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6 days in paradise!
My boyfriend and I booked this cruise a few months after coming home from a "disaster" cruise where we were fogged in at port, missed one stopped and survived a flood in another (we were wading through knee deep water!). We hadn't planned on doing another cruise so soon, but found a great deal on this one. We loved the itinerary and so we decided to book it. Our families and friends laughed that we would chance another cruise so soon, but we just hope and prayed for better weather and figured we couldn't have two bad cruises in a row. We were definitely right; this cruise was perfect. We couldn't have asked for better weather, excursions, or an overall cruise experience.
We flew in San Juan on the Sunday of embarkation. We would have liked to spend more time in San Juan, but decided to save money by not spending on hotels before or after the cruise. We went ahead and booked transfers through Carnival before and after the cruise. The transfer to the ship went smoothly, although More
we did have to wait awhile at the airport since there was a long line of people waiting for transportation. Once we got to the port, embarkation was easy and fairly quick. We were on the ship around 4:30 and decided to stay on and explore instead of getting off to see San Juan.
The ship was standard fare for a Carnival ship - pretty flashy. Our cabin was fine. It was a pretty standard oceanview room. Nothing to write home about, but it had plenty of room for both of us. I did notice that the bathroom wasn't ever clean and sparkling, but that was due to wear and tear of the ship and opposed to our steward not doing a good job. Our steward was friendly and did a great job taking care of his guests. We noticed throughout the ship that there seemed to be more wear and tear than other ships we have been on. My boyfriend and I are pretty anti-cruise cruise people. We love cruises because it's an easy and affordable way to see a bunch if different places, but we could care less about the "fun crew," the vegas style shows, the pictures, etc. However, we do embrace the cheesiness of it sometimes. We skipped out on a few shows and the 1-2 we saw were exactly the same as on our December cruise. However, we loved both of the comedians and thought the juggler was good as well.
Because we were in port every day, we didn't spend as much time on the ship. The time we spent on the ship was mostly spent taking naps (it's vacation after all), gambling in the casino, or being entertained by our fellow cruisers in the karoke lounge or piano bar. All the casino staff and bartenders we came into contact with were friendly and helpful and made our cruise experience more enjoyable.
We dined every night in the Pacific dining room late seating. The food was not over the top excellent, but definitely good enough to keep us full for the whole week and probably the week after. I'm a sucker for desserts, so as long as I finished my night with Bitter and Blanc or Chocolate Melting cake I was satisfied. Our head waiter was pretty new (I hope), so he made a lot of mistakes (bringing the wrong dish or forgetting to bring dishes), but he was always apologetic and quick to fix the mistake. Our whole service team was very friendly. Our bar server was hilarious and queen of the up-sale. Unfortunately for sign and sail accounts of our entire table, we were pretty easy to fall for the up-sale. The lines in the buffet always seemed long, especially at breakfast. We always made sure we left extra time to eat breakfast than we really needed to account for standing in line. At lunch, we tried to avoid the buffet lines as much as possible and either ate in port or went to the grill, pizzeria, asian line or deli. I never like eating buffets so I like the other options more anyway.
Debarkation day came way too soon, but I guess it was inevitable that we would have to go back to the real world. We were instructed to put our bags outside of the room by 11pm on Saturday. Since we didn't get back to our room until after 11pm that night, we just held onto our bags throughout debarkation. Since our flight wasn't until the late afternoon, we waited until our number was called and avoided any lines getting off the ship. Debarkation and customs was a breeze. Overall our trip was fantastic. We both rated it our favorite cruise out of my three and his five. The itinerary really made the trip what it was, but we were happy with the ship experience too. We both agreed that we would do the same cruise again if given the chance. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
In Barbados we booked a 5-hour catamaran and snorkel trip with Shasa Catamaran Cruises. It was a perfect day and probably my favorite excursion of the trip. My boyfriend had been hesitant to book excursions away from the ship, but I think our three excursions changed his mind. Once again, all my communication with Tess from Shasa prior to the trip was professional and prompt. There were four people on the trip, including my boyfriend and me. Tess met us right where she said she would in the port. Both she and Jason were very personable and really strived to offer a great excursion. Tess took us on about a 20 minute drive to meet Jason on the catamaran. Once on the boat, we sailed about a hour north to snorkel with the sea turtles (on the way we passed by payne's bay where most excursions stop to see the turtles. We heard from one couple who went there who were disappointed because there were so many people and they didn't see any turtles). There was one other catamaran where we stopped to see the turtles. It was a total of about 12 people and 15-20 turtles. We spent plenty of time in the water with the turtles and definitely got an up close view. The turtles would swim right up to you! After swimming with the turtles we stopped at a coral reef for additional snorkeling. After that stop we met Tess at a beach so that she could bring us a homemade lunch. All the food was great and it was so nice to have a homemade caribbean meal. In addition to the food, we had unlimited beer, run punch, and cokes. We spent about an hour at the beach (where we collected a bunch of sea glass) and then headed back to the ship. The whole day was awesome - I can't say enough about the trip. Everything felt very individual and I could tell that Jason and Tess take a lot of pride in running a good company. Tess even washed off our feet for us before we drove back to the ship. They really provided a great experience.
Dominica was probably the most unique of all the islands - less touristy and more natural. In Dominica made arrangements with Antours to do the Emerald Pool and river tubing trip. All of my correspondence with Antours was prompt and professional. We really enjoyed every part of the trip. A representative was easy to find at the pier and we left on time. There was only one other couple on the trip with my boyfriend and me, which made it more personal. The drive to the falls was long, but it gave us time to see and hear about the island. Our driver and tour guide were friendly and professional; we definitely felt safe, even on some scary roads! Tubing down the Layou river was one of many highlights of the trip. Even though there had been a drought in the Caribbean, the river was plenty high and there were still many quick rapids. We had three guides on the river trip and they did a great job keeping us moving, safe, and out of the rocks. Tubing down the river was a great way to see the natural beauty of the island. We finished our excursion a little early, so we spent some time walking around Roseau, near the pier. There was some pretty architecture, but not much else to see or do.
After three long days with excursions, we decided to make St. Kitts another beach day. We grabbed a taxi to Cockleshell beach. We shared a taxi with another couple and it was $6.50pp each way. The drive to the beach was spectacular with beautiful views and our driver was nice enough to let us stop a few times to take pictures. The beach was beautiful and relaxing. There were palms trees up and down the beach for shade, so we skipped out on renting chairs and an umbrella and just laid our towels underneath a tree for shade. We were close to reggae bar so we had easy access to refreshments. The day was completely relaxing. After leaving the beach, we spent a little time walking around Basseterre. All the locals were friendly and courteous and the town was nice and clean. My boyfriend and I both really loved St. Kitts and would go back for a full trip in a minute.
On St. Lucia we booked an island tour with Spencer Ambrose. It was another great day. I had trouble deciding who to book with at St. Lucia but eventually decided on Spencer because he offered a full lunch and potentially more time at Jalousie beach and seemed more likely to have a small tour size. I'm definitely feel like I made the right decision. Both my boyfriend and I were 100% satisfied with the tour. We had a total of seven people on the tour and Spencer himself was our tour guide (his brother Small took a couple on a different tour the same day). I noticed at the port and throughout the day other tour groups had two to three vans or buses full of people. Having one van with seven people was much more enjoyable. Spencer made it clear throughout the tour that his guests were his number one priority. He was friendly and funny and gave us a great island experience. He is a former policeman, knows the island well, and makes safety a priority. We stopped multiple times at roadside stands or small shops to get fresh treats - johnnycakes, creole bread, fresh bananas and coconut candy - and had unlimited beer, rum punch, cokes, and water in the van. Spencer made every effort to get us to each stop before the other tour groups. We got to Jalousie beach for lunch and swimming/snorkeling around 11:30 and the beach was empty. There were plenty of chairs to claim. By the time we left around 1:00 or 1:30, there were about 30-40 people on the public beach area and not nearly enough chairs. Spencer also took us to all the other major west coast sights. At every stop, Spencer kept close sight of his group and our belongings, which made us feel much more comfortable. Spencer took great care of us and I would recommend him to anyone. The island tour was long, but we loved being able to experience the whole island in all it's beauty and character.
St. Maarten was another beach/shopping day. In the morning we grabbed a taxi to Orient beach ($7pp each way, I think). There wasn't any natural shade on the beach, so we rented chairs and an umbrella ($18) at the Bikini Beach bar. We got a couple of buckets of beer and some snacks from the bar. There was a problem running our credit card and the bartender accidently overcharged, but she paid us back in cash and gave us free frozen drinks to apologize. After spending a few hours at the beach, we took a taxi back to Philipsburg. I think it was my favorite town to shop and walk around. The streets were narrow and pedestrian friendly. We got some guavaberry coladas (yum!) and did some shopping before walking back to the ship on the boardwalk. It was another great day to finish the cruise and we both agreed we would go back to St. Maarten again in a hearbeat.
We didn't have anything planned for our day in St. Thomas and we ended out making it a shopping and beach day. We spent the morning walking around and shopping in Charlotte Amalie - it was an easy 10 minute walk along the boardwalk from the pier. We wandered around and bought some souvenirs and then walked up the 99 steps to get a gorgeous view of the harbor. (Some guy at Hotel 1829 tried to convince us that we had to pay the entrance fee for Blackbeard's castle, botanical gardens and rum distillery to walk up the steps, but it wasn't the case. However, my boyfriend was sad that we didn't pay to go to the rum distillery after two couples at our table talked about how much they enjoyed it). We walked back to the ship for lunch and then headed out to Morningstar beach for the afternoon. Morningstar is the beach attached to the Marriott resort, but like all beaches in St. Thomas, is open to the public. It's the closest beach to the pier ($6 pp each way). It is smaller, but less crowded that a lot of the beaches. The water was beautiful and there was good snorkeling on the left side by the rocks. Our day in St. Thomas was laid back and relaxing - a perfect start to the cruise!