by Delia DaSilva
January 18, 2004
Just got back from the Victory. First time cruisers traveling with our two daughters (ages 2 and 5 ½), and eight other family members.
We left Calgary, Alberta, Canada, at 7 am and arrived in Miami around 5 pm (connection through Houston). Grabbed our luggage and went looking for the Dollar rental shuttle. We decided to have a full day in Miami to sightsee before embarking on our cruise so we rented a van. This way we also had transportation to the Carnival pier the day of the cruise.
Sunday, the day of the cruise, everyone got up early so we'd have time to make a trip to the pier with half of the group, come back, return the van, and take the Dollar shuttle to the pier with the other half of the group. By the time we got to the pier there were tons of people lugging their luggage. The people who got there early already had their luggage in big bins, we on the other hand had to leave it where our shuttle left us, out there by itself in the middle of all the dust (major construction at the Carnival pier).
I had filled out the Fun Pass for each member of the group so as we went in to register most of the group went to the Fun Pass line (which was as long as the other line, but does move faster because there's less paper work for you to fill out). My husband and I were told to go to another line because we had a stroller. People on wheelchairs or with strollers actually have a separate line. You then proceed into another big room where everyone is waiting to embark and you get your "Sail and Sign" cards. Then it was time to embark. You smile into a machine that takes a very flattering picture of you and in you go, through security machines and on to the gangway.
The first Carnival employee you encounter is a photographer, right on the gangway, to capture how you looked as you embark on your vacation (which is probably tired from chasing luggage and kids and filling out forms and getting in lines.).
The first thing we did was find our cabin, and even though it wasn't ready we put our carry on in the closet and went exploring. Up to the Lido deck to take a look at Miami and to find that our luggage was still in the same dusty spot (not a very comforting feeling). Then to the buffet for our first meal on the ship.
I will now summarize the rest of our experience in categories.
The ship: The Victory is a beautiful ship. We had never cruised before and were very impressed by the size of the ship. It has a "Seas" décor with everything related to the ocean. Our girls counted all the mermaids they could find. It's true that the carpet in the hallways is very stained, and I also noticed that the carpet in the buffet area is very dirty (you can't help but notice when your child is having a tantrum and sprawling herself all over the carpet).
The entertainment: Every night there is a show. Vegas style shows, comedians, a magician and even a talent show. Steve Cassel the cruise director was hilarious and did a great juggling act. There are quite a few bars, a disco, an arcade, a casino and plenty to do in the evening.
The food: Personally I thought the buffet food was boring. I always read about the midnight buffets and quite frankly they are not worth staying up for. Even the gala buffet was disappointing. Instead of the buffet, they should maybe have a fruit and small snacks table set up the whole evening.
Service: In the dinning room the service was excellent. On the Lido deck there are a lot of people working, not necessarily smiling all the time (they work 16 hour days), but you can ask for anything and you get it. Our room steward did not introduce herself and my husband didn't actually find out who she was until almost the end of the cruise. I thought the fact that most are not proficient in English lowers the quality of service you get. I don't think our room steward spoke English very well so she didn't approach us.
Maitre d': Saw him twice for a combined time of less than 30 seconds. Worth a tip? I don't think so.
Photos: They take a ton of pictures every day, and every day a ton of pictures ends up in the garbage. They are just too expensive. They make most of them in an 8 x 10 format, which costs $20. If you want it in a 5 x 7 it's only $6.99 but you need to buy the 8 x 10 first. I think they should make them in a 4 x 6 proof size and charge you for the actual size you want. We ended up spending $100US for 6 pictures. We would have bought more if they were more affordable.
Sail and Sign card: You can check your balance on the TV screen in your cabin. We did it everyday and found mistakes. I have a feeling that a lot of people don't check and assume everything on the bill is correct.
Ports: We stopped in Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios. We didn't book any excursions because we felt they would be a waste of money because we had two small children. Instead we enjoyed the beach and shopped at every port. We did notice that what we did do on our own was also offered by the ship as excursions, but it was well worth it to do it on our own. In Cozumel and Ocho Rios the ship docks so you can leave when you want. In the Grand Cayman the ship tenders. They told us to pick up a number at starting at 8am, so we went for breakfast and then picked a number by 8:30. We ended up being number 12 and having to wait 45 minutes for our turn. Piece of advice, pick up the number then go for breakfast.
Camp Carnival: What a great program!! They run activities from 7:30 am to 10:00 pm, with a break for lunch (12:00 - 2:00) and a break for dinner (5:00 - 7:00), this is when
Debarkation: We had to get up at 5:00 am (to line up by 6:00 am) to pick up our passports and go through customs. The customs officials only showed up at 7:00, so needless to say we waited a long time in line. Not only did we have to be there early, the whole family had to be there to pick them up. By the time we sat down for breakfast we had been up for 3 hours. After breakfast we got our carry-ons from our cabin and headed to the Caribbean Lounge and waited for our colored tags to be called. It took quite some time. A lot of people kept being called to the purser's desk and until all those have cleared we all have to wait. Once we were on the gangway on the way out it didn't take long to get our luggage and get to the shuttle to the airport. I must say that with our luggage they decided to play a trick on us, because only one piece of luggage was by our color. My husband had to run around all the other deck colors to find the other two.
Tipping: Carnival has a new tipping policy where $70 is automatically added to your account. Every sail & sign card gets $70 added. It works out to $10 a day. Some people in our group preferred the old envelope way of tipping, so the first or second day they went to the purser's desk and removed the $70 from their account. You can also do it on the last day if you want. We thought the amount was fair and we left it as it was but you can add or subtract from the amount depending on how you feel about the service you got. We also had to make sure that we had a stack of $1 bills, because as soon as you leave the ship you start tipping anyone who touches your luggage. Amazing how fast those bills go. We had Carnival transfers for the shuttle to the airport that specifically state that what you paid for them "includes fare and ALL gratuities", but when we arrived at the airport we were reminded by the bus driver "don't forget the driver" and he actually stood outside the door while everyone got out so we would tip him. I feel that he did his job, which is to drive the bus, which he is paid to do, so I didn't tip him, neither did most of the bus when they found out that the transfer already included the tip.
All in all it was a great vacation. One that I am looking forward to repeat in the near future.