Carnival Valor Cruise, Southern Caribbean- July 7-14
Welcome to our cruise experience. Since I wanted way more information about the cruise before I boarded (ok, so Im a control freak!), I took notes to help future cruisers like me. Our perspectives are from Vegetarian, Bird-Loving Seniors.
Would We Go Again?
Absolutely! We loved the cruise. We loved the ship. The personnel were all friendly and greeted us when we walked by. Our tablemates were such great people-all of them. We always found food to suit our taste and we loved the ocean and the views. We loved the itinerary. How exciting to see all of these island and not have to fly and pay for accommodations and food at them. We felt very lucky to be on this specific cruise.
Heres an account of what we did:
We started our vacation early, coming in 3 days before the cruise to tour Northern Puerto Rico (San Juan area).
When we flew into San Juan, the airplane tipped and we saw the island and its beaches. When we landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the entire plane burst into applause. However, when we returned home to Detroit, it was quiet. No one even let out a "finally" or "home, sweet, home". On top of that, we were four hours late because of defective planes (and the airlines thought they may have to put us up for another night in PR, but found flights to send us home on) and you would think people would be very relieved to have gotten home at all and also safely. But nope, nothing but silence. (Why aren't people excited to come home to DTW?).
Maybe I could sing a rendition of "God Bless America" to see if I can get some more excitement going! Of course, it WAS two in the morning...maybe that was why.
Anyway, back to arrival at San Juan Airport, it is a large airport. There are places to eat throughout if you are hungry. There are also McDonalds there. US Citizens are not asked for passports. On the way back, it took 10 minutes to return our car, 10 minutes to go through an agriculture check where they checked bags for produce, 10 minutes to check in. Then to the security line, where it took a full half hour to get through 4 monitors (very inefficient). So note, it took a full hour before we could walk to our gate to board out plane (ironic that it was 4 hours before our plane took off due to losing power-after 4 hours I still was afraid to get on).
When we were on vacation in Puerto Rico (not on the cruise ship) Verizon told us we could make phone calls and text as long as the phone wasn't roaming. We were "roaming" and the phone said it was roaming the entire time we were gone. (We had to use it to coordinate with our friends and kids who were there in PR). Is there another definition of roaming? (It reminds me of the song, "Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam"). Hubby went to Verizon when we returned to see if there were any charges on our bill. There weren't any yet (yay!) but the Verizon person said, "You never know when they will pop up". That could make one paranoid. So we are roaming at home and waiting for the Verizon monster to go away. It has been a week and the monster has not surfaced yet we hope he doesnt.
We turned off our phones on island like St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Barbados, and St. Maarten and on the ship. We only used our phone once in St. Thomas.
We were careful where we drank and mostly used bottled water, despite that Americans often brush their teeth in the sink and drink from fountains, there is a different bacterium in different places. We also were careful about ice in our cups. It was like sterilizing baby bottle. After awhile, we started to get sloppy and drink juice, forget to tell people no ice and I brushed my teeth in the sink forgetting to use the bottle water. Then I caved in and decided, what is the use using the water from taps as if I were home. (Afraid my diet goes that way too.) Never had any problems. There were 4 adults in our group doing the same thing as us and we were all fine. That is our experience.
We found the taxi drivers all to be helpful and friendly (even the one in Detroit when we returned at 2am). The taxi drivers we chose on our trip all spoke broken English and were willing to communicate with us.
We were told by our bnb hostess ahead that when we go to San Juan, look for the white taxis with a distinctive sentry box icon painted on them and to use the taxis at the designated taxi stand just outside the baggage area door. I didnt see any scull bone or pirate insignias but we specifically chose the sentry box taxis.
Old San Juan
We chose an airbnb.com place to stay right in Old San Juan (pd. $139 per night) because we wanted to be walking distance to the sights. (This was a $22 taxi drive from the airport and about 15 minutes). We were very happy with our accommodations, breakfast and location. We enjoyed the home we stayed in (Id list it but we were the last guests because the owner is moving as the building is sold). Having someone who is familiar with everything was so helpful. We wandered the parks, town squares and ate at a wonderful collection of restaurants. We were here in July and had to adjust to the high temperatures of 88-90 degrees Fahrenheit (my glasses kept fogging and it wasnt hot flashes or because I was watching all the hot looking Latin men, either) and hubby and I often came back to our room to put on the air conditioning and relax (more like strip and cool down before we exploded). We were hot each day but started to adjust (well, I didnt feel suicidal after an hour of walking in the blast furnace heat) after a week or more of normally high July temperatures (found out that in our own home state of MI they were also having similar temperatures during this time).
Throughout the homes and businesses we visited, we were surprised to find so few with ac, only fans (I am a very lucky person to have AC at home). We thought we were in high crime areas because of all the houses that were encased in bars. After a trip throughout the entire country of Puerto Rico, we started to realize, this is how they decorate. In Michigan, we paint a house or plant a tree. In Puerto Rico, they put up some new steel bars or wrought iron. Different tastes, different cultures. I can just see a man saying to his wife on his anniversary, hey baby, I brought you home some new steel bars to replace all the rusty ones that cover our entire house instead of giving flowers.
We walked at night throughout the Old San Juan area. We felt completely safe. Our hostess also confirmed that we would be safe in public areas (she told us to watch for purse snatchers). A friend of mine asked if the murder rate is up in San Juan because she saw so many police and security guards. Perhaps it is. We felt pretty safe because there was so much security everywhere. They are very protective of their tourism industry. We never were a part of a crime nor did we witness any crimes, except when we watched the TV show Cops based in the US on our TV that night in our B&B.
With all restaurants, we found out bill to be about double of the states. We werent thrilled but we did enjoy the food.
We are vegetarians and found great food at cafe Berlin for lunch ($30 for 2) and Mesa Verde (I think that is the name) for Supper ($50).
At night we fell asleep the Coqui frogs of Puerto Rico, who are loud and chirpy. We couldnt imagine how we would sleep with them blaring their sounds into the windows of our bedroom. (Now that we are home, we actually miss the sound).
Mosquitos bothered us at our b&b (so few homes have screens) and I got bites on my ankles. (This was the only place that I got any bites on my whole trip). I actually trooped around in rain forests and meadows looking for birds and never got any other bites, other than here in the city! Been reading up on bug spray. Decided not to use any with DEET because it is pretty hard on livers (I need mine) and too many times we ingest it when we get it on our hands and touch our food before eating it (ok, I know I am not supposed to scratch when I applied it, but that sliminess makes me itch). Well, I decided to purchase the new bug spray by Cutter with Picardin. I still got bit on my ankles. I decided next time to put some on rather than just carry it in my purse. It might be more effective that way.
If you are into flowering trees, the trees with spread out branches are called Flamboyant. They have bright orange blossoms. They are often the place where hummingbirds like to visit but also watch for the big bees they attract. There is another tree that has purple blossoms and that is called Queen of Flowers.
For those of you with health issues, there is lots of walking in Old San Juan with sloping streets and (this is true for all of Puerto Rico) non-uniform steps like in the states without handrails. If you have short legs like me, you often need a hand to go into the buildings.
Although August is Puerto Ricos rainiest season, July was pretty great. We had some tropical downpours, but they usually lasted no longer than 15-20 minutes. When we spent another week in PR after we returned, we had one day of rain.
We stayed at the Double Tree Inn in Condado, the night before the cruise. I had not had any idea when booking where the port was. I was really disappointed to check out of our b & b. in Old San Juan and find out the port for Carnival was in Old San Juan. We found the Double Tree Inn very clean and the people friendly. The rooms themselves were very small and modern. The beds were comfortable with expensive linens. Now, we were in a noisy city with sirens and horns honking. The bathroom, though sleep and modern, was housed in frosted glass. That meant anytime that one of us used the bathroom in the middle of the night, the room lit up and a person was visible inside the glass. (It gave a whole new perspective on letting your light shine). Still appreciated the small room and remodeling but figured the architect was a man who didn't consider privacy an issue-the type that would keep the lid up on the toilet after use.
For breakfast, we went to Pinkys, a short 15-minute walk from our hotel. It is well known for breakfast and the lines were short. We ate outside near the sidewalk and enjoyed omelets and pancakes with tropical fruit smoothies. Very good. With tip, about $30 for breakfast. A sideshow was a bunch of hippie vans with surfboards going by in a parade. It was fun but I dont think Pinkys arranged it.
Old San Juan
We absolutely loved Old San Juan. It appears like Charleston and New Orleans put together. It is fun to see the architecture, the history, explore the restaurants and the fort is absolutely worth your time. It has beautiful views, histories scenes, great lookouts, and a huge green lawn to lounge on and is quite large. The other fort near by, San Cristobal, isnt as magnificent, but it is huge and has great photo ops too. Enjoyed the cats that lounge all over the historical city and the ocean views/breezes. We were told not to touch them for obvious reasons. The fort was $3 per adult.
We ate at Cafe Berlin and enjoyed veggie burgers, which most of you could probably not understand when there were so many other options.
Here are some of the phone numbers I packed in case we needed them. (Thank God we did not!)
1. Department of Health: 787-766-1616
2. Medical emergencies: 787-754-2550
3. Dental emergencies: 787-795-0320
4. Fire department: 787-725-3444
5. Police: 787-343-2020
6. Weather: 787-253-4586
I also found this phone number for Carnival cruisers who may have a problem and are running late to board the cruise. It is 1-877-885-4856.
Condado-The next morning, we werent really sure what to do. We had to be out of our room at noon (at Doubletree Inn) and we didnt actually know when to board the ship. The ship wasnt to leave until 10PM. Having booked with Orbitz, we did not receive any reminder emails or time is getting short, emails. We had called Orbitz before we left home and asked our agent if there was anything we needed to do to get ready for our cruise, lists on what to pack or any papers to fill out. She said there was nothing to do. But, in talking to our friends who also were boarding the same cruise, they had received emails and suggestions to go on the Carnival website and fill out papers on immigration, registration, etc. We panicked, went to the business center there in Double Tree and we copied out the forms. We filled them out and had them all ready.
We also decided to call Carnival and ask what time to board and which port (since there are two). They were nice and said that 2 hours before the ship left was a good plan, and that Carnival used the Old San Juan port (boy was I sorry I was in San Juan now, fifteen minutes away and another taxi ride and a walk from where we had stayed the previous two nights). Our friends going on the cruise were not happy about guarding suitcases that morning when they could be touring Old San Juan up to the time of the cruise. They called us at 1PM to say they had already gone to the port and the ship was more than happy to take their suitcases. They had checked them in and were on the tram touring Old San Juan. We had been sitting in the lobby with our suitcases. The lobby was full of people who were doing the same thing as us, sitting, talking on the phone, filing their nails, checking their watches every few minutes to see how fast time could fly. We were all probably on the same ship as there is only one ship leaving on Sunday and that was Carnival Valor. We decided to leave for the ship and the concierge arranged a taxi for us. He dropped us at the port and we were surprise to see hundreds of people there already. By then it was 1:30.
We checked in and they told us that we could board. We were bored but now we could board the ship. We went for it, excited to be on the ship (since we were pretty much homeless after leaving the hotel, it sounded wonderful). The process was faster because we had printed out our luggage tags from the Carnival website. (Our friends also boarded without tags and it took them longer than us, hehe). The whole check in process took about 20 minutes for us.
The lady at the counter (a little bit cold with a heavy accent) informed us she did not need any of the papers we had filled out from Carnival (the ones we had paid for printing in the hotel), she hardly even glanced at us or the papers. (It reminded me of the show Dragnet, just the facts and nothing but the facts, maam). She wanted our passports, our credit card for an accounting sheet in case of charges on the cruise and gave us our room keys. We went to our room. We sat on our balcony watching boats and within an hour we checked outside our door and Voila, our suitcases magically arrived to the right place). We also received information that there was a luncheon for us at Rosies cafe (it had started at 11AM) and there were activities planned all day long until the ship departed. Evidently we could have come even earlier. Had we not come early, we would have missed a free lunch and those activities (too bad not too thrilling of activities!).
Valor is attractive. It is maintained constantly and even though there are numerous people attending it, there can be lint on carpets, cups that customers leave all over and little boys that throw up on an elevator next to you without a parent around (oh my )-: At least that gives some of the negative reviewers something to write about.
Each time I passed stewards or kitchen personnel, I found them friendly and always greeting me. I started trying to think of new words to greet people, instead of Hello I thought of Sayonara or Bon Voyage but after a few confused looks, I started with Hello again.
Ship Layout can be confusing but there is a map by each elevator. Some of us never bring reading glasses and become disoriented for hours but each floor is interesting and you can pretend you wanted to be on that floor all along. Just take the bewildered look off your face and people will be fooled. Some floors do not go through due to high ceiling lobbies, glass elevators that go through the floors, etc. Crowds gravitate to the Lido deck and to the casino area. There were loud areas that we avoided (practicing for when we wear hearing aids and they might buzz).
Elevators could be crowded and the only time we had a wait is when we debarked. We went up instead of down and that way got a place on an elevator till it descended to the 0 floor. (We thought that was smart too. ?)
There is a medical clinic open during business hours. I saw people lined up outside holding their stomachs, holding their eyes. Cheaper than helicoptering off the ship but probably not less than going to your own doctor to address problems before you come on a cruise.
We loved going up to deck 10 for the walking track and lounge chairs. Never had problems getting any of them. They now have a policy that if stuff is left more than 45 minutes without occupying them, they are available. We loved watching the port traffic at each island including PR. Containers being loaded, pilot boats leading out the ships, birds dropping in the water for fish, islands going by on our trips. There was another Cruise ship that followed us for a while, Carnival Splendor. We think ours was nicer and newer.
Off course, people were participating in the entertainment around the clock. We were boring introverts that like to eat, sleep, tour and sit on our balcony (unless our neighbor was there burping a song after his bottle of whiskey and blowing more smoke than the ships smokestack.)
The room was well appointed and small. We were in room 6433 (6th floor, right side of the ship when facing the front, back end of the ship) and the bathroom was very small but there was adequate space in it for storage of toiletries. The bed was a king, with nice cotton sheets and bedding. There were drawers and closets. We were able to empty our suitcases and push all cases under the bed so we could free up space. There was a couch with a table and a vanity as well. Bring a power strip if you're appliance heavy as it's correct that there is just one room outlet. Also, bring an LED alarm clock.
We had a wonderful room steward (from Indonesia). He was professional, kind, helpful, interested in us and served us well. The cabin was always clean and freshend2-3 times per day with a towel animal on the bed or a towel monkey hanging from the ceiling. Very accommodating and entertaining too.
Our safe was easy to use and store our valuables and passports.
On TV, there are channel for Cruise Director Information (Channel 17), and another channel where there were live pictures of the front end of the ship; especially fun to watch when it was going into ports. There was also a channel that lists what is on the menu for dinner in the dining room.
There was a self-service laundry only a few doors down from our room. I believe there were several on each floor. We successfully washed laundry ($3 for machine and for dryer) and there was laundry soap ($1) for purchase in small amounts (only takes quarters). All that was helpful, including the free iron and ironing board for wrinkled shirts and skirts. During dress up nights there were short lines of people waiting for the irons. (My husband had to get behind a lady that kept pulling another garment out of her bag each time she finished ironing and would start again. You will have more problems with your fellow cruisers than the staff.) Of course, you can always have your clothes done by the laundry service each day and at a higher cost.
My stomach was a bit upset the first night and into the next morning. I kept taking Dramamine and was so sleepy I could hardly function (almost slept through dinner and that isnt normal). I purchased chewable 24 hour Bonine at the gift shop. I used only ' each day and started to do marvelously, as I wasnt feeling as drugged. I was ready for bed by 10PM each night and my husband thought that was odd. With all the excursions through the mountains and going around Tropical Storm Chantal, it was amazing that I did not ever feel sick again. I tried to keep my mind off of the boat swaying and if I thought about it too long, I would feel sick again. (Mind over Matter).
We booked a balcony for the first time, and this was our first Carnival Cruise but fourth cruise (Costa and Norwegian twice). We could not see our neighbors, as there was an aluminum barrier. One set of neighbors was calm and quiet. The other side was a different story as already mentioned. He had some bad habits (arent you glad I am not recounting them?). We were blessed that he was not out on his balcony often. And while enjoying our view one night, his wife or girlfriend cranked her neck around the barrier to stare at us. It was a deer in the headlights moment as we sat on the balcony in our chairs. She finally stuck her head back into her own area. Very odd.
The balcony was amazing. It was a place we hung out every morning and evening. We were enthralled with the freighters, the new islands, the islands in the distance that we could see with our binoculars, etc.
There is a Funtimes newsletter that is delivered everyday by your steward to tell you of the next days offerings.
We did not dine in the dining room until Monday evening. People wear slacks and nice shirts and women often come in a variety of outfits. Some wore shorts and tanks. We did not see a dress code enforced in the dining rooms.
We are vegetarians and wish there had been more choices for vegetarians. Our waiter was helpful and would sometimes get us side dishes served with the meat selections when he could.
People loved the creamy cold soups they served, the hot mushroom soup, the chocolate melting cake and seafood.
For those who hate gourmet offerings and fear all the French words, you can get on your TV and review the menu, find explanations of the food and make up your mind before you come to the dining room.
Our waiter was very nice, from India and a real gentlemen with an eye for the young, attractive 18-year-old girl at our table. He chose her for each fun dance or dinner performance that waiters participated in. You never know what will happen in the dining room during the evening meal.
We were seated with 6 other people and got along very well. We all enjoyed each others company, reported on the days activities, compared food selections and got acquainted. We have a Facebook page so we can share our pictures with each other now too.
At any time, there is food at Rosies and one can skip the dining room. We did this once with friends when we were late getting back on the ship and were happy with the food. The next night our table friends really gave us a hard time about missing them for an evening. We really bonded.
At dinner in Rosies (which is floor 9 and almost the entire floor) there is fish and chips, pizza 24 hours per day, a deli for sandwiches, a Mongolian-type Wok, a carvers station for roast beef and salads, a fish and chips restaurant up one floor, a burger/hotdog area. There as always a buffet with pasta, salads, meat selections, desserts and free beverages served like lemonade, tea and coffee. They try to gourmet up too many items and there are very odd salads. I always tried them hoping I would like them but I have to say I wasted food. It would be nice to have an old comfort food night like stew, macaroni and cheese, salad and garlic bread. There was always a fresh green salad.
Sometimes we skipped dessert (a diet keeping plan) and went to the free ice cream station (there are several on the 9th floor) and served ourself frozen yogurt in a cone. It hit the spot despite all the delicacies we passed up in the dining room like Tiramisu, Cheesecake, lemon cakes, ice cream and toppings.
In Rosies on 9th floor, the omelet/egg station has two lines in the dining area and one outside at the adjacent grill. Not sure why they use those nasty powdered eggs when so many complain here on the reviews seems they would save themselves some drama. I heard there were fresh eggs available at the omelet bar, if you just ask, but I did not. There is always Cantaloupe, Honeydew and grapefruit available on one buffet. At the omelet station there are oranges, grapefruit and sometimes, canned fruits, like peaches, that arent always in the other lines. There is always a hot cereal and yogurt. Each day there are those powdered eggs fried, breakfast meats, cheeses, spreads, toasts, rolls, scrambled or put into a burrito (etc.) and a different type of potatoes (which did not appear frozen). At the Omelet line were muffins and sweet rolls. The chocolate muffins are wonderful and moist. We were often there by 8am because we had excursions. On Saturday morning, we came in at 8:30 and the lines were much longer. I dont think I ever waited longer than 5-10 minutes for a buffet and never waited for a table. It was annoying to have drinks peddled to us every few minutes at breakfast. Because of our schedule, we ate our breakfast and lunch on the Lido Deck (9th floor) at Rosies.
Lunch: If we were at the ship, we always ate at Rosies. There were always fresh salad, mixed salads, meats and desserts. One afternoon (I think Thursday-it was advertised in their newsletter) they had a chocolate bar/buffet. Very fun.
People can be annoying, cutting in line with their friends. Many times, just standing around when you are trying to pass as they are on their cell phone or staring into space. But no major problems did I see. But perhaps I did the same thing and annoyed them too. In Detroit, we get shot, but on the cruise, we just wait till the person comes to or say, Excuse me.
Night Snacks: The pizza seemed to be open all the time.
Money Makers for the ship
We felt it was a bit too much to be asked to buy drinks every 10 minutes starting at breakfast. There were times when it was quieter. The poor staff must be tired of asking over and over too.
There are orientation meetings which the cruise staff people tell you about stores where you can purchase items (no doubt the cruise gets kickbacks there). They also push their own excursions (and we are not convinced booking with them is bad or more expensive), it is just they have the largest tour groups and that gets noisy and annoying. Booking with the excursions with Carnival will guarantee you will be back on time.
Internet is only in certain areas and it must be purchased. We could pay by the minute and opted for about $30 for 45 minutes (urgh). Or 240 minutes for $89 or pay as you go at .75 per minute. (There is also a $4 activation fee). We did need it to print some travel arrangements and used it up fast Internet is slow. There was a very helpful man named James that assisted us in the Internet cafe on Deck 4, next to Winstons Bar. There are computers to use in the Internet cafe (about 8 of them). You can use the Internet cafe 24 hours a day but there is only support during the day and early evening. So we did not use up our Internet, we took our phones off airplane mode. To use the ships phone is $2 per minute for calls to anywhere, including Puerto Rico.
IPod Users-can use this for 10 hours on one battery charge alone.
Printing pages- $.50 per page
They push Scarletts Steakhouse where everyone is charged a standard $35 per person to eat there. Some tablemates ate there and said it was excellent.
We never ordered it but it appears many do-room service is available 24 hours per day by dialing 8000 on your phone. There is a menu in each room from sandwiches, salads and desserts to beverages and alcohol.
Picture Taking-Photographers take pictures of you when you enter the ship, when you are in the dining room, when you leave the ship, etc. You view the Photos and decide about buying them in groups. I think there are opportunities 2-3 times per day. We did not like any photos (arent they supposed to make you look better than you are?) so we skipped them after awhile and this decreased our stress (?).
We saw kids having fun on the water slides. We also saw adults enjoying the pools and Jacuzzis in the adult section. This was really nice to have a segregated area like this so adults could enjoy the pools without splashing young ones.
I had booked an excursion to Coral World in St. Thomas with what I thought was Carnival. I brought my reservation to the guest services. They said this was not their reservation. There were little tiny words at the end of the receipt that said if I did not have my tickets, my tour would not be honored. We goggled the company (in little letters) and it turned out to be an Orbitz related reservation. We had to pay the $40 for Internet to find it, scan our emails, find out that we never got the tickets, put in our purchase number and print out tickets for another cost on the ship. (And I accomplished this all while a bit motion sick-it was really nerve wracking). See the next part of the story in the next paragraph.
Coral World and Coki Beach-Monday morning it was beautiful to have a view from our breakfast windows of St. Thomas. Very attractive islands. We were on the dock, bright and early. We showed the tickets, and a lady seemed to recognize them, but she was not from the company they represented. She told us to wait with those going to Coral World for helmet diving. We were driven by van to Coral World. They kept thinking we were there for helmet diving but my husband was there to swim with the Sea Lion ($122) and me for Coral World and the Beach ($44). There was much confusion about us and we finally got a tag for our arm. Then we went to the Sea Lion exhibit, they gave us different times and kept telling us to wait. Finally, my husband was asked to come into the group explaining about the Sea Lion and I was told I could not go with him to even watch him, and they would take the pictures. My husband had a good time and when he went to collect pictures, they wanted to charge $30. We felt it was a rip off when the trip for him was already $144. We went to another area and watched the helmet divers and the snuba swimmers. They were all thrilled with their excursions, which were all in the same place, Coral World. We could also see St. Johns island from Coral World. We have been there and it is like a national park. I might want to go back there if I ever come again. There is a boat that takes you over there for the day and it takes about hour one-way. The confusion with the Orbitz tickets added to our anxiety as well. We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon at Coki Beach. Although the sand was crowded, the water was perfect, beautiful with shades of aqua. We snorkeled and there were many fish and creatures to see. Would not purchase tickets from Orbitz again.
Our friends on the cruise went on the skyway (they enjoyed this) and to the butterfly museum (said they were disappointed.)
Our seatmates from the dining room went to Sapphire Beach and rented snorkel equipment for only $5/hour. Others went on a cave tour and they also enjoyed their tour and their guide.
Day at sea:
There were many things happening for families, singles, etc. There were choices to play, Win, Lose or Draw, Name That Tune, Broadway trivia, Karaoke parties, dancing, Bingo, exercise and dancing classes, Blackjack, the comedy club, singles activities, art auctions, puzzles, health classes, swim (there are areas for families and for adults only), waterslide, shuffleboard, a jogging track, a library, coffee caf, art gallery, virtual arcade, silly and intelligent competitions, miniature golf, shows with comedy and magicians. There is also a busy casino with various games and shows too. There is a spa with facials, manicures and massages.
For kids there is Camp Carnival for Ages 0-11, Groups for ages 12-14 and Battle of the sexes group for ages 15-17.
There are chairs on the 10th floor to lounge in. We loved it there and the wind is always cool (even if the temperature is high). At night, the star show is beautiful from the lounge chairs. Pool towels are available in the room or through a check- out/return station by the main pool. There is a charge if they are not returned-so dont make a souvenir of them. Towel checkout station closes at 6:00.
On the Lido deck are bars, a big screen playing TV programs or movies. We did not like the programs much and found ourselves enjoying TV in our room or out on the balcony.
This island is 166 square miles. The cruise newsletter warned us that wearing camouflage on backpacks or clothes here could result in jail time.
We had reserved a day trip with Ryan Chenery, an educated birder who has lived his whole life in Barbados. (He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org). We met him just outside the port and took off in his car, which can hold 3. We drove all over the south and west of the island and had a pretty successful time seeing endemic birds. ($135 4.5 hours). He couldnt have been nicer and more polite, driving us on the left side of the road all over the island. We saw lots of the island, we enjoyed his newsy way about life there, and we saw beaches, lagoons and traipsed around.
We were told from our ship friends, the town of Bridgetown is a taxi ride of $4 one way (and to choose only taxis with a z on the license plate). My husband walked in a short amount of time to find a bird book and was back at the ship in about 30 minutes. The stores and taxis accept American currency but may give you their own currency as change (our money is worth double but they dont give discounts).
At dinner in the dining room, our new friends gave us reports on what they had done. Some had done a Catamaran ride, there were only 12 people, and they were taken care of well and had enjoyed themselves. Another group did Boat Beach where they had a minimal entrance fee, swimming, taxi and drinks. They also paid more and rented skidoos. Another did the underwater Atlantis Sub and said they saw lots of fish and sea creatures and really enjoyed it.
Our friends did the cave tour with Kwame and loved his stories.
The beaches were fabulous but the areas around them were impoverished. Some of the hotels looked like fortresses and were very average.
St. Lucia (Thursday)
I read that St. Lucia is 1,300 miles southeast of Florida. Its part of the Windward Island chain, and within the West Indies. It is only 21 miles (and since the Pitons are 2 hours from the port, it can give you an idea of how twisty the roads are. This island is 100 miles northwest of Barbados. The locals speak English with an accent. There are some who speak French Creole. The local currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, at $2.67 E.C. to $1 U.S. You can generally use American dollars anywhere on the island, though you may receive change in local currency (which is not worth as much). ATM's are plentiful in Castries and other major tourist areas. Their main industry is tourism. The ship parked within walking distance to downtown Castries.
We booked with Serenity Tours. We were off the ship by 8:15. Our guide was Acaia. It was easy to find them as they have green shirt but prefer to be booked ahead of time. They had a nice air-conditioned van to ride in. We heard of them on Trip Advisor. We stopped at a viewing area, baker, banana booth, coconut booth, nature center, Catholic Church, gift shop in Margot, the volcano and geyser area, we ate at an open air restaurant that viewed the Pitons near Castries. After touring the Pitons, it took a long time (2.5 hours) to get back to the port. The driver was pretty adept at avoiding the traffic and dodging the other vans (we were the only cruise ship in at the time and there were so many vans. But Acaia said there are usually 4 cruise ships in daily during more busier seasons and the traffic is really congested at that time) but at each stop we saw other tour companies bring their customers to the same places. The roads are twisty and mountainous and it would be easy to get motion sickness. I sat in front and put Acaia in the back. (Actually, she appeared to be turning green towards the end of our trip.). She was kind and did a great tour. We saw lots of things and saw mango, orange, lime, grapefruit, lemon, papaya, pineapple trees, cinnamon, ginger trees/plants. My husband was thrilled to photograph hummingbirds in the garden across from the restaurant. We saw people touring on dune buggy/electric carts, but after seeing the roads and how people drive, I think it was pretty dangerous. Even the cruise ship newsletter warned against it for St. Lucia.
When we were done with our tour, we asked why we hadnt seen any beaches and I was told that St. Lucia is not know for beautiful beaches.
St. Kitts (Friday)
St Kitts does look like Ireland. It became independent with its neighboring island, Nevis, in 1983.My friend from there tells me that the wealthy plantation owners did not want the islanders near their property so they live on the coastal areas all around the island. There are mountains in the center and it does not take long to go around the island. I had a personal friend from St. Kitts and her cousin toured us around. It was wonderful.
There is a little parking lot across from Clay Villa Plantation and Gardens-I understand it was the only plantation worked by indentured servants from Ireland as opposed to African people sold as slaves. We walked through several beautiful rows of trees and filmed some birds. houses monkeys, tortoises, cockatiels, rabbits and more. We did not stop long and did not see any owners.
One of the highlights was visiting Brimstone Hill Fortress, in Basseterre. This is a Unesco world heritage site. It is a 300-year-old fort known as the Gibraltar of the West Indies. Admission was $8 each for adults, $4 for children. The fortress sits 730 feet above the island. The British established it in 1690 to try to fight the French. African slave workers built it. You start with a giving the history of this amazing fort. There was a restroom and a gift shop. Then you climb many steps to get to the top. The views are thrilling. The grassy slopes and vistas of the ocean are thrilling. On the way up and down to that location, there are green vervet monkeys scampering about.
We read about Ottleys Plantation Inn, and how it has 35 acres of botanical gardens. But we did not have time to stop (it was about 20 minutes from the port.
The Batik store and gardens were worth our time. The entrance has an old plantation. When my husband wanted to take a picture, a man came up and wanted to give him a tour. (We have been through this before, they are trying to get a person to get a tour then charge them for their time. No matter how many times my husband told him he did not want a tour, the man would follow him and keep talking about the plantation. My husband just gave up and got back into the car. The islanders with us decided to purchase water from the lady there in front of the plantation. She attempted to charge them $2 in St. Kitts money, which I guess is pretty expensive. Finally she said, she didnt realize they were from the area and agreed on $1. It is evident there are trumped up prices for tourists and low prices for locals. After that we crossed a rickety bridge and went to the Batik store. The gardens are beautiful and the store was lovely to. Many beautiful views up there and flowers to enjoy.
We passed a medical school and a school of veterinary medicine there.
We also visited an area where there were volcanic rocks on the shore. The area has little huts for food and drinks, but the natural views are splendid.
We were taken to an area where there is a beautiful view of Nevis. Our friends said that it is a very unique island and we should go there sometime, as it was so different from St. Kitts.
We went into a neighborhood and to my friends houses. We met their friends and walked around their yard, looking at flowers, mango and avocado trees, breadfruit, etc. I dont think they have too many problems with hunger. We were also surprise to see so many oriental people living there. Our friends said their government gives residency to people who are willing to pump $400,000 into their economy with stores, etc. Their numbers are increasing on the island.
We ate at Bombay Blues over by some hotels, golf courses and a huge hotel. It was Indian food and although it was delicious, the man and woman kept trying to push drinks and things we did not want to buy. Felt a bit reminiscent of all the island and ship hawkers.
We never used taxis but our new ship friends told us how they were so expensive for short rides.
We had been told about Kalabash Vegan Restaurant in Basseterre, Saint Kitts, but no one answered the phone so we did not eat there.
When we left that evening, we loved watching all the islands from our balcony that we passed and their lights and lighthouses. We were going crazy trying to figure out what they were. We did not have Internet or adequate maps. Ch. 14 posts current temperature and a map but you cant always read it. It is wise to print out a map so you can figure out the islands you are going by at night. The first island we passed (I read about it when I came home) was a densely populated island call Sint Eustatius (our St. Kitts friends call it Statia). It has a dormant crater of an old volcano. Next was Saba island which is the smallest of all the islands. It is more of a nature island that people can swim and do dive trips. The people make lace there. It has a school of medicine there. England once deported their undesirables there and it became a hideout for pirates. When men did not make it back from sea long ago, they called it the Island of Women. We also saw that they stored fuel there (probably for the US).
St. Maarten/Sint Martin (Saturday)
We decided to go to a Saturday church. We met with the Ephesus SDA Church and went by taxi. Funny that taxi signs say that it is $5 per ride but when 4 of us went, they charged us $5 per person. The people at the church were friendly and insisted on taking us back to the ship instead of using a taxi. Others who went with us were invited to a special meal.
When we gathered for dinner on the ship, our seatmates told us they went by taxi to a beach in Philipsburg (which you can walk to from the ship or take a $3 cab or $7 ferry). They swan, rented Jet Skis and relaxed. Said it was great.
At dinner that night, we were sad to say goodbye to our table friends. We exchanged emails so we could share pictures and will be making a Facebook page for us to view pictures and comments.
Saturday Night: On the last night is the Legends show. This is where cruisers can imitate their favorite singing icon. It reminded me of auditions for American Idol when contestants sang their best but they were terrible. People were good hearted and cheered them on. It was quite entertaining.
There was an opportunity to become Carnival Priority Members free of charge in case we go on another cruise. This gives us options of discounts or upgrades and we decided to do this.
The steward leaves an appointment by zones for the time you will be able to leave. (If you wish to have assistance, you put your suitcase and tags on your case and put them outside your room. You keep your medicines, toiletries and overnight clothing in a bag that you will carry off with you). (There are exceptions-like if you have early flights, you can change the time at the guest services).
We did not want to leave at 11:30AM-which they scheduled for us, and found it easy to navigate our suitcases on the elevators ourselves. People who dont need help can leave at anytime pretty much after 8AM. We also settled our bill on Saturday evening at guest services and did not have to deal with anything the next morning.
We went to breakfast at 8 and left by 8:45 (breakfast time was 6:30-8:30 in the dining room or 6:30-9:30 at Rosies on the Lido Deck.
Those that had to wait for appointments and had time to spend could go throughout the ship and watch the high screen on Deck 9 or along the Promenade/Shopping Deck on 5.
It was easy to leave and we had no problems. Only US Citizens can do this.
As soon as we were outside, someone was organizing taxi service to the airport and it was a snap to find a taxi ride.