We are a couple, mid-30's traveling with my wife's parents (early 60's). We've traveled the southern itinerary before when it included La Romana, DR but excluded St. Lucia and St. Maarten. We have cruised with Carnival four times previously.
We stayed one night pre-cruise at the Comfort Inn, Condado district. the price was quite reasonable for a quad room and was located adjacent to the hotel's small (but weirdly deep) pool. It was nothing fancy but it was clean and the complimentary breakfast got us geared up for the week to come. The hotel is also conveniently located to cafe de Angel, a restaurant with slow service but good food.
Embarkation was relatively painless though the liquor enforcement at the pier nixed our duty free pre-cruise shopping. Not that we planned to buy a lot but having that option to cut down on the bar bill was nice. I guess cruisers taking this to excess probably forced Carnival to act against it. Personally I would think a better move would be to lower drink prices and go for volume over profit margin.
The first stop was St. Thomas. We didn't have anything planned, having visited and toured the island once before. We hopped in a cab an by the secondary pool is a great addition.d spent the morning at Megan's Beach before heading into town for some shopping.
The next stop was Dominica where we toured, for the second time, with Beno of Beno's Nature Tours. This time around we visited Trafalgar falls, Mr. Nice's fruit Stand and returned to Screw's Spa. Screw has done A LOT of work on the place since our last stop. The spa is certainly less rough-and-ready than in the past. The extra storage and changing cabana.
Our next stop took us to Barbados. We booked a charter with Captain Christopher Burke of Predator Sport Fishing. Despite the captain's best efforts we were limited to a single, ugly fish (a lizard fish we were told) but had a nice time on the water. Ordinarily the inshore fishing is better than that, Chris informed us. The presence of a cold front in the area contributed to rougher and more turbid water. Though the boat lacks a bathroom, we enjoyed our trip and Chris ran a nice boat. His assistant Adam was also pleasant and competent.
We then moved on to St. Lucia where we booked a tour with Cosol. What we didn't realize was that Cosol has grown extremely popular and we ended up in one of ten vans he had hired for the day. The trip covered a lot of ground and we saw plenty of sights but the journey consumed all of our available port time. Food and drink were plentiful and the island is beautiful if maddening as heck to drive around in. You spend half of your time zig-zagging up and down the mountains accumulating a lot of miles but little real distance. Our guide Fat Man was very pleasant and informative.
St. Kitts was again a self-guided day. We hopped a cab to South Friar's Beach. We arrived at the beach quite early and only one of the beach bars was even open. Chair rentals were only $5 apiece and umbrellas another $10. We had the beach pretty much to ourselves throghout the morning. The snorkeling was rather poor but the water was fine.
Our final stop was in St. Maarten where we took a taxi to Maho Beach, the beach where the airplanes land overhead. The beach itself was nice and clean but the lack of changing rooms was a bit of a downer. We may have been able to use the restrooms at the Sunset Beach Bar adjacent but never tried. We came prepared in our swimsuits as it were. The water was somewhat rough and the drop-off sudden and steep but the presence of the airplanes gave it a twist most beaches never will have.
The food aboard the ship was actually en par with previous cruises. I have never had a bad meal even though I have had a few in the past that felt lacking. In particular the turkey and bow-tie pasta dish was somewhat bland and the turkey appeared to have been cut from a rubbery turkey loaf rather than picked from an actual bird. Still, that was in the past. This time around the food was quite delicious.
Adding to the joy of dining was exceptional service from our wait team of Eduardo and Ayudianto. If not for a large party seated adjacent to us, I suspect that we would have had more time to get to know the boys. As it were, they were quite busy serving a large section and we rarely saw Yudi during the first two dinner seatings. We would see him at the start and then he would be running back and forth until desert time.
One of the true highlights of our trip was the pre-dinner cocktails at the Caspian Wine and Martini Bar. Originally we were drawn to the bar by a little inscription in our Carnival Caper. It indicated that there was a daily martini special with an apple-tini for just $5.75. We decided to check it out.
We became regulars at the Caspian lured in by reasonably priced cocktails made just right by the finest bartender I have ever met at land or at sea. Aleksandar, the employee of the month as it turned out, was not only charming nd funny but also a very skilled bartender. His pours were generous and his eye exacting. No matter what you ordered it was always just right.
He also introduced us to the James Bond martini which combines gin and vodka. Worth every penny I tell you. No extraneous fruit juices to get in the way of your alcohol! On a more serious note, according to Alex the martini specials were only available on the Victory. It sounds as if the idea for a daily special came from the bar manager. Personally I enjoyed it very much and would love to see it expanded fleet-wide.
Debarkation was a less pleasant experience. Though the ship is supposed to debark in order of zones, like on airplanes, people outside of the called zones seem to assume that they can blend in with the rest. This creates logjams of people in the debarkation areas (decks 0 and 3 on this cruise) and those problems persist in the luggage retrieval area.
Particularly mystifying was the lack of knowledge possessed by the US Customs officials in San Juan. It strikes me as odd that Customs officials working in a cruise port would have no idea about the increased customs allowances for ships visiting St. Thomas. Shame on you CBP!
We stayed at the Seraton OSJ for one night post-cruise. While the hotel was definitely convenient and reasonably well appointed, I can't imagine ever paying full price for a room there. Check-in was painfully slow as the front desk seemed to be desperately undermanned. A word to the wise about people seeking food while staying there - seek out the "street meat." There are vendors operating from carts just a couple of blocks west of the hotel along the waterfront. the food is cheap and delicious. Look for the long line of locals and you know it's got to be good.