A Southern Caribbean cruise has always been our bucket list so we jumped at a chance to book the Victory. My husband and I are in our early 30s and this was our 3rd cruise with Carnival. The Victory was the smallest ship we have ever been on but we were really attracted to the itinerary.
For photos, I refer you to erby2283's fantastic review - http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1522835
We met on Royston's tour in St. Kitts and after looking at her photos, I realized mine were very similar.
We usually fly from Buffalo but during my research, I found that prices were comparable flying from Toronto. We would save ourselves the 1.5 hr drive and parking fees. We left on November 11th and spent 2 days in San Juan. It was a very nice beginning to our holiday and we didn't feel rushed to get to the ship.
We stayed in Old San Juan at the Posada San Francisco. Here is the review I posted to Trip Advisor about our experience:
Amidst all these positive reviews for Posada San Francisco, I find it really hard to write my review, as we are in the minority that didn't enjoy our stay as much as we had hope.
My husband and I booked a two night stay before our Southern Caribbean cruise. We chose it for the proximity to everything in Old San Juan and we thought it would be a unique experience to stay somewhere local instead of a big hotel chain.
Upon arrival at the airport, we grabbed a cab to Old San Juan. Cost was $19 plus $1/luggage. Our cab driver had a bit of difficulty locating Posada San Francisco as the entrance is somewhat hidden. We passed it on our first try but were able to find it after a second time around the block. Ask to be dropped at the Plaza Colon and the hostel is right there.
Our room wasn't quite ready when we arrived at 4pm so we had to wait about 25 min. while the room was being cleaned and prepped. Not a huge deal but we did have a long travel day to San Juan without a meal so we were eager to get out and eat. We were assigned a private room on the 6th floor which I had read to be the renovated updated rooms.
And it's true; the 6th floor is renovated but not quite finished yet. Our room must have been newly painted because the paint fumes were very strong. The window in our room did not open so there was no way to air it out. By 1am on the first night of our stay, I think the paint fumes were making us delirious and we found it difficult to breath.
The room was simple - a double bed, a small flat screen TV with satellite cable, a personal bar fridge and a window unit air conditioner. It lacked shelves or hooks to put our belongings. On the second night, a small side table was added close to our bed. The floor in our room had a covering of construction dust so we could not walk around in bare feet.
The bed was comfortable and the linens were thin but we didn't need thick covers in a warm city like San Juan. We were provided with one bath towel each, no face cloths or hand towels.
We found the noise level in our room to be pretty loud. Just for context, we live in a busy urban area on a main street and we're not accustomed to quiet suburban living. We did find the AC unit in the room to be quite loud. There is a bar/restaurant below the Posada so the dance music can be heard on weekends. Flip side is that the AC is so loud, it can drown out the dance music.
Our room never got very dark. There was light coming in through the window, also through the window above the door.
Loud AC, half dark, heavy paint scented room on top of inconsiderate guests who slammed doors all night and came home loud and rowdy after the bar made for 2 very sleepless nights. I'm just thankful my husband didn't threaten divorce because it was my idea to book here.
There were 2 shared bathrooms on the 6th floor that was available for our use. Both were dirty with construction dust and again, no hooks and shelves to place our stuff. Shower pressure was quite weak but I happy to report that there was hot water.
The service at Posada San Francisco is fantastic. The hosts are both very friendly and helpful. The common spaces on the 5th and 6th floor - kitchen/seating areas and balconies are very nice. The balconies offered a nice view of our ship in port and fort right next door. We loved being able to walk to shopping, restaurants and tourist sites.
We were warned about the construction and offered a small discount at check in on account that the 6th floor was still a work in progress but had we known about the conditions of our room, we probably would have chosen other accommodations. The Posada prefers cash payment as there is a 2% charge for credit card use.
We probably wouldn't stay at Posada San Francisco again based on this experience. I know we could have gotten a 3-star hotel via Priceline for slightly more and our lack of sleep did not make up for the savings here.
Car Rental - Charlie's
We rented a car from Charlie's and drove out to El Yunque and Luquillo. Our hotel was in Old San Juan and the closest pick up location was in Condado, about 10 min. away. Charlie's provided a free shuttle service that picked us up in OSJ to get the car.
We arrived very close to our 9am reservation time to find that our rental was still being cleaned and prepped. We ended up waiting around for about an hour before it was ready to go which cut into our day.
We got a 4-door Hyundai Brio which was fine. No complaints about the car. We bought our GPS from home to help navigate our way to the rain forest. The roads in PR are easy to use and the drive was effortless.
The Condado location closes at 5pm, which meant we had to return the car by that time or park it overnight in OSJ and return it in the morning. We chose to return the car at the end of the day around 9pm to the Isla Verde location which is open 24-hrs but does not provide the shuttle back to OSJ. A cab from the Isla Verde location to OSJ is $20, which is close to the cost of our rental.
Charlie's provides rentals at a very competitive price but I wish they had a pick up location in OSJ or allowed for rentals to be returned after 5pm to the Condado location.
We were able to just drag our luggage a few blocks from Posada San Francisco to the port on Sunday. We arrived at the around 12:30pm and they weren't boarding yet.
A porter took our luggage and then asked for a tip but as we walked in, we noticed that other people dropping off their luggage right at the carts so I'm not sure if we could have done that or if we absolutely needed to hand it to a porter.
We were assigned Group 7 for boarding and it was about an hour's wait before we boarded and had lunch in the buffet. We waited until 2:30pm for our room to be ready and dropped off our carry on. We walked over to the Marshalls and CVS to do some shopping before re-boarding around 6:00pm.
Stateroom - Confessions of a Balcony Virgin
Yes, finally our first balcony! Our room was 9222 (forward port side). I had read that there were no mini-fridges on the Victory so we came prepared with our own soft cooler. However, our room steward, Carmillo, brought us a plastic bucket and kept it full of ice throughout the week so it was no problem keeping our drinks cold. I barely even noticed that we were missing a fridge.
Carmillo was a good steward. He did towel animals for us and kept the room tidy. We were constantly forgetting to put our dirty beach towels out because I figure I could just exchange them at the towel huts in the morning. The towel hut does not open until 9am and most of our ports, we needed to be off the ship by 8am. I called housekeeping to request some fresh towels and Carmillo was at our door within seconds and then he ran to the bowels of the ship to get us clean ones. They were still warm when he delivered them.
We had booked port side but we were actually only port side for San Juan, Barbados and St. Kitts. We loved being on Lido deck as it was only a short walk to grab water from the buffet. Also, we were very close to the secret decks so we used those for some sail aways.
The best thing about the balcony for me is being able to sit outside in my robe after a shower when we get back from each port. Not to mention that we also saw several shooting stars in the night sky.
We did have expectations of having some breakfasts on our balcony and we grabbed a tray of food from the buffet. But once on the balcony, we realized that there wasn't much room on the one small metal table out there. We ended up leaving our tray in the room and eating just the cereal, then going back in and getting the fruit, etc.
Overall, we had a great first experience with a balcony and would definitely consider for future cruises if the price was right.
Dining Room - Breakfast
We like breakfast in the dining room only because the truth is I am too lazy to walk around and get my own food. Also, it's a more relaxed atmosphere from the bustling buffet. Breakfast entrees were the same every day (French Toast, Eggs Benny, Omelets, Pancakes, etc). I think we tried every one. Would have been nice if there was a special that changed every day. Loved those cinnamon roll pastries and the pineapple juice.
Dining Room - Lunch
We only had one sea day on this itinerary so it was the only day that we could have lunch in the dining room. We got the steak salad and one of the sandwiches. Both were good. We had creme caramel for dessert which I suspected was the CrÃ¨me Brule from the previous night's dessert minus the crispy sugary topping.
We had also intended to go to tea time at 3pm on the sea day but felt so stuffed from lunch, we skipped it.
Dining Room - Dinner
We have always been traditionally late seating diners but I decided to switch it up and try Your Choice Dining (YCD). When I made our cruise reservation, I was told that YCD was full and we would be waitlisted. I checked my status on the Carnival website often but it remained as 'wait list'.
When we received our S&S cards, I noticed that we were given early dining (6pm) which was too early for us. We visited the Ma'tre D in the dining room on boarding day and he said he would look into it. By the next morning, we received a small postcard in our room indicating that our request had been granted.
The first dinner on the ship was YCD so the next evening (formal night) was the first time we tried it out. It was extremely busy because it was formal night and lobster night and we waited almost 45 min. for a table. It was here that I noticed someone familiar! It was Teck, our waiter from our 2007 Carnival Liberty cruise. I wasn't certain it was him so I eyed his name tag before I said anything. He didn't remember us immediately but as I gave him more details, it seemed like he started to remember but he does serve thousands of guests and it was 4 years ago so I don't blame him if he doesn't remember.
The following dinners, we requested to sit in his section which was so nice and familiar (flashbacks to the Carnival Liberty!). I don't remember all my previous waiters but the good ones always stand out. Why did I like Teck so much? He really takes the time to go over the menu selections, and then makes recommendations. We always paid attention because obviously he sees the food and knows what's good and what's so-so. He was always willing to take the extra step to make sure we were full.
Food in the dining room was on par with what I remembered from previous cruises. We only had one bad experience on the night of the Jerk Pork Loin and Braised Short Ribs. Both entrees were extremely salty, so salty that we felt instant burning on our lips after only a few bites. We sent both entrees back to the kitchen and requested the Indian Food meal which turned out to be much better. Teck mentioned that we could pre-order the next night's dinner and request for a low sodium meal. It was a nice gesture but we passed.
Alright, a roundup of our favourite dishes from this cruise:
Memorable Appetizers - baked stuffed mushrooms (I always get 2), escargots, fried shrimp, oysters rockefeller, frog legs and new addition guacamole/salsa with chips
Standout Entrees - lobster (of course), beef brisket in gravy, filet mignon, and roasted spring chicken
Delightful Desserts - baked Alaska, fig and cinnamon cake, chocolate raspberry cream cake, cappuccino pie, grand marnier souffle, banana split
One thing I noticed about YCD is that they set out an entire bread basket for each couple. We're not big bread eaters. DH had a few sourdough rolls. Also, there was no whole wheat option. I felt that the baskets mostly went to waste because we would eat 1 piece out of a basket that contained at least 6 pieces. I asked Teck what they did with the leftover bread and he said that they compost it.
Now that we have tried YCD, we would still prefer to have the traditional late dining. We usually tried to dine around the same time (7-7:30pm) and usually there was a 10-15 min. wait, which wasn't a huge problem but by the time we got to our table, it would be close to 8pm so not a huge time difference.
I do like having the same waiter and we were able to do that with YCD. The only thing is that our tablemates changed quite often, and the tables for 2 were so close together, it was like having table mates anyway. About half of the nights, we were seated at a table for 2 and the other nights, at a table for 4. We were open to either.
The hostess the entrance always remembered my name. I don't know how she does that. I thought maybe she had people's photos from the S&S cards on her monitor but my husband peeked at the screen and said there were no pictures!
We use Purell a lot on cruises and try to do it before every meal. A majority of times, the Purell station in front of the MDR was empty and in the buffet, the machines are in awkward places like at the beginning of the buffet line (near the trays).
I'm not a huge buffet fan. We grabbed lunch there on embarkation day. Because this itinerary is so port intensive and we arrived pretty early at each port (7/8am), we grabbed a few quick breakfasts in there as well. It's not that busy or chaotic as soon as the buffet opens. I think the later the morning, the busier it gets.
We did grab some snacks from the pizza and burger grill after excursions. Both were good. The chicken nuggets from the burger grill reminded me of KFC.
Ports of Call
St. Thomas - We have been to St. Thomas numerous times and in hind sight, I wish we would have treated it as a sea day. We decided to take the local bus ($2/each) to Sapphire Beach which was about 20 min. from port.
We had no problems finding the bus in front of the K-Mart area. When we arrived at Sapphire, the beach was pretty quiet. We could see a storm moving in and it started to rain about a half hour after we arrived. It stormed for about an hour but we waited it out in a covered area by the surf shop on the beach.
Once the storm cleared, we headed back out to the beach. This was when I got eaten alive by sand fleas! I use to carry insect repellent in my luggage but decided against bringing it this time since I never had to use it in the past.
Those little buggers can bite and as a result, I got over 50 bites all over my legs, arms and back. They swelled and blistered. This made for a very itchy week. I was able to buy some anti-itch cream in Barbados which helped a bit. I found out at the end of the week that Benadryl was available in the gift shop. I'm going to have to start carrying my own stash in my luggage.
Barbados - There is free WiFi in the port at Barbados. Had I known, I would have brought our laptop but we did manage to FaceTime a few friends at home to let them know that were doing okay.
We didn't have any plans or excursions book. We decided to take the blue bus to Payne's Bay beach. We bought 4 tokens for the bus ($1/each) and the ride took about 20 min. The bus driver dropped us right at the public access path to the beach.
We did speak to a couple of vendors on the beach about snorkeling trips. The going rate was $50/person (not including equipment which could be rented for an additional $10) which I felt wasn't a great bargain since some shore excursions and independent vendors charged around the same so we passed and lounged on the beach.
Payne's Bay isn't one of the best beaches. There were some rocky sections and quite a few vendors. We checked out the beach bar and grabbed a few Bank's beers ($3 each).
On the way back, we flagged down one of the yellow vans that had pumping reggae music which I thought also accepted tokens but was told that they did not. Cash only but at $1/person, it wasn't that bad. So, I have extra bus tokens for my next visit to Barbados. The yellow van dropped us downtown, not at the bus station so we walked around and then headed back to the ship. It was an easy 15-20 min. walk along the waterfront.
I had hoped to stop in at the Agapey chocolate factory to pick up some tasty souvenirs for friends/family. I had emailed them prior to our trip about the factory tour but they did not get back to me until late in the week before our departure.
I should have looked at the map for the location of Agapey because I thought it was on the path towards downtown but it is actually the opposite direction. I even looked around the shops in the port but didn't see the chocolate for sale. Too bad. I don't buy knick knacks very often but I think chocolate always makes for a nice souvenir.
St. Lucia - We booked Cosol's island tour ($65/person) and were not disappointed. Our driver was Baptist and we had a van with 12 passengers. The highlight of the tour is the boat ride to Jalousie Beach. The Pitons are spectacular and we got a great view of them from the boat ride over. I only wish we could have spent more than an hour of our time there.
We also enjoyed all the food on this tour. We stopped for breakfast and there was a huge spread of Caribbean goodies for us to try. Luckily for us, we can get a majority of it back home but I loved it as a change from the ship's food. And yes, the fresh bread and cheese is as lovely as everyone describes and this is coming from someone who rarely eats white bread. I wanted to cuddle that warm bread in my arms -â€" it was that good!
A small downside to the tour is the lack of free bathroom stops. There are 2 bathroom stops in the morning but both charged $1/person. The first free bathroom stop is at the volcano around 10:30am, about 2 hours into the tour, which would have been okay for my bladder had I not been downing Piton beers during the tour.
After our trip to the beach, we got to meet the man himself, Cosol and sample the local moonshine, which surprisingly tasted like liquid Christmas with its blend of spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and a secret ingredient! We arrived back at the ship close to 4pm so it really was a full day tour.
St. Kitts - We booked another island tour with Royston ($45/person) and I have to say, it is a very comprehensive tour which include the price of entrance to Brimstone Fort and lunch. Royston drives around a good majority of the island so we saw a lot of sights and spectacular views.
We passed into a few neighbourhoods so we got a glimpse at how people live. We stopped in at Brimstone Fort and this is really a wonderful sight to behold. Perched atop a huge hill, we got fantastic views of the island. There was an archeological team on site and they stopped to speak to us about the work that they are doing there. They are unearthing the fort's hospital and will be working on the project until March 2012.
For lunch, we had our choice of BBQ from a stand run by a man named Alex or roti. I got the BBQ ribs with rice and DH got the curry conch roti. We were able to eat at a beach stop but I was so hungry, I finished my lunch in the van. Both the ribs and the roti were excellent. Royston also packs a full cooler of water, Coke, Diet Coke, and Carib beer which is included in the price.
We liked Royston's tour but wished there was a longer beach stop. I guess this really depends on the majority of the passengers in the van. Royston is super easy going and accommodating so he'll basically do what the majority decides. The itinerary isn't set in stone.
St. Maarten - As usual, St. Maarten is always my favourite stop on any itinerary. We shared a cab to Orient Beach with another couple ($7/person). I found the cab drivers to be surlier than I remembered. On the way to the beach, our driver did not offer any change so I felt bullied into leaving a tip. I would have left a tip regardless but would have appreciated the motion to make change.
The driver asked what time we wanted to be picked up. The other couple wanted to stay at the beach until the very end and we wanted to head back early to do some shopping so we said he could pick them up and we would grab another cab. He said to us, "Don't be sorry when there aren't any cabs around to pick you up".
The driver dropped us at Le String but we usually sit on further down the beach. He looked angry when we started walking away. I guess he wasn't going to get the commission from Le String for bringing in customers. Oh well. We had no issue finding another cab to take us back to the ship.
Captain's Party and Past Guest Party
There wasn't really anything special about the Captain's Party except that drinks were $1 off between 5-6pm and 7-8pm. This is where we discovered pints of Thirsty Frog beer on draft regularly priced at $5.50 but discounted to $4.50. And they are proper sized pints too (20 oz), not the US size (16 oz). Not a bad deal and the beer was good.
The Past Guest Reception was on Thursday (St. Kitts) at 4:45pm to 5:30pm in the theatre. Drinks were plenty and there were always servers with trays of drinks to pick from. We usually avoid the sugary mix drinks and go for the wine. Servers also came around with smalls appetizers such as cheese and olives, chicken salad on baguette, mozzarella cheese and tomato on baguette, etc. They showed the token video of all the ships in the fleet and we clapped for the ones we've been on. Cheesy but painless.
We only saw a few shows in the theatre - the Welcome Aboard show and the juggler. We saw all 4 comedians and really enjoyed the comedy club. We checked out the Legends show on the last night but the passenger talent wasn't as great as we've seen on past cruises.
Our cruise director was Karl with a K, who was also our cruise director on the Liberty.
We're not big gamblers so we weren't in the casino that often. I was looking for nickel slots but they only had penny slots which had a minimum of 17 cents per spin. They had only one Cleopatra machine (my fav. slot) in casino and it was often busy.
I used the gym only twice this cruise. I usually try to go every day but there were so many ports on this itinerary that I usually felt sun baked and tired after an excursion. It's a good sized gym. Plenty of treadmills and equipment. Not overly busy when I went around 4:30-5pm.
There is often discussion and reviews on CC that mention there are a lot of Puerto Ricans on the Victory. We did find that a majority of the guests were from Puerto Rico but we had no issues with it whatsoever. We sat with a young PR couple who gave us an overview of the relationship of PR to the US which I found fascinating. We didn't let the clientele deter us from booking the Victory. We really enjoy meeting people from all over. We also met quite a few Canadians, particularly neighbours from Oakville, Brampton and Kitchener!
End of the Cruise
Self disembarkation on The Victory started around 7:15am but chose to set out our luggage and wait for our number to be called. We had one last breakfast in the dining room before our group (Number 7) was called around 8:30am.
Getting off the ship was a breeze. US citizens were asked to use Deck 0 and non-US citizens were to live via Deck 3 (by the excursions desk). There was no line up at customs, no waiting at all. A super easy disembarkation.
We had a 4:00pm flight on Westjet and thought that we would take a cab to the airport to drop off our luggage and then jump on a bus to come back down to Old San Juan. We arrived at the airport around 9:30am only to find that there was no one at the Westjet counter. We didn't want to carry our luggage around so we just waited. Westjet employees didn't arrive until 1:30pm so we basically wasted a day at the airport waiting around. Had we known, we would have gotten off the ship as late as possible. Total fail on the part of Westjet.
We did not have to go through the Agricultural inspection as we were flying direct to Toronto. The inspection is only for those flying to the US or stopping over in the US.
We had a great but busy week on the Victory. I loved all the ports whereas DH would have preferred another sea day.
Decor on the Victory was a bit outdated and could use a face lift. Watch out for those sea horses on the stairs. We bumped into them a few times and ended up with bruises on our legs to which we referred to as being 'seahorsed'.
I'm surprised that Carnival didn't include any comment cards with our disembarkation packages. I always like to fill those out and mention the names of people who made our cruise better like our waiter and room steward.
We continue to flip flop between RCL and Carnival as we're not completely loyal to either lines. I like to keep the options open based on price and itinerary. We will be back on Carnival though, just not sure when.