Arrival--we arrived the night before and stayed at the Courtyard Miramar. The hotel was nice enough, with a quiet bistro downstairs that serves delicious tapas. The Pueblo supermarket is just down the street, about half a block for all those items you have forgotten at home and/or buying champagne and wine to bring with you on the cruise.
Embarkation Sept 6—was a complete and utter nightmare! We arrived with our luggage at 3pm and it became quite obvious that we have entered the "island time" realm. The sun was shining mercilessly and the line already formed down the street. Porters are the only people I can compliment that day. Two different staff people gave us different directions as to where the VIP line actually begins. I was told to stand in the general line until somebody else told me that those who booked suites, as we did, receive priority boarding. After lugging around our luggage from the front to the back of the line twice, we were directed back towards the middle of the line. We were under the awning at this point and it took us 45 minutes to get onboard. Once we were in line under the awning, we were lined up nearly single-file, it occurred to me that they could have actually "snaked" the line around so more people are under the cover vs. in the burning sun. Disturbing. My wedding guests who arrived at the same time as us got sunburned while standing in line for over two-and-a-half hours! They did not get onboard until after 5pm. I was appalled by the entire experience of embarkation. This is my 4th cruise and 2nd with Carnival and never before has it been this messy. I was told by others who have dropped off their luggage in the morning and received their boarding passes ahead of time—embarkation was much easier because they could just walk right in bypassing the line. Perhaps a tip for future travel, arrive early, drop off luggage and go into Old Town San Juan for some lunch or something.
Ship—ship was nice and clean albeit loud "Las Vegas" style as others have described. Personally, the decor did not bother me at all. I did not pick this ship for the excellence of interior design award, I picked it for the itinerary and the itinerary was splendid. Stateroom—we had the junior suite and I highly recommend it. There was ample room for everything like our luggage, lounging, makeup table, etc. And the bathroom is quite roomy with a tub that has Jacuzzi vents. The furniture is a little bit up, i.e. the drawers stick at times and closet doors make noise, but everything was in working order. I did not actually use the Jacuzzi feature of our tub, but it was nice that the option was there. Our balcony was rather large, three chairs fit in the space comfortably and we were able to eat our breakfast there most mornings. Spa—very nice staff at the spa. Melissa from South Africa did the up-do for my wedding day and if you need your hair done for special occasions I highly recommend her. Not only did my hair stay up the entire time of the wedding, the up-do survived a trip to the swimming pool and was even intact for dinner photos later in the day! She is also very gentle with the bobby pins and she has a great sense of what would look good for your face type. Buffet—only used once for breakfast and once for lunch. The buffet facilities were always busy. Mostly we were turned off by endless lines and that's partly the reason we did not eat there. Second reason being the quality of the food is better at the sit-down dinner of course.
Food—since I hardly ate at the buffet, I am talking more about the dining room. To me, the food was good, not spectacular, but plentiful and we never went away hungry from the dinner table. The pizza is indeed terrible. I did not order dessert in the main dining room. My favorite dessert was probably the gelato-coffee shop on casino floor for dessert options, you had to pay extra, but it was so worth it. Dining room—very good experience with the dining room. My only issue was with the lobster night since I could smell the seafood even before the food was brought over to the table and that just turned me off completely. I ended up eating Indian food selections for the rest of the cruise and was actually quite pleased. We had a great dining room server, Sunita, she took great care of us. We were also well taken care of by Alena, the hostess, who helped my friends with dietary restrictions to pick appropriate dishes.
Photographers—to me this area was the one I found the most lacking. It seems the requirements for being a photographer on the ship are quite lax. The people we have worked with had some very sassy cookie-cutter poses in mind and that would be half the problem if they could only compose a shot or make sure that the camera focuses. Our group photos were a source of frustration. Such a waste of paper to go through countless 8x10s just to see that the people are fuzzy and not in focus! There are 2 of us in the shot—fuzzy, there are 4 of us in the shot—also fuzzy. Major waste of my time considering we had to stand in what else…a line, both to get the picture taken, to look at the photos, to talk to someone about obvious problems and reprints, and to repeat the cycle once again. My advice would be to find your friend who just got that expensive camera for birthday-Christmas-divorce present and have them take photos of you around the boat. Make sure they hold the camera steady and turn on the red-eye reduction light!
St. Thomas—we went to Sapphire Beach and it was a very nice experience. The taxi is about $10 per person each way. You will also need some cash to rent floaties ($5), beach chairs ($7) or snorkeling equipment ($15). There are no restaurants on premises, but the staff from the restaurant up the hill bring menus around and will go get the food for you. You can pay for your food with a credit card, but they have to take it with them when they go for the food. If you would rather keep your credit card with you—bring cash.
Dominica—our “whale and dolphin watching” tour through Carnival got cancelled the night before because there was insufficient interest in the tour. We mulled our options in the morning and just decided to wing it. We ended up taking a gypsy/unlicensed cab for $20 per person for a complete tour of the island. There were 8 people, we needed an air conditioned van and there was a bunch of drivers across the street who were willing to negotiate on the price. Note: there are plenty “licensed” drivers who are on the ship’s side of the street. I am not endorsing gypsy cabs, I am just describing what we did that day. Wear comfortable shoes! If you decide to go to the waterfalls, you’ll be walking through the rainforest and that generally means mud and dirt. I do not recommend flip flops because if you decide to continue the hike from the waterfall overlook to the actual waterfall, you will be jumping from rock to rock. It’s advanced hiking folks, I am not kidding. We were not forewarned that if we did not wish to swim in the waterfalls, the second part of the hike was pointless and physically challenging. We were not prepared at all. I tore up my walking shoes and some people were struggling with flip flops. Kurt-the-driver took us to the botanical gardens, waterfalls, sulfur springs, and a very nice overlook. Once again, bring some cash along in small bills (not twenties) so you can tip your guide at the waterfalls $5, buy water, souvenirs, etc.
Barbados—this was the day of my wedding. We went through a local wedding planner, Lisa Hutchison from “Weddings…Beyond Your Imagination” (that’s the actual name of the company). Lisa was great, she was in charge of all my guests and details. We picked a property with a pool and a deck with ocean view that served local island food. Our ceremony was done pool-side and after the guests went through the buffet they were able to use the pool and the bar. I had a great wedding day. In the morning, Melissa at the spa did my up-do. I got into my dress and Lisa met me right at the gangway with the limo waiting. Lisa arranged for my guests to be picked up by bus. Afterwards, the guests got dropped off at 3:30pm back at the port.
St. Lucia—we went through Cosol tours. http://cosol-tours.com/ We e-mailed Cosol, that’s the owner’s name, ahead of time and he very promptly responded to our request. The tour is very nice, with plenty of photo ops, snacks, drinks, and a very unique lunch—local bread and cheese. If you want to have a good time, I highly recommend spending the $65 per person and booking through Cosol Tours. All the drivers are such nice guys. And you will get an opportunity to swim at a private beach between the Gros Piton and the Petit Piton. It is a breathtaking sight. The beach staff feed the fish and raise the nets in the lagoon for snorkeling so if you do decide to rent snorkeling gear there (bring cash), it is like swimming in an aquarium! We got to eat local foods for breakfast. Get some of that banana ketchup and hot sauce ($4 per bottle) to mix together as a sauce for grilled stuff at home. I got to hold a “friendly boa snake” that actually ate not too long ago, so that was a thrill. You start off the tour by tasting bananas fresh off the tree. I can honestly say I’ve had their bananas before (smile), they export to Sainsbury grocery stores in England!! But I am sure the ones I got in England were not nearly as sweet as the tree-ripened ones. St. Lucia is a mountainous island so be prepared for lots of windy roads, but although I suffer from motion sickness myself at times, I had no problem. My friend brought along some ginger candies and others wore the motion-sickness bands/stickers. Do whatever feels most comfortable for you because the tour is something like 6 hrs long by the time you are done traveling around the island!
Antigua—we booked through Lawrence of Antigua. http://www.lawrenceofantigua.com/ Yes, he’s the “guy in the yellow vest”. My friends who read other reviews were very excited about his tour and he did a great job. Lawrence is a perfect foil to Cosol tours. Cosol is high-energy, Lawrence is laid back, but both give you a complete tour of the island and a unique understanding of how much they enjoy what they do. After a very active week, we were thrilled to have some time in the bus and some “down” time at the beach. Lawrence takes you to very pretty places around the island. The island is sizeable, so there are some stretches when you are in the bus for 20 mins or so at a time. If you think that a half hour ride to the beach and from the beach is too long, then maybe you should pick something else. For $35 Lawrence does the tour and drops off/picks up from the beach. The tour is a bargain, there is no other way of putting it! Run and book that tour because you would not regret it. All 22 of us didn’t!
St. Kitts—We booked the “Sail and Snorkel” adventure through Carnival on a catamaran. Wow, that was a nice end to a very fun week. The catamaran is quite large and the crew is so outgoing! They are very fun guys, there are 4 of them, they will take care of you and the snorkeling site is very nice. It was my first time sailing on the catamaran, I enjoyed it immensely! The catamaran has areas with shade, it has areas to stretch out over water. There are 2 marine bathrooms onboard, so you can change out of your swim suit there if you choose. Once again, bring cash to tip your crew, the drinks will be provided and the price of drinks is included in the price of the tour. I saw people getting off the boat without tipping after the crew busted their a** for half a day to make sure everyone had a great time. That’s just tacky! We did a half day tour, so ours did not include lunch, but the guys had chips there and along with some good-ol rum punch it was plenty. After the sail adventure we went to lunch at Ballahoo. It’s an easy 5 minute walk from the port, 2nd floor of the building where the big green clock is. My husband got some ribs and they were possibly some of the tastiest ribs I’ve had in a long time.