This was a port-intensive cruise, 7 ports in 7 days...a really great itinerary, which was the reason we chose this trip. We flew to San Juan from Virginia the day of embarkation with no difficulties. We took a van taxi from the airport which was wonderful...it was only $29.00 plus tip for 6 of us and all our luggage. Getting onboard the ship was fairly easy. Lines were long but moved along very quickly. Once onboard the real lines began. For this particular cruise, and for reasons we still do not understand, excursions could not be booked ahead of time on-line. This was disturbing to us as we were traveling with 4 of our young adult children and we wanted an exciting excursion in each port and we worried we would not be able to get 6 tickets for each one by the time it was our turn in line. In order to combat the problem we knew we were facing, we booked 4 of our port stops with ShoreTrips.com months ahead of the cruise. We have used them before on previous cruises and thought the quality of the excursions was better than the usual cruise line offerings. We didn't find what we were looking in 2 of the Ports with ShoreTrips, so we had to wait in line to purchase them from Carnival. The lines were very long. Upon arrival to the ship, we were informed the itinerary was going to be changed due to weather from Tropical Storm Ana. We were now going to have a Day at Sea, and the port arrival days were changed or omitted, and new ones added. Of course this now altered all the excursions we were going to go on with Shore Trips. We called them from San Juan and they changed everything for us, times, dates, ports, and offered full refunds on any ports we were no longer going to visit that we had bought excursions for. They were wonderful on the phone and it was easy to make all the changes. We stood in a long line to buy excursions for the other ports we were now going to visit. Once that was done, awhile later and before we left San Juan, the itinerary was changed back to the original itinerary. Back to long lines to get a refund on excursions we bought but now we were not going to those islands, and then to try and buy excursions for the ones we needed to start with. Had to call Shore Trips again, and they put everything back as it was originally with just a phone call. We spent most of our first day on board waiting in lines which was not a fun way to start the trip.
SHIP: Very modern looking with bright colors. We were impressed with the cleanliness of the ship. A little hard to navigate as you have to go up and around some of the decks to get to the main areas. Some decks do not allow you to walk through to the center of the ship, but once we figured it out, it was fine. We were on the Upper Deck (Deck 6) in a balcony room. It was spacious, with good storage. Our empty luggage fit under the bed, and we liked that the bathroom/shower was just a tad larger than most...doesn't seem like that would make a difference, but extra counter space and a few more inches in the shower were very welcomed. Linens were lovely and the bed was very comfortable. Kids cabins were great too..we got interior cabins for them to save $$$..but they prefer it, as they like the darkness in the cabins on mornings they didn't have to get up for early excursions. We all had the same room steward, Pu Tu, and he was great. Rooms were always cleaned promptly, clean beach towels every day, etc. The accommodations were really nice. We always love a balcony room to see out, get more light, and take photos as we come into Port.
ST THOMAS: We booked the Christmas Cove Snorkeling Trip via the Carnival and we waited on the pier as instructed, then were told it was canceled due to mechanical issues. They offered a beach trip to Megans Bay for a decreased price, but we have been there before, we live close to the Beach, so that wasn't a thrill for us, and we felt the price was still too high just to go to the Beach. They offered a 10% discount on another of our excursions. We opted to walk around St Thomas a bit, see some sights, then go back to the Ship and enjoy the pools and water slide. This was not an enjoyable time. The pool areas had unsupervised children ranging from young ages to late teens who were very rude and pretty much drove all adults from the pool. I won't go into detail about their behavior or language, but we did register a complaint when we saw kids climbing the plexiglass wall around the hot tub near the bottom of the slide area and jump or dive into the 4 foot pool because we thought it was a safety issue. It took awhile for anyone to come and investigate this. This sort of thing occurred each time we were on the pool deck and really affected our enjoyment. We found pretty much all cruise etiquette was out the window on this trip and rules and courtesy were not enforced. We had teens running through the halls late at night, banging on cabin doors, loud, leaving dinnerware and trash on the floor of the cabin hallways or main stairways. I imagine the clean-up crew on this trip worked over-time to keep up. Its just discourteous behavior and we have not encountered this on other cruise lines.
DOMINICA: We booked a Champagne Snorkel trip with ShoreTrips.com. We were picked up promptly. It was fabulous. Only a few other people were there. This area is famous in Dominica for the thermal vented holes in the ocean floor creating bubbles that rise all around you so its like swimming through 'champagne'. Our guide was wonderful to point out things under the water, the snorkel area was really large and we saw wonderful coral, fish, sea cucumbers, schools of squid and sea horses. We are all good swimmers, and we were given a lot of freedom to swim and snorkel as much as we wanted. We really enjoyed this trip.
BARBADOS: We did a Sail and Snorkel on a Catamaran with Lunch with Shoretrips.com. This was one of our most favorite days of the cruise. It was sunny and warm, the catamaran was large, but we had less than 20 people on board. We got to know the other people which was great fun. A full buffet lunch was provided as well as open bar. The crew were knowledgeable about the tasks at hand i.e. safety, etc., but were also animated and fun. Instead of 2 snorkel sites, we ended up with 3. The Sea turtle stop was amazing. They were very close to us and we got great photos with our digital underwater camera. The pier/beach where the catamaran was docked was as picturesque as a caribbean paradise....just beautiful.
ST LUCIA: Its the most lush and beautiful of all the islands. We've visited before and could not wait to get back. Our kids wanted to Zip-line in the Rain Forest, so we booked this with Shoretrips.com also. Our driver picked us up and it took about 45 minutes or so to get to the starting point. We chose this particular zipline trip as there were 11 platforms, which was more than other trips we looked at. I have a great fear of height, so not sure how I would do on this excursion. We were outfitted with all the gear. You don't look overly attractive with all the harnesses on, hair nets and helmets, and then large gloves, but all the equipment is needed for safety. The 6 of us were accompanied by 2 guides, Garvin and Chantell. They gave us a short inservice at a mini-platform complete with the cables to show you visually what you would be doing. At each platform, Garvin went first, then the 6 of us, who were helped by Chantell, and she always went last. She and Garvin communicated via walkie talkie to be sure the 6 of us were each safely to the next platform after our ride. Even though I was the only one really scared, they were really patient with me and I appreciated that so much. The scenery of the Rainforest was unbelievable. They took our cameras from us at times to get better photo ops of all of us. We would recommend this excursion to anyone who wants to have an exhilarating experience. There are a lot stairs to get to the top of some of the platforms, and you have to hike a bit in between a few of the platforms. They pointed out several interesting facts along the paths we hiked, so we got to learn a bit more about the rainforest also. We also crossed a few narrow rope and wood bridges. It was really a great time. We recommended it to our older son who is getting married in October and honeymooning in St Lucia.
ANTIGUA: My husband and I had been to Antigua a few years before with Royal Caribbean and did an excursion on 'The Black Swan' and had a blast. We were so glad it was offered by Carnival as we knew our kids would love it. We got the 10% discount from the St Thomas excursion that was cancelled which was good, because we ended up being a little disappointed. Our previous trip on the Black Swan was fun-filled due to the Captain and Crew being so animated on this big pirate ship, rum punch flowing, people dancing, and then once we anchored at the Cove, you could walk the plank, swing from the rope, snorkel the ship wreck, or be taken to the Beach on the small boat they pulled behind. It was a bit different this time. Once we sailed to the site, we were told we'd only have 45 minutes. We could jump from the plank, but were not allowed to swing from the rope. They said they had been 'sued' so were no longer allowing it, but we wondered if it was a Carnival rule, or issues with another Carnival passenger had been the source of their problems...the rope swing looked new and was still intact for use. We wondered if they were allowing it with other Cruise lines as it is advertised as such on-line, which is why we wanted to do this trip again. Our kids wanted to snorkel the ship wreck but the area was filled with large jelly fish so they quickly exited the water. The beach is lovely but other than taking a swim or walking the beach, there are no beach chairs, etc. Sailing to the Cove is nice, but the real fun was being in the Cove and getting to do all the activities. Last time we could snorkel AND go to the beach...this time you had to choose one or the other, and neither was that great. They did have a 'mock' wedding and a Limbo contest on board on the way back which was OK. Seems like they like to have a lot of music and noise as they pull into the dock so other cruise-goers on their balconies or on the pier see that you are having a great time and wish they had gone with you.
ST KITTS: We did a horseback riding excursion with Shoretrips.com. We were picked up on time, and there were only a few other people on the excursion when we arrived. Very interesting excursion. We thought the horses looked a bit thin, but appeared to be well-cared for. In Aruba when we went horseback riding, the horses were 'beefier', but every island is different, and the thought process of working animals is different from the USA. The horses were tame and knew the trails well so there were no surprises or safety issues. We rode high up into the Rain Forest and the views were just breathtaking. St Kitts is much more beautiful than we realized from our previous visit. We got to know the guides and spoke to them about how their life on St Kitts, the business of doing horse excursions, etc. We learned that the horses live off the land, eating mostly the native grasses and sugar cane, and are given extra oats, etc. at certain times. When they appear to start to get 'lean', they are ushered off to pasture for 6 months to graze and rest. The horses only do one trip per day. In the States our animals/pets are thought of in a much more domestic way versus having them be the source of earning a living. On our ride, we saw other horses off in the pasture and they were ones who were on their 6 month sabbatical of rest and grazing. They whinneyed when we rode by like they were talking to their comrades! The Veterinary school close by has students who ride as well, and they also come to this particular stable to learn about horses and practice their exams, etc. We had 2 Vet students from the school who were from the U.S.A. going to school in St Kitts on our excursion. We were in the saddle a few hours so later on we learned we had muscles we didn't know were there. We enjoyed the trip very much.
ENTERTAINMENT: We went to a few of the shows, the Karaoke Bar (2 of our kids like to sing and were picked to be in the LEGENDS SHOW the last night of the cruise), the Casino, and a few of the other clubs/lounges on board. At times it appeared a lot of the lounges were empty, but we were usually back to our cabin by midnight for the next days' activities, so there was probably later night-life we missed. The shows were the usual cruise line fare, but we enjoy them very much, and don't offer criticism.
DINING: We had the 6 PM dining time at a table for 6 at the very back of the boat with a water view. Our servers were just the best. Can't say enough about the dining room service. We were surprised at how many tables around us were empty night after night. The food was very good. Can't imagine opting for the same buffet food or pizza when you could eat filet mignon and lobster...to each his own I guess. With all our kids out of the house and on their own now, we enjoyed our nightly meal to talk about our day and share that time with our kids that we don't get to do on a daily basis at home any more. It was my favorite time of the day. We ate breakfast in the dining room 3-4 times also. Food was hot and the selection was nice and it was better than standing in line. We ate at the buffet usually for lunch if we were on board...food was normal cruise fare and good. Lines were long if it was actual meal time. Really enjoyed the deli station and the Wok station which offered different oriental foods each day cooked to order...that was a great option. Late-night food was only pizza and burgers sort of food...not the healthiest for late night eating.
FITNESS CENTER: We went to the Gym 3 times. Was OK for a cruise ship, but some things needed repair. Many of the TV's that were attached to the treadmills had their speaker attachment broken so you couldn't plug in your earbuds. The water fountain water tasted bad and we saw black funky stuff in the clear piping that fed it. We mentioned it to more than just one of the staff but nothing was ever done, and in fact, the girls at the reception desk of the Spa area laughed at my husband as he walked away after voicing concern. They didn't realize we were together and I was waiting for him at the elevator and saw how they treated him. We didn't drink from that water cooler. The one thing I noticed was that on most ships the treadmills, etc, face the water view. On this ship, large mirrors are above you on an angle, so you almost have to bend at the waist to look out...it seemed a little more closed in, like you wanted to move the mirror up so you could see out. Not the best design.
DISEMBARKATION: This was a disaster. We were given the Number 21 for leaving the Ship. Our flight left at 1230 PM. We went to a comfortable spot to wait for our number, but the time ticked by, and by 10 AM we were only up to Number 14. Started getting nervous that we would not make our flight. We know what the San Juan airport is like, and getting through the Agriculture Line, then checking luggage, then getting through Security takes time. We decided to exit the ship prior to our number being called and were so glad we did. We discovered that NO ONE waited for their number to be called so people with numbers way past us were way ahead of us in line. We were in line from the end of the gangway, outside along the holding building, then once inside the holding building, the line was still very long. Luggage was off to the sides in numbered areas, and numbers way past the number 21 were already empty of their luggage, meaning those people went down out of turn, and the entire area was congested with people. Problem being, those with earlier flights like us who waited for our number were now way back in the line. There were only 2 customs lines. Because the luggage areas were off to the sides of the main custom lines and not gated off, people were collecting their luggage in the areas that put them close to the front of the line and got in line there versus going to the back of the line...hence....we never moved in line! The people in front of us came to near blows with people who were 'cutting' the line in front of them. We talked to a Carnival Representative who was not of much help. We made our way through the line forcing ourselves to go ahead of others with numbers like 28 and 29, and finally got to the outside where we quickly grabbed a cab van and were on our way. Once at the airport, we had to wait in the agriculture line, then check our bags (we printed our boarding passes on-line on the ship the day before at a cost of $15.00 for internet service but it was worth it!!)and head to Security. By the time we got to our gate, we had to board immediately..no time for bathroom, getting any food or drink for the flight...etc. Once in our seats, we just breathed a sigh of relief, but that whole experience was so stressful over a period of hours and so totally unnecessary. Carnival needs to change this process. We found the people on this ship to be discourteous to their fellow passengers. We've never encountered this before on 7 previous cruises on other Cruise Lines (RCCL, Princess and Norwegian). We would think twice about a Carnival Cruise in the future. Just a Note: In our 1-5 cruise ratings of the Areas of the Ruise, our excursions rating is based on the Carnival excursions we took. Our rating of of excursions we went on with ShoreTrips.com would be a 5+, and we won't hesitate to book with them again.