Carnival Victory, Eastern Caribbean Route
June 26 – July 3, 2005
I am freshly returned from our seven day cruise on the Carnival Victory. I traveled with my two teenage sons (ages 16 and 14). This review might be a bit long. Sorry.
We flew down from New York on Sunday, June 26. I know, everyone says to get there a day early to relax before the cruise. This was not possible for us and it all worked out fine. Our flight left JFK on time, we arrived at Ft. Lauderdale, where we were met by a car service (I will give you the name if you are interested – just email me), and after a short drive arrived at the Port of Miami at about 12:00.
We gave our luggage to the stevedores and yes, I tipped them $1 per bag. These guys work hard and I had no qualms at all about tipping them. We did keep one carryon each, with our bathing suits, clothes for dinner on Sunday night and our travel documents.
There were already many people inside the terminal when we arrived; we got on line and began to wait. Embarkation was the worst part of our trip, but not because of anything that Carnival did. Rather the process was a mess because boarding was delayed for more than an hour and a half due to a group of inconsiderate passengers on the cruise before ours. At 1:00 on Sunday, there were still a large group of people who had not left the ship. Later in the week, I talked to several crew members who said that this group essentially decided that they were in no hurry to get off, and just took their time about it. Because of this, the newly arriving passengers could not even go through the security screen. This resulted in hundreds of people jammed into the terminal, with many hundreds more waiting outside in the hot Miami sun. (I admit here that Carnival was not very good about keeping us informed regarding the reason for the delay – but I attribute this snafu to the ill manners of the departing passengers and not to any difficulties created by Carnival).
We actually began the boarding process at about 1:45, and once it started it was an absolute breeze. We were on board, dropping our bags in our cabin by 2:15.
The bottom line here is that if the passengers leaving the ship are considerate and follow the procedures, the arriving passengers will have a much easier time of boarding. Think about this and keep it in mind when it is your turn to leave the ship after your cruise.
We were on the Lido Deck, starboard side. The cabin was plenty large for the three of us. My younger son took the upper berth, which drops down from the ceiling and then during the day is folded up against the wall. The cabin steward lowers it at night. He said it was comfortable and no one had any complaints about the beds. There was also ample storage space in the closets, cabinets and drawers.
When we arrived, the two beds were made up into one; I let the cabin steward know that we needed two beds, and when we returned to the cabin later that first night, they had already been changed. We also asked for a third robe, which he delivered promptly. (Robes are given to all passengers in ocean-view or better category cabins.)
The balcony in our cabin was great, and I recommend it if it is in your budget. I was very pleased with the cabin amenities and the location. It was close to the pools and the lido deck restaurants, pizza shop, deli, oriental foods, ice cream, etc. The cabin was also convenient for the elevators, although we used the stairs as much as possible.
Our cabin steward was great, as was his assistant. The room was always made up for us, the beds turned down at night. No complaints at all about the service. Any time we needed anything, it was taken care of promptly and with a smile.
I read many posts about the Victory and about the crew not being friendly. I found this to be absolutely not the case. All the crew members I dealt with were courteous and helpful. Perhaps the unfriendly demeanor that past posters encountered was due to the manner in which the guests approached or addressed the crew. More on that subject later in my review.
The Victory is a beautiful ship. It was clean, well maintained easy to get around once you learned the layout. I am again mystified by many of the negative posts that I read. The décor is typical Carnival – brash, glitzy, loud, over-the-top. But so what? It sure feels nice to walk around with all that sparkly stuff shining in the sunlight. I have been on cruises before, so I was not surprised by the size of the ship or the décor. My boys, however, have never been on a ship of this size. Though they are seasoned sailors and have been on many bareboat charters in the Virgin Islands and in the Grenadines, they were really impressed when they first boarded the Victory. Both of them looked up from the lobby into the atrium and both said “wow”.
They insisted that we use the glass enclosed elevators to get up to our cabin to drop our bags. Again, they were really impressed by the décor and the size of the ship. The Victory is by no means opulent, but she is a nice place to spend a week or two. The many lounges are comfortable, the pools are easily accessible, the main theater is plenty large for all to find seats (shows are given twice to allow for the early and the late dinner seatings).
The casino is located smack in the middle of the promenade deck, and you need to pass through or adjacent to it to get anywhere. I am sure that is not a coincidence, but if you don’t want to gamble, just keep walking.
There are bars aplenty located all over the ship, and you are therefore never far from a drink if you want one. The bartenders were friendly, as you would expect. Both of my boys opted for the Fountain Fun Card ($32.20 for the week for children [$28 plus 15% gratuity]). Neither of the boys ever had any difficulty getting a soda. Most of the time, they were given large glasses, not the small ones. So, once again, I am not sure why people on the message boards complain about these. My boys found them to be a good value, even if they were only going to have soda with dinner in the dining room.
As long as we are talking about soda cards, I will throw in my two cents on the issue of sharing. Don’t do it. The soda card is a good value and worth the price, even for adults. Sharing one is really wrong. The complaints about not being served are, I think, unfounded. If you are a soda drinker, buy the card. It is worth it. And much easier than carrying your own soda on board.
The food on board was good, on a par with a high quality catering facility, which is essentially what these ships restaurants are. You obviously cannot compare cruise ship fare with that of a fine, four or five star restaurant. Considering that the ship’s cooks are feeding 3000 people, they do a great job. The dinner menus were varied enough to suit anyone’s tastes, with a selection of meats, fish, pasta and vegetarian items each night.
Yes, they do serve “lobster” on the formal night. New Englanders beware, however. These are not Maine lobsters. What they serve are rock lobster tails (previously frozen) that are in the split open shell and then broiled. Dry, not very tasty and not worth all the fuss that people on the message boards seem to make of them. There were three or four other dishes on the menu that night that were far and away better choices, from the fish of the day, to the pasta or even the prime rib (not the best cut I have ever seen, but tasty).
For those of you who have never had a good quality Maine lobster, these broiled lobster tails might be a treat, but really – nothing to write home about. I strongly suggest you try the other items on the menu. There are some excellent dishes that you might not have anywhere else, and they are worth trying.
The wine list in the dining room is pretty good, I think, with prices comparable to what you would expect to pay in a restaurant. You can find good selections for under $20 per bottle, if you read the list carefully. There are also wine suggestions each night with dinner – and these were not always the higher priced items on the wine list. If you are not sure, ask your waiter and they will help you make a good selection. Your waiter will also hold any unfinished wine for you, and serve the next night. It is far more economical to buy a bottle than to buy wine by the glass.
The dessert menus at dinner were also great, with a wide choice of selections. Coffee, tea, espresso and cappuccino are all included with dinner.
Breakfast menus in the dining room were the usual – pancakcs, French toast, eggs pretty much any way you wanted them. We used the dining room a few days, went to the breakfast buffet on the lido deck on other days.
The breakfast buffet offers scrambled eggs, French toast, bacon, sausage, etc. Okay quality, but the lines were very long. I found using the dining room to be far more convenient, the food to be fresher, and the atmosphere more relaxing.
We also ordered a continental breakfast in our room on one port day, when we wanted to be off the ship early. This was delivered on time, hot coffee, cold juices, everything nicely arranged. It was convenient and helped us get to our shore activities on time.
We only used the dining room once for lunch. It was okay, nothing special. I found the service at lunch to be very rushed and not comparable to the dinner service. This might be because lunch is “open seating” – you arrive at the dining room and they seat you wherever there is room. The wait staff there has only one incentive – get you in and out as quickly as possible, because they will not see you again. Same with service at breakfast, but I found it to be especially bad at lunch.
The lunch items out on the lido deck run the gamut from hot dogs and burgers, to roasts, salads, fresh fruit. Too much to choose from at times. The deli was great – good sandwiches (corned beef, pastrami, turkey). Also, the Chinese food place on the lido deck was good. The lines tend to get long at both, so be prepared to wait, or go at off times.
The 24 hour pizzeria was convenient, but again, if you are from New York, Chicago, or any big city with decent pizza, you will not be too impressed with the quality. It was on par with Pizza Hut. ‘Nuff said about that.
The MidNight Buffets – convenient, if you feel the need to eat again. I was usually not too hungry at midnight. The Grand Gala Buffet, on Friday night, was an exercise in excess. The ice sculptures and fruit and vegetable carvings were nice to look at, but once again I was asking myself “how much can people eat?” It just seemed to me that so much was wasted; I wonder if this is really necessary. But, people were lined up to indulge, so I suppose they will keep doing it. I can’t comment on the quality of the food at these buffets, because all I really had was some fruit.
My 14 year old was gone all the time with the teen group, and he had a great cruise. They kept the kids busy until the early morning hours, and I was never too concerned about what they were up to.
It looked the same for the younger kids programs, too. I think Carnival is great for kids and the Camp Carnival Program was great. I did tip the counselor at the end of the week, though I am not sure it is expected. She deserved it thought, because of how busy she kept the kids.
My older son was not too impressed with the activities for the 15 – 17 year old group. These seemed mostly to be mixers at the disco, which is not really his cup of tea. He did meet people on his own and they had a good time, but not through the organized program.
He did take a few golf lessons while on board. We played yesterday; he cut 4 strokes off his game, so I suppose the lessons were worth it.
The night time shows were okay. They are given twice, so the early and late diners can attend. The entertainers worked hard, the shows were fun, if a bit on the hokey side, but good for a diversion.
There was a wide variety of musical entertainment in the various lounges at night. I especially enjoyed the sing-along piano bar in the Irish Sea Lounge, with Scotee. He was fun and people there had a nice time. A regular crowd developed, who would be there at some point each night.
There was also lots of stuff happening during the daytimes, but I did not attend much of that. I was usually reading a book and people watching out on the deck. My son did drag me to the Art Auction on day and I was amazed that people were spending good money on WalMart quality “art work” that I have seen on Home Shopping Network. I think the whole Art Auction thing is a big time scam and I can’t imagin ever buying any of that stuff on board a ship.
The cruise director was a guy named Ronen Vilenski, who was the same as every other cruise director I have ever seen – he hosted the shows, he made announcements, he told the same silly jokes and stories (top ten stupid questions asked on board the ship, etc, etc, etc.). In short – he did his job. I cannot remember the names of any other cruise directors from past cruises and I am sure I will not remember this guys name in a month.
Which for me, is perfect. I don’t book a cruise because of the cruise director and I don’t think the cruise director will make the slightest difference in whether or not I have a good vacation. I rely on the cruise director to make sure there is stuff going on (and they all do that) and tell me what I need to know, when I need to know it (again, they all do that). Beyond that, makes no difference at all to me who the cruise director is.
Now for the kicker – Ronen announced on the last day that this was his first week as a real Cruise Director. So, if you are going on the Victory in the near future and had your heart set on some well seasoned cruise director with a loyal following, sorry to disappoint. Ronen did tell me that he was to be on the Victory for the next few months at least. ( I asked when he said he that was brand new cruise director.)
The Ports of Call
San Juan – this stop was a complete waste, as far as I am concernced. The ship arrives at 5:00 pm, when all the tourist places (the fort, for example), have already closed. So, all that is left is to wander a bit in Old San Juan. We had dinner on board ship, then walked around a bit. We were going to make a stop at Senor Frogs, but my son was not feeling too well, so we just went back to the ship.
There were some excursions – bus tours, a tour of the Bacardi Factory (which is closed at night, so I don’t know how good the tour could be?), a night kayak excursion. Nothing that really interested us.
St. Thomas – this was a good day. We went scuba diving in the morning (I arranged the dives on my own, before we left home.) The dive boat met us at the ship’s dock, took us on two nice dives and returned us to the pier at 1:00. After a quick stop on the ship to shower and change, we headed into Charlotte Amalie to shop.
St. Maarten – another great day. We took a taxi from the pier to Orient Beach and spent the day there. Taxi fare runs about $5 per person. You can rent lounge chair and umbrella (cost $20 for the three of us) at Orient Beach. It is a beautiful beach, well protected, clear water. Lots of watersports – parasailing, waverunners, small sailboat rental, etc. My boys did all of the above and had a great time.
There is also some nudity and toplessness at Orient Beach. Don’t gawk (I was more inclined to look away in horror a few times), just take it in stride.
All in all, a great beach to spend a day.
After the beach, we hit the town of Philipsburg for more shopping. I don’t know how they keep all those jewelry stores in business.
Was a breeze, as long as you are patient, listen to the announcements and follow the procedures. I saw many people "self-disembarking" and for the life of me cannot understand why they would choose to do that. Struggling with all that luggage for the sake of getting of the ship a half hour earlier makes no sense to me. Worse, many of the people doing this completely ignored the announcements about how and when to self disembark. Another example of selfish people inconveniencing others.
I would not book a flight earlier than 1:00 in any event, just to make sure there is ample time to get off the ship.
I found the cruise to be a good value for the money. Overall, Carnival is a good choice for a family cruise – there are enough activities on board to keep everyone busy and to provide a good vacation for the entire family. Was everything perfect? No. Nor did I expect it to be. If you understand that things will not always be perfect, I think you will have a much better time on your trip.
I’m sorry to say this, but most of the negatives that I experienced were because of the boorish behavior of certain of my shipmates. I have been on other cruise lines, and whether it is a coincidence or not, the fact is, I have encountered more loud, obnoxious, redneck drunks aboard Carnival ships than aboard ships of other lines.
I don’t mind people drinking to excess if they choose. I do mind when it results in their behaving in a way which makes those around them uncomfortable. For example, how does one respond to a man and his wife, sitting at the piano bar at nearly midnight, with a line of 6 drinks in front of each of them, waiting to be consumed, with another 5 empties that they had already finished. The man is making loud, stupid comments, is interrupting the paid entertainer, and is generally making an ass of himself. His wife is happily laughing along. To make matters a bit worse, sitting alongside this gentleman is his 12 or 13 year old son, who is being treated to his father behaving like a buffoon.
Likewise, the obnoxious behavior of the obviously drunk lout (also a Deep Southerner, although I know we in the North have our share of fools) at poolside, who found it necessary as well as entertaining to himself to make comments about everyone who walked by.
I know it is not Carnival, but I have never seen bad behavior on the same scale on any other line.
I confess that I had an unsettled feeling when I was reading the message boards before the cruise, and I found a preoccupation with drinking, carrying liquor on board, do my dress blue jeans qualify as formal wear, etc. When you read posts on other cruise line’s boards, you don’t see as much of that. I just think that because of Carnival’s price point, the demographic is slightly different thansome other lines, and that shows.
Just an observation, but I suspect that this demographic constitutes a group of less savvy travelers, whose expectations might be unrealistic and whose attitudes and customs might differ from those of a more seasoned clientele. Just something to think about before booking my next cruise. I know there are many of you who have cruised on Carnival a million times; you are probably not the drunk by the pool or in the piano bar with your son at midnight.
Well, that’s it. I hope this review was helpful.