I'll start off by giving a little background on our group. We were a group of 7: my parents (in their 50s), my sister, brother-in-law, my boyfriend, a good family friend and myself (all in our upper 20s or low 30s). We have been on 5 cruises and we are generally very easy going and like to have a good time.
In a nutshell:
Overall, we were happy with the ship even though it wasn't our favorite of the ones we've been on. Dining staff was excellent. Food was good, and the Basa fish dish on the 2nd formal night was excellent. The ports of call are really the highlight of this cruise even though we were disappointed that Dominica was removed from the itinerary. Our best excursions were the Mt. Liamuiga volcano hike with David from Poinciana Tours in St. Kitts and a catamaran sail, snorkel and lunch cruise with Silver Moon in Barbados. We would very likely do this cruise again. There are a lot of Puerto Ricans on board, and we thought it brought a nice flair and a change to the 'usual' cruise clientele. We did not appreciate all of the screaming kids in the hall though. (However, the first week in January is probably not the best time to cruise if kids bother you.) We have always cruised around the Christmas/New Year holidays and have never had huge complaints about unruly children before.
Good: I thought the ship was in pretty good condition, and we all agreed that the decorations were very tasteful and not gaudy like some other ships we've been on. I shared my OV stateroom (1537) with my boyfriend and it was set up nicely. I like having the TV in the corner because it makes the vanity area much more open. We didn't have a problem with noise in the hallways like my parents did. Our room steward did a fairly good job. He wasn't the best we'd ever had, but overall he was good and kept our room clean. We had the Atlantic Dining Room late seating table 172, and our wait staff was excellent. Komang and Putu were fantastic and made our dining experience fun every night. They were also in charge of a large party who had one 'adults' table and one 'kids' table, and we felt they handled it well. The kids would get a little disruptive from time to time, but that wasn't a fault of the waiters. The food was good. One absolutely excellent dish we had was a Basa fish dish on the second formal night. The small print on the menu said it won awards for cruising cuisine, and we could definitely tell why. Very tasty! We also liked the Punchliner Comedy Club in the evenings, especially Roman. One exception, Al Romerez (sp?) was absolute crap. The sail-away party was the best (and largest) we'd had on any cruise, perhaps because a large percentage of the cruise passengers were from San Juan. Those PR really like to party and dance. We also love dancing and had a great time at the sail-away party.
The not-so-good: I felt like the buffet area was not set up well. I think Carnival has corrected this problem with the newer ships by offering more stations, but it often felt congested with long lines all the time. My parents' balcony stateroom (6351) was right over the casino band and they had trouble with noise most nights. They also had trouble (as did our family friend on level 7) with unruly and noisy children running in the halls at all hours of the night. (The kids are not a fault of the ship, just something they felt was worth mentioning.) One thing that isn't really a complaint, just more of an observation, was that the carpeting in the stairways didn't have the numbers of each new level on the floor in a different color. I never thought about this before until it was missing. We often take the stairs instead of the elevator and it was easy to loose track of what level we were on. Those 'carpet reminders' on the newer ships are convenient. Also, we found out that the Carnival Victory does not allow you to buy the future cruise certificates that we could get on our other cruises. This seems really strange that the offer wouldn't be fleet-wide.
PORTS OF CALL:
San Juan: We arrived in San Juan on December 30th before our cruise on Jan 2nd. The first 2 nights we stayed at Casablanca Hotel in Old San Juan. We thought it was nice, and a typical European-style hotel. One word of caution: they have no elevators and we were on the 5th floor. The employees helped take our luggage to our room though. We mostly hung around OSJ for the days prior to the cruise with no formal excursions. It is a great part of town to walk around and soak up the ambiance. The night before our cruise, we switched to the San Juan Beach Hotel because there were no vacancies in OSJ. It is undergoing major renovations at the moment. My parents had a nice, re-done room on the 3rd floor with an ocean view balcony. The rest of us had standard, old rooms that were definitely falling into disrepair. But, it was still manageable for one night. We arrived at the port at 11:30am to check in. There were no lines and it wasn't too congested with disembarking passengers. They started letting us on the ship at 12:15pm. We went to the Aft Lido for some drinks (had a great waiter Su) and explored the ship a little bit. We dropped off our hand luggage in one stateroom even though they weren't done cleaning yet. The room steward said it was ok for us to drop it off. We went off the ship and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon in OSJ.
St. Thomas: Slept in and had a nice breakfast in the MDR. Then, we took a taxi to Secret Harbor Beach. We have been there before and it is a nice, secluded place. There is a resort there, but not too many cruise passengers know about it. The restaurant, the Blue Moon, is pretty nice with a decent menu. We snorkeled right off the beach and had a nice, relaxing day. We even had some iguanas patrolling the beach. The taxis were $10 pp each way.
Barbados: We booked a catamaran cruise with Silver Moon. It was a fantastic day. They limit the number of passengers to 24 on their biggest cat, and we never felt crowded or rushed. Nick and Marlo were great, and were always prompt with drinks. First, we sailed to a spot where we could snorkel with sea turtles. This was really neat! We also saw a lot of fish and even some sting rays underneath us. Then we sailed to a ship wreck to snorkel again. On the way they passed out fresh banana bread for a snack. The snorkeling was ok, but it definitely wasn't as great as the sea turtles. After this, we sailed to a nice, quiet beach cove and anchored for lunch. Lunch was good and very filling. They had salads, chicken, macaroni and cheese, flying fish, rice, etc. After lunch we got off the cat and swam to the nearby beach. Nick pulled out the blender and made very good pina coladas on the way back to the ship. We were also offered carrot cake on the return trip. The excursion was $92 pp, but we felt it was worth it. We saw some of the catamarans booked through the ship and they were shoving 50-60 or more people on the same size boat. Some of them looked like there was standing room only.
St. Lucia: We booked an island tour with Cosol. We have done this tour before, but he has made some changes since we had been with him 3 years ago. It was a nice tour and they really highlight their 'mobile bar.' We were never short on drinks. We took a water taxi from Soufriere to Jalousie beach between the Pitons. Very nice beach and not very crowded. The water taxi was a nice boat ride and we could see the beautiful coastline. Our driver "Bumpy" was very good. Cosol's tour is $65 pp.
St. Kitts: We booked the Mt. Liamuiga hike with David from Poinciana Tours. We cannot say enough good things about this experience! From the reviews we read, it seemed like this hike was only for experienced hikers, so only my boyfriend and I dared to do it. It was strenuous for sure, but the rest of our group could have probably made it ok, with the exception of my mother who has had a hip replacement. David will take small groups, unlike other tour operators. At first it was just the 2 of us with David, but we picked up another older couple from England who really wanted to do a hike. We all had a great time. David really took his time and we stayed together at the pace of the slowest person. No one was ever left behind. He was also very helpful in telling us where to place hands and feet in trickier sections and helped us up some steeper bits. Our weather was great, no rain and it was clear when we got to the top. The trail is a lot of climbing on rocks and tree roots, but we found it to be fun and exciting. We had plenty of time to soak in the fantastic views with a picnic lunch at the top. We also had plenty of time along the whole hike for pictures. Along with providing water for us at the beginning of the hike, David brought fresh lemonade, coconut, a local pound type cake, and fresh raisin bread for us to eat at the top. The best picnic I've had in a long time! We took our time coming down and no one in our group ever fell down. David was also very knowledgeable about the trees and plants and would explain them to us on the way. When we got to the bottom we still had some time before we had to be to the ship, so David took us on a small island tour. David offers all kinds of tours, but I think the volcano hike was perfect for us. He said many other tour operators won't do the hike unless there are a minimum number of people and it can get to be too many people that you cannot enjoy the beautiful forest as much. He said some operators take groups of 60-70 people and if you can't keep up, you get left behind. He also said if you book through Thenford Grey, that most likely you will have David as your guide anyway.
St. Maarten: By the time we got to this port, we were exhausted (and a little sore after the hike) so we took it easy in the morning. Slept in a bit and had a nice breakfast in the MDR. We took a water taxi to Phillipsburg and did some shopping and rented chairs and umbrellas on the beach. A nice, relaxing day. Note: this is the place to buy your liquor on this cruise! Walk along the second street (behind the boulevard) and check out prices in a few different stores before you buy. We got some fantastic prices. For example, 1 Liter of Cointreau was $19. The duty free store right off the water taxi has cheaper prices than I saw on most islands, but they were still more expensive than the other liquor stores further in town. Also, if you are inclined, we saw the store owners 'help' their customers fill empty water bottles with their recently purchased liquor so they could drink it on the beach, boat, etc.