Background: My wife and I have been on 5 previous cruises. 4 with Carnival and 1 with Royal Caribbean. We like Carnival because it offers a casual cruising experience and has excellent programs for children and is usually the most cost effective. We usually cruise with our kids (now ages 14 & 18) but this was our 20th anniversary so left them at home with the grandparents. My wife hates days at sea as she has claustrophobia and feels trapped on the ship so this itinerary was perfect for a week cruise. Neither of us has ever been to the Southern Caribbean so that was an added bonus. We decided to go all out and book an excursion at every port using CruiseCritic.com as our guide. We were not disappointed and ended saving a bunch of money.
Travel: We flew Airtran direct from Atlanta to San Juan the day of the cruise. The plane left and arrived within minutes of its scheduled times. The plane was completely packed as we flew the day of embarkation. Arrived at the San Juan airport at 1:30pm. Noticed as we walked through the airport that all chairs were full with people on the floor and standing around. We guessed correctly that it was full of cruisers trying to get back home as we arrived (more on this later). Retrieved our luggage within 10 minutes of landing and out the door to catch a taxi. Stood out by the road and couldn't get a taxi to look at us until a helpful person informed us that we needed to stand in line off to the side in front of a little kiosk that said ground transportation. This took less than 10 mins and in line we met a wonderful couple from Canada (hello Jerry & Denise) that was also traveling to the Carnival Victory. We decided to share a cab. Cost= $19 + $1 US for one way trip, no cost for sharing. Did notice the group waiting for the Carnival shuttle in the airport by baggage claim, they continued waiting as they won't leave until the shuttle is full (and it cost more). During our cruise we ran into our Canadian friends at least 10 times and even had booked the same tour on St. Lucia, not such a large ship after all.
Embarkation: This was one of the easiest procedures we have ever had. There was a bit of a line outside the port waiting to get through port security as we arrived. This took about 10 min. to get past and the porters were present to take your larger luggage for $2 US per bag. We sent 2 bags via the porters that we didn't get until after 9pm so make sure you have everything you need in your carry on baggage. FYI, the baggage scanner at the port only accepts smaller bags. Once in the port we found minimal lines and only a couple of stops which took about 10 min. to get past and just before security we wandered into the duty free liquor store. We purchased 3-6 packs of diet coke which we carried through security and onto the ship without a problem. Did notice a Carnival person sitting at a desk as you board to take any alcohol you purchased but many people put their bottles in their carry on and walked right past. Went straight to our room which was ready when we arrived at 2:30pm.
Stateroom: Standard Carnival inside stateroom with an added wardrobe in the corner by the bed. It was in the corner where the TV used to be mounted and the TV was on the counter which took up too much counter space. The bathroom was larger than I remembered and no step up into this one. It looked newly remodeled and was very clean. The twin beds were pushed together and made up as one. Plenty of storage space for our clothes. Room was cleaned twice a day and hardly ever saw our cabin steward the entire cruise.
Ship: The Victory was in excellent shape considering it is 9 years old. Parts of the carpet are worn and stained but for the most part in good shape. This model ship is one of our least favorite as you can't get to the rear dining room on the 3rd or 4th floor directly but have to go to the rear of the ship on the 5th or higher floor and come down either by stairs or the elevators. Since we were seated in the Pacific (rear) dining room this was an issue for us the entire cruise. The large kitchen is placed between the dining rooms to make it easier to get food from the single kitchen to each dining room and thus blocks access straight back to the rear dining room from the front half of the ship. Carnival has added a large outdoor screen that plays movies as well as CNN in the am. Didn't have much time to explore the ship as we were busy off the ship most of the time.
Cruise Director/Entertainment: The cruise director was Wee Jimmy (Weeeeeeeeee JIMMY!). His infectious laugh and genuine enthusiasm added to our enjoyment of this cruise. The past couple of Carnival cruises that we have taken we noticed the cruise directors seemed to be retreads of the same tired activities and jokes (which is fine if it's your first Carnival cruise). We did notice some tried and true Carnival activities and jokes but also a number of new and different ones. Wee Jimmy would ask for willing people to present a talent on stage at different times and he would always get something of interest and interject polite fun with/at the people involved. This was a welcome addition. Hats off to Wee Jimmy and his staff. The Carnival Capers (the on ship news/information guide) was more of an advertisement than helpful. Missing was a daily weather report for the next port, I am sure the ship gets very good weather reports but why not pass it on? No daily announcement that the ship was cleared at each port so no one knows when to get off. We noticed this at the first port waiting up on the Lido deck when we noticed people getting off; from then on we waited in the stairwell when we needed to get off early. No double announcements as reported in earlier reviews, this maybe because there were few Spanish speaking people on this cruise. We didn't notice the rude behavior or line cutting as reported either. Most of the people we met were polite and well mannered in lines. The entertainment was hit or miss. The comedians were both funny and worth seeing; the juggler was both funny and amazing to watch. The magician was neither funny nor amazing and he appeared bored during his show (as if performing on a cruise ship was beneath him). The "broadway" style shows are tired and not much different from the other 4 Carnival cruises we have been on with the singers just so-so. We didn't make it to either comedian's adult show (too late for us as we got up early for our excursions each day) but heard that they were full of adult language and content and just as funny as the family shows.
Food: Food in the dining room each evening was mostly excellent with a miss fire here or there. This was based on our entire table of 8 as we couldn't try everything. Since this was our anniversary we thought about asking for a table for 2 but passed as we always enjoy meeting new people and we weren't disappointed this time either. We sat at a round table for 8 with 3 other couples. We hit it off with everyone at our table and became fast friends(Hello Scott, Dorothy, Rich, Sandy, Tim & Cindy). So much so that our waiter, Alex, would have to shoo us out so he could get ready for the late seating (usually 5 minutes before the next seating was to start). The waiter was excellent and running all the time but our assistant was rarely seen leaving our waiter to refill water/tea glasses or get more bread. I recommend eating in the dining room as the food seems much better than the buffet style served on the Lido deck. Highlights for us were the BBQ ribs (fall of the bone tender), Prime Rib, Jerked Pork, Red Snapper, Shrimp/Lobster. Some not so good were the pasta and chicken dishes which seemed dry and overcooked. The desserts were also hit or miss with the Crème Brulee under cooked and runny and the Tiramisu excellent and some of the best we have had anywhere. The popular chocolate melting cake was too rich for me but enjoyed by most of the table. We noticed the portions seemed to be bigger this time, no need to order 2 or extra. We had a hard time finishing a full course meal each night even after missing lunch most days. Did make it for lunch twice and would recommend the Deli highly. Have had it before and it didn't disappoint this cruise either. The pastrami on rye grilled was excellent as well as the Reuben. Didn't get to try the pizza or the grill but heard from others that both were good. Tried the Chinese Wok but didn't finish it as wasn't very good.
Ports: Will leave this for the individual port review below.
Disembarkation: This is where the wheels came off the train. We docked before 7am but didn't start calling numbers until after 8:30 and it started slow. Once called we made our way down from level 9 without problem (using the stairs). Picked up our luggage and through customs without a hitch. Wheeled our luggage out of the port to another taxi stand were we hooked up with another couple to share a taxi again to the airport for the same cost. Once we arrived at the airport we walked into a mess. The airport was completely full of people as we made our way to the airline desk. We found out after waiting in line for 10 min. that we had to get all of our baggage scanned by the USDA before the airline would accept it to be checked. We went to find the end of the USDA line which is when we found out that the mass of people in the airport were all in line for the inspection and the line went everywhere. We followed the line to the end and waited and people cut in front of us from all over. There was no organization or turnstiles to help people with where to go. No information that an inspection would be required from either Carnival or the taxi driver. This inspection line took over an hour to get through then off to the airline line which took another hour then 45 min. for security and we arrived at our gate a full 3 hours after arriving at the airport. It was a good thing we had a 2pm flight or we would have missed it. We will never fly through San Juan airport again on a weekend. The airline employee told us it was like this every Sat. & Sun but the airport didn't increase staff or do anything extra to accommodate the extra people from the cruise ships. I would recommend that you stay over in San Juan and fly on Monday if you can afford it and don't want to fight the crowds.
Summary: Except for the mess at the airport we felt this was the best cruise we have ever taken and would recommend it to people looking for a port intensive cruise. Try to avoid the airport on Sunday if possible.