This was my family's second cruise on Carnival (I am 19). We took one on the Paradise in 1999 to the Eastern Caribbean. We had so much fun that we decided to try a bigger ship and "go west."
Day 1 Saturday, Welcome Aboard!
Getting Aboard, Settling In, Entertainment
I recommend that you get to the port early, because lining up and going through the whole boarding process can take a while. Also, the forms in the cruise packets that are sent to each person should be filled out BEFORE arriving at the terminal! Have your papers ready. If you drive to the port, be sure to bring enough cash to park your car -- they do not take credit cards or checks! The fee increased this year to $70 for us, and my dad had just enough.
At check-in, you get your "sail and sign" cards, done by room number. Inside each envelope is a card for every occupant of that room. The card also tells what dining room you go to, what table number there, and whether or not you're in main or late seating. The sail and sign card is your life for the week: all your purchases on the cruise are made with the card, and it is the key to your room. It is also the only ID required to leave and return to the ship. This year they took our pictures and while it does not show on your card, it shows up on a computer when you're going on or off the ship. If you lose your card (which happened to my sister later on), the Purser's office will get you a new one and cancel the lost one immediately. You do not have to retake your picture.
Upon entering, we found ourselves in the atrium, Deck 3. It was a marvelous sight, and suddenly the excitement of cruising returned. Our rooms were on Main Deck, Deck 2, so we just went down one flight. I was sharing my cabin with my two sisters; our room had two beds and two pull-down bunks that were locked. You have to call your cabin steward to pull down the bunks. For first timers, be prepared: the toilets make a suction sound when you flush, and it may be startling at first! The telephone can be used to call your room steward, the information desk, room service, wake-up calls, and other cabins.
After the initial settling in, we all met and took the elevators to Deck 9, the Lido Deck. One bad thing about the cruise was that elevators took forever to arrive, so sometimes we would take the stairs, even from Deck 2 to Deck 9! On Lido Deck outside, you can tan, play in the pool and water slide, and eat at the Coney Island Grille, the Sun Lovers buffet, and the 24-hour pizzeria.
Inside, there is the South Beach Club, which houses the Hong Kong Noodle Company and the NY Deli on opposite sides, and of course, buffets. We went immediately to the Hong Kong Noodle place, where there was less of a line than the NY Deli. The food was not that great, and not authentic Chinese food. We also checked out all the selections at the buffet. There were lots of delicious looking cakes with elaborate pieces of hardened sugar and chocolate stuck to them like art. There are also ice cream and frozen yogurt machines. The machines were popular with those sunning and with the younger kids, as were the endless fries and hamburgers at the Coney Island Grille.
At 4:30 there was a lifeboat drill; announcements can be heard inside your rooms. Life jackets were in the box under the TV, and we had to follow everyone on our side to a certain muster station, where we wore our lifejackets and listened to the captain and crew. That took about 30 minutes.
Then it was off to main seating at the Paris Dining Room. We were really lucky and got a big table with a window view, at the upper level (there are two levels to both dining rooms). One of the highlights of our cruises has been being served endless amounts of starters and main courses and desserts all week! Tonight was casual dress code, since it is expected that some passengers had not yet received their luggage. At dinner we met our main waiter, the assistant waiter, and the maitre d'.
After dinner we headed back to our cabin to "digest" and enjoy the complimentary cabin movies; "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was playing. At 10:30 there was the "Welcome Aboard Show," something no one should miss. Every big show is hosted in the Rome Lounge, which was conveniently one floor above us. Seats always fill up quickly. The show sets the tone for the rest of the week; you meet some other passengers when they are called up to embarrass themselves. Right away the night was full of laughter. My dad was one of the passengers picked to participate, and later on became the celebrity of the ship for the entire week. I won't spoil the surprise, but he was told to say certain things beforehand, so it all seemed natural when he was up there. He did a great job cracking everyone up without really trying to be funny.
We met the cruise fun hosts, as well as the cruise director, John Heald, who definitely made this cruise a memorable experience. John is one of the top cruise directors, and hilarious. He is British so you can imagine that he has wacky, naughty humor. Unfortunately, it was one of his last weeks on the Carnival Triumph. He will be relocating to the Carnival Spirit.
Day 2 Sunday, Fun Day at Sea!
Games, Art, Formal Night
On the Carnival Triumph there was a lot of bingo and trivia, but no game shows like we had on the Paradise. My uncle went to the art preview while we kids explored the 13 decks of the massive ship. The Lido Deck had music, a Hairy Chest Contest going on, and as usual, lots of tanning. I did not go out and tan at all during the week but I heard that it gets really packed and you must get there early and literally reserve a seat. We grabbed some fruit (they have endless fruit salad) and ice cream cones, and went back to the room to shower and prepare for the most formal night of the week, which was that night.
There was a lot of excitement because of formal portraits you can take in different areas of the ship. Most of the photographers are near the atrium stairway, Decks 4 and 5. We dressed up and went to take pictures. Then off for formal dinner - they served the best courses all at once. Lobster tail!! Prime rib! And lots more. I especially remember the lobster tail, as I have been looking forward to that since Paradise. We all ordered the best main courses. There was so much food . . . I wanted another lobster tail but could not fit it in.
Then we rolled back to our rooms or to check out the photo gallery, which had pictures from the day before, when we first boarded. One tip: wait until the end of the week before buying pictures, because then you can check out ALL the pictures you took and see which ones you want. If you buy them the same day, you won't have anything to compare to, and they get pricey! (About $20 for each large photo.) At 8:45 we saw the first show, "Century Café," which had singing and dancing.
Day 3 Monday, Cozumel, Mexico!
SCUBA, Shopping, Late Nights
Then we got off the ship. Make sure if you do scuba or anything that involves signing a form or having parents sign, do it the night before and have it ready. Also keep your "sail and sign" cards in a safe place. We boarded a small boat which took us about 15 minutes away from the ship to an island where instructors were waiting. After the 20-minute instructions, we got all our equipment.
I was a bit nervous, because of the equipment and all the rules to remember. Although we are good swimmers, this does not affect scuba diving, as I would find out. As beginners, we would go down to 30 feet maximum, and we weren't allowed to bring underwater cameras because they were afraid we weren't ready to handle taking pictures while applying the rules. Two instructors took the seven of us out to sea. Right away I had trouble with my mask - water kept leaking in and stinging my eyes. My sister and I had trouble remembering to only breathe through our mouths, and how to equalize so that we could go deeper. Javier, one of the instructors, stayed behind and helped us. Just as I was getting used to it, it was over; for another 30 minutes, you have to pay more. Then we waited to board the boat back to the Carnival Triumph. It was gorgeous underwater.
It was only 11:45 when we got back to the ship. We showered and met the adults for lunch at the South Beach Club, and then went shopping. At John Heald's shore talks, he recommends certain stores to go into, with deals just for cruisers, and you can get a map of the downtown shops that are recommended. All of our fellow cruisers were carrying them. We took a taxi downtown; taxis charge extra for air conditioning!
There is a lot of bargaining in Mexico. My uncle and aunt were looking at opals, tanzanite and diamonds, and found an opal at a good price. My grandfather bought rum at the duty free shop before we boarded. Upon boarding, you think "home at last," because all week the ship does become your home. There was a Mexican folklore show at 10:45 that some of us went to. John had mentioned that there are two shows: the folkloric, and the other being watching the drunken people come back on board! Very rarely do people actually miss the boat, but sometimes it happens. We kids stayed up late watching cabin movies or eating pizza and Caesar salads at the pizzeria. Also, due to my uncle's snoring, all my cousins and my brother ended up sleeping in our room the rest of the week. It was fun, although two people always got the floor!
Day 4 Tuesday, Fun Day at Sea!
Two Rum Punches and A Magic Show
My brother and cousin, 15 and 17, respectively, had brought a guitar and recorder in preparation for the talent show. Sadly, the guest talent show is only for those 18 and older, and only about six acts are chosen. Lip-syncing and stand up comedy aren't allowed. There is a kid's talent show for Camp Carnival, but no teen talent show.
At 5:00 the main seating guests who had been on previous Carnival cruises went to a Carnival repeaters party at the Club Rio. It was a dimly lit lounge where a band from the Philippines called the Highlights played while we enjoyed complimentary drinks and hors d'oeuvres. My sister, having just turned 21, gladly accepted two rum punches and before she knew it, suffered a red face and a breakout of hives.Around 5:40, John came out and talked about the new ships they were making, and there was a raffle in which a young boy won his mother champagne that costs nearly $300. At 8:45 we went to the magic show with Kevin & Caruso, who coincidentally, had performed on the Paradise. Most of the show was a repeat but still fun.
Day 5 Wednesday, Grand Cayman!
Hell, Stingrays, and A Bedtime Story
On our bus tour, we went down the 7-Mile Beach (only to learn it is actually only 5.6 miles) and stopped at Hell, one of the tourist stops. We bought postcards and took a picture at the Hell sign and post office. The driver said we could write out postcards and he would send them when he returned. Next stop was the Turtle Farm, where they breed turtles. We saw turtles ranging from 600 pounds to babies. We got to hold some turtles, which was a lot of fun.
Then the driver took us to the boat to go to Stingray City. This was what we were looking forward to. At Stingray City, we saw many other boats and people already feeding the rays. We each got snorkels provided by the boat, and we were armed with two underwater cameras. The captain came out and held a stingray and you could take pictures with him. We were not supposed to try and catch sting rays to hold or chase them; my family tried to do both, of course. We scrambled to get squid (do this first or else everyone will take them) to feed the sting rays. I felt the "vacuum" as they sucked the squid from my fingers. Before we knew it, it was time to go. We got a good amount of time out there. The water is shallow and beautiful, crystal clear. I really missed Stingray City as we pulled out.
After the tour, we browsed the shops, all of which sold the same things, but there was nothing special. There was supposed to be a shop with the very best price on Rolexes, so my dad checked that out, but they were still incredibly pricey. At dinner, the waiters danced on tables and sang "Yankee Doodle" for July 4th. The only downfall about sitting in the upper level of the dining room is that the waiters don't perform up there; they stay down below, and you have to get up (yes, that can be hard if you're enjoying three or four helpings of escargot!) and look over the stairway.
The ship provides Internet service and at certain times, there will be a free 5 minutes. I would avoid doing this if you can, because it isn't worth it. My cousin had time to log on and off, which was about it. They were charged about $6 to check their email.
Also, all throughout the week there are people taping events, and they end up as Video Diaries of the trip for you to purchase. We brought our own video camera, so we didn't purchase any, but they serve as good memories. They are played on television channel 13 all day, too.
At 10:15 we went to the Rome Lounge to get good seats for the highly anticipated talent show. Only about four acts got to go on. Then John came out and told some jokes, and started his "Bedtime Story," which involved audience participation. My dad played the hero, and was absolutely hilarious. He is shy and introverted by nature, but apparently everyone seems to think he was born for comedy. Only on a cruise do all your inhibitions melt away! Everyone was in uproarious laughter and the "Bedtime Story" was a hit. The participants all received free video diaries, which are mailed to their homes. Many people stopped my dad and everyone called out to him all night and for the rest of the week. Some people even requested pictures with him! My grandmother found his "stardom" quite entertaining. There are lots of friendly people on the ship, and surprisingly, you see many of the same people among 3400 passengers.
Day 6 Thursday, Ocho Rios, Jamaica
A Highlight Tour, Last Formal Night, Gala Fare
Jamaica is the poorest of all the land stops, and we were warned about the people that still offer drugs and will do anything for money. The Jamaicans always say "Don't worry, be happy, mon."
Shaw Park Gardens was a neat stop. There were lots of tall trees and interesting plants, as well as a great natural falls. The tour guide was nice and knew good places to stop for pictures - he even helped us take them. Sometimes he was a little hard to understand, but we got the gist of his explanations. We saw the Bird of Paradise plant and lime trees and banyan trees. There was a great overlook of the Bay of Ocho Rios where we saw the Carnival Triumph, the only ship docked. After Shaw Park, we went to two different shopping centers and spent 30 minutes at each stop. There we went to see the many watch stores, and got some postcards. Watches in Jamaica are supposed to be the best priced.
After the shops was the highlight: Dunn's River Falls. The falls have become like an amusement park; you get your hand stamped and you can rent water shoes. My family all wore water shoes we had brought from home -- it's convenient and comfortable, and saves money. People who decided not to climb the falls could spend time at the gorgeous beach or looking at shops. My family definitely wanted to climb, and I encourage you to do so. It is one of the best memories of the week.
We started at the bottom, near the beach. We joined hands and formed a human chain, and then the guide led us up. There was another older gentleman that went along for the purpose of helping those of us with non-waterproof cameras take pictures and keep them dry. We brought two underwater cameras so that we could snap pictures at any time. The falls are unique in that there are lots of grooves for footholds and flat rocks to step on. Sometimes we found the human chain to be a hindrance, because in some areas it is better if you have both of your hands for balance.
We reached a certain area where there was a dip in the falls, forming a small pool. Our guide told us to fall backwards into it; my sisters and I linked arms and fell in. A good thing about the falls is that there are plenty of places you can just stop and sit. We saw people who had come on their own, just enjoying the water cascading over them. For those who find they cannot handle it, there are places on the sides you can exit. People from Dunn's River Falls took pictures at certain spots and processed them while we completed the climb; photographers from Carnival were also there. The climb took about 45 minutes to an hour.
That night was the second and last formal night. We got ready and once again took new pictures. They had a night scene of the Carnival Triumph that was really realistic and we ended up buying that one. After pictures and dinner, it was the last big show at the Rome Lounge, called "Wonderful World." All the singers and dancers took us to different places around the world, including Italy, Germany, Asia, France, Spain, and finally, America. I thought the last part on America would have been fitting for July Fourth.
At 11:15 it was time for the awesome gala fare, which displays all the hard work of the chefs and their creative decorating skills. The gala fare took place in the South Beach Club, and people lined up to take pictures. There were mermaids made of lard, flowers carved in watermelon, a little dragon made out of fruit rinds and cheeses, a huge ice carving of a dragon, lots of cakes and other wonderful displays. I felt that Paradise did a better job with many more displays, but I still appreciated the display! At 12:30 you could start eating the food, but it mostly looked better than it tasted. The gala fare was a great end to a fabulous shore day.
Day 7 Friday, Last Fun Day at Sea!
Tip Night, Packing, and A Game Show
At 3:30, the South Beach Club hosted "Highlights of Food and Beverage," which had little stations where you could learn napkin and towel folding, see someone carve an ice sculpture, and watch cake decorating. This is something fun to check out. At 4:30 my younger siblings went to play in the pools and the slide, which we had not taken advantage of the entire week. Unfortunately, the slide closed at 5:00 but they said it was really fast and awesome.
It was tip night. Earlier, each room received a paper with comments and a survey to fill out, as well as envelopes for tips. There are recommended gratuities; for example, the cabin steward is $3.50 per day per person. We felt this was reasonable. Our family gave more to each person - the steward, our two waiters, and the maitre d'. Of course, today all the staff was happy! I felt like our waiter and steward could have been better, but they still worked hard. And all the food we ate must have added up to the price we paid for the cruise!
We also had a lot of packing to do (baggage needed to be outside our door before midnight). Today the photo gallery was open all day. (On shore days, sometimes the gallery was closed). At 9:15 p.m. they had their first and only game show; my cousin and I were actually picked to participate. I lost to a lady who knew a lot of 50's music, which was mostly what was asked. The winners got a lot of souvenirs, while each person also got a "solid gold plastic" trophy of the ship. After the game show, there was bingo and then the last show, which featured Nashville recording artist Trent Webb.
Our luggage was at the door by midnight. My brother and cousin were contemplating falling asleep outside on the stacked-up deck chairs, but were talked out of it. We didn't want to fall asleep and miss out on any part of the ship, but eventually we did sleep. Although I did not go to the clubs or discos, I checked them out and they were jam-packed with young kids around the age of 13, as well as the older crowd of people in their 20's. There is also Underground Tokyo, which is an arcade center for young kids.
Day 8 Saturday, Disembarkation!
Luggage and A Celebrity Father
We all carried our luggage and walked one flight up to the Rome Lounge. This was the time that we felt grateful for the Main Deck rooms. Everyone in the upper floors had to wait forever for the elevators, while carrying a lot of stuff. The Rome Lounge had people spilling out, so we just waited in the lobby area. People with handicaps waited in the bar and piano area nearer to the exit.
While waiting for things to process, several young girls wanted their pictures taken with my father. I was sad that all the attention would end after disembarking; everyone on the ship had come to know him. We got off at about 10:15 and looked in the huge terminal for our luggage, among 3400 passengers' luggage. Luckily, bags are color coded, so we spotted them and counted to make sure we had every bag. Once you leave the terminal, you cannot return, so we took all of our stuff, including three boxes of rum. Luckily the six of us were strong enough -- we had two bags hanging off each arm, and then additional stuff in our hands. The Customs officials did not inspect our belongings.
It was hard to believe our second cruise was over, and now we had only pictures and videos to serve as memories. The ship was getting ready for 3400 new and lucky people. It had been a wonderful vacation; Carnival really held up its bargain as the "Fun Ship." It is great for families, although one family we talked to that usually goes on Royal Caribbean and decided to give Carnival a try had a horrible experience. They had a room on Deck 11, which was probably really high class, but their room had no air conditioning all week, their toilet flooded, they had a bad waiter, and one of their dresses was ripped when the luggage was being delivered to their room. Of course, we found their story a huge contrast and exception to everyone else's. We reassured them that the majority of experiences on Carnival are positive. Overall, Carnival Triumph is a mini-city at sea with lots of fun to behold!
PHOTOS courtesy of Andy Newman & Carnival Cruise Lines.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Carnival Triumph, click HERE.
Stephanie Chiu can be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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