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Daniel

Age: 28

Occupation:Graphic Designer

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Triumph

Sailing Date: December 9th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

I'm 28, gay, single, and cruised completely solo. Aside from having to pay a couple hundred dollars extra for my own cabin, I'd say this was a perfectly fine cruise to go solo on. I live in one of the big, impersonal Northeastern cities, so I was literally blown away with how friendly most people were and how many people I was able to meet. This was by no means a "gay cruise" (it was lots of families, primarily), but I did meet a few gay singles on board, completely at random. So that was nice.

EMBARKATION

Get there as close to the end as possible if you don't want to wait in line. That's about the only advice I can offer. Even if your "FunPass" is totally filled out, you'll still wait in line. I got there around 1:30 (for a 4 p.m. embarkation) and waited about 30-45 minutes.

THE SHIP ITSELF

It's huge, obviously, but not unmanageable. I actually printed out a deck plan from home and carried it with me for the first day or two, so I could learn the ins and outs of the ship. After the second day or so, I more or less knew where everything was.

On Deck: I never had a problem finding an open deck chair, though I guess it's easier when you're just one person. (Also, the first few days were cloudy, which probably helped.) You'll want to have a perch within view of the main pool for the schmaltzy games (hairy chest contest, "Survivor," etc.), though if you can't see it, you'll definitely be able to hear it thanks to the loudspeakers. If you're looking for a quieter place to watch the sunset (or just read), try the deck on either side of the Lobby level.

The Gym: If you're expecting a state-of-the-art facility, think again. The cardio equipment is hugely dated, and there's not enough of it (with the exception of treadmills). The atmosphere is dark and claustrophobic, not at all conducive to working out. Probably the biggest disappointment of the cruise. The outdoor track is OK for running, but it's pretty small (11 laps make a mile) and you have to negotiate walkers and gawkers.

One random oddity: All hot tubs -- even the ones in the gym -- were closed the week I cruised. Not sure why, but that was a bit of a bummer.

THE ROOMS

I went the el-cheapo route (inside stateroom), but I wasn’t planning on spending a lot of time in my room, so it worked out just fine. Beds were incredibly comfortable. It's almost impossible not to meet your room steward in person at some point as you're walking from your room to the elevators... mine was incredibly nice and went out of his way to strike up conversations with me. They're really good about monitoring when you are and aren't in your room (kind of like Big Brother, but in a non-scary way) so that they know when to turn your bed for the night, make your bed in the morning, etc.

The towel animals they leave for you at night are a hoot. Bathrooms come stocked with shampoo and soap dispensers, razors (but no shaving cream), facial wash, and even a little thing of deodorant.

Minor quibble: The network reception in my room was pretty poor. I didn't watch a ton of TV, but it was definitely something I noticed.

FOOD: LIDO DECK

Not great, not terrible, but good God, there sure was plenty of it. If you're on a diet of any sort, expect it to be busted here unless you have Herculean willpower.

The buffet fare served at lunch and dinner was palatable, no more. I actually found the desserts to be the best part, though that's probably because I have an insatiable sweet tooth. Lines could go from nonexistent to insufferably long, depending on your timing. The worst line of the week by far was actually at the midnight "gala buffet" on the penultimate night. They set it up early so you can take pictures of all the food -- that part's kind of cool -- but as it turned out, it looked a WHOLE lot better than it tasted, with the exception perhaps of the desserts.

The most consistent Lido Deck food I had all trip was actually the sandwiches from the New York Deli. Lines are longer during the day when everyone is poolside, shorter in the evening. As others have written here, the Reuben and the Pastrami are both good. (Though I do find it humorous that the sandwiches are labeled "overstuffed" -- they're just standard size, maybe even a little punier.)

Pizza is solid; if you don't want to wait, take a piece of whatever he's got already made. The novelty of having it available 24 hours a day wears off quickly, especially when you have to wait 15 minutes for it.

I never tried the Hong Kong Noodle place. Stuff looked appetizing enough from a distance.

Breakfast fare, again, was merely decent. They have buffet stations with your standard stuff -- pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, etc. -- or a separate line where you can have an omelet made. Frankly, I got more out of the pastry selections (mmm, those cinnamon buns!) and a bowl of cereal with milk.

FOOD: ROOM SERVICE

Very basic menu of sandwiches, fruits/salads, drinks and desserts. The chocolate cake was the best thing I had. I did room service four or five times; it always took 15-30 minutes for things to arrive.

FOOD: DINING ROOMS

I didn't bring a suit, so I had dinner in the dining rooms only on the non-formal nights. Again... the food was good, not great. Definitely don't hesitate to order two of whatever if you feel like it. I'm a natural introvert so I was a little leery about eating with strangers, but it turned out to be perfectly pleasant. I was seated with another single cruiser, a family from Australia and another pair who only showed up once. The service was friendly and prompt. Never had to wait too long between courses.

If you're watching your weight, the dining rooms offer a "Spa Carnival" selection for each course (appetizer, main course, dessert). I never tried any of them, but it's nice to know they're there, anyway.

An aside: You can sit in the dining rooms for breakfast or lunch, but it's open seating. I went for just one breakfast and requested a table to myself, and it was like pulling teeth (even though there were plenty of empty tables available). Had the eggs benedict -- the one thing on the menu you can't also get on the Lido deck -- and it was just OK. Never had lunch in the dining room.

THE ENTERTAINMENT

Each evening, you receive a copy of "Carnival Capers," the guide to what's going on the next day, both on deck (during the day) and in the various entertainment venues (at night). There's always something happening, but I never felt overwhelmed or like there were two or three things I wanted to do at once.

Really, all you need to know is this: Anything involving the cruise director, Paul Santley, is a must-see. He was funnier than any of the comedians and more entertaining by himself than any of the other shows were without him. That's not to say the other shows aren't worth seeing... just that anything involving Paul is a must-see. The main shows for the evening (along with all the Bingo games and some of the other second-tier shows) are held in the multi-level Rome Lounge. The major shows each night are offered twice so that you can see them regardless of whether you’ve got early or late dinner seating.

All the other entertainment venues are conveniently set together in the same vicinity of the ship... a casino and several lounges with varying themes. My favorites were the nightly karaoke at the Venezia lounge, and Mark at the piano bar. (I tend to hear "piano bar" and think it's going to put me to sleep, but he kept it very entertaining... lots of contemporary hits, etc.)

The Oxford Lounge, in my humble opinion, is the coolest room on the ship, but it's also the trickiest to find, stuck on Deck 4 in between the two dining rooms with no direct access from the main central atrium.

MONEY MATTERS

Before boarding, you get a "Sail and Sign Card" that serves as your room key, the key to your in-room safe, and a debit card for on-board purchases. It's very convenient... maybe a little TOO convenient. =o) When you wake up on the final morning, you get a bill under your door for how much you've spent, and it's charged to your credit card if you put a credit card down.

What's free? All the food, dispenser-style juice/tea/coffee (grievously, the gratis beverages are only available on Lido deck or via room service), all the entertainment. What's extra? Alcoholic drinks, anything involving your photo being taken, anything you spend in the casino, any souvenirs you choose to purchase on board. If you're not an alcohol drinker or a huge shopper (like me) it's pretty easy to go the whole week without dropping much extra cash.

One note: If you end up receiving an "on-board credit" to spend on the ship, you get that money refunded to your credit card if you don't spend it. So don't feel like you have to spend it just because you've got it (though, by all means, spend away if you want to).

Another note: Carnival automatically bills your account $70 for tips. You can go to the Purser's Information Deck anytime during the cruise and adjust this amount up or down.

PORT OF CALL: COZUMEL

The ship docks on the island of Cozumel, then if you're doing an excursion on the mainland, you take a separate boat to Playa del Carmen. The waters were INCREDIBLY choppy on our ride to Playa... so take a Dramamine or something beforehand if you have a weak stomach.

I did the 11-hour excursion to Chichén Itzá. The departure process to the ruins was a bit disorganized... all the tour groups (for Tulum, Chichén Itzá, etc.) were essentially gathered together under one canopy. Definitely stay alert, lest you end up on a bus to the wrong place. The ruins were simply amazing, once we finally got there -- the ride itself was an incredible experience, down these long, flat, thin inland roads packed with cars, trucks, other buses and even pedestrians. Only complaint was that the place we were taken for lunch and shopping was a complete tourist trap, and the food was terrible... would've appreciated something a little more authentic.

Only had about an hour to spare when we finally got back, so I strolled a few blocks down the main drag in San Miguel. Didn't seem like there was too much to see, aside from the ubiquitous Senior Frogs and shopping joints oriented to cruisers.

PORT OF CALL: GRAND CAYMAN

The ship sets anchor offshore near George Town -- apparently their port can't handle a ship this size, so you take a separate "tender" to get to shore. (Thankfully the ride to shore was far more peaceful than the one from Cozumel to Playa -- I'd woken up with miserable stomach cramps, which I'd later discover was a mild form of norovirus.)

My excursion was through a separate agency (Soto's Cruises) for a combination snorkel and trip to Stingray Sandbar. Excellent value compared with what you'd pay through Carnival. Definitely not hard to tell how monied the island is -- golf courses and lavish homes all over the place, especially once you get outside George Town proper.

After the trip to the sandbar, I had the van driver drop me off at Seven Mile Beach (a must-see, for the white sands and amazingly warm/clear water), and I walked back to the port from there. It's about a mile one-way, not too bad at all if you're in reasonable shape.

PORT OF CALL: OCHO RIOS

We docked (at an actual dock), and unlike Cozumel, the tour embarkation process was incredibly well organized. I did the "river tubing adventure" through Carnival. Definitely worth it. The ride into the hills above Ocho Rios was very slow and very bumpy, but it provided an amazing snapshot of life and architecture on the island. The water itself was crystal blue and exhilaratingly cool, though I wish we'd had more time in the water -- just 30 minutes or so. One other thing: Don't do this if you don't have decent arm strength, because you have to paddle yourself out of still water several times.

I had a couple of hours to spare after the tubing was over with, so I walked to Dunn's River Falls (about a mile) and back. COMPLETELY overrated. I'm glad I didn't pay for the excursion itself. Though it has its moments, the walk along the main highway to the falls isn't exactly stunning (you walk past a sewage treatment facility, and the sidewalk sort of comes and goes, among other things). Not something I'd attempt with kids in tow.

Still some more time after I got back from the falls, so I walked into downtown Ocho Rios. The locals are completely harmless -- they'll offer you a taxi, and if you don't accept one, they'll offer you a joint. It's all rather amusing. The main thing to remember there is that EVERYTHING is negotiable.

DEBARKATION

It was miserable, but by accident: Someone slipped and fell on the gangway, so we had to stand in line for well over an hour to be able to get off. (And by the time we knew we'd have to wait in line and all got the smart thought to go back to our rooms, we were told we couldn't because they'd already been prepared for the new arrivals.) Can't really fault Carnival for that, I guess, but it still wasn't much fun. I carried my bags off with me, which in theory is supposed to save you lots of time.

THE GRAND CONCLUSION

If I had to give the cruise a grade, I'd say solid B+. Or 8 out of 10, whichever you prefer. Would definitely do it all over again.











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