We sailed on the Carnival Victory in September, 2009, from San Juan. We are avid Carnival cruisers, and we believe that the cruise line provides an excellent "fit" for us. We also believe that a cruise can be enhanced or diminished by fellow cruisers, to the extent that part of the fun of cruising is making new friends. The port-intensive itinerary of this cruise made it a no-brainer for us. We enjoy learning about other cultures...however, I am sad to report that the rudeness, crassness, and general discomfort reported by many on these boards was felt by us during this cruise as well. We believe due to our observations that much of this behavior - which we have never experienced on similar Carnival cruises leaving from the mainland - was due to the existence of a significant plurality of San Juan-based cruisers on board. I read the reviews mentioning this aspect of the cruise before we left, and dismissed it. I wish I had heeded these warnings more thoroughly.
We arrived late in the day, around 7 pm, to San Juan. Sailaway was at 10 pm. Retreiving our luggage, catching a cab, arriving at the pier, and getting on board was amazingly simple. Within an hour of landing, we were strolling aboard the Victory. Muster was easy, and the weather for sailaway was perfect. When sailing out of San Juan, be SURE to get out on the deck, the view is INCREDIBLE! Sailing in and out of Venice is my favorite port, but San Juan is possibly my second favorite for sailaway views.
There is no supper club/steakhouse on the Victory, and so we ate in the Main Dining Room (Pacific dining room) each night. We are typically supper club, buffet types, and have avoided the MDRs on past cruises. This cruise made me wonder why! We had superb meals each night, and quickly bonded with our waitstaff. Individual selections changed each day, but were always enjoyable. No disappointments.
Naomi and Paul were the casino hosts in the Seven Seas Casino, and were a joy to spend time with in the casino. We had some good luck (which always helps!), but the atmosphere was fun as well. One group of Puerto Ricans started a fight at the roulette table on the first night of the cruise, but after that no problems were seen on the floor.
The Caspian Wine Bar was a lot of fun, and we quickly found a second home there. The Martinis were excellent and prepared to specifications - no problems. The bartender at that time has since been promoted to the Dream, but we also enjoyed the ambiance and people that we met at this location.
St. Thomas (Monday):
We are beach people. If you are looking for shopping tips, I can't help you. The most I ever buy is local beer. We caught a cab (with about 10 other random cruise folks) to Emerald Beach. This is described by many as being dirty, choked with airport noise, and boring. We found it serene and relaxing. We watched two, maybe three planes take off from the nearby air field, but watching the prop planes fly away added to the experience in our eyes. Noise was negligible. The water was extraordinary. Don't look for a ton of amenities at this spot, but if you want a quiet beach experience, I can recommend Emerald Beach, Lindberg Bay, St. Thomas. The next time we're in St. Thomas, we'll head back for another visit.
Dominica was a tough one. None of the shore excursions or private tours really appealed to us. We chose to make this our "sea day". We did venture off of the boat for about 15 minutes. We felt unsafe as we walked a few blocks away from the ship, and U-turned and got right back on board. We spent the day laying out, playing mini-golf, and table tennis. The Lido deck buffet was still very crowded, pushy, and unpleasant, even while docked. We had a room service lunch. I would recommend looking at some of the great Cruise Critic message boards for tour ideas at this stop.
We found Barbados to be a beautiful stop, but the hyper-aggressive cab drivers and tour operators who mob debarking cruise guests upon exiting the customs shop were frustrating. We grabbed a taxi and went to Accra Beach. It was amazing...one of the best beaches I've ever been to. The ride was short (15 minutes) and the view of Bridgetown was interesting as well.
St. Lucia (Thursday):
In St. Lucia, we found the debarkation to be the most uncomfortable, due to the pushy cab drivers. One of them made physical contact (pushing/shoving)! It was a very unpleasant welcome to that beautiful island. However, we found a cab driver that we trusted, and took off toward Pigeon Island Nat'l Park. This area is on a long peninsula (used to be an island, but had a connecting levee built), and is near the Sandals in St. Lucia. The cost was $5 or so per person to enter the park. There are at least two nice beach areas, a reasonably-priced shop selling soda, water, beer, and snacks, and a breaktaking view from the top of the hill. There's history (an old fort), beauty (the beaches and view), and crystal clear water. I definitely recommend going here, especially if you like to avoid crowds.
In Antigua, we found the taxi process to be smoother. We found a taxi driver nicknamed "Mr. Smooth", and he shuttled us off to Dickenson Beach. This beach was more active, but we didn't feel crowded. A few bucks got us two chairs, and we stayed in the water most of the time so we passed on an umbrella. The beach is shared by the new Sandals Resort, but I didn't find the noise and extra foot traffic originating at the resort to be a distraction. Once again, water was clear and cool, sand was nice, and refreshments abounded. However, this was a more expensive beach to go to.
St. Kitts (Saturday):
In St. Kitts, our last stop, we decided to hire a taxi to Cockleshell Beach. This beach is located pretty far ($30/~30 minutes) from the port. We enjoyed the ride up and over the spine of the island, and down to the beach area, as much as the beach itself. We found Cockleshell to be disappointing. The restaurant was crowded to capacity and the beach nearest it could not have fit two more bodies on it...it was that crowded. We walked down a bit, away from the restaurant, and enjoyed the water, but the noise from the many, many people who thronged this location took away from the experience for us. This is the one and only beach that we were both ready to leave by the time the taxi driver returned! Many people love this location...in fact, I've seen few people who disliked it. I'm glad that they had a great time. However, based on my experience, I cannot recommend this beach. I can recommend the rest of this beautiful island though...just a driving tour would have several breaktaking moments (and photo opportunities!)
Debarkation was very simple. We waited for our number, went down to the lobby, and walked off...no long line, no mess. Wish it was always that easy.
Because of this cruise, I would NEVER sail out of San Juan again. I would entertain visiting this lovely city as a port, but not as a debarkation/embarkation port. The Victory is a fine ship, and we enjoyed it. The ports make this an excellent cruise, and I would gladly go again if it left from Florida.
As always, please feel free to message me on here with further questions, and I'll try to answer them.