This was my second cruise, both with Carnival. I went with my boyfriend, and it was his first. We booked about 6 months ahead of time and got a pretty good deal for a balcony stateroom. We booked our airfare separate. I had heard people complain about the flights that Carnival put them on, so we decided to just do it ourselves. We flew out the day before, just in case. It actually ended up snowing the night after we left and a lot of flights were cancelled, so I was really glad we did that. We got to Miami without too much hassle and got our luggage. We took a shuttle that we had prearranged to our hotel in South Beach. It was a bit pricier than something like Holiday Inn, but it was worth it. Beautiful hotel, 2 blocks from the beach. We had a chance to walk around the area that night, everything was all lit up, very Art Deco.
We woke up the next morning, got ready and were out of our room by 11 am. The cruise documents say not to check in until 130, but from past experience I knew that you can get there early. We took a cab over to the Port of Miami (cost was $24), tipped the porter at the terminal to make sure our luggage arrived at our room later, and went into the terminal at about 1130 am. There was not too much of a line at this time, so we were through the whole process in about 10 minutes. The only downside to arriving early is that they are still cleaning your room from the previous guests. This was perfectly fine, as they have lunch available on the Lido deck, and everywhere you turn there are drinks available. We decided to take advantage of both until our room was ready. Finally at 130 we were able to go into our room. It was a pretty good size. On my last cruise we had an oceanview, so this was my first balcony. I will say, it is well worth the extra money. I will not book anything less than a balcony from now on. We enjoyed the view for a little while, and then it was time for the muster drill. So out came the lifejackets and down the stairs we went. We ended up meeting a couple on their honeymoon that we hung out with for the rest of the trip. I say that you meet the best people on cruises! After the drill, we took some time to rest before dinner. We had the late seating, which was perfect for us. We get to the dining room and walk through the maze of tables and finally arrive at our table. We were seated with two other sets of people. One was two cousins from West Virginia and the other was a couple from New York. We had so much fun with these people, we are still keeping in touch after the cruise!
The next day we went to Half Moon Cay. The weather was a bit rough, mostly due to the wind. I found out later that we were supposed to have skipped this port, but the captain decided to try it. About 11 we go to the Rome Lounge and get assigned a number for a tender (It takes a while to move 3000 people!) We wait for about 45 minutes and go to the gangway. The swells were so high, it was somewhat difficult getting on the tender, I had to grab onto the guy helping people on. We took the "bouncing tenders" over to the island and grabbed some food from the huge spread Carnival had set up. After that we just hung out on the beach, enjoying a few drinks and soaking up some sun. Very beautiful. After that we had a day at sea. It was a fun day to just hang out and do some shopping, sit out in the sun some more. That night was our first formal night. We had fun getting all dressed up, and everyone looked great at dinner that night. After dinner we had our pictures taken on the steps, and they turned out great!
The next day was St. Thomas. This is by far my favorite island that we visited. You see postcards of it, but it is even more beautiful in person. I really enjoyed watching the ship pull into port from our balcony. We booked a shore excursion through Carnival for St. Thomas. It was the Castaway Barefoot Sail and Snorkel. It wasn't until 12 though, so we set out to do some shopping beforehand, as the island is well known for its shops. We picked up a few Christmas presents for friends and family and then headed to the meeting point for our excursion. We get on the boat, have a quick safety briefing and then set out for a 45 minute sail to nearby Buck Island. We get there and go through a quick briefing on snorkeling. It was my first time, so it was very helpful for me. We jumped in the water and took a tour around the reef area. Our guide showed us different kinds of fish and coral, showing us the fire coral especially to help us avoid it. We then swam over to a nearby shipwreck which was amazing. After the snorkeling, we all reboarded the catamaran and set sail back to St. Thomas. They provided unlimited rum punch and we took full advantage of that as well. They kept walking around with more refills and how could we say no? We get back to St. Thomas, thank everyone on the Castaway Girl for everything and do a little more shopping. I was very sad to leave St. Thomas, but I hope to go back someday.
San Juan, Puerto Rico was our next stop. We had booked the city and Bacardi Factory tour. Our tour guide Manny drove us around pointing out different landmarks and then stopped at Fort San Cristobal for about 45 minutes. It was very interesting and the views were amazing, you could see all of San Juan from the upper levels. After the fort we headed over to the Bacardi Factory. It was fun to see how they make it and the history of the company. We then headed over the gift shop and bought some more souvenirs (very cheap compared to the States), got our free drinks and were on our way back to the ship. Next day was Grand Turk. I watched as the ship pulled into port. I saw a lot of industrial area and then there was a long beach and the shopping area. We docked right next to all that and went down to the beach. It was very beautiful, but we were trying to relax on the beach and Margaritaville was right next to it blaring very loud music. Now I'm all for a good time, but not when I'm trying to relax. That was my only complaint about Grand Turk. Picked up a few more souvenirs and then a few hours later we were back on the ship. That night was our second formal night, so again we get all dressed up. It's nice to have an excuse to wear formal wear sometimes, so we had a lot of fun. Side note: the dining was fabulous. Our waiter, Paulus, would always bring us extra meals without us even having to ask, same with desserts. He was very funny and always in a good mood. The food was great, I think I gained about 10 lbs! So worth it though The next day was our last day at sea. We just hung out in our room and got some rest. Cruising is tiring! It was actually raining a little bit that day and at one point we saw a water spout in the middle of the ocean!
Debarkation the next day was bittersweet. It was time to go home, but part of me just wanted to sign on for another week! But Christmas was 3 days away, so homeward bound were we. If you can help it, try not to fly the weekend before Christmas. It took forever to get to the airport. We arranged transportation through Carnival to the airport and we were the first ones on there, but didn't leave for almost an hour. We had a 1 pm flight, so we were just a bit worried about missing it. We got there and spend forever in the security line, they were being extra strict because of the holidays I suppose. We get through and make our flight, it was actually delayed about 20 minutes. We flew to Minneapolis, which was extremely cold, especially coming from 85 degree weather. We make our next flight but then are left sitting in our seats for an hour and a half because the plane was too heavy to take off! We finally get going and fly back to Kansas City. It was snowing again and icy there, so when the plane landed it actually skidded a bit on the runway! After all that we get our luggage and go home to collapse. Overall, I would recommend this itinerary and ship to anyone. The staff is very friendly, they go out of their way to ensure you have a great trip. The food is great, the shore excursions are a lot of fun and its actually a really good deal. I might try another cruise line next time just to compare, but I am definitely satisfied with Carnival!