This was the first time I was pretty active on the boards before my trip, and my first time to post a review, so go easy!
Our first trip to push out from somewhere other than Texas or Florida. Embarking at San Juan is a great concept and we'd absolutely do it again, but not, I repeat, NOT during the San Sebastin Patron Saint Festival. There were other pros and cons to the adventure, which we specifically picked for the ports of call that were new to us and the opportunity to try a seven day trip with only one sea day. While we would repeat the trip, it certainly had a different feel and reaffirmed our love for sea days!
We flew into San Juan a day before embarkation. With a 10 PM embarkation, that might not have been totally necessary, but is our tradition and made a nice extra day to the vacation. The festival also limited hotel choices. We stated at the Verdanza Hotel. It wasn't state side luxury, but the special 8th floor rooms that come with a small balcony, gym, wifi, and breakfast were quite decent.
Barrachina's is a mainstay for our trips to San Juan, and after catching a combination of cabs and walking about a mile, we made it. Fantastic as always.
The festival was certainly a site to see. We walked through it all, two stages of live music, food stands aplenty, and a barrage of drums, whistles, and stampeding crowds. We snapped some pictures, hit up my favorite cigar guy down by the dock, and decided to start the journey home, which only included one cab, but did take some walking and negotiation to make that happen.
Street closures made cabs a real issue on embarkation day. Some actually pulled into our hotel, heard the term Carnival, and drove off. Ultimately, we split a van with a couple from Wisconsin. We each paid the amount of what the van as a whole should, and got dropped off a good five blocks short of the boat. We dropped our bags at the side of the boat, and ventured back into the city for one last drink at Barrichina's, our first stop into the Old Harbor Brewery, and the chance to get a few last trinkets.
Dinner was served through open seating, and we needed to eat a bit early for the 9:30 safety speech before we set sail. CrÃ¨me brulee night was night one as well and, though rushed, it was still quite good, and off we were on time despite issues the boat had the prior week. We had read that here, and for a week leading up to our trip my wife called our boat the Titanic.
Taking advice from the boards on CC and wanting something different from our prior treks downtown and to Meghan's bay, we discovered Sapphire Beach. I'm glad we did, the crowd was a little more sparse and a little more mature than our Meghan's Bay experience.
We did discover late in the day that the waitress we had used for food and drink from the house bar wasn't the way to go. While adequate, she had to make a long run (slow walk) to the bar and the drinks were average. However, the makeshift bar that was on the beach and run by a local entrepreneur was the best kept secret around! While it didn't look open, turned out it was and you essentially poured your own ("Tell me when to stop" she says!). It may in fact be a very good thing that we didn't discover this until it was time to go. The one or two drinks we got there were more than enough to polish off the afternoon.
We killed some time before a noon excursion downtown, but ultimately that wasn't time well spent and as the only boat in dock, we seemed to be sitting ducks for street vendors. That adventure didn't last long.
The afternoon's excursion was among the highlights of the week though, we booked the Tiami Sail, Turtles & Beach through carnival. It was great, my wife got some amazing pictures, I may have had a little too much rum. Some friends did the Five Star Catamaran & Turtle Encounter which in comparing notes might have been a bit better, but you won't go wrong either way.
Prior to our trip, a co-worker took a similar trip and said that she had some issue with vagrants in this port. Clearly, we found greater issues in the morning hours at Barbados, but to play it safe, we'd booked a private couples tour of the island. This also stemmed from some indecision of what to do.
I found Serenity from comments here, and ultimately booked the private tour. I highly recommend this as a great way to see the island and enjoy it. We had a guide, a driver, and the two of us, not to mention a stocked cooler! They efficiently navigated us around stops that were overcrowded and then effectively doubled back to see those stops. We did more than could be imagined, and really only saw about half the island.
A brief summary of the tour included short stops at the governor's mansion, the island's oldest church, and many roadside scenic overlooks. We ate an incredibly fresh banana literally on the shoulder of the road by the plantation, drank coconut water directly from a fresh coconut, and had lunch at a sweetheart's private balcony overlooking the famous Pitons. We also saw their natural sulfur sprints that are inside what's essentially an active volcano, one of the public gardens, and a silk screening store that makes all their wears on site. We took over 200 pictures throughout the day
If the trip had fewer ports of call, we might have hit the beach, but this was a great break mid-trip, and we seemed to find a beach everywhere else! It was neat to spend one day learning some history and culture and seeing some sites.
Speaking of amazing beach days! I'd love to see more of St. Kitts sometime, but our day here was really great. We initially hailed a cab to head to Cockleshell Beach. As we got in route, suddenly the price went up. Friar's Beach was on the way and another on our list to see, so we took the cheaper way out, and how wonderful that turned out! Both were recommended on cruise critic.
The water was amazing, fish were active right up to the shoreline and even at its peak, it never really got too crowded. Robin attempted some fish shots, but the current was pretty strong. It was a bit pricy in terms of food and chairs. We were specifically on the sand outside the Carambola tapas restaurant, but there were other places down the beach that offered the same views on more fiscal chairs and bar fare.
They advertise a reef 100 feet from shore. I don't doubt it, but I wasn't venturing out that far. There is some significant topography and active fish very close to the shore, and I managed to do some snorkeling off the beach, but never really ventured out very far.
We took a water taxi back. Evidently, those who used it to get there could get the return trip at half price, but they don't run on any enforced schedule, so I'm not sure I'd trust it.
St. Kitts is known for having the trained monkeys that guys will allow you to pose with for tips. Of course, I had to do it. It was the end of the day, and telling a vendor I only had $3 left but wanted one picture, he obliged, and much to my wife's surprise, she was included and two shots were taken. Oops! How'd that happen! ?
It was time to do something different, and we'd pre-booked an America's Cup Regatta excursion. It was a nice change of pace as well. Even better, some newly made friends agreed to pre-scout our favorite beach spot, so we knew we'd have two chairs waiting for us at the end of the race.
Pretty cool experience and our captain said they've expanded into Cozumel recently. Not something I'd do frequently, but definitely something I'd recommend that others attempt if there's a stop like Cozumel without as much to offer and you've been a few times.
We lost the race under protest, drank some rum punch, and wondered down the beach to find our chairs awaiting us. It was a very nice, relaxing afternoon sharing good laughs with new friends. That's frequently been the case in this port.
We again used a water taxi to get back. In the past, we hadn't used this, but likely will in the future. While the walk isn't horrible, it was worth the $5 per trip, and might prove even better as a $7 day pass.
This stop did mark the end of our trip, but being out on the beach definitely limited that feel of finality.
Overall, we both really liked the Victory. It didn't feel like a 12 year old vessel. The blues and greens came together really well, the ships layout is one we've become very familiar with, and it was a great trip. With only one sea day and the prospect of getting off each day, we booked a second floor room and took the trip at a great price.
I would do it the same way again for a trip with so many stops, though I might give the overall floor plan more consideration as I think we were under the kitchen, which brought some noise from above at ALL hours. Generally though, still better than some trips we've taken near the elevator and hearing it arrive on our floor throughout the night.
We had a rear table in the rear dinning room. Regardless of the reason, my only real complaint was that our wait staff was fairly slow. We frequently entered the dinning room rigt on time. Our entire 10 top was fairly prompt, yet, nightly we were also the last one's out the door. The food was good, but the service from the waiters was well below that of our other trips.
I'm guilty of falling asleep and missing the planned get together of us on the roll call. I take full responsibility, but a mid-afternoon nap, usually right around getting back on board, became pretty common this trip!
The serenity area was among the nicest we've seen, except maybe the Dream. I would have no issue traveling again on the Victory. Comedy was great as always, but only offered four of the seven nights. Perhaps logistics caused this, or they just needed us to get out of the comedy club and spend some money a couple nights.
For whatever reason, we seem to have more than the average flight issues for casual travelers. Our return home was impacted by two faulty cockpits and, I'm not joking, wild dogs on the runway in San Juan, leading to an extra night on the road without our luggage. All is well that ends well, and while not the way it was planned, we'd both taken the Monday off work. Instead of home Sunday afternoon, it was late Monday morning. Back to reality, winter, and not too much later, all those other responsibilities.... Time to book more trips!