My wife and I just got back from the December 7th, Victory sailing. It was our 3rd cruise and first on Carnival. We went with our 11 & 13 year old daughters. It was their first cruise.
We flew into San Juan on Saturday and stayed at the Embassy Suites. It was clean and more than we really needed. The Outback in the lobby was convenient for dinner and the free morning breakfast was OK.
We took a cab to the port @ noon. We got through the check in process pretty quickly but were unable to board the ship. They told use that due to a "higher than normal" incidence of illness on the previous cruise they were doing additional cleaning and no one could board until 3:30PM. Boarding then became a mess and we got on about 4:30 PM.
Our cabin was fine. It was small for four people but we expected that. The balcony was a big help for extra space. Our cabin steward Melvin was top notch. He did a great job for the week. We had the early seating for dinner and a great waiter, IGusti. Breakfast was the same menu for the week and it was fine. Since we were in port every day, the dining room was never open for lunch. We did have some of the food on available on the Lido deck. Some was very good, like the Reubens and the onion rings. Some not so good like the pizza and the fried rice. We ate dinner every night in the dining room. There were always plenty of choices. The portion were not huge, but if you wanted more you just asked. The quality ranged from good to great. the veal I had one night was the best ever.
St. Thomas - We booked a shore excursion through Carnival that included shopping and Megan's Bay beach. Fortunately the tour was not real crowded, only about 20 people. The shopping was OK. Prices appeared to be pretty good but we were not in the market to spend thousands on jewelry or watches. Some of the store owners were very "pushy". Literally dragging prospective customers in off the street. Megan's Bay was nice. It wasn't very crowded and was a great beach to swim at.
Dominica - We had booked a tour with Levi Barron(Bumpiing Tours) and had Gary as our guide. The tour was great. My kids loved swimming in the waterfalls. There are some hikes involved that could be difficult for some. Dominica is a poor place and the roads show it. They are terrible! Very windy and lots of climbs and descents. We were fine but I can see how people get car sick from the rides.
Barbados - We hired a taxi at the dock to take us to the Mount Gay visitor center and then to Lobster Alive for a couple of hours and then back to the ship. It cost us $40. If you drink Mount Gay Rum, you need to see the visitors center. They have mini tours and lots of neat things to buy. The beach was fine. For $15 we got 2 lounges, an umbrella and three drinks. There were several vendors on the beach and some had a hard time understanding "no".
Antigua - We booked the "Lobster Lunch" with Creole Cruises and loved it. We stopped at three different places to snorkel and had lobster for lunch on the beach of Bird Island. Glen was a great tour guide and I would highly recommend this tour to anyone looking for something a little different. It wasn't cheap, but worth every penny.
St. Lucia - We booked with Cosol and enjoyed this tour. We screwed up on the meeting time in the morning and thought we missed the tour. (We were a half hour late.) But Adrian was waiting for us and we quickly caught up to the rest of the group. Cosol had a group of about 35 that day, split between 4 vans. (The one advantage to being late was that our family was alone in a van.) The local foods served for breakfast were good. The highlight of this tour was the time at the Jalouise Beach between the Pitons. The view is something you would see on a postcard. I found the volcano neat, but my kids didn't like the very strong sulpher smell.
St. Kitts - By this time we were pretty tired. We got off and shopped in the port area for a couple of hours and returned to the ship.
We never used Camp Carnival. We didn't even look into it. We just decided to let the kids experience the entire cruise.
The entertainment was fine. We went to the lounge show every night. It wasn't Broadway or even Vegas, but that was OK. It was a great opportunity to relax with the family and have some fun.
It seemed like at last half of the passengers were "locals" from Puerto Rico. Most of them were very nice people. Unfortunately, some were not. Many appeared to spend their day on the Lido deck. The two times we actually spent some time on the ship in port (Barbados & St. Kitts), the Lido deck was crowded. The pools and hot tubs were packed. Lots of unsupervised little kids were running around and yelling and screaming. Often, children and/or adults were cutting into lines. The one incident that really stood out was while in Barbados a large group of Puerto Ricans where playing their own music and yelling and chanting to the point that no one could here the band playing on the deck. I have no problem with people enjoying themselves and having fun. But, when their idea of fun impacts my ability to relax or enjoy myself, that's a problem. On disembarkation day, rather than sit and wait on chairs in the assigned areas, many decided to sit in either the stairways or on the decks. This made it difficult to get around at all.
There are only two complaints with the cruise. Carnival did little if anything about some of the obnoxious behavior of some of the passengers. This wasn't a huge issue because we spent so little time on the ship while in port. But it could of been, especially if our priorities were different. We didn't make a big deal out of it because we weren't going to let it ruin our vacation. But we shouldn't have had to. Carnival should do a better job of monitoring passenger behavior to make sure it isn't infringing on other passengers enjoyment. The second complaint is no ESPN on the TV's in the cabin. I'm a sports nut and was having withdrawls without ESPN.
We had a 4:00 PM flight out of San Juan so we weren't in any real hurry to disembark. We stayed in our cabin until @ 9:30 then sat and read in the lounge until 11:30 when our number was called. We were in a cab to the airport by noon.
We enjoyed the cruise a lot. We would consider cruising with Carnival again but would be very reluctant to sail from San Juan in the future.