Our family cruised the Southern Caribbean on the Carnival Victory June 21. We are two parents, ages 50 and 45, three girls ages 18, 15, and 12, and our daughter's boyfriend age 18. The trip was in part a gift for my daughter's high school graduation. We brought her boyfriend along as her present! We figured that with college years upon us, this might be the last big trip we take for a while, and what a trip it was!
We arrived in San Juan on 6/20 from Philadelphia. We had two rooms at the Marriott Stellaris, which we used points for as my husband travels frequently. Anyone in the same situation should seriously consider doing this. And what rooms they were!! On the 18th floor (executive level), adjoining, oceanfront. Honestly, Marriott has never failed to come through for us. The hotel was beautiful, the beach was very nice, and the view was unbeatable. We ate dinner in the Tuscany restaurant in the hotel which had a $20/pp special that included an appetizer, dinner, and dessert. All very good and a good deal for a big family looking for something other than fast food after a long trip. Being on an executive floor at a Marriott normally includes access to the executive lounge, where snacks, drinks, and a more than adequate continental breakfast is usually available. Unfortunately, we arrived on a Saturday, and the executive lounge was open, but not serving anything other than coffee and fresh fruit. Our plan was to eat breakfast here, but we had some coffee, opted to go spend the early morning on the beach and then get ready to check out and head for the ship. Some protein bars staved off the hunger pangs until we were on board.
We had read on Cruise Critic that we could get on the ship pretty early. We checked out of the Stellaris at 11:00AM and took a cab for the short ride to the cruise terminal. Your bags are taken by the handlers outside of the ship. You are expected to tip $2 per bag, and will be reminded if you didn't. My husband accidentally gave the man $1 per bag and was told about it (nicely though). We corrected the tip and off we went to sign in.
There was a line waiting for check in, but it moved quickly. Our plan was to check in, eat lunch on the ship, then go tour Old San Juan. We were eating lunch by 12:45, and out and about by about 2PM!! I am grateful to the folks who wrote about the ability to do this in their reviews. It worked out perfectly. We went to El Morro by taxi for $12 for the six of us (we could have walked...but it would have been all uphill). We walked back through Old San Juan on the lovely blue, cobble-stoned streets stopping at Barrachina for a Pina Colada, which was invented there. Virgin drinks for the younger folks, and the bartender took a great picture of all of us. Getting back on the ship was a breeze. When we got back to the pier, there is a duty free shop upstairs before you get back onto the ship. We purchased a bottle of champagne, a liter of rum, and two six-packs of diet coke. We put the champagne and rum into our personal bags, ran them through the scanner and had absolutely NO problem bringing them aboard. This saved us (seriously) probably hundreds of dollars in drinks on board. We enjoy fun ship drinks, and of course had some, but for everyday cocktails on the balcony in our room this worked out perfectly. Drinks are in the $7-$10 range, so it really adds up for two people consuming moderately throughout a 7 day cruise.
We had two rooms, a balcony stateroom (8230, category 8A) and an inside stateroom with four bunks (8236, category 4C). This was our first balcony stateroom, having previously stayed in an inside cabin and an ocean view cabin. It was really wonderful. We were on the upper deck, which is the perfect viewing distance to the water below, in my opinion. Our room steward Francesco was awesome. We tipped him generously for both rooms as soon as we met him, and our rooms were kept spotless, with fresh ice and beach towels at all times. Our balcony room had plenty of storage and the bathroom space was adequate. The kid's room was a quad bunk and surprisingly had plenty of space as well. Between the kids and the room steward, the room managed to stay tidy for the duration of the cruise.
We chose the late seating for dinner as we planned many excursions and wanted extra time to relax, nap, and get ready for dinner after a busy day. This worked out perfectly. Just a quick note: For those of you who think there will be "smooth sailing" because you are in the Caribbean, think again. I do get seasick, and wore a patch for the previous cruise. I was thinking because there were so many stops, I wouldn't be affected. Well, the water is fairly calm; it's the wind that is the problem. The ship did rock nightly, and I was very glad to have my patch on. Since we were eating dinner in the back of the ship, we really felt it, and the patch did save me on more than one occasion. Dinner in the Pacific dining room was great. We were in the lower section, table 321. Our server, Augustini (Tini) was wonderful as well as her assistant Ever. She made a concerted effort to learn our names and addressed us personally each evening. The food was very good, and I was even impressed with the Lobster on formal night...it was cooked perfectly and was moist and tender...not some dried up tail. My youngest daughter ordered a bit too adventurously a few times, and Tini brought her another selection within minutes. We ordered a bottle of reasonably priced wine with dinner each night, which turns out to be a good buy. We did not see the maitre'd, nor did we feel the need to tip him. We did tip Tini and Ever extra personally at the end of the cruise. They deserved it. All in all, it was a great experience.
We did eat lunch very late in the day when we got back from our excursions. Most other guests had the same plan, so it was busy around 3pm each day. The food on the Lido deck was just fine and the pizza good as usual. If you wanted the more gourmet varieties, you had to wait, as they usually only had pepperoni or plain available immediately. No big deal. The burgers, fries, and chicken fingers were fine as well. We ate breakfast on the Lido deck daily and that was very good. Especially the guy making fresh eggs and omelets!
We also took advantage of the room service and had coffee and croissants delivered every morning at 6:00AM so we could watch the sunrise over the islands on our balcony. We really loved this.
As far as shows were concerned, we saw a comedy show and we saw the juggler perform. The juggler was great, and the comedian was too. He had both PG and R rated versions so it could be fun for everyone depending on how late you went. We also attended the captain's cocktail party, which was very nice, and a past guest reception at which we won a Twist contest (playing dirty!) and got a bottle of champagne from our cruise director, Wee Jimmy. The rest of our evenings were mostly spent in the casino at the craps table. We did check out the Irish Bar (kind of crowded) and the cigar bar (great jazz piano, but dead when we went). The girls each went to events for their age groups and had a great time. We went to the deck party and joined in the conga line, which was fun, and did most of the line dances. However, in reality we were pretty much exhausted and in bed each night by 12 or 1AM.
We did not get a chance to go to the Spa, or check out the exercise facilities. We did not swim in the pools, although even if I wanted to, they seemed to be PACKED all the time. And I mean, packed. Not my style at all, so I was glad.
I reviewed the ports in a separate section. Check it out!
All in all, we had a wonderful time. Some final tips regarding this cruise:
This cruise is VERY busy. Take time to plan excursions and do your homework on cruise critic. I think there are many wonderful things to see and do if you get off the boat and do something. I don't think this particular cruise would be great for older individuals who have mobility issues. Definitely check out the kids/teen programs. And by all means, choose Carnival! This was our third cruise with them, and we are really starting to feel at home on their fleet. We think this cruise was a bargain and money well spent. We'll be back!