This was our 6th cruise with previous experiences to the Eastern Caribbean, the Western Caribbean (twice), the Southern Caribbean (from San Juan) and Hawaii. Five of the cruises were with Carnival and one with NCL. We have had success with Carnival in the past and were not disappointed on this cruise. Traveling with us were four others, my son and his wife, my daughter and my sister-in-law. Other than my daughter this was a first cruise for the group.
We flew in from Milwaukee to Fort Lauderdale and spent the night at the Roadway Inn & Suites based on other reviews. We chose the hotel because we needed to have transportation from the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to the cruise ship and a place to park my daughter's car. Roadway provided all these capabilities along with pickup from the ship back to the hotel when the cruise was completed.
This is not a high end hotel. My daughter-in-law labeled it a ghetto hotel. It is not fancy but it serves your needs. The rooms are clean but basic. The staff is courteous and willing to serve. I found nothing wrong with it as long as your expectations are that you are spending the night and getting to the ship. The food and drinks at the attached sports bar are very good. I recommend the nacho plate -- it is on the better I've had and is huge.
We chose the early shuttle to the terminal for $2/person as we elected to wait in the morning at the cruise terminal vs. the hotel. The later shuttles are free. We waited in the terminal for an hour before being let on the ship. When the embarkation process was started (about noon) the process was fast and efficient.
We had been on the Miracle before thus we knew its layout and amenities. The most significant change was the addition of an adult's only sun and pool area at the rear of the ship. I like the ships layout and this was a positive addition. Overall the food and entertainment was good although I have seen some economizing by Carnival over the past 10 years. The lobster was good but the shrimp were small at the dinner. I highly recommend the chocolate melting cake. The food at the Steakhouse was good the service was cordial, but unfriendly and slow. Waiting 45 minutes for dessert was unacceptable.
I view that seeing the islands is a key part of a cruise -- especially if it is new territory for me. We like to have some degree of adventure and to see as much of the islands as feasible.
This was my son's 39th birthday and we all wore matching t-shirts. Ours stating we were with the birthday boy on his first cruise and my son's stating it was his first cruise and birthday. Customs was slow in letting people off the ship so there were 200 plus people in the unloading area. Some people noticed the shirts and the group sang Happy Birthday to my son. Nice start of a day for my son! I typically use independent tours as I find them to be more personable and you are part of a smaller group. I use the cruise boards to get recommendations on independent services. Grand Turks does not offer many alternatives other than through Carnival. We booked the Catamaran & Snorkel through Carnival. I was pleasantly surprised with this excursion. It was about Â½ full. The crew was courteous and helpful to some in our party that had never snorkeled before. Snorkeling was OK -- I've seen more variety of fish and larger schools in Hawaii but the "wall" is worth seeing. After snorkeling time is spent on a nice beach and Doctor Feel Good breaks out the rum. Overall a nice excursion.
We returned to the port and spent some time at Jimmy Buffet's -- surprisingly it was not overly crowded.
After reading reviews we booked with Seavis Tours for the Soana Special. Flat out this was an excellent tour. I have read that many people consider this stop a waste. This tour along with the one we took in Aruba was top notch.
This port is rather undeveloped. The ship comes into a relatively narrow channel and docks at the side of the channel. It backs up from the channel to leave. When you get off the ship you walk up a hill to the bus area for excursions and turn right to the taxi area. Seavis includes the shuttle to their facilities as part of the tour ($15 for taxi is included). You show your reservation and they take you on a 25 minute ride through the countryside to the harbor with their boats. You pay cash at the harbor. 26 people fit on speed boats with two 200 HP outboards. Your tour consists of seeing the caves the original island inhabitants used, seeing the mangrove areas and time spent on Saona Island snorkeling and having a picnic. This was great snorkeling! There were many fish varieties and many fish. The water was calm. The food was great and of course rum was served. The island is postcard beautiful. My sister-in-law said it best. Pinch me -- I can't believe I am in such a beautiful place.
After spending a relaxing time on the island we motored to a shallow area that had many starfish. This is similar to being with the Stingrays in Grand Cayman except in shallower water. I would not typically think that seeing starfish would be worth it but this was very cool.
The boats raced each other on the way back creating additional excitement Based on feedback of other cruisers this was the best excision at this port. I highly recommend Seavis Tours.
There are many good tours on this island both independent and with Carnival. We wanted to see the natural sites of Aruba and after a lot of research elected to do a Safari tour using a Land Rover. ABC Tours does the excursion through Carnival thus you can not directly book a tour through them coming off of Carnival. To book with them you will need to get creative. Due to ship tour sizes these tours are more expensive and cover fewer places. We traveled with ABC and had a great time. Our driver was Hugo -- I highly recommend him for his knowledge, courtesy and his making the tour interesting and exciting. This is not a tour for those that have physical disabilities or back, neck or other physical problems. You will be thrown around and if you do not have a seatbelt on you could be ejected from the Land Rover. That being said the areas you travel to are absolutely beautiful. Aruba is a very dry island on its North shore. It is surprisingly bare with cactuses and is very rocky. The scenery is dramatic. The six in our group were the only passengers thus we had in essence our own private tour.
As stated, there are many options to take these tours in Aruba. You can rent 4 x 4's, dune buggies or you can drive your own Jeep alone or with a guided convoy. I believe we made the right choice as we would not have been able to see what we did if we drove ourselves. Letting Hugo drive allowed us to see the sites. I enjoy driving in rough terrain but quite honestly I would have been uncomfortable driving some of the area Hugo took us through. Again, highly recommended especially with Hugo!
After three busy ports we elected to spend the day walking around Williamsburg touring and shopping. This port has many Dutch influences and reminds me of a tropical Amsterdam. The streets, the markets, etc. have a lot in common. The swinging bridge is unique. There are many nice restaurants. This is a pretty port -- maybe too commercialized -- but still has a heavy Caribbean influence.
The last two days are spent returning to Fort Lauderdale. We did not have young children so we spent it in the adult pool section. A word of advice is that you need to be there at least by 7 AM to reserve a Cabana (I was there at 6 AM on the 2nd day).
Overall this was a very nice cruise. The islands have more variety than the Eastern and Western Cruises. If you are looking for a good blend of sea and island time I strongly recommend this cruise. Carnival did a good job on this one.