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.
"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.
By the time this is published, we’ll be hightailing it to Heathrow, just two short flights away from boarding Carnival Triumph in New Orleans.
The Cruise Sceptic team transiting London's glamorous Heathrow Airport.
In due course, we’ll review every aspect of the experience right here. In the meantime, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for live updates and reaction.