November 10, 2002
Well, I must say I have another fabulous cruise under my belt! There are so many detailed reviews about the Victory that I will spare you another reenactment. What I will try and do is to share my Victory experience and compare it with other cruises lines (NCL, RCL and Celebrity). Hopefully, that will add a unique perspective to this Victory review. But first a little side note....
When I first became a committed cruiser, I made it a goal to sail all of the mainstream lines. The first few cruises I picked, I was overwhelmed by the choices. At first I thought there were no differences, cruises were all the same...wrong! However, I do believe that the differences between the cruise lines are not nearly as dramatic as some would make them out to be! I can remember reading about the differences between cruise lines and getting statements like, "there are nothing but teenage drunks on that line, or the food was awful the entire cruise". I began to wonder how people could make such sweeping generalizations based on one experience. Then there were people who advised to the other extreme. The die hard fanatics.."Oh Carnival is the best cruise line or RCL is the best cruise line" when you scrolled down to see their sailing history---you guessed it - they had only been on one cruise line. So, this strengthened my resolve..I must see them all for myself! Here goes. so flame me if you must ...I will give MY honest opinion anyway!
Embarkation We arrived at the port very early, say 10:30ish. We expected to wait as boarding usually begins in the early afternoon. We immediately got our documents processed, (sail and sign account, boarding passes etc) then we were sent to another line (upstairs) to pick up our sail and sign cards. Afterwards we were told to sit and wait until time to board. About an hour or so later, I asked a Carnival rep when we would be allowed to board. Within the next few minutes we began making our way to the embarkation photo. At that point we were stopped for another fifteen minutes, then photos began (around noon). The final stop was to have your security photo taken for the sail and sign cards. To start off, three of the four machines were not working. A few minutes later, the fourth one stopped. We stood and waited another 5-10 minutes, the machines began working, but stopped again shortly thereafter. About five minutes later we were finally onboard. This wasn't nearly the embarkation from hell that I was warned to expect, but it did have a few minor mishaps. My only criticisms why didn't they keep someone on hand who knew how to repair the machines? The reps sighed as though machine troubles happened often, yet they had no clue as to how to fix them. Secondly, why couldn't they have periodically made announcements to let us know why we were waiting. It would have been less frustrating if we weren't left to wonder what was going on.
Cruise line comparison
Cruise Director Everything I have heard about John Heald is true. He is the best cruise director I have encountered. Always funny, he made many of the mundane cruise activities an unforgettable riot. Yes. U Screw and Dick Wooden were on our sailing also!
1st place - Carnival
Ship I braced myself to be horrified. I knew the Victory was very green, but actually it worked. Whereas green is not the color I would have chosen, it was in no way tacky. Yes, I did see patched up holes, carpet stains, occasional trash and burnt out light bulbs. It in no way detracted from my cruise and I likely would not have even noticed had it not been discussed on these boards so often. I did find that the Victory was difficult to navigate at first. I think that having ship maps posted would have made that easier. After awhile, you do get the hang of it. Overall the ship was clean and in decent shape. When it comes to ships, RCL's Voyager class can't be beat. I do believe their ships are superior when it comes to onboard amenities. As far as ship board decor is concerned, I prefer the sometimes bold, always contemporary style of Celebrity ships.
Grade B+ 1st place -Celebrity/RCL 2nd place-Carnival 3rd Norwegian
Service- I had no complaints as far as service was concerned. Our room steward, Glendon got to be our buddy and I loved our waiter assistant Sandra from Croatia. However, I did find service to be slightly better on several other lines. There were a few extras that I did miss. For example, I enjoyed eating in the buffet/poolside restaurants and having staff carry your trays to the table. I also miss being brought drink refills even when I was not in the dining room. Overall, I think Celebrity did the "pamper thing" the best of the lines I have sailed.
1st place- Celebrity 2nd place- RCL 3rd- Carnival 4th Norwegian
Cabin- Our cabin (Cat. 6B) was located on the main deck, aft. It was nice, especially the size. Even cabin storage was adequate. We also had a very nice view. Definitely the most spacious cabin of the cruise lines I have sailed. It was the first time either of us had sailed aft. I was little worried about feeling the motion and excess cabin noise from the ship. That wasn't a problem. There was a little cabin noise leaving Jamaica but the rest of the cruise, we didn't hear a thing. Of course that included many of the announcements. We would hear the chimes and race to open the door to see what was being said. Major announcements can be heard within your cabin. I believe they have two intercom modes, one for major announcements, muster drill, evacuation etc. and then another for the minor ones (they are heard primarily in the hallways).
1st place- Carnival/RCL 2nd- Celebrity 3rd Norwegian
Food One thing, I did like about Victory dining, there were actually four dinner times. We were usually in and out within an hour. (we sat at a table for two) I think that this eliminated spending hours at meal time which is definitely a good thing. I think food ranged from so-so to very good. I must say poolside dining was excellent in both taste and variety. There were more choices, deli sandwiches, the grill, pizza, Chinese food and frankly Carnival did it better. Unlike other cruises, when I was hungry, there was always something open. I definitely give Carnival the nod in this category. I do think RCL's food was slightly better in the dining room. Neither, as far as dining room food is concerned can top Celebrity. Celebrity's grand buffets, desserts, food taste and presentation easily surpassed Carnival's, RCL's and definitely Norwegian's.
1st place- Celebrity 2nd place- RCL/Carnival 3rd Norwegian
Fitness Facilities Yes, I am one of those "weird ones". I do still exercise, even when I am on vacation. I used the fitness facilities at least three times on this cruise. The weight machines were adequate. There were both free weights and the hydraulic machines. I used ab balls, abdominal machines and of course..mats. In terms of cardiovascular exercise, there were stationary bikes, stair masters and treadmills. I do remember seeing bench aerobic classes, spin classes, abdominal and a few others. RCL's Adventure of the Seas had the best (on ship) fitness facility. They had more machines and the workout space seemed larger.
1st place- RCL 2nd place- Carnival 3rd- Celebrity 4th Norwegian
Entertainment This is a little tougher to call. I give the edge to Carnival when it comes to the scheduling and quantity of activities available. I was never bored, and I must admit that is pretty hard to do. Unlike other ships, the nightlife was great too. The entire ship did not go to sleep at 11. Most times, I left before many of the other cruisers (1- 2am). The shows were good too. I preferred Vroom to Living in America, though. I think Carnival's special effects, including costuming where more Vegas-like. However, RCL's Voyager class is phenomenal. It represents innovative, must-do's in cruising. The variety of activities onboard these vessels cannot be surpassed. The ice show, well, I've just never seen anything like it! Celebrity can't compare to either in this category. It still has plenty of activities, but some are yawn- stifling. It is definitely a cruise line for the person who prefers hours of relaxation instead of non-stop activities.
1st place- Carnival/RCL 3rd- Norwegian 4th Celebrity
Debarkation I've been lucky. Debarking has always been sad, but never a painful experience. Carnival did nothing to change that. I enjoyed being able to wait in the stateroom until 10 am. Even though we were the very last color to be called, debarking seemed to be orderly. We got off the ship about 11:00am.
Ports of Call I never take ship excursions. I find them to be double the price and half the freedom of doing them on your own. I usually spend a great deal of time researching the ports of call beforehand and prepare my own to-do list while docked.
Cozumel, Mexico This was my third trip to Cozumel. I really wanted to see the ruins of Tulum (pronounced Tul-loom) this time. The ship charged $77 per adult and $30- $35? per child. Trust me folks, you can do this much cheaper if you have the desire. We first took a cab ($6 per cab) from the dock to the Muncipal pier. We paid $19 pp round trip for the ferry ride to Playa del Carmen. The ferries departed at 5, 7, 8, 9,10am, noon, 2, 4, 5,6,8 and10pm. Remember that this is Cozumel time (one hour earlier than ship time). We docked at 7:00 am, actually got off around 8 (ship time) and were easily able to make the 9 am (10 ship time). There were Mayan Palace representatives across the street from the Municipal pier. They were actively recruiting tourists to visit their rental properties. We knew that this was a time share pitch. For 90 minutes they show their condos, feed you breakfast and try and sell their timeshares. At the end you emerge with $100 cash and a free cab ride to Tulum. (They will substitute Tulum for Xcaret and a few other Playa attractions). We had planned to take the bus to Tulum, however, we could not resist this! The ferry ride itself lasted about 40 minutes. The ferry was nice. Finally, a ferry boat that looked as thought it could safely transport you somewhere! I also noticed life vests and inflatable rafts onboard. (What can I say, I'm a safety gal ) Portions were inside (air conditioned) and others were outside. I thought the little rows of blue seats reminded me of being on an airplane. If you decide not to do the Timeshare presentation there are other ways to get to Tulum on your own. First, you can get a cab (right outside the ferry stand). The official posted prices are $300 pesos per cab ($30 US). We did find that there were cab drivers willing to take lower prices. The cab ride was roughly one-hour. The lowest rate offered was $200 pesos ($20 US). Then there was the bus. We saw several cruisers traveling this way. The price (one-way) was $30 pesos ($3 US). The buses ran every 15 minutes. Travel time was about 1 1/2 hours by bus (it makes several stops). I was advised to get pesos before entering Tulum. There was a currency exchange place located right were the bus/cab drops you off. Once you get to Tulum, you can take a tram (I think it was about $1 or $2 US) or you can walk about a mile to the entrance. We chose to walk. Admission was $35 pesos or $3.50U.S. I heard that if you did not have pesos the charge was $4.50 US. It is true Tulum is very hot. We brought refillable flexi-straw mugs of water with us and we were still dying. I do still think the experience was worth it though, if you have never been. We took a ton of pictures and stayed about an hour or so. We started to take the bus back, but the cab driver lured us back with a lower rate (200 pesos $20 US dollars). When we returned to the pier we browsed in the stores for a few minutes before taking the 3pm ferry. The return ferry times were 6, 8,9,10,11am,1,3,5,6,7,9 and 11pm. When we returned to Cozumel we took a cab back to the ship. Tulum was great, even better because we did it for about $35pp, less if you take the bus/share a cab. I think I would have been disappointed in Tulum for $77pp.
After dinner we returned to the island to go miniature golfing. The cab ride was maybe $6 but we split it with another couple. The golf course was very beautiful and definitely had the tropical feel. Afterwards we walked back to the ship. This wasn't intentional. We started off just wanting to take an evening walk. About a mile later we had exited the shopping area. by that time we figured we were almost back to the ship, so why rent a cab. My boyfriend and I are the athletic types so we challenged each other to walk the remainder of the way. Almost 4 miles later we returned to the ship. It was a looooong walk. Hey I couldn't give up and let him win could I? However, I don't think I'd make the walk again, especially with sandals on!
Grand Cayman We missed this port due to swells! We were disappointed but not angry. After all, they made that decision with our safety (their liability) in mind. :D I was impressed to see the other cruisers handling it well. I expected that there would be many people raging about the missed port, but I didn't see any evidence of that. They did refund ship excursion money and port charges $25 pp. The money was credited to your sail and sign card. I definitely don't think Carnival can in any way be blamed for this, but I did wonder why we didn't stop at another nearby port. Or perhaps we could have arrived in Jamaica a day earlier. Instead they lengthened our port day in Jamaica by only two hours . Definitely disappointing!
Ocho Rios I really enjoyed this port. I was kind of surprised too. I have heard so many "just stay on the ship" reports that I was reluctant. It was a pleasant surprise that this became one of my favorite ports ever. We signed up for the Peat Taylor tour ($20pp). I booked Peat online a few days before departure. He e-mailed me back within fifteen-twenty minutes. He met us right outside the dock. I was impressed because we arrived an hour earlier than planned due to missing the Caymans. We expected that he might not have gotten word about our early arrival. He had! He was there waiting and we departed early. He took us to the Dunn's river falls ($10pp) first. They do charge extra for shoe rental $5 and locker rental $8 (three dollars returned when you return the lock and key). We had to wait there for nearly an hour because it did not open until 8:30 am. It was great though because we were still the first to climb. I definitely believe you will have a better experience before the crowds arrive. The climb was AWESOME and lots of fun. I took a ton of pictures, some before, some during and some after the climb. I'm sure my best shots will be before the falls were swarming with bodies . It was hard to get an unobstructed shot then. We did have to pass through the market on the way out. There are some aggressive sales tactics used there. I am used to that sort of thing and kept going. I did not see any locals that did not take a firm NO for an answer.
Next, Peat took us through Fern Gully. That was beautiful. We stopped at a stand for T-shirts, crafts etc. I bought a nice T-shirt for $10. I was amazed by the ladies reaction who sold me the shirt. She looked elated! I realized that $10US to me was $500 JD to her. According to Peat, for a lot of locals that is good money! Anyway, I thanked the lady and we were off. Talk about receiving a reminder of how blessed I am..that was it! We saw fire-eating men and of course the Fern Man! I am not exaggerating. There was a man dressed up like a fern. He had attached leaves all over his body and tied himself in huge red bow. Hilarious! I had to take a picture, because no one would believe me if I didn't. (They do expect tips though) Then Peat gave us a choice of eating lunch at a local restaurant or returning to the ship. Our group elected to go back to the ship to eat. Peat gave us about an hour and a half and returned to pick us up for the second half of the tour. This part was great because Peat customizes it to what each person wants to do. He dropped some off at the market to shop and some went snorkeling. We went to Coyaba River Gardens and then on to Margaritaville. Coyaba River Gardens was absolutely beautiful. Well worth the $4-5 bucks we paid to get in. Peat picked everyone up who wished to be taken back to the ship. We had him drop us off in Margaritaville to shop and swim until time to reboard. It was definitely a port worth visiting. I would also like to return to Jamaica some day to see Montego Bay, Negril etc..
P.S. I was never approached to buy drugs, but my boyfriend was.
Additional comments Overall, my first Carnival experience was excellent. Personally, I liked the Funship atmosphere. Hey, where else do the waiters dance on the tables? The age range really suited me too. I would say the majority of cruisers were under 45. The nightlife was better and I liked the fact that lemonade/fruit punch was available around the clock. The attire was more relaxed and I haven't found a line with nicer, more outgoing cruisers than I met on the Victory. I would not hesitate to sail again on Carnival. For that matter, I wouldn't hesitate to return to Royal Caribbean either. Celebrity was awesome, but the lack of nightlife was a big minus for me. I would definitely sail Celebrity again, but only if I was in the mood for a more relaxing cruise. I WOULD hesitate to sail Norwegian. In my opinion there were just too many negatives. I would probably go again for a really good rate, but I think the other lines give you much more bang for your buck! So far, I really don't have a favorite line. I think each has a lot to offer today's cruiser.
Any questions??....fire away!