Pre cruise -- Stayed at the Fairfield Inn, Windsor Locks CT to take advantage of the park/sleep/fly pre flight. Hotels was adequate for a one night stay. Nothing fancy or special, but it was clean and felt safe. Took the shuttle to the airport at 5:30 am and breezed through checking our bags and security. Flight left on time and arrived in Puerto Rico at 12:30.
We had booked through Hotwire at the Intercontinental for both the pre and post night cruise stays with rates of $115 for one night, $130 for the other. I was not overly impressed with hotel -- I found it on the noisy side, and the staff seems a little put out when they see you booked through Hotwire. I also found that the hotel seemed to have inconsistent pricing at the bars - so be careful to check which bar charges what price if you stay there.
Our room was not ready, so we headed to the pool with the promise of a phone call when it was. The phone call never came, and the staff person at the check in desk was a bit rude when my husband went to check at 4:00 as the reservation was in my name. The fact that we had checked in with his ID and credit card didn't seem to matter to her, so I had to come up and wait in line AGAIN to get the room. We showered and dressed, then headed to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse for dinner. This is a VERY PRICEY restaurant, but the meal and service were fantastic. This was our splurge dinner for the trip, and we had a great night.
Check out in the morning was quick, and we headed to the ship at around 11 am.
Check in went very quickly, Carnival staff was very friendly and efficient. As I was not announced as their bazillion customer and winner of a free cruise, we handed over our credit card and got what we affectionately call our 'drink & sink' card. We browsed through the duty free store looking for soda, but they didn't have what we wanted so we found seats to wait for boarding.
A quick note -- we had ordered booze through the Bon Voyage department to avoid the smuggling hassle. While it was pricey, it was worth it in my opinion. I'm diabetic, so the drink of the day doesn't work me, and most of the mixers are a problem as well. Unfortunately we could not find diet tonic to mix with our Vodka -- they don't seem to sell it anywhere in Puerto Rico -- we bought some Chrystal light lemonade instead. It was nice to not worry that someone would give me the wrong thing when they are busy.
Boarding began at a little after noon, and went pretty quickly. We had checked all but our backpacks with bathing suits and high risk items (jewelry, medications, cameras), so we headed up to the Lido deck and secured the deck chairs for the afternoon and took turns changing into bathing suits and grabbing a plate of food. We then settled in our chairs with our lunch and commenced people watching.
We had an active roll call and had decided to have a "Red Solo Cup" theme for our group. Being prepared, we broke out the red solo cups that we had packed -- including the ones we had attached to headbands. Yes, we looked goofy, but we had fun ? By the time the Superbowl started, we had about a dozen Roll call people together -- it was a great way to start the trip! Added to that -- we are GIANTS FANS!!!!
We were in room 2348 on the main deck. The room was in a great location, very convenient to the Lido deck, dining rooms and debarkation area. The room was clean for the most part, though there are some improvements that could be made. One is that the showers really need some treatment for the tile grout. I know they are in tropical climates, but some Tilex occasionally could be helpful. The Victory also seems to have some problem with the water in the toilets -- every toilet on the ship had a black ring around the bowl, which made all of the bathrooms look dirty. I actually left a couple of bathrooms thinking they needed cleaning until I realized they were ALL that way. The room steward was invisible, and for the most part good. We had to ask him to refill the ice a couple of times, but other than that things were fine.
Besides the black toilet ring issue, the ship was clean and NOT smoky (this is a big improvement over last years trip). Tables and food areas were constantly being cleaned, and staff were very attentive.
Entertainment on the ship was not the greatest. The dance shows were boring (lots of scantily clad women with terrible choreography) and the singers -- the female singer was downright bad, the gentleman could at least carry at tune, but wasn't great. The best show of the week was the one with the guests from the Karaoke contest -- most of them were really good.
A couple of our new Cruise Critic friends were great at Karaoke, so we spent some time there over the week. I have to say that it's the best in the black & red lounge, where the room is smaller and you feel like it's a party. I didn't think it was as much fun in the Adriatic Lounge -- then it was like a show and not as interactive. The one criticism I have of the Karaoke was the staff person (Kim), who spent a lot of time trying to impress one of the passengers to the point of it being uncomfortable for both the object of his attention and the rest of us. I think someone might have complained, as after a couple of days we noticed a couple of ship officers watching the show from outside the lounge -- which sent Kim into quite a tizzy when he realized he was being watched. The next night someone else was running Karaoke....
In addition, we threw our minimal amount into the casino, losing our budget within a short time as usual. And we played a little trivia here and there, watched the ice carving and hairy chested man contest, not so newlywed game -- there was enough to keep us amused ?
I have to say that this area is where I see the most decline over past Carnival cruises (this was trip #7). The Lido buffets leave a lot to be desired, with a lot of food that should be hot that is lukewarm at best. Breakfast is only saved by the omelet station, where they will also make you fried eggs if you ask. This sure beats the powdered scrambled eggs -- those are just nasty. Lunch was pretty boring, and while we found things to eat, it wasn't the best. We only had one sea day, and ate in port for most lunches and just had snacks back on board.
For dinner we had anytime dining, which we love. We usually ate around 6:30, and never had to wait. Had a table for 2 the first night, then met some of our Cruise Critic friends for other nights, with the group ranging from 6-10. Service in the dining room was outstanding, we were very well taken care of. The food -- well, I've had better. Nothing I had was 'bad' -- just not as good as it used to be.