Hats off to great staff: Felipe (cruise director), Kristi/Andy/Erik in Washington Dining Table 311, and Andy in housekeeping.
I have been on 24 cruises (all with Carnival, and dating back to 1995), and though I was just on Valor for NYE, we elected to return on the same ship (great cruise director, Felipe) solely for this new itinerary for Valor. Of all the ports of call, I had only visited St. Thomas prior to this cruise.
I had been to San Juan before as a cruise stop, but never before as a point of embarkation. We flew down on Saturday, spent the night at the Best Western (comfortable amenities, great price, close to Walgreens, beach, and several fast food restaurants). We arrived at the port about 11am on Sunday. We were allowed into the VIP area (platinum guests) immediately, where we were surprised by sandwiches, cookies, pastries, and drinks. (The other embarkation VIP waiting areas we've visited have never had this before.) Check-in was very smooth and quick. More
I'd guess by 11:30 or 12, we were allowed to board.
There are a few non-routine things about this cruise. One is the time of departure (10pm). The muster drill is done at 9:30, and dining the first night is open seating. Also, the infamous "Welcome Aboard" show is done on the SECOND night, not on Sunday night.
The first port is St. Thomas. We'd been there before, and since there is only one fun day at sea (my husband's favorite), we opted to pretty much stay on board and enjoy some R & R.
Day 2 is the beloved fun day at sea.
Day 3: Barbados. I researched this thoroughly on Cruise Critic (and subsequently Trip Advisor), and decided to go for The Boatyard. It was a GREAT deal. Admission is $12, and this includes a chair, umbrella, one free drink, free WiFi, a ride back to the ship, and water activities (rope swinging into the ocean, dive platform, iceberg, and water trampoline). There were a few too many local vendors selling their wares, but I could deal with it considering what we'd paid! We got a taxi from the ship ($5 or $8 per person), and it was not far from the ship, but I think we could've never found it if we would've walked.
Day 4: St. Lucia Again, I researched this here and used those tips to look on Trip Advisor as well. I was quite impressed with Cosol Tours, so we booked with them. It was $65 ($55 for children), and let me say (I'm a cheapskate), IT WAS SOOOOOOOOOOOOO worth it. I cannot say enough good things about this excursion. We left at 8:30am and arrived back at the ship at 4:00pm. This trip included breakfast buffet of local foods and fruits, a drink van that we met at least 7 times, a trip through banana plantations, mud bath at the volcano, waterfall, beach time, a boat ride, local bread and cheese, and soooo much more. Bumpy was our particular tour guide, and he was fabulous. We were able to leave valuables locked in the van at certain points, and nothing was taken. As he said, in some instances, things are safer with him than out and about. I would honestly have said this trip was well worth in excess of $100. I don't think there was any of St. Lucia we did not see.
Day 5: St. Kitts Starting to sound like a broken record, but I used this site and Trip Advisor to decide what to do. We enjoy things that are super laid back, and after a busy day in St. Lucia, we were looking forward to a relaxing day. Palms Court Gardens in St. Kitts was the way to go! For $10 each, you were given access to their infinity pool (with a great view of the ship). Comfortable chairs were also provided. As noted in the previous reviews I had read, as it gets later, it gets a little more crowded (but not unbearable). There were also a number of crew who were taking advantage of this great facility. They have a bar, food, and free wifi. The food looked scrumptious! Although you can take a taxi, we walked both to and from the ship. I'd advise you to email ahead and make reservations so they'll save you a chair. The on site manager is very helpful, gives good directions, and is prompt to respond.
Day 6: St. Maarten My family took a taxi to Maho Beach to watch the airplanes land. I was a little worried about seeing topless women with my daughter in tow, but we never saw any one without a shirt. However, we went further down the beach from the Sunset Bar and Grill. It was a very exhilarating experience, and I'm glad we did it. Taxis were based on how full the van was, so ours turned out to be $8 per person. It was a great picture taking experience! P.S. The sand HURTS during take off! Landings are fine. Less