Arrived in San Juan a day early. We arrived around 2pm on Saturday and waited for friends to arrive from another city at 3pm. Got a cab for 4 into the old part of San Juan for about $26 total including luggage charge. We stayed at the SJ Suites hotel in Old San Juan. We usually stay at the Hilton caribe, but decided to try staying downtown for once. It was not the Hilton, but since we were just staying for one evening, it was clean, and very convienient to walk around town, do some shopping, drinking, sightseeing wihout the hassle of cabs. Also it was only $125.00 TOTAL for the night. By the time we added taxes, fees and room charges at the hilton we were always near $280 or more per night. People are VERY friendly, place is pretty secure, elevator worked good, and its only a couple of blocks from the cruise ship. It really reminded me of typical hotels in Paris or london. Had we been staying a few days - i would be at the Hilton, but for single nights this will be our answer again.
Went to dinner at La Casita Blanca. We were a party of 3 couples, and took a cab for the 10 minute cab ride ($20 total each way). This place is a great find we have been visiting since 2009. It is famous with the locals and provides one of the most authentic opportinities to try real local cuisine, in a real local setting. It sits in a pretty working class neighborhood. No beach - no valet parking - no riverwalk - no shops to browse - no wine steward. If you are looking for healthy, glutin free food, great over the top service and real china - this is not the place to start your cruise. The decor is homey, but it is an open air restaurant, with no glass in the windows and the doors are open wide and a tree growing throught the roof in the dining area. They start you with fish soup in a dixie cup and Some cod fritters (amazing) for free. Beer is brought with small plastic cups (if you want a glass). Most entrees are $9 to $14.00 each. The owner was helpfull in interpreting the menu (written on a chalkboard in spanish), so since 2 of the guests had never been here, We bought some appetisers, shared 7 different entrees (included goat stew, whole red snapper, stewed chicken) along with lots of variety of sides, and 2 desserts to try a wide range of local food. We left thrilled with our meal and called the cab to return back into OSJ.
The next day we walked down to the ship, about 10 minutes, and were on the ship by 11:30 or so. Some of us had FTTF, our rooms were ready, our one bag was already delivered (the other was there by 12:30) we put some of our stuff away and were eating lunch on the lido buffet by 11:45. Our friends without FTTF were on about 30 minutes later, they were in their room by 1pm and had their luggage all delivered by 4pm or so. Sor of our group went sightseeing in town and 4 of us went to the CVS for a case of pop and water. For $6.75 we got 24 bottles of water and 12 cans of pop. Compare that to $1.95 each for a can of pop on board. Its a good idea to take the walk- lol
We had been on the ship before and we found it to be very clean, and the crew was very friendly. The ship was fully booked but we never had trouble finding deck chairs, or seating in the buffet, no matter when we tried to get them. The serentity deck was pretty busy this time and it was a bit more difficult to get into. There were a lot of kids, (yeah i'm getting old!), but for once we never had any issues with them being " in the way- or an annoyance". While i also know Carnival is sometimes portrayed as the poor mans cruise, we found almost everyone we passed, ate food with, joined on excursions, or met in elevators to be really friendly. We did meet a couple of people who obviously felt they had been demoted in life to have to be on a carnival cruise (person demanding their right to reserve spots in serenity for them for the week like he can do on Princess. ---- Officer came over was very respectfull, but explained that it was open seating - and every guest has an equal opportinity to use the area - it isn't an area goverened by paying for a service). We too didn't like the smoking on board, but we also knew before we booked that it was an issue we had to deal with. We too hope they will change their handling of smoking, but that is also why we still sail on princess and the other cruise lines.
MDR: we had late seating and our staff did a great job. Only 1 time out of the week did the make a mistake and it was only handing the wrong soup to the wrong person. We just passed it over and the problem was solved. The food we had was all prepared well, not the varied selections (duck, lamb, veal) offered on some cruises lines, but each night we found something to choose and were pretty satisfied with what we had. Warm chocolate melting cake is still amazing! If i was paying double for the cruise i would have been more disappointed with the food, but we still enjoyed our meals... Heck the turkey dinner one night was actually very very good.
Buffet: Again the is not the bilagio in vegas, but we returned to the ship most days for lunch and were all able to find things we enjoyed. Pizza on the back lido is by far our favorite. It is a thin crust that they make fresh. Their is almost always a wait, but it went pretty fast. We snacked on it at least once every day. Chocolate buffet on the last day was great and we found almost everyhing on the regular buffet to be fresh and hot. Bacon police were there at breakfast, but never grumbled when i asked for more and also were very friendly. We were disappointed with the families allowing kids to waste whole plates of food - that part was a shame. Even if they didn't like something they didn't need to take such large amounts in order to find out.
People complained in other reviews about people walking around in wet clothes in the buffet area... We saw a few people coming in from the pool or sun and it was never an issue. If someone was wet, carnival staff mopped the floors quickly and to me and our group, we didn't even notice it. We too enjoy other cruise lines, but we have also enjoyed our Carnival cruises. The whole point of the buffet area is to grab a bite in a casual area. People are here to have fun, not to be attacked for not having the proper level of manners. We did see a few bigots on the cruise, but we met a heck of a lot of people having fun too. I enjoyed the fun people more than the bigots. And for assortment, they have salads, the burrito and nacho bar (ie. chipoltle), the deli, mongolian grill (stir fry), the daily theme buffet always had a fish dish, a carving station, assorted salads, pasta, fruits, vegetarian, 8 to 10 desserts, any kind of pizza you want ( along with their 6 set pizza's), caesar salads and ice cream available to choose from. Plus unlike some more expensive cruise lines they also offered iced tea, lemonade, a dozen different hot teas, coffee, white milk, chocolate milk, and juices (especially if you realized they just took off the tags after breakfast). If you can't find anything you want then you can choose from over 20 some room service items available 24 hours a day for free. It just makes me cringe when someone can't "find anything to eat" especially when their are so many choices. Gosh what do people expect these days.. Not every item was perfect every time we tried the lido offerings, but it was fresh cooked and there was always something else to choose ....... ......... Whew.... Got that off my chest!
Taste bar: not impressed- tasted good but not equal to the sushi bar.
Steakhouse: 4 of us went there on the first night, 7:00 reservation before the 9:30 muster drill. It was not very busy and we took advantage of the free wine for the table offer they had. Wine was good, the food was good. Disappointed in the service though. Things seemed kind of out of kilter with the serving staff. Kind of like they didn't know who should be getting what. They brought out our entrees, but had to go back for all of the sides. About 5 minutes later they returned and we had 1/2 eaten all of our food as we had nobody around to let us know where the sides were. Then they still didn't bring butter for the lobster tails. By the time they brought the melted butter for the 3 that had lobsters, we were almost done with the entrees. We didn't complain, but it really put a damper on the meal. We didn't get our desserts until 9:10 and they were pressing us that they would be closing for the muster drill and it sure was not because we were slowing them down. We have loved the specialty restaurants on most cruisees we have done. I will probably pass on this one for the future
We have done them on every ship they are offered on. We were originally not too impressed with the menu, when we saw it online. But after going we had another great time and strongly recommend it to anyone. Appetizers in the kitchen were a little disappointing- some really small bites(one was a small olive -duh) kitchen tour was fun and informative. The sit down portion though, is really good. THe final product you recieve is not well defined by the menu they show. We found the courses to be very well prepared, very flavorfull, and the attention to detail by the chef and his staff was impressive. Its a fun night to spend with a dozen other guests, the chef is there all night, champagne, white and red wines are included. A visit from the magician and a group portrait fill out the night. My personal favorites were the wagu beef course, the tuna course and the dessert. We have been to other chefs tables where you get more volume of food, but everybody at our table was more than full, and very pleased with the taste and service of the meal. Well worth the $75.00 per person. We were told they expect to change this menu sometime before the end of the year. We would do this again.
Ports: We had a great time in most ports, but would love for a second sea day. We came home as tired as we left. We loved St Thomas and spent most of the time shopping. Got some great deals on some jewelry and had done our homework ahead of time. We went to imperial Jewelers and they treated us like kings. It was great as we had about 4 drinks each in the time we were there. We also were surprised when we arrived home to find a package from them of personal items we left on the counter in their store. We stop at there store every cruise and that kindness reinforced to us why we do.
Barbados we did a ship sponsored shore excursion with catamaran and the turtles and were pretty disappointed. It just didn't seem very well organized. People on barbados just didn't seem very happy to be dealing with us that day. We were told after booking that we could not use our snorkel fins on barbados excursions. We then said we would switch to a different excursion and they were going to charge us a cancellation fee. All this within 2 minutes of booking the excursion. We were not happy and the only comment i have is "shame on you - Carnival" we won't make that mistake again.
St Lucia is a beautiful port. We used Cosol tours and it lived up to the hype from the reviews. Very organized, lots of food and drinks throughout the tour. Very informative tour in clean, well maintained, air conditioned vans included mud bath, water falls, boat ride to the beach for swimming or snorkeling, and some amazing views throughout the day. Got back in pleanty of time to the ship. Nice day!
St Kitts. Don't need to go back there. It was very windy that day, and rained on and off. It really is a pretty arid island with limited trees and vegetation. We made the mistake (our fault) and walked off the ship and arranged an open bus tour of the island from AUSTIN POWERS tours For $25.00 including drinks. It was a much better deal than on the ship. BUT. We and the other passengers waited 1.5 hours for them to fill the seats. We walked around but it was still stupid on our part that we paid up front and waited that long to leave (lesson learned). Then when we did leave the guy did not have drinks for us and bypassed the fortress, and 2 other stops. He also didn't go around the island as planned. The driver claimed ignorance and offered to just take us all back to the dock, but everyone just went for continuing to the final stops at the scenic view and beach drop off. All 12 passengers were furious, but its what you get sometimes by not using the ship tours. At the end of the day we saw a few things, only paid $25 but learned a great lesson.
St Martin. Another great island. We have done it many times before and decided to just take the water taxi to town for the all day fare of $7.00 instead of paying $5.00 each way - DUH! Got a beach chair for $5.00 and enjoyed the beach right in front of town, had some drinks, walked in town and did a little shopping and headed back for the chocolate buffet on the ship. Another relaxing day.
Last night the chef surprised us with lobster tails for dinner with our main coarses (thank you for being at the chefs table) it was nice, we did the last big show - kinda campy, but still entertaining did our packing and then off to bed.
We got up, went for a nice breakfast and met up with all of our friends outside of deck 10 aft. We were FTTF but hung out until near the end to enjoy the scenery before sitting at the airport. Took a taxi - $28.00 for 4 with bag charge and tip. Seemed fair to us. You have to runyour bags through dept of agriculture machines and then check in at united desk, we got through them and TSA pretty quick and flight was on time.
The good things
We love San Juan as a port. We like the schedule but would love there to be a second sea day to relax on. The staff was wonderfull, and we felt the ship remains in pretty good shape since our previous cruise on her 2 years earlier. We loved the FTTF. We will buy it again. Really impressed with the crew. They were very friendly and a great reason to take a Carnival cruise. Pizza was really fresh and enjoyable.
The bad things
Smoking is a problem for non-smokers. We sucked it up, but it was by far the least enjoyable part of the cruise. It blows up from the balconies onto the upper open desks 9 and 10, and was really bad throughout deck 9. Also good parts of deck 5 were not enjoyable for non smokers. We had a balcony on our last carnival cruise and never stood outside on it due to the smoking (thats why we did an inside room for the first time). We also were disappointed with the excursion desk- poor handling of a problem they created. Also no future cruise desk. A lost opportunity for Carnival