For our first cruise (Wife and I) aboard a CCL Ship, the decision to do the St. John, 4-Night itinerary was a last minute one. Not something we would have chosen as our first choice, but for a last-minute, get-away anniversary weekend, it would do just fine.
We left our home town in CT via Amtrak on Thursday morning and arrived in Penn Station by 10:30. Since we had so much time and are fairly resourceful and aren't big public transit fans, decided to walk from Penn Station to Port of NY. Turned out not too badly at all. (Had gotten some feedback from New Yorker friends that it would be difficult - it was not.) The whole walk ended up being less than 2 miles and since we each had one roll-along small suitcase and 1 backpack, it was a good decision. (Having said that, I would not recommend for everyone.) We arrived at the terminal by 11 am and were surprised by the number of passengers already there. We had a seat in a large, auditorium-style waiting area and I ran a few blocks to get bottled water to bring on board with us. Note: it was no problem to bring bottled water aboard. Once back, we began boarding.
Embarkation could not have been any smoother. We were checked in and on board by noon - eating lunch on the Lido Deck by 12:15. Overall embarkation process - 10 out of 10! I will say getting there early probably helped, but all of the feedback from other passengers I spoke with said the same thing.
Since we had only carry-on items, no waiting for luggage, which was very nice. Our cabin wasn't ready until 1:30, but our room steward allowed us to drop our stuff off so we didn't have to carry it around with us - perfect! Our cabin was an interior stateroom on Deck 9 (Lido). It was considerably larger than we were used to on NCL - which was nice. And the interactive TV was nice, too. We were able to view up-to the minute folio info and menus.
We began to explore the ship (the largest ship we've been on) and found it to be very easily navigated. The public areas are all very well marked and the crew was very helpful with directions (especially initially). Our cabin was on the Lido Deck (Pool Deck), which was nice because we had a very short walk to the pool/buffet each day.
Sailing out of NY harbor was definitely the highlight of the cruise. We cruised right past the Statue of Liberty (which neither my wife nor I had ever seen) and lower Manhattan. We then passed under the Verazanno bridge and out into open waters.
The first evening was spent getting to know the ship and our dinner-mates. We were seated for the late dinner service (8:15) in the Atlantic Dining Room in the upper part. Our booth for 4 was towards the back of the dining room and was promptly ready at 8:15 each night. We were seated with a nice couple from New Jersey and we found conversation easy each night of the cruise. (One note - if you are not conversationalists, be sure to ask for a table for 2!) The service in the dining room was outstanding each evening with the waitstaff all very personable and fun. The food was very good, as well. Not "knock-your-socks-off good", but very good, just the same. The menu was very tame (more so than any other cruise we've been on), which was a bit disappointing because we like to take the opportunity to try something without the repercussions of not liking something we would have to pay for. Having said that, our waiter was more than happy to bring us more than one entree - to the point that by the last evening we all just resigned to each ordering 2 apps, soup/salad and 2 entrees - plus dessert! Needless to say, we left dinner full every evening! Prime Rib, Lobster tail, shrimp and mild fish dominated the menu each evening. Food on the Lido deck in the Mediterranean restaurant (buffet) was excellent every day. The Mississippi BBQ restaurant can be misleading - it's nothing more than a burgers and dog's grill. The pizza buffet was very good as well - 24 hours indeed!
Entertainment on board was not lacking - when they say "fun ships" - they really mean it! Every sea day (2 full) was highlighted by more activities, music, demonstrations and games than we had ever seen. Our only complaint was the duo that performed on the Lido, Laws, was absolutely terrible. They clonked their way through the typical on-board tunes from Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffett and butchered every one! We spent some time each evening in the Piano Bar listening to Peter Rossetti - who was a very good performer. Not a great, dynamic, sing-along kind of entertainer, but still good, nonetheless. Note: we also met CC Member Divetrash, which was fun. (Ask her about Stephanie the first night of the cruise.:')) We also checked out the cruise-typical "Not-so-Newlywed game" in the Caribbean Lounge, which was funny, as always.
Also tried out the Mini-golf course (small - very quick round), and sat by the waterslide, which seemed to be providing a ton of fun for all ages. We also checked out the "Theater by the Sea" movie (The bourne Ultimatum), which was shown on the pool-side movie screen. That was a pretty neat thing to do despite the cold evening air.
As far as our Port-of-call, St. John was not exactly a thrilling experience. It seems like a very nice little city, full of very proud citizens. We walked to the Reversing Falls (about a 2-mile walk along the Harbour Passage), saw a couple of harbor seals along the way, and there was a nice view of the city and ship at a hilltop park near the falls. (Don't be fooled by the "Falls" description of the river - there are no waterfalls.) I would suggest googling it first. Anyway, we were back on board by 2:00 and settled by the pool by 2:30. One note - the weather we got that day (75, sunny) was apparently the best weather they've had in a long time, so that was a nice treat. From all reports we received from other passengers, there is not a lot to see in St. John, nice as it may be.
Once back in NY, debarkation was about the worst experience of the entire trip. We chose the "self- assist" option, which allowed us to keep our luggage with us and walk off the ship once they called our deck number. We grabbed something to eat and headed down to deck 3 for debarkation and were shocked at the number of people who were there.Apparently, many people had ignored the "Zone" optional and were just heading down wether they had their luggage or not. This created a traffic jam by the mid-ship elevators on Deck 3 for about a half an hour. Not a huge deal, but a bit annoying that many passengers chose to ignore specific instructions on debarking the ship. Customs was quick and as quickly as we were on the ship - we were off. So it was back down 11th avenue and to 34th street and over to 8th avenue to Penn Station by 10:00 for our 11:00 train. Home by 2:00 - perfect!
A couple of side notes about the trip:
- First Carnival Cruise - overall B+ - Liked: Larger ship, more activities, livelier nightlife, interactive TV in cabin, larger cabin size - Disliked: Lack of variety on dining room menu, Laws (Lido deck band), Debarkation process