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Carnival Victory , 2006

Saturday, July 1, 2006 (Canada Day)

 

8:30 am

 

We are at Logan Airport, Gate A3, awaiting our 9:30 flight to New York City, where our cruise ship, Carnival Victory, awaits. The cruise that commences today will bring us to visit Halifax, Nova Scotia and Saint John, New Brunswick. We love both of these ports—this will mark our fourth and third visits, respectively. All have been made by cruise ship.

 

This was, relatively speaking, a late booking for us. Typically, we plan our cruises nine to twelve months in advance as our travel time is restricted to school breaks. This time, we booked just three-and-a-half months in advance, a few weeks after returning from Celebrity Infinity. As that cruise didn’t live up to expectations, we thought we’d get back on the proverbial horse as soon as possible. We’ve done this cruise (sans Saint John) on Carnival Victory’s near-sister ship, Carnival Destiny, in 2000. We, therefore, have a reasonable idea as to what to expect—good food, good service, a very generously sized cabin, and a frustrating ship layout. In other words, we have lower expectations than we did on Celebrity, and will likely have a better experience.

 

11:35 am

 

Hopefully, the worst is now over, that being our taxi ride from LaGuardia’s Marine Air Terminal to Pier 92 in Manhattan. $34 (+$3 tip) and 45 minutes later, we arrived at Pier 90—the walk to the next pier wasn’t so bad, though. Norwegian Dawn is also in town, and the passengers with whom we spoke had a great time.

 

We are now in a waiting area at the pier. Many chairs are set up and we were directed to a row. They are emptying this area now by row. There are still about six ahead of us.

 

It is exciting to see our ship to our right. She’s nowhere near as beautiful as other ships we’ve seen—to quote from the movie, “Airplane!” she looks like “a big Tylenol.”

 

Our row was just called. We are about to embark. It is now 11:43—not a bad wait at all.

 

7:30 pm

 

There has been one SNAFU, yet we are not letting it bother us. In fact, it has even enhanced today’s cruise.

 

When we boarded, we learned we were assigned to the latest dining time—8:30 pm. We stopped to see the maitre d’—nothing mentioned in the daily program—we just knew to do this, and found him in the Atlantic Dining Room. Anyway, we were put on a wait list for early dining, but were asked to go to our assigned table/time tonight.

 

But, by not having to rush to dinner at 5:45 or 6:15, we got to experience the wondrous trip down the Hudson…and more. I enjoyed a chat with a fellow member of the Internet cruise board I moderate. This was followed by our transit under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. This is a tall cruise ship—13 numbered decks, I think—and I heard that we have just five feet to spare when going under the bridge. What excitement! We were on the next-to-top deck, near the base of the funnel, and the view was amazing. It truly looked like there were inches—not feet—to spare. All those on deck gave a round of applause once we cleared.

 

We are enjoying the ship so far. She is beautiful. The photos I have seen simply do not capture the elegant shades of green in the lobby. Certainly, a lot of the design is whimsical—Joe Farcus designed it, after all—but it works. I wonder how many of his critics have actually been onboard as opposed to just seeing photographs.

 

The theme of the ship is “Oceans.” Many of the public rooms are named for bodies of water, including the two main dining rooms (Atlantic and Pacific), buffet (Mediterranean), lounges and bars (Adriatic, Irish Sea Piano Bar, Aegean Sports Bar) and show lounge (Caribbean).

 

 

Sunday, July 2, 2006

 

10:00 am

 

It didn’t take me long to find my favorite spot—the outdoor promenade deck, in a deck chair under the lifeboats. The chairs are plastic and have a very comfortable padding. There is a chill in the air, so despite awakening with a migraine today, I chose the starboard side, which faces the sun. This is Deck 3, so we are close enough to the water to hear the sound of its displacement by the ship.

 

The promenade appears to be teak, but is now a wraparound. It’s one long stretch on each side. I estimate 30 chairs on this side. Most are already filled with people. So, either my secret about this deck is out, or there really is a return to the “Old Guard,” as my literary hero John Maxtone-Graham refers to long-time cruisers. Come to think of it, the main dining room was nearly full this morning, too. It is refreshing to know there are other like-minded cruisers.

 

Dinner last night was nice. The food certainly exceeds that on our February 2006 Celebrity Infinity cruise. I started with a fruit appetizer—nothing special—and enjoyed a new variety of fish as the main course. I wish I could recall what it was! There were three thin slices, placed atop each other, lightly baked, accompanied by a wonderful eggplant tapenade.

 

We attended the Welcome Aboard show last night. The cruise director, Dana, is very likeable, and is a far cry from the showman we had on Infinity. Dana said straight out that he is not part of the entertainment—he is an information source. Still, the show was enjoyable, even if the portion hosted by Dana was a bit contrived. Eight passengers were chosen from the audience to participate in an on-stage game. He interviewed the passengers before starting the game—one was (yeah, right) named “Ping Pong.” Dana followed this with a few quips, such as “bouncing around the country.” Contrived as it was, it was still fun, and got its intended point across that passengers have fun when they participate in activities and events.

 

11:45 pm

 

What a wonderful day!

 

Upon returning from the lunch buffet this afternoon (Neil felt like having deli), a note awaited us from the maitre d’ of the Atlantic Restaurant. Our dining time was changed to 6:15. We are now at Table 145, a private booth near the entrance. We are fine with not being within the midst of the dining room. For one, it’s a lot quieter!

 

I spent much of the morning and early afternoon taking photos of the ship. In the past, I tried to get photos of empty rooms, as to highlight the rooms’ features. Yet, I have changed my mind recently. First, professional and amateur photos showcasing the rooms are readily available on the Internet. Second—and more importantly—a room truly comes to life when it is occupied by passengers. After all, this is our home for five days, so why not show us living in it?

 

At 2:30 today, there was a wonderful Chinese Cultural Dance performed by a group not affiliated with the cruise line. There were about 15-20 young women who performed with scarves, balloons, flower petals, and other items, to Chinese-themed music. The show was well-attended and the troupe received a nice, and well-deserved, ovation.

 

I had planned to go to tea at 3:30, yet I felt tired and decided a nap would be of greater benefit. The family joined me. We also planned to wake early enough to dress for the Captain’s cocktail party at 5:00, but we fell back to sleep after the alarm. When we finally awoke, it was 5:42—and formal night dinner was at 6:15! We made it, with time to spare. I didn’t get much of a chance to style my hair, but it still looked fine.

 

Dinner was wonderful again. Both Neil and I had foie gras crème brulee as an appetizer, and it was marvelous. Very creamy and flavorful. For the main course, I went against my own advice and had lobster. I normally advise against lobster on cruise ships as it is not the very fresh whole lobster to which we New Englanders are accustomed. But, I felt like something light tonight. The lobster tail was very good. Not at all rubbery or coarse like other cruise ship lobsters I’ve had. Of course, it wasn’t New England lobster, but it wasn’t bad, either.

 

 

Monday, July 3, 2006

 

1:00 am

 

Our son has been sound asleep for a while now, his arm wrapped around his new stuffed animal, Carnival’s Funship Freddy. When this mascot performed in the first evening’s show, our son thought it was a grasshopper. Funship Freddy’s head is shaped like a Carnival funnel, with two exhaust wings, so I can kind of see it.

 

We arrive in Saint John at 8:00 am EDT, so we plan to eat when the dining room opens around 7:00. Although we will be in the Atlantic time zone, we are remaining on ship’s time for this cruise. It will be odd as we will have to subtract an hour from any clocks we see on shore. Also, it puts sunrise at 4:39 am ship’s time. That’s a bit early for me to wake up to view it.

 

6:30 am

 

Two nights of our cruise have now passed. I have been sleeping very well. These beds are extremely comfortable, as are the pillows. I recall reading that Carnival recently upgraded its bedding throughout its fleet. I also understand that at least the linens may be purchased from Carnival’s Web site.

 

It’s an emerging trend in the cruise industry that ships are becoming less discernable between lines. When we were on Infinity, there were times I forgot the line were on. The same is happening now. Only, this feels far superior to the Carnival cruise we were on in 2000. The itinerary’s about the same, and the ships are nearly identical in layout, but this ship, Carnival Victory, seems more elegant than our prior ship, Carnival Destiny. The lobby is brighter and large windows showcase the sea and outdoor promenade. These areas were hidden behind windowless doors on Carnival Destiny. Perhaps it was correcting a design flaw, or perhaps it was to be consistent with the Oceans theme of this ship, but the end result is that Carnival Victory is a beautiful ship.

 

We will soon arrive in Saint John. The seas are smooth as glass. As much as I love Saint John, I wouldn’t mind another sea day under these conditions. I could most definitely stay onboard this ship for a sea day—it is lovely, with many quiet places and many views of the sea.

 

5:40 pm

 

It was a glorious day in Saint John. We disembarked at about 9:00, and went on a self-guided walking tour using information from the Saint John tourism department. Our tour was called “The Loyalist Trail” and included sites in old Saint John, such as the spot where the Loyalists first landed and spots where they settled. The Loyalists were colonists who supported the British during the American Revolution, and fled as they feared persecution. Two settlements were established—Parr Town and Carleton. In 1785, the two settlements were combined to form the City of Saint John.

 

Among the stops were Trinity Church (containing the Royal Coat of Arms of the House of Hanover, rescued from the Old State House in Boston during the Revolutionary War), the Jewish Historical Museum, City Market, the Old Burial Grounds, King’s Square, and the Saint John Firefighters Museum. All were interesting and educational.

 

One of the tour guides we met described Saint John as a blue collar town to which few University graduates return. Yet, tourism is thriving. During today’s walk, we met and chatted with two sets of visitors from Halifax—a husband and wife, and three young schoolteachers. All were enjoying this beautiful day. The sun shone brightly, despite predictions of rain.

 

10:00 pm

 

I am now writing from the library, located on Deck 4. This is one deck that underwent a drastic metamorphosis during the cruise. The reason is that most of it is comprised of the photo gallery, so as the cruise progresses, there are more photographs displayed and, hence, more passengers looking at them. The deck—at least this part of it—is open to the deck below, and there is classical music now filling the atrium. I sit here watching the elevators move up and down along the atrium wall. One deck up, people are visiting the shops. Deck 4 is crowded with people—this is probably not the best location for such a high traffic area. Yet, I am enjoying the seclusion of the library. It is richly decorated in warm wood tones, and subtle shades of red and dark green on the ceiling.

 

I have so much to write, and my mind is rambling. So, I will jot down some of these topics and hope to return to them as time permits:

 

The people: It is always a pleasure to talk with fellow passengers and learn a bit about them. This evening, at the Repeaters’ party, we sat with a couple from London. He is one of the guards at Buckingham Palace.

 

The seas: We have been blessed so far with mild to moderate seas. In fact, I’ve felt no motion. That is, until tonight. The weather is still fantastic, but we are moving along rather quickly for this ship—21 knots according to the Captain’s Log television channel. This is her maximum cruising speed, as per the Carnival brochure. It is getting a bit creaky and shaky, and I love it. A ship should feel like a ship.

 

The food: Superb. Everything I’ve had in the dining room has been excellent. Tonight’s sirloin slices were very tender. And the cheese plate is a cheese plate. The varieties are listed on the menu, and served with thin, toasted bread. A far cry from Saltines on some lines. Ideally, I’d like to select the cheese, but at least there are no surprises.

 

My husband and son went off in search of ice cream (Deck 9, aft) and have just come to the library to retrieve me. My son just informed me that in addition to ice cream, he ate three servings of pizza from the nearby pizzeria. Growing boy!

 

We will now go somewhere for an evening beverage.

 

 

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

 

5:00 pm

 

We are docked in Halifax, and have been since 9:00 this morning. This is our favorite port, and we are reminded why each time we visit. The people are friendly, there is a lot of history, the natural scenery is stunning, and there is a variety of architectural styles to enjoy.

 

I am writing from Lobby Deck 3, the bottom level of the pretty green atrium. There will be a classical trio playing here tonight after dinner, as every night, and we hope to enjoy it tonight. That is still more than two hours away.

 

Our day in Halifax was superb. With each visit, we find something new to do. Today it was to visit the Pier 21 Immigration Museum, and traverse more of the city on foot.

 

The Immigration Museum was amazing. It is set in the exact location where 1.25 million immigrants entered Canada between the years 1928 and 1971. The museum showcases seven distinct areas where today’s visitor can get a souvenir passport stamped, including arrival, customs, transfer to the railroad, and a welcome to one’s new town.

 

There was also an area devoted to the largest group of immigrants—war brides. There were also videos in which actual people who once passed through these doors shared their stories. Not surprisingly, each was poignant. My favorite was the woman who, based on your young sons’ fears that they were leaving everything behind—including the moon—told them that she asked the Captain of the ship to tie the moon to the stern and bring it across the Atlantic with them. The boys were thrilled to see that not only had the moon followed them on the voyage, but it stayed with them when they got settled in their new home.

 

 

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

 

11:00 am

 

It is a sea day, and I am in the Caribbean Lounge awaiting the debarkation talk by our cruise director. As show lounges go, this one is OK—not perfect, but good. It is three decks high with various types of seating—couches, stools, theatre seats, and upholstered chairs. There are some interrupted sight lines, however, and seating that extends 270° limits the view of the stage, especially if you are sitting in one of the balcony wings. I do not like the row I am in currently. I am in the balcony, smack in the center, but this row is wide and people keep walking by. I have to sit rather uncomfortably to protect my toes, as people are looking ahead for seats rather than below for feet.

 

The talk is about to begin. Although this is cruise #22 for us, I still find these informative.

 

This cruise director is very good. Facts, with just a bit of humor. Not at all condescending. Yet, there is still the corporate “comment card pitch.” We are told that the company’s mission statement includes the goal of exceeding expectations—so “exceeded expectations” is a passing score; “met expectations” is not. He implored us to use the comments box—good save. At least he did not tell us how to fill out the cards—the most controversial statement he made was, “it’s a pass/fail situation.” It was nothing like the Celebrity cruise director who said, “anything less than ‘excellent’ is a disaster.”

 

 

Thursday, July 6, 2006

 

1:50 am

 

Our bags are packed, and we will get about five hours of sleep before tomorrow’s wake-up call.

 

There’s still so much to write. How I decided to try something new this time so entered the slots tournament. How there is an incredible amount of storage in the cabin. How I enjoyed afternoon tea with my son, who tried orange herbal tea and a small donut. How he still talks about it. How there is just enough motion on the ocean the last two evenings so that it is comforting, but not uncomfortable. How plans for sunning today went awry when the day remained foggy throughout. How I loved the sound of the ship’s whistle in the fog, and stopped in my tracks as to focus on it fully. How I watched the ocean from an outside deck chair this chilly day, and loved taking in the sounds, the smells, the ambiance, and the fresh sea air. And, how much I am going to miss this ship.

 

Thank you, Carnival. I strongly suspect we will be back.

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                   Lisa