This was our first cruise and although no one
fell overboard, I was dissatisfied with the Carnival Victory and most
of the cruises overall value. My wife, our three kids (ages 11, 7
& 2 1/2) and myself left for vacation on March 2nd in hopes of
having the special trip we were all promised. It had been almost a
year and a half since our last big family outing, so as you can
envision, we were ready to go.
After spending our initial night in the
Marriott on Biscayne Bay the journey was looking to be entertaining,
relaxing, and enjoyable. My wife and I chose the category 12 suite for
all five of us rather than the two category 6 cabins suggested by our
travel agent. The cost was much more but with having the three kids, I
thought that the more room we had the better. As it turned out I was
absolutely right after noticing how minuscule the inside cabins across
the hall were in contrast to ours.
Embarkation was supposed to be a breeze
because of our upgraded room; we were believed to have some type of
express check-in service. My wife and I are still arguing over whose
fault it was in making the decision of going through the wrong line
but we neglected to find an English speaking person to direct us to
the Express area to skip the long and intense line before boarding.
After the mistake was fairly ratified only after we reached the front
of the line, it was off to our room for a short rest.
Our cabin was orderly, dirt free, and had a
huge box of gourmet cookies with a ribbon on top waiting for us (not
the elaborate gift basket described at some stage in booking the
trip). I was initially apprehensive about the amount of space in which
we were just about to spend an entire week with our three kids, but as
I said before, after noticing the closets across the hall that our
neighbors had to deal with, I was more than satisfied. It was at this
time where we met Zuzanna, our cabin steward. My wife asked me several
times throughout the trip if we could take her home with us. She was
the perfect example of what anyone could have expected. Anyway, we
left exactly on time and after the kids had a complete run through of
everything in our cabin, it was time to take them on a tour of the
ship. My first impression was overwhelming surprise at how humungous
this boat actually was. Thirteen stories tall and more then three
football fields long. Very impressive to see technology in this way. I
decided to take the kids up to one of the pool decks for a bite to
The programs that Carnival had set up for our
children were more than adequate except for the constant running from
one end of the ship to the other to sign them in. I was also deeply
disappointed in the hours kept by Children's World; shutting down
everyday in increments of two or four hours at a clip. That meant that
our overactive 2 1/2 year old boy was being chased by us for more than
six hours a day with no alternative babysitting service. Look, I know
it sounds selfish to want to get rid of him, but both my wife and I
needed a break from the craziness of this child and Carnival made sure
that our day was filled with just as much childcare as theirs was.
Other than that the other two children had a blast.
Since this was our very first cruise I do not
want to be overly critical, however I do want to express some of the
issues I found to be disturbing from an experienced travelers point of
view. First of all, I felt that it was rather shameless of Carnival to
enforce an automatic gratuity program. Not only was a 15% tip added
onto every drink, soda, and service provided but there was also a
$9.75/per day tip pre-billed onto every one of the Sail/sign cards.
That meant that $69 was billed onto each account including the
accounts of all three of my children (yes my 2 year olds card as
well). I consider myself a very heavy tipper whenever I travel. Mainly
because I realize the benefits of tipping the people who are
responsible for making your trip enjoyable. Before learning of this
automatic tip procedure I had already been tipping everyone on the
ship in cash. Afterwards I was afraid to tip because I wasn't sure if
I would be overdoing it. It's just an observation--nothing more--and I
do understand the reasoning behind it. I am just commenting on this
subject because it disturbed and puzzled me.
Next I would like to mention a small problem I
found with the in-room entertainment. Being that I have three young
children and the television is a huge part of their lives, I would
have thought that Carnival would have had a few more channels
available to watch. Nothing geared for children, i.e. Nickelodeon,
Disney, Cartoon Network etc. The in-house channels played over and
over and over the poor comedy of the cruise director. I mean this guy
was on 24/7 and after the sixth time watching the skit, I wanted to
hit him over his balding head with an iron pipe. It would have been
more plausible to play recordings of the Las Vegas show from the night
before. In addition, one more issue on the in room entertainment. They
provide us with these brilliant state of the art VCRs--why not rent or
even sell any tapes on board? Do they think that you can buy "The
Titanic" in Mexico or something? There enough about that.
Next there is the issue of FOOD! Boy was there
a lot of it! I was however disappointed with the consistency of it.
Our dinner seating was at 5:45pm and making it to the sit-down dinner
was almost unattainable with the kids and changing our time was
"out of the question." So other than the two formal nights
(which I did enjoy), we opted to eat the buffet. Now don't get me
wrong, the deserts were first-rate, the salad bar was large but the
main entree items seemed a bit like prison food. And every day I swear
the kitchen staff took the leftovers from the night before, slapped
some soy sauce on it and called it something original. I recognize
that it is difficult to mass produce food in this way but I was
expecting a little more effort. Now, I did like the other options
Carnival had along these lines. Room service came in very handy not
just for an afternoon snack but for breakfast as well. Only a little
more variety would have been better. First of all the Burger stand was
great. The Gourmet coffee and desert shop (which there was a charge
for) was right out of Neiman Marcus. And the midnight buffet... What
can I say? It hit the spot after an evening of gambling and drinking.
After standing behind a line of ravenous Jenny Craig clients that was
out the entrance, there was plenty of food left for us. Although the
buffet at night was much the same as the buffet during the day if not
the food that was left over from it. But they could have served me a
hotdog on a stick and I would have loved it at 1:00 in the morning.
On to the entertainment. The shows offered
were whatever you could have wanted. Comedy, Dancing, Singing, Talent
Shows and more. The list went on and on and the audience was able to
participate if they so desired. I did not like the shopping lady. She
was more than annoying and as I said before the cruise director's
humor... well either you loved him or you hated him. The Casino was
adequate for the number of patrons on board. I in fact was coerced to
enter a slot tournament and won 500 bucks, a shirt and a plastic ship
on a stick. I think that you can tell that I did enjoy the gambling
and definitely made an endowment to The Victory's favorite charity.
The pool was fun especially the water slide the spanned almost three
stories high. My kids had a magnificent time with that. I also
understand that the games played poolside were fun as well although I
did not participate.
The Victory made stops in three dissimilar
ports along our journey. Cozumel Mexico, Grand Cayman, and Ocho Rios,
Jamaica. The first and probably the most intimidating was Cozumel,
Mexico. I found Mexico to be dirty, congested, and unappealing. The
walk through the duty free shops at the port consisted of probably the
only developed part of the area. Other than the undersized shopping
mall, most of Cozumel was nothing more than a tourist trap. From the
souvenir shops to the jewelry huts along the beach, the locals were
persistent in trying to lure anyone into their place to spend a
dollar. We were told not to eat or drink ANYTHING that did not come
prepackaged and to be careful when traveling outside the port area.
The beach was somewhat satisfying in the respect that it had countless
patrons of the cruise ships docked three miles away. It provided a
safe haven for those wanting to get out of the shopping district and
although there was some security, one still had to travel through
dozens of trading huts and annoying salespeople along the path to
Grand Cayman was a little more developed and
had much more to offer in terms of transportation, restaurants, and
civilization. I did not particularly enjoy myself here mainly due to
the lack of time we had to explore the island but my wife was duly
impressed with this American looking paradise. To me Grand Cayman
appeared to be a small section of Miami Beach rather than a tropical
island. And as I said before we were rushed to get back to the Victory
because of the 3:30 departing.
Finally on the second to last day we hit
Jamaica. I have been to Jamaica four times prior so I knew what to
expect. It definitely was my most beloved port-of-call on the cruise
and sported one of the most striking beaches on earth. The sand is
cool and soft and the locals want nothing more than to please you.
Upon leaving the ship we had a long walk along the pier to a place
where one could shop, drink, or just unwind on a concealed beach
overlooking our ship. What a spot! My wife and the two older children
went on a large paddle boat and cruised along the bay for more than an
hour. While I sat in a beach chair drinking "Red Stripe"
beer and reading a good book. We didn't have to as much as get out of
our chairs for anything. A local and employee of the Snorkeling shack
saw to our every need for a couple of bucks. Now I have heard stories
from other guests that their time was a bit scary due to the Jamaican
people's persistency but in reality I really don't think that they
were in any danger. Jamaica is unquestionably one of my most favorite
places in the world.
After seven days our trip was finally over.
Our last good-byes were said to those crew members who would be missed
and our bags were packed. It was time for us to disembark and make our
passage home. I was pleasantly surprised to find out how easy customs
was especially with all the security issues in America, however racing
around with the kids looking for our bags wasn't a piece of cake.
Since we had a five hour wait until our plane was to take off in
Miami, I made arrangements for a limousine to drive us around town for
a few hours to kill time. The Limo ride was completely more agreeable
than cramming into a car and waiting in the airport for the five
hours. Our flights were on time and we arrived in Pennsylvania late
that night with memories and a little sunburn.
With all that being said the question remains
whether or not a cruise is an option for a future holiday… I guess
that will remain to be seen.