by Stewart Cohen
July 4, 2002
This was my second Carnival cruise. The first was on the Triumph's younger sister, Carnival Victory, back in September, 2000 when the ship was brand new. So new, that service was uneven. But overall the experience aboard Carnival Victory was good enough to want to take the same cruise again. Carnival Triumph would be an improvement in the area of service, and also décor in the public areas (the cabins are decorated exactly the same), since I thought the Carnival Victory was a bit of an eyesore (the use of the color green went a little too far and those mermaid and mermen sculptures in the dining room could be used as an illustration in the dictionary next to the word tacky). Carnival Triumph is a bit mellower in décor and I thought it was quite attractive in many instances. I found the service to be good. When there was an occasional slip-up it would be corrected as soon as it was mentioned.
Things, however, got off to a very bad start at Pier 88 at the New York Passenger Ship Terminal. I arrived at 12:30 pm and the line was already very long. To worsen the situation, the temperature had reached well over 90 degrees with a heat index over 100 degrees. One would have thought that with such excessive heat forecasted Carnival would have made some sought of preparation by making cold drinks available to the passengers (this is what Celebrity Cruises does with every cruise). By the time I boarded, which took about 90 minutes, I was drenched with perspiration. A wheelchair had to be found for a fainting passenger. It may be the Fun Ship but it was not the Fun Terminal.
I booked a category 1A as a single and got one of the large outside with porthole cabins. There are several of these located on the Riviera and Main Decks. For the less money than a smaller inside, you get a spacious cabin, 2 portholes, 1 bed, full-sized sofa and even a terry bathrobe. My cabin stewardess, Gabriella, was a doll. There were several requests I made and everything was taken care of immediately. She liked to handle the turn-down service early in the evening. I usually ask for this to be done later, since I have late seating dinner and like to shower before. No problem, She always returned after I left for dinner to remove the wet towels and tidy up. She is a very cheerful and friendly person, and obviously accommodating as well. Her towel animals are gallery worthy!
Since I carried my one piece of luggage on board I was able to unpack immediately. I then proceeded to the South Beach restaurant which is the casual buffet area on the ship. There were already long lines for the buffet and what was being offered didn't look too thrilling, so I proceeded to the Coney Island Grill, which is just behind, in the aft deck pool area. There were only 2 people ahead of me and I ordered a double-meat steak sandwich. I proceeded to the opposite side, where the pizza is served and got a caesar salad. I then returned to the South Beach, since I preferred to sit in an air-conditioned environment on such a hot day. Found a table right near the beverage dispensers. The steak sandwich and salad were both excellent and unfortunately for my bloodstream, I would make a few more pilgrimages to the grill for these bad boys. It was definitely advantageous to have been on another ship with a similar layout, so I had my plan of attack for lunch pretty much figured out. I should add that there is also a deli window and a Chinese food window by the South Beach. Having sampled both on the Victory I did visit the deli a few times but avoided the Chinese food because it isn't made to order and was very disappointing. The deli gets higher marks and its hours of 11 am - 11 pm make it convenient for a late afternoon "snack". I finished off my lunch with some fresh fruit, which was nice to see as an alternative to cakes. But I did pay a visit to the self-serve ice cream machines by the aft deck pool. It was good, but not as good as the ice cream served in the dining room.
I attended the mandatory lifeboat drill. Due to the record number of passengers (over 3000) for this cruise, the muster station area was way overcrowded (hope the lifeboats wouldn't be). The hyperactive kid next to me didn't make it any more pleasant, but like my Mom used to say about childbirth, you forget all about the pain after it's over. I returned to my cabin just to chill out and watched our departure from NYC through my portholes. I was facing Manhattan and said a little prayer as we passed Ground Zero. The cruise director came on the p.a. system to ask for 30 seconds of silence. My next task was to head to the dining room to check out my table. I turned out to be a large table (set for 11) which made me a little weary. I had experiences before where a large table made for long waits for everyone to order and be served. However, it would turn out to be just wonderful. We were all singles (I guess the maitre d' does his homework). Each evening there was a different headcount going from 6 to 9 people. We all got along very well. In addition, we had very good service from our waiter, Fabian and team (assistant) waiter Roberto. I asked for ice tea at the beginning of the first meal and never had to request it again. It was always poured at the beginning of every meal and the glass would never stay empty for long. Orders were taken quickly and served that way too. The menu seemed to be exactly the same as on the Carnival Victory 2 years earlier. This is not gourmet cuisine but everything seemed to be prepared and seasoned well. I may have used a salt shaker once during the entire cruise. And my favorite, the baby back ribs, served at the final dining room lunch were offered again and they are still top notch. As for desserts, the bread pudding was a winner, as well as the German chocolate cake served at the same luncheon. But my favorite dessert would be the ice cream served at the dining room lunches and dinners. Of course, it goes well with whatever else you might select for dessert. Let's just say that I made everyone at my table swear that I only ate apples and lettuce during the cruise, if anyone should ask.
More on the subject of food, I discovered room service breakfast to be an excellent alternative to the noisy open seating dining room and breakfasts. Room service came in handy the morning we arrived in Halifax as I needed to be off the ship a.s.a.p. because I was meeting a friend. Again, last morning it was handy because I wanted to be off early. The food arrived quickly and the menu was more than a roll and a cup of coffee. You could even get a bagel, lox and cream cheese, and the bagel arrived warm! My only disappointment was that Special K cereal was not one of the choices, but no problem. I took some boxes from the buffet the day before and kept my own private stock. The food in the dining room for breakfast was a mixed bag. Had a terrific omelet with Swiss cheese and ham (every time I order this the waiter invariably says that he isn't sure about the availability of Swiss cheese but I always get it, so I don't panic). However, juice was always served with ice cubes in the goblet. I'm not talking a few cubes either. When I poured my juice into another goblet to strain the ice there was maybe 1/4 - 1/3 of a goblet. It was as though they thought of preparing the juice (as I'm sure it's from concentrate or something) at the last minute every morning. Happily, the juice served by room service was always fine. Okay, enough about juice. Now on to carpet stains (only kidding).
I preferred having lunch in the dining room. It tended to be fairly empty and the selection was better than the buffet. At times the buffet would offer some of the same entrees, but I felt, no waiting on line, freshly prepared food and no problem finding a table. In addition, there were no trays to carry your plates on the buffet. How stupid is that? I had a look at the buffet in the evening to see how it stacked up against the dining room food. It was very limited in selection and there is no atmosphere. It felt like visiting a food court in a shopping mall and I like at least a little class when dining on a cruise ship. I do have to confess that the sweet and sour shrimp did look good and I swiped some (just to make sure it was suitable for the other passengers).
Carnival's "signature" dining room entertainment by the waiters was offered up as always. Our maitre d', Jean Pierre really gets into this and putting a microphone in his hands is like putting keys to a candy store in a kid's hand. The only part of this post prandial ritual that I like is when the waiters dance on the tables. If you have a good waiter who participates, it tends to be more enjoyable.
Enough with the food.on to the activities and entertainment. Boy,
for a 4-day cruise, they really pack a lot of stuff in. The 2 sea
days had me going. Fortunately, nothing is really planned until
after lunch, so the mornings were quiet for me. I enjoyed using
a deck chair on the outdoor promenade on Deck 3. It was pretty quiet
and as long as I positioned myself upwind from the occasional smoker,
I was fine. I brought along my personal stereo and relaxed while
listening to music and counting the waves (I stopped at 857).
As for the main stage entertainment, featured in the Rome Lounge, I caught one of the productions shows called "Wonderful World". I felt it was a bit overproduced and was the weakest of all the Carnival production shows I've seen (the 2 on the Victory were outstanding). The other evening I attended the Rome Lounge show was when the cruise director, Michael Mullane, and his wife Jeni performed. Part of the show was supposed to feature comedian Anthony Acosta, who missed the ship in Halifax. Instead, one of the lead singers from the production show, Trent Webb, filled in and stopped the show. Although I didn't think much of him in "Wonderful World" (I would have to say it was because of the material) his solo act is dynamite, and if he is featured, by all means, catch his act. As for Michael Mullane, I didn't warm up to his style as an entertainer. Apparently he wrote a musical version of "A Tale of Two Cities" but his lead-in to the song from it took as long as the novel. However, as an emcee of game shows and other hats a cruise director must wear, he is top notch. I especially want to thank him for the way he oversaw the disembarkation procedure (more on this later).
The in-cabin tv featured such films as "Ali" and "Lord of the Rings". They also featured certain shipboard events such as the Passenger Talent Show, the Rome Lounge Show with Michael Mullane I mentioned above, as well as the Welcome Aboard Show (minus the comedian who must copyright his act).
I chose to avoid the pool area, but things were hopping there. The calypso group "Eclipse" seemed to be a big hit. The pool was crowded with kids (except our 2nd sea day when it was cold outside, but the aft pool has a moveable roof) and the Jacuzzis always seemed to be full. The gym and spa area were also unvisited by me during the cruise, so I cannot comment on them.
Our one port of call was Halifax. We arrived late due to fog, and disembarking was not handled very well to make matters worse. No Carnival staff member was present to oversee the line off the ship. This meant people could jump the line which made for an even longer wait than was necessary to get off the ship. This is an area Carnival needs to handle better. The fog had cleared and Halifax weather was beautiful and warm. As soon as we docked, a group of bagpipers and drummers performed for us while we watched from the outside promenade on Deck 3. We were also greeted by a town crier who is quite a character. Since I was visiting a friend, there was no need to attend port lectures or take a tour. We avoided Peggy's'Cove, a small waterside village, which is where all the tour buses go. Instead we went to another village on the water called Mahone Bay. It's a beautiful little town with some brightly painted houses. Instead of a lighthouse like in Peggy's Cove, its landmark is a group of 3 wooden churches on the waterfront. There were very nice shops and the people inside were very friendly. One shop manufactures and sells pewter, which is apparently very big in Nova Scotia. The shop has a demonstration area on how pewter is shaped into vessels, etc. We had a lovely lunch at a pub which had a deck in the back facing the water. Since it was a beautiful day, there were plenty of boats on the water. I was back on the ship by 4:30 pm (note that Halifax is 1 hour ahead of NYC but the ship did not change time). We departed Halifax on time and were bid farewell by the town crier and a single bagpiper (this part always makes me sentimental). I have really enjoyed my visits to Halifax. It's not a particularly pretty city or loaded with five star attractions, but it is a lovely town; clean and friendly and they always make us feel welcome. I will be back, I'm sure.
Disembarking the ship was a breeze. I was concerned after the nightmares during boarding and disembarking in Halifax. But thanks to cruise director, Michael who gave excellent instructions and kept the ship informed via the public address system directly in the cabins, all went quickly and smoothly. Those who did not need assistance with their luggage (i.e were carrying it off instead of leaving it out the final night) could disembark first, by deck, 2 decks at a time since there were gangways on decks 2 and 3. I was called off the ship at 8:45 am and in my office by 9:30 am (talk about your reality check).
A brief word about my fellow passengers. We were a very large group. Lots of families. After all, this is summertime and this was a holiday sailing. Carnival gets a rap about unruly passengers and there were some very inconsiderate people and despite my best efforts to avoid them, it wasn't always possible. However, I also met some of the sweetest, gentlest people I have had the good fortune to encounter and I was always grateful for their company and if Carnival attracts these people as well, then they are okay in my book.
As a short holiday vacation this was terrific. Despite some unpleasantries
(and believe me they were very unpleasant) I had a very good time.
Carnival is probably the best line for the short cruise market,
especially when they use their newer ships (most other lines use
their oldest ships for the short runs) like the Carnival Triumph.
I'm not sold on Carnival for 7 day cruises because there are more
lines which offer a better product. Carnival does have a good product,
it just needs some better staff to manage it.