My wife and I (aged 36 and 37) along with our son (9) and daughter (7) took this cruise from March 10-17, 2013. We live in Ontario, Canada and took this trip during our kid's spring break from school. This was our third cruise as a family and our second with Carnival. Previously, we have taken an Eastern Caribbean cruise from Port Canaveral and a Western Caribbean Cruise out of Tampa. I will break the trip down below and give my impressions of each of the ports.
Because this cruise did not embark until Sunday evening at 10:00 pm, my family was able to fly to San Juan on the Friday and enjoy a couple of days in Puerto Rico prior to leaving on the cruise. Our flight landed Friday evening and we were able to grab a taxi and head to our hotel, Le Consulat, in the Condado area. The location of this hotel was great as we were walking distance to the beach, a Walgreens, and many restaurants (both familiar and more exotic). We spent the Saturday at Condado beach, the kids playing in the sand and surf. The waves at this beach were pretty violent and the undertow was strong. Our kids were not able to go near the water unattended and it definitely wasn't a swimming beach. That being said, our kids really enjoyed being tossed around in the surf. After a few hours of sun and surf, we went back to the hotel, cleaned up and found a small local restaurant for dinner.
On this day, we were planning on heading to the cruise terminal around 11:00, dropping off our bags and exploring the forts of old San Juan. We made our way to the cruise port around 11:00 but once we got there and checked our bags, we were told that we'd be able to board the ship by 1:00. My kids were way more interested in the cruise ship than exploring an old fort so we stayed at the port and were eating lunch on the Lido deck within an hour. We had all of our paperwork well organized so the embarkation process was fairly painless. We had bathing suits in a back pack so we got changed and enjoyed the pool, hot tubs and water slide through the afternoon. Our room was ready by 1:00 and our bags arrived around 3:00. We spent the remainder of the afternoon unpacking and exploring our cabin and the ship itself. Dinner was informal the first night because people were still boarding the ship until 8:00 or so. We were allowed to dine any time, beginning at 6:00. We made our way to the dining room and enjoyed our first dinner aboard the ship. The muster drill at 9:30 was a typical affair and we set sail at 10:00.
We were in cabin 9200 which is listed as a "Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom", category 6J. It's located directly above the bridge and below a balcony on deck 10. The room is 320 square feet as compared to the typical 180-200 sq. ft. cruise ship room. The extra space was greatly appreciated by my family as we could spread out a bit more and we weren't on top of each other. There are only two of these cabins on the ship and we really liked it. On both of our previous cruises, we've had balcony staterooms but I'd rather have the extra space in the room than the balcony. With this itinerary, we only had one day at sea so our room was mostly used for sleeping anyway. It was just nice to wake up, open the automated blind and see the view from the front of the ship.
Day 2: St. Thomas
We visited this port before on a previous cruise and had visited Magen's Bay. Because my daughter's name is Megan, we had to take her to this beach. We caught a cab from the pier and spent the day playing in the gentle surf and catching some much needed sun. Magen's Bay is unbelievably beautiful, though it can be a bit crowded. It wasn't too bad on this day as there was only two ships in port. We were there in 2011 and the beach was much busier. After about four hours, we were all pretty tired so we packed up & caught a cab back to the ship. We wandered around the port area for a bit and did some shopping. I had wanted to buy a watch and picked one up from Little Switzerland. If you're looking for watches or jewelry, St. Thomas is a fantastic place to visit. We returned back to the ship around 3:00 and cleaned up for dinner.
Day 3: Day at Sea
We took our time getting moving on the sea day, I don't think we ate breakfast until 11:00. We spent the day in the pools & hot tubs, playing mini-golf, playing ping pong and hitting the gym. The facilities were good, everything was clean and the gym was a bit crowded but no one had to wait for equipment
Day 4: Barbados
We found Black Pearl Party Cruises online and booked an 11-3 voyage aboard the Jolly Roger. We were supposed to have two snorkel stops, one with turtles and one over a sunken ship but because the water on the north side of the island was choppy, the turtle potion was not possible on that day. The trip included booze, soft drinks and lunch. We really enjoyed the ride and the opportunity to "walk the plank" and use the rope swing. The food was great and he drinks were stiff. Snorkeling over a real ship wreck was super cool and our kids really enjoyed that experience.
Day 5: St. Lucia
We booked a 4x4 Adventure through the cruise line. It was really neat driving up the winding hilly roads of St. Lucia. Our tour guide, Chris, was a nice younger guy who was really knowledgable and seemed to enjoy his job. We spent about 90 minuted driving around and stopping for photo opportunities. Most of the driving was on regular roads but the last 15 minutes or so was off-road on some pretty unforgiving roads. We ended up on a beach for 90 minutes that was only accessible by these off road vehicles and as such, there was only about 10-15 people on the entire beach. It was really beautiful and unspoiled. Our kids spent their time collecting shells in the surf and we were able to bring many home with us as souvenirs. After the beach stop, we hopped back in the truck and made our way back to the port area. It was a really enjoyable day and the kids appreciated the chance to relax and sit back ad enjoy the ride.
Day 6: St. Kitts
We booked a catamaran sail & snorkel through the cruise line. The vessel was great and thou initially I thought it would be crowded, it didn't feel that was as we made our way to the snorkel spot. We had about an hour of snorkel time and the kids enjoyed exploring the sea life and coral formations. There was also a sunken ship that we could explore. Upon returning to the ship, the crew offered a much appreciated freshwater shower and then an open bar as we returned to the port area. Overall a very enjoyable experience. After returning to the port, we caught a cab and went to Cockleshell beach. W had lunch at a restaurant on the beach and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying a beach chair and swimming in the warm water. A great day and we're looking forward to returning.
Day 7: St. Martin
We caught a cab from the port area in the morning and went to Orient Bay beach. We spent the entire day at this beach and had lunch at one of the ocean side restaurants. It was really beautiful and our family really enjoyed it. We had told the kids we were planning on going to this beach and that in St. Martin, European-style (topless) bathing was common on this island. After a few minutes of staring by my kids, they forgot about it and just enjoyed the beach and water. It was a great day and we headed back to the ship at around 3:00 to get ready for dinner.
Day 8: Disembarkation
Our disembarkation group was originally group 20 (disembark later in the morning) but we had flights at 12:40 so I went to guest services and got switched to group 2. We got up and had breakfast then headed to the theater to wait for our group to be called. We were called at around 8:30 and we were off of the ship and through customs by 9:30. W caught our transfer to the airport at 10:00 and checked in for our flight. I had read people's complaints about the San Juan airport but our experience was pretty good. It wasn't really any different than the experiences that I've had in other airports. When you first get to the airport, you'll need to get your bags scanned for any produce by the USDA (department of agriculture). Our bags were checked promptly and were we're through security swiftly. Overall, a very painless experience.
Overall cruise experience:
My family had a fantastic vacation and we really enjoyed everything about this cruise and this ship. I found that on a bigger ship (the Dream), everything seemed far away. On this ship, our cabin was on the Lido deck so we were close to the pool, big screen, buffet, and so on. Even the gym was at the front of the ship, two floors above us. It was really an ideal location. Our service staff was fantastic and our room was always tended to with care. Our steward, Santiago, spoke to the kids whenever he saw them and always asked if there was anything we needed. We ate in the dining room every night and our waiter, Muda, was great with the kids. He talked to us about his daughters in Indonesia, and took our daughter with his to dance during their "show times". The only point that I thought was a bit lacking was the singers/dancers. We had seven nights onboard this ship and the singers/dancers only performed three times. There were other entertainers (a juggler and an illusionist, who were both very entertaining) but I was a bit surprised that on the last night of the cruise, there was not a "final performance" of the entertainment team to finish the cruise.
We enjoyed this vacation so much, we've already re booked for March, 2014. Same itinerary, same ship, same room. Having only one day at sea was a big plus for my family as we really enjoy exploring the islands and getting a much needed break from the unforgiving Canadian winter!