I'll start by saying this was my first cruise. I am 23 years old and travelled with my 29 year old boyfriend who has also never cruised before. I am a travel agent and received an email back in June with a fantastic travel agent deal so I couldn't pass it up! I'm sure this review will be very long but you should find everything you need to know about this itinerary/ship.
We received about 35 cm of snow the day before we were scheduled to leave and I was stressed to the max thinking our flight was going to be cancelled. But luckily it wasn't and we actually arrived in San Juan almost an hour early. Our flight out of Halifax left at 5:40 a.m. (ick..) and we arrived in San Juan around 3:30 or 4:00, after connecting in Toronto. There was some confusion at the Toronto airport because when I printed my boarding passes, it also printed a sheet that shows where to go at the YYZ airport. It said to go to the international connections area. So I go there and we're told that San Juan is not international, it's US. So yeah, I guess technically it's part of the US but I would have thought it would be considered international. Anyway so it turned out we had to pre clear customs in Toronto which we weren't expecting. I assumed we would be cleared in SJU. Anyway, that was fine. We had lots of time to kill anyway but it took a really long time for our bags to come through before we could clear customs. Everyone else on our flight had picked up their bags and gone and we waited for over a half hour for ours. Good thing we left lots of time for our connection.
So we arrived in SJU and we had bought our transfers through Air Canada Vacations. We got our bags and boarded the shuttle bus, which was operated by Rico San Tours. The guide offered everyone a city tour of San Juan the following Sunday when we got back from our cruise. It was $30 per person and we decided to book it since we had a late flight on the return and didn't know what to do with our bags. They said they would pick us up and we could keep our bags in the back of the shuttle bus and they would take us on a tour and save time for shopping at the end and then make sure we got back to the airport in time.
So then it was time to get on the ship. I wasn't sure what to expect but I did not expect the lines to be that long. It seemed to take forever to go through all the security check points and check in desks and everything. I had read on cruise critic that you could buy liquor at the liquor store right at the pier and they let you take it in your carry on, no questions asked. So we each bought a very small amount of liquor (I could NOT get over the low prices!). About 75% cheaper than Canada. And sure enough, we went through security with our checked bags and had no problem at all. Also, I forgot to mention that we paid a porter to deliver our bags. I think it was $2 a bag. We got on the ship and located our room, on the Upper Deck, with a balcony. 2 of our bags were there when we arrived but our 3rd bag had not arrived. My boyfriend was quite worried because we had checked them all together and he thought they should all arrive together. Anyway, the 3rd bag arrived about a half hour later and all was good.
We spent the evening exploring the ship, trying to find our way. We decided to skip the dinner in the dining room and just had pizza instead. I will post my review of the ship first, and then I'll do my port reviews.
Food: It was alright. We usually ate breakfast at the buffet although the line-up was extremely long on most days. I discovered it was easier to go to the omelette station where you could also get toast, bacon, and sometimes pancakes. Much quicker that way. There was lots of selection at the buffet breakfast and most of the food wasn't bad, except for the toast. It would be better if we were able to toast it ourselves so it is fresh but I guess that would mean another long line-up. We ate in the dining room one morning but my boyfriend didn't enjoy sitting with other people that don't speak English so he preferred the buffet. We only ate supper in the dining room twice because we booked the early seating and we found we were never usually ready on time. We usually had pizza or bbq. I loved the 24 hr pizza place and the calzone al forno was delicious!! We also enjoyed the sandwich bar and my boyfriend liked the bbq. Drinks were delicious and not over priced. We ordered room service for breakfast a couple of days and like another review said, the toast was cold and the milk was room temperature. It was actually pretty gross. The 2 nights we ate in the dining room for supper, the service was excellent and we met some great people. The waiters and waitresses all sang "Leaving on a Jet Plane" on our last night, except they changed the words. It was really nice of them but it made me sad.. lol. I would have liked if you could get apple juice out of the juice dispenser thing but they only had really sweet lemonade and iced tea. So usually at lunch we ended up buying an alcoholic beverage to wash it down. Even at breakfast, I couldn't find apple juice anywhere in the buffet so we always had chocolate milk. But I was able to get apple juice by calling room service. Not sure where they hide it.
Entertainment: FANTASTIC!! We went to 3 shows: Vrooom, Livin in America, and the Magic Show. They were all fantastic, especially the Victory Dancers. I can't imagine how much time they must spend rehearsing and the choreographers are amazing! It was really fantastic. And the magic show was more of a comedy show than anything but it was really great too. We didn't go to any of the actual comedy shows but we heard one of the guys was terrible. We spent an hour or so in the Irish bar one night and the piano player/singer there was really great.
Stateroom: I have mixed feelings about our room - 6420. We loved having a balcony and will probably never cruise without one now. The bed was AMAZING. At first I thought the mattress was really hard but when I actually slept on it, it was great. And the pillows and duvet are heaven. My bed at home is nowhere near as good. The shower was fine - a little small but the pressure was good and we never ran out of hot water. Lots of closet and drawer space. The one downfall was we were directly above the Aegean Lounge and it played extremely loud music with a ton of base very late into the night. I am pretty sure our room was directly above the speakers. On the first night, I was so upset about it I thought our week was going to be ruined because we wouldn't be able to sleep at night. But in the end, we were usually so tired at night that we just passed out anyway. But for other people, that might have been a deal breaker, especially if you have small kids that go to bed early. And I'm not exaggerating at all, the music was VERY LOUD.
Motion of the ship: Our room was at the back of the ship, which I've heard gets more motion than the middle and I was a little nauseous sometimes. I guess I didn't think I would be able to feel the ship moving since it's so big but I think I would have been sick if it weren't for my Gravol and Seabands. The night we left Barbados was really bad. The water in the pool was going back and forth and kept going up over the edge of the pool all over the floor. A lot of people had the patch behind their ear and I would have preferred that over the Seabands but someone said you need a prescription for it and they didn't have them on the ship.
Service/Staff: The service was really excellent, especially our room stewards. Ours was extremely friendly and our room was cleaned twice a day. We had a towel animal every day and our bed was always nicely turned down and we never ran out of "supplies". All of the room stewards always smiled and said hello whenever we passed them in the hall. I really enjoyed the cruise director, Malcolm Burn. He was hilarious. The only issue I had was when I asked room service to bring me a glass of juice so I could take my medication. It took me a really long time to get through and then they sent up someone who didn't speak English. This was our first night there so I had some questions and she didn't speak any English at all so was unable to answer them for me. Not a major issue, but was still sort of annoying when I was already frustrated about the loud music.
Cruise Crowd: I travelled the week of the American Thanksgiving so there were a lot of families with young kids that took the week off school. This didn't bother me at all. I would say about 80-90% of the people on board were Puerto Rican or African American. This was not an issue at all, it's just a fact. I found that surprising I guess. They must get good deals out of Puerto Rico since they don't have to buy their flight.
General opinion of ship: I enjoyed the ship, but I have nothing to compare it to. We never swam in the pools and didn't spend much time on the main Lido Deck, except to eat. We played mini golf one day which was enjoyable except they didn't give us a scorecard so it was hard to keep score. I liked the decor. The main lobby area was quite fancy (in my opinion) and I liked the glass elevators. Some floors were hard to navigate because you couldn't walk end to end on certain floors. You had to go up or down a level, then across, then up or down again to get where you had to go. This was confusing at first.
PORTS OF CALL
St. Thomas: We took a taxi to Magen's Bay today. It was a really nice beach. I was debating between Magen's Bay and Coki Beach and decided on Magen's Bay. I thought it would be over crowded since there were 4 of 5 ships in port but it wasn't at all. When we got on the beach, we turned right and went almost all the way to the end. The only issue we had was that we had to carry our beach chairs so far. At most other beaches we went to, they set up your chairs for you. But this beach is so huge, we had to carry our chairs quite far. They had 3 or 4 staff just sitting there handing you your chair and taking your ticket. It wouldn't kill them to help you carry your chair as well. The beach had some rocky areas when swimming. I thought it would be all sandy but it wasn't. There was also some kind of bird that kept taking dives at people and pooping in the water. But there's nothing anyone can do about that. The best part was, there were no vendors on the beach. Just one lady offering hair braiding but she didn't even approach people, she just walked around with a sign that said hair braiding. It was very relaxing. We only stayed a couple of hours because we wanted to head back to the shops. I bought a pair of flip flops at Payless and my boyfriend bought a couple cans of Budweiser and had no problem bringing them back on the ship. We were thinking of going to Paradise Point but there was a spot on the way to the beach at the top of a mountain that had a really good view of the port so we just took our pictures from there.
Dominica: We had booked an ATV Adventure tour through High Ride Adventures in advance. It was the same tour the ship offered but way cheaper. I think Carnival wanted $130 per person and when we booked it direct it was only $75 per person, including transportation to and from the ship. The tour wasn't until 1:00 so we played mini golf on the ship in the morning and then went out a little early to explore around the port. I was looking for somewhere to use the internet (the ship was WAY too expensive). We walked into an internet cafe and one of the workers there let me borrow her laptop so I didn't have to pay anything at all and I was able to email home. I also bought a delicious banana smoothie while I was there which was awesome because this was the hottest day of my life. I can't remember the name of the place though. There were a ton of tour operators roaming the street trying to sell tours. We must have been approached 15 times within a half hour. The ATV tour itself was fun. I had only ever driven one really short distances before and didn't really feel comfortable but I guess it wasn't too bad. The trail was quite narrow with deep ruts and it had some steep hills and sharp turns but I'm still alive. We saw some pretty good views. We were probably only gone for about 45 mins to an hour. When we got back, Melanie gave us beer and juice and chips. It was all really delicious and we chatted for a while. Her children are absolutely beautiful. Dominica (pronounced Domma-NEE-ka, which I was not aware of until we arrived there), was really different from all the other islands so it was nice.
Barbados: We had a really hard time finding a taxi driver to take us to Accra Beach. There were a ton of taxi drivers and a ton of people and whenever we approached a driver and told them where we wanted to go, he would just walk away. Finally, after about 20-25 mins, we found someone to take us there but we couldn't leave until he rounded up more people. That took another 15-20 mins but finally we got there. And it was the most beautiful beach ever. I had read online that we should deal with taxi drivers outside the gate and I thought we were outside the gate, until we actually drove through the gate and I realized we weren't outside the gate after all. Anyway, so the beach was not overly crowded and the guys set up our chairs for us. The sand was like flour, it was so soft. And it was all sand under the water too. Not a rocky spot at all. And the water was the warmest we had on the whole trip. I wanted to stay there forever. We only had 1 issue while we were there - a guy approached us with a small brochure for Atlantis Submarine and we told him we were only there for a couple more hours and didn't have time. So then he asked me what my favorite color is and I said red (I know now to never answer that question). He pulled out a bunch of necklaces and bracelets and started handing them to me. I said I didn't want them and then he said "You are on vacation, I do not expect you to pay. I will take whatever money you want to give me." So I found a pink and white bracelet that I liked and my boyfriend found one too so we decided we would give him $5 but when Brian pulled out our money, it was folded up so it was kind of hard to get at it without pulling it all out. This was entirely our fault and we learned a lesson. So as soon as buddy sees the money, he says "It's $20 per bracelet but I give you special for $15 per bracelet." So Brian says "How about $20 total." And he hands him the 20 dollar bill (which was WAY too much for these cheap little bracelets). But then the guy started grabbing at the rest of the money and demanded that we give him another $10. So Brian gave it to him just to get him to go away because we were kind of scared at that point. A while later a police officer kicked him off the beach. Anyway we should have never pulled out any money at all and we definitely learned our lesson. But he was the only vendor on the whole beach. I did overhear another lady saying she would never in a million years return to Barbados because of the way people were staring at her and her belongings and she didn't feel safe. My boyfriend said he didn't really feel safe either, but I really enjoyed it except for that one guy. We bought sandwiches and drinks at the beach bar and they were pretty good. We spent about 3 hours at the beach and I would love to go back again.
St. Lucia: We booked the Land and Sea Combo to Soufriere through Carnival. I had priced similar tours through local tour operators but it was not cheaper so we figured we would take this opportunity to try out Carnival's excursions. The tour was from 8:30-3:15 and the description said that drinks, lunch, and snacks were included. Well, that was sort of misleading because we were never given anything to eat or drink until after 1:30. So by that time, I had stopped somewhere to buy water and chips to get me through until lunch. They could have at least provided water to us! We stopped at a lookoff point first and the vendors there were crazy. They were banging on the windows of our van trying to sell us stuff. They seemed really desperate and wouldn't take no for an answer. We drove along and stopped at Anse La Raye, a fishing village. There were a lot of aggressive vendors there as well and it seemed like sort of a dirty little town. Brian tried the Piton beer there and really liked it. Then we drove further towards Soufriere and saw the Pitons, which are beautiful. I got lots of pictures. Then we went to the Sulphur Springs which were really interesting. Saw some people taking a mud bath. Our guide there was very informative. Then we went to the botanical gardens and diamond mineral waterfall and they were really gorgeous but I was getting cranky by this point because I was hungry and thirsty and my batteries in my camera had just died. Then finally they took us to board the catamaran and we got fed an unidentifiable meat that actually wasn't bad but was hard to eat with your hands. I didn't really enjoy the food that was served but maybe I am just picky. They did give out free rum punch which was yummy and they had beer available for purchase. We stopped at a beach called Anse Cochon. The boat stopped in about 6 or 7 feet of water and I'm not a strong swimmer but I just hung on to the rope that was used to anchor the boat and swam ashore. The bottom was a little rocky in some spots and the water was colder than other beaches we had been to. Plus, there were guys in kayaks paddling up to the boat and trying to sell us stuff! That was too much for me. It was quite a long trip back on the catamaran which was enjoyable. But the boat was jam packed and we could only get a spot in the direct sunlight and it was pretty hot. But I don't want to complain too much about it since I'd rather be there right now than sitting here working. We got back to the boat around 3:30. Oh, I forgot to mention, during the tour we saw a guy with a boa constrictor around his neck and they told us that there are lots of snakes on the island but none of them are poisonous. I'm pretty sure I would have still freaked out if I had stepped on one or even seen one unexpectedly.
Antigua: We decided to take a cab to Dickenson Beach in Antigua. I had read on cruise critic that it is better to get dropped off at Tony's rather than Coconut Grove, at the other end of the beach. But I completely forgot to tell the cab driver this and we got dropped off at Coconut Grove. There was not much beach at this end as the water came up really far. We decided we would get our chairs and walk down the beach a little ways. So a guy approaches us and asks if we need chairs and we say yes so he pointed to a pile of chairs nearby and asked for $5 each. By this point we were used to paying for our beach chairs so we gave him the money and took our chairs. We dragged them down the beach a ways and set them up and that's when I realized my chair was broken and couldn't put the back up, it would only lay flat. So I was frustrated and then I remembered about the 2 different ends of the beach so I asked another employee which end we were at and he said Coconut Grove. Then he said whoever we just gave our money to probably doesn't even work at the beach. He said it was probably just some druggie looking for money. So he took us to the other end of the beach where we had to pay another $5 per chair but at least these chairs weren't broken and the beach was much nicer down by Tony's. I really enjoyed swimming here. The bottom was quite sandy and the waves were fun, but not too big. We stayed for a few hours. There were some vendors on this beach but they had no trouble taking No for an answer. Most of them were offering jet ski rentals or horse back riding or other services, rather than the standard necklaces. We had grabbed a taxi to the beach with a family of 8 and they had agreed on a price of $15 per direction for the whole family but when they got dropped off he tried to charge them $20 (it was a taxi dispatcher who had agreed on $15). After some arguing, he accepted $15. For Brian and I, it was only $3 per person so that was a great price. He also came back to pick us up at the scheduled time. Dickenson Beach was nice but definitely get dropped off at Tony's instead of Coconut Grove! The beach was also a little crowded.
St. Kitts: I had decided in advance that I wanted to go to South Friar's Bay. But when we arrived, the taxi driver we approached said that South Frigate Bay was much nicer and had more services. I was more interested in finding a quiet beach that was less busy and I think South Friar's Bay would have been better but we finally agreed to go to South Frigate because he said it was much cheaper to go there. I can't remember how much it cost us but it was never very much for the cabs we took. I wasn't super impressed with South Frigate Bay. The sand was dark, just like in Canada. I prefer to go to white sand beaches. Because the sand was dark, it was extremely hot. Even with flip flops on, the sand came over the top of my sandals and burnt my feet. It was unbearable. And when we went swimming, there was a huge dropoff so one minute you're fine and then another step and you're completely over your head. They had a big water trampoline which was great for kids but it's out deep enough that it would be way over any kid's head so I don't think I would want my kid swimming out there. The bottom was sandy but it was a really rough kind of sand, not soft. There were lots of shells on the beach which my boyfriend enjoyed collecting. There were also lots of vendors on this beach but again, most took no for an answer. My boyfriend had burnt his feet the day before and he accepted an offer from a girl for an aloe vera foot and leg massage. They have natural aloe plants and they just crack it open and out comes all this aloe. A girl sitting next to us and just got a foot and leg massage for $20 for about 10-15 mins. She wanted $15 from Brian and I talked her down to $10 and she probably did it for 5-10 mins. Then she did mine too for another $10. Brian really enjoyed this and I thought it was nice too. They also had employees from Mr. X coming around taking orders for food and drinks. I didn't even have to get out of my chair to get a drink. There was also a guy selling local beer 2 for $3.00. Brian bought a couple of those and really liked them. I also liked that at this beach, they set up your chairs for you. You don't have to lug them anywhere. St. Kitts was a really beautiful island and seemed to be clean and the shops were nice but we didn't buy anything.
San Juan: We got back to San Juan around 6:30 a.m. and we had decided we would take our own bags off the ship since our tour left at 9:30. The night before, during the debarkation talk, we were told we would need to be off the ship between 7-8 a.m. if we were taking our own bags. So we got up at 6:30 and had ordered room service breakfast (gross). But we didn't actually get called off the ship until about 8:30. It was quite hectic. When we cleared customs, they had 3 lines for US Citizens and 1 line for non US Citizens and our line wasn't moving at all. Finally they let us go in the US line and we got through quicker. We met our tour guide out front and he took us to the Capitol Building and the Fort. Both were somewhat interesting but I'm not much of a history buff. Also, there was a guy on our tour that had such bad BO, I thought I was going to die. Finally we got dropped off to have lunch and do some shopping. We went to Barrachina's for lunch and had nachos. They were pretty good and the service was very quick. I also had a Pina Colada since this is supposedly the birthplace of pina coladas. I'll tell you this - don't waste your money on this one. They'll give you a free sample if you really have to try it. I ordered a big glass and there were huge chunks of ice in it and it wasn't thick at all. I like the Pina Coladas on the ship better. Then we decided we would do some shopping. I overheard a guy in the restaurant saying that Tommy Hilfiger at 50% the entire store today only. So we took a walk over and sure enough, he was right. We each spent almost $100. The deals were amazing! Then I went over to Guess and got a pair of sunglasses for $40, tax in. Then we met up with our guide again and he drove us to the airport. We had to check in with United since Air Canada doesn't have a counter at SJU. There was some confusion there and it took a really long time for them to check us in. But for some reason we got upgraded to business class so Woohoo!! We were in the 1st row. It was the first time we had ever flown business class. The turbulence on our flights home was SO bad though, we thought we were going to die. We don't fly often obviously. There was a storm going up the eastern seaboard and man it was bad. I can't count the number of times we dropped so much my stomach was in my throat. We were so happy to get off that plane, even though it was pouring down rain and our luggage was completely soaked.
Wow, this is getting really long. I think I just about covered everything... We didn't use the spa or the gym so I can't comment on that. I don't think I would enjoy having days at sea. I really liked stopping at a different island every day. But I think I would get bored at sea. The time flew by so fast though. As far as the weather goes, it never rained the entire week. It sprinkled just a tiny bit as we were leaving St. Thomas and a tiny bit in St. Lucia but you could hardly feel it and 5 mins later the sun was out. It was sunny and really hot the whole week.
One thing I will mention is that when I booked my shore excursion a few months ago, I was charged at that time. But when I was looking at my sail and sign account on the TV, it showed I was being charged again. I went down to the Purser's desk and they said it would be reversed on my final bill. I was sort of hesitant but he was right. When I got my final bill it showed the charge and then it also reversed the charge.
Okay I better end this here. I may have forgot stuff but I doubt anyone read the whole thing anyway!