After a brutal winter here in the NC mountains we woke up one morning and it was still snowing. Deciding that there must be warmer places to wake up we booked our cruise with Carnival to the eastern Caribbean. We started cruising back in the 80's and were on the inaugural cruise onboard the Glory, Carnival's largest ship at that time some years ago. We enjoyed the Glory and decided that Carnival had the best itennary and price to the Caribbean. After reading the reviews on Cruise Critic we went with the Victory.
We had a couple of vouchers for US Air from an overbooked flight we got bumped off of last summer so decided to fly from San Juan and spend less time getting there and more time cruising the islands. We lived on a boat for a year so we have had our share of long days at sea. We left Charlotte at 9:45 and were in our cabin on the ship by 2:30 or so. We didn't have any of the problems that some earlier reviews talk about. We travel with only carry on bags so we didn't need to wait at the airport, just walk off the plane and grab a cab. The cabs at the airport are very easy to get and ours cost $19+$1 per bag for two of us. We tried to find someone to share the cab with but found it easier to just pay and go.
Check in at the ship was straight forward with no surprises. We did buy a few bottles of water at the airport only to find them at the pier for a fraction of the price we paid. They were selling a case of water for $5 inside the terminal and several people we saw took advantage of that. Refilling on the ship was easy. Just go to the buffet area and look next to the tea and coffee machines. We did not get the drink card but choose to just put them on our sign and sail card. I think we had only two cokes on the bill at the end of the cruise. We drank water, ice tea and juice that is available several places on board at no charge.
Food: We booked the early seating and had only 4 other people at our table. I think we would book the "anytime" seating next time. Sometimes we would get in from a shore excursion and needed a nap but didn't want to miss dinner in the dinning room. The "anytime" option lets you just wander down to the dining room and even though you may have to wait to get a table I don't think the wait would be very long. Another good thing is that you get to eat with different people every night even though we enjoyed our table mates. The food was good in the dining room but they seemed to have nearly the same offerings on the buffet. One thing we were disappointed with was the size of the portions. Almost everyone at our table ordered two of everything due to the small portions including deserts. We had Edie from Bosnia and Ursala from Peru as our servers. They did a good job for us and were very pleasant.
Cabins: Our cabin was nicer than we expected. We did get a balcony this time and will never take a cruise without one again. It was very nice to be able to see the islands from the balcony first thing in the morning and we sat outside at night in our robes Carnival provides in the rooms. Our room steward, Jochiem, was great. He managed to make up/turn down our bed and clean our room without us ever really knowing he had been there. He seemed to have our schedule down after the first day. We did take time to put out our cruzin'/snoozin card on the door handle and were never interupted in our room.f
The ship: We were still trying to find our way around the ship when we got off at the end of the cruise. We knew where we wanted to go but couldn't remember if it was forward or aft of our cabin. Carnival has the same basic layout on all their ships I think but we still needed a map. They had an "adults only" hot tub, and to their credit we did see the pool attendant asking some of the "not quite adult" guests to get out and head to the kids tub on a different deck. We also did not have any problem with people butting in line at the buffet or being rude at the pools as has been reported in other reviews of this ship. In fact, at times we looked at each other and wondered if we had missed some event on board judging by the lack of people in the common areas at certain times. The shows were pretty good except for the magician. He was really bad!! Not sure what Carnival see's in him. Maybe they think he will make the ship disappear if they don't book him but I think not. The casino was pretty good. My wife made while I lost. Typical!! It was smokey like others have reported. I played one slot tournament but failed to make it to the finals. Karl with a K was the cruise director and did a good job. Typical British cruise director. Entertaining and a pretty good singer. He might have been on the Glory last time we cruised come to think of it or maybe all the cruise directors are British!
Disembarkation: We went to the disembarkation lecture and had our bags tagged and in the hall when we went to bed as ordered. Since we travel with small bags I think next time we will just keep them with us and carry them off the ship in the morning. The luggage terminal looks like the ending shot from the movie "Raiders of the lost Ark". Thousands of pieces of luggage in a big long room but they were in order by code number and easy to find. We always tie yellow ribbon on our bags to make it easier to find them. Because our plane was scheduled to depart at 4:45pm and the ship gets in at 7 am we signed up for a tour of San Juan and the Bicardi factory from Carnival. It occupied a good part of our day instead of waiting at the airport and the samples at Bicardi were VERY good! The airport only took us 10 minutes or so to get through the line and get our boarding passes. DO be sure and go to the USDA checking first and get your luggage searched and tagged. They are looking for foreign plants and animals that might try to get back to the US. We had bought a nut shell filled with several kinds of spices and worried if we would be allowed to bring it back but they said as long as it's packaged and not loose we would be ok and it made it thru USDA without any problems.
All things considered it was a good cruise. Read the port reviews below for details on what we did for tours. Do your homework, don't expect the moon and you will have a good time if you take this cruise. After all, where else can you go and get room, food and entertainment for a little over a hundred bucks a day.