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Copyright ¬© 1995-2003 
Linda Coffman

Carnival Victory
Sailing: Western Caribbean 
March 2, 2003

by J.R. from Pennsylvania

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 eat.

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 shelter.

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¬Ö I guess that will remain to be seen.

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Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line