by Jeff 'Jamman' Maskall
May 18, 2002
Even though I live in New Jersey, just 45 minutes from New York City, I have never sailed on a cruise from there. The Staten Island Ferry and the Circle Line just don't count. This was about to change. My wife, mother-in-law and children had planned their yearly pilgrimage to Hershey Park without dad for the week of August 8th, so with my wife's blessing, I booked this cruise along with my cruise brother Lou, whom I had cruised with many times between 1985 and 1992. So let the reunion begin!
Embarkation and First Impressions
Our documents said that embarkation was to begin at 1:30 PM for the 5:00 PM sailing. Having been on the Destiny, and knowing what it takes to check in 3,400 people, we planned to get to the pier early. We drove into the city, and arrived at Pier 88 where the Triumph was docked around Noon. We stopped to drop off our luggage, then proceeded up the ramp to the parking areas, which are on top of the terminals. The price for parking is $18.00 a day which is payable only in cash, when you enter the lot. We parked the Blazer, took some pictures of the Triumph and the QE2, which was docked next, door, and then entered the terminal building. There must have been 500 people already there, who must have had the same idea as me! Well, to our amazement, Carnival began letting people board at 12:30 PM. The line moved very quickly. We checked in, by-passed the embarkation photo line, picked up our Sail & Sign cards, and stepped aboard at 12:45 PM.
You board onto the Deck 3 Promenade, then through the doors into the 9 deck high atrium, which is called the Capitol on the Triumph. It is quite a sight! We immediately sat down at the Capitol Bar and had our first drink of the cruise, served by a lovely lady from Croatia, named Kristina. A string quartet played classical music. Above us, on one side, the 4 glass elevators made their journeys up and down the Capitol. On the other side hung a suspended gold leafed sculpture of the Northern Hemisphere, which sets the theme of the Triumph.. The World. All the areas, lounges, etc of the ship are named after parts or cities of the world. The decor on the Triumph is even more subdued than the Destiny, and where neon is used, it is used well. There is nothing gaudy about this ship. The only things I didn't like were the illuminated signs on World's Way and on the various lounges. They changed color, making them very hard to read. When I took pictures, I would have to wait for the signs to change to white, so they would show up in the pictures. Very annoying.
We were snapped back to reality, when upon closer examination of our Sail & Sign cards, we discovered that we had been given the early sitting in the Paris Dining room, instead of the late sitting that we had requested. A quick trip to the Maitre'd in the London Dining room, which was just steps away, remedied the situation. In fact, signs were hung saying that the early sitting was full, which was a first for me. As the cruise went on, I could see why. The passenger make up for this cruise was about 20% ages 20 & under, 25% ages 21-40, 25% ages 41-60, and 30% ages 60 & over. These demographics will most definitely change once the Triumph moves to Miami. We were given the late sitting at table # 418 on the lower level of the Paris Dining room, but were asked if this change could take effect the next day. We're easy.
Cabin, Muster, and Sail Away
We had booked a guaranteed category 5 inside cabin on Main (Deck 2), and received a one category upgrade to an inside cabin (# 6352), on Upper (Deck 6). This was an ideal location for us, since it was just a quick trip down the stairs to the Monte Carlo casino and World's Bar. My wife wouldn't settle for anything less than a balcony cabin, but this suited our needs just fine. It was the standard 185 sq. foot cabin with plenty of storage space. The bathroom and shower were ample, even for two big guys like Lou and I. The wash basin was an ugly salmon pink color. They should have left it a neutral color, like beige. As on the Destiny, the toilets are set at a peculiar angle. At least this time my feet wouldn't be sticking into the shower! In one corner was the television set. To our disappointment, Fun Vision, the interactive channel, was not functioning, so there would be no booking of shore excursions or checking Sail & Sign balances from the cabin. Booking shore excursions wouldn't be a problem, since what they were offering didn't appeal to us. (More on that later). There were 3 channels dedicated to movies, 2 channels dedicated to onboard activities and a few channels with either local or satellite channels, which usually had poor reception.
We met our cabin steward, Kelvin, who would do a wonderful job for us during this cruise, always keeping our ice bucket full, and making the famous towel animals every night. It seemed like if we left our cabin for two minutes, it would be cleaned up by the time we got back! Where do these guys hide anyway? We then went upstairs to the South Beach Club for our embarkation lunch, and then toured the ship until 4:30 when the muster drill began. Thanks to the cooperation of the passengers, this drill lasted only twenty minutes, with everybody winding up at their muster stations on Atlantic (Deck 4), either port or starboard sides. Sailing out of New York is a special treat. There is just so much history here. We sailed at 5:10 PM, having waited for the QE2 to back out of Pier 90 and begin to sail south down the Hudson River. As we backed out of Pier 88, to the strains of Billy Joel's 'New York State of Mind', chills went up my spine. Why had I waited so long to do this? As we followed the QE2 out to sea, we watched in awe, the things that, being from the area, we took for granted. The Empire State building, World Trade Center, The Battery, Ellis Island, Lady Liberty, the busy Harbor, just to name a few. Then finally the Verrazano Narrows bridge, a bridge that we have been over hundreds of times, but never under. As we went under, it seemed like we could reach up and touch it, and that there was no way the famous Farcus funnel could avoid hitting it. Just missed. As we headed out the Ambrose channel towards the open sea, with Coney Island on the left (sorry, Port), and Sandy Hook starboard, we realized we were missing our only early sitting dinner. We didn't care.
Food, Food, and more Food
Let me begin this section by saying that I have enjoyed Carnival cruises since 1985. I experienced first hand the deterioration of the dining experience aboard Carnival ships from then until 1994, including the elimination of Lobster from the menu. (Note: Lobster is now back on the menu, but it is Rock Lobster not Maine Lobster). It wasn't until 1998 that we booked on Carnival again, on the Destiny. I immediately saw and tasted the improvement in the food and presentation, a trend that continues on the Triumph. I know that the rating of food is very subjective, but I'll just say that, overall the food is by no means gourmet, but it is extremely good. Since we missed our first dinner in the dining room because we were on deck for the sail away, we decided to the try the alternative dining at the two level South Beach Club. This was done buffet style. There were several varieties of salads and soups, fruit platters, several hot entrees, and a carving station. There was also a good-sized dessert station. Interspersed around the room, both upstairs and down were self service drink stations serving coffee, tea, hot chocolate, juices, iced tea, and water. I had the New York strip steak, mashed potatoes, and veggies, all which were very good. We sat by the window and watched the QE2 sailing parallel to us the whole time. A nice dinner, but I prefer the service in the dining room.
The rest of our dinners were in the Paris Dining room. Our waiter, Johnny from Costa Rica, and our busboy, Bernard from Jamaica were outstanding. There was soft dinner music played each night, which didn't interfere with normal conversation. I won't list everything that I ate, but some of my favorites were the pumpkin soup, prime rib, lobster, salmon, and the chateaubriand, all of which were prepared to my liking. The dessert choices were also good, with the baked Alaska, and cherries jubilee sure to make an appearance. As is the Carnival tradition, the waiters and busboys will perform almost every night, with the highlights being Hot, Hot, Hot and the Macarena. Be sure to bring your cameras!
We ate all of our breakfasts up on deck. If you wanted, you could get a full breakfast in the dining room, or you could have a continental breakfast delivered to your cabin. When my wife and I were on the Destiny last year, we chose the latter several times, as it is great sitting on your balcony with coffee and danish, watching the sea slide by! There are four buffet lines available on the Lido (Deck 9). Two are in the South Beach Club, and two are located by the Continent Pool, midship. Just about anything you could want for breakfast is available, including fruits, cereals, breads, eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, pancakes, and french toast. Stay away from that pan of scrambled (eggs?), and have the made to order omelets or eggs any style. My only complaint here was that the food in the pans sometimes was only luke warm at best. They need to do a better job at keeping the food hot. The Lido breakfast was served until 10:30 AM in the South Beach Club, and until Noon at the Continent Pool lines.
Again, we ate all our lunches on deck. The four buffet lines mentioned above served lunch from Noon until 3:00 PM. There you could get an assortment of beef, lamb, and fish specialties with all the trimmings. But if you crave hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries, you need to head aft and visit the Coney Island Grille, located by the New World Pool, on the starboard side. They also serve yummy cheese steaks and chicken sandwiches. The Grille was open from Noon until 6:00 PM. Across the way, on the port side, is the Pizzeria Napoli, open 24 hours a day, serving all types of pizza, along with ceaser salad and calzones. Outstanding! This place was very popular early in the morning, after the lounges closed. As if you need more choices, The Hong Kong Noodle Company, located on the starboard side of the South Beach Club, serves Chinese specialties. Available is the soup of the day, several different entrees, and plain and fried rice. Very good! Over on the port side of the South Beach Club you'll find the New York Deli, serving all types of sandwiches. Lou had a very good corned beef sandwich here. The Deli was open from 11:00 AM until 11:00 PM.
As you can see, there isn't one single minute during the day that you can't eat! We never saw the Midnight Buffets, which were held at the South Beach Club, or utilized the complimentary 24 hour room service. Whew!
Activities and Entertainment
Even though this was only a four day cruise, cruise director John Heald and his staff pack in all the activities that could be found on a seven day cruise. There were the usual pool games, along with bingo, horse racing, trivia contests, knobby knees contest, a new game show, couples and lovers party, etc, etc. There were also art auctions held every day. The 200+ ft. waterslide was a lot of fun, but was open only a few hours a day. The Continent and Universe pools and spas were open from 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM. A great calypso band called 'Xcentrique' played on stage by the Continent Pool each afternoon. The New World pool and spas were open from 8:00 AM until Midnight. The New World pool area also has a retractable roof that can be closed in inclement weather. If golf is your game, then lessons are available from a golf professional on the Panorama (Deck 10), mid ship on the starboard side. The Nautica Spa was open from 7:00 AM until 8:00 PM, and the facilities and equipment here, rival any land based gym. There were several varieties of aerobics classes held daily. There were also several health seminars given each day, but I had heard that they consisted of a short presentation, followed by a hard sell for expensive treatments and ointments. Not my cup of tea.
If you are looking for a nice quiet place to nap or read while watching the sea go by, may I suggest the Deck 3 Promenade, located just out the side doors by the Capitol Bar, on both the port and starboard sides. This is one location that is underutilized on both the Destiny and the Triumph. Not many people seem to know about it. Very relaxing, but when you want a drink you'll have to go inside and get it yourself.
The evening entertainment is where Carnival excels. There was music to satisfy anyone's tastes. There was Jazz music in the Oxford lounge, soft dance music at the Venezia Bar, party music with a great band called 'The Music Society' at the Club Rio, and guitar music by the World Bar. Add to that, the Big Easy Piano Bar, and the Hollywood Dance Club, and you could see that there was something for everyone. But the best parts of the evening entertainment were the shows. There were two Vegas style revues, a variety show, and the passenger talent show, all lead by the best and funniest cruise director on the high seas, John Heald. He can make you laugh, even during his port and debarkation talks! The highlight and not to be missed is the Bedtime Story which he does as part of the passenger talent show. I know you're thinking you've seen this before, and I have many times myself, but know one does it like John. To cap off each evening, there are the Late Show specials, held in the Club Rio each night at 12:15 AM. Adult comedy and a tribute to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. were some of the shows on our cruise.
Since I don't live to far from Atlantic City and I like to gamble a little, I thought I would spend a little time on the subject. The Triumph has one of the largest casinos on the high seas. There are hundreds of slot and video machines ranging from a nickel up to twenty-five dollars. Lou won a few hundred playing the dollar slots, but only because he showed the discipline to quit when he was a little ahead. This applies to any of the casino activities. If you stay there long enough, they will get your money! There were several roulette and craps tables, which received heavy play. For the poker players, I'm sorry to report that Let it Ride has been eliminated. In its place is a game they call Caribbean Draw Poker. If it sounds suspiciously like that cash cow Caribbean Stud Poker, you are right. The variation here is that if you remain in the game after looking at your first five cards, you can throw in and draw up to two cards. The dealer needs a pair of 8's or better to qualify. There is also that sucker one dollar progressive slot in front of you. My advice is to stay away from both Caribbean Stud and Caribbean Draw Poker. They are fun to play, but the house advantage is huge! There are plenty of Blackjack tables on board, with several varieties offered. The first is just the standard Blackjack with the rules as close to Vegas's rules as you'll get on a cruise ship. There is no surrender in these games. The first variation is called Face Up Blackjack, where all cards are dealt, well, face up! Sounds easy doesn't it, until you realize that blackjack pays even money, the dealer wins all pushes, the dealer hits on soft 17, you can only double on 9, 10, and 11, you can only split once, and there is no insurance. Again, huge house advantage! The next variation is called either Triumph 21, or Fun Ship 21. Some of the different rules are, blackjack pays 2 to 1, if you draw five cards without breaking you are paid 3 to 2, if you total 21 by having the 6-7-8 combination you are paid 3 to 2, there is double down s! urrender, and a few other wacky rules which have slipped my mind. Sounds like a great game until you read the fine print. It is an eight-deck game and all the Jacks have been removed! This raises the house advantage dramatically, so my advice to all is to stick to the standard blackjack, where you have a fighting chance! There were several blackjack and slots tournaments held during the cruise that were very popular and fun.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
The Triumph docks less than ½ mile from downtown Halifax and the waterfront. There are four different ways that you can get there. There are free shuttle buses, taxicabs (not sure of the cost), a $6.00 rickshaw ride, or you can walk. With the exception of the Tidal Bore rafting trip, and the Chebucto Head fishing trip, you were better off on your own, than buying the excursions thru Carnival. For example, the excursion to Peggy's Cove, which I was told was very beautiful BUT very crowded, was much cheaper when bought downtown. The Citadel and the Maritime Museum were within walking distance. Not offered by Carnival, but available on the waterfront, were whale watching and harbor cruises. We chose to walk along the water to the waterfront area. It was a delightful walk that took about 15-20 minutes. We had the good fortune of visiting Halifax while the International Busker Festival was there. The waterfront was alive with loads of street performers, crafts, food, drinks, etc. We had a great time hanging out there. We then visited the Maritime Museum. They had a great Titanic display, including an actual deck chair. Very humbling. They also had a 3-D movie about the Titanic, which was very popular, but you had to purchase advance tickets for it, and the next available showing for us was three hours later, so we chose to pass, and went back to the ship. We sailed from Halifax at 6:00 PM, and as the sun began to drop, it actually became to cold to stand on deck with shorts on. Those of you, who are going in September or October, remember to bring some WARM clothing.
Debarkation and Final Thoughts
I woke up early on the morning of debarkation, as I wanted to be on deck when we sailed into New York harbor. For those who would like to do the same, please be advised that the ship will sail under the Verrazano bridge around 5:45 AM. To me it was worth the loss of sleep, but Lou elected to stay in bed. We finally docked back at pier 88 around 7:10 AM. What followed was by far, the easiest debarkation I have ever experienced. The night before, everyone was told that if you wanted to carry your own luggage off the ship, you would be allowed off the ship first, beginning around 8:15 AM. If you didn't want to carry your own bags off, then you were instructed to leave your bags outside your cabin by 1:00 AM, and the next morning you would be disembarked according to your tag color. The former was an option that will not be offered once the Triumph enters Caribbean service. I guess Customs wasn't worried about 'contraband' being brought back from Canada! We chose the latter option since the thought of spilling out on to the streets of Manhattan during the morning rush hour didn't appeal to us, and plus the fact we didn't have to worry about catching a flight. Truth of the matter was, we just didn't want to leave! Anyway, true to their word, the luggage carriers began disembarking at 8:15, and our color was called at 9:15. We said goodbye to the Triumph, grabbed our luggage in the terminal, jumped in the Blazer, and was home by 10:30. What a breeze!
Four days was simply not enough time to sample everything the Triumph had to offer! There were lounges that I never had a chance to checkout, such as the Olympic Sports Bar. I thought I would be spending a lot of time there. I enjoyed my short time aboard the Triumph immensely, and wouldn't hesitate sailing on her again. The food and service were great, I won a little in the casino, and Minnie at the Continent Pool Bar starboard side, made me some REAL GOOD drinks. Life is good! You can see photos from this cruise at http://members2.clubphoto.com/jeffrey94178/ Feel free to email me with any questions and Bon Voyage!