by Beach Bum
October 18, 2003
After seeing an advertisement in the Atlanta Journal for a $749 per person balcony cabin on the Carnival Triumph, we decided to do a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise on October 18th, 2003 for our honeymoon. We are both 35 years old. My wife is a physician and I own a consulting firm. Our Carnival experience was an overall pleasant one, however we had two major complaints.
Embarkation was a snap. Our flight arrived in Miami at 10:00 and we took a cab for $20 to the ship. A porter who took our bags immediately greeted us and we then got on board in no time. Very pleasant procedure overall. The Carnival greeters were fantastic. Once on board, the interior felt like the inside of a Vegas casino, but it was very well kept. Our rooms would not be ready until 1:30, so we spent the time having lunch in the South Beach Restaurant. Try the smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese!
Our room was on Deck 6, cabin # 6254. We chose this cabin because it had a queen bed in it. (We didn't like the idea of having to push two beds together.) Yes, the carpets outside the cabins are very water stained on every deck that we visited. But if you can get pass that, which we did, everything else about the room was wonderful. The cabins are very roomy and this was the first time we've had a balcony. And we've decided that, from now on, if our cruise offers balcony cabins, we're taking one. It was great. You could step right out and get some fresh air whenever you felt like it. And you could read or have your morning coffee in quiet relaxation with nothing but the sun and sea.
However, the cabin we selected also became one of the two major complaints we had about this cruise. It was right above the Rome Lounge and you could hear everything as though it was happening in the cabin next door. Not too bad for the 8:30 shows, but try getting some sleep at midnight with loud music blaring into your room. We never got a good night's sleep because of it. The worst night happened when they held a midnight encore presentation of their magic show and we had to be up at 6 the next morning for a port excursion. After complaining, we were offered a 20% discount on another cruise. Kind of cheap considering there was not one evening that we could rest before midnight. Best piece of advice- never book a cabin over or under a public area or engine room.
Our room steward was helpful, never intrusive, and always made new towel animals every night. That was a big hit with my wife! The only annoyance was that our room steward never answered any of his pages. His response- "My batteries must be getting low in my pager." We paged him four times on four different days (during his posted available times) and we never heard from him.
Once on board and in our cabin we discovered that they gave us the early seating instead of the late seating that we were confirmed on. It appeared that they did this to a lot of the passengers. We decided to keep the early seating (6:15) and found that we liked it much better that we thought we would. It gave us a lot of freedom for evening activities. We did approach the maitre'd and ask him to place us at a table for two, which he was able to provide. We decided to do this after getting a look at some of the people who boarded after us. Absolutely horrific. Some of these people looked like they had just gotten out of prison. Definitely low class. We came across one guy on the cruise who was absolutely furious that he and his wife were seated at a table with some people who fit this description. We hope that Carnival will take a cue from other cruise lines and provide open seating at smaller tables.
Dinners were kind of hit and miss. Some nights the food was incredible. Some nights we sent it back. Most of the time it was good. The lobster was a big hit. We thought we would get some little sea monkey, but we got a very large, succulent lobster tail. And we were asked if we wanted seconds. Service was very good and the overall food experience was a positive one.
The food at other times was good, as well. The pizza shop was excellent and so were the burgers. We sampled the yogurt machine several times on the cruise. The midnight fare was acceptable, as well. We did the room service thing on several days, usually breakfast, and it was always very prompt and the servers were very courteous. The room service menu does not tell you can get smoked salmon to go along with your bagels in the morning, but you can. One thing they got wrong every time, though, was our jelly order. No matter what flavor you asked for, you always got something else.
Our other major complaint was not with the food but with the lack of enforcement of the dress code in the main dining rooms during the evening. It was appalling to see people walk in with shorts, jeans, flip-flops, tank tops, and NASCAR T-shirts. When we complained to the wait staff, they would do nothing. We had to complain directly to the maitre'd, who most of the time would just make an announcement over the loudspeaker. If you want to dress casually, there's nothing wrong with it. Just don't do it in the main dining rooms. Eat at one of the casual restaurants on board. The wait staff should have the authority to tell a passenger on the spot that they do not meet the dress code. They should not have to wait until the maitre'd finally sees it. All cruise lines should have a mandatory etiquette class that you have to attend prior to being able to dine onboard.
We had a little over 3,000 passengers and 1,100 crewmembers on our cruise, but it never seemed overcrowded. Sometimes it took a few moments to find a couple of empty lounge chairs, but there were always some vacant ones. One annoying little thing that Carnival could cut back on was the relentless onslaught of the drink pimps. It got so bad that I actually timed them. No lie- every 60 seconds someone was asking you to buy a drink on deck. That's 120 times in two hours that someone is asking you that. If you're trying to take a nap or read a good book, forget it.
The Rome Lounge was the focus point for all of the entertainment and meetings. It's a beautiful place and they did a wonderful job with it. They could have turned down the sound a bit, but that would have meant giving us a decent night's sleep. The cruise director, John Heald, did a marvelous job and provided a very witty commentary throughout our journey.
Don't bring your computer along and think you're going to use their wireless system to surf the net as they advertise. Their "internet managers" are as skilled in computers as they are in brain surgery. Any technical problems and you're out in the cold. They know how to tell you to put in your username and password. Anything goes wrong on their end and you'll wait the whole cruise for a mainland tech assistant to get back to them.
The gym was okay. There are about ten treadmills, ten Precors, dumbbells, exercise balls, and some Keiser hydraulic workout machines. Several of the Keiser machines did not work. A better suggestion would be to get some machines that use actual weights.
The spa is nice and the treatment list looked great, but we never did any.
The overall condition of the ship was great. No complaints other than the ones described previously.
PORTS OF CALL
Cozumel was our first port. We rented a Jeep Wrangler (the taxi driver we tried to talk to was a rude SOB) for $93 total (rental, taxes and complete insurance) and took it to a dive operator that was a recommended vendor on the Carlos and Charlie's website. It's called Cozumel Equalizers and the guy's name is Darwin. I had been corresponding with him via email about renting a private boat for just me and my wife to go to several snorkeling spots in the southern part of Cozumel- Palancar, Cardona, and Columbia reefs. This was his final email to me: "For a charter boat and visiting reefs in a non crowded area ( Palancar, Colombia and Cardona) is $150.00, just you two, including box lunch, Coronas, purified water and soft drinks, equipment, guide and fast covered boat."
We showed up on time and I tried to pay him the $150. He acted surprised at the amount and tried to get us to pay more. When I complained, he took the $150. There was no box lunch and I had to remind him that he promised us beer and soft drinks. He then sent someone out to buy us a six-pack of cheap beer, two soft drinks, and some chips. We ended up following a French girl named Sarah, who would be our snorkeling guide, to the marina where the boat was kept. Our captain was Carlos and they took us out on a small boat through a slight chop to the reefs.
The snorkeling was great. We passed Chankanaab Park on the way out and it was too rough for snorkeling. We snorkeled Palancar and Columbia but did Dzul-Ha instead of Cardona. We saw a barracuda and a spotted moray eel at Columbia. Dzul-Ha had the most fish. We took a break and ate at a beach club where we had some Dos Equis and bought our guide lunch. ($40 for two beers and three lunch entrees.) Afterwards, we took the Jeep back to Dzul-Ha and snorkeled some more. There is a beach club that you can rent lockers at and have a few beers.
We skipped going to Carlos and Charlie's and instead had a relaxing daiquiri at Fat Tuesday's. We went back to the ship, cleaned up and returned to Cozumel to have dinner at Pancho's Backyard in the port shopping center. Good food and good service. The chips and guacamole are superb. So are the giant margaritas. Dinner for two, with tip, was $72 and included two large premium margaritas with extra tequila, one regular premium margarita, guacamole and chips, two seafood entrees, and bananas flambé for dessert.
We found a nice jewelry store in port called D Montero's that had some great looking pieces but they where closed when we returned. The guy said they would stay open until the cruise ship left but that wasn't the case. Too bad for them- we were coming back to buy over $400 in jewelry. (Their prices start out high but you can get them to come down real low if you bargain.) Check them out when you get there.
Overall, Cozumel was not that great of a place except for the snorkeling. It's definitely not a place we wanted to stay in until 11 p.m. Would have much rather had the additional time for Grand Cayman or Ocho Rios. Oh, if you drink here make sure you have someone to watch over you. One guy barely made it on board at the last minute. They found him passed out on the pier and brought him back to the ship in a wheel chair. One couple did not make it back on board in time and they were left behind. They had to fly to Grand Cayman and meet the ship there. (The boat is one hour ahead of Cozumel. When they tell you to be back by 11:30, they mean ship's time. That's 10:30 Cozumel time.)
Our second port was Grand Cayman. We definitely could have stayed here a lot longer. Everyone we spoke to on the ship agreed that they should switch port times with Cozumel and Grand Cayman. The shops are so much nicer in Grand Cayman and there is no pressure to buy something. No one hassles you.
We wanted to go snorkeling and try Stingray City but did not want to get packed on a cattle boat. So we searched the web and found good comments about a local tour operator called Capt. Marvins. We were told that they only take about 20 people per trip, but we had about 50 on our boat. It wasn't that bad, but it wasn't what we were supposed to be paying for, either. The snorkeling was so-so. We went to Coral Gardens and the Barrier Reef. Then it was off to Stingray City, which was a blast. I've fed stingrays before at a marine park, but not like this. You are in the water with them and some of them are four and five feet across. Both my wife and I agree that this is a not-miss opportunity.
Once we got back to downtown, we had barely an hour to try and shop. Then it was off on the last tender back to the boat at 3:45 p.m. And they mean 3:45 p.m.
Ocho Rios was our last port. We had heard so many bad things about Jamaica that we decided to use the ship's excursion desk. All of the snorkeling tours take you to the same place- snorkeling and Dunn's River Falls. We have pictures of some of the boats packed shoulder to shoulder with people. On the night before, around 8 pm., go up to the desk and find out which snorkel and falls excursion has the least amount of people booked on it and then compare it to maximum capacity. We did this and found out that that San-San had only 14 people booked on it. It was almost double the price of the other excursions ($79 compared to $49), but it was well worth it when we looked down and saw a hundred people trying to cram onto a boat with no shade. They served us Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and juice as we left the dock. I don't drink coffee, but my wife does. I tried a sip of hers and liked it so much that I had a cup. It's that good.
The snorkeling spot wasn't as nice as Grand Cayman or Cozumel. They took us straight out from port and dropped us off on a reef that had seen better days. Afterwards, we went to Dunns River Falls. It was a nice experience but my wife liked it much better than me. We've been to Hawaii several times and that's my idea of a waterfall. Following hundreds of people up what amounted to be a muddy stream wasn't my idea of great fun, but it was entertaining. Wouldn't do it again but my wife would. They had plenty of security near the beach area of the falls and no one hassled us. We went through the crafts market and all you have to do is walk away if someone is bothering you.
On the boat ride back, they gave us some very potent rum punch. After four of them, we met some other passengers at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville and had some more. A definite stop! Again, not enough time in port. We had to be back on the ship by 3 p.m. But we did have enough time to find a great deal on a Tanzanite ring at Jewels and Time in the same shopping complex as Margaritaville.
For the most part, the staff was friendly and helpful. The food was good 80 to 90% of the time and if you didn't like what you were eating, they'd find something you'd like. The cabins were large and roomy and the balcony was definitely worth it. In the future, we will pay close attention to where our cabin is located. We picked our cabin because a cruise consultant in the July issue of Conde Nast Traveler specifically stated that you could not hear any noise from the public areas below if you were on Deck 6. Boy was she wrong. We could hear everything. We were kind of dismayed that they only offered us a 20% discount on a future cruise, but they wouldn't entertain any other compensation.
Will we sail with Carnival again? Yes. But we're also going to try some of the other upper end lines like Radisson to see how they measure up.