We are on the verge of becoming Platinum members with Carnival. There was a lot to enjoy on this 7 night whirlwind of the Southern Caribbean. But I am left to wonder whether the negatives we felt during the cruise are related to the ship or evidence of a new Corporate culture. Primary indicator: Carnival is no longer requesting comments/surveys from the passengers.
Sunday Embarkation in San Juan was a mess, apparently the result of a sloppy disembaration of the previous group. We were approached by departing passengers with chants of "last time on Carnival". Our enthusiasm would not be diminished. When we were finally on board by mid-afternoon, we got our first hint of the most significant problem we would encounter throughout the week; it was as if the ship's architect designed the Victory the morning after having suffered a concussion or similar head injury. The Lido deck features tiered placement for the pool view lounge chairs. Because this involves the use of more space outside, the buffet restaurant inside has seen available serving options dramatically reduced. Hence, there are not multiple buffet islands but rather one wall of cafeteria style offerings approached by 2 lines. Two very, very long lines. We ended up having breakfast & lunch in MDR way more frequently I prefer.
So..service during these (too short) open seating sessions in MDR was actually quite terrible as the staff was overwhelmed. Food, when it finally arrived, was not consistently hot. There was a strong effort by the hostess to pair unrelated couples, but the one time we agreed to this, we were seated with a couple that spoke virtually no English. This was awkward. Come on hostess, please try!
The other design goof - The public decks are 3,4,& 5 (Clubs, restaurants, shops, casino). However only deck 5 (and only starboard side this deck) allowed a direct walk from the front of the ship to the back. So if you had dinner on deck 3, you had to go up to 5 to make your way to the big showroom and then return to 3 if you wanted orchestra seats. To compound the problem, the entertainment venue situated at the casino created a dance floor in this already clogged corridor, exacerbated by the many heavily hawked photo stations along the same walkway. Every evening, it was like NY's FDR Drive at rush hour.
The positives? The staff we encountered were still the charming, hard working people we have always enjoyed with Carnival. Dinner in MDR was still quite good and our dinner hostess, Katarina, was extraordinary. But I'd recommend reducing the number of nights the dining staff is called upon to stop all table related tasks so as to sing. Our cabin steward was also as good as we've had. The main showroom was beautiful and the entertainment (especially the juggler) consistently good. Stand-up comedy was offered many nights in the club at the back of the ship. Of the 4 we saw, only Frank DelPizzo excelled. But it was nice to have that entertainment option. While we always seek out the dance music, I noticed that the reggae band and the dance band, once 4 members each, have been reduced to duos. Is Carnival so focused on cost cutting that they may be on the brink of going with DJ's? Please don't.
I think the number of ports of call was more than I could deal with. So this cruise came off far less relaxing than any other. We ended up using the St Kitts day as a day at sea. St Lucia was the stand-out island with a great comprehensive island tour booked independently with Cosol.
There is one other circumstance that may have resulted in the onboard experience being less smooth than many of us expect. Some reviewers have placed blame on the larger presence of Spanish passengers. I think those writers are mistaken. Rather, I noticed that there was a greater number of BLUE sign and sail cards (representing first time Carnival guests) than I've ever seen before. I believe the low price point of this cruise increased the presence of novice cruisers overall . So there was more loud talking in the cabin corridors and other such examples of unfamiliarity with cruise etiquette.
We love cruises and certainly found a lot to enjoy this week. However, I'll be paying attention to see if Carnival is lowering their standards or whether it was simply the Victory that was disappointing.