First the background: This was my 5th Carnival cruise (I've yet to try any other lines). It was my boyfriend's first. He's been shaking his head at my cruise addiction for years, so I wanted to get him to try it. He wanted to go away for the long 4th of July weekend and he wanted to make the trip as brainless as possible. In looking around at things to do, I found this cruise and told him "Honey, you can't get much more brainless than a 4 day cruise with only one port stop, that sails from right across the river." He agreed to try it.
I thought it would be an interesting test for him, because he dislikes piano bars, silly games, big musical productions and making small talk with other people. He's also not a big gambler. So the fact that he was willing to try a cruise surprised me.
We booked about 2 months prior and since I'm not terribly picky about cabin location we booked a balcony guarantee (My first balcony!). We ended up at the very front of the ship on the Verandah deck, literally as far forward as you can possibly get, in the first cabin behind the bridge on the starboard side, cabin 8201. I usually book guarantee cabins to save money and I always seem to end up at the front of the ship and I've found I rather like it.
On embarkation day, we took our time getting up and getting ready to leave. We live right across the Hudson river from the New York port. In fact, I could see the Victory docked while I was running errands that morning. Based on reviews I had read on here, I figured that once I got to the port it would take about and hour to an hour and a half to get through the embarkation. So I arranged for a car service to pick us up at 11:30 am, figuring to arrive at the port around noon and we would be on the ship by 1:30 maybe a little earlier.
We arrived at the port at noon as planned. Since it was only 4 days, we each only had wheeled carry-on and a small duffle, so we bypassed the porters and carried our own stuff on. Walking into the building, it was like a ghost town. No one sitting in the chairs, no line at security at all. There were two short lines for embarkation photos. Once we through that, we got in the appropriate line. Now this was first for me, I've never been directed to a line based on the deck I was on, but that's how they do it in New York. We waited maybe 5 minutes before we were directed to the counter. Have to say, this was the most pleasant embarkation experience I've ever had. The agent I was directed to was so friendly and so personable, I wish I had gotten his name. After checking in, we walked over to the boarding line and we were on the ship before 12:30.
It was a hot day and we weren't particularly hungry so, we went to the promenade to wait for our rooms to be ready. We sat down and ordered nice cold foo-foo drinks and chatted with the bartender a bit. (I thought it was funny that any of the crew that I chatted with (except of course for the Canadians) talked about how cold Canada was and they missed the Carribbean!
We went to our room to check it out and absolutely loved the balcony right off. We had brought a couple bottles of champagne with us so we asked our room steward for a bucket of ice to chill one for sail away. This was the first ship I had been on that didn't have a fridge in the room. (although, I can't remember if the Inspiration did or not.) We unpacked and then I gave, my BF a tour of the ship. Victory is a Triumph class ship, and layout-wise they really don't differ from Conquest class all that much so it was pretty easy to find my way around.
We got some pastrami sandwiches from the deli and sat down to check out our fellow passengers. It was an interesting demographic and probably the most diverse group that I've ever sailed with. There were a few large groups on board. Maharajah cruises had a large Indian group. There was a large contingent of Koreans as well, about 100 of which were onboard for a wedding I found out later, when I ran into the bride in the spa. And the rest of my fellow cruisers was a diverse group of ethnicities, ages and groups family and otherwise. It was nice to see.
We checked out our table. We were given the 6pm seating in the Atlantic dining room (mid ship). Our table was a table for four tucked away in a corner by a window, we liked the location and Scott surprised me by not wanting to request a table for two.
After the tour, it was time for muster drill, relatively quick and painless and then we returned to our balcony for champagne and sailaway. Since we were on the starboard side, we were looking at New Jersey as we sailed out, which was fine with me, since I see the New York view everyday. Plus, there is a lot to see if you know what you are looking for. The bluff in Weehwaken where Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in their famous duel. The revitalized Hoboken waterfront that once served as a the embarkation point for troops heading overseas in World War I ("Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken by Christmas!") Then was a major shipping port and the setting for the classic movie "On The Waterfront". Hoboken's Erie Lackawanna train and ferry terminal that served as a gateway for many of the immigrants that came through Ellis Island. Paulus Hook (site of a famous Revolutiionary War battle) and Liberty State Park. And of course the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
We popped our champagne and enjoyed the view and our balcony for a while before getting dressed and going to dinner.
Okay, I'll talk about the food now and get it out of the way.
This was my one major disappointment on this cruise. The food. On my previous 4 cruises, I've had some wonderful meals in the dining room. I kept raving to Scott about how good the food was in the dining room. I don't know whether it was the move away from the staggered dining times, the recent change in menu, or more likely a combination of both, but the food was just sub-par. Our wait team, Danitsa and Bela (both from Bulgaria) were both very nice and friendly and the service was good. But there was something funky happening in the kitchen. That first night, Scott and both our dining companions (a very nice couple from Albany, NY) ordered the steak and it was tough as shoe leather and the "peppercorn sauce" was pretty much brown gravy. My sweet and sour shrimp was better, but lukewarm at best.
The second night at dinner wasn't much better. John, the husband half of our tablemates, enjoyed his lobster and shrimp, but Stephanie's prime rib was 70% fat, Scott's spaghetti carbonara was bone dry and not very hot and my duck was cold and very indifferently cooked. I suppose we could have ordered something else, but since we were two for two, we weren't very hopeful. The maitre d' chose that night to come and ask how are meals were and we let him know as politely as we could, he seemed concerned but not necessarily surprised and promised that we would at least get our meals hot.
The third night, Scott and I had a late lunch in port so we skipped dinner in the dining room. We ran into our tablemates later and they told us it was actually a really good meal! Of course we had missed it!
The last night we returned to the dining room, more hopeful. We brought our second bottle of champagne and asked Bela, for a bucket of ice to chill it. She did us one better and since it was a brand they had on board (Veuve Cliquot) she exchanged our bottle for one that was already chilled and brought it out in a bucket. I ordered the prime rib, rare. What I got was a prime rib that was overcooked and cold all at the same time. This time I asked for a new one. I got a rare one that was a least a little warm. Scott had the barbecue baby back ribs, they were kind of tough and chewy, his corn on the cob was ice cold, but the coleslaw was HOT! Egads.
Even the famed chocolate melting cake was inconsistent, some nights nothing more than a bowl of chocolate soup with a thin crust, other nights cooked all the way through so there was no melting involved.
We tried the Lido restaurant for lunch and for dinner after dining room disappointments. The stuff from the grills, the burgers, fries, pizza and the deli sandwiches were good. The buffet was eh.... When you could get to the buffet. I have never, ever seen lines like I saw on the Victory. The buffet lines wrapped around the side, past the deli and wok stations on occasion. It was incredible. I could also go into a rant about fellow passengers lingering in front of the food as they debated the merits of each and every dish presented with their family, completely oblivious to all the people stuck behind them, or the others coming to the omelet station and ordering 8 freakin' omelets for every member of their party, while the rest were off doing other things. But I tried to ignore them and be of good cheer.
We ate our breakfasts in the dining room to avoid those lines and the food wasn't bad and actually warm.
We spent a lot of time in our room and on our balcony just enjoying the time together. It's the most time I've ever spent in my room. Our first sea day was cool and foggy with a little sun breaking through, but there were people in the pools and laying out on the lounges determined to get some sun. Our second sea day was rainy and foggy and cold. And yet there were still people out on the loungers, wrapped up against the cold! We wandered the ship, played some trivia games and did the liquor tasting. We gambled a little and lost. We played bingo, since Scott has never played. We shopped a little but didn't buy anything. We napped and relaxed and just enjoyed being with each other.
Since we had a late excursion, I scheduled one of the port day spa specials in the morning. The Top to Toe. It's a massage and a facial. I had Hayley a tiny little girl from the North of England. She said, "I may be small, but I've worked on rugby players!" And she was great. She gave my problems spots, my neck, shoulders and upper back a good working over, showed me some stretches to help loosen my shoulders, and was light on the hard sell.
We went to both production shows. Vroom! was definitely the better of the two. The singers were both decent. The dancers were okay. After the first show, I asked Scott what he thought. He said, "It was okay, for what it was." (One note here: Scott is a sound engineer and a musician. He used to do a lot of concerts and shows big and small. He's can be very nitpicky about production elements, particularly the sound, and he's not big on listening to people sing covers, he finds it boring.) So that was high praise indeed. I think he really enjoyed the show girl costumes, especially when the dancers came down into the audience and one shook her half naked bum right next to him! LOL!
We went to the midnight comedy show on the 2nd night. Happy Cole was really, really funny. The other fly aboard entertainer, a juggler or magician I think, had flight problems and missed the ship.
Of course, I spent a lot of time in the piano bar. Scott knows of my addiction and he was very good about indulging me. He came with me on the first night and actually lasted longer than I thought he would. Told me to stay and then went and got some pizza and headed back to the room. That was pretty much the routine for us in the evening. I enjoyed the piano bar, I thought Peter Rossetti was very talented and I had a lot of fun getting to know him and chatting with others who had wandered in, including a few folks from cruisecritic. I wrote a more comprehensive review of Peter on the piano bar thread, you can find it here: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showt...0#post15340420
Brad Calabrese, the cruise director, was funny and charming and very good natured when I harassed him at the Captain's Party about the lack of promotion for the back lounge entertainers.
Our one stop was St. John, New Brunswick. It is a very pretty and charming little town, the big attraction is the Bay of Fundy and the reversing falls. We had the most spectacular weather. It was absolutely perfect, clear, sunny and 75. According to Brad, who is from a town about an hour away, we chanced on one of the 3 great weather days they have a year.
We arrived about an hour late, and depending on which rumor you listen to, it was either because we hit a whale or because of tide issues (which can be a big issue in the Bay of Fundy as I'll explain in a minute).
We had chosen to do the Bay of Fundy Up Close tour, because I wanted to take a nice boat ride and really see the bay. The first part was a short walking tour to the New Brunswick Museum and an hour long tour of the museum. The museum portion was interesting if a little dull. Then we boarded a boat that took us out to the Reversing Falls. Because of the shape and location of the Bay of Fundy it has the highest tides in the world. In St. John, the tide rises or falls 26 feet every six hours. Further up into the bay, it can be as much as 55 feet. That's pretty significant. Because of this, you might leave the ship on one deck, but by the time you return, you might be re-boarding on a different deck entirely. And also because of this all that water movement causes the St. John River to reverse its course. It causes some really cool current shifts and whirlpools. In one area, our captain had the boat's engine going at 15 knots against the current and we were literally standing still. The Bay is very beautiful and we enjoyed the boat trip enormously. I recommend it. I heard some less than stellar reviews of some of the land based excursions like the brewery tour and the lobster bake.
After the tour (we took the 12:30 tour so we could enjoy a leisurely morning), we went to a pub that was recommended by a friend. Churchill's on Grannan Street. Grannan is more of an alleyway, so it's kind of tucked away. We had a couple of beers and the best meal of our trip. The food was great and the pub was not packed at all. I'm not sure there were any other cruisers in there, maybe one other couple.
Since we had arrived late, they gave us an extra two hours in port. That turned out to be fairly pointless. We were on ships time which was an hour earlier than port time. And on Saturdays everything in St. John closes at 5 (with the exception of the pubs and restaurants) local time (which is 4 pm ship time). So by the time we made it to the city market, it was closed. So was just about every other sight seeing opportunity. The Bingo Hall however was open and hopping! LOL! We strolled around and walked back to the ship. As we walked back, we marveled at how far the water level had dropped. It really was pretty amazing.
Okay this was a total contrast to our embarkation experience. What a cluster***k. I think this was more due to our fellow passengers than anything else. I'm guessing that about 2/3 of the ship chose to do self-assist And most of those decided to ignore the decks being called and decided to get off they wanted. We had chosen to keep our bags with the idea of doing self assist, but after encountering just a bit of the backup and lines we decided to wait until our number was called for regular debarkation. We had breakfast in the dining room, then abandoned our room by 9:30 as requested. We went and found some seats on the promenade and we waited. We had number 12. Our number was finally called around 10:30. At this point, so few people were left on the ship that they were calling 4 or 5 numbers at a time. We walked off the ship and through customs with no issues and very little lines. Hopped in a cab and I was at my office by 11 am.
All in all, I enjoyed the cruise. It wasn't my favorite by far. But it was definitely better than NOT being on a cruise. It had it's problem, but I've said it before and I'm happy to say it again, Carnival's biggest asset is its crew members. Everyone, without fail, was polite and friendly. Our room steward was so efficient and stealth we barely saw him. Liked our wait team despite the food problems and the bartenders and bar waiters (particularly the ladies in the piano bar) were terrific.
If I missed anything or you have any questions just ask!
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