Carnival Victory August 2 - 9th 2009
Background: We are a couple in our early 30s and this was our fourth cruise but our first Carnival cruise (cruised with Royal Caribbean previously). Out of the islands visited, we had been to San Juan and St Thomas before on a cruise. Please forgive the typos on names of places - I'm not motivated enough to look up the proper spelling.
We had visited San Juan before on a cruise and enjoyed the town so we flew in on Thursday before the cruise. We spent a lovely day flying into San Juan from Phoenix - which included a enjoyable 4.5 hour layover in Dallas. Ah, finally got into San Juan around 9pm - grabbed luggage and taxi (easy to do from the taxi stand with slip detailing prices) and arrived at the Sheraton in Old San Juan. I had gotten a deal online with a buy 2 nights get the third free - of course with all the tax and service charge it seemed that we were paying for the third night anyway.
Check in was fine and all the workers seemed very nice and helpful to me (I had seen some previous reviewers that did not get very good service). We were hungry for some real food so ventured off to find a restaurant still open for dinner. Ended up just a block from the hotel at Toro something - tapas restaurant where we shared two plates and had our first Medalla. Just headed back to the hotel to catch up on sleep as we had not gotten much sleep on our travel day.
Originally on Friday I thought we would rent a car and go to the rainforest - but we got a bit of a late start and I thought Saturday might be better to go - so today we just walked around Old San Juan. We walked up to El Morro - encountering a guy on the way that ambushed us and spouted off every place we could go to etc etc and wouldn't stop talking. Then of course he wanted a tip. Anyway - we didn't go into El Morro since we had toured it previously on our tour stop. There were quite a few people flying kites (and a lot of wind so it wasn't going so well). We walked down to San Cristobel and decided we needed to stop for lunch first. Went to Mexican place - Lupes I think? Food was ok, but nothing special. Back to tour San Cristobel which was fun to walk around all the outerbank area and explore. Saw several iguanas on the grounds as well. Went back to the hotel and hung out at the pool for a while before venturing out for dinner and flamenco show at Barrachina. I got the steak mofongo which I really enjoyed. BF got the mahi mahi which was good - tried the pina coladas which seemed like just normal pina coladas to me (not necessarily a bad thing). Enjoyed the dancers as well.
Saturday morning we started off heading to La Bombonera for breakfast. Very busy and definitely had more of a local feel. Prices were nice and reasonable compared to most of the restaurants we had been eating at. I had an omelet and mallorca on the side, BF tried the stuffed mallorca and said the pastry was a little too sweet for him. I definitely enjoyed mine though. Heading back to the hotel - plan was to just rent a car from the Hertz in the Sheraton. When we were there - the Hertz attendant told us the only thing she had available was a jeep wrangler - which would be $80 plus if we weren't back by 5 we would have to park it with the valet for another $22. After stating this was more than we really wanted - she offered possibly getting us a corolla for $70 + the valet if needed. We then went to the concierge who got us a car from enterprise for $59. I'm guessing if we looked online we may have been able to get a good price. Downside on the enterprise car was it wouldn't be available until 11:30, so we had to wait 45 minutes. Of course - they didn't really come to pick us up until around noon. Anyway - got car and directions and got on the road out there. We ran into a toll no one told us about - $1.50 and had a little bit of trouble finding the turn off, but made it in about an hour - also ran into traffic.
Stopped in at the visitor center at El Yungue (I had forgotten to print out trail maps and information available online - so you could definitely skip this if you had this already). Also we got a snack at the snack bar here - but there are a bunch of venders up the road - so I would wait to do that as well. Drove up the winding roads to the trail head - some crazy drivers here speeding down the road with all these blind curves - take your time. We did the popular Big Tree trail to La Mina falls. Trail was pretty much paved the whole way and somewhat busy. Stopped and read the placards and looked at the plants along the way. Then got to the falls and did a bit of swimming under them. Forgot a towel or dry clothes - so had to hike out in wet clothes. Next we went to the observation tower and climbed up for the views.
After El Yungue we were headed to Luquillo beach. Again, we had a bit of a problem getting there - I had read on the board there were all these kiosks along the beach - and the only thing we found was just a beach. (Saw the whole kiosk/beach area on the way back so think we just went too East?) Anyway - beach was beautiful and not very crowded. Thought it was funny that someone in San Juan had mentioned to us it would be busy since it was August and a weekend. Enjoyed playing in the sand on the beach and a beautiful sunset. Headed back to San Juan around 7ish I think. Drive back took quite a bit longer as traffic was pretty backed up. Seemed like lots of drivers cutting in and out which was a little scary, we just took it easy and had no problems though. Cleaned up at the hotel and went to an Italian restaurant for dinner - had some great food here. Old San Juan was definitely busy this night with lots of people around headed out for the nightlife.
On board the Victory
Sunday morning we just got up and checked out of the hotel (checkout was 10am not the 12pm advertised online). We checked our bags there and just headed to starbucks for a small breakfast and then headed back to the hotel and read at the pool before getting on the ship. Headed to the port around 1pm and had a pretty short line getting onboard. There are luggage porters with shirts saying Continental or something like that offering to take your bags to the other side of the lines for you. Not sure if they expect a tip and then you need to tip the Carnival luggage handlers as well? We just took our bags directly to the Carnival handlers after the checking of paperwork to enter the port area and tipped them. Went into the duty free shop after getting our cards and got some Don Q rum (we had wanted to check this place out in old san juan but never got there) and cokes for the room. Put the rum in the carry on - no problems.
Room areas were closed still - so headed up to the Lido for some lunch. We were quite disappointed in the buffet this go around, everything seemed bland. This was the Italian buffet. We found the Chinese area and enjoyed the seafood option there though. After this time we figured our cabin was open - so headed down to check it out.
We had an interior cabin (6256), but seemed pretty spacious and better utilized space than the Royal Caribbean interior cabins we've had before. Changed into our swimsuits - think some of our luggage was already arriving though we had packed in the carryon and headed to the pool. Plenty of chairs available although they didn't have the water slide open this day - headed back to the cabin to unpack and get ready for dinner at some point. Dinner tonight was open seating - so just sat with a random group of people - was a nice group to chat with though.
Went up by the pool to watch the movie "The Express" at 11. We made it mostly through the movie when the audio got switched from the movie to music so we watched the last 20 minutes in silence since no one was around to fix this. There were a bunch of people watching the movie with the same problem. Not very happy about this.
St Thomas: Original plan was to go to Coki Beach and do some scuba diving from the shore. I had some congestion problems so instead we slept in and skipped the beach. Ended up just going into port and took the sky ride up to Paradise Point. Got the bushwacker drink (you can save $2 if you don't want the souvenir cup) and walked around the port area a bit and then got back onboard - got to check out the water slide! Went to dinner and was seated with a honeymoon couple we got along with well, cruise lines always seem to do a good job with matching up dining groups. While telling them about our excursion plans in Dominica they decided to join us.
Dominica: Had booked the Middleham Falls tour with Levi from bumpiing tours - this was our favorite port day of the cruise. Followed Levi's instructions and found him pretty easily. Our group was made up of all people I had chatted with on the roll call forum and our dinner mates. Tour guide was Alvin. We headed out pretty quickly to beat the crowds. I was glad that Levi had made sure you knew what you were in for while booking this trip - definitely a good hike over slippery surfaces, so be prepared. It was a beautiful hike and a great time though. Alvin stopped us to tell us about some of the plants and also swing from a vine. Felt like we were moving along at a good pace. We got to the waterfalls - wow, gorgeous! Just about where Alvin asks who is going in, cause he is. So he proceeds to lead some of the group down even more rocks into the water at the base of the waterfall. Once at the bottom of the rocks - was a little tricky to get this far but not too bad, the waterfall is really throwing a lot of cold water at you with some pretty good force. Alvin swam across the pool to the other side and climbed up on some rocks there. I had a bit of trouble just getting off the rocks on the side and into the water - and it was a pretty tough swim across with the current pushing you out from the waterfall - but I made it. Alvin came down to help me climb up into a cove in the rocks. After taking some pictures and enjoying the views - Alvin jumps into the water from the cove. hmmm...I really hadn't thought of how we were going to get down from there. So off we go and a good swim back as well. Reminder - start bringing towels with me on hikes. Had a good time hiking back and saw another tour group coming in that was getting pretty close to the falls - much larger group than ours (ours was 8) with one guide. Near the entrance to the hike we ran into a family group with no guide. Some in the group were wearing flip flops and were asking us if they were almost there yet. Not sure that they completed the hike.
Next stop was Titou Gorge (where parts of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was filmed) - jumping in the water was freezing! But we got used to it pretty quick. Had a nice swim through the rocks to the waterfalls. Had to help each other get to a little cove on the side while some people went up and jumped from the waterfall. Didn't see any other groups the whole time we were here.
And theres even more - next stop was Trafalgar Falls - now heres where we ran into some people. This place was pretty crowded - but we walked down to the waterfalls and got into the water and hung out for a while. I think the group was getting somewhat tired by now.
Also no food on this tour - we brought some things from the ship so had a snack - but would have been nice to get some local food. They did have some snacks at a stand at Titou Gorge and several stalls for souvenirs at the falls. We stopped at a scenic overlook on the way back - and did not seem like anyone was up for Champagne reef snorkeling. I had originally wanted to do this - but at this time we had about an hour and half before we were supposed to be on board and it felt like a full day as it was. When Alvin dropped us off at the port - a few of us wanted to grab some local foods. Alvin left the van and guided us all the way through town to a restaurant he recommended, unfortunately when we went in - they were closed. Walking around town seemed like this was the case everywhere - so we just went back to the ship and had a snack there. Great tour though and highly recommended! I talked with some people on the ship that had done Sari Sari falls which they really enjoyed as well.
Barbados - It's my birthday! Whew hoo - wait...its raining. that's not supposed to happen. Slept in and had lunch onboard. Headed out to grab a taxi to Accra beach and it started downpouring. Decided we would go anyway. Some issues with the taxis here - seemed difficult to know where you were supposed to go and taxi drivers trying to convince you to go other places etc. There is a white board by the taxis with posted prices. We got into a van with 3 other couples, who I figured were all going to the same place. Nope - We stopped at the town area for two couples and the boatyard for another. the posted price for these was $3 pp I think, but the taxi charged them $5 pp. Drive took us to Accra with no problems for $7.50 pp. As soon as we hit the beach, we were approached to see if we wanted to purchase some extra fun - simply said no thanks and no problem. We did get chairs, $15 for two chairs and umbrella. Nice to be able to sit under the umbrella and keep our things from getting soaked. After about an hour or so the rain stopped . Hung out at the beach for a while, played some Frisbee and walked down to the bar for some run punch and beer, seemed kind of expensive to us though. We also tried some flying fish here. The bar actually offered free chairs/umbrellas to customers so I think this is the best way to go. Lots of sand crabs on the beach and rocks along the one side of the beach, but they were not cooperating for photos. Stayed at the beach the rest of the day and went to grab a taxi back to the port. Walked up to a taxi that was parked and he quoted us $20 to get back to port, so then we walked near the bus stop and grabbed one passing by for $15.
Original plan here was scuba diving (2-tank dive) which I had booked with Dive Fair Helen, trip included a lunch and I had requested to go to the Piton area if possible. However, I still wasn't feeling 100% and was worried about equalizing since I was congested - so when they came to get us, we asked if we could just change to a snorkeling trip. Would probably have gone with another tour company but we had prebooked and their cancellation policy said we would lose 50%. Anyway - they let us join the snorkel tour they had going out. Actually had the snorkel tour and scuba on the same boat. We waited at the port for a while before anyone came to get us. Ended up being a van when I was expecting a ferry. Then we went back to their shop and got equipment (we had brought ours), Next we waited for them to fill all the air tanks for the scuba divers. Some of the divers found that several of the tanks were leaking air as they set up their equipment. Then we waited for them load lunch onboard, etc. (I think you are getting the idea)
After this we start the boat ride, this was quite a leisurely ride out to the Piton area - yeah, I was happy we were going there. Seemed like no one would guarantee it - I know you have to deal with water conditions, but it seemed like a lot of it was just the number of people going. We stopped at two places in Souffrie to pick up more people before we got to the snorkel/scuba sites. The first location was Supermans flight - which from what I was reading on the scuba boards was one of the best dives here. I was a bit bummed. We had one girl panic when jumping in to snorkel, but she was ok after a bit. Did seem like a lot of people not so comfortable in the water and quite a bit of kicking and flailing about. I think they were pretty new to snorkeling though - so I can understand that. After this snorkeling stop - I actually wasn't very impressed with the snorkeling here we got back onboard and had some lunch that was provided by the dive shop. Quite a good lunch and some fresh juice and water available.
I overheard the dive guide telling the divers they were going to have half an hour surface interval before the next dive since they had to get us back to the ship (we were the only ones on this tour from the cruise line). I enjoyed the next snorkel stop quite a bit more - definitely not as nice as diving though. We saw lots more fish, including a trumpet fish I hadn't seen before and a few others I don't know the name of. After this we stopped in the bat cave and headed back to town. While I wasn't a big fan of all the waiting and was a little put off by the scuba equipment - the guides were great on this trip and we did enjoy it. The advertised time of this tour was supposed to be pick up at ship at 9:45 and back to ship between 2:30 and 3:30 - we got back to the ship right around 4:20 - needed to be back by 4:30, ship leaves at 5.
Our plan was to not book anything in this port and hire a taxi to take us to Nelson's Dockyard and then to a beach - hadn't really decided on a beach either. Of course we had stayed up way too late in the casino the night before so we got quite a late start. Got off the ship after lunch, around 12:30 and found a taxi driver offering to take us at $40 pp. Thought I had seen someone on these boards pay $40 pp for this ride, so I figured fine. But it does seem quite expensive - course it is a 30 minute or so drive. We stopped at an overlook of Falmouth (I think?) bay on the way to Nelson's Dockyard. At the dockyard, the taxi driver said we should be done in there in about 30 minutes. We went through the museum and that took us about 40 minutes and we didn't even explore the upstairs too much. Since we wanted to go to a beach as well - we mostly did the museum and walked around the outside bay area. Next stop was at Shirleys Heights which was beautiful views. We walked around here quite a bit - goats everywhere, and actually found a poor goat trapped in some area filled with water (we were hearing strange noises) - we notified our guide and made sure he was going to get help for him. Next we went to Dickensons beach close to the ship. We hung out here for an hour and a half. Was a fine beach with lots of water sports and mostly cruise ship passengers. Very calm water. Our taxi driver came back to pick us up at 5 and take us back to the ship.
Plan was to go to Cockleshell beach - but woke up late and went exploring the port area, where it seemed difficult to even find a taxi. Most were just dropping people off and leaving. So we just got back on the ship and enjoyed the pool area.
The first day's lunch buffet was definitely disappointing but the other 2 days we had lunch on board the food seemed better. The breakfast buffet got pretty boring for us with the same thing day after day, and didn't really like the eggs, etc. The grill was definitely one of the places to go for a snack - sandwiches were all good - and you can ask to get made to order (add cheese, take off something etc), pizza, burgers, hot dogs were all fine. We got some food at the deck party buffet but were not big fans of anything there. The diners were mostly quite good - I tried to look through the posted menus online to remind myself of what we ate and added some notes on things I remembered below -
Appetizers - lobster and crab cake - very good Lobster bisque - salty wild mushroom cream - bland - didn't really like it fried chicken tenders - very good smoked chicken quesadilla - good Caesar salad - too anchovie for me
Main entrees Farfalle with turkey - good Penne, tossed in a tomato cream with vodka - not so good Grilled salmon - ok, liked the sauce - salmon tasted kind of off to me jerked pork loin - good chateaubriand - great if you got it cooked correctly - ordered medium-rare delivered well done short ribs - good veal parmigiana - good - huge portion with lots of breading though lobster & shrimp - usual for cruise fare - enjoyed it
Desserts Amaretto cake - just ok Bitter and blanc - great! Crème Brulee - great! Cappuccino Pie - good Chocolate, raspberry and vanilla cream cake - good Grand marnier soufflE - very good melting chocolate cake - good - a little undercooked for me - but we combined this as fudge with some other desserts and was great Apple pie - good strawberry cheesecake - awful - texture was terrible no one ate this
Didn't really do too much on the ship besides the pool, casino and whatever else I posted. We played mini-golf a few times so that was nice and went down the water slide a few times. (not sure why they have the water slide open such limited hours). Casino wasn't too friendly to us money wise, but crowd and dealers were fun.
They talk and talk about how you need to go to the debarkment talk, but nothing really new here at all. Put luggage bags in hallway with tags - fill out customs form - usual stuff it seemed. Our flight wasn't until 2:30 so we got number 19. We hung out in the Caribbean lounge after having lunch and read a bit until our number was called. Going through customs was pretty quick and easy to grab a taxi to the airport.
I totally missed this on these boards. But in San Juan airport on the way out - you need to go through USDA checkpoint before checking your bags. This didn't seem clear to us at all from the signs - but thankfully someone in line let us know. San Juan airport was quite busy. Long flight home and the cruise is all over - time to plan the next one, right?