Monday, June 17, 2013

Return of the Triumph

  ‘Return of the Carnival Triumph’

Review 6/13/2013

Just the Facts:
Ship: Carnival Triumph
Captain:  Allesandro Iemmi
Cruise Director:  Jen Baxter
Ports: Galveston-Cozumel-Galveston

We booked this short 4-day cruise two weeks prior to sailing primarily as a show of support for the Carnival Triumph returning to Galveston.  I was also curious to see what 2.0 upgrades were added in addition to the repairs from the problems that occurred early in the year. This is my 35th Carnival cruise, second time on the Triumph, and 80th cruise overall.

Wednesday / Travel
We left the ranch about 2:30 pm and headed south to stay with good cruise friends.  We had a nice casual drive and arrived about 6:30 in the Cypress area of Houston.  A great evening and since I still have lingering effects of Schistosomiasis I was able to rest and break up the travel.

Thursday / Embarkation / Day 1
We anticipated early boarding since the Triumph had been in Galveston a few days so after a nice
breakfast provided by our hosts we were off to Galveston about 9:00 am. We arrived at EZ Cruise Parking by 10:30 and were shuttled over to the ship straightaway.  We were checked in at the VIFP priority check in area by 11:10 and after a short wait we were escorted to the ship.  They really have the boarding procedure down to a science in Galveston now.  I noticed in the general boarding area that they have areas sectioned off into zones with TV monitors showing boarding status for the various groups or zones. This really helps the passengers to understand the procedure.  It’s really like an Airport lounge if not better.  Although we were among the first to board there were a lot of VIP’s with day passes so the lobby was kind of busy especially since they were serving complementary (small) cocktails upon entering.   I had decided to wheel on my large duffel and not check it since I had packed water and cokes.  Once I was able to get through the small crowd and also get my cocktail we went strait to the cabin to drop my bag.  We were in the cabin on deck 8 aft by 11:40 am and I consider that wonderful.  After a bit of unpacking we went up to the Lido buffet for a bite of lunch.  I had the roast beef and sampled a few other items.  DW had a very nice salad, as a vegetarian, it is her favorite thing on the ship and they do have a nice salad bar area.  Carnival arranged a lot of special extras and surprises for the ‘Return’ voyage and while eating our lunch one surprise walked by:
Geo Lopez in Rome Lounge - Carnival Triumph
George Lopez.  Also something different, suddenly the music changed and the waiters and staff of lido did a dance for the guests: YMCA. Interesting.  After lunch I went to see the new Red Frog Rum Bar and the Blue Iguana Bar on Lido deck.  We had a 1:00 pm showtime for the special Punchliner show in the Rome Lounge so I headed down there about 12:50.  The DW is not a George Lopez fan (and there are a lot) so I was able to get a single seat third row center.  Carnival Brand Ambassador John Heald was there and two comedians including George Lopez.  He was very well received although I believe it was because he is a name celebrity, not necessarily his comedy.  IMHO-I thought John Heald was much funnier.  After the show I met up with the DW and we explored the other special extras and surprises.  There was a Mariachi band on Promenade deck, The Houston Texan Cheerleaders in the EA Sports Bar, Cotton Candy machines, a ‘Spin the Wheel’ gift wheel (we won a nice Guy’s Burger hat and a free cocktail), the Alchemy Bar had cocktail samples, and there were complementary “Triumph Returns” T-shirts in every cabin.  In addition there were several contests that guests could enter and DJ Irie was on Lido providing music.  The lone priority checked bag showed up about 2:45 pm.  A very busy day and a lot of activities before the scheduled 4:00 Boat/Safety Drill.  Just about on time the announcements for guests to leave and passengers to prepare for boat drill began.  Safety drill went smooth and very soon the Triumph was sailing from the port of Galveston on her way into the Gulf with an escort of dolphins.  We enjoyed a little ‘snooze’ time before getting ready for the Welcome Show at 7:30 featuring the Triumph orchestra and the Triumph singers & dancers.  Jen the Cruise Director welcomed the guests and the two comedians: John Macdonnell and Tommy Drake did a short routine.  It was now time for dinner in the Paris dining room.  I had requested a two top table along the railing and Cris, the Maitre'D, did a great job getting our requested spot, he also came by to say hello.  For dinner I ordered a Shrimp Cocktail, Escargot, Broccoli Soup, Grilled Chicken with Pasta, and NY Cheesecake and Black Forrest Gateau for dessert.  The Gateau was excellent.  There were a lot of late activities on the ship, but we returned to the cabin after a FUN active day.  Click here for link to Carnival video about embarkation day.

Friday / Fun day at Sea / Day 2
Very smooth seas overnight and good sleeping in the inside cabin, just enough movement for an enjoyable nights sleep. I was off to the Paris dining room for breakfast about 9:00 am. The Triumph
maintained the traditional open dining and not the Punchliner Brunch concept on other 2.0 Carnival ships. I ordered my old traditional breakfast of sliced Melon and Eggs Benedict with side of bacon, and hash browns.  The eggs were over cooked (all the way through), but were good.  DW did the buffet and went to the aft pool, but it is NOT an adult only pool and was already full of kids.  Very disappointing for her and other adults.  I took my bubba mug up to Lido and filled it with the very good Guava juice from the drink fountain and then joined DW on the aft deck for the morning.  I was reminded why I don’t generally sail in the summer, Kids were jumping in the pool AND hot tub as if it were a water park. DW had another salad and I sampled a few desserts at noon.  We then watched an afternoon movie in the cabin.  I went to Guy’s Burgers (open 12-6) about 3:00 for my lunch and it was very good as I expected from eating there on previously on other Carnival ships.  This is a major improvement for the Triumph as they can quickly feed a large number of people and will be very useful especially on port days.  After my late lunch I had a rest and made some notes for this review. The highlight of the day was the production show Wonderful World that was before dinner for late dining guests.  The show features the Carnival Triumph dancers and singers and highlights music from around the world. There were songs or dances from: France, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Africa, Spain and more.  I especially enjoyed the Can-can by the dancers and Con te partirĂ² by the feature singers.  It was a fantastic show and is not to be missed.  Elegant night dinner was good, I ordered: the Stuffed White Mushrooms, Pumpkin Soup, Farfalle Pasta with Turkey, the Lobster, a Fruit Plate, and the Cherries Jubilee for dessert.  The table magician came by and did a few tricks for us, they were amazing.  The Platinum gifts were delivered tonight: Carnival Tervis glasses. There were lots of evening activities, but we retired somewhat early.  It was  a FUN sea day on the Carnival Triumph.

Saturday / Cozumel, Mexico / Day 3
Again very smooth seas overnight.  We arrived early at the Puerta Maya pier and were docked well before the scheduled 9:00 am arrival.  We are the only ship in Cozumel.  We decided not to rush  and let everyone leave so that we could enjoy the ship to ourselves this morning. I had a MDR breakfast this morning of fried eggs, bacon, and ham.  I met DW on lido deck and there was no one in the pools and few guests on board, very nice.  We took a taxi into town ($8) about 11:00 and I got a much needed haircut at Antonio’s where I’ve been getting my haircut for over six years.  We then went over to Woody’s
Woody's Bar & Grill
Bar & Grill owned by our friend Nelly to use their WiFi and catch up on email and do a little work.  We were there a few hours and had a good visit, some guacamole, soda, and frozen mango margarita.   We made a stop at the pharmacy, a quick stop at Wet Wendy’s, and got a taxi for return to the ship for the 4:00 pm departure.  Guests were enjoying the only port and didn’t return until late so there were very long lines to board.  Also some very rude line jumpers.  We ordered room service when we got back to the cabin and cleaned up from the hot & humid day in Cozumel. Usually there is not a VIFP party on a 4-day cruise, but they actually had one at 5:00. We did not attend as it was so soon after boarding, but I understand they recognized the passengers who were on the February cruise.  Nice.  Soon after room service was delivered a nice Gift basket with fruit, wine & cheese, and chocolate covered strawberries arrived from Jen & John H. so we had our own party.  Thanks guys.  We went up to the new Alchemy Bar about 7:00 for pre dinner drinks and sampled some specialty cocktails: Alchemists Side Car, Curative Peach Cosmopolitan, and ‘Forty is the new 20’ (with pomegranate  & the best of the 3)  Maja was our bartender who I knew from working in the piano bar on both the Magic TA and the Breeze Bloggers cruise in February.  The cocktails were very good.  For dinner this evening I had the Fried Shrimp with Plum Sauce, the Red Fish, the large Shrimp & Fries from the comfort menu, and Tiramisu & Fruit Plate for dessert.  The production show this evening was Edge, but having previously seen him we had late cabin time and sampled more goodies from the gift basket.  A great day on ship and in Cozumel.

Sunday / Fun day at Sea / Day 4
Another calm night at sea.  The plan for the day is to do as little as possible.  I had a MDR breakfast this morning, fried eggs, toast, bacon, hash  browns, and ham.  I ordered eggs over easy and they came back pretty much medium as I actually like them.  Lesson learned.  After breakfast I met DW on aft Lido deck and had a Bloody Mary while she had her breakfast.  There was a very nice breeze on deck so we enjoyed it this morning.  Midday DW visited the shops so I waited in the very nice lobby area and bar on deck three and people watched.  We returned to Lido aft for lunch, the Lido was very
busy with the chocolate buffet, so a Guy’s hamburger was an easy choice for me.  We had an afternoon meeting with Captain Allesandro for tea on the bridge and that was very enjoyable.  We had a great visit discussing Carnival, Italy and cruising. The view was great and the seas are so calm. I think we actually over stayed our visit as it was 5:00 when we left the bridge.  The Captain is very charming.  DW said he was handsome, kind of David Beckham-ish...whatever that means.  This evening we went to the final production show: The Big Easy in the Rome Lounge.  We had seats on the second row next to the stairs and I felt like I was a part of the show since they did so much directly in front of me...I had to duck several times...LOL.  It was a very good show with a lot of costume changes and featured many songs associated with New Orleans.  Final dinner was good, but there were a lot of empty tables in the MDR.  I wonder why?...I hope people weren’t skipping out on their gratuities. I just had two items: the Penne Mariscos Pasta (with seafood) and the Veal Parmesan.  For dessert I had Butter Pecan ice creme.  We did some shopping and visited Milos at the Alchemy Bar after dinner for a ‘Quick Fix’.  It was very good drink perhaps the best that I tried.  It was then cabin time for some preliminary packing.

Monday  /  Debarkation
We did self-debarkation and walked off the ship about 8:35 am among the very first to leave.  Just lucky on the timing and the Diamond VIFP card helped.  They had quite a few Homeland Security agents working so customs went very fast.  In fact we were the first through line #8. We walked over to EZ Cruise parking and were off the island at 9:00am and home about 1:30pm.

The Carnival Triumph of course is the ship that had the fire and was towed back to Mobile in February that brought such wide negative national publicity.  Carnival has invested $115,000,000.00 (almost 25% of the original cost to build) in repairs, retrofit, and upgrades to her and this was the first return cruise. You can see the new Emergency Generator as it is mounted on deck.  There were Triumph Returns banners and signs throughout the ship.  She seems in great shape operationally.  She does show her age in some areas, but is very clean and nice.  Carnival certainly went all-out on this cruise to make the guests feel welcome and have a FUN time.

We didn’t have a variety of choice on cabins booking so late, but we have cabin 8420 an interior located port side aft on deck 8.  This is generally our favorite location on a Carnival cruise ship.  The cabin is almost like new.  We have new carpet, new bedding, duvet, and pillows, new sheets and pillow cases, new robes, new towels, and more.  One big change is the bathroom floor is now raised about 5+ inches from the cabin floor.  They must of installed new plumbing.  It seems odd that you are standing so high above the sink and your at the top of the mirror when you smile at yourself.  The cabin steward was fine, the cabin was always clean and ice chest filled.   The cabin has a swipe type safe, twin/queen beds, a hair dryer, but no refrigerators in the interiors (OK by me we never use them).  I would suggest splitting the beds into twins for more floor space.

Both the Main Dining Room and Lido Buffet have new carpet, new table cloths, new napkins and looks very nice.  The Salads Bar on the buffet is very good.  The new Blue Iguana for burritos and Guy’s Burgers are excellent.  The buffet food is pretty standard, but the desserts are good.  The MDR food is IMHO just adequate, but we had a nice two top table and location and the waiters were good.  Again the desserts were probably the better part of the MDR experience.  Room Service was good and very prompt.  I believe Guy’s helps that situation.  Still no Mongolian Grill, but they have Chopsticks, an Asian specialty spot.  DW reports that the cookies are good.  Love the new Alchemy Bar and the Lobby bar is very nice.  Thirsty Frog beer is available in the Red Frog Rum bar, EA Sports bar, and Lobby bars.  If guests want the full entertainment experience, then the Triumph may be the ship for you.  They have a large 12+ member ship orchestra, 13 production dancers, and two excellent feature singers.  Also bands and solo performers. 

One of the concerns I had was will the crew be experienced and trained on the new features since the ship was out of operations for several months.  Many had been on board for a while, but many crew just joined the day prior and day of sailing.  We did not get our cabin service on the first evening, but overall it was mostly a non issue and everything seemed to run very smooth from a guests  point of view.  I think most new crew were experienced.  The entire crew were certainly very friendly.  The crew really made the cruise, my favorites this cruise were Milos and Maja in the Alchemy and our MDR waiter Ari.

There is really a lot to do on the ship with bingo, casino, trivia games, and excellent entertainment. This is a very good starter ship for newbies to cruising and there were a lot on board, also a lot of extended family groups. A perfect ship and cruise for both.  Again I usually do not sail in summer, but if I did I would not sail the Triumph unless I had a balcony so I would have my own private space away from children.  As an experienced cruiser and as I get older I prefer longer cruises, but this was certainly.....