by Tom Smith
October 25, 2003
I am from Denver, Colorado. This was my fourth cruise. My other cruises were on the Paradise (March 3, 2002 and October 27, 2002) and the Elation (April 27, 2003). I booked as part of a group of around 600 singles from all over the United States, Canada, and a few other countries.
I flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before my cruise. When I arrived at the airport, another passenger thought I worked for Carnival so she thought I was taking her to the busses since I was wearing a Carnival polo shirt. In truth, I was looking for the Carnival representatives myself. They were fairly easy to find near the baggage claim. The Carnival representatives gathered us all together at the east end of the terminal, and then had us walk to the west side of the terminal where the bus was waiting. We went to the other terminals, picked up some other passengers, and left the airport at about 2:30 p.m. This was on Friday, and the Fascination was leaving that afternoon, so we stopped at the Port of Miami first before heading to my hotel. We arrived at the Port of Miami shortly after 3:00 p.m. where most people got off. He then took me to the Sheraton Biscayne Bay where I checked in. I did a little shopping and then went to dinner at Bubba Gump's at Bayside Marketplace. The coconut shrimp was great. I was tired from my travels since I had to get up at an ungodly hour, so I went back to my hotel and got a good night's sleep.
Flying in the day before a cruise gives you a good chance to explore the port city as well as relieve any stress that a delayed flight may cause. You also get to shop for those little things you forgot to pack, which was not a problem for me.
The day started out fine. I went to a deli across the street from the hotel and had breakfast. After that, things went downhill until I actually cleared security at the port. Carnival did not have enough of their guests in the hotel, so they did not have pre-cruse check-in at the hotel. Carnival was supposed to send a bus to pick us up at 11:45 a.m., but by 1:15 p.m., the bus hadn't shown up yet. The Triumph was late getting into port, so this delayed the busses. There was no communication about this until another frustrated passenger called Carnival. I teamed up with a couple from Indiana and another couple from Iowa and split the cost of a taxi-van. We arrived at the port at about 1:30 when it started to rain, and the porter was anxious to get our luggage under shelter. This was by far the fastest porter I've ever seen at the Port of Miami. He definitely earned his tip as far as I am concerned. We then got into a line to go through security. The line wound into the warehouse where our luggage was being screened and sorted. Between the clanging of the metal cages, and the beeping of the forklifts, the noise was barely tolerable. Even though the line moved fairly quickly, it took about an hour to get through security, fifteen minutes to check-in, and another fifteen minutes for the remaining formalities of getting the sail-and-sign card, the security photo, and the welcome aboard photo before I finally boarded the ship. I just barely had enough time to find my cabin and grab a quick bite at the lido deck café before the lifeboat drill. Something remarkable did happen, though: my luggage actually made it to my cabin before I did.
Do everything you can to get to the pier before 1:00 p.m. I also question the value of Carnival's transfer service from the hotel to the pier. It might be more efficient to take a shuttle from the airport to the hotel, and a taxi to the pier. After the cruise, I talked to my travel agent, who gave me a $25 gift certificate towards a future cruise. As far as I am concerned, this satisfactorily closes this matter.
THE SHIP: B-
The ship is simply huge! The lounges were all attractive, and I especially liked the tiered seating on the lido deck. My cabin was at the very back of the ship, and it was a long walk to anywhere from there. It also took some time for me to get used to the fact that I had to go down to the promenade. Many people got lost trying to find the Paris restaurant, which cannot be accessed from decks three or four from the front part of the ship. The deck plans they hand out on the gangway do not illustrate this. There were a few bad seats in the show lounge, but I never had a problem finding a good seat. The ship was very well decorated, with the cities of the world theme throughout. The exercise room had plenty of equipment. I did not have a problem getting a spot on one of the treadmills. The equipment itself looked to be in very good shape considering how much use it gets. I did have a problem finding a quiet place to relax, but I found a couple good candidates. The cigar lounge would qualify, but I have a hard time with the cigar smoke. I also noticed carpet stains in all the stateroom hallways along the outside edges of the hall. Someone said they were glue stains, but they looked like water stains to me. I did see someone shampooing the carpet, and it did seem to make a difference.
Always try to get to a spot above or below where you want to go on the ship before you use the elevators or stairs. Most of the activities are on decks 5 (Promenade Deck) or 9 (Lido Deck), which extend the length of the ship
MY CABIN: B
I was in cabin 7409, which had a verandah. The room was spacious, except for around the beds and near the closets. There was a children's cot under my bed so I couldn't use the space for storage. I also had a hard time finding the life vests, but the cabin steward helped me locate them. The TV channel selections were very limited, and the six-channel radio only got three channels (at best) and two were repeats of the same thing. It was either jazz, light rock, or nothing. This wasn't a problem as far as I was concerned, though. The sitting area was adequate, but the TV is set closer to the beds, and watching TV from the sofa can be slightly awkward. The bathroom was spacious enough with excellent counter space by the sink. However, the medicine cabinet was a hinged door, and difficult to close. A sliding door would have been much better. The shower stall was fairly small, but adequate for one person. They had a handy retractable clothesline in the shower, but when you were drying your swimwear, you cannot take a shower. The balcony only had enough room for a deck chair, standard chair, and a table. It was just big enough for two to enjoy a dinner on the balcony. The beds were comfortable enough, although the pillows were thin. I noticed that they attached the mattress to the box spring with Velcro. The closet and drawer space were adequate for a one-week cruise for two. There was just enough space in the safe for my wallet, keys, and cruise package.
If you are a couple sharing a bed, or traveling with a small child (under 12), you will have plenty of space. Otherwise, be sure to pack only what you need. While you won't feel cramped, there isn't much extra room to spare. Be careful going in and out from the cabin and the bathroom since the hallway is narrow and if the person sharing the room won't have much room to get out of the way.
Some items were great; other items should have been fed to the fish. I loved the lobster, and the soups were very good. The pastrami on rye from the deli in the lido deck restaurant was excellent. The pizza was very good, too. I ordered a shrimp salad sandwich from room service as a snack, and it was promptly delivered. It was tasty, too. However, the beef Wellington was horrible. The selection of salads was also limited, too. Our group arranged for open seating, so I was able to sit virtually anywhere in the Paris restaurant. The room was quite spacious and I never felt cramped. I did notice that the outside tables were quite chilly, though. The lido deck restaurant was good, with the deli being my personal favorite. Service was good, although some tables were receiving their entrees while others were cleaning up their deserts.
If you don't like something, try something else. There was a lot more good food than bad.
They had all the typical cruise activities. Nothing too outlandish, but I've seen or done them all already. There never was a dull moment, though. I did notice one thing unusual, they did not do the Macarena once. The photographers were everywhere, and very efficient. They had you pose, take a picture, and left before you knew what happened. The casino was its usual self, although most of the blackjack tables had $10 minimums. I noticed some guests staking out their favorite slot machines before the casino opened after we left Sint Maarten. The disco was typical, although I did like how they set up the dance floor. They had a good variety of music at night around the ship for whatever your tastes leaned towards. The piano bar was particularly fun.
On the last night of the cruise, which happened to be Halloween, they had a passenger costume contest in the main show lounge. I dressed as MIB. Carnival vetoed some costumes as too risqué. Most people enjoyed it, though. Unfortunately, since this was packing night, we all had to high tail it back to our cabins to change out of our costumes and stuff them into our suitcases before final luggage pick-up
You can do or not do whatever you want. If you get bored, it's your fault! The only hard part is if you just want to go quietly sit and relax somewhere.
John Heald is the funniest cruise director I've ever seen. Carnival will loose a major asset when he retires. John integrated elements of the first show throughout the rest of the cruise. The shows were typical Carnival style with the cast doing their rapid-fire costume changes throughout. The costumes the dancers wear are a little on the skimpy side, but they aren't any more revealing than what people wear for sunbathing.
I've heard a rumor that John may be coming out of retirement for another contract on the Carnival Triumph. If that is true, do what you can to see him in action.
My cabin was always well cleaned and was done very efficiently. My cabin steward was very helpful when I could not locate the second life jacket. The bar waiters were friendly and efficient. I had a nice conversation with the waitress at the patisserie about how the crew handles rough seas. The lido deck restaurant staff were their usual over-efficient selves. If you leave your table for an instant, they will clean it up before you have time to reclaim your seat. The pool waiters were everywhere. You couldn't go for five minutes without hearing, "drinks?" They were less efficient in returning with your orders, though.
There is little you can do to really improve your service. The only advice I can give is to go to a bar directly if you are using a soda card.
PORTS OF CALL:
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: C+
The ship arrived around 4:30 p.m., which was too late to really do anything in town. There was a duty-free shop at the pier, where I bought a friend a bottle of rum, though. The shops at the pier were being renovated, and it looked like they were just really getting started. Since it was fairly late, most of our group wound up at Señor Frogs. The bar is only about three blocks from where the ship docks, and they had plenty of people near the pier handing out cards showing you where. The bar itself was a good place to hang out and party. I had been to the one in Puerto Villarta on a previous cruise, and the prices here were significantly higher. However, you really should only drink one yard-long piña collada anyway.
SAINT THOMAS, US VIRGIN ISLANDS: B+
I will never tire of looking at that harbor. Heaven must look like that! I took a taxi into town where I did some shopping. I found a shop that sells stuff that changes color when exposed to sunlight. I bought some souvenirs there for my family. After my shopping trip, I went on a sail and snorkel adventure to a nearby island. I saw some sea turtles and stingrays outside of an aquarium for the first time in my life. I got some excellent underwater photos. My younger relatives thought I took great pictures of Mr. Ray and Crush (see "Finding Nemo"). On the way back, they served free rum punch and sodas.
PHILLIPSBURG, SINT MAARTEN: B+
While not as scenic as Saint Thomas, it certainly was worth the effort in seeing. I did a pre-arranged island tour and beach bash at the famous Orient Beach. After driving around Phillipsburg, we drove to an overlook where you could see the French side of the island. We then went into Marigot for shopping. After some souvenir hunting, I was thirsty, so I raided a snack bar for a Coke. Then, we went to Orient Beach where we had lunch and relaxed on the beach. The little café only had one waitress who was overwhelmed by everyone arriving all at once, but I did have a good lunch of bar-be-cue chicken. I then hung out on the beach and played in the surf for a while before heading back to the ship. The water was a little sandier than I was expecting, but I still enjoyed it.
This island is a very good spot to go find a beach to hang out on. There was better shopping on the French side. Stores had prices marked in Euros, US Dollars, EC Dollars, and Florin. The island is unremarkable other than the fact that it is half-French and half-Dutch, so don't feel compelled to take an island tour.
Carnival began a program where if you were willing to take all your bags off the ship yourself, you were a United States citizen, and you did not need to pay customs duty, you could leave the ship early. They called people off the ship by decks between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. People who were waiting for early debarkation were sent into the Rome lounge to watch TV and wait for debarkation. I was in no hurry to get off the ship, so I passed on the early debarkation. They wanted everyone out of their cabins by 8:30 and I took advantage of this time to have a nice sit-down breakfast in the dining room. I was part of the first group called of the ship so I made my way to the baggage claim area. It was a surprisingly long walk, but they had moving sidewalks along the way. Going through customs took longer than I have ever experienced: the customs inspector actually read my form before sending me on my way. I found my bus to Fort Lauderdale International Airport, tipped my porter, and then boarded the bus.
If you have an early flight, the early debarkation is helpful. Otherwise, just relax and enjoy your last few minutes on board. Unless you are with a large group, or are in a hurry, consider the cruise line shuttles to the airport. I did not have an extraordinarily long wait, but having patience really helped. Also, do not pack books on top of each other in your checked luggage. I am pretty sure that is what got the attention of the TSA.
We had rough seas on the first and last day of the cruise. We had Buford force six winds (around 30 mph) and eight to twelve foot seas. We could definitely feel the wave action on board. I used ginger to combat motion sickness, and it was effective. A lot of people use sea-bands, and it seemed to work for them, too. As we pulled into San Juan, we just missed a thunderstorm. Other than the above issues, we had no weather problems. The ship ran at full speed on the last day to get into Miami early due to a medical emergency on board. Daylight Savings Time ended on the first night of the cruise, but the ship did not adjust the clocks until Thursday night because the ship was going to be in an area that operated on Atlantic Standard Time, which is one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
While there were some areas where there could have been improvement, I had a wonderful vacation experience. I would love to do this again, although I would look for a different itinerary for that ship.