Carnival Reviews - Cruise Ship reviews by Cruisemates Readers
Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival Victory
by Paul Somodevilla
Western Caribbean
July 7, 2002

Okay, FINALLY. Barring any unexpected power outages, I now present the long awaited (okay, not really, but allow me to dream...) review of Caribbean Green & Ms. Green's 7-7 western Caribbean cruise on the beautiful Carnival Victory! I DO tend to ramble, but on this board it's better too much than too little, so here goes... (drum roll, pomp & circumstance, blah blah blah)

..setting the proverbial stage, we're both from Dallas and in our mid-twenties. While the Victory was my 16th cruise overall (I was raised at sea, I think), it was Ms. Green's first, so it was exciting to see how two completely different perspectives meandered through 7 days in paradise and ended up in the same place.

GETTING THERE/EMBARKATION/OTHER "HAVE-TOs":
We bought all our air/transfers through Carnival, mostly for peace of mind and what have you. Our flight arrived in MIA from DFW around noon, right on time; what happened next, however, was the beginning of a long and painful embarkation process. We made our way to the baggage claim and immediately spotted NCL representatives running about like they were going out of style. Beyond them, RCI/Celebrity had a check in desk as well as a uniformed representative. No CCL rep in sight, but no big deal, we had luggage to wait for anyway. Our carousel was one of the first few in the long row of carousels, and after only about 5 minutes, all four of our bags were in our possession. At this point, after each of us has taken turns walking a few carousels in either direction looking for any evidence that Carnival is, in fact, an actual cruise line that does exist, we were a touch concerned. Finally, a bit on the frustrated side, Ms. Green approached a NCL rep who was nice enough to tell us that the Carnival reps weren't meeting people, you had to go to them about 300 yards down at the opposite end of the baggage claim. This is fine-I don't mind the walk, and I understand that while NCL and RCI only had one ship each to deal with, CCL had two (Victory & Paradise), meaning more flights; but it DOES get to me a tad that there was no way of knowing where the rep would be, especially when 15 times prior this has never been an issue. When we finally hauled our luggage through the crowds, we discovered a mob scene reminiscent of a Russian bread line on baking day. Throngs of people believing that lines were mere "suggestions" swarmed around the area, blocking the doors out to the bus area and creating much confusion. At this point, we heard our FIRST (of many) thick New York accent declare "never again, Carnival!" and had to laugh. Crowds can suck, they surely could have handled this better, but hey, it's embarkation. It's a hassle, it happens, it's worth it tenfold in the end. We were taken outside with our luggage to the second bus lane, where we waited about a half hour in the sweltering Miami humidity. Finally, the bus pulls up and it's off to the Port of Miami-possibly the greatest place on earth at that moment. As we hit the port, a bus traffic jam occurs and sticks us just yards away from the ships... once I actually lay eyes on the ship I'll be calling home for the next week, boy, I'm cruising. Stuck on the bus for 15 minutes, it was all I could do to stay in my seat. One of those light Miami sunshowers was going on outside, but it felt good and really cooled us all down a touch. We were one of the first groups off the bus, and quickly found a porter we tipped well and scurried off to the pier. Here is where things changed drastically from my past experiences cruising: The line snaked OUTSIDE the buildings themselves and into the parking lot and the blistering heat. I thought that surely this was just the line for some new post 9-11 security checkpoint, and assured Ms. Green that this was the case. After a few minutes, however, I realized how wrong I was. Our line circled around once, and I suddenly had a view into a large warehouse type building (where they were loading the luggage) and realized there was a massive line snaking through this dreadfully hot space. This was NOT the air conditioned Port of Miami building I'd checked into so many times before, but a poorly ventilated warehouse like one you'd see in a gangster movie. To make matters worse, the line snaked back and forth in several coils, and there were no ropes or rails to signify where you curled, which line was which, what was what. In retrospect, the line probably appeared longer than it actually was because of the poor organization. Once we got up a small staircase in the warehouse and to the mouth of the air conditioned port building, a Carnival rep was telling jokes and splitting the line into TWO lines. He did this, however, after the two of us went up the steps, starting another line along side us. The problem with this was that once we all went through the NEXT doorway (the security checkpoint now in sight), the line merged back into one, meaning that no fewer than 50-75 people were given a free pass past us in line. A minor irritant, but after 2 hours at this point in sweltering heat, it DID steam us a bit. This line wound around for about 45 minutes before we came to two security checkpoints. Once we were through here, we were home free. The line to actually check in came next, but that literally took five minutes, no lie. If you have your stuff together, forms filled out, and identification in hand, you'll have no problems. At this point, giddiness overcame us. Since they no longer use the interior of the port for much of anything with all the lines outside, we went through long corridors, up escalators and through concourses to get to the next stop. At this point though, the lines were over and the Victory was just outside the window and we were THERE. We picked up our S&S sign card by last name, then proceeded up an escalator and to a machine that took our pictures while we inserted our cards. Then, it was the welcome aboard picture and on the gangway! The whole final process-check ins, cards, pictures, etc.-took a maximum of 15 minutes, while the rest of it all took 2 ½ hours plus. We were on board at 3:45pm, and the Victory didn't even sail until past 5 because of the embarkation delays. But, as I've said before and will say again, it was all well worth it....

THE SHIP, GETTING THERE, STAFF, ETC. (this whole review is one big "etc.", isn't it?):
And so we were onboard. Suddenly, life had meaning. Trees were greener, skies were bluer, and Vanilla Ice was singing the hits again! (well, ixnay on the last one, but I digress)... The Victory is a stunning, stunning ship. It was my first time on a Destiny class ship, and this atrium blew me away. The decor is so intricate, there's not a single aspect of the ship where it's not reflected. I found myself taking pictures of barstools, tabletops, and moulding for Pete's sake! Even the elevators have the theme working; the blues and greens, the snaking tentacle-like tubing with tivoli lights embedded running around the ceilings-a real sight to behold. You can say what you want about the theme, concept, or whatever else, but no one could say Carnival spared any expense. She's beautiful and fully decked out for the ball. Our room was 8289, Verandah (deck 8) amidships, an outside w/ balcony. When we arrived, we had a canapé tray and drink/photo coupons waiting for us, compliments of my folks... a great surprise to kick things off. One of my more memorable moments came after devouring our tray, checking out the robes, funvision, toiletries, capers, and other goodies, and then running out to explore. We went up to Lido Deck, walked through the Mediterranean Restaurant (little did we know how much time we'd spend there) and to Siren's Pool in the back. Ms. Green turned to me, beaming (we're drinking the "Fun Ship Special" by this point), and said "If I had known how cool this was, I'd have been a lot MORE excited!! Now I know why you were going so crazy!" This alone would have made my week, and I knew then she was "one of us." Ahhh, now I can relax. :) Anyway, we checked out Promenade Deck and explored up til sailaway, and that means this is a good a place as any to give brief run downs of select areas on the ship and my impressions of them over the course of the week. So there.

CARIBBEAN LOUNGE (main showroom):
More than lives up to its reputation as the coldest room on the seven seas (or anywhere else north of Antarctica, for that matter). I'm the kind of guy who likes to sleep with the thermostat at about 65 (Ms. Green does not appreciate this) so I was generally okay, but it was a sweatshirt most nights for her, and for many others as well. That being said, we spent more time in this room that just about any other non-eating area onboard, seeing as we attended just about every show, trivia contest, bingo game, etc.-It's a nice room, nothing just mindblowing, but very in with the theme of the ship. The big gold palm trees that flank the stage and line the walls are very cool, especially when the twinkling white lights embedded in them are on. Above the stage is a giant reflective blue surface that looks almost like blue mirrors and winds back through the center of the room's ceiling and edges below the balcony terraces. The big squid-tentacles chandelier is impressive, and surrounded by faux-stone blocks engraved with octopus, dolphin, and other sea-themed characters. Seating is as advertised-get there early for the big production shows if you want a good seat. Seats on the lower level are good only if very close or in the middle benches. Side seats are obstructed by the balcony overhang. As for the balcony, we only had to sit up there once, for a magic show one evening, but I will say this: It gets cramped and hot up there when the theater is packed. As cool as the lower level is, the balcony has individual seating that is packed a lot tighter and by the end of the show, we were sweating something fierce. Bar service is dependable yet unobtrusive in this lounge, and we were never without a full drink, yet at the same time didn't feel hassled once.
LOBBY BAR:
A big people-watching hotspot. Since it's located at the hub of the ship, this area would always be packed early evenings when traffic was heavy and passengers would check out each other's dinner duds, particularly on formal night. Again, service was always prompt and with a smile at this bar. Considering it's in the atrium (Oceanic Hall), the view is ALWAYS great, and the classical trio (Amadeo Trio) that played there just behind the bar always added greatly to the ambience. When the bar was open, it seemed busy from the second we boarded the ship until last call Saturday night. Busy but offbeat is a good way to put it, since the area was crowded but somehow never felt cramped or frenetic.

AEGEAN BAR (sports bar):
We got a drink at the Aegean right after we boarded (I think every bar on the ship was open upon embarkation), and little did we know that it would be our last. It's an attractive spot, and done in different colors (gold, black, white) than the rest of the ship. While this seems odd, it does work in the context of its location, since the Aegean is off the casino/atrium and not really along Neptune's Way promenade, thusly it feels a bit "out of the flow." I think it was because of this that the bar never seemed very active, and was kind "forgotten" except by a select few. There are never any "events" at the bar, and it's probably the only place that holds that distinction on board. All we saw about it was "Aegean Bar, open 12pm - 12:30am," and that was it. If you DO visit the Aegean, you'll notice the televisions are large with good reception, and that there are video slots/poker machines embedded in the bar in front of each stool, which we thought was very cool.

SOUTH CHINA SEA CLUB (casino):
The big blue foo dogs weren't the eyesore they're made out to be by a lot of people, they actually fit the theme pretty well. The SCSC was your basic Carnival casino, done up in a far East Orient motif. When we boarded the ship, we found a $20 bill under our lifejackets (!!), so we took this as a sign we should hit the casino. 20 minutes and 20 dollars later, that idea went by the wayside. We didn't spend much time here, as it wasn't very good to us, but several others did. It wasn't the packed madhouse many Carnival casinos become, but it still stayed lively until late. The slot tournaments drew a big crowd.
CORAL SEA CAFE:
The CSC is really nice to look at, with the glass table-to-ceiling cylinders filled with various coral and shell arrangements the highlight, along with several gorgeous half-circle lamps that are very colorful and each one unique. Here, you can get various coffees and pastries for a nominal fee. We did try the cafe, but only a few of the selections; she tried the famous Carnival Chocolate strawberry (HUGE berry half dipped in white chocolate and half dipped in dark) and said it was incredible. I had a huge chocolate chip cookie that was one of the best I'd ever had. The cakes, though very good, were about the same quality as anything you'd find elsewhere onboard, and elsewhere it's free. The coffee/espresso/cappucino machine wasn't working when we tried it, so we got drinks at the Trident Bar next door and ate at a couch on Neptune's Way.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL (or the god of the sea, whichever)..... :
I've always loved the promenades on Carnival ships, they've always exemplified the "buzz" and the sounds and feel that make Carnival special for us devotees. For some reason, Neptune's Way seemed narrower than those on the Fantasy class ships I've sailed (Ecstasy, Sensation, Imagination), though I'm sure that's just because there were more people and more "stuff" on the Victory. The sea foam green sofas and chairs lining the starboard side of the promenade were VERY comfortable, and became one of Ms. Green's favorite spots. It was a great place to sit and watch the world go by but still feel part of the action, and a great place to enjoy food or drink on one of the shell tables held by a giant seahorse. :) The ceilings were that famous green square pattern so prevalent on the Victory, with darker and lighter shades at points, small spotlights scattered about, and a backlit feeling that gives you the feeling of being under the sea. Along the far side, one of those tubings I mentioned earlier with the tivoli lights snakes its way the length of the deck, adding to the effect. Trident's Bar is the midway point of the deck, located just past the casino. It's done in the same decor as the rest of the deck, creating the sense that it's just part of the walkway, not a separate entity you would single out going to. There was no color-changing sign, no scheduled activities (save at the casino, which would draw a crowd at Trident's), and all this made the bar seem more like a place you would just stop by and grab a drink at while strolling to the other end of the ship. Service here was always good, and the bar was open until 3 am nightly, attracting much of the casino crowd and those from Club Arctic heading forward. Right across from Trident's was a elevated stage area with a baby grand piano and large slanted fun house type mirror behind it where Dan the piano player would belt out mainstream hits like "Margaritaville," "Brown Eyed Girl." and "Two Pina Coladas" nightly through the early evening until 10 or so while passersby drank, talked, and gambled. A neat feature just a bit aft of Trident's bar was a giant interactive map showing the ships itinerary, location, and vital information with flashing red, yellow, and green dots. There was a scrolling ticker-type electronic banner above the map, featuring information such as ship's position, water temperature (even in each of the ship's pools! ), speed, etc. This map almost ALWAYS had a small crowd gathered before it, and part of this crowd was always interested in the kiosk set up next to the map, a touchscreen monitor that allowed each guest information about and directions to any public area on the Victory, information on each port of call, and even info on other ships and itineraries within the fleet! This was a great interactive feature that helped a lot of novice cruisers who might have otherwise felt overwhelmed. Neptune's Way was always bustling and full of energy, but was still a marvel to look at and enjoy curling up and watching the sea go by at the same time. It CAN get a bit crowded on formal nights, when photographers are set up all the way along the deck to take pictures with their backdrops.

There WILL, however, be a photographer set up just forward of the casino in the atrium area (where the promenade basically forms a British-style roundabout circling Oceanic Hall), and though she NEVER had a line, she has a GREAT backdrop already built in: the green tiffany-glass lower ceiling of Oceanic Hall, which when lit up at night makes the most beautiful photo backdrop you could ask for, and is distinctively Victory.

The VICTORY SHOPS are in this area as well, on both sides of the circle around Oceanic Hall. The starboard side is the shop with jewelry, watches, leather items, perfumes, etc. (there was always some sort of special going on), and the port side shop (forward of the Aegean Bar) was the logo shop, with your more basic souvenirs, rum cakes, liquors, clothing, logo merchandise, candy, etc. You could also get your essentials (batteries, Bonine if you needed it, AC Adapters, things like that) in this shop. Both shops had friendly staff and reasonable prices with some good deals to be found, especially towards the end of the cruise.

CLUB ARCTIC, moving aft:
Jumping back aft, Club Arctic was the ship's dance club and seemed to be the headquarters of Camp Carnival during the day. First of all, I have to say that for a full ship with 3,000 passengers, the kids on this ship were never very noticeable, so Camp Carnival must have done an outstanding job. Back to Club Arctic, the icicle/seal skin theme is very cool (no TERRIBLE pun intended), and the fiberoptics that light up under the ice-like barstools are a real treat. The walls of TV monitors move with shapes and colors forming giant patterns that go with the music and are very hypnotic to watch. The dance floor and large wrap-around bar were very popular places on several nights of the cruise, but even more enjoyable for myself was the stadium seating type bar areas that surround the dance floor and provides some great views of your fellow cruisers on the dance floor. Also, there's a large window on the wall beyond the dance floor which opens out onto the landing of the staircase between decks 4 and 5, which creates a very unique storefront type situation where you can stop on the landing (in Odyssey Hall and by the Pacific Dining Room) and watch the people dancing inside. All in all, we didn't spend a whole lot of time in Club Arctic, but there was always something going on and you couldn't help but feel a lot of energy in this room on into the wee hours.

the ODYSSEY HALL area:
This was the most noticeable difference, to me anyway, between the promenades on the Fantasy-class ships and on the Victory. As you go aft past Club Arctic, you come to the Caspian Sea bar located portside, kind of forming a semi-circle with two rows of bars and stools. The theme here is the Russian empire, as evidenced by the portraits of the Czar and his wife on the back wall. We never really tried this place out, though Ms. Green expressed a small bit of interest here and there. At the Caspian you can get wines and caviar, etc., for a fee; the bar was never really crowded, and only a couple of times did I notice more than a few people here. Still, it's great to look at, and really adds a sort of elegant "anchor" to Neptune's Way. Now, to Odyssey Hall-the hall consists of three lounges and a little mini aft atrium, with the famous giant fish suspended in the middle. The fish is impressive, and is larger than I expected. It's a great photo op, with so many vibrant colors and such a unique look. The three lounges that surround this area are the Irish Sea Bar, Red & Black Seas, and Adriatic Lounge. I'd always read on here how raucous and packed the Irish Sea (piano bar) would get, but we never really saw that on this trip. Now I should say that it's quite possible we missed the wilder times seeing as we DID spend so much time at shows, etc., but usually the scene was all but dead by the time we'd stroll by around midnight. It also probably had something to do with the fact that there was a group onboard that had the room rented out a few times here and there, and I'm sure there were livelier times, we just missed them. The R&B Seas really surprised me, as I found it to be far more impressive than it appears in pictures I'd seen. This room actually illicited the first big "wow, awesome!" from Ms. Green on our initial walkthrough. I won't bother describing it-lots of red, lots of black, etc. etc.-but check it out, it's a funky little bar that's a lot of fun. Karaoke was always held here, and if you plan on coming, COME EARLY. Every time this took place, people were seated on the floor, spilling out into Odyssey Hall, etc. It's a fun, popular event, and even though I really enjoyed the R&B Seas, I think they could probably hold this event in Club Arctic or the Adriatic and people would be a bit more comfortable. Every evening when there wasn't karaoke going on, you could find live jazz or singalongs being played here. As for the aforementioned Adriatic Lounge, this was another room that pictures didn't do justice to. Honestly, this was probably the most beautiful space on the ship, in my humblest of opinions. It's tiered on multiple levels, and features gorgeous ivories and pale yellows that are far more attractive than they sound or appear to be on film. The art auctions are held here, as is the Captain's cocktail party and past guest party. There was a three piece band called Music Mix that played nightly, everything from American standards to love songs to disco. We also met for a shore excursion here one morning, and the beauty of the room made it much more bearable to be up at 6:45. The Adriatic is probably the best spot for romantic dancing as well. A great room, take the time to check it out, organized activity or no.

BUFFET, LIDO DECK, etc.:
I'll start here with the Mediterranean Buffet (from here on out the Med-I type ENOUGH at work) on Lido Deck. Compared with the Holiday and Fantasy class ships I've been on, this was another source of WOW for me. The Med is very large and very comfortable; it's decorated elaborately and thoroughly. This was the first Lido restaurant I've ever been in that I felt could have been dropped down a few decks as a regular restaurant and not looked out of place one bit-just awesome. Buffet lines were seldom the huge problem I'd feared. The gala buffet, of course, drew a crowd, as did breakfast a few times during peak hours, but other than that it was always easy to get everything we wanted. The two lines made things a lot more manageable and the line move far more quickly as well. There is a separate station in the middle of the Med for desserts, danishes, pastries, etc., depending on the particular meal being served. We even ate here on two different evenings, which I never would have even considered on previous cruises. The food was good, the best buffet food I've had at sea bar none, and the options were more plentiful than anyone could ever ask for. The alternative buffet areas- East River Deli, Yangtze Wok, Mississippi BBQ, and Pizzeria Arno-were a huge treat for me, considering I'd never seen anything like them on other ships I've sailed on. I really hope Ms. Green doesn't think ALL ships are like this!  As for these dining options, the Deli and Wok are set up as little windows on either side of the Med, just inside from the pool area. The Deli has the best hours of the three (Pizzeria, of course, is 24 hrs.), the BBQ is open for lunches, and the Wok seemed to be open less than the other three and never had a crowd. I had heard so much about the spring rolls at Yangtze Wok, but they never had them available the times that we tried. The food we DID have, however, was good (I enjoyed a Cantonese Pork dish especially). Mississippi BBQ is located opposite the pizzeria, outside of the Med in the Siren's Pool area aft, starboard side. Line could really get long here (relative to the other dining options), so we only ended up trying it a few times. It's been my experience that shipboard burgers, hot dogs, etc., are AWFUL. They pretty much always have been on my past cruises-but these were GREAT. The hot dogs were huge-very much like something you'd get at the ballpark. I wished they'd had a bar with onions, jalapenos, etc., but they were great just covered in mustard. Steak sandwiches could be served on a sliced French roll or sesame seed bun, and were good either way, as was the plain chicken breast they'll serve on any bun you wish. The hamburgers were great, and covered in melting cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato-or of course made exactly to your order. French fries came with every dish and were always hot and delicious. Going inside from Mississippi BBQ, you'll find the East River Deli-let me just say that my motto for the cruise could have been "He who says Man can not survive on Rueben Sandwiches alone hath never sailed the Carnival Victory." The Deli's Ruebens visited my stomach every day, and were some of the best I've ever had. They're put together and grilled on both sides, then they're ready to go (grill marks make everything taste better, don't they?). I ate them there in the Med most of the time, but sometimes I would just carry them right downstairs to the cabin and eat them there-whatever suits your mood! There were always two chefs stationed at the deli, so the line always moved fast and I never had to wait more than 10 minutes or so. The menu at East River also offers corned beef, pastrami, turkey served hot or cold, smoked salmon, tuna salad, etc., on many different kinds of bread and rolls. Everything I tried there was excellent, and it stayed open until 11 most nights, unlike the BBQ and Wok which were never open past 6. As for Pizzeria Arno, located opposite the Mississippi BBQ on the Port side outside Siren's Pool, I have mixed reviews. No problems at all with the pizza itself: it was great, the best I've had at sea in fact. The first night onboard, we stopped in around 2am or so and were treated to the DeChevre (goat cheese, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes) and Margherita pizzas. These were both delicious, and I was more than excited about the week's worth of late night pizza eating I had ahead of me. The problem was that in the six or seven times we attempted to get pizza the rest of the cruise, there was never anything offered but cheese, pepperoni, or vegetable-and usually only one of those was available at a given time. There's a large menu and display case set up right in front of the counter at Arno with all kinds of exciting exotic pizzas that are absolutely delicious, but for the majority of the time, that menu is just a series of suggestions that shouldn't be taken seriously. The basic pizzas were good, of course, but I wished they'd had more. The general buffets in the Med were always tasty-it was your traditional set up, salads, fruits, cheeses, then four or five entrée selections-but the kicker was the final station, with one chef on either side pan cooking something right in front of you. Made to order omelets in the morning, usually a pasta or seafood dish in the evenings. Not to mention the giant bread basket (sun dried tomato baguettes were out of this WORLD) and loads of President butter. I know it's been covered ad nauseum on these boards, but that President butter has earned it's reputation; three more days onboard would have given me a heart attack I used so much. It might be the number one food product I miss from the Victory-Oh, how I wish I could score some of that stuff here in Texas. The Gala buffet was very impressive to look at, but wasn't so good as far as the little "eating" part went. All the others, however, were the best Lido food I'd had onboard ship bar none.

About the Siren's Pool area, that's something else that was very unique and impressive. The décor of the Med carries out into the pool and surrounding areas, which is something I've never seen before and was very impressive. Even the deck area around the pool (which has a retractable roof) wasn't the usual teakwood style decking, but a red Spanish tile with small hand-painted tile diamonds at each point where four tiles met. This was very impressive, because the use of the tile alone gave the area a different feel, and the fact that each of the hundreds of small tile diamonds had a different little pattern painted on it just added to the very unique poolside atmosphere. Also, the deck chairs had big, thick cushions with a color and pattern unique to that particular area.. not to mention , the tables on the back side of the pool overlooked the stern and the wake of the ship, one of my favorite spots. An odd fact: The bar at Siren's Pool is open until 4am nightly, the consistently latest nightspot onboard. It's located port side, across from Pizzeria Arno.

In both the Siren's Pool area and Triton's (main) pool area, there were large glass & steel sculptures around various edges of the water, which were very impressive and added a lot to the overall atmosphere. Two bars flank the pool on either side and point inward to the outside buffet lines of the Med. There are plenty of tables and chairs for outdoor eating, and though there are plenty of deck chairs, the chair saving was in FULL effect on this cruise. There are signs, warnings in the Capers, all sorts of noticed about this problem, but people just don't care. My favorite irritant was seeing three chairs, one with one shoe in it, one with the other show in it, and one with a cap in it. Delicious. Regardless, unless you just HAVE to be immediately poolside, you'll be able to find loungers all up and down decks 9, 10, 11, and 12. The topless deck by the funnel is ALWAYS more than half empty (and sorry guys, no one was topless) as is the area by the little used King of the Sea (waterslide) pool, though that is usually a hotspot for children. Also up near this area is the Nautica Spa, gym, jogging track, and juice bar, which looked very nice though we never tried it. A giant kids' play area is outside the bar area, complete with slides, playhouses, etc.

The poolside areas (mainly Triton's Pool) featured the usual reggae band playing most afternoons, as well as traditional Carnival poolside daytime entertainment, such as Survivor, hairy chest contests, ice carving demos, some trivia games, etc. There's enough entertainment poolside to have a good time and give you something to look forward to, but it's never so intrusive that you can't lay out in peace.

ENTERTAINMENT (and whatnot. I LOVE some good whatnot):

Line of the week: "In addition, this afternoon's scheduled meeting of the Apathy Club has been cancelled due to lack of interest. Thanks, and have a great day!" - cruise director Steve Cassel, over the PA during his afternoon announcements.

This was my third time to sail with CD Steve Cassel, and I still think he does a bang up job. I've sailed with John Heald twice, and yes, John is the man (as Steve himself once mentioned on the Victory), but Steve is one of Carnival's top 3 or 4 CDs bar none. He's goofy (to put it lightly), knowledgeable, approachable, and the self-professed "master of the bad joke." His talks were helpful for the first time and veteran cruisers alike, his juggling act is borderline amazing (Steve outperformed many of the "serious" performers), and the "If I were not upon the sea" bit he did with the crew after the talent show was hilarious. In fact, it gave me a great photo of Steve in a leotard, tutu, and blonde wig. A.J. is still there as the lead social host, and though several people said he wasn't very good as CD the past few weeks (filling in between John & Steve), we thought he was hilarious and likeable. In my humble opinion, I think A.J. is ready to move up the ranks of Carnival CDs whenever he's given his own ship. With only one notable exception (Newlywed/Not so, which Steve did), A.J. emceed just about all the events-both poolside and in lounges-that involved audience participation, and did a great job. Jo, a British ex-dancer, generally ran trivia and bingo, both of which we participated in regularly. The production shows, Livin' In America (Monday night) and Vroom! (Friday night) have been covered here several times, but we loved both of them. The crowd got much more involved in Livin' In America, and that performance seemed to draw more raves, but a lot of that probably had to do with the timing of the performance. Both shows involve elaborate set and costume changes, and lots of impressive technical work. The singers, Wayne and Yolanda, were both very talented and charismatic. There were three "R" rated midnight comedians-on my past CCL cruises, this show was always held in the "alternate" show lounge (in this case it would have been the Adriatic), but on the Victory they were in the Caribbean. This was a good move, as the shows always had overflow standing room crowds in the past. Jim Brick held the first show, David Sayh the second, and Percy Crews II the third. Both Brick and Crews were hilarious, had me doubled over in laughter, and generated a ship-wide buzz after their shows. Sayh wasn't very funny, though he had the most impressive credentials. Sayh's performance was even mocked by the crowd at Crews' show the next night. I think it spoke volumes that both Brick and Crews did a main general audience show as well, whereas Sayh only had the one performance. Manuel Zuniga (isn't this man on every Carnival ship every week?) performed his juggling/comedy act, which was a big hit, and the passenger talent show, though only three acts long, featured two singers that could have performed as professionals and STILL earned their standing ovations. The only show we didn't really enjoy was Rand Woodbury's magic show-Ms. Green thought Woodbury was drunk, I just thought he was a pompous ass who took 90 minutes to do three tricks, but either way, his "what I do can save the world" bunk was wasted on us. Now in all fairness, the show was technically impressive, and a lot of people seemed to enjoy it, but I think a lot of our discomfort had to do with the fact that this was the show we arrived to 5 minutes before curtain and had to sit up in the scorchingly hot third level for. Still, entertainment was great all week and we took in most of it. The knobby knees contest, newlywed game, Austin Powers dance class, comedians, jugglers, magicians, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, bingo, horse racing, several types of trivia, art auctions, singers, bands in every lounge, galley tours, ice carving demos, limbo, dance contests, karaoke, ask the crew, informative talks, in-cabin movies and radio, golf driving net, putting contests, ping pong, full gym & spa, you name it-if you are bored on the Victory, it's your own fault. And remember-sometimes, it's quite all right to just do NOTHING. We enjoyed long, leisurely meals, wandering the ship, taking naps, and sitting out on our balconies as much as anything else. Remember: you're on vacation!

DINING ROOM/ROOM SERVICE:

We asked for late seating, and after hoping passionately that we'd get the 8:00 and not the 8:30, I was more than pleasantly surprised to see that we'd received the 8:00 seating in the Pacific Dining Room. We were seated on the second level, port side. I can see what some people say about it seeming like "the action" is on the lower level, but it never really bothered us. The area we sat in was a series of booths for four lined up against the glass half-wall looking down onto the lower level. Next to us on the other side was a strip of five or six tables for two, with more booths for four on the other side. Although we were eager to meet our tablemates, not only did they not show the first night, they NEVER showed. Not one meal. Our waiter, Atilla from Hungary (imagine that), said that he'd checked in the computer, and there was a couple scheduled to be there, yet they never showed-very odd. The large picture window overlooking the back of the ship is a nice feature unique to the Pacific Room, but you CAN see the horizon move up and down if you look at it from a distance, so this probably plays a part in why you can feel what little motion there is in the Pacific more than in other areas. Food was excellent, and you can tell the improvements Carnival has made in this department over the years. Ms. Green labeled her Long Island Duckling as one of the best meals she'd ever had, and I did the same with my almond encrusted Pacific salmon with creamed spinach and potatoes. Incredible. The West Indian pumpkin soup is every bit as good as advertised, as was the decadence of chocolate, a must for ANY Carnival cruiser. We both agreed that soups were a strong point, as every one we tried was delicious. If I could suggest one thing to Carnival, it might be to have soups available up on the Lido deck as well, as we couldn't get enough of them. Desserts were great, as was every seafood dish I tried, and I had plenty. Ms. Green loved the food as well, and there wasn't anything we could really complain about. The bread is brought around at the beginning of your meal, and there is always a wide variety to choose from, from rye to plain rolls to baguettes to sun dried tomato rolls and so on, and all with that President butter just waiting seductively, taunting you from its cold silver tin... but I digress.. We often times ordered two starters or two soups or two entrees, whatever, and they were always more than happy to accommodate us with a smile. Bar service was prompt and friendly from the nearby Ionian Room (don't freak out when you see charges on your bill to the Ionian Room, that's where the dining room drinks come from), and couples around us enjoyed various wines all week. There are daily wine selections from the chefs and maitre'd listed in the Capers daily if you're so inclined. But don't feel intimidated if that's not your thing-just as many folks were enjoying an ice cold Coca-Cola with dinner as well! Formal nights saw all kinds-from Sunday attire to full blown tuxedos and formal gowns. I wore my tuxedo the first night, and though I was nervous at first that I'd stand out, I saw more men in tuxedos on the Victory than I had on any ship prior. Again, fear not, a whole rainbow of fashion is represented and anything is welcome.

One evening, Atilla and other waiters from the section came bounding out with smiles and cakes in hand, and we learned that every single couple at the tables for two next to us was on their honeymoon! As thr are presenting all the cakes, Atilla comes up to us and says "I understand you're celebrating a honeymoon this week?" We sat there smiling dumbly until we said, in a tentative unison, "Uh, no, we're not, I don't know.." He then shook his head and determined that our phantom tablemates who never showed were on THEIR honeymoon! Draw from that the conclusions that you wish, but either way we got a Happy Honeymoon cake and were part of the big group singing to 8 or 9 honeymooning couples! We got a huge laugh and a lot of pictures out of that one!

The second formal night is distinctly less formal, as black tie gives way to a more fun, creative kind of formal. The waiters don't do the big baked-alaska-or-cherries-jubilee on their heads parade anymore, but there is still the singing & dancing-just a touch toned down. Baked Alaska is the only dessert automatically brought to your table (cherries jubilee isn't), and even then if you feel like having something else, they'll gladly bring you that as well, as a full dessert menu is still available.

Room service was wonderful, and the menu is far more diverse than it was in the past-despite this newfound diversity, we stuck to our old favorites. Ms. Green couldn't go a day without her toasted bagel & cream cheese, and almost a week later I'm still tasting my roast beef & brie sandwiches along with some of the best potato salad I've ever tasted. Service was always quick, with a smile, and as long as you remember to tip just two bucks each time, you'll be well taken care of and Enjoy a midnight snack, pre-nap bite, or meal out on your balcony as the moon & stars roll by.

As for service in the cabin area, though I can't speak for everyone on board, I can say that our service was for the most part excellent and with a smile. Our steward was Marvin from Jamaica, and he was very friendly and efficient yet never too aggressive or neglectful at the same time. The only complaints I had were little ones, such as not having a do not disturb sign at the beginning of the cruise or not being given an envelope to tip the maitre'd, but we took care of all of that very quickly. Not to mention we had an "illegal" bottle of rum in our room and not only did Marvin not care, by the end of the cruise he'd ice it down for us in one of the two buckets of ice we had. The towel animals were once again a nightly player (and one of Ms. Green's favorite things) and the beds were pushed together and fitted under king size bedding just like that within the first couple hours on board. The Carnival terry cloth robes we were given were very light and very comfortable, and the complimentary basket of toiletries came in very handy as well. I found television onboard to be much better than on previous ships as well. Funvision was very effective and useful, with only a couple of differences from my last CCL cruise on the Imagination 6 years ago-You could no longer order room service from your television, but you can order first run movies, and a wide variety at that, for a nominal fee. Also, it's a great way to avoid lines, crowds, or tours filling up, as you can order tours off the in cabin television as soon as the Victory sets sail. It's easy, hassle-free, and gets all your "busy work" taken care of from the comfort of your boxer shorts. Of course, if you'd like more information before you book (info sheets on each tour will be waiting for you in your cabin to begin with), Steve gave very informative talks on each tour and each port of call in the Caribbean Lounge, and tours rarely sold out.

We slept very comfortably - I always sleep better on cruise ships than anywhere else-and were never disturbed by noises, etc. in the nighttime hours. Insulation between cabins was excellent, as I never once got the paper-thin sensation I've gotten on most other ships. The only negatives were napping could sometime be difficult in the afternoon, as we had a group right across the hall from us that was part of a large group on board celebrating a 15th birthday, and they spent a good amount on time IN THE HALLWAY playing music and talking very loudly. A dirty look here and there helped our cause, and it was no big deal. Announcements aren't as annoying as has been reported-there's a long one about 10am every day and another around 5:30pm, and other than that there are just a few here and there. Plus, they're never piped into your cabins unless they're mandatory (which is only lifeboat drill & debarkation stuff), so the noise is minimal. We only heard deck chairs being moved around above us once (we were directly below the Lido deck), and it was very brief and a non-factor. There was plenty of closet and storage space for the both of us, and although our coral-colored sofa was used mostly as a catch all for bags, papers, etc., I feel like we utilized our given space fairly well.

The Victory was remarkably smooth-almost TOO smooth. There were times when we were sailing and I'd have sworn we were on land if I didn't know better. Not only was there almost no motion, there wasn't even a hint of vibration for the most part. Only once or twice was there even SLIGHT swaying, and even then it was brief and hardly noticeable. Ms. Green, on her first cruise and understandably worried about seasickness going in, mentioned more than once that it just felt like we were in a huge hotel. Great job by the captain, crew, and of course the Victory herself.

Just down the hall from us was one of the laundrettes (there are several throughout the ship, check out leatherbound cabin services directory in your stateroom), and the only times it was really packed were in the afternoon hours before a formal night, mostly with women ironing, pressing, etc. In port it was almost always empty, and during sea days there was moderate activity. You can buy detergent from a machine, and there are several washers and dryers as well as an ironing board and good Panasonic iron.

Oh, and before I forget, the internet café-it's off the Ionian Room, starboard side opposite the Card Room, and there are a number of terminals that actually have a very good connection. We only used it a couple of times to check on things from back home, so we just went with the 75 cents a minute standard, but for those of you who plan on spending more time online (and there were several on this cruise), there are a number of affordable plans with which you can purchase minutes. The Ionian Room itself is a gorgeous room located just across from the entrance to the Pacific Dining Room and below Club Arctic. Yes, it IS odd that such a nice, subdued room is located below a loud party area like Club Arctic, but it's not as ridiculous at some reviews make it seem, since never are the two rooms open and going at the same time. By the time Club Arctic is up and pounding, the Ionian Room has long since wound down. The Ionian room is the one place on the Victory where cigar smoking is allowed and encouraged (grab those Cubans while you can!), and a classical and jazz trio will play in the evenings here nightly. The full bar along the back of the room is gorgeous, and ties into the room well. One night, every musician on the Victory got together in the Ionian for a 3 hour "jam session," and what we heard of it was a real treat.

Okay, now on to the ports o' call!! I'll preface this by saying that I've never been one who's looked forward to every port with marked anticipation. I enjoy the ports, I've had some good times seeing the ports, and a week I spent in Grand Cayman is one of the best vacations I've been fortunate enough to have-but that being said, I've always seen ports as being a byproduct of being able to get on the ship for a week! My cruise on the Victory, as great as the ship is, did a lot to change that attitude.

COZUMEL:

We docked at what is actually the old pier, down a ways from San Miguel and slightly bigger (deeper) than the newer pier. We were docked next to HAL's Maasdam, and we could see the Holiday docked down at the new pier further down the island. We met on the pier at 10am for the Fiesta Party Boat tour, and had no problems whatsoever getting off the ship, we simply popped our S&S card into the machine and strolled off. The S&S card is all we ever needed getting on and off the ship. The Fiesta was right around the corner, and we quickly boarded and headed up to the third deck of the tri-deck boat. The 1st and 3rd deck had bars, and the second deck had a souvenir stand. We headed along the island's coast to Playa Sol (after picking up some passengers from the Holiday who had been tendered from their ship to the Victory), with a Mexican band playing some cruise standards (UB40, Macarena, etc.) and some local favorites. On the first level of the boat (with the band, stage, etc), the Fiesta crew was talking over the speaker system, getting the crowd involvment going, etc, and allowing the children onboard to go after a pinata. The whole way to Playa Sol, free rum punch and Pepsi was offered to the passengers, and despite the ominous clouds here and there, we all stayed in an upbeat mood, laughing and enjoying watching fellow passengers take failed Macarena lessons. Finally, we arrived at Playa Sol, where we were ushered off the boat and given a quick talk on all that was available for us there. The coolers of rum punch were brought off the boat and onto the beach at the end of the pier, and the punch continued to flow for our two hours at the beach. Playa Sol is a cool place, with tons of loungers, food & drink options, watersports, and a whole pavillion area where a fountain marks the entrance to a long strip of shops, and a freshwater swimming pool with swim up bar sits in front of a large covered buffet area. We walked down through the shops and Ms. Green found a lovely turquoise ring we bought from a shop with a Mexican man who was very helpful and accomodating and not the least bit pushy, as we had a hard time finding the ring she wanted in the perfect size-ladies, remember, if you've been in the sea for a while first as we had, your fingers are probably a bit swollen from the salt water. We learned this the hard way, as Ms. Green's ring is now a bit loose! As I said, we spent a good bit of time playing in the Caribbean, sipping rum punch and wandering around the grounds taking pictures and meeting some very friendly passengers from the Holiday. Finally, it was time to head back on to the Fiesta, and that's when the party cranked up. On the way back to the Victory, not only was there free rum punch, but free Dos Equis was brought into the mix! Conga lines formed, dancing picked up, everyone filled up the bottom deck, and a limbo contest was won by the most flexible woman I've ever seen. Needless to say, the whole ride back (a ride that went a lot slower than the way there) Ms. Green and I put away our fair share of Dos Equis and were feeling very good as we debarked the boat-a great time on the Fiesta! They DID take a photo of us wearing matching rainbow colored sombreros, which we purchased for 10 bucks and which I'm very fond of. As we debarked, we decided to check out the pier shops-To get to the island by foot, you have to walk through these shops, as the entire pier is basically an enclosed mall. There are some great deals on alcohol, tobacco, and souvenirs here, and if there's anything I can suggest about the ports, it's that you should do as much of your shopping as possible in Cozumel, as the best deals by far are found here. We bought a large bottle of rum and 6 Cuban cigars for 15 bucks total and headed out of the mall to the little area of jewelry shops and bars on the island. There was a Senor Frog's and Fat Tuesday's to out immediate left, and after we stopped into Fat Tuesday's for another drink ( I had a Montejo, a Mexican beer that was new to me but one that I really enjoyed), we headed to one of the recommended CCL jewelry stores, where Ms. Green got the pair of five dollar Tanzanite earrings for being a Victory passenger. The other Tanzanite stuff was.uhhh. just a bit out of our price range. As we headed back to the ship, we stopped at a bar (sense a theme here?) on the other side of the pier called the Crazy Pelican. This bar was very cool, as it had a mini-pier of its own where Ms. Green laid out (laying out at a bar!!) and I sat by her side taking pictures (including one that's my all-time favorite) and drinking Negra Modelos while she sipped Coronas. This isn't even mentioning the bartender who gave us impromptu shots of Cuervo when we walked in-but that's another story. Finally, we'd had enough and headed back to the Victory. We ran the rum through the x-ray machine, made NO effort to sneak it on, yet they let it right on through, and suddenly we had a bottle of run in our cabin for the duration of the week!! Then, after stopping at the Med for a little 4pm snack, we took what was supposed to be a little nap, and ended up sleeping until close to 10. That's what a day on the party boat and at the "Crazy Pelican" will do to you, I suppose.. What a day.

GRAND CAYMAN:

I'd spent a week in Cayman before, and Ms. Green knew from my wistful ramblings how I felt about this island, so there was a lot to live up to here! We pulled in bright and early. well, actually dark and early.. And since we had to meet in the Adriatic for our tour at 7:15, I was already awake and able to watch us sail in and anchor along with the Voyager of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas, and Inspiration. We met at the crowded Adriatic and waited about 15 minutes before being led down to the tender area, and though it wasn't the most organized thing you've ever seen, we were still motoring over to Cayman within a half hour. The confusion came once we got to the island, as there were a number of tours there and no real way to tell where yours was meeting. After heading the wrong direction for a piece, we were directed back to our bus to Stingray City and boarded just in time. From here on out, our worries washed away. We had the famous "Singing Bus Driver" of the Cayman Islands, who sang at the top of his lungs the whole way there-no, it's not as annoying as it sounds, it's actually quite hilarious and entertaining. He was the nicest guy in the world, and after driving us through Georgetown and to the pier to meet the Sundancer he wished us well and sent us on the way. The crew on the Sundancer was very informative and were all Americans, which you'll only find in Cayman. The water is clearer here than anywhere else I've ever seen, and the trip of about 30 mins to Stingray City was great because of it. Once we got there, Ms. Green, who previously feared any and all things related to the ocean, saw the Rays and took off-she had the time of her life, and wore the hickey she got on her hand like a badge of honor. We bought the cup of squid to feed the rays (only a dollar) and it was well worth it-they also have a large digital underwater camera, and you can get your picture taken holding a large ray that they'll put on a floppy disk onboard the boat and sell to you for 10 dollars. We bought the picture, and we also got photos of a ray swimming underwater and a photo of the Sundancer itself. The stingrays wher an awesome experience, and though I'd done it twice before, I had never recalled it being so enjoyable. Ms. Green called it the coolest thing she'd ever done, and I think that alone made her week. On the way back, I had to get some change at the bar to tip the folks on the way out, and upon breaking my 10 I bought Ms. Green a small stuffed stingray and us both a couple of Stingray beers, a local Cayman brew that I fell in love with a few years back. We debarked the boat and waited for a few minutes before the singing bus driver returned to shuttle us back. On the way back to town, you have the option of getting off at Seven Mile Beach, where you can stay until the bus returned in a couple of hours. We wanted to do some shopping and walk around town, so we stayed on. We wandered around the shops a bit and strolled down to the Stingray beer logo shop, where we bought some shot glasses, t-shirts, and a six pack of the beer. On the way back, we stopped at the famous Tortuga Rum store and bought some of the famous rum cake. mmmmm. After that, and walking around Cayman exploring a bit more, we headed back to the tenders about an hour before sailing. We never had the slightest problem or wait getting on or off the tenders. A great tour and great day in Cayman.

OCHO RIOS:

Point blank the biggest surprise of my cruise. I first visited Ocho Rios more than 13 years ago on a cruise onboard the Holiday, and I'll never forget that experience. The CD warned passengers to walk with your hands in your pockets, avoid taxis, and not to make lengthy eye contact with certain locals. Outside of the safety of the organized tour, a visit to town was highly disturbing, with a large group of angry young men shouting obscenities from behind a chain link fence holding baseball bats, etc., and merchants that were pushy to the point of being frightening. Needless to say, having not been to Jamaica for 6 years, I wsn't expecting much; I just wanted Ms. Green to get a chance to do the falls, and hurry back to the Victory. When I woke up and walked out onto our balcony to find us docked in the beautiful, developed locale, I was stunned. It's not even the same place anymore, at least the part that we see isn't. We met up with the Cool Runnings catamaran at the pier at 10 o'clock-- again, no problems whatsoever getting on and off the ship. The catamaran was impressive-- it was sparkling clean and appeared to be brand new. We stood up near the front of the boat, and watching the cat slice through the waves was an impressive sight indeed. We made it to the falls, where we disembarked and met with our climbing team, who were some very charismatic jamacians who made the whole climb a lot more fun without being the least bit pushy about buying their wares. We did the climb (no falling!), got some great pictures, and headed back to the Cool Runnings, where there was free rum punch, free rum & coke, and one dollar Red Stripes. The ride back to the Victory was a blast, as it was very rough and wavy (they warned us the way back would be this way) but believe it or not, no one was queasy and it added to the whole scene tenfold-- It was a BLAST. They were playing authentic reggae music and teaching us Jamaican dances while everyone drank and enjoyed the sun. I got some great pictures of the dancers with the Victory in the background, and we were sad to get off the catamaran. A great tour, the most fun i've ever had in Ocho Rios. Afterwards, we decided to get daring and headed back to th ship to change, and then into Island Village, a shopping area just off the pier. Yes, we were offered marijuana a few times, but they all took no for an answer and before long we were in a gorgeous, clean shopping area full of souvenir shops, music stores, and at the end of it all, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. Margaritaville was a blast. The waterslide winding through the bar, people dancing on the bar, shakers of salt missing from the tables (!!), JB videos on all the TVs, and the BEST nachos we'd ever had (Volcano nachos)-- and we're from Texas. Nothing like some shopping, nachos, JB, and Red Stripes to top off our Ocho Rios experience. We made it back to the ship 5 minutes before 3, and regretted not using those 5 minutes on shore. Yet another incredible time, from a port that's really changed its stripes.