We arrived in San Juan two days before sailing. We stayed at a small guest house in Condado, Alleli. This was an older guesthouse on the beach. We paid $80 a night, which is wonderful for a room in this area. The building is old, but clean. The room we had was large enough, but again older. We expected this from reviews on tripadvisor that we had read. If you want luxury this is not the place, but there was a deck on the back of the house that was very nice to sit on and watch the ocean. We were next to a large hotel/casino called the La Concha. The Marriott was about a block away with a nice casino. We had many restaurants to walk to and the bus was a convenient and inexpensive way to travel to Old San Juan. It was 75 cents one way. Old San Juan is a great way to spend a day before or after the cruise. We were very happy to be able to arrive several days early. I would highly recommend arriving at least the night before, as most people that traveled to San Juan the day of the cruise, were very tired, and some had suffered delays in airports, making for a very long day.
On the day of embarkation, we checked out of the guesthouse at noon and took a taxi to the port. We arrived before 1PM and were surprised to be able to check in and board the ship! There were very few people arriving, so we had no wait! We were very excited and the ship was just as nice as we had hoped. We went to the Ocean Grille for a lunch buffet that was very good. One thing that we noticed was that the bar staff did not bother you as often with their "drink specials". This was a pleasant break from the typical routine on emarkation day. In fact this was the pattern throughout the entire cruise. We were in our room by 1:30 and our luggage arrived soon after. The inside room that we had was very typical of any other stateroom that we have had, nice, clean and enough storage. Our cabin steward was Nemia, and she was a sweet heart.
We had early seating in the main dining room. Our table had 3 couples. The people that we dined with were a very big plus to our cruising experience. We had so much fun with them throughout the cruise. I would recommend that if you have never been on a cruise before, that you choose to sit at a table of 6 or 8. One night we arrived late from a port of call and opted for the alternative dining in the Ocean Grille. This is not the Olympic restaurant which charges for your meal. This area allows for a different "restaurant" style venue. The waiters here are in "training" although, I understand that after training, they stay in this area until there is an available opening in the main dining room. One of these waiters had been here for 5 years. The service here was great. Now let's talk about the food. This was our big disappointment. There are many options for food on the ship, but we like to stay up late (after 11PM). After 9:30 the buffet is closed. After 10:30 the Pizza bar is closed and the only other food available are small appetizer style food between 11 and 12 PM in the Cova Lounge. I guess you can use room service, but it is not the same as enjoying your meal on the decks and sometimes with others that you have met. When there are special parties, there may be appetizers from 11-12PM. Food choice and quality were good to sometimes very good in the ocean grill and Metropolis dining room, but definitely not excellent as many say. I must say that many who say that Carnival does not compete well in this area, have not sailed on Carnival lately.
The entertainment in the main theater was nightly, but some of it was a little "odd" for a Caribbean cruise. We had one 45 minute show with a harmonica player as the "star". Now I must say he was amazing, but harmonica music for 45 minutes is a little much. He was also brought back again for another night for about 20 minutes. There was also the night with the Banjoist. Again, 45 minutes was much too long, even though he did a great job of playing a banjo....but that was the whole show. Again he was brought back to another show for 20 minutes. Then there was the typical ship's cast which is just a tradition and they were better than most we have seen.
The cruise was port intensive, which we wanted to do. When in St Kitts we did not plan on going on any excursions, but as we left the ship we met a cab driver who charged us $6.50/pp each way to go to Cockleshell Beach. This was a great beach with 3 bars/restaurants. The beach was clean and very nice. On the way there we say monkeys crossing the roads and eating alongside the roads. This is the beach with the 700 lb pig. Be sure to see him. The cab driver that we used was Bernard Elliott (1-869-9571 email@example.com) I would recommend him. He had information about the island and very friendly. He was very dependable when it was time for pick-up from the beach.
On Barbados, we did a catamaran/swim with the turtle trip. It was WONDERFUL!. Captain Jason was excellent. For $80.00 we were picked up by his wife at the port, driven to the beach where we met him and his catamaran. He works very hard to adjust his itinerary and provide a time that is not crowded when you swim with the turtles. There is another snorkel stop included. He is very patient with newbie snorkelers and makes everyone comfortable. There is also a great lunch and drinks included. He limits the trip to 12 people. We had 6. It was great! The website of the tour is http://www.shasacatamarancruises.com.
In Aruba, be aware that there is a public bus that will take you to the beaches. it is $1.50pp round trip. Take the 10 bus, which you can board right across the main street after exiting the port area. Just ask for information.
Disembarkation went very easily.
This was a nice cruise, but just keep in mind the food closes early and the entertainment in the theater, may not be what most would expect on some nights.