The temperatures were in the 80s at all ports. It was comfortable under the shade with sea breeze. Fort Lauderdale and Miami were hotter with highs in the 90s. We toured all islands on our own and didn’t encounter any major challenges. All our taxis drivers asked us for the return pick up time and always showed up on time. We never had to worry about getting the rides back to cruise ports.
Princess Cay, 9am-4pm.
Passengers were tendered to the island. Cruise line provided lunch and drinks (water and ice tea). There were bars for drinks.
It wasn’t necessary to rent clamshells as it was very hot inside them. There were plenty of chairs. If you like area under the shade, go early. On the west side (north beach) there were good spots for snorkeling. Water sports rentals were also available. There was no need to book excursions unless you had something specific in mind. Very nice and relax day.
St. Thomas, 7am to 8pm.
Our cruise docked at Crown's Bay. We got off at ~8:15 am. There were many open sided safari trucks (Taxis) waiting outside the port. The price to each destination was clearly listed at the taxi stop, ranged from $4-10/person each way.
We went to Coki Beach first. The taxi picked up about ~20 passengers and dropped them off at Downtown Charlotte Amelia, Red Hook (ferry terminal to St. John), and Coki Beach (our taxi’s last drop off spot). It took quite a long time to get there (>45 minutes) because of various drop off stops (maybe quicker if going to Coki Beach directly?). The Coki Beach (free) was right next door to Coral World Ocean Park. My husband went to explore the Coral World Park and thought it was worth the $19 entrance fee. Visit the website if you are interested: http://coralworldvi.com
Coki Beach is the best snorkeling beach on St Thomas. We saw more fish here than all our previous snorkel experiences. The beach was pretty with fine white sand but not very big. We were lucky because we were the only cruise at port. It could be crowded with passengers from 5-7 cruise ships arrive on the same day. The onsite bar/food venders were aggressive to sell drinks and food. We rented 4 chairs ($5 each) but no umbrella ($10) because we got there early at 9:30am and there were shaded areas under the trees. Smoothly was $8 each, fresh coconut was $5.
My husband went to the next door Coral World and thought it was worth the money. Their underwater observation deck was very nice and there were a lot of marine animals and corals to see. They also offered snuba, sea trak and other activities. We spent two hours at Coki beach. That was about right and I would say 1.5 hours would be the minimum. If you like to visit the coral world, add another 1-1.5 hours or more depends on how many under water activities you plan to do.
Our taxi driver came back at 12:30pm and drove us to Magens Bay (~15 minutes ride). The entrance fee was $4. We spent two hours there. This was one of the best beaches we visited, the white sand beach stretched very long and the scenery was amazing. We laid the mats on the beach under the shade. The water was extremely calm. My boys rented standup paddle board ($20/half hour/person). It was their first time, but they managed to go safely and fast.
The food and drink were reasonable price and okay quality. Three cups of soft drinks, one six piece chicken tenders (so so), one onion rings and one fries were $26. The portions were quite large.
At 2:30, our taxi driver came back. The ride back to port was pleasant and didn’t take very long. Total fare was $29/person for the day. We included $4/person tips on top of the taxi fares.
Overall Magens bay was a nicer beach but Coki beach was best for snorkel.
San Juan, Puerto Rico, 7am-5pm
When cruise ship arrived, there were many tour vans waiting outside the terminal. You can ignore them and walk across the street. There was a free trolley (stop 1, Paseo Concepcion De Gracia and J.A. Corretjer St ) near pier 4 (Princess docked at pier 4). Here is the website: http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/free-trolley-old-san-juan.
If your cruise docks at pier 1 to 3, there are stops alone Paseo Concepcion De Gracia. Note San Juan Puerto Rico is US territory so there are cell phone services. If you can't find the trolley stop, you can search it online. There are three free hop-on/off trolley routes circled in the old town. The one most passengers take is the open air trolley which take you to Del Morro Castle and San Cristobal Castle, then return to cruise terminal.
The trolley has couple stops (25 and 26) before the El Morro del San Felipe where you can get off and take photos of the castle. Or it can take you right up to the castle entrance after stop 26. Entrance fee is $5 for both El Morro del San Felipe and Fort San Cristobal castles. Waking under the sun during summer weather is no fun. So the covered trolley is a great way to tour the old town. Highly recommended.
We visited both El Morro del San Felipe and Fort San Cristobal castles and really enjoyed the visits. Besides history, the views from both forts were magnificent.
If we come back again in the future, we plan to take the ferry and visit the Bacardi Distillery on our own.
When the cruise leave San Juan, be sure to have your cameras ready and go up to the deck. There are a lot of photo opportunities there.
Grand Turk 12-7pm
There was a beach by the cruise terminal with lots of chairs. I believe they are free to use. The beach seemed nice but we didn't go there.
We went to Governors beach, took a taxi ($4/person each way). Just walk to the left as if you were leaving the shopping area and there would be many taxis waiting. Price to each destination was clearly listed. Admittance was free and chairs were available at $10 each at governor's beach. We simply laid the beach towel on the beach under the shaded area. Snorkel gears were available for rental and there was also a snack shack. I didn't see other water activities there. The water was beautiful and wavy, but the sand wasn’t as fine as I expected. The beach wasn’t very clean. There were fish to see but not a lot. The entire place felt a bit run down.
After two hours, our taxi driver came back. They were usually very flexible and would return at pre-arranged pick up time.
Returning to the cruise, we took a shower then came out again. This time we took a taxi to the historical Cockburn town and Salt Company ($5 each person each way, 7-10 minutes from cruise terminal). The town was very small so we didn't get off. We spent about 20 minutes at the Salt Company to learn some history of Grand Turk and its salt production history.
On our way back, the driver needed to pick up some passengers at Pillory beach (taxi fee: $8 each person each way) so we had about 20 minutes there for photos. There was a small resort there (http://www.bohioresort.com). The pillory beach was much nicer than government beach: clean beach, calm water and fine sands. The onsite shop or resort offered water activities: one hour snorkel on the wall at $45 (20-7000 feet of water), kayak $20/hour, snorkel rental $20/day, paddle boards $30/1.5 hours, beach lounger $10 each. If I were to do it again, I would go to Pillory beach. The ride back was short, a little over than 10 minutes.
The Grand Turk wasn’t as developed as other Caribbean islands. There weren’t much traffic and at the most, there were three cruises in port (2 on our day).