemed to me the two groups took ownership of the ship and English became the second language (good thing I remembered some Spanish from high school). I like to people watch so a more diverse crowd of people from all backgrounds and ethnicities would have made it more enjoyable. More importantly, it seemed like there were overly rude people on board, cutting in lines, pushing their way to the front of lines like there wouldn't be enough food for them, not following rules (i.e. woman with her baby sitting in the adults only hottub — I am sure the baby wasn't toilet trained. There were a lot of kids, which I don't have a problem with — many seemed good mannered actually. However, some were very loud, screaming and misbehaving, all while being in the company of their parents without being corrected which I do have a problem with. Teach some good manners!
FOOD: deck food (grill, deli, and pizza) was as good as I remembered from other Carnival cruises. What makes it good is that it is fresh, cooked on the spot and not sitting around getting cold. Love the french fries and chicken fingers. Deli sandwiches are also made to order on a great hard roll, fresh and better for you, a nice alternative to a burger or hotdog everyday.
Our group ate breakfast in the dining room everyday to escape the long lines and deck crowd; it was a more enjoyable experience. Breakfast foods pretty much the same in the dining room as what is available on deck.
Dinner dining room (Pacific Upper) food was good as can be expected. Understand that it is hard to serve up hot fresh entrees for 1,200 people in the same seating without having them prepared well ahead of time and waiting for your waiter to pick-up and deliver to your table. Food taste was good, just if there was a way to make the foods that should be a hot temperature warmer instead of near luke warm and the cold foods, cooler than room temperature would be a great improvement. As always, desserts (from the simple sherberts/icecreams to melting chocolate cake and baked Alaska were very good.
There was a late night Mexican fiesta buffet with a dessert table. Was this a scaled down version of the customary Grand Midnight Buffet? No ice sculpture. No need to bring a camera to photograph.
PORTS OF CALL: St. Thomas — was there before so we just did some shopping at the stores right by the ship. Then my group took a cab to Megan's Bay to hang out at the beach. (Note: the taxi driver did not mention that you have to pay $4 pp to get into the beach area when you arrive). It was worth it though, a great beach experience.
Dominica — been before. A very poor island, with little shopping except for buying trinkets from the locals. If you don't plan on an excursion, you should just stay on ship and enjoy being at the pool. We did the RIVER TUBING excursion which was a blast. I know from being in Dominica before that it is a very popular excursion so book early online before arriving on ship.
Barbados — on our own, half of our group went to the beach (The Boatyard) the other 1/2 grabbed a taxi and went to the Mount Gay Rum factory for a tour. I am glad I was in the group on the indoor tour since it began raining and didn't stop the rest of the time in Barbados. We just happened to arrive at the factory at the right time when a tour was starting (paid $7 each). It was interesting and worth $7. Following the tour was a rum tasting, which we did, but was straight rum; rather have it mixed in something with an umbrella.
St. Lucia — rained all day long; stayed on board.
Antigua — St. Thomas-looking, no planned excursion. Took a taxi to a beach (forget name but was right at the Sandal's resort). Waves were high so we had fun being tossed about in the surf. Be prepared for the constant solicitations by the locals to rent a wave runner, sailboat, buy jewelry etc.
St. Kitts — went ashore and did some shopping, no planned excursion. Very nice shopping area at the pier.
Cruise director, Malcom Burn, seemed pretty good and personable. His other staff as well were good. We pretty much kept to our own group and didn't participate in any of the onboard activities, but if you really looked for an activity to join, I am sure you could sure find it.
Stage show entertainment (Carnival singers/dancers) was better than in the past. We left the main revue show (Varoom!) saying to each other: "wow... that was unexpectedly good." You can tell the singers/dancers work really hard to make a good performance and it really shows. Sure it isn't Broadway, but it could for sure compete in Vegas. Kudos to the performers!
The first comedian pretty much cleared the theater by cutting everyone down, which that I didn't mind because I can certainly laugh at myself. I left because he just wasn't funny (Don Rickles he was not). The Rated R comedian was pretty funny if you enjoy adult humor. The magician was entertaining, have seen most of the tricks before though. Irish Sea piano bar piano player was great entertainment as well.
RECAP / PRO's and CON's: PROs Seaside Theater; cabins (a lot of storage space and the balcony is a must. Three adults had plenty of room in our cabin); We had 3 balcony cabins together and opened the partitions between to create our own great open-air promenade; Complimentary amenities basket of toiletries in the cabin was nice; Drinks were good and not overly priced; room stewards (Novi assisted by Jeffery) were great, always said hi to each of us in our group by name! Got us anything we needed, and kept our rooms very clean; Room temperature good and plenty of hot water and pressure in the shower; Staff on a whole were all friendly and helpful; 24 hour ice-cream machines; Grill, deli, and pizza (FRIES!); dining room staff were superb; Mini golf; Stage show; Casino was large and people in our group actually won!; Debarkation was smooth and quick. We were not one of those rushing to get off first, but waiting until the end. I am not sure how the early departures were.
CONs Embarkation process long; non-diverse passenger make-up and overly rude passengers (can't fault Carnival for that and how people act); deck food areas not as clean as they could be. Tables should be cleared faster and spilled food and buffet area should be cleaned up often too; No Grand Buffet with ice sculptures at midnight?; Deck lemonade / ice tea dispensers were often empty or out of concentrate (no fruit punch?) Dining room food temperature was often inadequate; we were not given late seating as requested 9 months ago; never saw the mater de — in the past he at least would come around and introduce himself to each table; continental room service, while on-time, seemed stale and toast was dried out and cold. Milk for cereal was room temp; Constant bothering of drink solicitations on deck from roving drink mafia. 30 seconds wouldn't go by without the same server stopping at you and directly asking if you would like something after you just said no a minute before.
In closing, the cruise was still enjoyable, being able to get away from it all and relaxing in the nice weather with friends and family. It was pretty economical (you get what you pay for). The worst experience came from the other passengers. All other cons I actually consider minimal and overlookable since I am pretty easy going. I would still sail on Carnival again, but will not again from Puerto Rico. I will look to hit one of the newer ships in the future out of Miami. Probably the next cruise will be on Princess to give them a try. I hear the quality of food is a little better.