First off I want to say that this was an amazing cruise! My wife and I (ages 23 and 26) had a great time. We started by flying from Chicago to San Juan on Saturday, and spent a night at the Caribe Hilton. We used Hilton points, so cost wasn't an issue. This hotel has spectacular grounds, and we definitely enjoyed our one night there. The morning of embarkation we took a cab to the pier around 12:30, and by 1:15, we were on the ship. The embarkation process was a breeze...and like other reviewers, we stopped at the duty free shop in the terminal and picked up a bottle for the cruise. No problem! We dropped off our bags in our room, and then went to explore the ship/get lunch. This took up the rest of the afternoon. The ship is beautiful - clean, aesthetic, and plenty to do! My one complaint about it is that it's design is not always friendly when trying to get between various public spaces. This is due to the two dining room setup. You often have to go up or down stairs to get to where you need to go, even if it's on the same floor you were on! We had an open seating dinner that night. The food that night, as always, was spectacular! I am a big eater, and took advantage night after night. I had no complaints...and even if I did, I would just order something else.
Unlike many people who have reviewed this itinerary, my wife and I were determined to not only enjoy the islands we were attending, but also the ship and all it has to offer. We went to some of the shows, and spent ample time at many of the lounges/bars/clubs. We were lucky enough to be seated at dinner with 3 great couples who we became friends with. It was unexpected, but they all made the trip so much more enjoyable! We now had some people our age to hang out with and enjoy the ship with. The piano bar (irish seas), karaoke bar (red & black seas) and the arctic club were some of our favorite spots, in addition to the casino. Live music is always playing in many locations, and we often went searching for some of our favorite performers. The combination of island hopping and staying up late enjoying the ship was exhausting, but worth it. Don't let other reviewers fool you! You can do both.
Our cabin was clean & comfortable, with plenty of space for the two of us. We had an oceanview room, and didn't regret our decision. One of our newfound friends had an aft balcony room, which was awesome, and we ended up there for happy hours before dinner most nights. Now that I've described our time on the ship, let's move to the island reviews:
St. Thomas: We wanted to start the trip slowly, so we woke up late, and took a cab to Blackbeard's Castle. From here we did the Castle tour, which takes you to a number of historic homes, in addition to a rum distillery and an amber museum. Overall we really enjoyed this tour, and recommend it. It was only about 2 hours long, so we had plenty of time afterwards to poke around the downtown shopping area. Based on a recommendation made by a friendly tour guide, we ended up going to Glady's Cafe, which is an authentic Caribbean restaurant tucked into an alleyway. We weren't overly hungry, and wanted to eat the buffet on the ship, so we sat at the bar and had a drink. We also tasted their famous hot sauces. I love spicy food, and these sauces were spicy!! We ended up buying 2 different kinds to bring back home. We took a cab with a friendly driver back to the ship, and ate the lunch buffet. This was the first dinner with assigned seating, and it was here that we met our newfound friends. Overall we enjoyed St Thomas a lot, and would definitely come back.
Dominica: This was my favorite excursion. After doing much research, we ended up booking a tour through Beno Nature Tours. I cannot recommend Beno any more than I will right now. He made our tour to Emerald Pool and Trafalgar falls better than we could have imagined. We also made stops at Mr Nice's Fruit Stand, an overlook of the capital, and other cool places. We sampled the local Kubuli beer, which was my favorite of all the local beers I tried during this trip. Dominica is an extremely beautiful island, full of lush rainforest. Unlike the other islands, it is not very developed, and this made for a wonderful tour. If you're going to Dominica, I recommend choosing Beno. You can easily find his website on google, or can email him at bnpascal at gmail.com. I promise you will not be disappointed!
Barbados: This was my wife's favorite excursion, and she had been looking forward to it for a long time. We booked the 5-star catamaran and sea turtle excursion through Carnival. This was the one thing we booked through Carnival, and we were glad we did. We started out with a stop where we snorkeled with sea turtles, which was surreal. The crew was feeding them, and about 5 or 6 sea turtles were swimming about. It was pretty cool. We then moved on to a reef, where we did some additional snorkeling. After that we moved to a beach where the catamaran pulled onto the sand. My wife and I chose to stay on board, where a delicious local meal was served. The flying fish was fantastic. Once the snorkeling was over, the bar opened up and I definitely took advantage! The crew was friendly and were always trying to make sure we were having a good time. After a while at the beach, we set sail for the harbor...but we moved slowly, so we could enjoy the sun, the water, the drinks, and the good time in Barbados.
St. Lucia: Like most people on CC, we chose to go with Cosol Tours. What a good choice! It was an early morning start, which was rough, especially with the late nights we were pulling with our cruise friends. No matter. Cosol and his team quickly had us enjoying our tour. I couldn't imagine doing more/eating more/drinking more/seeing more in the 8 hours we spent on this tour. It was jam packed with sights, edibles, and drinks. Cosol made sure that we were having fun at all times. Our driver was Jean Claude, and he was friendly and helpful. Highlights include the breakfast of local food, the local beer, the special spiced rum, a waterfall, a beach stop (with pristine snorkeling opportunity), and the drive in volcano. There was much more as well! If you're going to St. Lucia, do the Cosol tour.
Antigua: After so much busyness, my wife and I decided to do almost nothing on Antigua....no offense to the island! We slept in, got room service(for lunch), and wandered onto the island for some shopping. There are some great shopping opportunities right off of the ship, and we took advantage. An hour and a half later, we were back on the ship. We decided that this would be a great day to wander the ship, take pictures, and take advantage of some of the activities we hadn't done yet (like mini-golf). It was a nice relaxing afternoon, and we were glad we took the time to relax this day.
St. Kitts: We hadn't had anything big planned for St. Kitts, and neither had our tablemates, so we decided this would be a nice day to go to the beach. We got off the ship about 10:30, found a great taxi driver named Bernard (aka Sugar Ray), and we were off at a price of $6 per person. Bernard took us to a local grocery store, where we purchased a garbage can, some ice, and a case of the local Caribe beer. We took this to Cockleshell beach, where we had a splendid time just lounging in the surf with some cold beer. What a great day! Cockleshell is nice, with a few restaurants/bars on the beach, along with some local cattle, and what not. It has a nice view of Nevis. The only downfall is that the sand in the water is full of shells, so you're often stepping on sharp stuff!
Getting off the ship was a breeze, and since we weren't leaving San Juan until Wednesday, we were not in a hurry. Thankfully our new friends were sticking around in San Juan as well, so we were able to enjoy their company for another day in the case of two of the couples, and another 3 days in the case of the other. We took the time to unwind and relax in San Juan after such a hectic cruise. We stayed in the El Canario Inn, which is recommended if you're looking for an inexpensive place to stay in a great Condado location. By Wednesday, we were relaxed and definitely ready to go home.
All in all this was a wonderful cruise, with few complaints. If you're like us, you want to enjoy the itinerary and the ship as well. Just make sure to schedule in some downtime to enjoy the amenities of the ship, and you'll be fine. The cruise staff was always excellent and ready to serve. The ship itself is in great shape. Enjoy!