I was pleased that the Carnival Victory had taken over Carnival's Southern Caribbean itinerary for two reasons: One was that there was one extra port instead of a day at sea, and the other was that it was a different, newer ship.
My first impression was fantastic. We had a late flight into San Juan, and did not land until 5:45pm, which was actually 15 minutes earlier than expected. Sure, in the weeks leading up to the trip I needed to take an antacid or two and cursed myself for leaving such a short allowance for delays (you need to be on board by 8:30pm), but there were no delays, and due to the late time, there was NO line for embarkation. From the time we checked our luggage it was less than 10 minutes before we were in our room on the 10th floor. The only line we had to stand in was 2 people going through the X-ray and 3 people who needed to get their pictures taken before us. If I ever take a cruise again, I'm going to fly into town the day before and take a cab over late in the evening and avoid the masses, I am so glad we timed it the way we did!
As far as the ship and it's crew:
STATEROOM: I had a balcony room in the front of the ship, and the room was very clean, housekeeping was excellent, and no matter where I was on the ship, the housekeeping staff I came into contact with were extremely pleasant.
DINING: We asked for late seating, but were assigned early seating. Again. I don't understand why they even ask as it seems many people complain about not getting their preferred time. I approached the Maitre'd and asked for two things: Either a table for two at the 6:15, or to be sat at 8:15, with the preference on the later dinner. The next morning there was a slip on our floor and found we got both our wishes, a table for two at the late seating! I promptly went back to the Maitre'd and slipped him a $50. That was the only good experience I had with the dining the entire trip.
Complaint 1: Room Service menu is EXTREMELY limited. I couldn't even get shrimp cocktail! I also feel that if I'm ordering room service during the hours that the dining room is serving, it shouldn't be too much to ask to order something from the dining room's menu. They have it, it's made, what does it matter if I eat it in the dining room or my stateroom? But no, I was told it wasn't available, and that's just dumb.
Complaint 2: They only opened one of the two buffet lines on the Lido deck and one of the two buffet lines in the Mediterranean Restaurant buffet. That means longer lines for no apparent reason, and it stayed like that all week. And most of the foods in the buffet lines were not labeled, so we had to guess what it was.
Complaint 3: No fruit punch all week. 2 of the 3 ice cream stations were closed all week, as were several of the juice stations
Complaint 4: Dining room service was slow and confused. We ordered a soda each and 2 minutes after they arrived, another waitress arrived with our sodas, without a clue that they we had already been served. On one night we canceled our main course after the ship started to rock badly and they came up to us four times trying to figure out what it was that we wanted because they couldn't figure out "don't get these two meals"
Complaint 4: The food choices at the buffet lines were awful. There was little or no change from day to day, and the food they did have was probably stale when they put it out. (For example I was getting a hot dog and when I went to open a "fresh roll" it was so hard that it broke in two instead of opening. I grabbed another, allowed it to drop onto my plate from chest-high, and it clattered around on my plate much to the amusement of onlookers). The sauces were allowed to congeal and the stuff that WAS fresh was, in many cases, bland and unoriginal. My wife made her own salads for most of her meals throughout the cruise, which is extremely unfair considering the cost of the trip and the whole "All you can eat for free" attitude Carnival brags about.
Complaint 5: Not to whine about little things, but if you are going to put a movie on the jumbo movie screen out on the lido deck, don't charge me $1.73 for a little container of popcorn. You can feed 3,000 people for free, but you're going to charge me that much for that?!
CHILDREN'S CLUBS: We don't have any children, so our experience is from the outside looking in. All I can say is that Carnival needs to improve their teenage programs as the ships was inundated with roving packs of teenagers as though it was a local mall on a Saturday night. Also, the one time my wife and I attempted to play miniature golf, the Kids Club was up there completely out of control. We made it to the second hole before we had to give up. The kids would drop a ball on the hole we were playing and just start hitting their balls around, not trying to play, not caring that we were there, just no respect at all. And the one councilor that was supposedly watching was nose-deep in her clipboard, completely uncaring. The only thing she was paying attention to was that the kids didn't leave the golf area, and that they didn't throw too many golf balls overboard. Other than that, she couldn't care less that other people were trying to play.
ENTERTAINMENT: Maybe I was spoiled on my last trip. Last time, from the first night on there was a party on the Lido Deck seemingly constantly. Games competing even numbered rooms vs odd numbered rooms, and everyone was into it. On Victory, it was a dead zone. Malcolm, the cruise director, seems to have little control of his realm, and constantly shot himself in the foot.
Complaint 1: Too many announcements. He would make an announcement, then follow it up 3 minutes later with a correction. And of course, since this ship sailed from Puerto Rico, they would have to make both announcements a second time, this time in Spanish. So 4 announcements in 5 minutes, and this was a trend that went on and on.
Complaint 2: Malcolm's timing of his announcements. During the "Hairiest Chest" competition (that either nobody knew about or nobody cared about because there were about 12 people watching)the contestants would have to do a playful stripping of the shirt to whatever song they played over the PA. During two of the dances, the music was muted so Malcolm could announce that night's show in the big auditorium. Why interrupt one of your own shows to advertise another? Just wait 15 minutes and NOT ruin the show! Also, during a movie that was playing on the jumbotron on the Lido Deck, they muted the movie during the climactic dialogue just so he could "remind" everyone that the new Victory Dancers were going to do their first show at 10:30. By the time the second, Spanish, announcement finished, the scene was done and everyone was looking at each other trying to figure out what just happened. The real kicker? It was the THIRD TIME in the last 2 hours that Malcolm felt the need to make that announcement, as though we were too dumb to remember. It was really rather insulting.
Complaint 3: The scheduling of events. They promoted several times during the course of the week their planned "walk for the cure" to help promote cancer awareness. We knew it was going to be on Saturday, but we didn't know when. Turns out, it was scheduled for 5:00pm. Also scheduled at 5:00PM was the DEBARKATION TALK!! He had made the announcement that things had recently changed and it was very important for people to come to the talk to make sure there were no problems. And I guess he wonders why so few people actually did the walk. That's just dumb!
Complaint 4: Lido Deck. There's a camera on the deck that plays on your TV on one of the channels. All week, no matter what time of day, it was empty. There were a few activities up there that generated a small crowd, but in reality, you went up there and all you heard was some singer backed up by an Ipod that was playing WAY too loudly. And that was it. No fun at all.
I did not see any of the shows or the comedians. I'm not interested in the shows, and although I DID want to see the comedian's late night show, I was having great luck in the casino and decided to stay there :) I did hear, however, that the shows were much better than people expected, so if that's your thing, then it might be something to look forward to!
Ugh. I expected so much better. I mentioned about the Camp Carnival guard. That type of apathy was present everywhere on the ship. In the aft pools area there was an officer that DID make sure no kids ate in the pool, but she did NOTHING about the kids in the adult only hot tubs, or the splashing, or the splashing and jumping.
Heather, the Carnival A/V camera girl, came with us on an excursion to make a recording for the ships DVD. Which, of course, allowed us to be seen in every room, and on the jumbotron on an endless loop all week. Which is all fine and good except whoever edited it could have had a heart and LEFT OUT the part where I was leaning forward in my bathing suit and showing my pasty-white plumbers crack. Do you know how embarrassing it is when you see your own crack on a 40 foot jumbotron screen over and over all week?!? God have mercy! Let me tell you, if anyone reading this right now was on this same cruise, they know exactly who wrote this, because I was recognized all week for it. Luckily I smuggled enough rum on board to keep my sense of humor about it, but Carnival should know better than that.
Even though my wife and I traveled with different last names (we had booked airline tickets and the cruise with her maiden name because we were booking so far in advance of our wedding, and cruising so soon after it that we didn't want to risk complications due to her name change) yet somehow the ship screwed it up. Instead of Jennifer XXX and David YYY, our room suddenly had "Jennifer XXX, Jennifer YYY, AND David YYY" on it. We went to the purser's desk, and they supposedly cleared it up for me, until I had difficult getting back on board from Dominica, when security punched my card it said I was Jennifer YYY. A quick gender check proved I wasn't, but it took several trips up and down the stairs between the purser and the gangway to have my picture redone before they determined it was an IT error. By morning I was David again, but it was frustrating and we're still not sure how it happened. At least there were quick in deleting all of the duplicate charges (if we didn't say anything we would have been charged the extra $10/day/person gratuity, plus they had double-booked my wife's spa treatment, one under each name.
Buffet staff was rude, I witnessed a lady in the buffet line just as it was about to close, and the employee didn't let her finish choosing, instead just slamming covers on the food even as she had the tongs in her hand and simply said "We're closed". I was dumbfounded and she was, understandably, quite upset.
One officer really upset my wife and I on the Lido Deck, when we had stood in line at the buffet for 15 minutes, and figured we still had 15 minutes to go before getting our food (because they only had one of the 2 buffet lines operating). This officer came up to the group of us at the end of the line and told us "You can go to the Mississippi Grill at the aft of the deck, there's no line there!" I asked him straight up: "Is it the same food" and when he told me it was, a group of about 7 or 8 headed back there. We found that line to be about twice as long, and about twice as slow. Obviously upset, we went back to the lido deck buffet, had to go to the back of the line, and wait another half hour to eat. That was extremely uncalled for, and I think if that officer showed his face again while the group of us were still in line, he would have had a very nasty confrontation.
And I do believe they change shifts in the control room at 8:00 because around 8:05 - 8:10 every night the ship would start rocking ridiculously, EVERY NIGHT, and would continue to do so all night. Considering the cloudless, windless nights and the absolute calmness of the seas (they even said it was 4 to 4.5 feet swells, which should be NOTHING to a ship this size) there was no reason for this. It was to the point we wished we kept the 6:15 seating as it was very difficult to eat with the ship rocking that much.
St Thomas: We did the Christmas Cove snorkeling trip. It was beautiful, and we had a great time.
Dominica: Last year we took a cab to Champagne Reef. If I recall correctly it cost $20 round trip, with the driver not taking any cash until he came to pick us up at the prearranged time. Entry to the park was $2 per person, with another $1 to rent flippers (we had our own masks and snorkels). We snorkeled for 5 hours with only 3 other people in the entire area. $25 for 5 hours of snorkeling, and Carnival offers a 3 hour catamaran trip there for $49 per person. This year we did the river tubing, which was a LOT of fun, except the rapids were a little more than we expected. We still had a blast, but when my wife flipped over she lost her sunglasses. Oh well, live and learn!
Barbados: We did the 5.5 hour Shipwreck and Green Turtle snorkel trip. Worth every penny!!
St. Lucia: Last year we did the Pirate Ship trip and had a great time. This year we just took a taxi to a beach and soaked up some rays. It was more expensive than we hoped, $20 each way in the cab, but the cabbie was fantastic, and we really enjoyed talking with him. Make sure you hit The Rum Shop in the port shopping center, they have great shirts and, of course, a huge selection of rum that you probably won't find anywhere else. And for $5 they give you a rum punch that will have you seeing double by the time you get back to the ship (which might have something to do with how I lost MY sunglasses while shopping around there!)
Antigua: I do not like the people here one bit. We asked for a cab to Runaway Beach (less than 10 minute ride) and were told it was $3/person/way. When we went to leave, we were charged 2x that amount. I know $6 isn't much to make a stink about, but getting lied to is. We also had a bad experience there last year when my wife got sick on the Zip-line Canopy tour and not only did the staff refuse to help her down, but the cab was almost 2 hours late, which is a long time to sit in the sun when you are sick. Last year, when we did the Canopy tour, we followed the Carnival staff member out to the taxi and watched as she tried to haggle our transportation to/from the canopy tour. I'm sorry, but that should have been arranged beforehand.
St. Kitts: We did the kayak/snorkel tour and had a great time. We walked up to the Circus Cafe for what was arguably the best meal we had on the trip, I highly recommend it!
OK, now for the real reason I did not like this trip, and I'm going to try and not come off like a jerk.
I had been warned on this site before booking the Carnival Destiny trip last year that there is a problem with the Puerto Ricans on the boat. But that never materialized, so I didn't take it seriously this time. Wrong move on my part. The ship was almost 70% PR, which is not something that is normally a big deal to me, except about 40% of them did not know how to behave. My wife and I were woken up 5 of the 7 nights between the hours of 3 and 5 AM by yelling, screaming, laughing, singing, even hollered chanting, and none of it was in English.
By the pool and hot tubs, suddenly nobody could read the "Adults Only" signs.
In the already extremely long buffet lines, someone would get to the food, then call over to their family, and 10 or 11 people would suddenly materialize and that person would hand over plates and get food for all of them, so instead of waiting for 15 people to get food before you, you are waiting for 25. Multiply that by three of four other people in front of you doing the same thing, and you can see why tempers started to flare as you wait 30-45 minutes for food.
They had a makeshift parade at 1 in the morning! There was one "leader" who would chant, and the others would repeat it (think of a drill sergeant during basic training running exercises) They even had a congo drum! There were about 200 of them running, dancing, singing, shouting, with absolutely NO regard to other people! No cares that others are sleeping, resting, or just don't want to hear it!
Maybe it's just a cultural difference and they don't understand that they are being obnoxiously rude? But it seemed they think that they are all having so much fun and that we should be jealous of that and wish we were one of them and having fun too, but really we just wished they'd shut the hell up so we could sleep! It seemed that the unruly PR's came in large parties, and you would sit in your room at night listening as someone would knock on a door and get louder "Raul...Raul...RAUL?" then going to the next door, knocking, and starting all over again. It was CONSTANT!
Plus they were extremely rude! One kid splashing water as far out of the pool as he could, and his parents sitting right there not doing a damn thing about it. No manners, no respect at all!
On the first formal night we witnessed three birthday celebrations. One was a family at the table next to us, and they sang Happy Birthday to the two teen boys, as we joined in, as well as a few other tables, and 30 seconds later we were all back into our conversations. The second one was a few tables away and it was really funny, as the waiter did a silly dance and we all had a good laugh. Then the Spanish party started singing and we realized that it wasn't one table, there were three full tables of people singing! And after the Spanish version of "Happy Birthday" ended, they started another, louder song. Then they started shouting "Hey! Hey! Hey!" and laughing and trying to out-shout each other. This went on for 7 minutes. 7 Minutes of not being able to converse with my wife. 7 minutes of actually writing down on a piece of paper to communicate with my waiter that I wanted to see the menu again for a dessert. Absolutely no respect whatsoever for their fellow passengers. It REALLY took the fun out of the ship. We honestly felt like second class citizens on a ship where everyone, from the richest passenger to the poorest, should have been treated like kings. That's the point of a cruise. But the ship didn't care.
Every day, about 10 minutes before the first seating at the dining rooms, they would start making announcements looking for certain passengers, asking them to contact the pursers desk. This would go on every 10 minutes for hours. Every day! The first few days I figured that they were making sure everyone was aboard after the excursions. Then the people in the room next to me said "Ever notice those all all Spanish names?" I went down to the pursers desk to complain about the CONSTANT interruptions, and I found out the it was, in each case, large spanish parties that wanted to make sure they were all in one group before heading up to the dining rooms! Are you serious? You can't keep track of your own family, so I have to listen to the stupid announcements for an hour?! Where's MY rights? Maybe I want to get a nap in after being out in the sun all day, but I can't because you are too lazy to go look for your friend? Try knocking on his door! Or try this: Go to dinner without him! He'll either meet you there, or know better for next time! You don't use the ship's PA system and disturb 3000 other passengers because you are too lazy to find someone who is too irresponsible to meet you where you expect him to be!!
This attitude was constant on this ship, and the arrogance, noise, and pure unadulterated rudeness, combined with the ship's staff's refusal to do a thing about it made this a very, very poor decision for our vacation.
DEBARKATION: This was very slow. They debark by zones, and we were in zone 9 and didn't get off the ship until after 11am. Then we sat in a long line to go through customs. As we got to the front of the line, we found out why: A vast majority of the Puerto Ricans that I saw in the line either never filled out their customs declaration forms, or filled them out wrong and had to sit there and fill them out again in front of the customs agent, holding the entire line up until they were done. Which of course took forever because they had to ask 50 questions. Why they couldn't ask the night before when they got the forms, and when all the prepared people who zipped through customs did is beyond me. I can only assume that they thought those rules, like ever other rule on the ship, didn't apply to them.
We debarked on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and fortunately I had the foresight to realize that when I booked the trip. (I heard many people realizing it while they were on-board that they were scheduled to go home on the second busiest travel day of the year, after only the Wednesday before Thanksgiving). I'm glad I did, as most flights into NJ were delayed over 3 hours, and after the trip I just had I think I would have snapped if I had to deal with that. Instead I had booked us for a night at the El San Juan hotel near the airport. Best decision I made for the entire trip. We got there before noon, checked in, and were out by the pool enjoying, for the first time in a week, peace and quiet. Waiters came out to us to allow us to order food and drinks from the most comfortable lounge chairs in existence without having to get up. We ate dinner that the Palms Steakhouse, which was very expensive (almost $300) but after the crap food that we ate all week, we deserved to treat ourselves to the finest steak and lamb chops, and we will never regret it. The food on a normal day is out of this world, but after the crappy week we just spent on Carnival Victory, and the crappy food we had all week, it was twice as good!
On Monday morning we had to check out at 11:00am, but they let us check our baggage and stay out by the pool and eat/drink until it was time to head over to the airport at 6pm. I highly, highly recommend the El San Juan. The 30+ hours I spent there were 100 times more relaxing that the week I spent on Victory.
I will be very, very hard pressed to take another Carnival cruise. If I ever do, it certainly won't be out of Puerto Rico. Like I said, it was a minority of the PR's that ruined the trip, the majority of them were perfectly good neighbors, but I'm never going to put myself in that situation again. I paid too much money to have to put up with passengers like that, especially to have a ship's crew do absolutely nothing about it.