This was our second cruise and we went with my wife's two sisters and brother in laws from Cleveland, Ohio and a couple from Bowling Green, Ky, originally from Cleveland. The in-laws had been on several cruises, but the BG couple had never been on a cruise before. We are from Glasgow, Ky, also originally from Cleveland. All of us are between 56 and 62 years of age and even though we are not stay up all night party people we like to have a good time. My DW and I took our first cruise to Alaska last year on Princess and it was an excellent trip.
We flew into La Guardia Thursday, 9/23/04 and had reservations for a private Super Shuttle van to pick us up at the airport. Cost was to be $75 for four people right to our hotel, The Belvedere, at 48th and 8th in Manhattan. Finding how to get the shuttle was extremely difficult and very confusing. Turns out there are courtesy phones by baggage "information" and you have to call them to come and pick you up. We waited at least a half hour to 45 minutes and finally he came.
The trip to the Belvedere was all the excitement this old man could muster with the extreme traffic problems and all the mess in the city, but none the less we made it to the hotel. With the tip it was $85.00 about the same as two cabs which in retrospect we would highly recommend. Would have easily have cut an hour off getting to the hotel.
The Belvedere was just as advertised on Travelocity and is highly recommended. It's not the Ritz but at an average of $200/night its the best buy out there. The staff was excellent, well trained for all us ignorant tourists and very knowledgeable. Asked for a room on one of the lower floors after reading a review about how slow the elevators were. The review was correct so staying on the third floor made it an easy walk down the stairs rather than wait for the elevator. We changed clothes had a bite to eat on the way to see The Producers at the St. James Theater.
I had purchased the tickets on line for $106 each and with the eight of us we had excellent seats in the left orchestra five rows back from the stage. The play was very good, but worth the $106 each? NOT! After the show we were still hungry so we stopped at an Applebee's at around midnight and had a sandwich. There were more people in Times Square at midnight on a Thursday than come out to the Fourth of July fireworks in our little town every year.
Friday, 9/24, we had breakfast in the hotel restaurant and had the buffet which was very pricey at $15.00 each. We then got directions for the subway from a bell man and headed up 48th to 7th and caught the subway to Battery Park. One of the best values in NYC is the subway which was an all day ticket for $7.00. We went to Battery Park and then paid what in my opinion is the best buy in NYC $10 to go to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We were blessed with a beautiful day and took lots of pictures and video as well.
Walked back up from Battery Park to ground zero which was about a 15 minute walk. Passed a lot of "interesting people" on this jaunt. Ground zero is of course now under construction, but none the less a strange feeling came over me that was not something I have ever experienced before. I am glad we went to ground zero and had a few moments to reflect and pray.
That night we went to Tavern on the Green and had the most over priced meal I've ever had in my life. Food was good, but no better than in any other good restaurant or even one of the chains such as TGIF, OutBack, etc., but the ambiance was terrible. The restaurant was noisy, very little privacy, and all in all not worth the money or their wonderful reputation in our view. Service was good to above average and of course since there was eight of us the tip was going to be included even before we even ordered. I had oysters on the half shell, tossed salad, red snapper, and one drink. My wife had a shrimp cocktail, tossed salad, prime rib, one drink, and the bill with tip for the two of us was $147.00!!!! Now folks that's outrageous!
The next morning was the embarkation and we planned to get to the pier by 11:30. Rather than eat at the buffet in the hotel again we opted to just go to a Burger King around the corner for coffee and a sausage biscuit. Everything is high in NYC. Cost double of that back home. Before we caught the cab for the pier, the wife and I walked up to 48th and 6th where the Fox News Channel studios are. We pulled a typical tourist stunt by looking in the window while they were doing the morning Fox and Friends show. We phoned our grandkids and they got a big kick out of seeing us on TV so it was worth it even though I'm sure we looked stupid.
We took a cab to the pier for $8.00 with tip, gave our bags to a baggage handler, and had them visually inspected by a Carnival rep. We tipped the baggage guy $5.00 for the three bags the next time we saw them was around 5:00 p.m. on the ship. Got in line about 12:00 after rounding up our group by 12:30 were ready to board the ship. We did not see any special line for those like ourselves that had filled out all their necessary documents on line ahead of time, but the process was smooth with plenty of people checking in passengers.
Proceeded on ship shortly after 12:30, threw our carry on in the room which had already been made up and went up to the buffet. I opted for a great ruben sandwich from the deli, in fact I went back for a second. DW had the buffet and mentioned that it was not nearly as large or had the choices that we had on the Princess ship. She was right, but all in all it was more than adequate. We both agreed that the desserts were absolutely excellent.
We went up to the upper open decks, 10 I think for the start of the cruise and had absolutely perfect views of the Statue of Liberty and all of New York City as well. These sights, in my view, are worth the price of the entire trip and MUST not be missed. But the most spectacular thing is when this huge ship goes under the Verazona Bridge. It appears that the ships mast misses hitting the bridge by no more than just a few feet. In actuality, I'm sure its more than that, but it is one of the coolest sights you'll ever see.
Pacific Dining Room
We had the first seating for dinner which was at 5:45 p.m. Wow what a mess! Everyone it seemed went down early and people were 20 deep in the stairwells and the lobby area adjacent to the dining room. After the doors opened several staff members began directing the people to their tables and everything calmed down quickly. Our waiter was Raul from Columbia and his assistant was Yuzman from Indonesia. The first night things were a little disorganized, but after the first night everything went pretty smooth.
The food was very good and the selections were also very good. Our drink waiter was a real fun guy from Macedonia named Alexandar. Alexandar after the first night knew exactly how I wanted my Bloody Mary and had it there and prepared right every night. Each night we went in the Ionian lounge for some lounge music and after dinner drinks and Alexandar waited on us there as well.
As I had read in previous reviews, there is a major vibration in this dining room especially when the ship is backing out of its berth or rotating to leave port. On one occasion the room literally shook and the chandeliers were "tingling" until we were underway. Even at sea there was still a mild vibration that is felt all through dinner.
Another thing we didn't like was that on the top floor of the dining room we had no view to the outside. We were told that a muster station was right outside and destroyed the view anyway, but we didn't see any of the upstairs window drapes pulled back. Again, referring to the Princess with open seating we could request a always were seated at a table by the windows and were able to see the ocean as we ate.
The highlight of the night was the wait staff dancing, parading and basically carrying on with the passengers having a great time. They would dance all around the room, sing, and all the passengers would be clapping dancing or whatever right along with them.
Balcony Cabin #6350
Our cabin had plenty of room for everything and the bathroom size was more than adequate. We love standing or sitting on the balcony especially in the morning when the ship is coming into port. Each morning we ordered coffee and danish from room service and never waited more than 10 minutes. The salt air is also wonderful at night and we keep our door open all night long except on "Black Wednesday" (to be explained later). By the way keep a "Bungie" cord in your suitcase alone with an extension cord which are always useful on a cruise ship.
Every night our bed was turned down and towel animals were constructed and waiting by a copy of the ship's paper with the next days events were two mints. The cute animals were a real nice touch. A hair dryer, shampoo and soap dispensers were available in the bathroom along with complementary toiletries such as razors, lotion, etc. The large side wall medicine cabinet was great for storing all of our toiletries. There also, was an ice machine and soft drink machine available just down from the mid ship elevators.
Ports of Call
Our first port of call was Boston. I had been to Boston many times an elected to stay on the ship. One of our couples opted for a two hour bus tour and were not real pleased with the tour. Their main complaint was that just like any other tour of this type there was not enough time to adequately see everything at a stop. The remaining group chose to take a trolley into the square and visit the market and other places of interest.
Both groups had the same complaint, Carnival elected to let their tour people off first creating chaos at the gangway. I waited over 45 minutes for my wife to get off so I could make pictures from the top of the ship and could see the chaos that was going on. The other dumb thing was that they decided this would be a formal night forcing everyone to get back from their, tours get dressed and get down to the dining room. Formal night needs to be on the at sea days only!
Portland Maine, was our second Port of call and we rented a car that had been pre-arranged and drove to Kennebunkport. We spent the whole day there visiting shops and having a nice lunch in a restaurant on the river. We also took a drive out along the ocean to see President Bush Sr.'s home. Kennebunkport is a wonderful touristy type town with friendly people and a very relaxed atmosphere.
The next scheduled port was Sydney, Nova Scotia, but the captain elected to go to St. Johns, New Brunswick, instead due to high seas and very poor weather in Sydney. We had been to St. Johns before so we rented cars and drove the short distance to the reversing falls for lunch and a movie on the St. John's River. Again a great little trip, 7 miles round trip from the car rental place, and a very relaxing day. To leave St. John's the captain turned the ship around on its axis and as it came around I saw one lone bagpiper playing for us as we left. It was an extremely touching scene and I emailed the Port of St. John's supervisor thanking him and the piper as well for having staged this very memorable event.
The next port of call was Halifax, Nova Scotia. But the real thrill of the cruise was "Black Wednesday". We sat down for dinner as the ship was leaving St. John's and at least through dinner it was the only calm time we had all night long. We sailed all night from St. John's to Halifax. We had to travel through the remnants of hurricane Jeanne and the ship literally rocked and rolled all night long on the way to Halifax. We had 14-18 foot seas with 40-50 mile an hour winds that kept that 900 foot ship rocking. Needless to say we got very little sleep all night and really never had calm seas until we pulled well within the harbor at Halifax. Wow, what an experience that we definitely don't want to go through again.
We rented cars again at Halifax and should have rented them from the many kiosks in the pier terminal, but once again we had them prearranged at Enterprise where one of our group works. The Enterprise car rental office was only walking distance away as it turned out, but we lost a lot of time getting out of Halifax due to Enterprise's inefficiencies. We drove to Peggy's Cove which in our view is one of the most beautiful serene places we've ever been. One couple of our group had fresh right out of the ocean lobsters at a Peggy's Cove restaurant with the ocean in the backdrop it was a scene out of a movie script.
Summation of Ports of Call
At least on this cruise we would recommend setting up tours on your own. The ports have things to see and do, but nothing that overwhelmed us to sign up for them. We did however have the advantage of having been to all these cities before so we know what was available. A little investigating on the net will give you lots of information on what to see and do on this cruise.
Buffet and specialty restaurant dining
We ate in the buffet for breakfast and lunch most days and even though the food choices were not unlimited, the food was very good and the service very good. We especially liked going up to the pizza shop around 10 p.m. to have some goat cheese pizza and talked with a little server from Bale named Sher. Her name actual was four words that were all quite long and she told us the first two words of her name meant "first born" so we just called her First Born. She was a real nice young lady and fun to talk to.
We ate food from the grill including hamburgers and hot dogs and they were very good as well. Over all we judge the food at the specialty restaurants to be very good to excellent.
We actually only went to two shows. The first was a juggler and a comedian. The juggler was good although he did goof up a few times, but the comedian was the one that impressed me the most. The show was the early show at about 8:00 p.m. and it was the first time in my life I ever saw a comedian put on a one hour show without once cursing, swearing, or uttering anything close to an obscenity. It was a very funny show and well worth our attendance.
The other show was another comedian who also did not curse, swear, or utter any obscenities and he was also excellent and very funny. The other entertainer was a member of the Platters who's name escapes me. He was still singing the old songs very well and put on a very entertaining show even though he did make several off color comments in his routine. They were not offensive and the cursing he did was done within the context of the subject making his show very entertaining as well.
One thing that some of our party were not happy with was the $10 charge for only one game of Bingo. On Princess they paid $20 and had five-six games with real nice payouts. The casino on the other hand was very good to one couple with the husband wining over $600 at the tables and his DH over $200 on the slots.
This process was not done real well. Even though the ship is turned over to U.S. Customs prior to disembarking the terminal was complete chaos. Everyone got off the ship very orderly based on your color coded luggage tag, but the terminal and the baggage handlers in the terminal were very rude and arrogant. They told everyone that the transportation was downstairs and there was only one large elevator available for the 3000+ people getting off the ship. Everybody fed to one doorway area and it was a mess. This is not the fault of Carnival, but of the New York Port Authority and someone should should take them to task for this mess. It took us almost 30 minutes to get outside the terminal.
Transportation is available on ALL levels. We went out on the upper level refusing to fight our way through the elevator mess and I called Super Shuttle for our prearranged pick up. Now on the upper level people are arriving for the next cruise. Super shuttle kept me on the phone for over twenty minutes and never did come back on. I finally got fed up and all four couples took separate cabs to the airport which cost $45.00 per couple with tip. If we wouldn't have wasted the 20-30 plus minutes on Supper Shuttle we would have been on our way to the airport within 10 minutes.
This cruise in our view is not for the fun loving stay up all night and booze crowd. In our estimation the average age of the people on the cruise was 70+ and there were at least 20-25 people in motorized or regular wheelchairs. I am by no means belittling these folks the opportunity to go on a cruise, but am rather trying to explain to younger folks that this is not a cruise and booze trip for party types..
We found the Victory to be a very nice ship and we had no problem getting around on it. We were told the ship was going into dry dock for renovations after the October schedule and would not sail for about 2-3 months starting again in the Caribbean. The ship needs the time off for new carpeting, work on the vibration in the rear, and general overall maintenance.
We would strongly recommend this trip as an excellent value, we paid $1876 per couple, and were very satisfied with the food quality, preparation and the presentation as well. The casino was fun, and the waterslide, hot tub, and shows were fun, too. This trip was well worth the cost and is highly recommended. We would, however, recommend going directly from the airport to the ship avoiding the high costs of NYC and take a cab not Super Shuttle.