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First time cruisers - great experience, awesome ports!
Booked the cruise online just a couple months before sailing. Traveled with my husband as well as my parents. This was the first cruise for all of us, and was selected based on ports of call and price. We arrived in San Juan Saturday evening and stayed at Hotel Casablanca in Old San Juan. Awesome location - we walked to the ship the next day. Hotel is nothing fancy (although the lobby is decorated really cool). There is no elevator, the "continental breakfast" is toast and Raisin Bran (my husband loved the coffee though), and my parents had issues with their shower. But for one night, it worked just fine (we're not picky). And like I said, it was great to stay close to the ship. Sunday morning, we tossed all our luggage in the hotel "holding office" and headed to Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Very cool fort - the views were awesome, and my family enjoyed learning about the history. We returned to the hotel, grabbed our luggage and headed to the ship around 1-2pm. (FYI, rolling your More
luggage down hills on cobblestone streets may not be the most fun for some people, so you may prefer to take a cab).
Embarkation was easy (new experience for us, but pretty easy to follow). We each bought a bottle of wine at CVS (near the ship) and had no problem taking it on board in our carry-on. Our rooms were ready right away, so we stopped by, dropped of our carry-ons and headed to lunch at the Mediterranean (buffet). Overall, the buffet was ok. For me, the food wasn't "WOW", but everyone always had plenty of choices, and I wasn't really expecting "WOW" anyway. The lines were never very long for us either. After lunch, we headed back to our rooms. Our luggage still hadn't arrived, so we put on our swimsuits and headed up to the Serenity adults only area (some friends had recommended this). Really nice area with lots of comfy beds, hammocks, etc. No pool though - just hot tubs. Our luggage arrived before dinner, so we settled in. We had an interior room on Deck 1 and really had no major complaints about it. It was plenty big, and the bed was pretty comfortable. Overall, it was very clean and our room steward, Juste (who was always so friendly!) did a great job! The bathroom is not real attractive and the shower tiles were a little gross, but it was totally fine for us. We did bring an alarm clock (no clock in the room), I brought my own shampoo/soap/etc. (because I prefer that), but there was shampoo and conditioner in the shower already. I actually brought one of those over-the-door shoe hangers to stash all of my toiletries, etc. and it worked really well to keep things off the counters (although probably not necessary). I was surprised that there was a desk/vanity area next to the bed with mirrors, outlets, and a bench to do hair/make-up etc. That was nice. Toward the end of the trip, we were starting to miss seeing the light of day from our stateroom, but for the price, I would get an interior room again for sure.
I realized when we got our Sign & Sail cards, that I had booked our reservations separately and we had, therefore, been seated at separate tables for dinner at the early dining time (we had been waitlisted for anytime dining, but preferred to eat later rather than earlier). We spoke with the Maitre'd the first day, and he ended up getting us a table together for the late dining time. We were very grateful for this accommodation. It worked out great for us to have late dining. We got back on the ship each day around 5pm and had time to nap, shower, get ready, etc. then go to dinner. Only downside: we missed the sunsets and didn't see many of the shows. The food in the dining room was pretty good overall (always plenty of choices!). I enjoyed a lot of the appetizers (ordered 2 on most nights!) We really enjoyed the lobster night (our waiter Reynaldo, brought us 3 extra plates of it without even asking! ha!). Ray, his partner Nesa, and Oleg (the bar server) were all great! We were greeted and served right away after sitting down each night, and it was hilarious watching them dance and sing!
The shows we did see were great. Felipe, the cruise director, was a great host! Really funny! We saw one of the comedians too - he was pretty good. We were a bit disappointed with the piano bar. I had heard that it was so much fun and THE place to hang out, but that was not the case. The piano player was not very good, and he was playing the same song (Elton John) every time we walked by. We spent most of our time on the Promenade deck - in the casino area (had fun playing blackjack!). This is where they have sushi from 5-8pm. That was a nice feature. I'm by no means a sushi expert, but it was pretty good and there was no extra charge for it. There was also usually some form of live entertainment in this area. Didn't like the smoking, but can't have everything I guess.
I was pleasantly surprised that so many people dressed up on the "dress up nights". I had heard that people don't really wear formalwear on this cruise, but there were plenty of people that were dressed like they were going to a wedding. I wished I had brought nicer dresses. Other than that, I wore a lot of sun dresses or nice tops w/ skirts or capris. My dad and husband wore dress shirts with khakis or khaki shorts.
-we did have some trouble finding a place to sit on the "sea day", but ultimately found a big bed in the adult Serenity area
-muster drill was a bit disorganized and took about 1/2 hour
-my husband and my dad thoroughly enjoyed the 24 hour pizza by the aft pool
-I enjoyed the chocolate covered strawberries at the Coral Sea Cafe (although the carrot cake was disappointing)
-we were concerned about getting sea sick. No one did (although we enjoyed fewer alcoholic beverages than we probably would have because we didn't want to push it). The weather wasn't perfect (we could feel the ship rocking pretty much all the time) but it was tolerable. Had trouble sleeping on the last night though, because of the rocking/noise.
-there were sooo many different types of people on the ship that we had no trouble fitting in. Lots of kids (spring break), but they were usually kept busy with the kids activities
We did self disembark to ensure that we made it to our flight at 11:50am. This went so smoothly it was a joke. We were off the ship by 7:30 and to the airport by 8:15 (twiddling our thumbs). We took a cab (it was like $30 for the 4 of us and our luggage). Probably could have done the regular disembark (we were assigned zone 3 because of our early flight departure time), but it was nice for us to be able to keep our luggage in our sight the whole time (I'm kind of weird about handing over my luggage! ha!).
We would cruise with Carnival again. For us, the itinerary is what makes our decision (the ship/cruise line comes in second). Would like to try another cruise line just for comparison, but would have no reservations booking with Carnival again! Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
We booked a 24-passenger exclusive lunch cruise through Silver Moon catamaran cruises (silvermoonbarbados.com). From the time I booked this through the end of the cruise, we were extremely impressed. I received a prompt and professional response to my inquiry on the website, and received confirmation of our booking almost immediately after faxing in the form. We were met by the representative the morning of the cruise and bussed 5 minutes to the catamaran. We were greeted by Ben, Luke and Tone, our hosts for the day. We were immediately offered drinks! We were encouraged to make the boat our own, and my husband and I had fun riding out on the front by the netting (I want my own catamaran now! So fun and relaxing!). We made it to our first snorkeling stop, put on the snorkel gear and dove in with the sea turtles!! SOOO COOL!! I have some great pictures of the turtles, such beautiful and graceful creatures! And they were so close we could reach our a touch their shells. The water was very clear too. Got back on the boat and were served banana bread and more drinks. After that we cruised over to the shipwreck. There was a coral reef in that area too. Not as impressive as the turtles, but still very cool. We then got back on the boat and were served an AMAZING lunch. I wish we could have eaten like that every day! We relaxed a bit before heading back. Toward the end of the cruise, Luke made us pina coladas (to die for!), and we were given carrot cake and a cool towel. I would do this again in a heartbeat. There were a lot of other catamaran cruises that followed the same itinerary, but they didn't look nearly as nice and many of them had 50-60 people packed on board. We were treated like family (and like royalty!) all day long!
We had a really great time on St. Kitts! My husband and I booked the Mt. Liamuga Volcano Hike through Poinciana Tours. We really enjoyed this! We were greeted by David and Al (our guide) in the port before Al drove us to the trail. (Back in the port, we were blindsided by one of the guys with monkeys who tossed 3 monkeys on me, started taking pictures, then expected $20! The pictures were great, the monkeys were cute, but negotiate a price beforehand! ha!) Al told us a lot about all of the towns we were passing through on our way to the trail. He was very nice and seemed to know a lot about the island. I was really surprised to see several university buildings (a med school, nursing school, and a veterinary school overlooking the ocean!). We were the only 2 people doing the hike with Al that day, which was great because we could go at our own pace. We were given walking sticks (a lifesaver!) and started up the trail. I was a little apprehensive because I'm not a hiker and not exactly an athlete, but we did just fine. The first part was really easy (think make-shift steps built in to the dirt) and it wasn't real steep. We would stop every so often to drink some water (brought our own water bottles) and Al would tell us about the trees we were seeing. Then things stated getting steeper (and rockier, and muddier, and more difficult). We were moving at a pretty good clip and there were a couple points where I needed to stop for a minute and take a breath, but we made it up in about 1hr 45min and boy was it worth it! The views are incredible! My pictures don't do it justice. We were given some bread and homemade guava juice (yum!) before heading back down. The way down went faster but I fell a couple times (my legs were tired, and it was muddy). Passed some other groups heading up. They did not have walking sticks, and I felt kind of bad for them. It was so nice to have them and it was really nice to go at our own pace (being just the two of us). We were back in the port at 2pm, dropped off our stuff on the ship, changed clothes, then walked around the port. Went to a couple of bars before getting back on the ship. Overall, I would highly recommend Poinciana Tours! Both David and Al were very friendly and knowledgeable! I received a prompt confirmation email after booking, which really impressed me. We loved St. Kitts and plan to go back sometime!
This was the island that I was really excited to see, but turned out to be our least favorite of the ports we visited. We booked the Land & Sea Adventure with Spencer Ambrose, because we wanted to get a comprehensive tour of the island and I had read some good reviews. Overall, we got what we expected. It was a packed day and we saw a lot of the island. We drove down the west side of the island in a van with 10 people and our driver, Lawrence. He was a very good tour guide. We stopped at a banana plantation and a few scenic areas to take pictures. We sat in the back of the van though, and started feeling sick after all of the quick turns, and bumps in the road (I wished I had taken the motion sickness medication I had brought for the cruise - but of course, I left it on the ship!). There was a cooler in the van, but we didn't feel like drinking anything but water. We stopped at the sulfur springs (the smell did not help the nausea! ha!). It was cool, but probably could have done without it. I realized later that we never went to the waterfalls (one of the things my mom had really wanted to do). We got on a speedboat and headed to Jalousie Beach with Spencer (boat was a little packed, but it was a short ride). I was really looking forward to seeing this beach. The pictures make it look like the perfect Caribbean paradise. It really is a picturesque setting, but the beach itself isn't that impressive. The sand is really rocky and the water isn't nearly as blue-green as other beaches. There were limited places to sit in the shade. We got a small boxed lunch (not exactly sure what we were eating) but it was pretty good. Stayed for about 2 hours, then got back on a speed boat to head up to Castries. Spencer was on his cell phone a lot and was getting very upset with someone on the phone (I had heard that he has a bit of a temper). I had read a review that he had been yelling before, so I wasn't really surprised. He was never rude to us, but it was a bit uncomfortable. The ride back was cool (although we were in a water taxi and the benches were not very comfortable). We saw Marigot Bay (prettiest part of the island in my opinion) and the rock formation from Pirates of the Caribbean. Made it back to the ship just as it started raining. Overall, probably wouldn't do this again but was a nice overview of the island.
We did not book an excursion on St. Maarten and decided to just tour around ourselves. When we got off the ship, we took a taxi to Marigot because I wanted to check out the French side of the island. Marigot is a very cool town. There was a craft market and farmers market going on and we stopped at Seraphina's (a really good French bakery!). We then took a taxi over to Orient Beach. BEAUTIFUL beach! The whole thing isn't a nude beach, there were plenty of people in swimsuits where we were. We rented a couple of chairs at Bikini Beach and enjoyed the sunshine, crystal clear water and smooth white sand. We then took a taxi over to Maho Bay because we wanted to see the airplanes land. We got there about 12:30 because we had heard that most of the big planes arrive between 12 and 2. We had lunch at Sunset Bar and had fun watching all of the planes land. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy and rainy on this side of the island, which made us question why we left Orient Beach. But I got a lot of cool videos of the planes! Not sure if I would sit on this beach. It is very small and not exactly peaceful. At one point, an InselAir Jet that was about to take off in the other direction parked in the corner nearest the beach and revved it engine (or something). It got REALLY loud and created somewhat of a sandstorm on the beach, forcing people to grab all their stuff and run toward the water! It sounded like the pilot did it on purpose (and not going to lie, it was kind of funny to watch!), but I was really glad I wasn't on the beach!! Overall, we loved St. Maarten/St. Martin and will definitely go back! I was really impressed that everyone on the island is multi-lingual! Our cab driver spoke 6 languages fluently! The island was very pretty and very clean.
We did not have an excursion booked and chose to take a ferry over to St. John for the day. I was worried that it would be too much of a hassle for one day, but it was worth it! We got off the ship early and took a cab to Red Hook. Took the ferry over to Cruz Bay, St. John and took another cab to Trunk Bay. (Taxi rates are posted on vinow.com) BEAUTIFUL beach (soft, white sand, crystal clear water, rustic setting) and there were very few people there when we arrived. The guys rented snorkel gear, but the skies were clouding up quickly so the snorkeling wasn't the greatest. Unfortunately, the sky opened up and we were caught on the beach in a downpour! (Luckily, I had some ponchos and an umbrella to keep our stuff relatively dry). We made the best of it swimming and taking pictures in the rain. It lasted maybe 45 minutes and then finally started clearing up. We took a cab to Cinnamon Bay next and found another BEAUTIFUL beach there, still relatively uncrowded. This beach is a little longer, and there is a campground next to it. Wished we had grabbed something to eat at Trunk Bay (I think there was a restaurant up by the campground at Cinnamon Bay but nothing down by the water). We just grabbed a beer down by the beach and relaxed for a bit. Headed back to Cruz Bay to catch the ferry at 3. Then took the cab back from Red Hook to Charlotte Amalie. We definitely plan on going back to St. John. I wouldn't mind exploring St. Thomas as well, but we love the quieter, untouched feel of the national park on St. John.