First, let me say that my husband and I cruised on the Conquest from Galveston in October. So, my view of the Triumph is slightly affected by what we would rate as a 4 ½-star experience on the Conquest. At the time of booking, I anticipated an older, slightly smaller ship in the Triumph. It was as expected.
This cruise departed from the Port of New Orleans. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Convention Center and used their $10/day garage parking while we were gone. (The fee is $18/day in the parking deck at the Port of New Orleans.) This hotel is literally around the block from the port. (You can't see the port from the hotel as the Convention Center is in the way.) It's one of the best hotels in the Hampton chain and they took us to the port and picked us up when we got back. We highly recommend it.
We purposely scheduled this trip over spring break so that our children—daughters ages 17 and 10—would be out of school. So, we fully anticipated that there would be lots of running, screaming, long lines and general merriment because of so many kids on the ship. We were pleasantly surprised that almost everyone was well-behaved and the lines not as bad as they could have been. (To the two college-aged boys who jumped off the pier in Cozumel—twice—really?? That was stupid.) The girls did a few of the Camp Carnival and O2 activities and made some new friends. The organized activities were well planned and plentiful, but my kids seemed to want to do things on their own once they had the new friends to hang out with.
We stayed in cabins 7278 (ocean suite) and 7280 (interior) right across the hall. This was the perfect arrangement for us as it gave us VIP boarding for both cabins (since we are a family traveling together), a large cabin/balcony for us to lounge in/on, and a separate sleeping room/bathroom for the kids. I'm a total hotel snob and expected that our cabins would show a lot of wear (since it has been awhile since the last dry dock) and possibly not be as clean as I prefer. But, remarkably, they did not feel worn or dirty. I felt comfortable enough to walk barefoot on the carpet—that says a lot for me. We had a new wide-screen TV in the suite, something the Conquest did not have. Muhammad was our steward. He was wonderful and greeted us by name every time we saw him. (If you have him as your steward, you'll want to give him an extra tip as we did.)
Room service...it works when you fill out the door hanger card for the continental breakfast very well. It is delivered on time and has exactly what you ordered. We tried at least a half-dozen times to get service during the day or evenings. The phone just rang busy every time. We were never successful.
The entertainment was a little strange on this cruise. Because it was spring break, the staff did try to make some accommodations to make the shows and activities a bit more kid-appropriate. For the most part, however, it didn't work. The two comedians—as great as they were for the adult shows—had no clue how to adjust on the fly for the younger audience. The marriage game was in the middle of the day and too adult for the kids. It wouldn't be of a concern except that it was taped and on a continual loop on the TV—not good for the week's younger audience, Carnival.
The magic show was wonderful. Be sure to see that. But, the other Las Vegas-style shows weren't very good. It looked like they had some new dancers who were still trying to figure it all out. The cruise director, Tex, was entertaining. But, we didn't see much of him or his staff. (We may not have been in the right places at the right time.) We noticed that almost all of the activities are identical to those we experienced on the Conquest, so they must be fleet-wide. We would suggest to Carnival that they vary them at least a little bit from ship to ship to give frequent cruisers something different each time.
The dining experience... I had read lots of reviews from recent cruisers that the food was bad on the Triumph. We didn't feel that way at all. It proved to be—like the activities—identical to what we experienced on the Conquest. The food in the grand buffet, pizza/deli/Asian specialty areas, and London dining room were the expected cruise fare and of good quality. (Notice I didn't say excellent. The food is standard hotel, foodservice-quality. It is not gourmet. Don't expect gourmet. It's not going to be that good for the price you paid for this level of cruising.) We didn't try the $18 items on the menu in the London dining room. We had dined in the steakhouse on the Conquest and were thrilled with the experience. We just felt that we would be disappointed with the alternative on the Triumph. I never saw any of the other guests ordering from the special menu, so I can't report on how those plates looked.
I do feel that I need to share two disappointments we experienced with respect to dining. We had anytime dining. The first two nights were wonderful. We had different head waiters and they were both excellent. As a matter of fact, we mentioned to the waiter on the first night that we hoped we'd have the magician come to our table during the cruise. He made sure the magician came to our table the second night even though we weren't at one of his tables. The two head waiters were an excellent team—even taking care of guests not in their seating areas. (Kudos to you!) Both got extra tips from us.
Our disappointment came on the third night. We were running a bit later than the first two nights and got seated on the opposite side of the dining room at a horrible table in the back without any view of anything going on. (That table should be eliminated.) We got immediate bar service and the head waiter took our order within five minutes. And then... everyone disappeared on us. Forty minutes later, we still didn't have our appetizers. Really? For a completely pre-plated meal?? There was no refill on water/bread. No offer of a second beverage from the bar. No apologies for the delayed service. You can do better than this, guys. We finally gave up. We left our table and complained to the maitre d' and head hostess. He head hostess did not say one word to us or offer an apology (shame on you!). The maitre d' offered to reseat us in a different area, but by then our appetites were gone. We think our complaint was heard loud and clear. On the fourth night we were seated with our original head waiter. We also noticed that the maitre d' was watching the problem table/section like a hawk. So here's a tip. If you get seated at a table that is not in an area of your liking—or get a less than attentive wait staff—ask to be moved immediately. Don't wait. That way you won't be disappointed or go to bed hungry.
The other disappointment—and a HUGE one for me—the final sea day chocolate buffet. We knew what it was supposed to be like. It was a pitiful excuse for what should be special on the last day. At first, I thought it must have been because of the sheer number of people they had to serve in the regular buffet and not enough space to accommodate it all. But, in the end, I think it was just poor execution. For example, they had put out all of the items you dip in fondue—but didn't put out the chocolate fondue itself. Oh well. We figured out that the sweets in the coffee shop were well worth paying for. Five chocolate covered strawberries for $4!! Or huge slices of cake for $2.50.
The excursions... Simply stated—Carnival needs to eliminate Progreso from its list of ports-of-call until some significant improvements are made. It is not a tourism-worthy location yet. I had a fellow-cruiser disagree with me as we were in the waiting area to disembark. She loved the Merida downtown tour. I've had friends say the ruins are a must-see. But, if you don't want to do either of those, STAY ON THE SHIP. Don't bother taking a shuttle into town. Save your money for Cozumel. We didn't want to miss out on seeing at least something in the area, so we went on the Beach Break at Your Leisure excursion—one of the only excursions still available to us. Thank God the all-inclusive beach break was sold out. Both of them went to the same place. We saw the included buffet. It was repulsive and probably generated some unpleasant after effects for its consumers. To get to the beach, the excursion company put us on a bus that was old, dirty and felt unsafe. Some of the seats were broken in the reclining position and guests were still expected to sit in them. (We think it was probably an early 1970's model bus. The others were newer, but not in much better shape.) The "beach club" was not much more than a public beach with a fence around it to keep the vendors out. It had some "cabanas" with hammocks, beach chairs, dirty restrooms, a few kayaks and two poorly maintained, under-inflated water trampolines. We didn't expect the water to be as turquoise as the Caymans or Jamaica, but it wasn't even as pretty as Destin. The included alcoholic beverages were horrible—overly-sweet mixer with little to no alcohol. The worst part... it was also a national holiday. So, the beach club divided the beach into two sections—one large one for the cruisers and one tiny section for the Mexican nationals who greatly outnumbered the cruisers. It was the closest thing I have ever experienced to segregation—and I'm from the Deep South! The treatment of Mexican nationals was obscene. (They, too, paid for access and were given little to no space or service and were spoken to rudely.) It was painful to watch and made it impossible for us to enjoy ourselves. Even if Carnival continues to keep Progreso in its port inventory, it needs to carefully re-evaluate the contracts with these excursion vendors. Basically, we wasted $200 on this horrible excursion.
I can't speak to excursions in Cozumel as we didn't take one on either cruise. I would suggest taking one if you are interested in scuba or snorkeling since it sits on the second largest reef in the world. Otherwise, consider experiencing Cozumel on your own. The downtown shopping area is easily accessible from any of the piers by taxi—they are clean, safe and cheap. My strongest encouragement is to rent a car or pay for a taxi to drive you to the far side of the island to the uninhabited national park area. (The highway goes around the island and is only about 40 miles the whole way.) The views of the sea and beaches are spectacular there. There are places to stop along the way to access the beach to take the best photos of your trip. There are also lots of beach clubs on the inhabited side of the island. We went to Carlos and Charlie's in October. It was very nice. This time we went to Mr. Sancho's and recommend it, too. It was all-inclusive food/beverage and had a fresh-water pool, cabanas right on the water, a selection of water toys for the kids, and motorized toys for rent. Both clubs use filtered water so you can safely enjoy the food and beverages.
We didn't use the spa at all. We used several of the services on the Conquest and weren't thrilled with the experience. Althought the staff was attentive and well-trained, we felt that the services were way over priced, we got less time than advertised, and really didn't appreciate the hard sell of the products. So, we avoided the pressure and expense this time.
There are WAAAAY too many photo setups on the Triumph. For example, they use entire length of the casino walkway in different photo setups making huge traffic bottlenecks in the evenings. On the Conquest, there were setups, but they were in areas that didn't impede foot traffic. We bought about $100 in photos on the Conquest. We didn't buy a single one on the Triumph. None of them was of a quality worth purchasing. The photographers need some additional technical and guest-interaction training.
Disembark was easy and fast. However, I think this is where being a VIP works against you. If you don't have an early flight to catch, it's not a good thing. You are the first group off the ship—which means you can't sleep to a reasonable hour and you miss the opportunity to get breakfast while onboard. (We were through customs and waiting on our shuttle by 7:15 am.) I can tell you that there's not a lot to do in New Orleans before 10 am except to eat at Cafe Du Monde. It might be possible to disembark later as a VIP, but we couldn't figure out how to do it. (We were encouraged by the staff to disembark as scheduled, but not in a rude way.)
Would we recommend the Triumph to someone else? Probably. Once she dry docks and is moved to Galveston in the fall with an itinerary that doesn't include Progreso, she'll be a great value for the money especially if you live in the area and can avoid airfare. But, honestly, we'll be more likely to book on the new Magic out of Galveston or on the Conquest once it moves to New Orleans.
I hope my review has been helpful to you if you're considering the Triumph. I'm happy to answer questions you have.