Should have come here before leaving for our cruise! So much for research!
This was a honeymoon trip for us. My wife has not traveled much, but I travel a lot (although this was my first cruise....)
Getting on the ship was a real pain. I read all the information in the booklet Carnival sends and had filled out all the forms as well as preboarded on line. I did as much as I could before getting to the port. The lines snaked along outside and the baggage drop-off was controlled chaos. The 2 1/2 hour wait wouldn't have been bad if they would tell you what is going on. You first pass a metal detector line, and then you get in another line to prove who you are. Next you go up the steps to yet another snaking line. This is to get your sign and sail information (I have to say though...sign and sail is a great program, but remember that the per person tips hit your account before you find your room. This struck a lot of people the wrong way, but it really simplifies your on board life). But then another line to get your picture taken to match you to your card. I watched a few people's pics...they are all funny, as you are hot, tired and agitated at that point...they really can't use them in the brochure.
Once inside, we couldn't find our stateroom. The ship is so big and the two dining rooms cutting off the main passages really turn you around. Once we got to our stateroom, the "muster station" drill went off (after waiting to get to get on the ship for 2 1/2 hours, they show you how to get off in two minutes). We couldn't find our life jackets (they weren't in the marked cabinet). The crewman at the end of our hall told us to look under the TV...not there either. Had to drag them into the room. They found them under the bed.
Okay, the trip got better after that. We found dinner and the Piano Bar. Scotee is the man. His songs range from sing-along to late night forays into the crude zone...He stayed through his break and played classical piano...even if you don't like classic, watching played from 2 feet away is a whole different thing! Drazen took care of our needs in the bar. No matter what was asked, he said "I will take care of that" and it was done. If I were rich, he'd work for me. Best service guy on the crew (and had a ton of female admirers...). These two guys kept us from flying home from San Juan.
Quickie tips on food: Skip the pizza and wait the 10 minutes for the Calzones. Remember it's 24 hrs! Eat at the buffet a little off peak times ('cause like everywhere, there are some rude people on board with you). The fine dining areas serve really good food (service is hit or miss, so make sure you like the company you're with). If they offer the Grouper, stop looking for anything else on the menu - the best I have had in the US. The coffee bar desserts (you pay extra) are okay, but the food looks better than it tastes. The hamburger/hot dog food area is really good considering the simplicity of the fare.
Entertainment: The comedian was pretty decent on the late show. We skimmed other shows (not drawn to any), but they can be watched in the room when you are getting ready for the day. Contests are a lot more fun to watch than you think they would be. The "meetings" over the excursions and Disembarking are informative and pretty enjoyable - DO NOT MISS THESE. They will save you more than the 45 minutes you spend setting inside. Casino is tight but pretty diverse. Go to have fun, not win your trip's cost back and you won't be disappointed. If you are not a prude go to the piano bar every night and you will make a dozen friends on your trip. And go for the three pointers with a buck or two… Special note: Ship's announcements are really hard to hear. They do not pipe into your room and the person giving the announcement talks quickly or with a heavy accent. Look at your Carnival Capers to keep up with things.
Ports: Being in San Juan for 5 hours is about as long as you need. Some decent site seeing if you like old forts. Shopping is so-so. Senor Frogs is upbeat but really freakin' loud - don't plan to talk. Watch where you walk, traffic signals and signs are apparently optional here….
St. Thomas is beautiful and fun. Don’t think you can have a bad time here. If you like to shop, you can right off the ship or travel downtown. I would recommend the short tour to get a good quick overview of the island. Not to mention the open bus ride rivals any Cedar Point coaster for entertainment!
St. Maarten is by far the cleanest with the best sites. The hawkers downtown off the water taxi are like pesky flies. They are polite but there are so many! Missed our excursion due to illness, so you will need to look elsewhere.
We thought the ship was maintained very well but it did have some sort of leak issue toward the mid decks aft. We think it was air conditioner water backing up and smelling. They tried to keep it dry and odor free, but were losing the battle on our trip. It was in a common area, so I don’t think it affected any guests quarters.
Hang out on the upper decks for piece and quiet. The pools are constantly overrun. Better yet, get a balcony room and enjoy your private ship! The beds are fantastic (did I mention I was on my honeymoon?) People get a little frantic and grumpy the last day (either they don’t want to return or saw their total on their sign and sails…or both).
Leaving the ship is about ½ as bad as getting on. Note: Do not book a flight just after 1:00. Carnival has a cut off for early dismissal from the ship at 1:00 and we were at 1:06. Being toward the last to get off, we had to literally run shoeless through all of Miami to get on the plane. Also be nice to the men in uniforms as you get off the ship. They will be as nice or nasty as the person in front of their desk. Give them some respect and things go a lot faster.
Knowing what I know now. I would cruise anytime with these folks. They just need to tell more about the bad parts up front to make the regulation parts more agreeable. We are already looking at our calendars for our next cruise!