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

Carnival Victory
by Harrisburg David
Eastern Mediterranean
March 7, 2004

Crusing is one of the most magnificent experiences, and yet there's something unholy about it, at least on Carnival Victory. The magnificent includes the staterooms, food, and service, and the unholy includes the value, overworked foreign staff, and blatant marketing. I took my first cruise ever, as a single, on March 7, 2004 for the eastern carribean out of Miami and here's my review. This review will help you if you want to take this ship, Carnival, or want to know what it's like to travel single.

ROOM: My outside stateroom in the aft on a low deck was clean, large, with a separate sitting area and a very italian chic decor. I reported a few broken lights and sink and only the lights were fixed. The AC is adjustable by a lever on the ceiling vent and leaving it wide open made the room comfortably 70-72. There's a hair dryer built in, no outlet in the bathroom, and only 1 outlet outside. There is no alarm clock; bring your own. The room will be cleaned twice daily and you get towel animals and chocolates in the evening. I saw inside many inside cabins and they were significantly smaller than the outside rooms, with no sitting area, but many people loved them for their darkness and cheapness. I even met a honeymoon couple who loved theirs. There are no bathtubs except in suites. Bathrooms throughout the ship have a faint sewer smell, and I suggest this may be due to the fact that the ship makes its own water from seawater. It might also be a fault of the ventilation system. Keep in mind that the ship treats its own wastewater. Staterooms with balconies loose room to the balcony part and were quite smokey. Hint: in the front of the ship on decks 6&7, there are doors that lead to a public balcony spanning the width of the ship and going right up to the private balconies. This is the place to be when entering ports and refreshing at sea. There were signs saying this area was closed, but I went anyway and saw officers who did not throw me off. Others were there too. I think they want you to book a balcony...and not realize there's a free big one or two at the bow.

FOOD: I lost weight on this cruise, but that was due to high levels of activity, and small portions. The food in the dining rooms was very good, with a real gourmet flare only somewhat marred by second quality ingredients. There were 6 courses at dinner. They even had separate desert menus and replaced silverware with each course. I had lobster, chateaubriand, coquilles st jaques, escargot, chilled soups, creamy soups, broth, cherries jubilee, and baked alaska. Portions are small and I rarely felt stuffed at the end of a meal. Dinner was something to look forward to and took 1.5 hours. It was like catchup time where everyone shared what they had done that day. The dining room was glitzy and very bright, but tacky. Silverware was stained and worn, many light fixtures lacking bulbs. Giant mermaids with the stern faces of men stare at you from every wall. The dancing waiters is overrated. Quality of waiters varied and I happened to get two excellent ones, but some were much less so. Take the time to ask them personal questions and be friendly; it really made a difference. Avoid the buffet at all times except: try the Gala buffet on night 6 at 11ish, but beware, you must be early and patient as all 3000 people seemed to be there. See my comments under formal nights. (By the way, it would be so much more in the passenger's interest to have this gala on the last night, but Carnival wants you packing and turning in early this night so you don't delay disembarkation.) The deli is a small window with only one sandwich maker; lines were very long and slow. The chinese joint is less crowded, with very low fat and mediocre quality chinese. Dim Sum which means appetizers is simply a large circular dumpling. You get a choice at both of these "walk up windows" of about 5 selections. So, don't think it's like a real delicatessen or chinese carry out place. On the upside, everything from the window joints is very low fat.

FIRST AND LAST DAYS - Others are wrong when they say the first and last days are 1/7th of your cruise. Nonsense. Expect these to be days of transition and dedicated to transportation, not fun. On a 7 NIGHT cruise, one has a long first day of orientation, 6 days of glorious travel, and one day of crashing back to reality and leaving the ship ASAP. Think of day 8, Sunday, as time stolen from Carnival, and you will have the right perspective. They need to get the rooms clean, give the staff off, and make sure you get out. Many services are not in place on days 1 and 8 and crew even get to leave the ship. Note they also get to leave when you're in port, on a rotating basis, which is why the ship virtually shuts down in port. For example, in staterooms you get carnival robes, but they appear on day 2, as with towel animals. Day one is again, not a real, full "fun ship at sea" day. It's the staff's day off where they still have to work (and a Sunday if you're religious!). This is part of the unholy. I always assumed they would have one day off for transition, restocking, give the staff off. But no, work work work, maximize profits. All carnival owned lines, which is 80% of the industry, are this way. Fourteen hour days, putting on a cheery face, and constantly serving others, even paying for a lesser steward to clean their own rooms, is all part of the life of Carnival's hotel staff. God bless them because as you'll see below, they can be a highlight of the whole trip.

SERVICE: A hint to all new cruisers is to chat up the staff as much as possible; ask them questions about themselves. Formal etiquette dictates that these folks should be virtually invisible, but that's a poor tactic. The room steward, Ziang, was great and introduced himself while I was relaxing on day 1. Carnival's evil marketing comes in here again: you will be asked to sign a form indicating the steward introduced himself to you. I dismissed him the first night and told him to take it easy. He gave me a big handfull of chocolates in thanks. One way in which they spoil you is by coming to your room two times a day. To clean up in the am, and to turn down your bed, close the curtains, change the towels, at night. And of course, to leave you the famous towel animals--I got a snail, frog, heart, and swan. It's like the mother or loving spouse you never had! There is a steward and his assistant, and they were just charming, inquiring about your day when you met them with genuine regard. I had heard they look out for single travelers, and I certainly felt special. As I passed the stewards tidying the breakers' rooms, I saw the utter mess they left them--floors covered with shoes, papers, all manner of stuff--like messy dorm rooms. I also realized that there are beds under the beds and the sofa is a bed. Most breakers were 4 to a room, which made the fare around $300. Cheap! I wish I had known. That's the real necessity for the 2 cleanups a day. The fold out beds have to be made up. The ship automatically charges you $70 for tips, and this makes it easy. If your service is lacking, you may wait in line at the Information desk and they will adjust the amount (or so the policy goes). You may also change the amounts given to each person if it warrants it. But again, you have to wait in line at the pursers. If you are staying 4 to a room, I think it is fair and good karma to tip extra to the steward by maybe a dollar or so a day. More if you are piggish. I looked forward to seeing my waitstaff and they remembered my name and called to me outside the dining room when I met them. Galin and Diana are to be requested in the aft dining room, both Bulgarians and sterling souls.

At my table, there were 8 people total: two asian ladies who never joined in the conversation and who were I think lesbian lovers from French polynesia, two bahamian ladies (from the Bahamas) in the twilight of their lives, one eccentric gentleman who always wore suit jacket, bowtie, and shorts, who was in the evening of his life. He was a bit of a wine conoisseur and always made a big fuss over his selection. The young couple at my table mocked him so blatantly that he disappeared midweek to another table. His shorts always matched his jacket and he was intellectual, but he drew many stares. According to this gentleman, who I rather liked, the wine selection was sorely lacking. I never took wine with dinner, so I don't know. In the beginning I was so afraid of the spring breakers that I wanted to conserve money to take another cruise.

BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH! OR DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR? Which brings me to the bad parts of the trip. Spring breakers made their presence felt and there were at least 1500 of them on this sailing. They were the talk of the ship, with their obnoxious behavior and exhibitionism. They stagger spring breaks now so as to not overwhelm vacation desinations, I learned, so I advise against cruising in March in general. I had read how these kids can ruin a cruise, but with sheer willpower, you can still have a good time. The first day the lido deck was jam packed with sunbathers, and I could not find a seat. In the absence of the "dudes" and with at least one big companion, I would have thrown off the beachtowels "holding" seats and sat there. There was tons of this, but Carnival says it is forbidden. I don't think, however, that Raja and Jakarti the skinny security team would be much help if Jocko and his buds were pounding you for taking their primo seats. I recommend the lobby deck where there are nicer lounge chairs that actually overlook the water. It was hot on deck and the sun blazing, but with the breeze, you hardly noticed, and could hear the waves the bow made and feel a slight sea spray. Pools are small and saltwater and not recommended. The water slide is for all ages and recommended. The chairs on this deck have no view except of other folks. The upper deck is shaking with loud music most of its operational time and is rather strictly shut down around 5 pm. The first few nights I hit the gym around 4 pm and it was packed. This practice I quickly abandoned for jogging around the jogging deck. It's a separate small deck that goes all around the ship at the very top and I often said goodnight to the sun there. Again, not crowded and very inspiring. After a day outside, the sun and the seawater, you'll feel kinda dirty, so plan on showering and putting on fresh clothes for dinner. Most people didn't get in the pools, so only pack a couple of swimsuits. You can easily wash them in shampoo and hang in the bathroom. They'll be dry by the am. Or you can dry them in towels, as you get as many as you ask for.

SODA CARDS are for the aggressive: you can buy one for $32 and get as many sodas as you want, but for some reason the bartenders are quite put out by this. There is a gratuity included, but I got so much attitude and the tiniest juice glasses full of soda. Once I waited at a bar and saw everyone else get waited on who ordered alcohol, while I sat there, for at least 15 minutes. I kinda gave up and started hitting the iced tea station on lido deck. By the way, the iced tea comes out of the juice type dispenser, not from pitchers and is quite good and good for you. Towards the end of the cruise, I got revenge on the bartenders: I would go back every hour for another small soda and be quite vocal if I got overlooked. In one bar, I just sat there and drank the whole small glass, and kept asking for more until I was full. The bartender was miffed. Note: you can order sodas from any of the roaming bartenders. They have diet coke and diet sprite.

ALCOHOL It's easy to waste money on this as waiters are in evidence everywhere and drink prices vary wildy. Brandy is $5 while a singapore sling is 3.50 and champagne is $6.25. My advice: order the today's special for $2.95 and skip the plastic souvenir cup. It's small, but strong, tasty, something you won't get back home, and overall the cheapest drink. They have it at every bar all day for $2.95. I was erroneously charged $19.95 for wine. Save the receipts you get with every drink; I thought it would be unnecessary but saved myself $19.95. Note that you may purchase a bottle of wine or champagne at dinner and your waiter will keep it for you all week.

ART AUCTIONS--It was fun sitting in the fanciest lounge, sipping champagne, and learning about art, but I have to warn you that these are fake auctions. They have many copies of the same pieces of art; and the lithographs are just copies, not signed artwork. They auction them due to a legal technicality. Tip: you don't get champagne unless you sign up at the bar-Carnival brand marketing. The auctioneer is handsome and well dressed but speaks a sort of broken English with such a heavy accent that it was rather comical. Think "profit center." My honeymooner friends bought 6 pieces of art and thought the auctioneer's accent was sexy. I just don't think their $80 unisgned lithograph of Yellow Submarine was a good deal.

FRIENDLINESS--I went on this cruise to try and forget about the death of my mom, after taking care of her for 2 years through various surgeries and illnesses. I went alone, as a 32 year old gay male and at the last minute, with the hope that it would lift my spirits and it did. I met only one other gay person and he was a mincing latino who I had no interest in. But just by opening my mouth and asking the simplest questions like: how are you today? Is this seat taken? I talked with many great couples and they really enhanced the experience. I found it funny how people were so reluctant to start the conversation...but so happy to talk once you prompted them. My advice is to talk to everyone and keep in mind you don't need their names, or an introduction, and you'll probably never see them again. I even chatted up a few spring breakers.

SEASICKNESS--No one comes out and says this, so I will, you will feel the motion of the ship as it rocks back and forth and pitches forward and back. The curtains in your stateroom will move. Seasickness is apparently extreme vertigo that causes nausea and vomiting. I complained that the pills were not working, but they are only for nausea. Carnival doesn't offer the nondrowzy staple Bonine, but Med Eze or somesuch (marketing anyone?). The pills are free and steward, purser, and nurse have them. The more jockish and insensitive you are, the less you will notice. You will also feel the rumble of the engines in the lower decks on the aft end of the ship. People at the forward end complained of equipment noise. The ships do not use tow trucks but have bow and aft thrusters, tunnels through the ship with props in them. These make aft and fore locations less desirable in the bowels of the vessel. I was directly over one of the aft ones, because when we docked there was a loud noise, and I could see the ripples in the water coming from directly under my window. In the piano bar, one night a steward came to say that the noise was so loud it was bothering the people above, so Carnivalers being what they are, the crowd then increased the noise level. This is lowest common denominator style cruising. They sang songs like Barry Manilow and you literally sit at the piano.

ENGINE ROOM TOURS are not offered but you can purchase a video tour for $39.95 or watch a preview on the TV. Same for bridge tours. From what I saw, the engine room was crowded with machinery for optimum passenger space, and so probably would have made a lousy tour anyway. Officers are unfriendly and make themselves scarce, but given the overall quality of passengers, I hardly blame them. The cruise director, throughout his various talks, will give you examples of the "Top 10 dumbest questions" and various examples of low class americans. I believe this is considered part of the entertainment, although I found it in poor taste and got tired of being mocked by the cruise director and his buddy. The cruise director and his assistant make the funniest pair: the CD himself is tall, bald, and emaciated and his assistant is short, bushy haired, and aussie.

FORMAL NIGHTS were like going to the prom in tropical heat and humidity with your parents. They occur on night 2 and 6 and include the best food of the voyage. On night 6, the last hurrah, save room for the Gala Buffet, and get all liquored up, be there at 11 with a friend who likes to talk and get ready to hurry up and wait! The line was at least 100 people long, out the door onto the outside decks, and the food looks superb. Finger sandwiches, parfaits, tortes, desserts, ice sculptures. Sadly, I arrived at midnight to mass pandemonium and like many others, just went back to my room to sleep. People dressed up much more than I expected. There was about 50% tuxedos and the rest suits. Some wore only shirt and tie. Young women were dressed predictably, ala Paris Hilton, in clingy camisole style dresses and sandaly high heels. Some areas of the ship were too warm for suit jackets like the disco and the upper levels of the theater, but the main dining room was not too warm. Most people really enjoyed showing themselves off and looked good. On "nonformal" nights, just wear long pants. T shirts, jeans, sandals, all were okay although some dressed. On Carnival, it's prom on the formal nights and just long pants on other nights. Many girls wore tube tops and skirts. On the last night, many wore t shirts and shorts, although my waiter said that if the maitre d' had seen them, he would have asked them to change. He was rarely in evidence except for his two begging nights where he approached each table and made himself known. My honeymoon friends required his services, but were so turned off by the constant asking for tips, that they decided not to tip him at all. On several occasions, this guy begs or others do for him. Ironic that he was from Jamaica, which is known for its aggressive beggars.

DANCING-- I like to dance but had no opportunity because the breakers crowded this spot from day 1. It's a truly beautiful spot, with walls made entirely of chrome and TVs. Many lounges and a see through dance floor. There is also a glass wall to watch the goings on from the stairwell. The first night, the "singles" party is at 11:30 pm in there and it was so hot and packed with kids, that I couldn't stand it. From 9-11, it's for teens only, then, from 11-4 for college kids only during the month of March. I met an older latino couple who lamented they could not find anywhere to dance on ship and made fun of the breakers flip flops and tight outfits. I think there should have been more opportunies for dancing, both formal and disco, and more than one 30-minute class, which was held on the stage of the theater. Basically, there was no ballroom dancing to be had on Carnival Victory and they have no real venue for it except the one disco.

DECOR was among the best of what I have seen of Carnival, but still not that impressive. Sage green chairs were cool, but then bright brass railings and black granite floors clashed. The atrium is much smaller than it appears and no elevator has a view of the ocean. I never thought I'd tire of halogen lights, but they blare down on you everywhere, from lounge to dinner to elevator, and got quite annoying. I loved the carpet--turquoise with small waves in it, and the blue green theme was excellent. The artwork is rare and bad. The good pieces were for sale at the auction--no pricey originals here. I felt sorry for the last Czar and Czarina as they stared down on the champagne bar turned wine bar and the 7 teenagers sitting there guzzling beer and mocking the passing crowd. Public mensrooms were a joke. Light bulbs out everywhere, but overall a clean ship, and a pleasant decor, but gaudy in an italian kind of way. Hallways are small as I had heard and usually full of stewards, passengers, cleaning carts. Carpets were very stained. Beautiful etched glass doors that automatically recess into walls. Washing and drying a load of laundry costs $4 and I would heartily recommend doing so. They were usually empty and you really needed 2 sets of clothes each day. Short outfit for day, long pants and collared shirt for night, then something to sleep in. There's a clothesline in the bathrooms for your trunks.

ENTERTAINMENT was Carnival brand McFun. Overall, it was less entertaining than TV, reading, or just people watching. There was a lack of variety and not as many things to do as I had expected. Exercise classes mostly carried fees. Carnival has done market research and must think that the audience loves interaction because all performers are constantly addressing you in the style of "Are you ready to rumble? Let me hear you make some noise, people!" I've never been asked to clap for myself so many times before! "Give yourselves a nice hand." The cruise director is an excellent juggler, but I can't say much more for him. Beware of getting there early and getting those good seats! They are constantly picking people out of the audience, either for a joke at their expense, or to humiliate them on stage. For example, the "man show" involved two women rating 5 men as they acted like their favorite animal, crawling on stage. These ladies then had to rub the men down as they took their shirts off. The assistant cruise director Skippy from down under was so mocking that I sensed his real disgust. "I can't believe the things you people will do," he said often. Sad thing was that all the men on stage were middle aged, and none of the frat dudes who deserved this treatment got it. Also, the comedians picked on people who left their shows, "Hey man, why you leaving? Oh, you gotta pee, oh okay man, that's awight." And they also pointed out people who, they thought, were not enjoying their shows and poked fun at them. Low class, base kinda stuff. There's a latino comedian who does a special midnight show for adults only that gay bashes: he's against gay marriage and went on for about 10 minutes about how awful gays are and gay sex . I was offended, but he got heckled from some of the breakers for his lack of tolerance! Hooray, these kids are pretty enlightened. Throughout all the shows, the breakers coordinated heckling. A group would all shout out something on cue and it was funnier than the entertainers. A word about temperature here: if you're coldblooded, sit up in the balcony, it's quite warm up there. Only sit in the orchestra section if you like it cool--many ladies complained about the temperature--but men could sit here with a suit on without sweating. Ladies, guys may love to see skin, but a shaw or pashmina is in order with a reveling getup. It's only fair if guys have to wear wool suits. Also, it's classy to match: cocktail dresses go with suits, whereas long gowns go with tuxedos. You can rent a tux for $85. I was surprised that even some enormously large people were dressed in full formal wear. One lady who was obese had on the most beautiful pink satin floor length gown with a train! Her hair was up, and had been fancily done. And her even larger husband had on a tux and they looked fantastic! If you're going this far, buy her a corsage and him a buttoniere in the small formalwear shop. Again, it's like the prom if you want it to be and was fun. I wore a makeshift tux of leather suit jacket, black pants, white shirt and white silk tie (like they wore at the academy awards). But on Carnival, I'd have to say it's laissez faire, and one of my tablemates had on a plaid shirt and striped tie, both blue. Everyone showed up at my table to dinner on formal nights.

The bingo was awful: in the theater with about 1000 other people, 25 minutes of waiting for everyone to get a $20 card, then 5 minutes of an aussie dancer calling numbers. There were only 3 bingos total and the prize ranged from $750 to a free cruise. Teatime was nice, but the tearoom joins the disco with a transparent floor. Someone had left the strobe lights on in the floor, so all during this teatime, strobe lights danced above our heads in a quintessential carnival moment. During the second tea, I had to beg someone to wait on me, and the violin was off key for the Mozart piece. The trio was good, but not very good, and this was one of the few uncrowded things to do onboard. You should also know that the card room is now a gulf simulator, empty all the time because it requires a fee. On the magic shows, the first one was crummy, with him talking to the audience the whole time cracking dumb jokes, telling people they looked grumpy and the like. The second magic show was fantastic, although not first rate, and the finale a total flop. In carnial style, he spent half of his time in the audience, picking out people, children, asking for someone's ring, etc, cracking dumb jokes, asking us to clap for ourselves, etc. He builds up to this finale where all the dancers are standing on picnic tables, and two audience members are supervising. He drops a curtain, and then says, drop the first curtain. They tear this down, then drop a second curtain. Drumroll. He runs around stage, gets upset, and announces, it's not going to work, the curtains messed up, the curtain falls reveleaing the smiling dancers, and the magician runs offstage. Chuckles the cruise director rushes on stage and without even the least acknowledgement of what has happened, announces what else you can do: gamble, go to the disco, go to a bar, go back to your cabin, read a book, tip the Maitre d'hotel! Really absurd and a big letdown. When you're in port, there is no diversion whatsoever, the restaurants and lounges go on different, reduced schedules, so go ashore. The main shows were good, glitzy, contentless things. Dancers were generally very young and small. There were about 15 women and 4 guys. Some students around me mocked the male dancers for how gay they were. They did all seem pretty gay, with small hairless bodies, slightly muscled, and they were about the same size as the girls. A blond guy was slightly hunkier and bigger than the rest and did air splits pretty high in the air. The main singer was without sex appeal. The costumes were fantastic and extremely revealing for the women. The music in all venues was so loud that you could hear distortion in the speakers. This goes for music everywhere on the ship: nightclub volume LOUD. There is no culture in the shows; both are musical medleys of popular music thoughout the ages. And yes, they even come into the audience and want you to "participate." The library is on the photo level of the atrium and minuscule with a small and pathetic selection. It's an attractive and comfy room, but only open 2 hours when at sea, and staffed by an attitudinal ameican girl who will tell you the books are in no particular order. I think you can go in here just to sit anytime, but am not sure. The book selection is behind locked doors. The remainder of this floor is chock full of photos and videos for sale of you doing everything. Take your own camera; they have $1.00 next day developing! They have a camera vending machine, but they cost $17. Yuck, I give the entertainment a C-. I would recommend teatime, one art auction (only for champagne and to see the most beautiful public room), the main vegas shows, the second magician, and the black comedian. I wish they had had a movie theater. I attended almost everything, however, and kept myself very busy. Many teens smoked in the main theater even though it was forbidden, as well as many other such areas.

PORTS OF CALL were San Juan, PR, St. Martin, and St. Thomas. We arrived in the evening at San Juan so there was nothing but dinner or nightlife to do; a big ripoff as this is an excellent and large island. I watched the sun set from the lobby deck and admired the quaint spanish architecture. It was breezeless, about 85, and the same humidity here. In St. Martin, I took an island tour and was most impressed for my $35. An air conditioned cushy bus, a happy guide, a thorough tour. Don't listen to his info re Charlotte Amalie. This is the name of the Danish Queen at the time of the city's founding. Amalie does not mean "city" as my guide said. He seemed to be a McFun type, who made us clap for ourselves, etc. Shopping on the French side was fun, but the good beaches are on the Dutch side. Most people parked themselves at Divi Little bay and the talk of the town was the nude bathers from the french side. This island is hot, poor, heavily tourist-dependent, and known for its friendliness. But it is also everything you've seen and read about. Turquoise water, dark black inhabitants with smiles and waves, white sand, swaying palm trees, towering hills, lush vegetation, beautiful vistas. Beware that the sun is much stronger here than in the US and many people complained of burns despite precautions. Take a big hat and at least 15 SPF sweatproof sunscreen. Lines on and off the ship were not the longest of the cruise, but were still hurry up and wait. I suggest buying a bottle of the Guavaberry liqeur, $15. It is great with spite and a shot of vodka. It has a unique spicy flavor. We docked at all ports and used no tenders; although just to get off the dock you had to walk some 6 foot ball field lengths (our ship was 3 lengths and you exit aft, and then there was the carnival spirit which was equally as long). There is a very convenient shopping area here with places to eat. I suggest getting off if only to hang out here. There's calipso music and a view of the beach. St. Thomas was richer than St. Martin, prettier and larger, but they drove on the wrong side of the road, so I'd be reluctant to rent a car here. Beware: tour buses here are al fresco. No big coaches. We're talking pick up trucks with open air carriages on them. However, I did not notice the heat much as many cool breezes floated down the mountains we climbed up. Asthmatics should not take these open air tours. The old klunkers on the island and many trucks and tour buses including my own made the fumes very strong at times, especially when stuck in traffic downtown. This, combined with the heat and humidity, could knock an asthmatic out. The island is very mountainous, and the soil volcanic. Megan's bay is famous and deservedly so. But I would recommend the excursion to Trunk bay on the neighboring island of St. John. It's called the "5 star" and you cruise there on a yacht, but only get to stay half a day. Go to bed early the night before you arrive in St. Thomas as the best excursions happen in the first half of the day, and you have to wait in long lines at 6:45 am to clear customs. This is a big hassle; make it easy on yourself by taking your photo ID and birth certificate out of any holders or wallets. Hint: the line gets shorter closer to 8:15, but if you aren't there by 8:30, it's a big problem. St. Barts also seemed good, with many wealthy retreats. I was struck with how little beach space there was on these islands and the shabbiness and smallness of even the nicest houses. I couldn't imagine spending thousands on a joint where you have to drive down a steep hill to get to a beach littered with cruisers. On some days, the guide told me, as many as 8 ships arrive in port here and I can't imagine the crowds. When we went, it was not crowded anywhere. Such a blissful change from the ship! The tours know you'll want to shop and take you to many places that have either enclosed malls or open air bazaars. I did all my shopping in the malls after learning the black ladies in the bazaars were hard to bargain with. You're expected to haggle. They have a lot of african looking clothes and trinkets as well as island gear. I took back a shot glass $2, a polo shirt $15, a t shirt $8, and a fan $1.25. Plus t shirts for family and friends. All good prices I thought. I also got a calendar with great pictures and recipes for $7. So not as expensive as I thought. I advise skipping the coladas mid-trip as the combination of sun, heat, and booze seemed to wipe people out and many complained of how tired they were. I got a peach soda for $2 out of a machine here, and was content. I was advised not to drink the water or ice. Be advised that you are not allowed to take any food ashore! Someone had written that you can take sandwiches to save money, but you cannot. They will seize them due to quarantine regulations. You can't introduce foreign flora and fauna and foods can do this, so think again. Also, beware that you may not find a place to eat onboard after your tour, as the hours of operation vary by day and there is absolutely no 24-hour buffet. Posted hours for each day with strict enforcement. At 2:29, they have one hand on the steam trays, ready to wisk them away at 2:30. One can always order room service, but order a lot, the croissants are about 3 inches long, yogurt is about 1/3 cup, sandwiches half size. The fajitas are actually one fajita, cut up and artfully arranged, and cold. Nevertheless, it's one small fajita, and a rather pretentious fire-roasted tomato salsa. Don't be afraid to order 4 iced teas, equal about 16 ounces. Service took between 15 minutes on port days to 1 hour at night. Try the beef and brie sandwich on baguette. I also took several small bottles of hand sanitizer and always had one on hand. I forgot sometimes, but made an effort to use this before eating sandwiches and stuff. Neither I nor anyone else I met got sick on the cruise. I was concerned about the norovirus and other outbreaks. Don't worry, just make sure you wash your hands before you eat. Or take the sanitizer. It was so humid, I didn't really need hand cream either. Don't expect starry nights or spectacular sunsets because clear days always turned into overcast nights. It was still nice to be on the uppermost decks as you left port, and watch the lights go on, the ship maneuver, and the island slip away. Magical and largely ignored by passengers.

And I've saved the worst for last:

EMBARKATION - A nightmare of heat, Spanish, long lines, annoying college brats, delays, problems. It took 2 hours to get on the ship. The Miami airport is very crowded and busy, with small public areas for soooo many folks. The Carnival Greeters were not friendly and had no signs other than their binders. Other lines had signs. Getting to Miami, flights were overbooked and very cramped. In Miami, once you got your luggage, you had to drag it a long ways to the carnival shuttle then wait on the bus for it to fill. I did not see any taxis nearby. The port is a good distance away. Then begins the main fun, finding your luggage, and waiting in line. A note about tipping: I had been told to tip the guys who load your luggage from the bus to the bins, and did. The bus driver asks for a tip and engages in carnival behavior: asking you to hoot and holler and clap for yourself and how excited you are. But if you read the transfer coupon, it says that it includes a 15% gratuity for the driver! So I didn't tip him, just the other guy. Also, beware that multiple ships launch simultaneously, so not everyone on your bus is going on your ship. Once you get your luggage into the right bin, you go to a large hot warehouse and stand in line. You go through security first, and show your ID. Then you go through a line for the funpass, which was as long as the one without. Then you get to a counter, and get a piece of paper. I had asked for an upgrade, even offered to pay, and she says "What? With all these spring breakers? This ship is totally full." Then you get into line and go upstairs and wait in another line for your room key. Here it goes quick and you get hurried along and get your "card key" which is really your "sign and sail" card. It's your onboard ID/Credit card. Then you wait in another long line down a long hall to get your photo taken . This photo is just for your purchase of $15, so I suggest skipping this part! There's a fake background of a ship or somesuch and a foreign photographer telling you to smile. Then you go downstairs and the lines split. You fight teenagers for the best place in the shortest line. They take your card, put it in a machine, take your photo for the card, and then you're on the ship, with absolutely no direction. Luckily I was warned and took my brochure. The hallways are very, very long, 3 foot ball fields on cabin decks. If you have trouble walking, as my mom and stepmom did/do, I think they make special provisions for early embarkation. It took 5 minutes to go from bow to stern.

DISEMBARKATION involves you being up at 6:30 and getting out of your cabin. I was totally unprepared and greatly distressed. Unless you have little luggage or an early flight, I suggest checking your luggage the night before at midnight. You are slowly geared down on day 6, after all the proms are over, and talks turn to "mandatory disembarkation." I had to stay over in a hotel the night after due to flight availability, and this created much trouble for me. I planned and was advised to hang on the ship until about 10:30 and take my own luggage. Well, there was an error on my bill, and I got breakfast first. By the time I got through the purser's line, I got back to my stateroom and the steward was there, upset that I had not vacated the room yet. I had to hurriedly pack up my last few things, drag my bags to the lobby and then they tell me that self disembarkation is over. This happens from 7:30 to 8:30. I arrived at 8:35. There is a general feeling of "I don no nothing" and officiality to the lobby which is packed with wheelchair folks. My big bag got caught on one of the ladies chairs. I realized I had not emptied the safe! So dragging heavy luggage back, etc. Nightmare! So then I waited till an officer told me to get out of the main lounge at 10:30. While I was there I watched a biography of Gloria Estefan, who I never had much of an opinion on, and was surprised to see her proud cubana history. As for the Miami airport, let me just say, book the air yourself and do not stay a day afterward. They are not set up for this and it involves dragging your luggage miles and waiting outside for 2 hours and just all kinds of trouble. No cabbies knew where my hotel was. Carnival gave me no telephone number or address for the hotel and ti was a Sunday! (by the way, there are NO religious services onboard and not even a chaplain I think in an emergency). I couldn't find my pen. The hotel shuttle was unmarked! And the guy doesn't stop, he drives through looking for someone to flag him down! It was outrageous and I have to say that Miami is a tropical latino sewer; it was like being in Mexico City. Everyone I dealt with was hispanic and attitudinal. I will never return there unless I absolutely have to. I don't care what people say about embarkation at other ports, they cannot be more of a hassle than Miami is! Somehow, it seemed hotter than all the tropical ports we were in and more foreign. And I can speak Spanish!

SINGLE CRUISING - Well, I met no other singles, but have heard others say Carnival has many. They need to improve their singles parties, and not hold them in the disco at 11pm on the day of departure. There are some singles groups that are coordinated and I would recommend them. Other lines, I hear, have more than one single gathering and at better times and dates. March is a big time to avoid as well as the summer. Kids were not a problem, but I think in appropriate numbers and with irresponsible parents, they could be. For example, I stood behind a woman, clad in a bikini, barefoot, dripping wet, to get chinese food. I had noticed the lido restaurant floor was slippery and wondered why. So then I saw her. The worst part was when her kids came in dripping too, and I thought she should lose her parenting license. Many seniors ate in the dining room and I could just imagine one of them breaking a hip on the slippery wet marble floors because of "bikini mom" and her ignorant brood. Also, I advise going to the dining room for all meals and avoiding the buffet. You're basically forced to make conversation at the table, and I met many charming people this way. Even spring breakers. There are also some travel agencies out there that coordinate singles groups on mainstream cruises. That would be cool, but you can have a good time even if you don't find a best buddy to pal around with. Consider yourself an independent traveler, as the upscale lines call it, and that will give you the right attitude.

GAY CRUISING - If I couldn't pass for straight, I think I might have had a hard time and possibly a fight on this spring break ship. But I passed well and had straight guys calling out to me when they saw me around ship. Don't expect to meet any other gays though; I think most of us are pretty turned off by the low class of Carnival. Go on another line. The servants were very gay friendly (waiter and such) but the officers seemed very unfriendly and there were no FOD meetings. I was in the sports bar one time and heard the word faggot mentioned repeatedly, although it might not have been towards me. I think the one guy was criticizing the other as in "that's so gay, you faggot," like we used to say in highschool. The security staff, who I had to get involved with when my neighbors got locked out, were all Indian and very surly. It was funny to see them closely following the muscle dudes, because these Indians were rather puny and I can't imagine how they would keep order if the dudes wanted otherwise.

DECK SHOES - If you're sensitive to the motion of ships and don't have a great sense of balance, or have trouble walking, I suggest ditching the sandals for nonslip deck shoes like Sperry Topsiders as the marble floors were usually wet and slippery and often the crush of the crowd made you feel pressured if you slowed down. Consider this: if you fall down and hurt yourself on this ship, it's out of pocket expensive and unless your heathplan covers you while in Panama, could be a big problem. Breaking a bone would involve being airlifted to a hospital island like Guadaloupe, Puerto Rico, or Curacao.

SUMMARY - Airflights and embarkation/disembarkation were nightmares: try to board early and try a port near to your house; avoid Miami as the city is a swampy mexican hassle. The ship is a marvel, perhaps the best among the fleet in decor, but gaudy. Food is very good if you dine in the dining halls only. Entertainment is third rate and not as varied as you've heard. Avoid March as spring breakers can ruin your cruise. The ship will usually feel crowded and you must expect to wait in lines everywhere. The cruise is a fantastic value, very action packed as vacations go, but you get little time in ports, and there are many money pit extras that can double the cost of your cruise if you are not smart. Being friendly and outgoing can reap great rewards.