CARNIVAL VICTORY 5/17/09 SOUTHERN CARIBBEAN
Background: this was our 9th cruise, 8th on Carnival. I'm a professional in my mid 50s, and I travel with my Dear Daughter, who just turned 23. We sailed exactly 1 year to the day after sailing on Carnival Glory (and had a nice return to HMC on Fascination in December, too).
This was a surprise birthday/college graduation present for DD. She didn't know where we were going until I sat down at the gate in Charlotte. She was thrilled! We'd had a day stop on our Miracle 12/07 cruise and absolutely fell in love with Old San Juan. I didn't tell her we were cruising until we had checked into our hotel in San Juan, because I had to convince her to NOT unpack!
Although there are differences between this class and the Conquest class, the knowledge of Glory made it very easy to learn our way around Victory. Not that we really spent any time doing much of anything on this ship, shipwise. I fully expected the daily activities to be along the lines of: up early, breakfast (love those made-to-order omelets on the Lido deck); off for island tour; back mid-afternoon; grab a late lunch; have a shower; have a nap; up for dinner; few minutes in the Casino; sleep. Repeat. And that's pretty much exactly how it played out. No shows. No on-board activities. No sitting by the pool. I booked this itinerary to see all these new-to-me ports (all but St Thomas) and that's what I did. And it was wonderful!
Saturday, 5/16/09, flight & pre-cruise in San Juan - We had a 7:10 am flight on USAirways, with a connection in Charlotte. The flights were uneventful. Wanted to nap, but I just don't sleep sitting up in a seat. Upon our arrival in San Juan, we were absolutely starving, but decided to wait until we reached the hotel to find something local. I left DD in the taxi line while I went to the booth to get the slip showing the fare and the route. Taxi fares are set (see the San Juan board for details), so you know what you'll owe before entering the cab. I booked our pre and post-cruise hotels using Priceline for the first time, and while I got exactly what I wanted for the post-cruise stay, I messed up my pre-cruise and ended up at the Courtyard Miramar. No problems, though. Nice hotel (especially for the price I paid). After checking in, I asked the young man behind the desk about a local restaurant and he directed us to Los Pinos, which is just a couple of blocks down the street and is open 24 hours. Had a wonderful chicken in garlic sauce mofongo, and a couple of Presidente beers. Yummy. Unfortunately, I don't think the plantains agreed with me, because I was really uncomfortable all evening. It had been an early day, so we just watched TV that night in our room and got some sleep.
Sunday, 5/17/09, tour OSJ & embarkation day - We went back to Los Pinos for breakfast. When we returned to the hotel, it was packed with post-cruise people trying to check in. Once I finally got checked out, we to a taxi into Old San Juan. The idea was to store our bags at Barrachina. Note that their website states they store bags for free, and I had intended to "reward" them by having a light lunch and trying the Pina Colada (they say they invented it there), but when the man took the bags, he stated "the customary tip is $5, payable now" and stood there, waiting. So I gave him $5, and decided that I'd have lunch and a drink elsewhere, thanks very much!
We headed off down Calle San Francisco to Fort San Cristobal. We'd toured El Morro and the old city last time, so wanted to check out this fortification. After wandering around for a while, we headed back up the street and stopped at La Bombanero for lunch. Love this place! Again, we'd gone there for lunch last time we were in OSJ. If you've never been, you really need to visit them. Then we stopped at the Walgreens up the street (forgot to pack my travel-sized antiperspirant - yikes!), then back to Barrachina to retrieve the bags. It was a pretty good hike to the ship. Thankfully, most of that was level or even downhill, but the arms were tired by the time we reached the line.
I have no idea what time it was, probably close to 4 pm (I know our lunch was pretty late). The initial line was slow, but once we passed the first security point and walked the long walk to the port building, things moved quickly. We pretty much went straight through the check-in (we each had to fill out a health questionnaire about Swine Flu), then into the Duty Free where we picked up a small bottle of Baileys, which went right in the carry-on. Then into the security line to have bags scanned, then onto the ship. We went straight to our cabin, I took a couple of photos of the unique forward cabin, then we went back into OSJ.
We had planned on hopping on the free trolley, but there was some sort of street festival going on, and traffic was nearly at a standstill, so we went into a Mexican restaurant there on the waterfront and had a nice blue margarita, chips and salsa, then back to the ship. We wandered around a bit, unpacked our bags, then down to the open seating dining. DD had the Indian Vegetarian dish, which she claimed was the best meal she had all week. The couple of bites I tasted were absolutely delicious! I had the flank steak, which was quite good. The beef dishes were tender and weren't overcooked, as they've been a few times recently, but my complaint was that while they had good flavor, they didn't seem to have any seasoning at all. Still, not a bad meal.
Unfortunately, I was still not feeling very well, so after muster drill, we just stayed out on our "not-so-secret" front deck and waited for sailaway. Sorry I didn't make it to our Roll Call Sailaway party. We then went to the booze tasting, which was a mistake for me, because the ship was tossing around quite a bit. Although I added Ginger Root to my bonine beginning with the Miracle 12/07 cruise, and had had no problems with motion since, I was feeling pretty poorly, so I went back to the cabin, took a Bonine, put on my wristbands, and went to bed.
Unfortunately, there was a lot of door slamming from the entry to the outside deck. There are two doors. All you have to do is close one before opening the other, and you don't get that wind tunnel effect that causes one to slam shut. But I guess I shouldn't expect people to think of that, as no one seems to think to not let their cabin or hotel doors slam shut, do they?
Monday, 5/18/09, St Thomas - Woke up early, went up to Lido for a cup of hot tea, feeling much better. When I had checked the 10-day weather forecasts for the ports before we left, it seemed there was a really good chance that we'd had considerable rain during the week. Thankfully, that did not happen. Also thankfully, we had quite a bit of cloud cover, which kept us from broiling, and kept it a bit cooler than it would've been otherwise.
After DD got up, we had a real breakfast, gathered our things, and headed off the ship. As soon as we walked off the gangway, I heard Papa Bear (Armitage, the owner of Air Force 1 Tours, who we had toured with in December, 2007), calling my name. We were the only two from our ship going with him, but he had 10 people from the Princess ship over in Crown Bay. This time, we were just doing the island tour and heading to a beach. After picking up the others, we began our tour. Papa Bear is very knowledgeable and likes to stop to show the local plants and flowers. We sampled a ripe Soursop, which was just delicious. Then, we headed to Mountain Top, for the obligatory Banana Dacquiri and beautiful views of Megan's Bay. When I returned to work, I discovered an email from Papa Bear dated 5/19, letting me know that Mountain Top had burned later that evening! What a shame. At least no one was injured.
Then it was off for our beach stop. Not sure why, but several of the Princess cruisers had not worn their suits and insisted on going to a beach that had facilities (including somewhere to change and to eat/drink). Papa Bear said things were not good at Sapphire, and since we'd been there last time, he wanted to take us somewhere else. He wanted us to go to Lindquist Beach, but as it has no facilities, we ended up at Coki. There are doing a lot of work there, with lots of construction and improvements. But for now, it's pretty cramped and you have to pay to use the restrooms at Coral World.
We just took our towels, and along with a young couple from the Princess bunch, went down to the end of the beach. The vendors came by pretty often, but if you said, "no thanks," they just went on their way. The water was cold, so I just laid on the beach, half-asleep. It was very overcast, which is good because I still burned! Papa Bear dropped us off first, as we were sailing first. We ran up to the cabin and dropped our stuff, then back down for a quick look around the shops by the pier. I hate to waste the time of the shop folks when I have no intention of buying, but DD loves to look at the colored diamonds!
Back onboard, we either had a late lunch in the buffet or called for room service. I don't remember! And I have no idea what we had for dinner that night. I really should've kept notes, since I knew this would happen with this itinerary. Sorry!
Tuesday, 5/19/09, Dominica - I had booked online for the Roseau Valley Treasures tour with Levi Baron of Bumpiing Tours. After the usual breakfast, we were off the ship, and then waited and waited some more for the stragglers to appear. Once we finally set off, there were multiple vans, and we were lucky to have Levi himself as our driver/guide.
I've read people say they didn't care that much for Dominica, but we both felt it was our favorite. It was the only tour without a beach stop, but that's ok. There's more to these islands than sand and water, and that's what I wanted from the tours. Poor areas? That's OK. I don't want to go to a tropical island and be isolated from the locals and pretend that they aren't poor or that they don't live in shacks. I want to KNOW about the people, the island history, their culture. I travel to discover these things, not to be a tourist who wants to be shielded from them and to pretend they don't exist.
Anyway, we climbed and climbed up the bouncy mountain road. It began raining, but, hey! We're on a tropical rainforest island, near the top of a mountain. Rain happens, you know? After all, we were heading to Titou Gorge, where we would swim through a cave to reach a waterfall. We were going to get wet anyway! Because there had been a lot of rain in the days prior to our arrival, the current was strong, and we couldn't go all the way to the bottom of the waterfall. I'm not a swimmer, and had told Levi this when we booked. You wear swim belts, and he has a flotation ring with him. He had me grab the ring, and he pulled me to the entrance at the base of the waterfall where I could look up the gorge. It was stunning. A few others swam part way, but he was very concerned about the strength of the current and wouldn't let them get too close.
Then we went to Trafalgar Falls, where normally you can stand on a platform and see two waterfalls. Due to the rains, there were three! Also due to the rain, though, the hot mineral pools weren't, so I didn't bother. We drove through the botanical gardens, and Levi put us on another van returning to the ship, while the others went on to Champagne Reef to snorkel. Lastly, we stopped at Morne Bruce for a photo op.
Back to the ship, snack, nap, shower, the dressed for the Captain's Party. Not sure why they would have this in the aft lounge, while the PG party was in the larger forward theatre, but they did. Of course, we were late, but was able to grab a couple of glasses of champagne, then fought the foot traffic and the lines at the photographers' area to get to the Atlantic Dining Room. I ordered the Prime Rib with a side of lobster tail. Our waiter told me the Prime Rib was overcooked (I order my beef rare), so he had sent it back and gave me the full Lobster plate that included the shrimp. When I received the Prime Rib, it was very tasty and relatively rare. It was a very good dinner.
Straight back to the cabin that night after dinner, I think. We were tired and stuffed!
Wednesday, 5/20/09, Barbados - You know my morning routine by now!
I had originally booked with Glory Tours, but changed my mind for a number of reasons and ended up with a reservation with Scenic Barbados Tours (Edwin Lovell). I asked him to combine his Harrison's Cave Tour and the island tour/beach stop for cruise visitors, which he did. We waited (again) for another couple, but the other two people didn't show (which is why more and more tour operators are requesting prepaid deposits). And I can't remember our driver's name.
We started by going to Harrison's Cave, and beat the ship tour rush. It was very interesting. We then crossed the island to the east side (Atlantic), had the obligatory stop to see a monkey (I don't care for them, personally), but I did buy a couple of shawl/beach coverups. We continued our island tour, enjoying the beautiful scenery and seeing the ruins of the sugar mills. We stopped at St John's Church, where a gentleman was tuning the pipe organ. The cemetery/gardens behind the church, on a bluff overlooking the sea, were gorgeous.
Then it was on to the south coast and Rockley Beach. We decided to rent chairs that were in the shade of the trees ($5 each) and skip the additional $10 umbrella rental. We headed straight into the water, which was glorious. The yellow flags were out, and as we aren't really swimmers, we didn't venture out too far. The were breaking hard near the beach, so we went out a little farther to just enjoy leaping through them as they hit. I was afraid of frying, so I headed back and just enjoyed lying there, although the wind did cause a bit of a sandblasted feel at times! We didn't get snacks or drinks on this tour, so we enjoyed our box of cereal from the ship, and I had a Banks beer before we headed back to the ship.
Same as above. No idea what we did after the tour, or what we had for dinner. OK, I do know what I had for dinner on the cruise, but no idea what I had on the various nights other than the first formal night. I'm so sorry!
I do know that I thought the PG party was this night, since it was the 2nd Elegant night, but when we went down to the theatre, it was deserted. Whoopsie! So we went to the casino and played the 2 cent slots until dinner.
Thursday, 5/21/09, St Lucia - Booked with Cosol. Again, we were on time but had to wait for the stragglers. My thoughts on this later.
Our driver said his name was Baptist, but some of the other guys called him Jean-Baptiste. He had been a cop in Charlotte, NC, for a number of years, and his wife had had a baby girl during the night. I was mildly concerned that he'd fall asleep while driving, but no worries. He was a very nice guy, and was very concerned that we enjoy ourselves, but he wasn't so strong on the facts about his island.
Lots of people do Cosol's tour, and it has a huge thread on the St Lucia board, so I won't go into all the details. The lunch was great, and I really wish I'd bought a bottle of banana ketchup! The drive-in volcano was impressive, if smelly. The Pitons was as amazing as I had hoped they'd be. The "water taxi" to Jalousie Beach was pretty scary for me, being that it was just a tiny boat sitting just about level on the water, with a couple of young guys driving it, and no life jackets to be seen anywhere! Ah, adventures in foreign travel! Don't you love it?!? Plenty of food and drinks to go around, and we arrived back on board feeling tired and happy.
PG party tonight. It was the only time I was in the theatre, which looks like a nice venue. We grabbed a seat at the beginning of the 2nd row in, having to ask the officers to move to let us in. Hard to get a drink there, but I finally flagged down a nice young man from Belarus, which gave DD a chance to practice her Russian. After that, he kept the champagne coming! The Captain then arrived, stood at the end of our aisle and started chatting. Couldn't resist our astounding beauty and charm, no doubt (at least I thought we were beautiful and charming after a couple of glasses of bubbly)!
We left early as I didn't need to see the Carnival film again. Up to the shops for the Amber jewelry "sale" where I bought DD a neat ring that had 4 different colored stones, and where she again got to practice speaking Russian with the lovely young lady behind the table.
Friday, 5/22/09, Antigua - Guess what we did? Another island tour! This time, we had booked with Gordon. Since he had a private tour, we went with Valentino. We made our way around the island down to Nelson's Dockyard. I would've liked more time to look around, but our stop was pretty short. We were treated to some delicious chicken wings and I refrained from applying very much hot sauce. I did have a nice Wadadli beer, though. Then it was up to Shirley Heights for the fantastic views. Then to Devil's Bridge, which was pretty calm today. Although I was grateful for the nice breeze, Valentino insisted that it was a very calm day, which is why the waves weren't crashing at the bridge. Then on to Long Bay Beach, which was just about as beautiful as Rockley. Before exiting the van, we were treated to sweet buns with cheese, which were quite yummy. This time, I decided to splurge and get the two chairs for $20 because they came with the umbrella. Although there were patches of grass in the water, you could walk way, way out until the water was chest-deep, and it was clear as glass.
By now, I wasn't sure that I ever wanted to spend another day in a minivan, bouncing along winding, climbing, pot-filled roads.
Saturday, 5/23/09, St Kitts - Today's tour was with Thenford Grey. Mr. Gray actually had a bus! Not a full size bus, but larger than the minivans we'd been in all week. Once again, we were on time and had to stand and wait. And, unfortunately, this time we waited for THE LOUD FAMILY to arrive. More on that later, too.
Drove along the coast from Basseterre for the stop at Romney Manor and the Batik factory. The gardens were beautiful with the most amazingly huge Mimosa tree. Then on to Brimstone Hill fortress. I do enjoy walking around the ruins of forts, for some reason. I'm not a big military or war buff or anything, but I just enjoy forts. Anyway, climbed the steps up and enjoyed strolling around, then back down where I coughed up $7.50 for a hot dog, fries and a coke. Back through Basseterre, and finally to Cockelshell Beach where I sampled a couple of Carib beers, and DD had the scrumptious BBC (Baileys, Banana, Coconut Cream). Oh, and with some rum in there as well, of course!
Didn't go in the water. Sat at a picnic table with an umbrella, listening to the music and just relaxing. Would've been in my usual last-day-of-cruise depression except I had two post-cruise days in San Juan to look forward to!
We had our last awesome dinner in the dining room, said goodbye to our servers and tablemates, then went back to the cabin to finish packing.
Sunday, 5/24/09, Disembarkation and San Juan - After the months of anticipation that just creeps along, the week of the cruise always fly by, but this week went faster than usual because there was absolutely no down time!
We had #8 tags, but had no intention of leaving when we were called, so we slept until 8 am. Had one last leisurely breakfast, then went back to the aft pool, sat and read, and had our hot tea. Realized I'd had NO ice cream or frozen yogurt all week, so went and filled a coffee mug with a mix of chocolate and vanilla frozen yogurt and enjoyed that. It was at least 10 or maybe even 10:30 by the time they called #10 to disembark, so things were moving slowly, but it was no concern to us as we were NOT trying to get to the madness that is the San Juan airport on a day when multiple ships are in town.
We finally decided it was time to say goodbye to our home for the week. Ours were the only bags left in the #8 zone, so we grabbed then and then crawled along as people with the higher numbers got their bags and then just merged into the line, since their numbers were closest to the exit. Why do they have it set up that way? Have the lowest numbers closest to the exit so those people walk without bags to their number, get the bags, and then go straight out. Doesn't that make sense?
Out to the curb (it was probably 11 am or later by then), in line for the taxis, then off to the Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino. Our room wasn't ready, so DD grabbed a seat in the area off the lobby while I walked across the street to get a couple of frappuccinos at Starbucks. That I had to pay for! And it was raining by the time I walked back across the street. Had a stroll through the casino and noticed that, at that time of day, there were very few people playing, but one bank of slots was very busy. Hmmm, I thought. Must check those out later.
Waited about an hour for our room. We were "upgraded" to a pool/oceanview because I'd faxed a request to them asking for doubles (you aren't guaranteed a bed type when you book Priceline) and sent them my Marriott rewards number. Beautiful view of the pool and beach. The room was a HC room with a nice, big bathroom. Noticed, though, that the carpet just in front of the bathroom was wet. And then I noticed that the carpet around the night table between the beds was also wet, so it wasn't that someone had flooded the bathroom. I called the desk and told them someone needed to check it out. Was told someone would call me back right away and to please wait in the room. About 2 hours later, no one had called. The light on the phone finally started flashing (no one had called), and there was a "text message" at the desk. Called them and was asked if the problem had been fixed. No, it had not, and I had been sitting there, waiting, while I could've been down by the pool (when it wasn't raining). So, someone finally shows up with towels. Then they brought a dehumidifier but stuck it in the corner and didn't turn it on.
Well, by then we were starving! It was too early for dinner, but I had to have something, so we went down to the bar to see if we could get some bar snacks and a drink. The bartender proceeded to simply ignore us, so I walked out. This is inexcusable at a resort like this. Turns out it was a great move, as there was a street food festival going on. We stopped at the first restaurant we saw, which was Danny's. Had a great pizza and another Presidente. Took the leftovers back to the room, then went back out to wander the street, have another drink, and do some people-watching. I cannot express how much I love being in a foreign place, listening to people speak a different language. It was great. It was also great to hear so many people both in San Juan and on the ship having conversations where they would seamlessly converse in both Spanish and English among themselves. I was so envious!
Since we had such an early dinner, we were going to have the leftover pizza later while watching the Cavs. It wasn't so good when it was cold. It was slightly undercooked (which is how I like them fresh out of the oven), but was floppy and gooey later. But the toppings were still tasty.
Monday, 5/25/09, Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino, San Juan
We went back to Danny's for breakfast. While sitting there on the patio, the skies opened up and it poured. Of course, the umbrella was in the room. We finally gave up waiting, and just got wet walking back (it was only a couple of blocks). The sun came out and we went down to the pool for a while, finding a couple of chairs that were in partial sun, thanks to the palm trees. Then it was to the casino to investigate that bank of penny slots that was so popular. I hadn't come close to losing my daily gambling allowance while on the ship, so I had plenty of gambling money left over, not that I was particularly anxious to lose it all. After trying a few machines, with no luck at all, I got a seat at one of the penny slots. There were 4 or 5 that were Werewolf (or something similar) machines, but mine had dolphins and mermaids. No idea what it was called. Within about 30 minutes, I had turned $5 into $285! DD's luck hadn't been as good, so we took the $14 she had left, put it in the $1 Wheel of Fortune, and on my last $1 pull, won $60. Not bad for an afternoon's work.
So, hungry again, we went in search of something a little more upscale than Danny's but not $$$ in the guide. Just next door to Danny's was Ummo, an Argentinian steak house. We again sat out on the patio, hoping the showers would hold off. I had a delicious meat and mushroom dish with a puff pastry topping, while DD had a ham and cheese stuffed pasta. Both were very, very good. Entrees were about $20 each, which was very reasonable for the Condado area.
Tuesday, 5/26/09, Home
Our flight home wasn't until 2:40, but as checkout was at 11, we went ahead and got a taxi to the airport. We breezed right through USDA, check-in and security. We stopped for an overpriced snack, then on to the plane. First thing we did when we got to Charlotte? Headed to Bojangles for chicken and biscuits! LOL. I gained back 3-1/2 pounds of the 12 I had lost prior to the cruise. That's not bad considering how much I ate in those 10 days!
Food - Overall, I thought the food was quite good. As I've noted before, the way the menus are arranged, there are nights when there are three entrees I could've ordered, and other nights when none of them particularly appealed to me, but that's a personal thing.
Service in the dining room was really slow, but got quicker over the week. I wonder if the fact that several of us ordered multiple appetizers and/or entrees every night just screws everything up? Our team had our table of 9, a table of 8, and a booth for 4. Our servers were pleasant and very willing to do whatever it took to please us. We were in the very back port-side corner at table 114.
Entertainment - No idea, as we didn't go to any shows or the lounges.
The Ship - I liked the ship, other than the aqua fish carpet in the elevator/stairwells. I still hate all the photographers lined up along the promenade and blocking the atrium staircase. I hate even more the forced photos when you are trying to disembark at port. Just put them to the side and let people who actually want their photos taken get them! I won't buy them just on principle. It's the same idea as the people who try to bully you into giving tips. Our cabins steward and assistant were friendly and efficient.
The Itinerary - We loved the ports. They were fantastic. They were all beautiful, each in their own way. As expected, it was very tiring, although we really didn't have that much "activity" on the tours, which was intentional. I don't know that I would do this itinerary again, although I'd love to return to all of the ports.
The Excursions - They were a lot of fun. If not for THE LOUD FAMILY, they all would have been wonderful. Here's a hint, people: show up at the appointed time. Stop thinking that everyone in the world should wait for you. Stop talking over the tour guide when he's trying to provide information about the island you're supposed to be interested in seeing! And have a little consideration for your fellow travelers. We don't want to hear your personal conversations that you feel should be shouted to each other, despite the fact that you're sitting 2 feet from each other! We don't care! I know that's hard to believe, but, trust me! I'm on the tour to see and hear about the port, not to listen to you blather on at the top of your lungs about some personal issue.
SUMMARY - We had a wonderful time. I'm very glad I booked the pre and post-cruise stays in San Juan. I absolutely love it there. Still, we didn't get home until late Tuesday and I had to be at work Wednesday morning. I was still very tired on Thursday. And, unfortunately, I lost my job on Friday! At least I got to take my cruise vacation, but I might have curtailed my spending a little (although I don't really spend a lot; still the excursions really added up).
So, in the span of a few days, I went from having had a wonderful, cruise and vacation to being unemployed. It's depressing, but I'm not going to cancel my Miracle cruise for December unless I absolutely have to!