We're Canadian, (55 and 60) non-smokers who prefer inside cabins and generally try to get deck 6 or 7. We have no brand loyalty and have enjoyed Carnival, Costa, Princess, RCCL and Celebrity cruises all equally as much.
Of the ship, her crew and staff, the food and service, all were about what you'd expect and I have no major complaints. Maybe some of the passengers are a bit trashy, but certainly not the majority. There just seemed to be enough loudmouths, camouflage and tattoos, backward baseball caps, smokers and deck goobers to make you notice. This isn't meant as a mark against Carnival because nowadays the same can be said of the travel experience on long flights wedged in a middle seat between heavy passengers or surrounded by loud gum-chewers anywhere. But for us breathing in the second-hand smoke was the worst part of this ship. Not a deal breaker for me but my GF doesn't want to cruise with Carnival again.
Embarkation took no more than about 30 minutes from start to finish though the mandatory safety briefing / boat muster took much longer than needed as passengers showed up late, some smoking with drinks in hand with a lot of talking and chatting going on. You'd think they would pay attention after the Concordia disaster the previous week to our cruise.
On Victory, the cabins and particularly the bathrooms, are getting worn and definitely need some upgrades. The TV's should have been replaced with LCD flat screens long ago. The bed in our cabin was fine for me though the GF thought it was hard and worn out. I think our cabin was a bit larger than the other inside cabins that aren't located down the inner corridor. The bedding was clean though there was little room for our suitcases under the bed because a folding cot was stored there.
Except for the reek of stale smoke that seems to be everywhere, the public areas are whimsical, comfortable, colourful and fun. At over ten years in service, if this ship were a car we'd call it an "Old Beater". There did seem to be a lot of first time cruisers on Victory our week which is not surprising with inside deck 2 base price well below $500.
This is minor, but getting around Victory is awkward because of the placement of the two main dining rooms - The Pacific Dining Room at the back on decks 3 and 4 and the Atlantic Dining Room in the middle of the ship on decks 3 and 4. You really need to keep the deck plan handy especially if you're running late and trying to get to the Caribbean Lounge after dinner or to the Deck 0 exit.
The meals and desserts in the dining room and buffet were good but not exceptional compared to other similar ships. One thing that truly bothered me, and I've seen this on other cruise ships as well, is the appalling food waste. I was also a little surprised by the almost non-existent dress code in the dining rooms.
The crew and staff on Victory were all excellent but I have one small quibble about the music - too loud, and the lack of dance floor space. We danced every evening in the Ionian Room (the only smoke- free lounge) or along Neptune's Way by the Casino, but I just wish they had a band that could play American Social dances or a few Ballroom numbers. The main problem with the entertainment on this ship, or rather lack of really good entertainment, is that there are two languages aboard; English and Spanish. As a result the cruise director and his staff are compromised somewhat by trying to cater to two cultures. (Something we as Canadians are used to!). The comedy shows held in the Adriatic Lounge were first rate.
Beverage prices were steep with the cheapest bottles of wine at $22 for ordinary choices that cost about $7 at Costco. CCL's cost is likely closer to $3 or $4 per bottle. The mixed drinks were large and generous and the service very good but looking at my Sail & Sign Statement I see $17.70 charged for two mixed drinks every time and that $22 bottle of wine with each dinner is charged at $32.20 with tax and service. Ouch!
Way too many ships' photographers and a lot of them setup their backdrops along Neptune's Way which blocks the main corridor from the front to the back of the ship on deck 5 making passage difficult. They charge $20 for 8 x 10 digital glossy prints which I can print at home for under .50 cents. Again to me it seems such a waste to print so many pictures that won't be bought.
Overall, and despite my grumping about the price of alcoholic drinks, the Carnival Victory is well managed and staffed, well maintained and offers good value for your vacation budget.
For us the last two weeks of January is the absolute best time to cruise the Southern Caribbean itinerary out of San Juan. Four good cruise ships serve the port every week and there are always last-minute sales deals available. Airline flights and hotel capacity in San Juan is plentiful just as long as you avoid the annual Festival of San Sebastien which runs the second week of January. We usually fly in a couple of days before the cruise, avoiding the busy SJU airport on weekends. We never buy trip cancellation or medical insurance of any kind and don't book excursions through the ship either.
The cruise, three nights pre-cruise one night post-cruise at an Isla Verde resort hotel and our flights from Detroit were all booked directly on-line.
We have been on all the other cruise ships that home-port out of San Juan and I could tell you how well Carnival Victory stacks up against the competition, but I won't. Just cruise them all and decide for yourself.
Port Itinerary and Non-Excursion things to do:
Monday - St. Thomas, USVI - Bus over to Coki Beach to snorkel and swim.
Tuesday - At Sea - Watch flying fish and frigate birds.
Wednesday - Barbados - walk to Carlisle Bay Beach for the day and taxi back
Thursday - St. Lucia - walk all the way to Halcyon Beach, snoop around the Sandals Resort and take a taxi back to Castries to explore the fruit markets
Friday - St. Kitts - walk about photographing chickens and church windows
Saturday - St. Maarten - walk to main beach Philipsburg
Sunday - Puerto Rico - leave ship at 10 am and take taxi to Isla Verde Beach.
Disembarkation on Sunday was quick and easy and I thought our line - we were in the alien line that exited on deck 3 because we're Canadian - seemed about equal in processing time to the US Residents line that exited on deck 0.