This was our very first cruise experience and it was more than I could have ever hoped for. From beginning to end we had the time of our lives. I have read so many reviews and have appreciated the information found on this site as well as advice on ports of call specifically, however finding a positive review is almost unheard of! I would like to to submit my experience so that others embarking on their first cruise experience can see that there is so much to look forward to. For me three things are very important - 1) service, 2) food and 3) having fun.
We flew from Toronto, Canada to San Juan on Jan. 19th. The airport was easy to maneuver and the taxi queue was well organized. On this trip I found the research on the various taxi customs in each port was very helpful. We stayed at the Hampton Inn, Isla Verde. The hotel was in close proximity to the airport and the port. There was a nice swimming pool with a bar and our room was lovely and huge with and amazing bed! The staff here were fantastic - so very helpful. They were excited to share the puerto rican culture and gave great advice for an authentic dinner as well as how to travel to the sites. I would recommend this hotel for service, room and price.
Embarkation - we came to the port right around 2:00 (sail away was at 10:00 p.m.). There was a very long line, and it was HOT, so I was a bit worried, but everything was very well organized and we moved right along. There was water and lemonade available to keep you cool, which was nice. In total, it took 1 hour to move through the line and get to our room. Our bags were there when we arrived. On sail away - we headed up to the very front of the ship and watched San Juan fall away Titanic style - cool! Then we ran all over the ship watching from all the different vantage points.
Our room - We had room 7642 which was a superior oceanview stateroom with balcony - slightly aft of mid-ship. Great location! We loved our balcony!!! The room was a very good size with lots of storage. I brought lots of clothes and shoes("costume" changes are fun!)and there was amble room to store everything. The ship's decor is from the early 2000's so yes, it is a little out of date, but not too bad. It was clean and that is very important to me. Our stateroom attendant came twice a day - our room was spotless. He even left a couple of cute towel animals. Some people on this site seem to require this to have a good time....me, not so much. But it was a nice little add on.
Food - I had read so many reviews about the so so food offered and so I did not have very high expectations. As I said in the beginning, food quality and customer service are very important to me, and of anything, could possibly lead to a bad experience. No worries here! we only ate in the MDR for dinner and ate at the Windjammer each morning and afternoon. The food at dinner was always amazing (except the steak) and the service was top notch! The Windjammer had so much fresh fruit and veggies, all cut up and ready to go, making it easy to eat well all week. The food is fresh, which is nice - not a lot of deep fried stuff. I thoroughly enjoyed the two formal nights!
The ship - the pool area always had ample places to lounge. I never had an issue getting a seat, and never saw any hogging chairs. In fact, that was another thing....on a ship with 4000 people I never felt crowded, and never saw anyone being rude or complaining. How refreshing! We visited a couple of bars for some events and went to "the Quest" game show - what a blast!
Ports of call:
Day 1 - St. Thomas - What an absolutely amazing location!! We traveled by an open air cab to Magen's Bay. There were only 2 ships in port, and the beach was anything but packed. The beach was clean and there were lots of taxis waiting so you didn't have to worry about how to get back. There is a decent snack bar and little shop there as well. We rented a couple of loungers and hung out on the beach and in the water (oh so lovely) all day! Then back to the ship. What a perfect first day.
Day 2 - St. Kitts - Here we opted for a tour of the island with Grey's Tours (our guide was Vincent). The tour cost $45 each for a nearly full day tour - well worth the money and highly recommended. This was a great day to see the island. I felt safe with his driving and learned a lot about the island. We visited Romney Manor and Caribelle Batik(30 min), Brimstone Hill Fortress (60 min) and then out to Frigate bay where you can see both the Atlantic Ocean and Carribean Sea. What a view. You could get dropped off at a beach for a couple of hours, but we decided to go back to the ship for a bite to eat and hit the pool.
Day 3 - Day at sea.....fun day to sleep in, hang out by the pool, watch the belly flop competition, etc.
Day 4 - Aruba - oh my goodness what a beautiful place!! We were in port from 8 a.m. -10 p.m. We had a tour booked with Trikes Aruba at 1:30 and so we did not leave the ship until around 12:00. If I had known better, I would have left at 9:00 in the morning!! Anyway, we headed to Palm beach to take a look around and then over to Trikes Aruba (see my review on Trip Advisor http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g488162-d2097565-Reviews-Trikes_Aruba-Noord_Aruba.html). We had a truly fantastic day with them! After the tour, we headed to Passions on the Beach for a beach-side dinner and sunset....what a great way to end a perfect day. We headed back to the ship for a pool side party and grand buffet. There was much dancing and fun to be had and the buffet was truly spectacular.
Day 5 - Curacao - we had a lot of trouble figuring out what to do here. All of the info that I could find showed beaches being very far away and cabs costing a lot of money. I was tossed up between Seaquarium (Mambo Beach) and Blue Bay since they were close. Neither had great reviews so I really wasn't sure what to do. Eventually we headed down to the tourist booth in the port and they suggested Mambo. When we got there, I had a few moments where I though we might be better to go somewhere else. But after a while of sitting under a palm tree and listening to music from the beach bar, I was persuaded to stay. we swam out to the dock and hung out there for quite some time, had a couple of beers and lounged a lot!! Not too bad for a day's work. We discovered that we were sitting next to a couple from the ship and so asked if we could share a cab back with them. We had not arranged for our cab to come back, which we should have as they are not just sitting there waiting. We headed back to Willemsted to look around the pretty town and do a bit of shopping.
Then back to the ship for formal night.
Day 6 - at sea...lovely, but a little more movement. The seas had been pretty calm all week and this was the first day we noticed a lot of swaying, which seemed to get a little worse in the night. We packed and got organized for the morning and then went out to have some fun on the ship.
Day 7 - going home :( We were up and out of our room by 8:30, had a quick breakfast and then to Studio 8 to wait debarkation. We were off the ship by 11:30, through the line to customs and in a cab and on the way to the airport before 12:00. Smooth sailing!
We had such a wonderful time. We felt the staff on board were top notch and we experienced excellent customer service at every turn. I look forward to a point in the future when we can take a run at this type of trip again.
I want to end on a note to comment on many of the negative reviews involving Puerto Rican people. I would like to say that the puerto rican people added to our trip in such a huge way. From their hospitality in San Juan (everywhere we went!), to the music, energy and sense of family, I would say that I have very rarely met such fantastic people. A word of advice, sometimes the behaviors you encounter are connected to the attitude you are portraying. People of all cultures can be rude (yes, even Americans!), but in my experience, these people were anything but.
Thank you to everyone we met or came in contact with on this cruise - you all contributed to a vacation that we will remember forever!