First I'll do a little introductory for myself. I am a 24 year old single male, two years out of college. I went on this cruise with one of my best friends and six of his fellow students at Northeastern University. They all graduated a grueling five year chemical engineering program (I am a mechanical engineer myself), and we decided to celebrate by taking a trip to the Caribbean. As an engineer, I habitually plan everything out and analyze a million options before I pick what I deem to be the best choice. This meant many, many hours on the Cruise Critic forums before we set sail. But it all paid off, and I'm here to return the favor. So, without any further jabbering on my part, here is my review for our trip:
Day 1 - San Juan
We flew in relatively early to San Juan, arriving at Luis Munos Marin Airport. The airport is quite modern and new looking. Right outside baggage claim there was a line for the taxis. A woman filled out our information on a ticket while waiting online, and before we knew it we were zipping towards the Carnival Victory. The cab came to $18 + tip, with three bags. We were tired of traveling, so we just headed straight to the ship, since we would be spending an extra night in San Juan at the end of vacation. Check in for the ship was easy, and our two bags that had a total of six Rum Runners made it through checked luggage without a problem. I settled into my cabin, pulled out my magic bullet blender, mixed some ice and pre-made margarita, and settled in.
Day 2 - St Thomas
The weather was not kind to us on the first day of our cruise. However, some rain, thunder, and lightning aren't going to stop a bunch of us from enjoying ourselves! We plodded through the rain and took a taxi-bus to Trunk Bay, taking the ferry from red hook to Cruz bay. When we finally got to the beach, we were told that the beach was closed due to lightning. Quite dismayed, we asked if we could just go down and take a few photos. They let us go without charging us. When we got there, the beach was EMPTY aside from one family who had decided to swim anyway. After looking around and realizing we had a National Geographic Top Ten World Beach at our disposal, we decided to go for a swim anyway for about a half hour. Had lots of fun, never got in trouble. But we did avoid bunching together too close for fear of lightning ;-)
Day 3 - Dominica
We took Bumpiing Tours to explore Dominica through the Roseau Valley's Best tour. We showed up on time, but found out that another group had showed up early and wanted to leave. So our awesome guide took me, my friend, and another couple around sightseeing, but we drove fast and stopped a little less frequently to catch up with the rest of the group. He kept apologizing for rushing (although it didn't really feel like he was) and was very courteous the whole time, making everyone laugh and feel comfortable. He showed us the island's hydroelectric plant and surprisingly green power generation facilities (which, as engineers, we were fascinated with). We finally met up with the group, and took a (rather long) hike to Trafalgar Falls. This waterfall was gorgeous, and I climbed down the rocks to go for a swim. The amount of wind and water spraying in your face was exhilarating, and we swam across to a small cave. After posing for some great pictures from above, we dove out of the cave and swam back.
Next was the part where we almost died, Titou Gorge. Now, since it had been raining heavily the past few days, Levi did not allow his group to swim up to the waterfall, since the current was too strong. However we were told that the current can change by the minute, and if we were strong swimmers we could attempt to swim to the waterfall. Taking this as a challenge, my friend and I (we are both strong swimmers) strapped on the required "floatation devices" which were large foam belts and went ahead of the group and swam up to the waterfall. As we approached, we felt strong currents pushing us either towards the waterfall or away. When we reached the open area where the waterfall is, what started out as a light pull quickly turned into an inescapable suction under the water. Before I knew it, I was under the water being dragged towards the waterfall. As soon as I reached the falls I was pushed further down, and the current on the bottom pushed me out and away from the falls. Once I was about thirty feet out, my floatation device brought me back to the surface, where the current inescapably pulled me down and towards the waterfall. This washing machine like experience was annoying at first, then frustrating, then frightening. Almost three minutes into it I was not able to escape, and was quickly running out of air (I had maybe one or two seconds of time above the water for each cycle, for about six or seven cycles). My face hit a rock and my elbow got really banged up, and my shoe fell off. Eventually I saw the floating life-saver ring that our tour guide had tossed out for me. I was so exhausted by this point I was barely conscious, and I heard people yelling for me to grab the rope. I locked my arm around and was dragged to safety near a small cave in the rock. I looked around to see a guy in his thirties, a guy in his forties, and my friend gasping for air, trying to catch their breath. One guy who looked in his forties kept saying "I thought I was dead! I thought I was dead!" My friend just looked at me with a half glazed expression, smirking and said "how good to be alive."
I ended up with a mild black eye, a much scraped up elbow, and one hell of a story. We found out that the rest of the group saw us and stayed back (thank god) while we were rescued one by one. Moral of the story: if it has been raining, avoid Titou Gorge. If you feel strong currents swimming up to the waterfall, avoid Titou Gorge. Or better yet, let some other schlub go in first and see what happens before you do. Anyway we went right to another waterfall after that, but neither my friend nor I went for a swim. The guide then took us to the area with the hot springs, which was cool but this American guy who apparently is building a resort there got upset that we were standing on his property and wanted us to leave. Our guide brought us back to the ship with plenty of time. We tipped him rather heavily for saving our lives.
Day 4 - Barbados
After our day in Dominica, it was time to relax. We went with Silver Moon, and the experience was nothing short of awesome. There were a total of nine people on the boat, including myself and my friend. The crew (three guys) were VERY attentive, always making sure we had whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. At our disposal there was rum punch, pineapple rum punch (delicious), beer, wine, and soda. We went to swim with sea turtles, which was absolutely incredible. There were about a half-dozen turtles, their shells being anywhere from 3 to 6 feet in diameter, swimming so close that you often had to swim out of their way because they would come right up to you. They don't let you wear flippers, but even then it was hard not to bump a few turtles with your feet. Be careful. We got back onboard, and were immediately greeted with banana bread so fresh out of the oven that you had to wait to let it cool. Then more drinks. Then it was time for a shipwreck, which was cool but about thirty feet down so it was hard to swim to. We got back onboard and sailed towards Simon Cowell's beautiful summer home which costs upwards of $50k a week to rent, and anchored outside it. It was a gorgeous view on the coast of Barbados. Lunchtime. There was grilled seasoned chicken, fried mahi-mahi, shrimp, potato salad, wild rice, fresh rolls, salad, pasta salad, and a few other things I'm probably forgetting. I had a chardonnay with my meal, and then it was time for some sun baking on the front of the boat. By the way, there was always room on the outside of the boat, it was never crowded. After a while, freshly baked carrot cake was brought out, also delicious. After doing some cannonballs off the side of the boat and lounging in the open Caribbean Sea on a provided large foam noodle, it was time to head back. Got some nice tanning done on the way back to the pier. All in all, this was worth every penny, A+.
Day 5 - St. Lucia
For this tour we went with Cosol Tours. Now, Silver Moon may have been the most luxurious excursion of the trip, but this was definitely the best value. Our tour began at about 8:30, and we had Baptiste as our guide. We went to the banana plantation, where we sampled the fruit and got to learn about how they grow the plants. Then we drove through some fishing villages which were interesting to see, and Baptiste gave us a culture and history lesson on the island, which was very informative. Next we pulled up to a house (actually our guide's house) for breakfast. We met with the other vans, including Cosol's. They unveiled two large tables that were full of local dishes. Fried fish, chicken with spicy banana ketchup, guava fudge, Johnny cakes, coconut cakes, local fruits, I can't even name all the dishes, there were literally and without exaggeration at least 20 different items on the table. Cosol kept telling everyone that sipping drinks is not allowed on these tours, and you need to finish your beer or rum punch so he can give you another one. He was very friendly and hospitable, and told us about all the different foods on the table. The group of about 20-30 people couldn't even finish all the food on the table, and all you kept hearing people say was "did you try this? It's delicious!"
Then we headed to Soufriere where we went to the drive in volcano. This was pretty cool; it was a giant open crater (although it didn't really look like a crater) with steam rising out of the ground. The sulfur smelled horrible though, but as our guide explained that smell meant that carbon dioxide wasn't displacing our air, and that we would not suffocate. So I've never been so glad to smell rotten eggs! We then went down to the pitons, where we boarded a boat that took us to a private beach that had snorkeling and full amenities (I think it was part of another resort). It was one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen in my life, lounging on the beach with the huge pitons on either side, on a little bay with all sorts of exotic trees and plants around you. You have to see it to believe it. After an hour on the beach we headed back to where we came from on the boat. It was here that Cosol pulled out his infamous "local spiced rum" which is purportedly 180 proof, and has many special ingredients that have a little, ahem, supposed side benefit. Then we started heading back towards the ship, but not before stopping for tuna sandwiches that were made for the group, and more drinks. Cosol was so encouraging on taking more beers or punch, combined with that rum, oh man, the whole bus was laughing and singing on the way back. All in all, the tour cost $65, and I would have happily paid double that amount.
Day 6 - Antigua
Ah Antigua, the island of beaches. Being a large group of early 20-somethings, we all opted to head for Dickenson Bay to sample the purported water sports in the area. When we got off the boat, we got caught in a bidding war between two cab drivers. When we arrived at Dickenson Bay, we didn't put our bags down before about four people rushed up to us trying to sell chairs, jet skis, pineapple drinks, etc. I got a coconut drink, which turned out to be from some guy with a garbage bag of coconuts. He knocked the top off a coconut with a spoon, opened a mini bottle of rum and poured it inside, and told me to drink it fast. Coconut milk and rum were leaking out of the bottom of the coconut. It was not very pleasant. I was expecting a tall frozen glass with a mini umbrella. Anyway my friends rented jet skis and liked it, about $45 for a half hour. They complained the jet skis weren't as fast as others they had rented in Costa Rica and such though. I baked in the sun and enjoyed the beautiful view offered by Dickenson Bay; it is truly a gorgeous beach. When we got back, I did most of my souvenir shopping in a large and very densely packed outdoor flea market. At this flea market, I have never been harassed to buy things to much in my life. You will be looking at items at store and vendors will be yelling "sir! Come look at this!" from twenty feet away. This went on the ENTIRE time I was shopping. People will shove things in your face and ask if you want to buy it every five seconds. My friend recalled that he hasn't said "no" so many times in an hour in his entire life. I did get some pretty cool things though, including a hilarious rain stick with a guy with humungous teeth.
Day 6 - St. Kitts
We were all tired from our day in the sun from before, so we mainly stayed on the ship for St. Kitts. My friend and I came out to do some souvenir shopping for about an hour. The port area has some nice shops and about a hundred typical tourist shops selling T-shirts and shot glasses. A guy holding baby monkeys beckoned us over and put the monkeys on our shoulders, heads, etc and told us to take pictures. When he was done it looked like he was about to leave, and we pulled out a few dollars to tip him. He shook his head and said "ten dollars each". We got a bunch of great pictures so I didn't mind, but be aware that you have to pay up.
Day 7 - San Juan
We stayed an extra night in San Juan. Inexpensive decent hotels in San Juan are hard to find, but the Holiday Inn Express in Condado was very nice and about $120 a night. We spent the day strolling around the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, which was very picturesque but congested with traffic. We made our way to El Castillo San Felipe de Morro, a large 16th century fort (apparently the oldest in North America) with a large sprawling front lawn where dozens of children were flying kites. The fort was amazing; you could climb onto the ledges and take pictures of the stunning views of the beach. Be aware there is no fall protection though, so climb those ledges at your own risk. We headed back to our hotel, showered up, went to nearby Ajili Mojili for dinner. They served authentic Puerto Rican cuisine as decent prices. We opted for the buffet, which was $12 and had some great food. The service was very poor though, we had to wait forever for drinks and silverware. But I would recommend you try it anyway, you will probably get a better server than us. We finished the night with a friend who lives in Puerto Rico, drinking sangria on the beach and telling stories.
Overall one of the best vacations I have ever been on!