I am writing this review starting on Monday 6/27/2011. Its been a little over 48 hours since we stepped off the boat and I wanted to do it while everything was still fresh in my mind. I am doing my best to stay objective, but as you will see, I do have some issues with certain aspects of Carnival. I will tell you we paid $709 each for me and my wife and received a whole $100 off for my daughter at $609 (can you smell the sarcasm?) For a grand total of $2149. So here it goes, our cruise, June 18th, 2011. The good and bad.
Let’s start with the before you buy stuff. There is no getting a better price option with Carnival. Their prices are set. They may change from day to day, but whatever that days price is, is the price you will pay. They do not compete with other lines. If you found a better price with another company, they will tell you “good for you, you should buy it” But, to be fair, all cruise line seem to be this way. There is no wiggle room on price. The only way I have found is to have a large group ready to buy, probably 20 or more.
Your PVP (personal vacation planner) will lie to you. It is their job to sell you the cruise. They tell you that it is there job to help you before and after the purchase, but as soon as you buy, they are done with you. We were told there was a steakhouse on the boat that was separate and would be $30 a person to dine there, but there is not. We were told there are 4 pools on board, there are not. We were told there is an adults only area, but there is not. We were told that most of the ship is non-smoke, this was false. We were told the elevators stopped on every floor every time to help make sure you got access, this was false. I’d like to say that it was just our PVP, but asked for a new one and the problems and being ignored persisted. My emails went unanswered or only half answered. When I tried to find out if there were any rental car companies in Mahogany Bay (which carnival paid $64,000,000 to have built, but claims they don’t own), I was told they did not know. It’s simple math, if it makes Carnival $0, they do not want to help you. This should have been a sign, but I bought anyway.
We drove from Indianapolis to New Orleans, because airfare was out of hand. It cost less than $500 to dive versus over $1500 to fly. We parked at the convention center which is right around the corner and had a free shuttle. They have a secure parking garage with all covered parking. The cost for a week was $84 versus $112 at the port of New Orleans. The shuttle takes less than 5 minutes and you never have to handle your luggage like you do at the port. We got to the port at 12:30. The guy taking the luggage practically begs for a tip and points out repeatedly, that he does work on the ship and you will never see him again. Oh well, no big deal it was worth $2 to shut him up and not have to lug my bags.
Getting on the boat (now the fun begins). You start in a long line to get in the door. Everyone shows a boarding pass and an ID to get past the first set of doors. Once through this line, you head upstairs and queue up into a long line to get past security. Once your through security, you enter the terminal, with no clear place to go and one overwhelmed old man trying to direct people where to go. You get a number and go sit in line and wait for that number to be called. When they eventually call your number, you get into another line and wait to be lead to another area where we line up to get our sign and sail cards. Once you have you cards, you go towards the very unclearly marked area to board. Once you get to the gangplank, we were met with yet another line to board the boat. We eventually got on board around 2:30pm. Here is a tip. Get there early or get there late. Had we showed up at 3:00pm, we would have walked right on. Or had we gotten there earlier, the lines would have still existed, but we could have eaten lunch at a reasonable time. But hey! At least we are on the boat.
The ship was built in 1999 and refurbished in 2009. She is 102,000 tons with 13 decks and capable of 22 knots. She’s a big girl. The common areas of the ship are nicely decorated and well maintained. The workers keep everything cleaned up and clutter free. The common restrooms were always clean and well stocked. Traffic flows well almost everywhere on the ship, with the exception of deck 5 and the elevators. There is too much going on in the back of deck 5 with a dining area, comedy club, several bars, the arcade and casino all nearby. Plus they have live music and dancing along with photo studios along the hallway that eat up all the space. The theatre was nice and had plenty of seating. The comedy club was large but frequently ran low on seats as the comedy shows were popular. The restaurant was nicely decorated and comfortable, but if my assumptions are correct, your seat is based on the rate you paid for your room, but what can you do. There are 3 pools to use, but they are all pretty small. The one in the middle turned into a wave pool on a slightly rough day, but the kids loved it. The hot tubs are not hot, they are mildly warm. They would also close at odd and random times. There was no true schedule. The waterslide was fun and fast, there was frequently a line, but that is expected.
Our cabin was an inside cabin on verandah deck 8. #8286. The cabin was small of course, with two single sleeper beds and a pull down bed for our daughter. The beds were actually very comfortable. The bathroom had an extremely cramped shower. Even one of the comedians joked that he bent over to was his legs and stood up with a shower curtain wedgie. There were several closets for hanging stuff up, but only 3 small drawers for storing other stuff(you have to unpack to be able to get rid of the suitcases for more room) The décor of the room was not good at all. For a ship built in 99 and refurb’d in 09, the cabin looked like it was from the 60’s with parts scavenged from the 80’s. The TV was a little 19” color tube with only a couple working channels but had plenty of pay per view channels for $10 a pop. I know it’s a cruise and we did not spend much time at all in the room, but a small flat screen on the wall would be nice. Based on the amount we paid, we did not get much value for our dollar.
The food was pretty incredible. We dined in the Paris dining room at 6pm every evening. There were two formal nights during our cruise. We all ate a variety of things and we tried many new things. The shrimp cocktail was always a good choice as well as the stuffed mushrooms. I even tried the escargot, it was pretty similar to the stuffed mushrooms. We had lobster and shrimp one night and they offered more lobster tails upon request. It was so rich and sweet that we all opted for just the one. The prime rib on the final night was a great cut of meat and cooked to perfection. The deserts were always fantastic and never too rich or sugary. The menu always had what they call carnival classics, but had new choices every evening in the recommended by the chef section. We did lunch one day and breakfast one day in the dining room, but mainly stuck to the Lido deck for breakfast and lunch. It is much easier to hang onto your deck chairs if you start you morning on the Lido and stay there for the day. There was a sandwich place open most of the time where you could get fresh made sandwiches like ham and cheese and ruebens. When they closed, the hamburger and hotdog joint would open (after 11:30). The pizza place was open 24 hours a day and the pizza was always fresh although you usually had to wait to get your pizza, but a small price for freshness. We did not try the Chinese joint or the room service, but I’m sure they were great as well.
The staff on the carnival triumph are fantastic, minus a few exceptions. They are 98% foreign workers with at least 20 different nationalities that I saw. The general workers were very good at keeping everything clean and tidy. We rarely had to search for a clean table to sit down at. Our cabin steward was named Budhiyasa (pronounced like it spelled) and was very good. He took the time to learn our names which really impressed me. The cabin was cleaned twice a day even though we did not do much living in there. We always had clean everything in our cabin and never went without ice or other supplies. We had a new towel animal every night as well as chocolates on our pillow. The housekeeping staff as a whole, did a fantastic job. The wait staff was also top notch. Our head waiter Felix and assistant Sukran also took the time to learn our names and were always happy when serving us. Our glasses were always full and when my daughter had an appetizer she didnt like they promptly brought her a shrimp cocktail instead. They took the time to learn our habits as far as what we liked to drink and always offered my daughter hot tea once they found out how much she liked it. These three in particular made us feel like first class passengers even when Carnival made us feel like steerage. The maître d did stop by the table one night and greeted us at the entrance a couple times, but I do not know if that is his entire job, so I can’t really say what he did well although, you are given an envelope to tip him at the end of the week. The cruise director was Tex (from Texas….get it?) I didn’t really interact with him, but he seemed friendly and people liked him. The assistant cruise director on the other hand was not very professional. Charlie (pronounced with a British accent) was frequently in charge of bingo. Bingo was supposed to be a family friendly event. Unfortunately, Charlie thought it funny to make jokes about his balls when playing bingo. If this were adults only bingo, I would have no issue with it, but the place was always loaded with kids. And, it wasn’t like it happened once and then stopped; it happened several times and persisted throughout. The rest of the entertainment staff was great. We saw 4 different comedians and even purchased a CD from Kim Harrison. She was hilarious. We saw the family friendly show and both of her adult shows. The magician was pretty good and her was very friendly. My daughter got and autograph and picture with him. They also had a cabaret show that was very entertaining. There always seemed to be live music somewhere on the ship. Although the band near the casino didn’t help with the snarled traffic on deck 5. The other issue we had with the staff was the alcohol salespeople and the photographer. There are WAY too many of them. If you are in a common area, you will not go longer than 5 minutes without being asked if you need a drink. I was usually asked every 30 seconds on the pool deck. The photographers are everywhere, and they constantly grab you and try to force you into a photo. They block the exits of the ship when stopping at a port. If you have ever been harassed in a best Buy by the blue shirts, you know what this is like. It’s ridiculous anyou can think ofd Carnival should stop this practice, but they don’t care, because it makes them more money.
On the topic of money, let me review the gambling. The casino has a variety of things to play. Plenty of slots for 1 penny to 10 dollars. They have most of the table games you could want with low $5 minimum bets. Sounds great huh? Not really. Nobody was winning anything, not even on the tables. Even after losing 14 hands of let it ride in a row did I figure it out. I went back a couple times and just observed what was going on. The slots are simple, they have the payouts set really low. No explanation need there I guess. But I took some observation to figure out what they did with the tables. They were not using auto shufflers. The deals would do 2 quick shuffles and deal the next hand of whatever. This keeps the randomness down to a minimum and increases their odds a little more (like they need it). We did try bingo one evening because we figure, you cant rig bingo, or so we thought. By my estimate there were over 200 people playing bingo at $20 a card for roughly a take of $4000. The prizes given away were, $125, $150, $175 and $200. A nice little haul for Carnival. Anyway, the first game was 4 corners which was won on the first 4 numbers drawn. If you know bingo, you know the odds of that happening on 3 card bingo are astronomical. Next was the floating six pack and was won on the first 5 numbers. Are you kidding me? A couple nights we went to the Rome lounge for shows and watched the end of bingo. It was the same thing. all except for the last night on $5000 jackpot night. We didn’t play, but were waiting to see the magic show after. If you got a coverall on the “powerball” number, you would win $5000. Of course the powerball was one of the first numbers out and the jackpot went down to $3000 for a coverall, BUT only if you got the coverall in the first 52 numbers drawn which is nearly impossible, so the jackpot went down to $1000. All in all, I will never gamble or play bingo on a Carnival ship again.
Our stops were scheduled to include Belize, Roatan and Cozumel. Our first stop was Belize. We planned an excursion to Altun Ha Mayan ruins. We booked directly through a company on the internet as it was $20 per person cheaper than Carnival and included an authentic Belizean lunch for free. We went to deck 5 to get our tender number around 7:30am as there is no dock in Belize that can handle the cruise ships, so you tender to smaller ferries. We received group number 19. They began calling numbers in groups of 6. 1-6 was called and a short time later, 7-12 was called. Then a few minutes later 13-18 was called. They were actually moving fairly quick. Then, they came over the intercom and said they were having trouble tendering people because of rough water and they would turn the boat around and start on the other side. No big deal we thought, it doesn’t take long to turn the boat around. Then we noticed them queue up a LARGE number of people with different numbers and stickers from everyone else. These were all people who had booked excursions through Carnival. They continued to come on the intercom and tell us they were having trouble tendering and to wait patiently. All the while, they are tendering hundreds of people right in front of us! Once they got the line of Carnival excursion purchasers tendered, we thought it would be our time. At this point we were already late for our excursion. They come on the intercom and AGAIN tell us they are experiencing weather delays and we should be patient. Then they line up a couple hundred more people in front of us! MORE Carnival excursion purchasers? You are joking right? Nope. By now it is after 10:00am and we are extremely late for our excursion. I head for guest services and throw a fit. The guy at the service desk takes us downstairs and tries to load us onto a tender with Carnival excursion guests, but the boat is full and they will not allow it which at least tells me the Belize tender people are trying to be safe. At this point, they start allowing the next set of numbers on and we grabbed the next tender. The customer service desk guy takes the number of my excursion company and says he will call (we asked, the excursion company, he never called). Anyway, on to Belize. We booked through belizecruiseexcursions dot com. We got a 4 hour tour of the city and ruins for $42.50 each. As mentioned, this included lunch. The same tour through Carnival was $59.99 per person and did not include lunch. The tour guide had a slow day and had waited for us luckily. Our guide was Manuel. We ended up basically getting a private tour. We hopped into a nice town car style vehicle and headed into the city. Manuel also gave us our complimentary bottled water (also not included in Carnival’s excursion, although they will sell you a bottle for $2.95). The city is very poor and built on mostly swamp land. Manuel pointed out the tallest building in Belize. It was either 4 or 5 stories tall ?. The drive out to the ruins was between 45 minutes to an hour and was an adventure. The roads are terrible, the bridges are narrow and the people seem to like to play chicken. The last road was basically one lane with random dirt shoulders for dodging oncoming trucks. The ruins were pretty cool and it great condition. They obviously keep an eye on things so they don’t get destroyed. MAKE SURE YOU PACK BUG SPRAY! I had to buy some because I forgot to get some before I left. I paid $10 for a $4 bottle, but when you are covered in mosquitos and 2 quarts low, you don’t care. The trip back also went back through the city. Seeing how poor everything is makes you thankful for what you have. We got back to the port and were served a fantastic lunch of chicken, rice, beans and plantains along with fresh squeezed orange juice. We checked out a couple shops at the port, but it’s the same junk you buy at any USA beach shop, but the stuff says Belize on it instead of Florida. We would have liked to browse the actual city stores, but were out of time due to the delays getting on the tenders.
Our second stop was Roatan Honduras. We were very excited to go explore the island. We were going to rent a car and go to Coxen hole, French Harbor and West End. I got up early and was ready to be one of the first off the boat. After sitting just outside the port for 15 minutes or so, they come on the intercom and tell us they cannot dock due to weather and it will become a day at sea. Let me point out that the weather was absolutely gorgeous. The water was calm and there was very little wind. As a matter of fact we could see another cruise line was already docked at the Coxen Hole port. I researched and found out they rarely are ever able to make this stop. Some say it is less than 25% of the time that they actually stop here. Its in the fine print that any stops can be cancelled, but I made an official complaint anyway. I figured they want to keep you on the ship gambling and buying overpriced drinks.
The third stop was Cozumel. We docked quickly and made our way off the boat, but had to struggle past the photographers who were grabbing people before they could even get off the plank. We rented a Jeep from Executive/Fox car rental. The Jeep was pretty beat up, so I made sure to buy insurance and take about 20 photos of all the damage to the jeep. We drove to Chankanaab Park and my wife and daughter went on the dolphin swim adventure. It cost us $184 to book directly across the internet. The same excursion though Carnival was $239. When we started the booking process a few months earlier, we input that we were coming from a carnival cruise and it told us they couldn’t sell to us and we had to book through Carnival. Carnival is actually working under the table and trying to corner the market on excursions so you have no choice but to pay their price. I redid the reservation and said I was coming from a hotel. I input that we were staying at Courtyard by Marriot. This worked well once we got to the park as they don’t really care, but they have to ask where you are staying and no proof is needed. The dolphin swim was probably the highlight of the trip for them. Once done, we drove to the other side of the island and had lunch at a little seaside restaurant/gift shop. The food was ok, nothing fancy, but we did get free shots of tequila with our lunch. We headed back towards the port and found a spot just south of Cahnkanaab to pull over and hopped into the water to do some snorkeling. You step off the rocks and right into 6-10 feet of water. There is coral, fish and other sealife everywhere. We saw shells and conch scatter about below. If you swim out about 20 feet, you are suddenly snorkeling in at least 30 feet of water. It was pretty awesome. We definitely will return to Cozumel some time to do more snorkeling.
So, we effectively got 1 2/3 out of 3 stops on our cruise. I have complained to Carnival, but I doubt much will be done to resolve our problems. I will update this review once I hear from carnival. I will also try to add some pictures once I have them Sorted. Overall, we had a good time and will cruise again, although we will likely try some of the other cruise lines to compare.