My DH & I went on the Carnival Victory sailing 11/29/09 after a long awaited 11 months from our booking date. We have been on 11 cruises (this was our 3rd on Carnival, and our 5th visit to the islands of the Southern Caribbean).
Pre-Night Hotel: We stayed in San Juan for one night, pre-cruise, at the Embassy Suites San Juan Hotel & Casino. It was in a great location in Isla Verde, very near the beach. Embassy Suites is always a good pick anywhere you go, with their complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast and Manager's Reception each day. It was located within a short distance of the cruise pier.
Ship: We don't actually cruise for the cruise ship necessarily, but have no complaints about the ship itself. Our stateroom, on the Empress deck (7), was kept clean & tidy, and the balcony is always a great touch on any cruise. The food in the Pacific Dining Room was great, and we were able to meet some really nice people (hey, Jeffery Family!), but the buffet could have used a different layout, as the lines were pretty long at times, (although it wasn't anything you couldn't deal with). I thought it awesome that Carnival offers not only the Past Guest party w/ free drinks, but a new party for all guests on the last day of the cruise w/ free drinks as well. This is a nice touch. They usually only have certain drinks pre-made to serve, but we slipped the server a small tip and were able to order what we like (not to mention the tip helped in getting the server to keep coming back). We didn't participate in many onboard activities, although we did see one great late-night comedy show early in the cruise which was worth staying up late for. Angela in the Irish Seas Piano Bar was a lot of fun as well. I also did get a massage in the spa the night we left Antigua for $99, which was supposed to be a sale price. I noticed in the Capers for St. Kitts (the next day), that the price was lowered even more to $69. So, if you like to treat yourself to spa activities, I highly recommend waiting until the last day for the best prices.
St. Thomas: We booked the St. John Champagne Catamaran Sailaway through Carnival, which was a total blast. There were only 9 people participating in the excursion, making a total of 12 on the Catamaran with the crew. It was a blast as we were all able to get to know each other and spread out. Though we have been to St. Thomas many times, this was our first time seeing St. John, and it was amazing! I can't wait to go back. They took us to a very secluded beach there called Solomon Beach, and the water was crystal clear. Very National Geographic - that's the only way I can describe it. I expected better snorkeling, but the beach made up for it. They had an open bar after snorkeling, where the crew actually brought rum punch out on the beach, though you could also get rum & coke, which really pleased DH, as he isn't much for the rum punch.
After the excursion, we still had a few hours to kill in port, and since we're not big shoppers, we decided to walk to Paradise Pier tram. This was pretty overpriced ($42 for two of us), but when in Rome.....It was a lot of fun, and worth the extra cost to me, as we got awesome photos. We met some locals at the bar at the lookout and BS'd our time away having drinks and getting to know them. There is also a harness-type trampoline there which DH & I both tried out, and it was a TON of fun, though pretty tiring, especially after an open bar excursion.
Dominica: This was our first time to Dominica, so I didn't know exactly what to expect. We booked the Emerald Pool, River Tubing, and Mr. Nice tour with Antours online before leaving home. Carnival offered a tour similar to this, but it cost a lot more, and you didn't get to do as much. I am normally weary of booking tours with companies outside of the cruiseline, because of the possibility of not making it back to the ship in time for sailing, but luckily this one turned out great, and with plenty of time to spare. The Emerald Pool was beautiful, and after jumping in, we found it to be VERY COLD! It was well worth the hypothermic shock, though. Mr. Nice was just that, "Nice". He served up a local coconut mixed with spices, and some kind of caramelized yumminess that was to die for. The river tubing experience was a lot of fun, though not exactly what I had imagined. The river was pretty shallow, and I found myself getting stuck on rocks a lot. There were parts that had pretty good rapids, and a few people, including DH, got flipped over, but it was all part of the adventure. This was a very good time. Dominica is gorgeous - it reminded me a lot of Hawaii.
Barbados: Every time we go to Barbados, we book the Tiami 5 Star Catamaran and Turtles excursion through the cruiseline because it is fabulous. I highly, highly recommend this tour. We lucked out again with only about 15 people on the tour this time, so there was a lot of room and personal attention from the local crew onboard, which I love! Snorkeling with the turtles was great, especially with our new underwater digital camera (Canon D10) that we purchased before leaving home (it does video underwater as well, which is perfect for capturing the snorkeling experience). The water was really clear, and the turtles were everywhere - some were really big! They also serve a fabulous lunch of flying fish, chicken, macaroni salad, etc., and have an open bar after snorkeling! Try the Captain's Special - it is my favorite! Every time on this tour I ask them what is in it, and try to imitate it when I get back home, but I just can't get it to taste the way they do! I think they must be keeping the "special ingredient" a secret, or something. Be careful because this stuff has a powerful punch that will immobilize you (believe me, I know). They also take you to a fairly nice beach on this tour, but I don't know the name of it.
St. Lucia: We have gone to St. Lucia twice before this, and haven't ever really been impressed with the island, until now. After researching for eleven months for this trip, I was impressed with the reviews about Cosol Tours, so once again, decided to take a chance and book a tour outside of the cruiseline. Cosol Tours was amazing!!!!! I cannot say enough good things about Cosol (we were fortunate enough to have Cosol as our guide), who has worked so hard to get where he is today. If you are having trouble deciding what to do & see in St. Lucia, Cosol Tours is where it's at! You will get to see quite a bit of this very beautiful, lush island (including snorkeling at Jalousie beach at the base of the Pitons), as well as try a lot of the local food, Piton beer, and the best rum punch and spiced rum ever! The warm bread and cheese at the end of the tour was fantastic! Cosol gave us a locally grown banana to feed the fish while snorkeling and it was amazing how well that attracted the fish! Thanks to Cosol, the island I was never really crazy about, has become a favorite!
After the tour, we stopped in to Tanzanite / Diamonds International where Geoffrey (Carnival's Shopping Guide) helped DH and I get the diamond palm necklace I have been dying for - for only $50!!! Wow! Merry Christmas to me!
Antigua: We booked the "See Antigua by Sea" excursion with Carnival, which is run by a company called "Tropical Adventures". This was a favorite! I have always loved Antigua, but now have a favorite excursion picked out there. They circumnavigate the whole island, even going through the rough waters of the Atlantic, which was the funnest part! They took us to Green Island for snorkeling, which was a pretty island, with a small beach, but the snorkeling here was lame. The reef was dead, so there really weren't any fish to see. After snorkeling, the crew served up a really delicious lunch (the bbq chicken was the best), and opened the bar (the crew made a big mistake by letting DH mix his own rum & coke, so needless to say, DH passed out in the cabin after a wild time walking/stumbling back to the ship). We got to see Nelson's Dockyard, which I am fascinated by. I wish we could have gotten off the catamaran there, to have a better look at all the beautiful sailing vessels. We were in awe! The crew was a lot of fun, singing & dancing with everyone. I highly recommend this tour!
St. Kitts: We went on the Catamaran Fan-ta-Sea booked through Carnival. This tour was pretty good, although not up to par with the catamaran tours we did in St. Thomas, Barbados, and Antigua, as they only served rum punch, which was of a very weak variety. The crew was very friendly, however, especially "Elvis"! We went snorkeling at a place called "Shitten Bay" (hysterical), which was the best snorkeling of the whole trip. The reef is alive here, and we saw a group of squid (which scared the crap out of me - they weren't really big, just really, really ugly & creepy the way they would just float & stare at you), lobsters, crabs, and a whole hoard of beautiful fish)- we took a banana from the buffet on the ship to feed the fish there thinking it would work as well as St. Lucia, but unfortunately, it didn't. I think the fish in St. Lucia must be trained :)). After snorkeling, we went to Cockleshell Beach for lunch, which was an interesting place. I thought it was really pretty, but not my favorite beach for sure. The food was pretty good - Chicken & Hot dogs with salad. We got to visit Wilbur, the huge hog, and DH fed him some watermelon. It was hysterical the way he snorted & gobbled it up!
Disembarkation: This went fairly smooth - off the ship a lot earlier than I thought, and at Embassy Suites for another night post-cruise (avoiding the chaotic airport for one more day) by 9:00 AM. It was a breeze.
Overall: I would choose to cruise with RCCL from San Juan rather than Carnival, as it seems to attract less rude, inconsiderate Puerto Ricans (sorry, I had to include that), but the islands are all beautiful, and ANY cruise is better than being at work!