Background information This was the first cruise that my husband and I had ever taken. We traveled with our 21-month-old son and two friends who are experienced cruisers familiar with Carnival who booked their own cabin. Our ages range from 38 to 42.
Hotel Info We made our own travel arrangements and flew into JFK airport from our hometown, and took a taxi to our Manhattan hotel, Le Parker Meridien. We'd booked the hotel on a travel bidding website and we were thrilled with our room, which only cost us $134 a night, plus tax. The hotel rooms were going for $450 a night at the time of our stay, according to the hotel bartender. The room was spacious, by New York standards, and it was comfortable and tastefully decorated in a contemporary style. We spent two nights in New York before heading to the port for our cruise, which left on Monday afternoon, September 7, 2009.
Embarkation We spent the morning touring New York, and arrived at the port at about 12:30 p.m. The embarkation process was fairly simple. We gave our bags to the porters at the dock and then we stood in a couple of long lines that moved quickly. Within about 10 minutes, we were through security and waiting in line for the Carnival check-in process. That line took much longer. We were in line approximately 30-40 minutes. When it was finally our turn, the Carnival rep was friendly and efficient. We boarded the ship about 1:30 p.m.
On Board As soon as we boarded, we stopped to have a welcome aboard drink in the first bar we saw. It was a fun way to toast our first cruise, and the first with our friends, who were on their sixth Carnival cruise. After relaxing for a bit, we decided to head to our rooms. None of our bags had been delivered yet, so we went to find something to eat. We glanced at the buffet, but the lines were pretty long, so we opted for the deli and the grill instead. I had a reuben sandwich that was fairly mediocre, and my husband had a couple of hot dogs. We had hopes that dinner would be better. But more on that later.
We were in room 9249, on the Lido deck. It was a balcony room. Our friends had a room next to ours, so after our late lunch/snack, we hung out on our balconies and enjoyed the view until the muster drill. The muster drill itself was a nightmare. People were packed into the hallway and forced to wear their lifejackets (I've heard that isn't required on some other cruise lines) and it was hot and miserable in there. It took about 15 minutes before they even started, and by then, my toddler had started screaming, scared, and unable to get calm because I couldn't hold him with my lifejacket on. So they called me out, literally, and gave me permission to go back to my room and have my husband tell me later what I missed. It took about 30 minutes before he came back to the room, so I was very grateful to have missed the rest of the muster drill. I have no doubt the people around me were equally glad to have me take my screaming child away, too!
Dining Overall, we were very disappointed with the quality of the food on Carnival. We had asked for an early seating, at 6 p.m., so we were pleased with that. But our table location was not very good - we were right next to a serving cabinet that had wide doors. Every time a waiter would open the door to the cabinet, they'd let it swing all the way open and it would bang on our son's high chair. That happened continuously every night we had dinner in the main dining room. We couldn't move our son's chair to the other end of the table because it wouldn't have fit. We also were displeased with our wait staff. They were friendly, but they never remembered our preferences, and on several occasions, never brought the extra items we requested and sometimes seemed distracted and didn't hear us when we'd ask for refills or other things. The quality of the food was mediocre. The only standout dish that I had was New Zealand lamb chops crusted in mustard and bread crumbs. They were delicious. Everything else, including the lobster tail on the one night it was offered, was lacking. The quality of the food was similar to what you'd get at a mid-priced chain restaurant, such as O'Charley's or TGIFriday's. The buffet food was much worse. It was more like being at Shoney's, at least for breakfast. We preferred ordering breakfast in the seated dining room, but on port days, we opted for the buffet, just to have something to fill our stomachs. We did have dinner at the Lido buffet one night, after a long day in port and a late lunch in port. That was better than the Lido buffet lunches, but not by much. I did enjoy the brie-infused mashed potatoes they offered that evening on the buffet. There was also a 24-hour pizza option, with decent pizza available.
Stateroom Our Lido-deck balcony room was about like what you'd find in an older Holiday Inn. Decent, but nothing special. It was pretty much what we'd expected. There was more counter space than I thought there would be. And the shower was a good size with strong water pressure. Having a balcony room was wonderful, especially with a toddler in tow. When he napped, often with my husband, I'd sit on the balcony and read a book and enjoy the ocean breeze and wonderful views. I'd definitely get a balcony again.
Ship The Triumph is definitely an older ship. I haven't been on other ships to compare, but I have seen enough photos of the newer ships on other cruise lines, and even Carnival, to know the difference in an old vs. new ship. The Vegas-style interior dEcor wasn't to our taste, either. I didn't smell the stinky smell I've heard other complain about, however, so at least that wasn't a problem.
Service The service in the dining room was sub-par, but the room steward was magnificent. He was like a ninja, getting to our room and making it up as soon as we left, even if we were only gone for a half hour. He was attentive, and my son loved the towel animals and chocolate each night. The bar service was spotty. We would be told one thing at one bar (such as no availability on buckets of beer anywhere on the ship) and then the next bar would have them. It seemed that some bartenders simply didn't want to go to the trouble to help us when we asked for something they didn't have at their fingertips. Luckily, one bartender in particular was very helpful and she would run to get anything we asked, and do it with a big smile. I wish she could have been stationed at every bar on the ship. It would have made our experience better. Instead, we left feeling that we were bothering some bartenders with our "special" request for a bucket of beer to take back to our balcony room.
Children's Clubs We didn't use the Camp Carnival facility because my son wasn't old enough to participate. Age 2 was the minimum. We knew that before booking our cruise, so that was not a problem. We did look into the babysitting options, but decided against it. They told us we could bring our son at 10 p.m. for babysitting, and that they preferred it if he was in his pajamas and already asleep. I think they would babysit until 2 a.m., but I'm not 100% sure on that. Could have gone a tad later. It was $6 an hour.
Ports of Call We went to Saint John and Halifax. We enjoyed both ports and loved seeing two new cities. We did our own sightseeing. In Saint John, we walked and toured the city and ate lobster at Steamers, and in Halifax we rented a car and drove to Peggy's Cove and ate lobster near the lighthouse at Peggy's Cove. Getting back on board the ship was a very long process at both ports, but particularly in Saint John. It took about an hour to reboard the ship, with people cutting the line from all points and no one preventing it. It was very disorganized.
Entertainment We only went to a couple of the entertainment options. They were mildly entertaining, and kept our attention as we watched. Since we had our son with us, we typically turned in early and watched movies in our room while we snuggled in bed with our toddler. That was pretty relaxing for us, since we never have time to do that at home at the end of the workday.
Disembarkation We were asked to leave our rooms by 8:30 a.m., and they said if you had children, to not do the self-debarkation. So we did the traditional debarkation and put our bags outside our room the night before, and waited until we heard our number called to leave the ship. It took about two hours before we were able to leave the ship, and the wait was excruciating because our son could only be walked around in a stroller so many times. He was fussy, we were fussy, and it was really a nightmare experience. I would do self-embarkation if I were to have the option again, since at least then we could get off the ship more quickly. Getting through U.S. Customs was a breeze and we were in the taxi and on our way back to the airport within 20 minutes of the time we stepped off the ship at long last.
Overall We would not cruise on Carnival again. Period. We were that unhappy with the quality of the food, the service and the ship's dEcor. We will try cruising again, but next time on a longer cruise and on a different cruise line and a newer ship.