Our first Halloween Cruise was on the Carnival Triumph and we could not have picked a better ship, itinerary or date for our 3rd Cruise. One of our best friends, Brian Hagan, joined us for what would be some of the biggest fun to date. We were leaving out of NOLA again so we thought we knew what to expect, but of course for all the great planning, you never know what you are going to run into.
One of the things that really made this trip special was the group that came together on Facebook. Shaune and Katie, Bryan and Dawn, and Brenda B. all seemed to be everywhere we turned which was fantastic after having had so much fun with them at the meet and greet Brenda setup in the French Quarter.
Now, we had sailed out of the Port of New Orleans in February with Faster to the Fun embarkation, so we woke up early to get some breakfast before heading over to the port. The Comfort Inn and Suites puts on a pretty good hot breakfast as I mentioned previously, so we filled up on free grub and had the desk call for our ride. The shuttle service was included so we were able to leave our car at the hotel and save the cost of parking at the port.
On arrival everything seemed normal as we dropped our bigger bags with the porter, gave him a nice tip to take care of our luggage and carried on with our small bags with the basics. We walked over to the doors to enter the terminal, but instead of being let in to go have a seat, we were guided around the side of the building to wait outside. The transformation from the Triumph to the Sunrise had started a few weeks earlier, and though Carnival had sent communications warning guests to show up a little later than usual, they were not exactly clear on what to expect. To load the materials and construction equipment they used the terminal ramps so that they could load the rest of the ship as normal. Until this was finished, we were asked to wait outside. It was mildly uncomfortable, and they didn’t handle the line perfectly, but it was definitely a small inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. We were eventually allowed inside and it was business as usual. The Check-in process at the port is awesome and friendly and soon we were relaxed, ready to board, and excited to get the party started.
When the time finally arrives, Faster to the Fun boards immediately following the Platinum and Diamond Cruisers, and ensures your room will be available as soon as you board the ship. Carnival changed its policy recently so that you now get your keys at your cabin door. Previously you were given your sail and sign card at the terminal, but the new process makes for faster embarkation, and fewer guests sneaking into their rooms before the usual 1:00 pm availability. It also leads to some minor confusion with how to make purchases, but you just need show your boarding pass to the bartender, waiter or cashier in the fun shops to get your account started. I had every confidence that Carnival would have a way to keep up with my drinks, so as is tradition, we hurried up the gangway, onto the ship and headed straight to the lobby bar to get a jump on the CHEERS drink package. Cocktails finally in hand we made our way to the midship elevators and up to decks 6 and 8 to check out our accommodations.
One of the best surprises of our cruising experiences so far was our stateroom on the Triumph! I had been watching the Facebook Groups, and I knew that some of the upper floors had been blocked off on previous cruises, but I couldn’t get any definitive answers on whether our cabin would be remodeled. I was ultimately expecting to be assigned a different cabin, so I was ecstatic when we opened Cabin 8410 and found a completely remodeled stateroom. Upgrades were everywhere including a refrigerator (not found in all cabins at the time), USB ports on the desk and by the beds, a new couch, new carpeting and some new caribbean themed artwork adorning the walls. There is also a new and larger flat screen television on the wall to keep up with the ship’s news and events. LED lighting has been added in the form of ceiling spotlights, and the ladies will love the new LED backlit mirror and blow dryer at the vanity. The old cabins had a blowdryer on the wall of the bathroom that resembled a vacuum cleaner – which seems appropriate considering the overall consensus was that it sucked. Also, the bathroom is now a more aesthetically pleasing blue instead of the dated pepto-bismol pink of the old theme. Without a doubt we were pleased with our home for the week and it was absolutely fantastic throughout. I am pretty sure we were the first to sail in this cabin and I probably spilled the first drink there, so I will forever remember it for that. The new Sunrise is sure to be an awesome ship when she comes out of dry dock and we are extremely excited to be booked on her sisters, the Sunshine and Radiance, for our next two fall trips.
Our luggage was actually at our room when we arrived (see tip to porter above) and we were able to put away our clothes before most people were able to board the ship. I firmly believe that taking care of the porter gets communicated down the line and your bags get better treatment. If I am wrong, so what? I try to make sure everyone gets taken care of and that tends to work out well for us. It worked out well this time and we were ready to head out to grab a bite to eat.
Embarkation day can be a little confusing for new cruisers and old cruisers alike. Getting to know the ship’s layout in advance was a big help and made day 1 aboard the Triumph easier to deal with than our first cruise on the Ecstasy where we sat in the lobby and waited with the rest of the lost and uninitiated. We avoided the elevators and took the stairs up one level from our cabin to the Lido deck to find something to eat. There are options everywhere including Guy’s Burgers, the Blue Iguana Cantina and the Grand Buffet. There are lines at most stops, but they move quickly. Dawn and I happened on an opening at Chopsticks, the Chinese short order grill between Guy’s and the Grand Buffet, and so we took advantage and ordered our lunch there. I had the seafood in Oyster sauce and she had Chicken, rice and vegetables. We took the stairs up one level where there is far more open seating and enjoyed our lunch. I loved mine, but Dawn wasn’t as hungry so she didn’t really clean her plate the way I did. She did scarf down a Guy’s Burger shortly after, so I think she was probably saving room. Right after we sat down to eat I noticed Hago wandering around the deck outside, so I guided him to the doors and he joined us for the afternoon festivities.
Though it was a sunny day, the temperatures were not quite warm enough for swimming or sunning, so we spent some time walking around the ship and checking out the decor and offerings. The Triumph is set up like many of the Carnival ships with the galley taking up most of the mid section of the 3rd floor. Dining rooms are located mid and aft and the Rome Main Lounge is located at the front. Guest Services and the Shore Excursions Desk are located near the Capitol Lobby Bar in between. The 4th floor is made up of the second levels of both dining rooms and the lounge, the Oxford Bar which was usually reserved for special occasions, and the Pixels Photo Area overlooking the lobby. There is an outside deck that leads from the front to the back of the ship on both sides, but navigating the 5th floor Promenade is much easier.
Conveniently, the Promenade Deck is where a lot of the action is found. From the Club Rio Aft Lounge where Punchliner Comedy shows were staged, to the top level of the Rome Main Lounge at the front of the ship where you could catch the stage show productions, there is a plenty of entertainment to be found. The Alchemy Bar setup on the Triumph is fantastic. It is at the beginning of the World’s Way Promenade if you are starting from the rear of the ship just in front of the piano bar. From there you can stroll past the nightclub, arcade, and Vienna Cafe on your way to the World’s Bar in the Casino or over to the Skybox Sports Bar to watch a game or catch up on your favorite sports scores. The fun shops are also located on the 5th deck overlooking the Capitol Atrium allowing you to browse while you enjoy the nightly entertainment. We stopped Adam the cruise director for the obligatory snap shot while we were roaming around and spent a little time at the Casino Bar.
On our voyage the Alchemy bartenders were Ioachim and Simona and they were by far the best two bartenders I have encountered in all my years. I have quite a history with bars and feel like I know my stuff, but I am sure there are others out there that are just as talented at their craft, and their cheerleaders have every right to assume they are as good as my pick. This is a husband and wife team however, and I think that chemistry combined with a great atmosphere made for a winning setup on the Triumph. They got to know us quickly and we thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with them. I don’t have to tell you that the drinks are awesome, but I will. The drinks are awesome at Carnival’s Alchemy Bars. Hago’s favorite was the Deal Closer, which is a Chocolate Martini on a higher level. Dawn loved it too, but had them hold the Amaretto. I pretty much stuck with the Moscow Mule after Ioachim turned me onto it, and I have had quite a few since. None as good as theirs, but maybe that was just the company. Good friends make everything better!
Speaking of good friends, on that first night we caught up with Shaune and Katie, new friends we made in NOLA, and had a great night hanging out and getting to know each other. They really got to know my wife’s aversion to heights once we hit the top deck. After spending most of her time hugging the hull of the ship, Katie realized my wife’s distress and talked us boys into heading down. We all got out our cell phone flashlights and helped Dawn down the stairs to where she felt more safe. It was a parade of hilarity coming down from deck 11 to be sure. She felt a little safer in the smoking area where we found Brenda B, another new friend, hanging out and so we just chilled there until it was time to head to the cabin and shut it down. I hit my drink limit at the perfect time as #15 was my night cap and I finished it on our balcony as the moon ducked behind the clouds and our night came to an end.
We were sailing on a 5 day Western Caribbean Cruise that included stops at Cozumel and Progreso Mexico sandwiched between two sea days. I will cover the ports and excursions in a later blog. Sea Days on Carnival for us starts with the Sea Day Brunch. So Dawn and I headed down for breakfast and enjoyed a quiet table for two. I had my usual, Flaming Tomato Soup and Steak and Eggs breakfast, and Dawn had the eggs benedict, which is her favorite breakfast in the dining room. After breakfast we called Brian and had him meet us up on the lido deck to hang out and catch some sun rays. We chilled on the aft sun deck and sipped some Pina Coladas and other adult beverages. As is now tradition, after lunch, I sent Dawn to the spa for a Mani-Pedi and Brian and I took in the action on the Lido. The scary chest contest was fantastic. The eventual winner was not what I would have expected, but his showmanship won the day. Brian and I had a good laugh and a couple of drinks and meandered to and fro eventually making our way up to the spa deck to collect Dawn. By now it was late afternoon and time to get ready for formal night in the MDR.
We always eat in the dining room and can’t quite get the allure of skipping it for the buffet, but to each their own. The only excuse for us to skip the MDR is to eat at the Chef’s Table or a specialty spot like the Steakhouse. No steakhouse option on the Triumph, so we opted for the Chef’s Table which on this trip happened to fall on the night of the first sea day. Elegant night usually means Prime Rib and Lobster on the menu, so it hurt a little to miss out on the good stuff. I always opt for both which is one of my favorite things about cruising. You can order multiple appetizers or Entrees and the waitstaff won’t bat an eye. I suggest letting them know you are ok with being served all of your meal at once. For our nightly table, we grouped our booking with Brian and the Maitre D’ sat us a with a couple traveling with the wife’s mom, as well as a trio of coworkers with what we will just call an “interesting dynamic”. We all got along fairly well and the conversation seemed less forced by the end of the cruise, but we didn’t leave the table with any friends as we had on our last cruise.
Carnival Triumph’s Chef’s Table experience was another perfectly executed masterpiece in gastronomy! Brian joined us for his first experience and this would be our third. As on previous cruises we were once again given a tour of the galley, some starters and champagne. A short demonstration on how to make the melting cake followed. However, dinner was served back in the Library instead of the galley as it was on the Carnival Dream. We prefer the Library setup as the ambiance and lighting seems more fitting for a fine dining experience than the corner of the kitchen. The meal was another culinary Triumph (see what I did there?), but the experience was a little tainted by the drunken mess seated across from me. She was hammered when she got there and had her head on the table before we reached the 5th course. Her partner insisted on staying through the dessert course since she had paid for them, and the ongoing interaction between the two was humorous, and maybe a little sad. However, the food and experience are too good to be ruined by something so trivial and we just let her be her and focused on the wonderfully presented menu.
The last sea day was Halloween and Carnival made it fun! Carnival makes everything fun, but on Halloween folks tend to let down their guard a little bit and act out of character, or maybe in character in some cases. Patch, the Pumpkin Pirate, stood watch over the party in the Capitol Atrium and the rest of the ship had fun decorations to set the mood. I would say about 75% of the passengers dressed up in costumes, but Hago was the first of the day in his Fred Flintstone coverup. Talk about setting the mood, he was definitely a hit and spent a lot of the day posing for pics. Dawn and I followed suit and put on our Oktoberfest gear after lunch and we spent the day listening to tunes, watching the ocean and of course, working on that CHEERS package.
A costume change was required prior to dinner. Considering our cruise was in the Caribbean, we felt we had to dress as pirates. Hagan and I ended up buying the same costume and I had already purchased Dawn’s to match, so we made a great looking trio at sea. After dinner we hit up the Alchemy Bar and then got some seats for the comedy shows. Always a good time, the comedians definitely didn’t disappoint. Afterward we caught the end of the costume contest and part of the party in the Capitol Lobby before we finally headed off to find some grub. Hago wanted pizza and we wanted sandwiches, so he headed back towards the Pizza Pirate and we headed to the buffet area. The deli has a great 1/4 lb beef frank and Dawn loves a good reuben. We grabbed our food and drinks and took them out to the lido to watch the movie on the big screen and eventually made our way back to the cabin for our final night at sea.
The next morning we were some of the first off the ship as we were able to carry our bags off and had FTTF for early debarkation. We made it off in record time and caught the first cab in the line. That turned out to be unfortunate. He was asleep when we knocked on the window and took forever to get us loaded. While sleeping he had fogged the interior windows so badly that he couldn’t clear the view until we were almost across the river and back to our hotel. I hadn’t called the hotel for our shuttle pick-up because it all went so quickly, but looking back I wish I had made that call. We eventually made it back safely enough and found our car safe and sound as advertised. The drive home was spent in a torrential downpour that followed us all the way up the interstate, but we persevered to make it back to our old KY home safe and sound.
NOTES – CHEERS and Cruising Solo
CHEERS Notes – We definitely saved money on this cruise with the CHEERS drink package. I should add, however, that it is not easy when your partner is not a big drinker. I quite possibly drink too much and can therefore drink enough to make up for my spouse’s lighter habit, but it is not always easy. I often tout the benefits of the package, but it is a fine line between who will profit between the cruise line and the drinker. In the end, to me the price and convenience of paying upfront is worth the peace of mind knowing my bar bill will not be a big surprise on the last day of the our trip.
Cruising Solo – After reviewing the expense of soloing with Brian he expressed serious doubts about doing it again. The bottom line here is that it is not cheap. There does not seem to be a way to do it cheaply on the current roster of ships either. The word on the FB groups is that the new ships will have some solo cabins and be more friendly to singles, but Carnival is a family focused line and it will likely remain cost prohibitive for people to go it alone. Best bet is to find someone to bunk up with.