We recently took a 4 day cruise on the Victory, and since I’ve gained so much insight from everyone else’s reviews, I figured it’s time to pay that back! (plus, the short cruises don’t tend to get many reviews!).
We sailed on the Victory December 16-20, doing the Key West/Cozumel itinerary. We were taking my sister in law on her first cruise, and decided this would be a good one to do since we took the exact same cruise almost 11 years ago on the Imagination, and it hooked us on cruising!
We flew down late night the Saturday before, taking JetBlue to FLL, and had Larry’s Limos bring us to Miami. We stayed at an AirBnB in North Beach, a block from the beach and near lots of restaurants. On Sunday we walked around South Beach, stopped at Target for some last minute supplies, and ate and drank like we were on vacation!
Monday morning, just as we were getting ready to leave for the port, we got the dreaded e-mail that there was a Coast Guard inspection and we should delay our arrival by an hour (we had an 11:30 arrival appointment). Since we had to be out of our place early, and could wait in the suite lounge anyway at the port, we just headed out for our normal arrival appointment window.
As background for our perspective on this cruise, this is only our second Carnival cruise, the first being back in Feb 2009 on the Imagination in one of the junior suites on the Verandah deck. Since then, we’ve sailed Aqua Class on Celebrity Solstice, had an aft suite on Caribbean Princess, yacht club on MSC Divina, junior suite on Allure of the Seas, and we have another yacht club room booked on the MSC Seaside in a couple of weeks. We’re a married couple 44/45 years old, and we generally go to bed early so I can’t provide any reviews of how the nightclubs or comedy shows were LOL.
We booked adjacent Ocean Suites on deck 7 (us in one, SIL in the other), hoping to open the divider and take advantage of a big balcony. Even though we would have priority boarding because we were in a suite, I splurged and got us FTTF for both cabins because I wanted to be able to drop stuff off in the room immediately and unpack a little bit, then at 1:30 when everyone else headed off to their rooms, we could go to the buffet and have it be not as crazy.
We arrived at the port around 11:30, and the security lines both for priority and regular boarding weren’t bad at all. This is the first cruise I’ve ever taken where the online check-in took care of everything, once they scanned my boarding pass, I didn’t have to go to a counter or speak to anyone else before boarding the ship. Nice! So we went straight to the lounge, where we only waited about 10-15 minutes before being called on to the ship. I didn’t time it exactly, but we were definitely on board by noon.
We went straight to our cabins, where my room was ready but by sister in law’s room was not. Housekeeping’s list had no record of FTTF being ordered for her room, despite me ordering them both at the same time. Then they tried to say I must have ordered it last minute and that’s why it wasn’t on their list, when in fact I had signed up for it more than three week’s prior, plus my room was showing up correctly. They promised they would make her room a priority, and she just put her stuff down in our room, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but since it was her first cruise, I was trying hard to give her a really good first impression, and this wasn’t helping.
I went to guest services to see if we could get some sort of adjustment because her room wasn’t ready, and that was the whole reason we got FTTF (we already had priority boarding), spoiler alert: they wouldn’t refund her FTTF. They claimed there was no way they could do it. However, they did let all three of us eat off the steakhouse menu that night for dinner, which actually cost a tiny bit more considering it’s three of us than the FTTF price, so I accepted that graciously, and her room ended up being ready a few minutes after we left guest services, so it was a win all around. Guest services, BTW, showed FTTF showing up on her reservation no problem. They had no idea why it wasn’t appearing on the housekeeping chart. No one could explain it. (Our steaks that night in the MDR also ended up being super delayed in coming out to us, the waiter kept apologizing, but we were on vacation and not going anywhere so it wasn’t a big deal…. I think it was just the continued curse of this FTTF reservation LOL).
So, with this mistake with our FTTF reservation, and the fact that we already had priority boarding anyway, would I ever do FTTF again? Absolutely! I of course thought I had wasted my money, until I had to go to guest services, and there was always an insanely long line. But there was never anyone at the Platinum/FTTF window! So while everyone else was spending precious vacation minutes waiting in line, I was in and out of guest services in seconds. That alone was worth the cost. So if you are debating whether to get FTTF, just do it!
The rooms themselves were great, the beds were comfortable, bathrooms were roomy, and plenty of closet space. While I was at guest services dealing with the FTTF issue, I also asked if our balcony divider could be opened. They said it couldn’t, it was a “safety issue” because the divider, when swung open, would block one of the doors to our room, which wasn’t the case at all, but I just decided it wasn’t worth the fight. Plus each of our balconies had four chairs on them, so there was enough space and furniture for us to hang out on one without them opened. We had the rooms serviced twice a day and our steward, I Nyoram, did a great job.
For dinner, we opted for anytime dining, and never waited more than five minutes for our table to be ready. Which reminds me, definitely download the app! You can just sit at the bar, open the app, put your name in for a table, and keep enjoying your drinks until it notifies you your table is ready. The app is also great for keeping tabs on your spending, with charges showing up there almost immediately. I used the app more than I thought I would. A definite plus.
We only ate in the buffet once on embarkation day for lunch, and thought the food was good. We had breakfast in the MDR, and had lunch at Guy’s Burgers and the cantina otherwise. While reading everyone else’s reviews and seeing how everyone raved about Guy’s burgers, I kept thinking everyone is nuts, it’s just a cruise ship burger, what’s the big deal? Until I finally had one. I finally get why everyone goes crazy for these burgers! The cantina was good too (I liked the burritos better than the tacos, but it was all good!). We never got sushi or had the seafood shack. We had pizza at pizza pirate, and the pizza was good, but I still say Princess has the best pizza I’ve tasted at sea (and this includes having Eataly on board the MSC Divina). All of the food in the MDR was good too!
We all also got the drink package, and I figured it was more for convenience than saving money, until I looked at our onboard account and saw how many drinks we consumed, thankfully with $0.00 next to most of them (and $0.62 next to the ones purchased in port). We always tipped extra, but it was nice to only see those $1.00 and $2.00 charges instead of the drink cost! I’m amazed at how the bartenders remember you and remember your drink after having met you once. Emmalyn in the serenity area, NeeNee in the lobby bar, Ionna at the Alchemy Bar, and Jeffery the pool waiter, were amazing.
In Key West we went to the Hemingway House (and our tour guide there was excellent, it turned what could be a boring tourist site into an exciting stop), took our pic at the southernmost point, walked up duval, had some key lime pie, and got back on the ship. In Cozumel we did the vip dolphin swim and Chankanaab and it was unforgettable. We were also the only people signed up for the VIP swim, so we basically got a private one-hour experience with the dolphins. The trainer let us do anything we wanted, as many times as we wanted, and lots of things he didn’t normally do, because we had all this extra time. We even went and swam with the manatees, because why not. I can’t comment on how the experience normally goes, but our experience was top notch!
The sea day (and the night before) was very rocky and rough. My sister in law spent the day in bed. We spent it under the cover of the aft pool drinking. We had signed up for the behind the fun tour, but they cancelled it for safety reasons, unfortunately. Of course, they didn’t tell us this until we got to the meeting place. An early morning phone call or a note under the door, while inconvenient for a moment, would have at least stopped me from getting up early and showering etc to get ready for the tour! There was also some confusion, as our tour guides were brand new to the ship, having just gotten on at the same time we did in Miami, about how the tour would be refunded. They told us we had to go wait in line at guest services (score another for FTTF) but guest services said it was automatically refunded and people were waiting in line for no reason.
I have to say, this ship is in really good shape! Considering it is going to dry dock to become the radiance in a few months, I figured they would be letting things go since it’s all going to be revamped soon anyway, but they were constantly cleaning, painting, repairing, etc like on every other cruise I’ve been on. In Cozumel, we were docked next to the Victory’s sister ship Valor, and looking over, it looked like Valor was the one who could use the dry dock, not Victory! If anyone is cruising on victory and worried about it being a ship ready for dry dock, don’t worry, she’s in really good shape!
I also wanted to relay a unique (I think) experience we had on Victory: Embarkation day I was wandering in the buffet trying to decide what to eat when one of the staff (Christy) came up and asked if I needed help. I didn't, but we just chatted for a bit. I saw her later that night as the greeter for the anytime dining room and she said hello again and remembered me from earlier. She came to our table during dinner and mentioned something about a kitchen tour and asked us if we were interested. I said sure, and she told us to come down before dinner the next night (formal night). I wasn't sure if i unwittingly signed us up for an excursion and had no idea what the cost would be, but decided to just let it ride out. So we show up the next afternoon and it's just us, and she brings us into the kitchen for a private tasting session with the chef for that night's menu! We had a waiter with drinks and the chef is showing us the kitchen and presenting all these plates of food for us to sample! It was extraordinary. When it was over I found Christy and asked her why she arranged such a special event for us (no charge!) and she just replied "because you are my friend and I like you!" I have no idea if they pick people out on every cruise to do this, but it's something I'll never forget. So thank you, Carnival, for an amazing and unexpected experience. Especially since the Behind the Fun tour was cancelled, we still got to see the kitchen on our private tasting tour!
I do have some constructive criticisms about the cruise and the ship though, so here they are, in the interest of having a balanced review:
-They should have sliding glass doors or some kind of divider between the atrium and the guest hallways. The music goes up and straight into your rooms if you’re anywhere close to the atrium.
- The Ocean suites had sliding doors on the closets and tub, and in rough seas those doors slam open and shut while you’re trying to sleep. I jammed towels into the doors to stop the insanity.
-There should be a way to refund part of Faster to the Fun if your room isn’t ready upon boarding
- On the rough sea day, the main pool was closed, the only one open was the covered aft pool. Even with it being the only pool available, they still wouldn’t allow children in the adults-only pool. Now, I am someone who doesn’t have kids, chooses adult-only all-inclusives for vacation, and hangs out in the serenity area so I don’t have to deal with children, and I thought it was insane that they wouldn’t let kids use the only open pool on the sea day, especially when there were no adults using it (they were all in the hot tubs drinking!). It broke my heart to hear the kids crying when they were told they couldn’t swim there. I guess kudos to Carinval for enforcing the policy, but I think most rational adults would understand why kids were swimming in that pool that day.
- Finally, muster drill. I know we all hate muster drill, but this one was pretty bad. On the imagination we hung out at the Lido for muster, and every other ship I’ve been on the muster station has been in a lounge, but on the victory they pack you in like sardines next to the lifeboats (show up late unless you want to be squished up next to the wall), and then you stand there forever in the heat. It’s even more fun when they dismiss the other side of the ship first and you’re forced to stand there even longer and wait. While we were standing there, a woman next to us fainted and had a seizure. Thankfully my husband is a doctor and there was a nurse nearby who tended to the woman while the staff just looked on. They eventually let us bring her back into the air conditioning and waited until the ship’s medical staff finally arrived. Side note, it's amazing to see medical professionals who are in vacation mode immediately switch to doctor/nurse mode when someone is having a medical emergency. Thank you to all the first responders out there! There has got to be a better way to do the muster drill on Victory.
So with all that being said, after being in the yacht club on MSC, in the Sanctuary on Princess, and in a suite on Royal Caribbean, would I cruise carnival again? Absolutely! We had a great time, the food was really good, the staff was great, the ship was in great shape, etc. I do like having the yacht club area on MSC, and did the Sanctuary on Princess, so I’d probably try the Havana areas on a future Carnival cruise (there were chair hogs on this cruise but they weren’t a big problem and we always found space close to where we wanted to be). I never thought I'd be back on a carnival ship after some of the other ships I've been on, but I'm glad I came back, and I'm sure I'll be back again.
Sorry for the length of this review! I uploaded a PDF of the fun times in a separate posting. I would also be happy to try to answer any questions. Thanks!