First time on Carnival Cruises? Here are a few things I learned.

A first time cruiser’s experience on the Carnival Victory

Cailin booked us a Carnival cruise via Airmiles on a Wednesday, and by Sunday we were in Miami. Last minute travel plans FTW.

We were both first time cruisers, but desperate for sunshine, and I just wanted to MOVE. I’m eternally grateful to Cailin to snatching me away for a week of sun, because I find myself back in snowy Newfoundland feeling just a little bit less suicidal than when I left. I owe her. Look how cute we are.

Cailin and Candice Cruising!

So there was a lot of things I learned on this trip. I’m not going to go into ethics on this one (I’ve already had one friend call me “corrupted”), but I wanted to share the experience. Because apparently everyone else in the world is already an experienced cruiser, and if you’re looking for first-time tips, they’re hard to find. One day, we met a girl who was travelling on her 8th cruise, and we were impressed. Then we met a wonderful couple that was on their FORTY SEVENTH CRUISE. We were flabbergasted, but they told us they have friends who have done over a hundred. They’ve even done crazy 30-day routes from Australia to Vancouver, etc.

Cruise culture is real.

The Carnival service

Hands down, the highlight of the trip for me was the customer service. I can’t stress that enough. I KNOW it’s a cruise worker’s job to memorize your name and all that jazz, but there are over 2000 people on each ship and the bloody thing embarks every week. I can barely remember to take my birth control pills everyday, never mind learning the names of the hundreds of people passing through your domain.

First there was Heri, our Indonesian head butler dude. He was extraordinary. He knew us by name instantly, and never hesitated to chat with us. Cailin knows a bit of the language, so naturally she charmed the face off of him. He was always smiling. ALWAYS.

Then there was Sid. He waltzed up to our table in the dining room and said, “Hi, I’m the onboard magician.” I just love that it’s his title. He dazzled us for ten minutes, me squealing like a child. When Cailin tried to tip him on the third night, he refused. He actually just wanted to talk to us. FOR REAL. So he came by to see us again and again.

Sid the magician

There was also my friendly Indonesian bartender, Tsunami. At least that’s what he called himself. I showed up at the adults only Serenity Pool one day and he popped over immediately to take my drink order. “6312, right?” he asked. That was my card number – he had memorized it from meeting me like, ONCE before. (Those cheeky Carnival folks. I loved the “sign and sail” arrangement where you don’t have to take any cash or credit with you wherever you go. Flawless system. Also damned good at helping you to spend all your money without realizing it.) Anyway, Tsunami began mixing my mojitos extra strong. I learned the hard way after spending over an hour in the hot tub.

Then there was friendly Jamaican waiter, Donnovan, and of course, the maitre d’ named Erol. Cailin had a very disappointing iced tea brought to her and she requested a new one. The next day, just seconds after sitting down, Erol immediately brought her an iced tea without waiting for her order. How do people retain such memory?

The drink packages

Cruising felt an awful lot like an all-inclusive resort vacation, except the booze wasn’t included. And this is where the cruise lines make their money, I suppose, because our ticket price was actually only $20 (plus taxes and cost of flights and such, if we hadn’t booked with Airmiles). The drink packages were $50USD/day, limited to 15 drinks under $10 each. After some quick math, Cailin and I decided it wouldn’t really be worth it. She’s not a big drinker, and the catch is that BOTH people in the room have to have the package, meaning if I bought it, she’d have to as well.

It was still costly, though. Cocktails averaged around $8, but then they automatically add a 15% gratuity on top of that. Beers were a bit cheaper, and buckets of beer were cheapest of all.

SO LET ME WARN YOU: If you’re gonna binge drink and lay out in the sun, buy the drinks package. AND DON’T FORGET: During the full day at Half Moon Cay in Bahamas, the drinks aren’t included, even if you bought the package.

The onboard activities

Honestly, all I wanted to do was lie out in the adults only section drinking mojitos and sunning myself. Which I did. I participated in nothing else, besides a “singles meet up” because I thought I’d make some new friends, and then Cailin and I walked into an empty room and immediately turned on our heels and left. There were practically crickets chirping. SUCH IS LIFE.

Mojito time

How I prefer to spend vacation.
But there was non-stop activity. Potato sack races and dance-offs and mixer competitions and dancing and ladies’ nights. And really vulgar comedians and a completely bizarre ‘MURICA IS AWESOME show which I lasted through for all of five minutes. (I love America, believe me. But it felt like one big circle jerk, in costume.) It’s impossible to be bored aboard the Carnival Victory.

The excursions

Booking excursions was mega easy. It was also mega expensive. Cailin and I wanted one full day in Turks and Caicos to lie out on the beach and not have a care in the world. So we bought a package for $79USD that included a private beach where people won’t heckle you to buy shit, as well as unlimited drinks and food. We only had the package for about four hours. I don’t regret it in the slightest; I had a freaking blast and the bartender Josef was cute as heck. But that is EXPENSIVE.

We didn’t book any other excursions after that. The Victory route from Miami to Turks and Caicos to Bahamas includes a stop in Half Moon Cay, which is an island owned by Carnival. You can do snorkeling and other excursions here, but there’s plenty to do on the beach if you’re trying to save money. The beach is bloody fantastic, and there’s a pirate’s ship that also doubles as a bar. We met an awesome newlywed couple and proceeded to order massive pitchers of Rum Runners because it was raining outside. It was a silly evening.

photo (1)

When you see it…
The ship also sells packages for Nassau, which includes a whopping $99USD excursion to Atlantis, the mega resort. OR you could pay a van cab $4 to take you to the public beach at Atlantis. There’s a coconut stand there that sells unlimited $20 drinks. Speaking of things I wish I had known…

Things I wish I had known

The “day at sea” is almost always a formal day. The daily schedule you’ll receive in your room will tell you to dress nicely for your evening dinner, but it certainly does not stress the need to dress like a goddamned princess. Cailin and I headed down to the promenade to meet the captain, dressed in our sundresses and casual wear, because we had intended to dress up later. And then around us was a sea of heavily make-upped and well-dressed individuals looking like they were attending the bloody Academy Awards. I have never felt more awkward. Plus side: lobster is ALWAYS on the menu for formal night.

Lobster dinner

Tiny little Maine lobster, but lobster nonetheless.
Everybody in the USA knows the wobble dance, as well as the Cupid Shuffle. This is a perquisite for cruises.

When there’s a holiday in the USA, the boat is crammed with families. It was Thanksgiving when we cruised. I’m fine with kids, but preferably not a thousand of them, and I generally prefer not to watch a 7-year-old next to me barf into a bag while watching a movie at the Dive-In theatre. As such, it was nearly impossible to meet like-minded people our age.

The downside, and doing it all again

Waiting in line was bullshit. I know the whole “slow down and relax” mentality is hard for North Americans, but when you’re paying for a service from a company that’s been handling this kind of traffic for ages now, you’d just THINK they’d figure out some sort of system to handle it. We waited in lines for buffets. We waited for dinners (albeit only the first night was brutal). We waited nearly 45 minutes to get back on the boat on Turks and Caicos, while standing in the sweltering sun.

It was also freaking hard to get loungers most days, because despite the “no reservations” rule, people walked away from their motherfreaking loungers for hours at a time. I can’t tell you how rage-filled this made me. Have some goddamned consideration, you jerks. On the other hand, Carnival, enforce a better policy.

But, overall, those are my only real complaints. Would I do it again? Yes. For a first time on the Carnival Victory, it was pretty awesome. But I’d like to try another cruise line, somewhere different, and maybe one aimed more towards younger folks (if such a thing exists). I had a blast. Seriously, I did. And the loyalty programs that exist for returning travellers are pretty unreal. You get a TON of perks, and special services, etc. I can certainly see why so many people come back over and over again.

Candice on the Carnival Victory

Bottom line: Try it, prepare to spend cash, let loose.

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Fancy a cruise on the Carnival Victory from Miami to the Caribbean? Here's a first timer's guide.

  • December 01 2014

    Loved reading your take on things. I’ve cruised 4 times and really enjoy it. However, my cruise on the Carnival Victory (Feb 2012) was by far the worst — for the disorganization you mentioned and IMO terrible food. I’ve had better luck with other cruiselines.

    Anyway, glad you made the best of it. If you cruise again (or if your readers want first-timer tips), I’d highly recommend the forums at Cruise Critic. I read plenty before my first cruise and came onboard knowing EXACTLY what to expect, how to save money, which excursions sounded best to me and when independent travel is feasible (almost always), which weeks would have the most kids onboard, and even non-essential things like what’s on the menu for Tuesday night. Of course, with a last-minute trip I can understand it’s difficult to prepare for everything!

    • December 01 2014

      Thanks Becky! That’s awesome to know. The couple we met also mentioned Cruise Critic, but I guess I wasn’t really searching THAT hard. I had no idea there was such a big cruise family out there. I agree about the food too, mostly. Although I did love the dining in the evenings. The buffet line-ups, not as much. I will definitely try another one.

  • December 01 2014

    I’ve never been on a cruise, but working on an island in the tourism industry where there is a port call has really jaded me, unfortunately. I would say 10% of our cruise ship guests are regular people and 90% are seriously the worst people ever. I once took a job here mostly on the basis that they did not accept cruise ship guests!

    It was interesting to read your account of your trip though and I’m glad overall it was good and got you away from the snow! I don’t think I would enjoy this style of cruise, but I’m dying to get on the Star Clipper – have you heard of it??

    (PS. next time you go on a cruise pick one that goes to Roatan pleaseeeee – I will take you diving!!)

    • December 02 2014

      Bahaha! I can’t believe there are companies that don’t accept cruise ship guests. Hilarious. I’ve never heard of the Star Clipper but that’s totally up my alley. I really wanna do a Trans-Atlantic trip!

  • December 09 2014
    Melissa Shearer

    From my understanding from cruise training for my job (as a travel consultant), Carnival is the Walmart of cruises – everyone goes and you’ll always get a mixed bag of people. I would recommend you checking out Norwegian (especially the Breakaway, Epic, Getaway or Escape) – or Royal Caribbean — for a younger vibe. Disney will obviously be too young with more families with young children, and Princess, Celebrity and Holland America will all be a bit older of a crowd since they have a higher price point.

    I’m hoping to go on my first cruise in the new year with work.

    • December 10 2014

      LOL, the Wal-Mart of courses. That’s the PERFECT description! Hahaha. I definitely want to try the others.

  • December 09 2014

    I’ve never done a cruise. I know they’re probably not for everyone, but it seems like it would be a fun thing to do at least once. Also I totally didn’t know there’s a formal evening on a cruise…guess I’ll know now to pack something dressy if I take a cruise.

    • December 10 2014

      Yep! We did NOT know either! Haha

  • December 09 2014

    I’ve been on 5 cruises – 4 with my family (my parents really like cruising) and 1 with friends. If you want a party cruise, the trick is to go to the Caribbean during American spring break. THAT’S where you find the party crowd. ;)

    Most of the cruises I’ve been on have been laid back and geared towards an older crowd (like the two cruises I’ve been on in Alaska), which I honestly didn’t mind. Favorite cruise line is probably Royal Caribbean (I’ve been on RC, Carnival, Norwegian, and Princess).

    I’m with you with being blown away by the cruise ship staff. I LOVE meeting and getting to know the staff on board. Those people are amazing.

    • December 10 2014

      They’re SO GOOD! Hahaha, good call on the spring break. I totally didn’t mind the relaxed atmosphere, I just wish there were more people our age around.