I traveled with 4 good friends and I planned all of the activities and accommodations. Three of us had sailed on the Valor previously. We flew in on red eye flights Friday night, with Saturday morning arrivals, for four of us and the final friend joined us Saturday afternoon.
The San Juan airport is nice and easy to get around. We met up (two different flights and mine was delayed) at baggage claim and went to meet our shuttle from Payless Car Rental. Horrible, horrible, horrible. There were 4 groups in front of us in line and it took nearly 2 hours to get our car. They let the returns cut in line in front of us, but the returns took as long as the rentals. Their process is absolutely ridiculous. When they finally got to me, they didn't have the car I rented. I paid for a full size car, they gave me a SUV. This wouldn't have mattered, but we then couldn't leave anything in the car during the trip. We either had to check it at the hotel or take it with us. They tried to put in a cover in the back, but they didn't have the right size. I demanded a discount, so they gave me the second day for free. This was more than reasonable, I would have taken 20% off. Two of my friends were outside and saw that they were really looking the cars over and charging for previous damage...So we did an extra-cautious inspection with two videos and the rental agent in them agreeing that there was previous damage. And then off we went. First, we checked our luggage at our hotel, the Embassy Suites. Very, very nice. We could not have been more pleased with the selection, and we only picked it because they could accommodate 5 people in one room (shh...we didn't pay the extra per-person charge). You can have them call you when your room is ready. Then, we went to the University of San Juan Botanical Garden. Apparently, it was the first casualty of the sequester...oh my. I would consider it closed. And mostly dead. We headed back up towards the hotel to get some breakfast. We either couldn't find anything (non-fast food) open or couldn't get to it from the highway. We ended up parking back at the hotel and walking over to a little strip mall nearby. Good Puerto Rican/American restaurant that seemed popular. The food was good, but in Puerto Rico, it is apparently customary to request that your beverage has alcohol in it. My friend's margarita had a shot on the side to mix in, as we had to specially request it. Good to know. We walked around a bit, went to Walgreens to get stuff we didn't have room for or forgot, sunblock, etc. We were super tired, so we went an hung out/napped in the hotel lobby (classy, I know) until our room was ready. We went up, one bedroom with one king bed for three of the guys and a pullout for the other one and myself. We took another nap and I went to pick up the final guy from the airport. At 5ish, they had a manager's reception (again, they didn't seem to care that there were 5 of us in our 2 person room), we each had a few free drinks, chips, etc. You can get two at a time, which is handy because the line was long. The food was enough for a light dinner. Off we went to Fajardo to kayak in the bio bay. This was the reason we sailed out of P.R. So great! We used Yokahu Kayak Trips, Inc. They were super-professional, helpful, and accommodating. It was not at all what I expected, the only disappointing part was that the bio doesn't photograph :( We went back to the hotel and needed some food. Nothing was open besides Pizza Hut, so Pizza Hut it was. We ate and turned in. In the morning, we partook in the free breakfast, very good. We checked out and checked our luggage in one of the conference rooms and drove to La Cueva del Indio. When we arrived, the owner told us that the cave was flooded, but we could still look around. It is $2 to park and $.50/person admittance. As long as we drove 90 minutes, we figured, why not? Oh my! It was beautiful and worth the trip to not even go in the cave. The rock formations and water were fantastic! Then we went to Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy, and planned to hike to an unmanned/unlit cave. Well, apparently, that closed several years ago, now there is a little trolley that takes you back to a 'better' cave. The wait was 90 minutes, so we just walked around the property, took some pics and headed back to the hotel to get our luggage and head over to the ship. I went with one of the guys to return the car, the others were to call a cab, then head over to Payless to pick us up. Well...more waiting. And the clerk didn't know anything about the discount. Luckily, the lady from the day before was inspecting the car and I brought her in and she fixed it. She was, however trying her best to find damage that we did, but when she realized that we were the people who took the videos, she quit. In summary, there is a reason why it is so much cheaper, because they make their money in bogus damage charges. It wasn't worth the discount. Pony up the cash and go to Hertz, you don't want to waste your vacation time waiting in line. Our cab driver was kind enough to wait and was tipped appropriately. We boarded the ship in no time, such nice Carnival clerks and they were all open, no line. Our luggage beat us to the room and we were off to dinner in the MDR. We had anytime, although, with the exception of the first night, always ate at the same time and in the same section. We got the Cheers! package and it went very smoothly, we pre-tipped at the places we would be at the most. We got our money's worth...
Day 2- St. Thomas - We walked around on our own and went to the 99 Steps, Emancipation Garden, Blackbeard's Castle, the Havensight Mall and a touristy market. Blackbeard's was closed, because there weren't enough tickets sold for the day (???), anyway, the gate was open, so we followed some others in. None of the stores were open, but it was cool to walk around. An all around easy, fun, didn't do much day. We wanted to go to Magic Ice, but missed it and didn't feel like walking all the way back. One friend went to the Skyride two weeks before and said it was nice, but not worth the money, so we got back on the ship. Dinner, drinks, clubs, etc.
Day 3 - At sea - We went to the Comedy Brunch and per usual, there wasn't really comedy, which was fine. What wasn't fine was that it took us an our to be served. We had to complain 3 times to finally have someone wait on us. That was the only poor service we had on the cruise. We laid out on the Serenity and had some more cocktails.
Day 4 - Barbados - We took a cab to Carlisle Bay and then found a boat to take us out to snorkel the shipwrecks. You can swim out, but this was easier, in a glass bottomed boat and there was a place to leave your stuff. It was $15 or $20/person. Then we went over to the turtles. Both were really cool. I have an underwater camera, so I have lots of pictures! We walked back to the ship. I had been to Mt. Gay Rum before, and the others weren't really interested, so we skipped it.
Day 5 - St. Lucia - We took the Volcano Tour and beach break at Anse Cochon beach with Serenity Tours. It was very informative and fun. You could get a beach chair and umbrella if you had lunch there, and the food was really good. One of the guys and I went snorkeling which was really neat. You had to swim way out along the rocks to the right of the beach.
Day 6 - St. Kitts - We hiked the volcano with Royston of Royston Tours. I had done this before, it is a lot of work. Get in shape before you go! The view is spectacular and Royston is tons of fun. Highly recommended! He also takes you on a little driving tour of the island. If you have time, ask him to stop at some of the locations. You won't have time if you have slower hikers, though, the hike takes most of the day. That night four of us did the Chef's Table. Two of us had done it before on the ship. It includes as much as you can drink in the $75. Highly recommended for a date night, especially if the steakhouse isn't really up your alley. Also, if you don't like something, don't finish it because you will be stuffed by the end either way. What a long day!
Day 7 - St. Maarten - We cabbed over to Maho Beach to watch the planes land and watch the people. It was really cool! Then we cabbed to the St. Maarten Zoo ($10 plus $2 for a bag of animal crackers). It was small, and not a zoo like in the US. It was just a lot of local animals, some caged, some not. You could walk up to all of them, feed them, touch them, photos, etc. There weren't many people there, so we had the run of the place. It was one of the funnest things on the trip. Our cab driver just stayed in the area and brought us to the shopping area. We were going to art shop, but we really didn't see much local stuff, maybe two shops, nothing really my style. I did get a taguas 'ivory' carving from a booth at the edge of the shopping area, towards the ship. Pretty cool souvenir. We walked back to the ship, it wasn't far.
In the morning, we said our goodbyes and the three with earlier flights were off to the airport. One friend and I had late afternoon flights, so we shopped a bit in Old San Juan, had a drink, lunch at Toro Salao. Yum! Then we cabbed to the airport and the vacation was over :(
Also, can't remember which nights were which, but the juggler and the comedian were really fun.