DM and I flew into San Juan the night before the cruise was due to leave. We arrived very late (11:30pm) so we thought it best to just stay at the airport Best Western. It was convenient in that we could literally walk there from baggage claim. The hotel was fine although they had a bit of a humidity problem. Everything felt very damp, but it was fine as a place to crash.
It was pouring rain the day of Embarkation so I think everyone headed for the port much earlier than Carnival would have liked. We got there between 11am and 12pm. The ship was not leaving until 8pm and Carnival suggested an arrival time of 4pm. But Carnival did a great job of getting the ship "turned around". We waited in the port terminal for a while (there was plenty of seating) before they let us on around 1pm. We were not allowed in our cabins until 2:30pm which was fine because we hadn't eaten breakfast so DM and I were perfectly content to take advantage of the buffet being open. Lunch was fine except for the constant stream of waiters trying to push the "specialty" drinks on us. Very annoying.
We had a balcony room (#8258) on the Verandah Deck. Avoid this room. First, it has a strange squeak in the floor and a weird hum in the wall. Of course, these noises would come and go so we were never able to talk to our cabin steward about these problems (not that we had much of a opportunity to speak to him about anything). I had some concerns about the room's location because it was right by the elevators, but this was not a problem. The "outside" noise problem came from the pantry almost directly across from the room. Every night they were doing dishes or something of the sort in there and making plenty of clanking noises. Additionally, Carnival may want to work on telling its passengers that yelling up and down the hallways at two in morning is not acceptable behavior. All in all, there was plenty of space for two people. The only storage problem was that we couldn't get our suitcases under the beds (that's where I've always stored them on past cruises) so they had to take up valuable closet space. This was the first time with a balcony and I don't know that I will ever be able to go back...
The room was well maintained and always clean. We saw our room steward here and there in the hallway, but, other than the first night, we never had any real contact with him. My first cruise was with Royal Caribbean where our room steward visited us every evening to ask how our day went and if there was anything we needed. It may have been annoying at times, but that's the kind of service I expect now, especially from people who expect me to tip them at the end of my cruise. Still , this was much better than the steward I had on the Carnival Legend who never seemed to learn that there were three of us in the room (which is why he didn't get a tip).
There really isn't much to say about our dining experience on the Carnival Victory. The buffet was the typical Carnival buffet a.k.a just fine. They still haven't managed to get much flavor in their buffet desserts which is disappointing. We did the grill a couple times. The burgers are fine, the fries are less than great. I cannot recommend the pizza at all. Just keep walking on past it. I had a slice one night where the CRUST was actually stuck to the plate. I didn't know that was possible. We went to the main dining room every night except the first. But the was only because we were fortunate to be paired up with another mother/daughter pair and truly enjoyed their company. The food wasn't really special although they did a great job with the steaks and the pumpkin soup. Our servers were nice, but english was not their strong suit. Bar service was a little spotty. Sometimes drinks just never appeared. My two previous cruises had GREAT dining room service and some good food so this was a real disappointment.
We didn't participate in any activities or go to any of the shows. The lack of days at sea meant using those times to catch up on our relaxation. We did partake of one of the "discounted" spa treatments which was very nice. Very relaxing until you get the product sell job at the end. Also, I was a little disconcerted by the "claws" my massage therapist was sporting. I have a friend who is a massage therapist and she is required to keep her nails very short. Somehow, the therapist managed to keep from scratching me except when she was doing my ankles. I had to ask her to please stop. There was also a little problem with the billing. DM wanted to treat me and have my treatment billed to her. She signed for both, but somehow I was still charged even though I never signed for anything. It took a little effort and a few trips to the guest services desk to get things right.
Please see my individual port reviews for more information. I will say here that the excursion we booked through private tour companies were far better than the ones we took through Carnival. In fact, the tour we went on in Antigua was quite possibly the worst tour I have ever been on (Best of Antigua). This was not the tour we originally booked. A note was slipped under the door the night before we arrived in Antigua saying that the beach horseback riding we had booked weeks before had been canceled. The Shore Excursion desk gave me some vague explanation involving the water. Still trying to figure out why this meant canceling the entire excursion. I have actually had a tour canceled on both of my Carnival cruises. I find this very disappointing and frustrating.
This went smoothly. We stayed on the ship as late as possible due to a late flight time and because we wanted to spend more time with our dinnertable mates who we met up with for breakfast.
I'm glad that someone mentioned in one of their reviews about needing to go to the USDA "checkpoint" when arriving at the San Juan airport. Because of a complete lack of signage, I never would have known that you have to do this before checking in your luggage which would have been frustrating given the long check-in lines. You must have your bags x-rayed by the USDA so look for the directional signs for the USDA.
While I am already looking to go on another cruise next year, it will be some time before I give Carnival my money again. If it wasn't for some great, private tour companies and some really wonderful fellow passengers, this cruise would have been a bit of a bust. Everything, except the tour in Antigua, was acceptable. But just acceptable. The overall service was really lacking. Carnival asks if anyone helped make your cruise special and I had to say "yes, but none of them worked for Carnival".