Just returned from the 10/01/06 Destiny.
Arrival at Airport: Arrived from JFK (NY) on time. Was surprised to find out that it was not possible to purchase a seat on the Carnival bus at the airport. I have never had this problem before. In Florida, even if you have not booked in advanced you can purchase a seat once you get to the airport. Not in San Juan. Took a cab for $20 to the pier. Driver was not particularly friendly. Talk on his cellphone the entire trip.
Embarkation: Went smoother than I thought. However, none of the local porters offered to take my luggage into the building. They seemed more interested in making sure the locals were taken care of. I attributed this to the language barrier. (Naively, I had no idea so many citizens of the island of Puerto Rico did not speak any english.) Pulled my luggage into the building and it was immediately taken to be put on the ship. Up the escalator to the check-in counters. Went really quickly. Entire time from cab to walking on the ship approximately 30 minutes. When I was given my ship and sign card I realized that I had been given an early seating for dinner. I had requested an 8:00 seating. 5:45 is too early for me to eat lunch since I figured I would be on the islands until 5:00 or so. Immediately upon boarding the ship, I went to the Universe dining room to change my dinner seating. It took a bit of doing because I wanted late seating with people that spoke english. By now I had noticed how many spanish speaking people were on board. My conservative estimate is at least 75 - 80%. No problem, I thought -- I am from NYC. I can even say a word or two in Spanish. Finally found a table with some non-latin sounding names. (I did not want to sit alone every night with a table full of people speaking a foreign language.) This was not easy to do. Great tablemates throughout the cruise. Dined and partied with them into the wee hours.
Cabin 1105 (Main Deck). Cat. 1A/1B. I tend to cruise solo and do not have a need for a window or a balcony (the Lido deck is my balcony). I found the hall in my cabin to be a bit more narrow than in other Carnival ships I had sailed. The bathroom was definitely smaller. It was impossible to sit on the toilet properly without having your feet in the shower. It was also very hard to stand in the bathroom and close the door. That was a tight squeeze. No matter, I have the cabin to myself so a closed bathroom door is not that big of a deal. This cabin, while a cat. 1A has two porthole windows, a pull-down bed and a sofa. The actual room itself was a decent size, plenty of room for 1 person. Because of the porthole windows, the bed was not pushed up against the wall as it is in other inside cabins. As a result, either the beds on this ship are decidedly more narrow than on other Carnival ships or I never realized just how narrow the beds on Carnival ships are. I for the life of me cannot believe that these beds are considered "twin" beds. I am not a very large person but once I lay on the bed, there was no way to roll over with out falling off the bed. Since I sleep in a queen sized bed at home, I again attributed this to my issue and not a ship issue. However, because of the narrowness of the bed, I did not sleep well during this cruise which is quite unusual for me. Even the nights when I went to bed in the wee hours and quite "juiced" I struggled to find sleep.
However, outside of those small issues, my cabin was fine. My room steward was pleasant. I gave him a $20 tip upon meeting him and requested he keep ice in my cooler and to allow my towel animals to accumulate. He did both cheerfully. No a/c issues, plenty of hot water, water pressure fine. As another note, this cabin is all the way in the front of the ship on the right hand side on the first floor. It is the second cabin from the very tip. Felt quite a bit of movement and heard a little noise. Since I did not sleep well anyway, it didn't add or take away from my rest.
Ports of Call: St. Thomas (shopping/tour/beach); Dominica (tour/shopping/solo walking tour); Barbados (tour/beach); Aruba (catamaran ride/beach/public bus ride/casino/shopping). The ports on this itinerary almost make up for any shortcoming that may exist on the ship. In a word, Perfect, Perfect, Perfect. The weather was perfect. Just enough clouds (maybe 1 or 2 per day) to give your skin short reprieves from the sun. The locals on each island (except Puerto Rico) I found to be for the most part very friendly and jovial. I tasted local food on each island. My favorite island was Dominica. My favorite beach was Barbados. My favorite shopping was St. Thomas. The easiest to get around was Aruba (took the public bus from the beach to the ship for $1.15 - cheap tour). I had favorites everywhere I went. I am not much for souvenirs but I did manage to get the obligatory keychain and magnet at each port stop.
The Ship Called Destiny: Quickly, I ate almost exclusively in the Universe Dining Room. The food was pretty good. The waiters are not as attentive as on some ships but they were fine nonetheless. The ship is not new but it is well maintained. A person would have to seek out signs of wear and tear on this ship. No foul smells that I noticed except for one restroom by the dance club late at night -- enough said. Casino slots do not pay well and therefore the casino was empty most nights. The tables were not well attended either. Took one ship excursion. It was short and was fine. The workers were all very pleasant. Again not too attentive but fine just the same. Plenty of deck chairs available on at-sea days. Tables on the lido deck were cleaned quickly. Bar drinks were good and the bartenders friendly. All in all in spite of my room's minor shortcomings, this would have been a perfect cruise except for . . . . .
This is the bad part of the cruise. The demographics of this ship as I stated earlier is IMHO at least 75% hispanic. Most of these are the locals. I do not know what they paid to get on the ship (and don't care) but from the time you arrive at the pier in SJ, you get the impression that the locals consider this to be "their" cruise. I am friendly, outgoing, polite and sociable. However, I found the local cruisers to be the polar opposite. To make matters worse, it seems as though the social director and whomever else makes the decisions on this particular ship decided that the entire cruise was a salute to Puerto Ricans. At every event, at ever show, at every passenger contest, there was at least one "HELLO PUERTO RICO" or "HELLO PUERTO RICANS". This made all the non-locals feel decidedly unwelcome. In my opinion, the locals are not a friendly, open people but rather clannish and tended to stay not only with other locals but rather within their own tight little groups. This would be fine had the ship's social director not felt a need to remind everyone on board st every turn that it was a "Puerto Rican" cruise. It was horribly offensive coupled with the fact that the locals had no interest in any interaction with any outsiders. The Criterion Lodge was given up to salsa dancing each and every night. No variation. Every other ship I have ever been on has varied the music in their lounge to offer something for everyone. Not Destiny. Every night/all night -- Criterion Lodge is salsa. It was not unusual to final all of the night music venues playing salsa at the same time. There was no attempt to entertain/appease anyone but the locals. If salsa and/or hip-hop/rap is not your type of dance music, your evening basically ended at around 11:30 on the ship. In fact, even in the one venue (points after dance club) that was playing non-salsa music, if a group of locals came in, the musical was immediately changed to accommodate the locals' desire for salsa, even if they were not dancing. One night, there were at least 100 people on the dance floor, partying hard to the hip/hop-rap that was playing. Approx. 5 or 6 locals walked into the club and the dj (hispanic) immediately changed the music to salsa, even though no one was dancing to it. He first cleared the dance floor. However because he continued to play the salsa music for the next 45 minutes (no one on the dance floor), he actually cleared the club of all non-latinos. It was quite obvious that the club was no longer for "the outsiders" as we came to call ourselves. This was done almost consistently every night. The bathrobe party started with 90 minutes of straight salsa so that by the time the passenger contests, etc. started, the participates that were still on the Lido deck was almost exclusively latino. During any passenger contest on this cruise, the SD would first rev up the locals by giving shout-outs of all sorts in spanish so that by the time the contestants came on, the local contestants were sure to win because the locals had been revved up and the outsiders had been pushed to the side again. I am generally a major participator in the social events on the ship but by the 5 or 6th day, I stopped attending the events altogether because I found the favoritism of the social staff to be so terribly offensive. I am from NYC and am quite used to a diverse social scene and interact well with the latin community on the mainland (not so much Miami). However, what I experienced on the Destiny was some throw back to the days of segregation of the south that I have heard, read or seen on TV. I felt most sorry for the older couples who were obviously not interested in dancing to hip-hop (they had nowhere at all to dance/socialize after 11:30 or so) and the honeymooners that felt so rejected throughout the cruise. I never really used the buffet dining area but from listening to other passengers, that is where the worse of the worst behavior by the locals was constantly on display. From what I gather, it was a nightmare to go up there because of the unimaginably rude behavior on display
When I went to the purser's desk to complaint about all of the obvious bias, I was informed that there were more Puerto Ricans on the ship than me (African American) so there was nothing they can do but cater to them exclusively. It was suggested that I select a different ship/port. Unbelievable.
The itinerary gets a 10 out of 10, the ship gets 7 out of 10, the atmosphere on the ship gets a 3 out of 10.
The ports make all of the insulting behavior on the ship almost worth it. I so wish that Carnival would do this itinerary from the mainland. They would sell out six months in advance. I don't know why they don't. I would pay for an extra night. I would pay for a newer ship. I just don't think I can stomach another San Juan cruise ever again no matter how much I loved the ports.
I can't say everyone felt this way on the ship but from all of the outsiders I talked to, they were quite twisted out of shape and the general consensus was "no more San Juan cruises." It is a pity.