Carnival Victory Cruise Review
A good option for short, inexpensive cruises, but those who want Carnival's latest upgrades might wait until promised renovations are in place.
Though maybe not a big issue for cruises of less than a week, the variety of dining options was not a strength for Carnival Victory. There were just two main options for meals: The main dining room (which was actually two—one for those signed on for traditional, assigned seating, the other for those on the Your Time Dining plan) and the buffet venue, called the Mediterranean Restaurant. The latter was a series of stations that expanded the food choices but did little to alleviate the feeling that this was a busy free-for-all. While food at the buffet was fairly mediocre, we had several good meals in the main dining rooms.
There is also a sushi stand with a very small selection of rolls, and a café serving coffee drinks and desserts for a surcharge. But anyone with a hankering for a more ambitious meal should check out the Chef’s Table, a fleet-wide intimate dinner option. There’s a steep surcharge for this meal (which includes wine), but we enjoyed the experience. Since the Chef’s Table is limited to just 12 guests per evening (and not necessarily conducted nightly), if it’s of interest we recommend signing up on embarkation day to make sure you get a seat.
By the way, if you’ve enjoyed the fine steakhouses on other Carnival ships, note that there isn’t one on Victory.
Pacific & Atlantic Dining Rooms
Victory has two main dining rooms, virtually identical in size and décor, adorned with banal paintings of old sailing ships and kitschy statues and reliefs of mermaids—it was like something out of a Jeff Koons porn fantasia. A schlocky orchestral soundtrack completed the vaguely Vegas aura. Both seat the traditional dining plan, with assigned seating at 6 and 8:15 p.m. The Atlantic also hosts "Your Time Dining", allowing guests to dine any time between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. Breakfast was served in the Pacific from 7:30 to 10 a.m., and lunch was offered on sea days, from 12 to 1:30 p.m.
On the first night, servers didn’t devote much energy to interacting with guests, but the next night, our server greeted us by name and consulted on the menu. The personal touch continued after we complained that our entrées had been served lukewarm for two nights running. The next night a different waiter came over and asked if the meal was hot enough—apparently our complaint had been noted.
Both venues are crowded, with walkways threading between tables like a rabbit warren. Two-tops were available for the open dining plan, but couples on the traditional plan will find mostly shared tables only. Each evening a crew “show” erupted around 9 p.m. with waiters dancing to a pop song, several of them atop serving stations; the crowd loved it.
Salads were usually fresh and crisp; a highlight was spinach with portobello mushrooms, bacon, walnuts and blue cheese, and we also liked the simple, tasty Caesar. Starters ran the gamut, including delicious tom ka gai—robust, spicy chicken soup in coconut milk with lemongrass. Pumpkin soup was satisfying and not too rich; broccoli soup was just okay. The chicken quesadilla was routine, with tiny sides of guacamole, sour cream and salsa, nothing to get excited about. We were disappointed that the only breads available were a few variations of white—no dark, brown or whole grain at all.
Entrées included linguini with sausage, pepper and mushrooms—the sauce was flavorful but the pasta was overcooked. Spaghetti carbonara was fair, but served lukewarm, and (we never thought we’d say this) with too much bacon (not pancetta) overwhelming other flavors. Chicken à la Grecque featured a fairly dry boneless breast sitting atop a mound of penne in tasty tomato sauce; the menu didn’t mention the pasta (thus we ordered pasta for both appetizer and entrée). The beef stroganoff was surprisingly tasty—the meat tender and flavors perked with pickled red onion and beets.
On formal night we dived into the prime rib. The cut was medium-rare, as ordered, but riddled with chunks of fat, and again, barely lukewarm. The next night we ordered the chateaubriand, which was hot and medium-rare, as ordered—alas, a quarter of the steak was inedible gristle. Each night an Indian vegetarian dinner was offered. It was a change of pace, but the brash flavors weren’t as distinct as they should have been, the overall effect indelicate, the hot spices laid on strong.
For desserts, Carnival’s dependable and ever-popular chocolate melting cake was fine—a soufflé-like creation served with dollop of vanilla ice cream. It’s served nightly. Following another dinner we ordered the cheese plate featuring port salut, brie, gouda, imported Swiss, Danish bleu cheese; the half-strawberry nudged against the cheeses wasn’t ripe. Our favorite, which we had the last night of the cruise, was a fig, date and cinnamon cake accompanied by beaker of rum raisin ice cream. The dessert was perfect, the cake moist and rich, with nuggets of the dried fruit like jewels in the batter.
Breakfast was served daily. We ordered blueberry pancakes one morning, anticipating they’d be full of berries; instead they were buttermilk pancakes with a goopy blueberry sauce. Egg orders were fine, but the hollandaise sauce on our eggs Benedict arrived toasted (we assume the plate was under a heat lamp). The coffee was decent; the orange “juice” was a drink mix that hadn't been diluted with enough water, rendering it sickly sweet. On one sea day we had lunch, choosing the fillet of kingklip. The fish was topped with sauce of tomato, olives and capers, but the flavors were muted.
There was a full dedicated bar serving the standard cocktail menu, and a wine list of about 90 bottles. Most were under $40, with a focus on California; about 30 were available by the glass. At breakfast, a waiter canvassed the dining room with a cart offering eye-openers: mimosas and bellinis, and a bloody Mary in 8- or 16-ounce sizes.
While we aren’t normally dependent on a ship’s buffet venue for most of our meals, with only one full-service dining option on Carnival Victory, the Mediterranean Restaurant is unavoidable. Unfortunately, despite multiple counters offering various specialties, the overall package was disappointing, with mediocre food.
Seating around the main buffet was crowded during breakfast and lunch. Fortunately, just upstairs was a secondary seating area overlooked by most passengers. In the evening this was sometimes used by children, escorted as part of Camp Carnival, but the area was still less crowded than most of the rest of the seating areas.
Continental breakfast was available at 6:30 or 7 a.m. each morning. The pastries were fine and the cereal selection covered a range of predictable hits; yogurts and cold cuts were available. The fresh fruit's quality was terrible; the orange slices in particular had a sour, off taste. Thirty minutes later the hot selection opened. A couple stations offered made-to-order omelets, sometimes with a line present.
Lunch had a broader selection. We particularly liked the salad station; in addition to a modest salad bar there were several prepared options that changed daily. The sandwich station had a decent deli selection, and a grill for panini style sandwiches. The hot section's theme changed daily; Caribbean day featured such fare as Jamaican chicken curry and seafood fritters. Italian, French and American fare also got their due, and there was a carving station with pork or beef each day.
The grill offered okay burgers. There were also grilled chicken breasts, chicken tenders, hot dogs, chili con carne and nachos. The Asian counter, Chopsticks, also changed daily—alas, we found everything on our plate to be saturated with sodium; we didn’t return for seconds. The 24-hour pizza counter, Pizza Pirate, served serviceable pies.
The dessert selection captured our sweet tooth—two standouts were key lime pie and almond Napoleon. There was a 24-hour soft serve ice cream machine and a delicious chocolate extravaganza was held on the last afternoon of our cruise.
The Chef’s Table
This imaginative feast was far and away our best meal aboard Carnival Victory. At $75 a head, including wine, it’s pricey—maybe not worth every penny, but pretty close. Given the dearth of meal choices onboard, it’s a must for foodies, or anyone celebrating a special occasion. We recommend booking soon after you board—the experience is limited to 12 guests per night, and it’s not necessarily conducted nightly.
The overall evening consumes a little over three hours, and began with a tour of the galley for the main dining room, where we met the executive chef. Sparkling wine was served with hors d’oeuvres, and we received a hands-on lesson in how to prepare Carnival’s most popular dessert, chocolate melting cake (1800 servings daily on Victory). After our galley tour we headed to the ship’s Indian Library, a small room that had been transformed for our intimate dinner. Dishes were assembled on adjacent tables, with the executive chef stopping in now and then to supervise and talk about the food.
The seven-course menu changes every six months, crafted by Carnival’s executive chefs. In all, it was a delightful array of creative tastes in small portions. While there were lots of staff preparing and serving the meal, a few elements were off. Plastic bottles to serve water were tacky, and the weak cappuccino that capped our meal was disappointing. The quartet of bite-size hors d’oeuvres served in the galley were unexceptional palate teasers: a moist black olive stuffed with a shard of parmesan, a tomato jam fritter plumped with a bit of langoustine, etc.
In the Indian Library, our first dish included a chardonnay-poached grape tomato, a pudding of aerated tomato juice, and a bizarre white chocolate-coated tomato that just didn’t cut it. This was followed by a take on the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich—raw tuna atop lemon bread, framed with sesame crisps that splintered as we cut in; dollops of miso cream and avocado gel accented the plate. This was tasty, and by now we'd begun to understand the thought behind the meal—Carnival’s overriding devotion to fun.
Next came Cornish hen; a tender, caramelized, slow-cooked boneless fowl, with a few small mounds of puréed butternut squash—delicious. Another favorite was a bavarois, turnip and apple purée in a bowl adorned with spinach and green pea paste—soup and salad in one. The salmon that followed was excellent, wonderfully moist. Presentations were delicate and mouth-watering, but the salmon was a hoot, with cylinders of dried beet like high rises in a little city. The final entrée was short ribs; good flavor, but the Wagyu beef was a bit stringy for our taste.
The dessert, called Chef in a Candy Shop, mingled chocolate, mango, beet, mascarpone and more. Fun to look at, but not really a standout in all that came before. Coffee was offered and we asked for a cappuccino; it was unacceptably watery, not remotely the coda this meal deserved.
The meal was accompanied by two modest but acceptable wines that, collectively, paired with most everything we were served: McGuigan Limestone Coast merlot from Australia and a crisp Mezzacorona pinot grigio from Italy’s Dolomites.
Positioned next to the casino, this sushi cart offers a small selection of items, but we didn’t find anything to get excited about. The cart was open nightly from 5 to 8:15 p.m., but remained closed on the one evening designated as Cruise Elegant. Seating was available in the adjacent lounges.
There were just two items available—chu-maki rolls (salmon and cream cheese) and nigiri with tuna. One of each was doled out on small plates. Tuscan-themed pottery contained condiments—togarashi sauce, wasabi, cured cucumbers, pickled ginger. It didn’t compare favorably with sushi we enjoy at home, and note that we saw these items show up at the Mediterranean Restaurant on at least one evening.
Sake is available at the Sushi Bar by the cup ($1.95), carafe ($5.50) or bottle ($12).
There were two menus for room service, and a quick glance told us not to expect much. Breakfast was outlined on a door tag that could be hung outside our cabin before 5 a.m.; selections were limited to continental breakfast: packaged cereals, breads and pastries, smoked salmon, yogurt, and plates of citrus, melon or banana. A somewhat longer menu was available for lunch including hot sandwiches (grilled American cheese, grilled Reuben, pastrami on rye), cold sandwiches (tuna, turkey, ham and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, BLT, New York strip and cheddar), salads (mixed greens, Caesar) and desserts (New York cheesecake, chocolate cake, cookies, fruit salad, strawberry yogurt).
We ordered our breakfast to be delivered between 6:45 and 7 a.m.—the knock on the door came at 6:35 a.m. We didn’t notice right away, but the toast we ordered didn’t make it onto the tray. We ordered lunch by phone one afternoon, and were told to allow 30 to 45 minutes for delivery; the order arrived 43 minutes later. We craved a pizza one evening, but this wasn’t available through room service.
For our deliveries the tray was simply adorned with linen, and the silverware was also wrapped in linen.
Continental breakfast should have been a no-brainer, but our plate of sliced citrus was sour and off-putting. Coffee was thin, with dishwater flavor—undrinkable. The toast we ordered wasn’t on the tray, so our marmalade and butter sat idly, looking for a place to go. The Raisin Bran, however, was delicious; the grapefruit juice was fine. Everything was the right temperature.
Our lunch was okay, if unimpressive. The chicken fajitas, wrapped in a tortilla with lettuce, was warm, but not hot. It was pretty generic tasting, like something from the bargain menu at Chili’s. The menu promised guacamole but instead we received sour cream; the salsa was ultra-mild. The Caesar salad was decent with real anchovy bite. We ordered a soda and it came with a plastic cup filled with ice.
In addition to juice drinks, coffee, tea and milk, one could order from the regular bar menu, including soft drinks. Although there was no minibar in our room the cabin was stocked with a 1.5 liter bottle of Crystal Geyser water, available for $3.95.
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