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Jim Brannock

Age: 49

Occupation:Correctional Office

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Triumph

Sailing Date: July 1st, 2006

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

While not an extensively experienced veteran of the cruising lifestyle, I've been on enough cruises now to know what I like and what I don't. Additionally, as someone who fits pretty squarely into the average cruise passenger demographic, I feel I can offer some insight that may prove beneficial.

Our cruise on the Carnival Triumph was a family reunion, and as such, the first time we had cruised with a large group, 27 in this case. The ages ranged from 71 to 5, with a fair mix throughout. Everyone along for the ride found something interesting to keep them occupied, and despite the wide variety of age groups and interests, everyone had a great time.

Before I go any further, a special word of thanks to our travel agent, Neal, at National Discount Travel. He did a great job of coordinating a constantly shifting group with numerous, often unreasonable, demands. He never grew frustrated and really came through beyond my wildest expectations. Now to the cruise.

Embarkation- I have to say, I was really concerned that the embarkation process would be a mess after reading previous reviews regarding this cruise, however, I found the process to be quite average for cruise ships of this size. We arrived at 12:15 and were on board, with drink in hand, by 1:15. The lines were organized and the staff quite friendly. Despite some confusion related to family members assigned to different cabins, the Carnival staff sorted everything out and got us on board without unnecessary delay. I was a little disappointed upon boarding when we discovered that there was no central location for ordering things like wine for dinner, drink cards, excursions, etc. On Royal Caribbean, the only other cruise line we've utilized, you board into a lobby where all of these things are available. Since our kids were with us, drink cards were essential. I was directed to a booth on the Lido Deck(9) where I stood in line (more on this later) to purchase the cards. After 15 minutes, with cards in hand, I proceeded to the bar, where I discovered that I could have purchased the cards there, with no line, no waiting. Oh well, you live and you learn.

Despite the fact that it was beastly hot (July 1st in South Florida) we quickly immersed ourselves in the cruise lifestyle, tropical drinks and plenty of them. We also took advantage of the welcome aboard buffet, so by the time they announced the lifeboat drill, I was ready for a long nap. We assumed that our lifeboat station would be in doors, as on Royal Caribbean. WRONG!! We were packed together like sardines on a very narrow deck(4), under the supervision of crew members who must have graduated from the Attila the Hun School of Charm. Their vocabulary seemed to consist of the phrases "Stand behind the line", and "Not much longer". Did I mention it was hot, and where we were stationed, there was no breeze. I quickly surmised that this was Carnival's way to sweat 10 pounds off of each passenger in preparation for the 7 day buffet extravaganza. I'm happy to report that no one passed out, and after what seemed like an eternity, actually about 15 minutes, we were allowed to depart.
We quickly returned to the air conditioned comfort of our Deck 6 balcony cabin and enjoyed our departure from the Port of Miami.

CABINS- My wife and I had a balcony on the Riviera Deck (Deck 6). Two double beds that pushed together to form a king size bed were very comfortable. The cabin provided us with plenty of room to move around, as well as storage space for our luggage, which arrived without any lengthy delay. My wife made a point of bringing her own blow dryer, and this seemed to be the right call since many of the members of our party ended up borrowing hers rather than using the one provided in the room. Balconies were roomy and the overall ambiance was exceptional. Our kids were located in an inner cabin on deck 3. Despite the fact that 4 teenage boys shared the room (not all mine, thank God), they did so without complaint and seemed to manage well.

Day 1- We spent the time between departure and dinner (late dining, Paris dining room) exploring the ship. While quite large, the Triumph seemed small in comparison to RC's Explorer and Navigator of the Seas. A minor complaint.

DINNER- As a large group, we had requested seating for 27, all in close proximity to one another. I could not have been happier with the arrangements. We had three tables, all together, on the upper level of the Paris Dining Room, directly adjacent to the windows. This provided us with a spectacular view, which certainly enhanced our dining experience. Head Waiter DeJean and Assistant Waiter Anok were fantastic. I have to admit, our expectations were quite high, since the dinner on board has always been a highlight of the cruise experience for us, and Carnival did not disappoint. A word of caution. The food was good, not great, good. What I would describe as cruise ship average. When you consider the volume of food produced by these sailing smorgasbords, to expect anything more would be unreasonable. To be fair, I found the soups and desserts to be above average on most nights, but for us, it was more about the experience, and being treated like royalty, that sets the cruise dining event apart. DeJean and Anok did not disappoint. A big thank you to both of them for making this part of the voyage memorable. Went to the show (no big deal) and then hung out and did family stuff the rest of the night.

Day 2- Sea Day. This was the day we began to familiarize ourselves with what unfortunately became the norm throughout our cruise, long lines. I mean really looooooooong lines anywhere food was served. This included the buffets, hamburger station, pizza station, deli, and Chinese. We had read reviews in which others had complained about the lines, but we paid very little attention since our dining times very rarely occurred during peak demand. On previous cruises, we had observed long lines, but rarely encountered them ourselves. On the Triumph, there was no respite. As soon as the breakfast buffet was closed, the line for the lunch buffet began forming. I have never seen anything like it. The norm for arriving at the end of the line to sitting down to eat was approximately 30 minutes. This led to lots of hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza, which required slightly less line time. Food was good, again, cruise ship average, and there was plenty of seating. This was also when we discovered the large number of kids on board. Despite the fact that there were tons of kids, I felt that they were well behaved for the most part. Since our party contributed to the teen population on board, I can only say if you have a problem sailing with a bunch of kids, don't take this cruise.

Day 3- San Juan. Why bother. Got off the ship at 6:30, and everything in Old San Juan closed at 8:00. My brother, brother in law, and I did enjoy the free samples in the duty free area adjacent to the ship. One word of wisdom- If you are going to buy booze, buy it in St. Marteen. While you will think San Juan has good prices, you ain't seen nothing yet. Got back on board and discovered the Oxford Bar, the only cigar bar on the ship, which became our home away from home for the remainder of the cruise.

Day 4- St Thomas. I love St Thomas. I want to live in St Thomas. We had booked the Mini Boat tour as our excursion, however, due to high winds, the excursion was canceled. The cancellation notice provided alternate excursions, and we took the St John's Bay snorkeling adventure. We had a blast. This trip was nice, since there was a beautiful beach for the non-snorkelers to enjoy. Free rum punch for all, which we felt obliged to enjoy, led to a most excellent adventure. It was also in St Thomas where we found a genuine imitation Coach bag for $27.00. Take a taxi downtown($4.00 per person) and look for the tents next to the waterfront. I'm ready to go back now.
Day 5- St. Marteen. Another great day and another great snorkeling excursion, this time to Shipwreck Cove. Lots of stuff to see, but more Junkyard Cove than Shipwrecks. However, the water was fantastic and the rum punch flowed freely again. Did I say I was ready to go back? From my own point of view, having been to St. Marteen before, we saw no need to travel to the French side. We enjoyed the Dutch side, and found the liquor prices to be unbelievable.

Day 6 & 7- Sea Days. I disagreed with this portion of the itinerary. I felt like another port of call should have been included, especially since San Juan stank. I guess this is one of the ways Carnival keeps prices down. We spent our time either on deck sunning (no problem finding deck chairs, you've just got to look), eating, drinking, or in the Oxford. One note to pass on. Carnival has a slide that is very popular with the kids. Average wait time 15-20 minutes. No big deal. However, Carnival also has a clothing optional deck located directly across from the slide and one level down. No need for binoculars. This may help to explain the large number of teenage boys taking advantage of the slide. No big deal for us, but some of you might care.

Debarkation- This was a nightmare, but I expected it would be, therefore, we were able to minimize the aggravation factor. Carnival dumps all of the luggage in a huge warehouse, then turns everyone loose for a gigantic Easter Egg hunt. Luggage is supposed to sorted by color, but we found only half our bags where they were supposed to be. The other half were located after an exhaustive search. Of course, the Carnival personnel were happy to assist us by suggesting that we look "over there". They also suggested that we wait for the crowds to thin out. Thankfully, we found our bags, since the process for reporting missing luggage appeared to involve another lengthy line leading to a table staffed by one person. Oh well, it could have been worse, it could have been raining. Oh yeah, it was.

Conclusion- My wife and I both agree that our next cruise will be on Royal Caribbean, however, if we bring the kids, Carnival it is. The differences were so minor, except for the lines, that I wouldn't have a problem with either one. Enjoy your cruise and look for us in St. Thomas.

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