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On a personal level I found the ship a bit too large, and the surfeit of green in all its hues was fun at first but wearing by the end of the week.
I didn't care for the Lido deck layout; the multiple levels with chaises strewn about looked very messy to me, like a big jumbled pile of deck furnishings with two pools thrown into the center. On the other hand, once amidst this pile, the design worked, creating intimate spaces that belied the total effect when viewed from a distance.
The Mediterranean Restaurant (the buffet restaurant that every ship has on its Lido deck) was too chopped up and the flow was poor. Buffet lines were long and slow, movement around the table areas was difficult, and the overall effect was unpleasant. Carnival does not provide trays in the buffet lines which meant that mothers were trying to balance plates while holding onto kids, and people were jumping into line to grab something they had no way to carry when they went through the first time. It was disorganized and uncomfortable.
The outside area aft of the restaurant made up for it, though, with the 24-hour pizzeria, sandwich cafe, pool and hot tubs. It was smaller and cozy-feeling, and proved a perfect place for me.
The staterooms are wonderful, if not absolutely elegant. They work on every level imaginable, from the large bathroom with great water pressure and powerful hairdryers to the multiple lighting options throughout. I had an aft cabin with a balcony right over the stern of the ship. It did make for a longer trek to the front where the spa, slide, and main lounge were located, but it was quiet and enjoyable. I would choose this cabin again on future trips.
The ship was completely full, and only in buffet lines and in the casino before showtime was there ever a sense of feeling crowded. The food was excellent and served beautifully with rare exception. The dining options were amazing and added considerably to the enjoyment of the cruise; I don't like having to go to the main dining rooms at a specific time EVERY night, and especially not at lunchtime.
The staff and crew did everything possible to provide exceptional service.
Although I prefer somewhat smaller and quieter ships, I would sail on the Victory again any time. I'd request a cabin on Empress deck at the stern, again, but next time I would severely limit my time in the casino.
Embarkation is an extremely unpleasant experience, made more so when the ship is full. If you are aware of this and can be prepared, it may make it easier; not enjoyable, but less wearing on you and your family.
Wear comfortable shoes, as you will be doing a lot of walking and standing. Have snacks and diversions for the children, because they will be impatient at the snaking lines and waiting time. Understand that this lengthy, uncomfortable process is going to be the worst part of your cruise vacation; once through it, you can relax and enjoy the ship and your time on board.
The Caribbean sun is brutal. Even when it is overcast and cloudy, you can be badly sunburned within minutes. Make certain that you have an adequate amount of sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 30, and use it at all times. Children's skin is especially vulnerable so make sure that they are completely covered as well.
In the Caribbean and Mexico there are sand fleas and tiny flea-like insects (called "no-see-ums") to which most of us have no immunity. Because of this, just a couple of bites can cause extremely painful and itchy welts. It's a good idea to take along a Deet-based bug spray or oil such as OFF! or Cutters and use it when you venture to the beaches. (I learned this lesson during my first excursion to the Caribbean and now will not go near a beach without using this simple and effective precaution).
Debarkation has been made almost tolerable with Carnival's decision to allow you to stay in your cabin until your tag color is called. Since the events of September 11, 2001, however, it is taking a long time for Customs and Immigration to clear the ship (this one and all others arriving in Miami) for passenger debarkation. For this reason, it is imperative that flight times out of Miami be mid- to late afternoon, no earlier.
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