We flew on a non stop Delta flight from MSP to SJU arriving at 3pm the day before the cruise. There were no issues with the flight or arrival in SJU. There were tons of people waiting for taxis outside the airport. It seemed as if there was a line for taxis which they were trying to get people to stand in, but it was more of a free for all. We waited less than 20 minutes, got to our hotel quickly. Taxi from the airport to the Comfort Inn Condado was 20$. Comfort Inn is just a few blocks off the beach and was a nice hotel to stay in.
For the evening we took the bus into Old San Juan. (OSJ) It is 75 cents and you need to have change. There are several bus stops in Condado, just pay attention to which one you need to go back to. The city busses stop running out of OSJ at 9pm, sp plan to be back by then or catch a taxi back. We walked around OSJ for awhile and decided to have supper at Vaca Brava. It was recommended to us by someone local my husband met on a photography forum. Vaca Brava was excellent! The atmosphere was great, there was no wait for seating or food. The only thing I would change is to go there with a bigger group than the 2 of us. They had a lot of entrees that were set up to serve groups, and they looked great! We got burgers and fries for about $10 each. Very good food.
We got up Sunday morning and met some CC people at the free breakfast then went to walk on the beach for a few hours. The surf was pretty high which was fun to watch. Check out time was noon so just before that, we met up with another CC couple to share a taxi to embarkation. Taxi from the hotel to the port was $15 plus $1 per bag, shared, that was a good deal. There were no lines on the road for taxis dropping off. So; our time line thru this embarkation was leave the hotel at noon and were in the buffet line by 1:15. Embarkation was pretty bad from an organizational viewpoint, at least the outside part. First our taxi mates got in the short line, they were suite people and had been on many RCCL cruises so that was nice for them. We got in line to drop off our luggage, then got in another line to get in the building, then got in another line to check in. I really didn't understand that. Carnival takes your luggage pretty much right from the taxi. Made no sense to me to stand in line to drop off luggage that is already tagged. RCCL sells soda and water reasonably priced, Carnival gives free water in line. Oh well. We didn't need it in any case. After getting thru the lines to get in the building, we got in a pretty short line for check in since we were Gold members, only about 2 couples ahead of us. Check in was short, sweet, and the guy was fast and efficient. Helps when all the paperwork is in order.
Rooms were not ready yet, so we went to the buffet. I had heard all about the Honey Strung Chicken, so I was ready for it. Yuck! Dried flavorless chicken patty. However there was a ton of other good food, the curry was good, and my more adventerous husband had many different items. We ate breakfast at the buffet every day and a few lunches. The buffets were okay, but we got pretty bored with it after a few days. Not much variety and for some reason they close it at 3 every day. The back part was open until 5 some days (not every day), but other than that, getting back on the ship after a day in port the food was hard to find. We ate at Cafe Promanade a few days and room service one day. The steak sandwhich from room service was excellent. We did not get the soda package so we had lemonade and tea. There were plenty of servers offering refills. The desserts at the buffets were ok, and the fruit offerings were pretty bland. In the Caribbean there should be a better variety, not just melons.
We had late seating for supper. We were on the middle level and had great tablemates. Our service was good but not over the top good. As the week went on, service got better, there was mention from servers (and our room steward) about recommendations, so I feel like as the week went on, they figured they needed to be better for recommendations. They tried to imitate Carnival and have the waiters entertain and sing. Pretty bad. The singing was awful, no one took the lead and it seemed like they weren't even singing together. The last night they sang a good bye song and we are pretty sure it was prerecorded and they just played it.
The ship itself is great. We used the hot tub in the adult area, and while I have heard it was a traffic area and pretty busy it wasn't as bad as I thought. There were people walking along the sides but they did an excellent job of keeping kids out of the pools and chairs in the adult area. I didn't see it one time!. We love the Royal Promanade! This is probably the one thing that had us book RCCL over other lines. It makes for a great area to walk, people watch, and for RCCL to stage events such as the parades. We had a 9th floor inside room. I want to talk to the person who designed the layout of this room. I didn't care that it was way smaller than any other cruise room I have had, but who put the bathroom light switch behind the bathroom door outside of the bath room? You have to shut the door turn on the light open the door then go in the bathroom and shut the door again. Also when the beds are together you can't walk around to the sides of the bed to get in. For us it was fine to crawl in bed from the bottom, but what about the elderly or people with mobility issues. I was not impressed with the cabin, but it's just a place to lay our heads. The shops have the same stuff nothing really unusual and the watch sales etc are ok. We did enjoy the art work and the art shows, the free champange and chocolate covered strawberries. Since my husband is a professional photographer we didn't use the photographers on board, looks they did ok. The fake backgrounds are pretty cheesy though. The shows were pretty standard cruise shows. What stood out was the ice show. Do not miss this. We did have to go get tickets, but that wasn't a big deal and I don't think they sold out so don't worry about not getting some. There was also a "Tribute to the Temptations" show. That was also excellent. I don't understand the Gaucho Brothers show at all. Two guys twirling ropes with balls on the end? We also went to the party for returning guests, that was fun. Short and sweet with a few free drinks thrown in. The young man who was at the piano bar did an excellent job. One night he had a challenging crowd with some ladies who were having too much fun, but he did a good job of controling them.
On our sea day we went to Johnny Rockets. I was very disappointed. We had done this in 07 with our kids and it was a great experience. Seems like the nickle and dimeing has hit this too. I knew it would cost $5 pp to eat there. Last time beverages and shakes were included. This time, not. We had a BOGO coupon for shakes, but the meal still cost us $15. We sat down and got menus. Someone brought us a plate with a few fries and onion rings after about ten minutes. Then we ordered. About twenty minutes later he brought us our shakes. They were yummy, but last time we got the shake cup and the 'extras' in the tin cup they stir it in. Not this time, just the cup. About twenty minutes later we got our burger. No more fries or anything. It would have been nice to get it all at once. Won't waste my money there again, even though, it was a very good burger! The whole hour and some we were there, they only "sang and danced" once. Not a deal breaker for me, but our kids really liked it last time.
Monday was St Croix. This was the only stop we hadn't been to before. The weather wasn't the best, just a few short rain spurts, but the surf was rough so the snorkeling was bad. We spend time walking around the town, it is very cute and quaint and what struck us was how few people there were, locals that is. It is one place I would feel comfortable renting a car and driving around. There were several tent type shops that were fun to shop at. We walked along the sidewalk to the right then we walked around the town, then went back to the ship for lunch. After lunch we got suits on and walked up the beach to the left. It was pretty and we did try and snorkel but like I said it was too rough.
Tuesday was St Marten. Right away in the morning we went to Maho Beach. We paid $8 pp for a taxi. The bar there was really fun and I got a seat in the shade. My husband spent the morning and early afternoon shooting photos and videos of the planes. Always a good time. We decided we wanted to go to Orient Beach to see what all the excitment is about. Took a long time to find a taxi that would take us. None of them wanted to go that far. We paid $30 and shared a taxi with a couple that just wanted an island driving tour so it worked out good for all of us. It took about 35 minutes to drive there. We spent about an hour there. I can see why people like it, there is a lot to do as far as water sports, lots of bars and shops. Plenty of places to rent chairs from. There was some topless nudity on the normal end of the beach. We didn't go to 'the other side" but we could tell from what we saw that it is not for the conservative. Taxi back was easy to catch, shared was 12$ for the two of us.
Wednesday was Antigua. We have been here once before and did the same as we did last time. We walked out from the ship, one block past the big yellow building we turned right and walked to the fish market. It is very crowded as we were walking towards the bus station. Behind the bus station is the fish market. It is fun to see the tropical fish being harvested like we would do to Northern and Walleye. On the other side of the fish market is a grocery store that we go to to buy spices. We then spent the morning walking around the town. We went back to the ship for lunch then got suited up for swimming. We went to Fort James Beach. 6$ pp taxi ride about 6-7 minute ride. There is a new bar there called Millers Bar and it seems they are trying to call the beach Millers Beach. Fort James Beach is a beautiful stretch of sandy beach, crystal clear blue water. It is sandy far out into the water and wonderful for swimming. Not much for snorkeling, you can snorkel but there is no coral which means not very many fish. On one end is rocks, on the other end is the ruins of Fort James. You can walk all around them. It is fun to do, but sad to me that no one is restoring or preserving them. Lots of garbage there too. In port again, Rocketman bar has free wifi, just buy a diet coke for 2$ and he will give you the password. Cheers Bar also has free wifi. However they wanted both of us to buy a diet coke, at $3.50 each no way was I going to pay $7 for free internet. Of course both offer more than diet cokes and would be more than happy for you to buy as much as you want.
Thursday was St Lucia. We took the Land and Sea to the Pitons tour. It was a bus tour up the coast to the Pitons, then catermaran back to the ship. It could have been much better than it was. We got on the busses just fine, they weren't too big and our tour guide was knowledgeable. Our bus driver was excellent! Of course we stopped many times for shopping and sight seeing. Each time our guide gave us a time to be back on, and everyone was back on, except, at each stop our tour guide was later and later. At lunch we ended up waiting over 15 minutes for her AFTER everyone else was back on the bus. I went to go get her, her repsonse was "I'll be there in a few minutes' This was after an hour long lunch break. We ate lunch at a restored plantation, the food was excellent and the only thing that marred the experience was that the pregnant lady at our table got a bug in her (very good) mango juice. They wouldn't give her a new cup of juice. After lunch and waiting for our tour guide, we got to the dock to get on the catermaran. We waited over Â½ hour for the catermaran to get there. For some reason they just weren't there. It was after 2 before we got on the catermaran. I asked how long the ride was since there was supposed to be a 45 minute swim stop. She told me 3 and Â½ hours. Ship was scheduled to leave at 5. do the math. We did get our swim stop and the catermeran ride, but I was not overall happy with the entire experience. On the swim stop my husband saw a puffer fish. That was cool. I wasn't too worried about making it back to the ship, since it was a ship tour they ship were responsible. We were running for the plank just at 5 though.
Friday was our last port; Barbados. This is our favorite island and we have been here 4 times. We had decided we would go to Bathsheba Beach to photograph the mushroom rocks, then head to Carlisle Bay to snorkel with the sea turtles. Knowing the bus system we were pretty confident to take the bus. As we were leaving the port we were bombarded by the taxi drivers wanting our business. We thought we would at least ask what they would charge to take us to Bathsheba then back again in an hour. They wanted $130. Yeah no. By time we got to the back of the taxi line, the price was down to $80. We took the bus. What I didn't realize is that there are two bus depots. We went to the close one, to find out we needed the far one. We walked there, about 20 minutes. We got there 5 minutes after the bus we needed left. It leaves for Bathsheba every hour on the hour. We waited for the next one. The bus ride was about 35 min. We spent a very nice hour at the beach and took the bus back it goes back on the hour every hour. Very easy when you know where to go and when to be there. With the delay we didn't get to Carlisle until 2. I figured it was too late to swim with the turtles, but there was a guy who was looking for business. He took us in a glass bottom boat and there was one turtle left it was fun and worth it to me, then they took us over a ship wreck, we got the snorkel there too. Less than an hour, but we only paid $15. There was another family on the boat with us that was charged $22pp. Then we took a taxi back to the ship for $5. Bought hot sauce and vanilla in the port shopping area. It seems like there is free wifi in the port terminal since there were a lot of people on laptops. We didn't use it though.
Overall, it was a good cruise, I spent the week in the tropics with my husband and we had a great time. Will I cruise RCCL again? Don't know, the only thing they have over Carnival is the Royal Promanade and that is NOT worth the $500 and more this cruise cost us than what we would have paid for a comparable Carnival cruise.