Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Victory
Sailing Date: May 14th, 2006
Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Victory Cruise Review
This was our third Carnival Cruise, and
the food, service, shows, etc, were all as good as we had remembered. Good to
see some consistency. This review is a little bit long, so for those with no
patience I will sum it up in a few words: Best vacation ever, and the wedding
was great. For more details, read on.
Day 1 - Leaving from Miami
On our last cruise, when flying into Miami we had to change planes in Atlanta. Seeing that as an unnecessary hassle, we booked a direct flight through our travel agent. This made things a lot easier and we will do it again if we can't get a direct flight with Carnival for our next cruise.
My fiancée, Leah, carried her wedding dress on board the plane in a long zippered dress bag. It was cumbersome to carry this thru the airport and attempt to stow it on the plane. However, we didn't want to risk loosing it in checked baggage or having it suffer any damage in the hands of someone else. Despite the extra trouble, the dress survived with only a few wrinkles that were barely noticeable.
Having booked our own flight to Miami, we did not have a transfer to the pier. Catching a cab outside the baggage claim at Miami International Airport was easy, and a flat rate to the port is $24.
It seemed that the cab arrived at Port of Miami between shuttle busses from the airport, so after dropping some luggage off with the longshoremen, there was not much of a line inside for embarkation.
A new terminal building is under construction at Port of Miami, and I imagine it will be open before 2007.
During embarkation we noticed that our cabin number had been changed, and this caused us a little concern since we had booked a balcony room by a stairwell in the back of the ship. These unique rooms are turned sideways so you get a longer balcony, and we didn't want to give that up. I jokingly told Leah that I would let her have the top bunk if for some reason we got a downgrade.
Having sailed on the sister ship Triumph a few years ago, we were able to easily make our way to our new cabin, which was 7248 on Empress deck. Opening the door we were shocked to see that we had been given a Category 11 suite. We found out later on that our travel agent had requested this upgrade if such a room was available.
We had an extra long balcony, which is what we were after in the first place, but also got a real tub with whirlpool feature in the bathroom, separate dressing room, and a mini bar. The mini bar was a pay-as-you-drink arrangement charged to the room, prices roughly what you would pay at a bar on the ship, and it was restocked almost every day.
The only negative thing I can say about the room is that there was some visible wear and tear. Some broken trim for example that seems like it would be easy to fix. Considering that we had always wanted a Category 11 room, though had not been willing to pay the extra money, we considered ourselves to be fortunate.
Our luggage was also delayed in getting to our room, since the tags had the original room number on them. We got the last bag after dinner, but that’s a small inconvenience considering the nice room that we got.
That evening in the Pacific dining room we found that our table was on the upper level and right against a wall. On our previous cruises we had always had a table by the window. Not wanting to end this tradition, we asked the maitre d' if he could find us places at a table by the window. He was able to switch our table assignment with no problem.
Although we ended up at a large table, only two other couples showed up throughout the week. The two other couples were roughly our age and also as lively as we are. In fact, this was the first cruise where we did a lot of activities after hours with the people from our table. We had a lot of fun and it made for a more memorable trip. Our waitress, Loredana, was great.
Day 2 - Fun Day at Sea
We spent most of the morning lying out by the pool, and did a little gambling in the casino in the afternoon.
Since this was the first of two formal nights, we decided to avoid the rush and have our photos taken shortly before the Captain's cocktail party, where we met up there with several of our dinner companions and had a few too many drinks. The formal dinner was very good. We caught the show in the lounge later that night and it was just okay.
Day 3 - San Juan
Since the ship doesn't dock at San Juan until late afternoon, we spent the morning lying by the pool and continuing to work on my sunburn.
We contacted the on board wedding coordinator, who was also a dining room hostess, and met with her later in the day to go over some details for our trip to the courthouse in St. Thomas.
We had purchased tickets in advance on-line for the Bacardi distillery tour. Hearing that this was a popular tour, we didn't want to risk ordering it on-board and having it sold out.
The tour boards a bus right at the pier, and only travels a few blocks to a smaller pier where you get on a ferryboat that takes you across the harbor. Complimentary rum punch was served on the ferry, as much as you wanted.
Once across the harbor, we got on another bus that took us a short distance to the distillery. Depending on what group you are broken up into, your tour may start immediately, or in our case we had to wait, so there was time to shop in the company store. Nice glassware and liquor selection, all at rock bottom prices.
In some ways the actual distillery tour was a disappointment. I expected that we would be walking through the plant, stepping in puddles of goo, pipes and valves dripping from overhead, and since I work in engineering I would really enjoy a tour like that. However, the tour consists of a bunch of videos and viewing of some artifacts from way back in the company's history. It is very informative if you take the time to watch it all, but walking through the plant would have been better.
After the Bacardi tour, the bus drove through the city and back to the pier. At this point it was dark outside, but various public buildings that the guide pointed out were lit up so you could see them as you passed.
Compared to other islands we have been to, San Juan, Puerto Rico looks very much like a small city in the United States, with tall buildings, highways, and all the usual fast food franchises. The residential areas look somewhat run down, with bars on the windows. Our guide explained that despite the appearance, these areas were typical working class neighborhoods with low crime. He continued to say that Puerto Ricans would rather spend their money on their cars, and there were a lot of nice cars around, as opposed to spending money on their houses. Another thing about the bars on the windows is that back in the 70's when the crime rate was higher, the bars were a necessity. Since that time, although now obsolete, the bars have become part of the traditional style so they are left in place.
Senior Frogs is only a few blocks from the pier, but anticipating that it would be overcrowded, we went back to the ship.
Day 3 - St. Maarten
The majority of the tours on St. Maarten are to the various beaches. We decided to visit St. Maarten Park instead, which has a small zoo. Originally we planned to catch a cab and do this on our own but we found out the night before that this tour had not sold out, so we ordered it through the Fun Vision system on our TV for the sake of convenience, and the price was reasonable.
The Carnival Glory and Caribbean Princess were also tied up at the pier at St. Maarten. Our tour boarded a bus, which was amazingly able to navigate the narrow roads and wild traffic. There are supposedly only two traffic lights on the island and only one of them works.
We noticed a lot of construction in progress, although a many areas still looked run down. Quite a contrast to San Juan.
After an exciting ride, the bus pulled into what looked like a combination junkyard and parking lot. We had arrived at St. Maarten Park.
This zoo turned out to be fantastic. While it is small and compact, there are quite a few animal exhibits and our guide was excellent. Although the temperature that day was in the mid 90's, trees or bamboo canopies shaded most of the paths so we weren't too uncomfortable. All of the animals had some shade as well, along with plenty of water.
In case you plan to visit this zoo on your own, be advised that it is in somewhat of a remote area and you will need to have your taxi driver wait for you. No cabs were stopping in on the chance of picking up passengers.
On our way back across the island by a different route, the driver stopped at a few scenic areas where we could get out, take a few photos, and stretch our legs.
When we were almost to the pier, our guide offered to let people out on Front Street, which was supposedly the main shopping district in the area. We decided to pick up a few souvenirs and got out with a handful of other passengers. Almost immediately people were trying to flag us down to have our hair braided or who knows what else. Walking down the street, we saw that most of the stores sold only jewelry, which we were not interested in, and shopkeepers would run out and try to hustle us inside. We might have expected this sort of pressure on another island nation, but after only about one and a half blocks we couldn't stand any more so we hopped in the nearest taxi.
On our way back to the pier there was a traffic jam due to an accident. Our skilful driver was able to get around it and we lost very little time. Once back at the pier we bought some souvenirs from the shops there. No pressure or hassle.
When walking the pier back to the ship, we noticed a number or guards with what I assume were drug-sniffing dogs, patrolling the area.
Day 4 - St. Thomas and Fun Ship Wedding
While not everyone will be getting married on the ship, I will explain it in graphic detail for those who are interested.
All weddings are planned through Fantasia Weddings. If you do a search for them on the Internet you will find that they get mixed reviews. The common thread for reviews seems to be that those with large wedding parties have the worst time since there is no rehearsal for the ceremony, resulting in a lot of awkward moments and herding of people. Since our wedding would only include us, we assumed there would be no problems.
First of all, we had sent in all the paperwork over a month in advance. Before other people got to leave the ship at St. Thomas, we were allowed off early to go to the courthouse to fill out some more paperwork in person.
Since the ship had been at a foreign country, St. Maarten, we first had to go through immigration. We mistakenly thought that this would be handled on shore so we didn't wait in the long line on the ship earlier that morning. Well, we were wrong.
Fortunately the line was completely gone and we were only a few minutes late getting off the ship. This turned out to be no problem since our driver was on "island time" and hadn't yet shown up at the pier to pick us up. We rode over to the courthouse in a van with another couple that would be married one hour before us.
The stop at the courthouse only took a few minutes, and it is only about a mile or so from the pier. In fact, it was visible from the ship once we knew where to look. Since we got back to the ship earlier than we expected, we decided to ride the tram up the mountain and see the bird show.
The tram station is just outside the pier, and we made it up to the top of the mountain just as the bird show was starting. Several macaws, cockatoos and conjures in the show, doing various tricks. Very good considering there is no extra charge other than an expected tip at the end. Afterwards we had our picture taken with the birds.
We then returned to the ship where we both had appointments in the salon. Leah had her hair styled and full make-up, while I just had my hair trimmed. This was the first time we had ever used the ship's beauty salon and the service and atmosphere was great. It was even more relaxing because the salon was nearly deserted since the ship was in port.
At no extra charge, I had a little bit of make-up put on to cover my badly sunburned face. I wanted our wedding photos to look good.
In order to somewhat keep the tradition of not seeing the bride before the wedding, we worked out a plan in which I went back to the cabin to change into my suit, I couldn't get married in a tuxedo that I didn't own, and left by a certain time. Leah then went to the cabin at that prearranged time to change into her dress. We even worked out what hallways we would take so that there would be no chance of running into each other.
The wedding was held in the Ionian Lounge, which was closed to the public for this occasion. Despite being the cigar bar, there were no unpleasant odors there, and the lighting proved to be adequate for a small video camera, which I set up on a tripod.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't get married by the Captain. A minister from St. Thomas came on board to perform the simple, yet elegant ceremony. Champaign was then brought out for a toast, followed by a small wedding cake.
One of the ship's photographers, Elias, was snapping photos discretely during the whole ceremony. Afterwards, he led us to several locations of the ship for more photos. Out in public areas on the ship, we were congratulated by nearly everyone we saw.
Later that afternoon at the private party for past Carnival guests, I won a bottle of champagne in a random drawing. I was called up onto the stage and cruise director Malcolm (in the middle) asked who I was traveling with. I responded,
"I got on board with my fiancé, and will be leaving with my wife. We just got married a few hours ago." The crowd went wild. It was a great moment.
The remains of our wedding cake were brought to our table at dinner, and we shared it with the others at our table, and some people at an adjoining table.
Day 5 - Fun Day at Sea
I started off the day baking myself in the steam room, and then we both lay out in the sun for a while. At noon we met our photographer Elias, in the ship's library so we could review our wedding photos.
He had an impressive stack of photos, and he asked us to sort through the stack and pick out the ones we wanted. The deal was that we only paid for the ones that we wanted to keep (prices slightly lower than formal night photos) and we got a wedding photo album at no extra charge. Also at no extra charge he said that he would get us a CD the following day, which had all the photos on it in case we wanted to print some out later on.
It took a while to go through the stack of photos and we ended up purchasing quite a few. While we spent a lot of money on the photos, I've heard of people paying a lot more just to have a photographer show up at their regular land based wedding.
While Elias was great to work with, I want to let you know that we ran into the other couple that was married at St. Thomas, and they were not happy with their wedding photographer.
It seems that when they met the following day to review the photos, he told them that they had to buy all of them for several thousand dollars. After that sticker shock, he started slowly backing the price down. They felt as if they were trying to buy a car.
My point is that I'm not sure if there are any rules for how the wedding photos are sold, or if it is up to the individual photographer to make up the deal on the spot.
Later that evening we met with the people from out dinner table to see the show in the lounge, which was very good.
Day 6 - Fun Day at Sea
The final day of relaxing before heading back to reality.
The photo gallery will develop your film for a decent price within twenty four hours. For the sake of convenience, we had dropped off a number of rolls of film on the previous day. When we picked these up we also got the CD with our wedding photos on it.
Since our room had been changed, I picked up some new luggage tags from the purser's desk, so our bags would be placed in the proper location when disembarking the following day.
The Carnival Sea Miles Master Cards had been hawked all week long and I decided to sign up for one to knock some of the cost off of our next Carnival Cruise. Oh, there will be another one.
On previous cruises, we had always eaten our breakfast up on the Lido deck. This cruise we ate several breakfasts in the Pacific dining room. The menu was the same all week, but there were enough items to choose from so that you could have something different every day.
The nice thing about breakfast in the dining room was that it was general seating. As couples and families showed up at the door, they were placed at a table. It was a great way to meet some new people and compare shore tour experiences and other travel stories.
I will also mention that on this cruise, Noel, our cabin steward, managed to remain out of sight most of the time while still keeping our room spotless. On previous cruises we have run into our stewards more often.
Day 7 - Back to Reality
On this cruise, passengers had the option of doing self disembarkation. In other words, you got to be the first people off the ship, but you had to carry all of your luggage off in one shot. We had given it some thought, but remembering the maze of gangways and escalators at Port of Miami, we didn't feel like juggling all of our luggage through that gauntlet. We also had a late afternoon flight so there was no need to hurry.
After people were called for self disembarkation, decks were called at random for standard disembarkation. More waiting, but we just relaxed in the lounge area outside the casino.
When we finally got down to the luggage holding area, one of our bags had been misplaced in the wrong section. Fortunately we had our luggage marked with bright orange tape so it was easily spotted across the warehouse.
Grabbing a taxi back to the airport was a slow process since you are required to line up while only a few cabs are loaded at a time. The drivers were working hard, but with the tons of luggage that some people had, it just slowed things down. That said, it was still probably faster than taking a shuttle bus.
Once at the airport we had to wait to check our bags, since we had a late flight and the airlines won't accept bags a certain number of hours before a flight.
We spent some of the time by talking with some others from the ship, who were also waiting for their flights.
Having a direct flight was convenient, and the return trip was uneventful. Another great Carnival cruise. See you on board in another few years.