OverviewThis was our 20th cruise in the last five years, but our first ever on Carnival Cruise Lines. Many times we have berthed alongside a Carnival ship and enjoyed the music and happy voices wafting over from the Lido decks. We thought someday . . . . That day came when Vincent came across an "offer he couldn't refuse!" We booked this cruise just one week before sailing.
The Carnival Triumph was built in 1999 and is the 5,979th ship launched by the Fincantieri Shipyards in Monfalcone, Italy. She is mostly white with the Carnival red, white and blue "whale tail" funnel aft, and orange covered lifeboats. An elegant lady with a gross tonnage of 101,509, her length is 893 feet and beam is 116 feet. She has a cruising speed of 21 knots and every bit of it was used on the last night in our speedy return to the port of Miami. Captain Massimo Marino altered the schedule in order to get a passenger with medical needs back to land safely.
The Carnival Triumph carries a total staff of 1,100, and has 1,321 cabins with a guest capacity of 2,758 (double occupancy); however, on this voyage, she carried 3,022 passengers, of which 200 were children. There are only twenty five wheelchair-accessible cabins, none of which have balconies. This is odd on a ship where about one third of her staterooms have balconies.
Even though the weather was rainy the first three days at sea, the ship sailed "steady as she goes" in the capable hands of Capt. Marino (he lives up to the direct translation of his name -- the "Greatest of the Sea") and we had one of the smoothest weeks afloat.
EmbarkationWe drove to Miami and before entering the port passed one security check point, where we had to show picture IDs and were asked questions about our place of residence, etc. Since we had booked late, we picked up our tickets at the pier. Again no problem, with two lines for pick up (one for U.S. citizens and one for non-citizens), with minimal waiting. We were second in line, got our tickets, filled in two cards, showed our credit card, and that was it. We were escorted past the dining room, where we checked that our table was close to the doors, and then to our cabin #9233, Lido Deck. We arrived at the pier at noon and were in our cabin at 12:25pm -- no lines, no delays.
Public AreasPassengers are boarded on Deck 3 and enter the ship's ten-deck-high atrium, the Capitol Lobby. There is a huge golden map of the world, half forming the Deck 5 ceiling near the onboard shops. The rest of the map folds up to form a fan on the wall covering the next three decks with a beautiful midnight blue sky surrounding it and covering the next five decks. This is all visible from the four glass cage elevators of the atrium.
By now you have guessed that the motif of this ship is the WORLD, and designer Joe Farcus has carried out that theme quite nicely with repetition throughout the ship. There is also an abundance of lavender neon lighting. The atrium has a bar constantly in use with live music, and many bar stools, chairs and sofas, all done in leather.
The Deck PlanOn Decks 1 & 2, there are only cabins (Cat. 1A, 4A, 4B, 5A, 6A and 6B).
On Decks 3, 4 & 5 are the public rooms: The Capitol Lobby is the hub of the ship with the Purser's Desk and the Excursion Desk. Just off the lobby is the London Dining Room (midships) and the Paris Dining Room (aft). They are exactly alike, except the Paris Room has a glass wall overlooking the wake of the ship, affording a stunning view. However, remember the aft has more motion and ship movement does bother some cruisers. Each restaurant has a first floor on Deck 3 and a balcony on Deck 4, where there are booths separated by aqua glass walls. These are beautiful dining rooms with many ocean view tables and glass doors etched with Atlas holding the world on his shoulders, a theme repeated on glass doors throughout the ship.
Deck 3 is also the first floor of the three-deck-high Rome Lounge, the theater. Here the seats are arranged in a semicircular, amphitheater style and very comfortable. Acoustics are good and for once the sound was not too loud.
Deck 4, in addition to the dining room balconies, has the Photo shop (quite extensive) and the Washington Library, a formal wood paneled room with large gilt-framed formal portraits of U.S. Presidents Washington and Lincoln. This is a sumptuous room with red and gold carpet, and draperies with capitol motif. Inlaid wood tables and beautiful wood bookcases finish the room. The shortness of hours, only two per day to get books, is a pity.
On this deck, between the two dining rooms, there is the formal Oxford Bar with the English theme carried out into the corridor, which functions as the Internet Café. Large gilt-framed portraits of English royalty are readily recognized. Very British. Very nice. Very sedate. This area, which includes the Card Room and the Internet Café (ten computer stations for passengers), is the most formal and relaxing on this ship.
Deck 5 is the most popular deck; it has the shops which have much the same wares as all other ships. This monopoly of onboard shopping needs to change if cruise lines want to tempt repeat cruisers. Just off the Capitol is the casino, Club Monaco, the Olympic Bar and a nice travel pattern which lets passengers stroll through the casino (billed the largest afloat) to the World's Bar, on to Tokyo Underground (the cavern style video game center) to the Hollywood Dance Club (circular like a miniature Hollywood Bowl).
Continuing toward aft is the Big Easy Bar with its walls covered with real oyster shells. The California Wine Bar has the best art on board: huge hand blown Murano wine glasses, which are bases for the most delicate and ethereal figures designed by Lucio Bubacco of Venice, Italy. This is across from the Venezia Bar with its Golden Winged Lion. Finally, the last room here is Club Rio, where the captain held the Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party (the wine and cocktails flowed freely and there were great hot canapés). Here also the film The Mexican was projected on big screen.
Decks 6, 7 & 8 are all the staterooms with balconies; in addition, on Decks 9 & 10 there are balcony cabins forward and the rest of the public areas aft. Deck 9 has two pools with spas, a poolside stage and a variety of eateries, such as the N.Y. Deli (great N.Y. style sandwiches), the Hong Kong Noodle Company (with only average or mediocre oriental food), The South Beach Club (with a pretty good buffet) and, at the rear of the ship, the 24-hour Pizzeria (excellent pizzas and even calzone) and finally, the Grille with excellent hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries. Here also are the self-service ice cream machines which received a workout from the passengers.
Decks 11, 12 & 14 are public areas with the Nautica Club, Spa, Gym and Children's World. Vincent enjoyed two massages at the spa (Port days: $89; Sea days: a stiff $108). The gym was nicely equipped and the staff was helpful. The jogging track is on Deck 11 aft near the funnel, far from the cabins, which is good, since on several cruises we have had negative experiences with our suite just under the track, where enthusiastic joggers were running between 5 and 6am. We thought the ship's layout was quite thoughtful and nice.
Food and ServiceWe are happy to report that the Carnival food is well prepared and presented, and on a par with other major cruise lines. The menus are varied, and in some cases Carnival offers more entrée selections on their menus than usual. Normally we avoid the buffets on the pool deck, but on the Carnival Triumph, we ate there several times, and well.
Chef Andrew D'Souza (India) has spent 11 years on Carnival; we met him when he came to our table in the London Restaurant. He gave us a private tour of his galley, and we were impressed with his organizational and cooking skills. On Friday night he was preparing a request for Captain Marino, gnocchi, and asked us if we would like some: they were light and delicate and so was the pesto sauce -- Bravo, Chef Andrew! Vincent is a discriminating gourmet and Mary a happy gourmand, so together, we make a formidable couple, who like to sample many of the dining room offerings. We enjoyed the lobster tails, the Cornish hen with black cherry salsa and Vincent especially liked the New Zealand rack of spring lamb Dijonnaise, which he pronounced done to perfection (a difficult task when preparing over 12,000 meals per day). Chef Andrew's sauces were fresh and light.
Maitre d' Jean Pierre Weinand was a welcoming presence in the two formal restaurants. Each day he announced the opening of each restaurant with his inimitable basso and wished all a 'Bon Appetit.' He keeps his staff on its toes, and we were pleasantly and capably served by our waiter Arnel Espirity and assistant waiter Javier Martinez: they were quick, remembered our likes, dislikes, and served with charming smiles. The Head Waiter Veljko Dondivic (Croatia) is observant and knew his wines. He and Vincent discussed at length the Mondavi Pinot Noir '98 sent to our table by the captain. There is an excellent selection of wines on board and reasonably priced.
In general we were pleased with the menu offerings:
CabinsWe had a pleasant meeting with Hotel Director Miles Willis (knowledgeable and informative) and we learned some things we should have known before booking. There are no wheelchair-accessible cabins with balconies. All of the cabins modified for wheelchair access are either interior or ocean view (with window). When we booked a Category 8 with balcony, we thought it would be fine, but as soon as we got on board, we saw Vincent's wheelchair and walker were useless due to the narrowness of the entry way, the door to the bathroom and the passage around the bed to the balcony.
We contacted the Purser's Desk and asked if we could pay extra for an upgrade. They put us on their list. Since we were one of the first to board, we assumed we were at the head of the list (never assume). They said we would be called after the ship sails. After sailing, we went to the Purser's Desk and were told "happily" they could downgrade us to a wheelchair-accessible inside cabin on Deck 6. Mary, with claustrophobia, deep sixed that move.
Mr. Willis called us and apologized -- he was very gracious -- but we chose to remain on Lido Deck 9, Cabin #9233. This was a tight one for us (185 square feet), but at least with a balcony (40 square feet). In normal conditions this cabin would have been just fine, but with Vincent's limited mobility, it became problematic. With hindsight, we should have checked the dimensions of the cabin before booking it and asked for the availability of a larger stateroom or a suite.
When entering the cabin, on the left were three closets, one with a personal safe and shelves and two with many hangers. Next was a lighted desk/vanity with stool and three huge drawers, then a TV wall unit with several more drawers and cabinets. There was plenty of storage space here, but no refrigerator. Ice was put in twice a day, but usually was melted when we wanted it.
On the right is the bathroom, with a shower with curtain, single sink and many handy towel racks, a hair dryer, but no shampoo, just one sample envelope by Clairol (BRING YOUR OWN!), and free Bic razors. However, there were always plenty of fresh towels, tissues and complimentary robes to wear while on board. One day our cabin was not made up, even though we had left the "Please Make up Room" card on the door knob. We heard that the same had also happened to others. Not wanting to "rock the boat," we did not report this complaint to the Purser's Desk.
There were twin beds pushed together, but not made as one bed. The far wall had a window and a door to the balcony, which held a small, low chaise, a chair and a table. The cabin décor was simple, stark formica in burnt orange, lavender and gray, with tweed carpet. The bedspreads were a bit worn and balled, but all was clean. There were two numbered prints by Virginia Ferrara evoking the island period of Gauguin.
The TV offered limited programming: no CNN or ESPN here, limited news from NBC and CNBC, and very little else. A few movies were transmitted many times during the week and a few other channels showed the ship's position, nautical data and shore excursion information.
EntertainmentCruise Director John Heald is friendly, funny, and busy, busy, busy. The ship's layout allowed passengers to move smoothly from one activity to another, and the schedule of events encouraged attendance. The entertainment is billed as Las Vegas style; we found it to be average with flashes of 'great.' Generally, the music in the lounges was loud and predictable. The Highlights, who played at the Captain's Cocktail Party, were a combo of two males and two females who were really great. One girl singer with glasses looked like a pre-med student, but sang scat like Ella Fitzgerald. Each time she stepped up to the microphone, she wowed the audience.
The magicians Kevin and Caruso with their New Wave magic were excellent. We heard comments that the comics were too raunchy, but very funny. Finally, the main show Wonderful World with Trent Webb and Kimberly Cote was enjoyable. These two lead singers did justice to some difficult pieces in several languages. Very nice.
Bingo was held in the Rome Lounge with $1,000 prizes each day, and a free cruise on one day. Trivia was run with a "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" theme, also in the Rome Lounge.
Carnival caters to a younger crowd (average age 48 years ,and many young families with children) which could explain some of the musical selections. These cruisers dress less formally and are more typically Americans, with fewer foreigners. There were many more P.A. announcements than on any other cruise we've taken (for Bingo games, casino specials, shop sales, etc.).
Activities and PortsThis seven-day cruise has three ports of call sandwiched between four sea days: two at the beginning and two at the end.
San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is normally a night port, had daylight added by our arrival two hours early (4pm to 2am). The passengers appreciated it. We've been there several times and feel the port with the two forts, La Fortaleza and San Cristobal, guarding its entrance is unique. Of course, the Bacardi Rum Factory tour is popular, but our philosophy is that, "If it's available at home, don't buy it abroad and then have to haul it home."
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (8am to 6pm) is another one of our favorite ports. There is lots of shopping near the pier and it's a short taxi ride to downtown shopping and Mary's favorite, Mr. Tablecloth -- the best-priced linens in the Caribbean. There are several good tours: Coral World ($27); Shopping Tour ($19); St. John and Trunk Bay (good for first time snorkelers, $54).
St. Croix, U. S. Virgin Islands (8am to 5pm). There are white sandy beaches and Buck Island, the only underwater National Monument in the U.S. The Buck Island tour ($69) offers great snorkeling. Two other tours are both about $30 each and provide a rain forest drive or lunch and swimming at a private beach. Most passengers liked St. Croix for its sleepy quality and natural beauty.
SuggestionsLife boat drills could be held, as other cruise lines do, in lounges. Our Muster Station "A" was on the promenade, in a crowded area with a huge AC exhaust fan blowing directly on passengers. Mercy! Mr. Willis, however, told us that, for safety reasons, Carnival prefers that the passengers go directly to their assigned Muster Stations.
We felt that embarking and disembarking were made easy for the handicapped. But Carnival should be better attuned to the needs of handicapped persons by building in its ships more wheelchair-accessible staterooms in higher categories, including suites and cabins with balconies, as do the major competing cruise lines, such as RCCL, Celebrity, and Princess. We were told that on the Carnival Triumph there are 25 wheelchair-accessible cabins, all of them in lower categories: 4D and 4F (interior) and 6B (ocean view).
The cruising industry is giving consumers the best vacation value. However, in this competitive market, Carnival has to compete not only with its lower priced fares, but must not neglect the little amenities to which the cruisers have become accustomed, i.e., the shampoo in the bathroom. And cabins made up EVERY DAY!
As pasta lovers, we have noticed that even though the chef has tried to cook the pasta al dente, by the time the dish arrives to the table, the pasta is gluey. We know that the problem is in the quality of pasta that is being used. We suggest that they switch to a brand made entirely of durum wheat, preferably by an Italian company, e.g., Barilla.
Overall this was a good cruise, even with some minor disappointments. It was a great value, and very hard to pass by. With Vincent's limited mobility, we'll be able to cruise on Carnival ships only if we book a suite -- otherwise we have to wait until wheelchair-accessible cabins with balconies will become available on Carnival's new ships, since we have become addicted to balconies!
PHOTOS courtesy of Andy Newman, Carnival Cruise Lines.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Carnival Triumph, click HERE.
Vincent & Mary Finelli have written many reviews for the SeaLetter and may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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