We took our seventh Carnival cruise on the Victory, sailing from San Juan, P.R. with 5 other friends. This was our first time on the Victory and our first time visiting this side of the Caribbean. We flew from Boston to San Juan on Saturday, the day before the cruise, as we usually do. We all stayed at the Embassy Suites & Casino in Isla Verde, which was only a short ride from the San Juan airport. The hotel was nice enough, but dated. Clean, nice pool area, an Outback Steak House inside the hotel, small cramped casino which we walked through but didn't play in. The rooms showed the hotel's age, nothing terrible or "Oh my God, we need to leave" but clearly in need of some upgrades and TLC. One room our party got didn't have a shower curtain -- how do you miss that? To the hotel's credit, they bent over backwards after remedying the problem, offering free dinner or lunch (which we couldn't use because we'd already eaten and wouldn't be there the next day for lunch) but that's something you think would be noticed when cleaning the rooms. The Manager's reception was ok, free drinks and snacks are free drinks and snacks. The breakfast buffet -- you should skip that. Eggs were uneatable, potatoes cold and bacon barely cooked. Thank goodness for cereal and fruit!
We taxied to the port around 1130am Sunday, and checked our bags and headed up to check in. We were literally one of the first 25 people there so check in went quickly. We only had to wait about 35 minutes before they allowed us to board the Victory. Once on board, we went to the purser's desk and put cash down on our Sail & Sign account, which we always do. Work off the cash before the credit card (and interest) kicks in. Then it was up to the Lido deck to eat lunch and sun -- we decided not to leave the ship once we were checked in. Our cabins were ready around 1pm, which was nice. Our luggage showed up while we were still looking at the room, which was better!!! Our cabin steward greeted us while we were moving our bags into the cabins, and throughout the cruise he (Famir) was seemingly ALWAYS right there when we opened our doors. We had three cabins in a row (6395, 6397 & 6399) and had the balcony partitions opened up to create a huge balcony.
We all changed and cleaned up and went to the open seating dinner around 8pm and had a nice dinner. Lifeboat drill went smoothly after dinner and at 10pm we sailed. This was another first for us, something other than an afternoon departure. Not sure if I care for it but at the time it was nice seeing San Juan's light fade behind us as we sailed away. We all turned in around 11pm and slept nicely as the sailing was smooth.
Monday morning (4/30) we woke up in St Thomas. We had breakfast in the Pacific dining room (our MDR) and then headed off to meet our excursion. We booked the Downtown Shopping & Magen's Bay Beach Getaway through Carnival and it was nice. We were taken to Magen's Bay Beach first, a bit early in the day for me but it was a nice beach. I don't know about it being ranked as one of the world's best but it was clean, lovely scenary and even a short shower didn't spoil it for us. We were then bussed back to the downtown area for shopping. There was a "tent city" of vendors right where we were dropped off, with other shops close by. We stopped in at Bumpa's Cafe -- we're from MA and we'd seen a TV show on St Thomas that featured Bumpa's, which is operated by two transplanted MA residents. Great food and Roland and Bonnie Spell, the owners, were friendly and happy to greet other MA citizens. You should stop in if you're in St Thomas. We met up with our bus and headed back to the ship for Frozen Rum Runners and some relaxing.
Monday night we met our waiters in the Pacific dining room for the first time. Linton (head waiter) and his assistants Jericho and Kadeck took great care of us all week, and couldn't have given us better service. The food all cruise was very good, with no complaints about options, portions or taste, and that includes the Lido deck fare. We all went to the show in the Caribbean Theater, which was fun and well presented. Our only complaint about any of the entertainment on the cruise was the policy of late dinner seatings (we had an 8:15pm seating) going to "their" show BEFORE eating, which means y ou have to run from one end of the ship to the other to make both the show and dinner. Monday night was the only night the main show was at 10:15pm -- something that makes sense to everyone. Eat first, then show.
Tuesday (5/1) was our day at sea, and we spent the day sleeping in a little, breakfast in the MDR, playing in the casino, catching some sun on deck and exploring the ship. I went to the talk covering excursions in the remaining ports and actually won stuff in a drawing. I won a bottle of champagne, a book on making towel animals, and a litho print from the art gallery that Felipe, our CD, said was worth $100.00. It's nice, came with a COA and we'll frame it. It was formal night so we got all gussied up, had photos taken and had a nice dinner (lobster was on the menu). One thing I really have to say I don't like about Carnival cruises is having to walk the gauntlet of photographers on Deck 5, especially trying to get to the MDR. People lined up for photos and people trying to go to or from dinner gets very crowded. But we had fun, won a little bit in the casino and then relaxed on the balcony with coffee and drinks.
Wednesday (5/2) we were in Barbados, and this was the lowlight of the cruise. We hadn't seen any Carnival excursions we liked so we thought we'd go shopping and maybe a beach on our own. The port area has a little mall that was nice, and we took a shuttle downtown for $2.00. How we survived that maniac's driving still surprises me -- twice we were almost in head-on collisions. Downtown -- dirty, run down and very little actual shops you'd go into. We couldn't get out of there fast enough. We were going to try a beach but when we got back to the port it started pouring so we said the heck with it and went back to the ship for lunch and drinks. Lesson learned, I guess. Another nice dinner followed, with more casino time and then bed.
Thursday (5/3) we woke in St Kitts. Very pretty coming into port, very hopeful of putting Barbados' bad day behind us. But..... We booked the Beach Extravaganza but what we got was a drive to the beach that was more like a vacation/time share tour. The driver made sure we knew ALL about the new condos and resorts going up and how to find out more, but told us almost nothing about St Kitts other then maybe it's an island. The beach we went to looked NOTHING like the photo on the web page, it had loose trash near the "snack bar", thick lines of seaweed on the beach that hadn't been cleared, and a constant diesel oil fumes smell. The locals kept trying to push 10 year old CDs and massages on us, actually waking me up twice to see if I wanted a massage. One of our party went to the snack bar and looked into the kitchen and came back warning us NOT to order anything. When we returned to the ship, we went to the excursion desk and spoke to one of the staff there. We weren't looking for refunds but wanted Carnival to know how bad THEIR endorsed excursion was. We showed them our photos and the staff was great. They took notes and called our staterooms later to tell us they were refunding 25% of the excursion cost. Some may say that wasn't enough, but our pupose wasn't to get anything, but to let Carnival know what people were getting for their money. The port area was clean and pretty with plenty of good shopping, though and we enjoyed walking around it. Dinner again was great, and we won some more in the casino before bed.
Friday (5/4) -- St Lucia. The absolute saving grace of the cruise. From the minute we neared the island and we could see the hills and mountains, then the new, clean port shopping area we knew the day would be great. We booked the Catamaran Cruise to the Pitons excursion and it was the best excursion of the cruise. We had a wonderful guide on the bus, and we saw banana plantations, small towns and villages, stopped several times for photo ops and visited Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens -- beautiful. Then we met up with our catamaran, had lunch while seeing the Pitons and then stopped for a nice swim at a small beach, the catamaran anchoring about 20 feet from the beach. Then a short but nice ride back to the shopping area/port for some shopping and then back on the Victory. It was the best day so far.
Saturday (5/5) was our last port, St Maartens. We booked the Best of St Maartens Island & Beach Combo and it was well worth the money. Our guide, Dennis, was a wealth of information about both sides of the island, and the scenery was gorgeous. We toured all over the island it seemed, and then were taken to Boo Boo Jam Beach -- simply a beautiful well maintained beach. We paid $10 for the "special" and got two nice loungers, an umbrella and two rum punches. The sun was strong and the view beautiful. After 2 hours Dennis drove us back to the port, again giving us great history and stories of this beautiful island. The port area again was modern, clean and well laid out with plenty of nice shops to visit. Negatives?? I suppose the only one was that at the beach, it abuts a topless beach and a woman who shouldn't have been topless and a man who shouldn't have attempted a Speedo walked over to our side of the beach, but our supressed laughter made it tolerable! Saturday night was our last dinner with our great wait staff, photos were taken, Facebook IDs exchanged, then it was off to pack.
Sunday (5/6) we had booked the Rain Forest Drive excurion back in San Juan, since our flight home wasn't until 5:15pm. Getting off the ship was a breeze, checked the bags to the airport and boarded our bus. The rain forest was interesting, very pretty, had a nice visitor's center and we took an easy 25 minute walk along a trail. Sadly a torrential downpour hit and we didn't/couldn't leave the bus to get photos of a rain fed raging waterfall or a stone watch tower but by then we were ready to head home. The bus took us to the airport and there were our bags, secure and ready for us. Our flight and connecting flight were uneventful and we arrived back home at 2am Monday.
Once again we found the service of the Carnival crew to be friendly, professional and always eager to make our cruise as good as it could be. Our cabin was always spotless, we always had ice and towels. Room service was prompt and friendly, our waiters were fantastic, the bar staff at every one we visited we quick and courteous, and everyone had a smile and "hello" for us. Other than the switch of the show times, we had NO complaints. We'll be booking our next Carnival cruise shortly.