Knowing its passengers and giving them exactly what they want -- good times at reasonable prices -- is one of Carnival Cruise Line's greatest strengths. This commitment to all things fun is evident on Carnival Triumph, a family-friendly ship that mostly sails shorter cruises out of southern U.S. ports.
The 2,758-passenger ship, which dates back to 1999, has a checkered history. It made world headlines in 2013 when an engine fire forced the ship to be without power for several days in the Gulf of Mexico, and conditions onboard became less than ideal. Fixed up, the ship has since rebounded; there is actually a group of 200 or so who return to the vessel each year to commemorate the event.
Triumph is not a ship for the sedate. It's loud, with music everywhere. With so many large groups onboard, even your cabin can be noisy, what with doors slamming and families calling back and forth to each other from neighboring rooms. In the main dining room, waiters take breaks to dance to the Macarena or sing Frank Sinatra. Even the spa is noisy, given its strange location under the teen clubs and basketball court.
The decor is also fairly exuberant. You have to appreciate the attempt of Carnival Triumph's design team to take you on a trip around the world, even if you're really on a four-night, one-port cruise. The ship's theme is the world's greatest vacation destinations, and venues feature names like Club Monaco, The Big Easy and South Beach. One thing that's nice about the layout is that most of the entertainment venues revolve around the "World Way" on Deck 5, making it easy to hop between them.
Your best bet for enjoyment is to embrace the silliness. Go to the Hairy Chest contest, and whoop it up at Gender Wars. Chant "Seuss is on the loose!" during the Seuss-a-palooza parade. Boogie down to Michael Jackson in the nightclub. Relaxation doesn't always involve solitude; you might be amazed at how great you feel after a few days of belly laughs.
Carnival Triumph attracts a fun-loving, diverse group of passengers who tend to hail mostly from the region where the ship homeports. (For 2015 through 2017, Triumph will homeport from Galveston and New Orleans.) Expect to see families, girlfriend groups, couples, coworkers, church groups and large posses of friends, many wearing matching T-shirts.
You'll also see lots of kids; during the summer months, there can be as many as 1,200 passengers younger than 18. And finally, Triumph attracts a lot of first time cruisers. On most voyages, more than half -- sometimes as many as 75 percent -- of passengers are on their first sailings.
It's casual all the way on this ship, where the published dress code seems more like a suggestion than a rule. The daily FunTimes says that shorts, sleeveless shirts, T-shirts, cut-off jeans, baseball hats, flip-flops and bathing suits shouldn't be worn in the main dining rooms, but we saw several people flagrantly violating the code, with no repercussions. Swimsuits are also not supposed to be worn in the South Beach buffet.
At least once per cruise -- even on a short four-night sailing -- the ship has an elegant evening, which shouldn't be confused with formal. Most women wear dresses, and men wear collared shirts and pants.
Carnival adds a recommended tip of $12 per person, per day. A 15 percent gratuity is also added to drink orders and to spa services. Stateroom attendants receive $3.90 per day, dining service gets $6.10 per day, and the remaining $2 goes to a team called "alternative services." Note: On sailings departing September 1, 2016, or later, gratuities will increase to $12.95 per person, per day ($13.95 for those in suites).