My friend and I, both in our 20s went on the Victory out of New York the first week of October. I was a first time cruiser, she had one cruise under her belt, but it was more than 10 years ago.
Embarkation from the NYPST was much better than I expected. People made it sound like it was the worst experience ever, but we got through very quickly. We were on board by 12:30, had a few (okay, too many) drinks and then headed to our cabin around 2:00. In my opinion, the lifeboat drill was hilarious and I suggest anyone who is thinking of skipping it to go just to see everyone wearing their vests and running into each other. The actual drill is worthless - they really don't tell you anything that they didn't mention over the PA before the drill, but we got a very good laugh out of it. Four blue whatever-they-were drinks + lifeboat drill = fun for all!
Our room was more spacious than I expected, but still a little cramped for two people with lots of luggage and hair appliances. I was surprised to see that there were no outlets in the bathroom. They are all in the main area of the cabin, making it very difficult for more than one person to use an appliance that requires the vanity mirror at the same time. I have heard a lot of people bringing those over the door shoe hangers, and I thought about it, but was glad that I didn't bother as there was a medicine cabinet with quite a lot of space for all our toiletries.
The ship itself was very impressive and always clean and well maintained. I had heard that the layout was confusing to some people, but we didn't have a problem with that whatsoever. Just follow the signs and it would be difficult to get lost or not know where to go.
Sailing away from NY was a great experience. The view was fabulous - it was a little cloudy, and very windy, but we stood on deck (starboard side if you want to see the Statue of Liberty) and it was a very nice way to officially start the cruise.
We skipped dinner the first night (and most nights after) and opted for the buffet in the Mediterranean restaurant instead. The food in there and the other "alternative dining" options were nothing to write home about, but they did the job of filling us up and I can't complain about that. Any other vegetarians out there: you will have trouble finding a lot of things to eat, but there is always something that you can have. It just usually isn't the main dish - that most of the time was something with meat included. However, it was definitely a better selection than most land based resorts that I have visited. Thumbs up for Carnival on that subject.
In Boston, we did the Duck Tour; had an awesome guide and a really good time. We also went to Faneuil Hall, walked a bit of the Freedom Trail, had a few beers at Cheers, went to a few other little pubs and then ended up at the Union Oyster House and can now say we have been to the oldest restaurant in America. Yay! Part of me wishes we would have just stayed in Boston rather than get back on the ship, but we caught a cab and made it back just in time to reboard.
That night, we went to the much talked about Irish Sea Bar and had a very good time. We spent at least parts of every night there, but this brings me to my first in what became a rather long list of complaints about cruising. Disclaimer: these are MY opinions, cruising isn't for everyone, I do not want to hear the "well, what did you expect?" comments after I say these few things. Everyone agree with that? Okay, great - I will go on then. My main concern before I left on this cruise was the mix of other passengers. I knew it would be an older crowd, I knew as a result of that there wouldn't be much to do as far as night life and I was right. Really, the only option was the Irish Sea Bar which was great fun for a few nights, but after 4 or 5, it was very repetitive. The same crowd, the same songs, the same jokes, the same rudimentary sexual comments, etc, etc....over and over and over again. Now, I am not saying that we didn't have a good time, b/c we have fun wherever we go, so that wasn't a problem. What I didn't like was seeing the same passenger faces over and over again (with the few exceptions of the great people that we did meet, of course). I felt like I was at a work-sponsored Christmas party or something. Everyone knew who would be coming in and the we let out a collective groan when a few select people showed up every time. There was never anyone new to meet, nothing new to do, nothing new to see, no new fun to have. Big time thumbs down for Carnival on that.
Ugh - Enough of that: on to Portland. Um...okay enough of Portland also. There was nothing there. We had lunch, walked around for about 30 minutes and went back to the ship. Many people took a trolley tour, and said it was great. We overslept and missed it. Oh well - too bad for us. This day was also the first formal night, which was a lot of fun to get all dolled up, but the food was horrid and our maitre 'd was a jerk. We swore off the dinning room after that. Pizza at 3am beats dining room food hands down. According to someone else at our table, we were sitting at the Captain's table but b/c we had late seating, he wasn't there.
The next day was a sea day which was nice to be able to really relax during the day. We watched part of the magic show this evening, which was quite good. I believe this day was the day we won our famous (or perhaps infamous) "ship on a stick". We each got one for being the phone-a-friend in a mock Who Wants to be a Millionaire game. Yay for us! We also played some Bingo - what a horribly frustrating (but strangely a lot of fun) game!
Next up was Sydney: It's a very cute town, I am sure it has something nice to offer, but we sure couldn't find anything other than a cute bartender at a restaurant called the Governors House or something like that. However, the big bonus about Sydney was that we kindly asked one of the customs officers to stamp our passport and he said as long as we promised to not tell any of the other passengers, he would do it just for us. This made the nerdy traveler in me very happy.
By this night I began to pinpoint my unhappiness with Carnival: it was the staff/crew. Not all of them - the service staff (our steward, the bartenders, table bussers, etc) were all VERY nice and extremely friendly. But, the entertainment staff - the musicians, the DJs, anyone who worked in any of the bars/clubs/lounges (with the exception of the wait staff) - were insanely pretentious and lacking in professionalism. The girls would talk to each other non-stop and then roll their eyes when someone tried to interrupt them to ask a question. Everyone would offer the fakest smiles I have ever seen and then laugh about people behind their backs. It was astonishing to watch and immensely disappointing. I guess I should have known that working on a Carnival cruise ship makes you better than everyone else. How silly of me. Big thumbs down for Carnival again.
On to Halifax: This was a very nice city - I would LOVE to go back again and spend more time here. We did the touristy things - the Maritime Museum, the Titanic Gravesites and then found a great part of the city a few blocks west of the boardwalk with lots of pubs and restaurants and did our own little pub crawl and had a blast. If ever in Halifax - you must go to the Wooden Monkey and have some of their nachos. Ohhh...they were so good.
Then we had one more day at sea to end our cruise which was just a lot of winding down.
All in all, it was enjoyable - what vacation isn't? However, Dana (the CD whom I cannot stand!), mentioned that Carnival's goal is to "exceed our expectations" and they certainly did not do that. I got what I expected and am happy I tried it out, but was not blown away or even really impressed by anything. Okay, maybe the towel animals - they were pretty awesome.
Would I cruise again? Not unless it was free :)