Saturday, February 22, 2014

Carnival Victory AGAIN: Days at Sea

Tuesday Feb 4/ Thursday Feb 6

I really don't like sea days. I love being out on the islands and exploring but the days it takes to get there are boring to me. We like to nap and eat and that about sums up our sea days. There are of course lots of activities during the sea days by the entertainment staff; bingo, hairy chest contests; corn hole. I am sure most people enjoy the extra relaxation.

                                                                        We tried our luck at BINGO on our last night.

So what did we do on our two days at sea? We walked around the ship mostly, spent some time in the casino and laid around on the Serenity deck. I love the serenity area but it can be bothersome how loud the Lido deck really is. With that being said, I did get a nap in both days we were up there. The area was packed for sure but there was still a few places to sit in the early afternoon.

                                                                      Rain shower in the distance seen from the Serenity Deck.

We also love to spend time in the secret deck area. It is so relaxing. Each cruise, more and more people are then but it is still just a handful. It is so cool to look over and see rain far out and flying fish jumping along with the boat. It is also very convenient for us. I like to book our room on the lido or panorama deck and they have access to the secret decks. Just a short walk down the hall and we are there. It is nice because my boyfriend is a smoker and it is easier to walk out there than down to the casino. They did install newer cigarette trash cans for lack of a better term. They seem to hold them a lot more than the old boxes that were on the Victory the last time.

 We saw the broadway style show "Vroom" in the Caribbean threatre. This was the first show we have been to out of all our cruises thus far. The talent was definitely there but this show could use some work. It was music related but it seemed that they could use more popular songs for their skits. It was still enjoyable and like I said the singers and dancers are VERY talented.

 We saw Jorge Solano, one of the comedians the first night at sea. Unfortunately, we had seen him on our Glory cruise and his material was 95% the same. Disappointing. The second comedian on our cruise, Al Romero, we saw later on in the week. He was hilarious. The comedy lounge was FULL that night with standing room only. Eventually they stopped letting people in.

The casino was hit harder than usual on this cruise. I usually play a little here and there on a couple of penny slots. They have those temping games where it looks soooooo easy to win, cash crane and the one where you have to fit the key exactly into the slot.  I got addicted to the pirate game, Blackbeards Bounty, that we had never seen before. You were able to redeem pirate themed playing cards and poker chips with a skull & cross bones for cash. I wish I would have read how little they were worth before I got so into it. There were 7 different cards available. If you got all 7 you could exchange them for $100. The elusive card with the pirate was never seen. Typical but it was still fun. Without the pirate, each card you got was worth a dollar and each of those chips were worth $0.25. Womp womp It was still pretty fun. At the end of the week I cashed in any doubles I had of the cards and brought the rest and the tokens back to my nephew.

We also played in the arcade. They had some similar games but instead of cash prizes they offered Nintendo DS's, PS Vitas, Go Pro cameras, etc. My boyfriend noticed one of the games offering the PS Vita was pretty close so of course we played. The game was called the Barber shop and the idea was to get the "scissors" (two plastic brackets with a small blade in between) around the twine holding up the prize. The string for the Vita was cut up pretty good so we tried our luck. My boyfriend got pretty close but decided to give up. I convinced him to try twice more and BOOM he won! AWESOME. The box came down and we had to take it to the casino cage to claim. They watch the video to verify you legitimately won and then you sign some paperwork. My boyfriend was pretty excited. We tried for a couple more things throughout the week with no luck but it was fun. They also had a pacman air hockey table that was so much fun. The arcade never seemed busy but we never went during the day so that could be why. Some of the games you redeemed tickets on your sail and sign card and had different vending machine type games where you could redeem them. Unless you had a lot of tickets what you got was pretty much stickers and costume jewelry but I am sure the kids enjoy it.

You cant find too many cruises without at least two days at sea so we will just have to get used to it :)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Carnival Victory AGAIN: The Taste Bar

Before we get into my thoughts on the Taste Bar idea Carnival has come up with let me just say I am extremely disappointed in the removal of the sushi bar. I like sushi just okay. I certainly am not the first person to volunteer that idea for dinner but my boyfriend likes it and it is a nice treat to have on board. The sushi bar was available mostly every night from 5-8 on deck 5 near the casino (in our experience). It was free and the lines were always LONG but moved quickly. Somewhere a long the line Carnival has decided to remove the sushi bar and in its place add the "Taste Bar."

                                                                 The Taste Bar is located just past the casino bar on the right side.

What is the "Taste Bar?" It was the same cart (in our experience, some ships have actual counters) and had a sampling of entrees from the 2.0 additions to some of the Carnival ships. The Victory hasn't had the 2.0 upgrades so I am assuming Carnivals idea behind this is that cruisers sample some dishes and remember to look for these restaurants when booking there next Carnival cruise.

On our sailing they had samples 3 nights.
Day 1: Miami was a sample of the Blue Iguana Cantina
Day 2: Day at Sea was a sample of Cucina del Capitano
Day 5: Little Stirrup Cay (CoCo Cay) Red Frog Pub

I tried the taste bar each night it was available but do not remember what the samples were. I do know that the first night was my favorite. There was never a wait for the taste bar. Although they offered tooth picks, many of the samples (including a soup type dish called the pepper pot) could have used some mini plastic utensils.

Overall I see Carnivals idea behind sampling their new restaurants but it doesn't seem to be getting as much traffic as the sushi bar. It would seem to me to be especially lacking on ships that do offer these restaurants because why would someone come down to get a sample when they could get the real thing on the lido?

Carnival Victory AGAIN: Room 1040

Like previously mentioned, our first cruise was  also on the Victory.  I decided to book the same room as before, interior room on the Panorama deck 1040. I love the convenience of being so close to the Lido deck. I didnt take new pictures of the room on this cruise so feel free to look at this post. This layout is by far our favorite, it seems to allow a lot more  room to roam.

The layout for our room on the Destiny was also nice. Although that room was re configured and is no longer available on the Sunshine.

The room we had on the Glory was a NIGHTMARE.  We were in our room a lot more than normal due to Hurricane Sandy and I am claustrophobic. It was terrible.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Carnival Victory AGAIN: Embarkation Day

Feb 3 Day 1- Miami
Feb 4 Day 2- Day at Sea
Feb 5 Day 3- Grand Turk
Feb 6 Day 4- Day at Sea
Feb 7 Day 5- Little Stirrup Cay (CoCo Cay)
Feb 8 Day 6- Miami

We started our day bright and early... well maybe just early because it certainly wasn't bright!! Our plane departed at 6 am so we were on our way to the airport at 4:15. With about a 30 minute drive we arrived, checked our bag and headed through security. They started boarding around 5:30 and we were quickly on our way. We landed at MIA a little before 8:30 and the plan was to pick up our luggage and head to the port. Well wouldnt you know that right next to our baggage carousel was right in front of Carnivals handy Miami Airport check in counter. CONVENIENT!!

So we waited(forever) for our luggage and then popped into the Priority Line since we had purchased Faster to the Fun. There were two attendants working the counter and things moved rather smoothly. We gave them our boarding pass, took our sail & sign photos and were given our S&S cards as well as a priority boarding placard.  We promptly headed up to Starbucks, headed back down to a taxi and headed to the port. Taxi rate was $24 as posted on the window sticker plus $1 for our extra bag. I had seen this in Puerto Rico but not the last time in Miami. The $24 rate said it included all fees so I am sure we got ripped off but whats a $1 right?

We arrived at the port around 9:30 and it was a disaster. There were sworms of cruisers who had just debarked everywhere. After briefly standing in line behind some debarked passengers waiting for their shuttle we were shown the correct way. We went straight inside but realized we hadn't checked our bag. No worries, the woman checking us in assured us that we could carry both of our bags on. I was worried our bag would be too large but it wasn't and worked out just fine. Just a note, we didn't need to use FTTF for this area since there were very few people there this early.  We had no line in security, bags went through easy and we were sent upstairs to wait. We sat right down since we had already checked in and just waited for boarding. I did notice the terminal we were in no longer had the "kiosks" to add money to your S&S account. We did this in 2011 on the Destiny and thought it was a neat feature. The lines to check in also seemed very long. I would say either get there early, get there after they start boarding or check in at MIA.

Finally around 11:30 they began to call the wedding guests for them to embark, followed by Diamond, Platinum and Suite guests. Faster to the Fun was called next and by 11:45 we were on board! We went straight to our room to drop off our luggage. We were on the Panorama deck and found the fire doors to be closed. We opened them up and went to our room with no fuss from anyone. We didn't stay long and then headed to the lido to eat and get our first drinks. After lunch we headed back to our room for a small nap before muster.

Muster drill was running a tad late. It was hot as usual but pretty painless and lucky us our side of the ship was called first. Wahoo, that never happens! So we made a quick face time call to my nephew and then shut our phones off for a lovely week.

The first night was really relaxed. We had anytime dining and headed there around 6:45 along with everyone else. We were in line for maybe 10 minutes before we were seated but dinner was incredibly slow. We were there for about two hours and it was dreadful. We decided to go a bit later the rest of the week and it mostly worked out. The ATD seems to be a bit over worked and service was slow the entire cruise, with the first night being the absolute worst we have ever had.

We spent our night a little in the casino, stopped by the Taste Bar, headed to the disco. The disco is using quite slow the first night and then it livens up but there was a pretty good crowd in there and we had a good time. We stayed out until about 2 am and then headed to bed with the hopes of sleeping in for our first day at sea.

Stay tuned, more on the taste bar, day 2 and pictures to come!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Carnival Victory AGAIN: Faster to the Fun Review

Before our sailing I saw a lot of negative feedback on the FTTF program Carnival recently unveiled. This was our first cruise since the program had become available so we purchased it primarily for the fact that our room would be available upon boarding. Hauling your carry on around until 1:30 is no fun, especially when you have your soda allowance with you! This time we skipped bringing on our allotted amount of water/soda with us but we did want to be able to drop off our bags right away.

You can read my post here regarding FTTF incentives. Again, I saw lots of negative feedback so we were very concerned. My biggest concern was how many people said that their room was not ready upon arrival and it was too bad so sad. Now your room not being ready is a small small "issue" that really doesn't matter in the scheme of things. However, if you are paying for something then it should be received. Here is our experience.

*Priority Check In- YES!! Sort of...We decided to check in at MIA airport. There was a convenient check in counter there at the baggage claim area. We hadn't considered checking in this way but since our flight was early (landed at 8:30am) we decided why not. We hopped in the priority lane and were helped quickly.

*Priority Boarding- YES!!! There were multiple wedding groups boarding, then they called the Diamond/Platinum/ Suite guests and then they call FTTF. Once they started boarding it took about 10 minutes for them to get to FTTF guests.

* Room ready upon arrival- YES!!! We went straight to our room (interior, 1040). Note that the fire doors were closed but we just opened them up, walked straight to our room and put down our carry ons. No one said anything about it to us and we went to the Lido afterwards to get some lunch.

*Priority line at Guest Services- YES!! We used the platinum/diamond/FTTF line at GS multiple times. Some of the times there were few in line so we would use the regular line if someone was already being helped in the FTTF line but a lot of the times, especially towards the end, the line at GS was extremely long and it was very nice to be able to go to the designated line and be helped as quickly as possible.

*Express Luggage- We didn't use this feature. We did have a carry on bag as well as checked luggage from the airline but as were checking in at the port the woman said the bag would go through security with no issues and we could carry it on. SCORE! We had always just done carry on bags so we were a little nervous about giving our bags to the porters. Silly I know but I was also hesitant to check the luggage with the airline. It was brand new but of course is now very filthy :(

*Priority Dining Reservations- The Victory has no steakhouse so there were no reservations to be made. When we originally booked we were guaranteed Any Time Dining so I don't think us booking FTTF later on helped with guaranteeing anything there. I am sure it is a handy feature and hopefully we will be able to utilize it in the future.

*Tender Priority- YES!!! Sort of... We given direction (via a letter delivered to our stateroom) as FTTF guests to go to Guest Services when we were ready to hop on a tender for Little Stirrup Cay and they would escort us down. However there was NO line when we were ready to get on the tender. We just hopped right on and the tender was about full so there was very little waiting and we were on our way.

A lot of people seemed to be really confused when boarding as it seems when calling Carnival to inquire they are being directed to not purchase FTTF because they are sailing in a suite or are Platinum/Diamond Guests. Although suite/platinum/diamond guests include most of these FTTF perks, your room is not guaranteed to be ready until 1:30 just like all the other guests and you would be spending $50 for your room to be ready.

The package costs $49.95 and is per stateroom. Both passengers do not have to buy the FTTF, just one. If you have booked two or more rooms, someone from each room must purchase the package to be able to utilize the benefits. Some people think that it is a waste of money. It is all personal preference. We would definitely purchase again.

Please let me know if you have any questions regarding FTTF or our experience using it.

Carnival Victory AGAIN: We're back

Sad to say we are back from our latest cruise. We took yesterday and today to re-charge before having to go back to work tomorrow :( We had a great time on the Victory again, she is definitely our favorite ship of the three we have sailed.  Grand Turk has been added to our favorite ports. Little Stirrup Cay was also an amazing stop, we really enjoyed the "private island" aspect. I will be working on my review and getting all my pics loaded for you all this week.