Triumph doesn't offer all of the bells and whistles of the newer Carnival ships, but it felt like there was plenty to do on a short cruise.
There are two pools, one aft with a sliding roof which, for the duration of this cruise, remained closed and a very busy mid-ships pool surrounded by hot tubs and bars. I should note that, early in the cruise, rough weather closed the pools as they’d turned into skull-crushing vortices.
In better weather, the pools were busy, but there is plenty of deck space on the ship and I was always able to find empty loungers. Speaking of which - there are no mattresses on the loungers, but they are made from a mesh, rather than hard plastic, which is comfortable with just a towel. It did, however, feel as if the ship could use more shelter from wind on the deck - I lay down to read for twenty minutes and then found my shoes forty meters downwind.
There is a single waterslide as a small mini-golf course high up on the ship, as well as a large screen suspended above the pool which shows movies of an evening. And, by the way, people seem to love that - sitting in deck chairs in a storm one night, seemingly oblivious to the driving rain.
There are also a lot of things aimed at keeping children amused, including a video game arcade themed, not wholly successfully, as “Underground Tokyo”.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the decor of the balcony cabin I had on Carnival Triumph has not aged gracefully, however, it was reasonably comfortable.
The bed, in particular, was excellent - I can see why Carnival seem to have a side business in selling them. However, the cabinets and wardrobes have seen better days. This was particularly noticeable on the first night when very rough seas had the wardrobe doors flying open and then slamming shut every time the boat heaved from one side to the other.
The bathroom was small and sported both an odd pink colour scheme and the kind of wall-mounted hairdryer that I thought had been committed to history. Body wash and shampoo are provided in wall-mounted dispensers, but towels were plentiful and replenished regularly.
The balcony, while cramped, did include a chair that converted into a sunbed, but, be warned, there is only room out there for one person to lie down.
I checked in online for this cruise a few days before leaving the UK and, at the same time, ordered some bottled water for my cabin.
The online check-in process, while generally smooth, suddenly becomes clunky when they, inexplicably, ask for all your other travel plans. I don’t know if this is a US Customs and Border requirement, but it’s implemented badly - in an attempt to be helpful, the site insists on pre-populating your return flight details based on your, already supplied, inbound arrangements then gets terribly cantankerous when you try to change them.
That being said, all of the documents and luggage labels printed out perfectly, despite, I assume, being designed for US Letter, rather than the A4 paper I was using.
Having arrived in New Orleans late the night before, jet lag ensured that I was still up and about early, so I decided to walk to the famous Cafe du Monde for beignets before it became crowded, then walked along the waterfront, with Carnival Triumph visible at the port, just before the Crescent City Bridges.
I took a short taxi ride to the terminal at my allocated check-in time of 2pm. There were plenty of porters on hand to deal with pre-labelled luggage, but I’m not a fan of the manner in which, rather than just asking for a tip (which I was in the process of doing anyway), my porter made an, almost threatening, comment about him being the last person to see my luggage.
Despite large crowds, security, check-in and boarding was slick and fast and, by the time I was on the ship, cabins were ready for occupation. Luggage was a bit slow in arriving, but showed up in the cabin after a few hours.
What was slightly odd was the time and effort expended by Carnival in policing their beverage policy. Carnival permits guests to bring on board one 750ml bottle of wine or Champagne and a maximum of twelve cans of soft drinks. I was shocked at how many people were bothering to lug 12-packs of Dr. Pepper onto the ship. More amusing were the number of conversations I overheard onboard about smuggling in contraband booze. A veteran of dozens of Carnival voyages advises re-filling an empty Listerine bottle with vodka and a few drops of food colouring.
Shortly after we left New Orleans, the other shoe in this pantomime dropped - hundreds of people lining up to buy “discounted” bottle of spirits from a special sale in the ship’s atrium.
Oh, between boarding and departure there was a mandatory safety drill that was almost comically disorganised - mainly because most of the ship was already wasted.
After that, I grabbed an oddly coloured cocktail from the poolside bar then retreated to my balcony to watch us pull away from New Orleans.
UPDATE: 21 days after I sent them my new Eurostar ticket to ask for a refund, as instructed by their onboard customer service staff, MSC informed me that this was an issue for my insurer and not their problem. I mentioned that I had a recording of me discussing this matter with their staff, which they requested. Unfortunately, the audio file is too big for their mail server. As MSC seem to have no means of receiving a large file, I'm posting it here so that they can listen to it on my servers. If you have a spare 20 minutes and fancy a laugh, do listen - fair warning, the first few minutes are just background noise.
Pour yourself a drink and take a seat - like Ben Hur, this is quite the tale.
Last week’s four night cruise on the MSC Magnifica did not go as planned. The normal series of posts reviewing the ship, food and facilities will follow in due course, however, it feels as if the events of last Tuesday and Wednesday deserve some special consideration.
Around 1830 last Tuesday, the MSC Magnifica collided with the harbour wall when leaving Civitavecchia. 25 hours later, I found myself summoned to a meeting with two MSC staff members to discuss my social media activity.
Before delving further into this, I want to make two things clear:
Tuesday April 18th 2017
1830 - Scheduled departure time from Civitavecchia (Rome).
1830 (approximately) - Standing on the balcony of my cabin as Magnifica maneuvered out of Civitavecchia, there was a large bump, I thought we’d run over something, but wasn’t that worried. From the balcony, all I can see is the expanse of the harbour, so have no idea how close the other side of the ship is to any other obstacles. Aside from a very upset Mexican couple in the neighbouring balcony, it didn’t seem to me that much was happening, although the ship was still swaying a lot.
After about fifteen minutes I wandered up to the pool deck and saw that we had been blown against the harbour wall. I was told that the collision was much more dramatic for those on the open deck - the listing of the ship was clear to see. I was later told by table mates at dinner that they had seen the pool empty in one large wave, carrying swimming kids with it. Comments on some online articles appear to corroborate this.
Instagram footage taken from a passenger on another ship shows us stuck on the harbour wall.
After a few minutes I walked back to my cabin and watched as two tugs towed us back to the berth.
1900 (approximately) - The Captain made an announcement, informing us that we had hit the harbour wall and would be towed back to safety so that the damage could be assessed.
I appreciate that the Captain and his crew were busy here and never suggested that anything in this period could have been handled differently.
2100 (approximately) - The Captain made another announcement, informing us that we will remain in port until we are assured of the ship’s safety, but that our new departure time was in the hands of the Port Authorities.
Again, no issue here with them prioritising safety, but, for me, this is where some consideration of customer service could have been overlaid on the engineering process. The announcement itself creates more questions than answers.
By this stage, it seemed clear to me that we would either be missing the next port of call or, at best, arriving very late. A lot of uncertainty and stress for passengers could have been eliminated if MSC had decided then to miss Ajaccio and started on planning ways to make the most of an overnight and extra day in Civitavecchia. As it was, the dining room was full of upset people wondering what would happen to pre-paid tours and the rest of the cruise.
2300 - The rest of my dinner table, all first time cruisers, decide to approach customer services and enquire after any update - they find them "rude, defensive and uninformed".
Wednesday April 19th 2017
0800 - Overnight, a letter was posted through the door informing us that we expected to remain in port until 1500, before proceeding directly to Marseille and that, in compensation, onboard credit of €100 per person (€50 for children).
First, the compensation. I paid £778 for this voyage (around €950) and now, 50% of it is cancelled. Is €100 proportional? I was underwhelmed. Furthermore, I had a few bar bills, so could use the credit, but a lot of passengers had pre-paid for all-inclusive drinks so had a zero balance on their accounts. For them, all they could do was spend the €100 in the onboard Duty Free shop, so, given the margins on perfume, the actual cost to MSC is a fraction of the headline figure.
For reference, earlier in March, when extended refurbishment work disrupted a Carnival Glory voyage, the passengers were offered:
At this stage there was no Daily Programme or activities calendar provided.
Noon - Despite the fact that most passengers seemed to have remained aboard for the short day in port, MSC seemed to have staffed the ship as if the majority of passengers were ashore. Many of the bars were closed. Of the three that were open, two only had a single barman trying to serve hordes of customers.
Still no further communications from MSC.
1500 - It’s clear we’re not leaving - maintenance staff on cranes are still attached to the ship.
Still no communications from MSC since the overnight letter. No daily plan. Nothing.
I try to contact MSC through Facebook to ask for information, using my personal account - they still haven’t responded.
1530 - The Cruise Director announces that we will now depart at 1830, arriving in Marseille at 1130, three and a half hours late. Anyone who are going to miss onward connections should contact customer service.
It must have been clear for some time that we might not be leaving at 1500. I feel that the staff should have printed up clear written communications outlining their policy as regards to missed onward travel. To be clear, I think that policy should be “everybody gets home, just send us your original booking and new receipts”. It would also have been helpful if they’d offered free WiFi so that people could use their own devices to assess the travel options open to them.
1630 (approximately) - In what must rank as one of the oddest judgement calls ever made, MSC decide to use the extra time in port to conduct a staff emergency drill. Now, while I accept the need to maintain staff safety training, who thought that this ship of stressed and angry passengers deserved an hour of PA announcements about fires and emergency response teams? As I heard one passenger exclaim "this is going to send me over the edge!".
1700 - Wandering around the ship, I notice that the line for customer service has now receded slightly, so decide to join it. I’m approached by a staff member in the line who asks what my query is about. When I tell him that I am going to miss booked onward train travel, he tells me that customer services will not speak to me if I don’t have my ticket with me. He will not give me any indication of what their policy is on this subject.
1715 - Train tickets in hand, I’m back at customer services who, when I tell them that my ticket is semi-flexible and can be moved to a later service for £150, say that I should just do that then e-mail the receipt to MSC UK.
WHY COULDN’T THAT JUST HAVE BEEN COMMUNICATED AS A POLICY EARLIER???
However, customer service told me to hold off booking a new ticket until we have left port and the Captain has made an announcement confirming our actual arrival time.
Before I leave, I ask them if my pre-paid excursion in Ajaccio will be refunded. They are unable to say as they don’t know how the excursion office is handling arrangements that were made online before departure.
Two floors up, the excursion office tell me “not to be silly, of course we refunded you automatically.”
Nobody on this ship communicates with the frontline staff.
1830 - We have not left. However, disembarkation luggage labels have appeared in my room with no accompanying information or instructions.
Why not distribute the luggage labels at the same time as you distribute the confirmed disembarkation arrangements, that way passengers, particularly first time cruisers, aren’t left wondering what they hell they are supposed to do with them and asking your, already stretched, staff for information?
1845 (approximately) - The cruise director announces that we are making final preparations for leaving.
2000 (approximately) - We finally leave. There is no announcement from the captain, or anyone else, about a revised arrival time in Marseille.
I had received no response from my personal Facebook message, however, Cruise Hive have quoted some tweets from Cruise Sceptic, which, I assume, has prompted somebody at MSC to work out who I am...
As I’m on the balcony watching us depart, my cabin phone rings and I’m told that the Guest Services Manager would like to speak with me. The gent on the telephone cannot tell me why. I offer to come downstairs immediately.
Honestly, if I was an MSC staffer, I wouldn’t think that unmasking a blogger, who isn’t making any real attempt to be anonymous, was a priority when you have 3000 angry guests stuck in Civitavechhia.
At guest services, I am whisked into an office where a perfectly pleasant lady tries her best to execute a quite ridiculous demand from her head office.
She tells me that she has been informed that I have “made some posts against MSC” and that she only wants to understand “what has been published from your side against MSC”.
As the meeting starts, a giant of a man joins us, he is introduced as a “concierge” then stands staring at me, silently, for the rest of the meeting.
I ask for clarification of what she’s talking about and am told “you know what you have done.”
There is then twenty minutes of circular argument about how much MSC have done/haven’t done, in which, while assuring me that I am free to use social media, we split hairs over what “little communication means” and I am asked how I would feel if people started tweeting about a car accident I was involved in. Really.
I ask if I have said anything inaccurate on Twitter (I don’t believe I have) and it emerges that she hasn’t even seen the tweets and doesn’t know what they contain. I mention that MSc had ignored the message I sent them from another account and am told that I should have come through guest services - we then talk about my experience with guest services and debate whether or not guest services are in full possession of the facts.
However, the key points of information that I’m given in this meeting are:
1000 - It is clear for all to see that we are in the middle of the Mediterranean, but there is no information about a further delay.
1115 - Surprise! We’re not arriving until 1215 instead of 1130.
Honestly, I’m bored of writing this, I’m sure you’re bored of reading it.
In defence of MSC, disembarkation was only delayed by another 20 minutes, but there was a complete lack of communication over the PA or even visible staff in the assembly points.
Despite the best efforts of Uber, I arrived at the Gare St. Charles just as the 1400 train was leaving. Thankfully, I had taken the advice of the Guest Services Manager with a pinch of salt and booked the 1500.
In short, I never felt that I was in any danger, but I do feel that MSC don’t grasp the basics of customer service. The concept of an information void creating dissatisfaction should, by now, be a given. The ship itself seemed immaculate and, combined with the odd way some things are managed (details in the regular review), I very much get the impression that this is a shipping company that happens to operate cruise ships, not a leisure-focused organisation. The differing needs of people and containers do not seem to be fully appreciated.
Overall, while I spoke to a few passengers who were upset and stressed, the majority remained calm. I can’t help feeling that, on one of their new megaships, sailing from Miami full of Americans, this incident and the subsequent failure to own it would result in a full scale mutiny.
Needless to say, the Sophia Loren/Dolce Vita expectations we had, were not met.
We’re about to board the MSC Magnifica for a short voyage between Italy and France. I’m not 100% sure of what to expect from MSC, however, as Sophia Loren is godmother to all of their ships, I’m certain that the style and vibe will be something like a garden party hosted by Dolce & Gabbana (see video below). Anything less will, quite frankly, be a crushing disappointment.
As ever, we’ll be posting live, internet permitting, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - follow along!
"Why Triumph" sounds like some sort of philosophical conundrum and, if you were to get hung up on the pros and cons of each, choosing which of Carnival's 25 ships is best for you is probably just as tricky a question.
I’m not a massive fan of duplicating work, so I’m just going to link to Cruise Fever’s excellent list of what features are found on each Carnival ship.
Aside from the eight Fantasy class ships, which are of a more traditional design with few balconies, Carnival Triumph is one of the older ships in the line. It’s also one of the most notorious, following the unfortunate “poop cruise” debacle of 2013. While the ship doesn’t have the large waterparks and multiple restaurants of the newer ships, continual refurbishments have delivered signature Carnival features, including Guy’s Burger Joint, Alchemy Bar and a large screen for outdoor movies.
In truth, unless you’re sailing from Southern Florida, you’re selection of Carnival ship is likely to be decided by the port you want to depart from - you will be sacrificing choice for convenience, and for a short trip to the sun, that’s fine. I chose Triumph because it was leaving New Orleans at a time when I was in that part of the world anyway.
If a balcony is important to you, the Fantasy Class ships (Fantasy, Ecstasy, Sensation, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration, Paradise and Elation) may not be for you, but from what I understand, they are maintained and refurbished to the same high standards as the more modern vessels, although their smaller size clearly limits what new features can be accommodated.
Carnival Cruise Line is often credited with creating the modern cruise industry, offering short cruises which were accessible to people without large reserves of spare time and money. While other lines were earlier to building purpose-built cruise ships, as opposed to converting old ocean liners, Carnival has seen, almost, relentless growth since it launched it’s first purpose-built ship, the Tropicale, in 1982.
Today, Carnival’s fleet is the largest in the world, with 25 vessels in a range of sizes, all featuring the line’s signature “Whale Tail” funnel.
Carnival, with their Fun Ship branding is, unashamedly, about informal cruising in a party atmosphere. Recent new builds and ongoing refurbishments have toned down the line's original, neon-heavy, style, but the ships remain bold and brash.
For the Cruise Sceptic, Carnival’s big attraction is the wide range of cruises it offers from an unrivalled number of US ports. European sailings from Carnival tend to be limited to the season immediately after a new ship is delivered, however, if you’re in the US for business of pleasure, the chances are that you’ll be able to fit a Carnival sailing into your travels.
Best of all, Carnival cruises can be very inexpensive. If you’re looking for a quick escape to the sunshine when you’re in the US or a low-cost way to round out a holiday after the mind-blowing expense of the Orlando theme parks, Carnival is for you. The entire Carnival fleet features a brand tie-up with Dr Seuss to keep children entertained and, with each new build, Carnival has added more elaborate entertainments - from larger and larger water parks to SkyRide on Carnival Vista, an 800m cycle ride suspended high above the ocean.
I had meant to write posts about both fellow travellers and disembarkation, but there really wasn’t enough to say.
The other guests aboard Ventura were exactly as you’d expect - the same mix of people you’d see in most British city centres. There were a lot of multi-generational family groups and a few large parties onboard for celebrations.
Disembarkation was simple. Only having to carry enough for two days, I chose to carry my own luggage off, and was back on dry land and behind the wheels of my car minutes after the gangway opened.
Writing an overview is more difficult. A couple of days on Ventura wasn’t an unpleasant experience, but it’s not one I would rush to repeat and I certainly wouldn’t want to spend more than a few days in that environment. As I’ve said before, if I was organising a stag party, hen party or any other large group celebration, I would consider this as an option, but I would be sure to book the extra-cost dining options - Sindhu one night, Epicurean the next.
For me, the poor standard of food was the standout memory of Ventura. Sadly, this view has been reinforced by a subsequent cruise on P&O’s sister brand, Carnival.
To be clear - the standard of included food on Carnival Triumph shames P&O.
I’m not talking about a preference for American-style food over British food or suggesting that P&O starts to major on fried chicken, I’m talking about a level of thought and care in preparation that’s in a different league.
Compare, if you will, the gelatinous profiterole horror served by P&O with Carnival’s chocolate melting cake. One is tasteless sludge dressed up as something pretty, the other is just delicious. And that sums up P&O for me - too much effort into pretending to be something they’re not while failing on basics.
Indeed, the vastly superior value proposition provided by Carnival, much to my surprise, has had a huge impact on my impression of this cruise on Ventura - I feel robbed.
I can’t help feeling that P&O is somewhat lost in the vast brand matrix of the Carnival Corporation. It has to be “British”, but downmarket of Cunard; this could have led to the sort of ‘modern with a nod to the past’ approach done so well by brands like Jaguar and Mini, or the informal luxury of Lime Wood Hotel, instead, they appear to be driving back into the 1950s.
For me, this offers nothing more than a convenient party venue with reasonably priced drinks. If P&O want to claim that things are different on longer cruises, then I have to ask if the revenue from these “taster” cruises is worth the damage it’s doing to their brand.
Apologies, we have fallen behind the sacred editorial schedule because of too much cruising. True story.
Speaking of being busy - what’s there to do aboard Ventura? After all, I’m forever being told that “it’s impossible to be bored aboard a cruise ship!”. Cruise fans say that highlighter pens are an essential piece of kit, so rich in choice is the daily schedule.
Not so much. At least, not on this cruise.
There were plenty of product pitches dressed up as entertainment, like some floating version of The Ideal Home Show:
Gloriously, there was an actual shuffleboard tournament (“3.30pm - Shuffleboard Friendly; suitable footwear essential”), as well as a variety of trivia competitions and unhosted (i.e., amuse yourselves) slots for bridge and whist.
Other than that, most of the schedule was focused on the evening events; dancing, karaoke, cabaret and singers impersonating stars in the main theatre. “Jayne Middleton As Annie Lennox” was, actually, perfectly plausible.
I know there is an argument that this short voyage isn’t the “real P&O” experience and that the longer cruises are wall to wall political briefings from Henry Kissinger and writing workshops hosted by Hilary Mantel. Then I have to ask, what does P&O hope to achieve from these short cruises? If it’s not representative of the experience, then it’s not a “taster” for new cruisers - only manners prevented me from spitting some of these small bites out.