Embarkation focuses on two factors, location and facilities.
Location, location, location: Carnival has capitalized particularly well on the Port of Galveston as a cruise departure point because of several key access advantages including proximity to the Houston metropolitan area, ease of vehicular travel from other areas via I-10, I-45, and other major highway corridors, as well as Hobby Airport which is serviced by Southwest Airlines and other major carriers. Galveston also benefits from its own tourist draw with several attractions such as the Historic Strand at pier side along with many beautiful historic sites such as St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica where many survivors of the Great Strom of 1900 huddled for shelter, and the several magnificent old Victorian Mansions on Broadway. There is also plenty of activity along the seawall which was built to shelter Galveston by the Army Corps of Engineers after the great storm. So, visitors can linger before or after the cruise, or just choose to arrive the day of departure with relative ease.
Facilities: The Cruise Terminal was a breeze to navigate. While many drop luggage with porters out front and then grab parking down the way, we had reserved covered parking literally across the street from the main entrance and just walked in. While either way works fine for arrival, our choice made for a particularly fast departure so if you are not going to linger, or if you have an earlier departing flight at Hobby for a drop off, this is something to consider. Otherwise, the line has a connection service to get you to the airport. Once inside the terminal traffic was efficiently handled through spacious public areas. The check in was smooth and we were on board.
We traveled with a family group that included past cruisers as well as first time cruisers and grand children to grandparents. Everyone seemed to find something to do. On board activities were the standard varieties so I will limit my comments to hits and misses. The quality of main shows on this ship are not up the standards of either Carnival Ecstasy or Conquest. The Cruise Director is very energetic but talks to much on the intercom. Even staff members rolled their eyes a couple of times when the guy droned on and on, so you know it is bad when that happens. Cabin staff members were efficient and unobtrusive. In fact, sometimes it seemed like they just beamed in and out or something. The towel animals are a nice touch, as always. The ship's magician was magnificent -- really very good. The comedy acts were adequate but not memorable. One of the acts in the adult show was trying to make it too much on vulgarity and shock value. I think it devalued the audience. The demographic was really not that low brow. That was the only adult theme comedy act we attended.
The gym and spa were clean and full featured. The sauna and steam bath facilities were clean and well functioning.
Pools and Spas -- the spas could have been open longer and the water temperature was sometimes a bit off.
Overall, the guests seemed well behaved although there was some evidence of pretty blatant chair hogging by the main pool.
Trivia games and so forth -- Many of these were held in the Ocean Bar by the Casino. It is a high traffic area with noise and casino downsides such as smoke. They were run by the Bingo guy, Wally, and he really did do a good job. However, I think these games should be moved to the Oxford lounge which is a better venue in addition to being underutilized.
The cabins are spacious and very well laid out, particularly for the price point. Very nice. One notable downside in the cabin is the selection of channels on the television. For example, there is a CNN and CNN international offering, but there is not Fox News Channel. I don't cruise to watch TV, but I have seen more complete offerings on other lines and was pleased to do so.
The Holiday Program on the 23rd was very good and made good use of the children on board in the show. The Ship's Master arrived at the end to make a special announcement that Santa Claus had just come down the funnel with the predictable result amongst the children. Of course, in popped Santa and all the little ones were happy. An added plus is that it seems that children were kept busy in rehearsals for their special program. I am sure there were some appreciative moms and dads on board.
We took our breakfasts and dinners in the main restaurant and found the service attentive and the food well prepared. The kids liked the pizza and hot dogs by the aft pool. One thing that I noticed but never had to deal with was long lines at the buffet. Since I took most of my meals at the main restaurant with courteous table side service, I did not have to worry much about dealing with a cattle call line at a buffet. It was nice to be pampered although admittedly there were those who elected to stew in the buffet line as well. So, there are options.
Chefs Table - One thing that Carnival tries to do well is the food and they fight tooth and nail with RCL it seems on this point of competition. Many of the vessels have special steak houses or specialty venues but Triumph is not one of these. It does share a very special dining opportunity along with several other ships called the Chef's Table. This is a little advertised opportunity to have a custom prepared umpteen course meal personally supervised by the Ships Head Chef for a single sitting of up to twelve people in the evening. It occurs only about twice per trip and is by advance reservation only. This is an opportunity for the Chef and staff to get creative and it shows. There is a galley tour to start things off and then it is off to the ship's library to be catered to for a three hour culinary experience. Four staff kept up perfect service course after course while passengers passed by outside the library trying not to look like they noticed. The Maitre D came by to visit and made a big show of it. There was a personal show for the group from the ship's magician as well. The children of a long retired naval petty officer and his wife had treated them to this for his birthday. Not only was it a special night for them, but we had the opportunity to be regaled with many stories and yarns as well. It was a special evening and is really a treat. You have to look hard to seek this opportunity out, and that is actually a plus.
The Ports of Call
Progresso tries hard to compete with Cozumel and it shows in the pricing opportunities once ashore. The ship offered tours have some of the standard offerings, but for Progresso it seems that the best bets are Mayan ruins. We chose Uxmal (pronounced ush-mal) and we were very favorably impressed. Our tour guide was a very earnest man named Felipe and I have to say his enthusiasm was infectious. I was a great experience. Chichen Itza is undergoing renovations currently and I think it was a blessing in disguise. The extent and quality of restoration at Uxmal, along with the architecture made it a very special trip. Caution: There are some very steep stair climbs on some of the temples that may not be appropriate for those who have mobility challenges and they may not be wise for the elderly/very young to negotiate.
Cozumel has the full range of ship sponsored activities. For history -- catch it at Progresso or cross over on one one of the excucursions to the mainland. For divers and snorkel folks, you have hit a homer. For those who like to chill on a tropical beach with beautiful waters, you are in Nirvana. We did the beach thing at Paradise Beach and the spent time shopping at the town square. Plenty of good haggling, but the price points are a bit higher than Progresso. There were plenty of good food venues. A great time was had.
Everything was full steam ahead it seemed until suddenly you pulled up to Galveston just as scheduled and it was time to depart. In fact, one kid had taken it upon herself to order room service at 6:00 am on departure day and the gracious staff delivered well, thankfully. Departure was smooth and effortless. We chose to walk off our own luggage and were in our cars by 8:15 am.
Triumph is a clean well kept ship for its age and time since last restoration. It is by no means ancient, and we really did like the decor. The crew and staff were friendly, efficient, and attentive when they needed to be. Importantly, they were unobtrusive as well when it was called for. Entertainment needs to be upgraded a bit. Some formulas do work well, but not when they are executed like someone just going through the motions.
Foodservice was good to very good, particularly in the main restaurant where we took the majority of our meals.