This is our fourth Carnival cruise. We selected this cruise because of the itinerary. We used the 'boards" section of Cruise Critic to help us find our way through the ports. We are not follow the leader/shore excursion people and prefer to do everything on our own. This review will focus on some things that may or may not have been covered in other reviews.
We stayed pre-cruise at the Sheraton Old San Juan. It is located right across the street from the ship. The hotel itself is not perfect, but has nice beds, was quiet for us and great for a one night cruise stay. We bid it on Hotwire for $87 for the night. We arrived late and found a nearby restaurant by the name of Tijuana's OSJ to pick up some late night dinner and drinks. I would avoid this restaurant as it has very poor service and the food was sub-par (one step above Taco Bell).
Other reviews have mentioned that embarkation at this port can be challenging. We checked our luggage at 11:00 am. and picked up our sign and sail cards. We then left the port area, went to have a late breakfast at La Bobonera and visited Fort San Cristobal. This is an easy walk from the ship. When you visit one of the forts ask the Park Service rangers for information regarding 'additions' to the fort during WWII. All I kept thinking is that this was an easy outpost for a WWII soldier!
We were back on the ship by 3:00 - no problem. We then later went out again for a drink at a local bar and for a quick stop at CVS. We then got on the ship again at 5:30 pm.
The Victory always arrived and left all ports promptly. However, when arriving in the ports you cannot disembark at the scheduled time. Most of the time you have to wait a good 15-30 minutes before they will allow you to get off the ship.
The Victory is in need of dry dock which is scheduled for later this year. She is still well maintained, but the carpets etc. are showing heavy signs of wear and tear. We are glad that Carnival disabled the balcony lights on this ship. Don't know if this was a cost saving move but it sure made sitting out on the deck at night much more pleasant in not having the neighboring balcony lights flood into ours. I do not know if they have done this on other ships.
Our room steward, Kerry from Dominica, was the worst steward we ever had. He rarely refilled the ice in the room (important because standard rooms do not have refrigerators). He knocked my reading glasses off the counter, stepped on them and then tried to cover up the damage. While I understand that accidents happen, covering up for the incident added insult to injury and I no longer trusted him in our room while we were gone.
We found the remaining staff to be pleasant and enjoyed the Anytime dining option. We requested the same waiter (Tomasz) every night. Interestingly, he was the same waiter we had on a Carnival cruise 4 years ago out of San Diego. My wife is on a gluten free regimen and the staff worked very hard to accommodate her needs.
With the exception of the comedian, Percy Cruz II and the juggler, the entertainment on this ship was very poor. If you are looking for good consistent entertainment, you will not find it on this ship. The Carnival dancers are basically the same ones we saw 4 years ago doing the same routine with different props.
The food on the ship was fine. Frankly we are not big eaters and our ship and port experience does not revolve around food. We ate most of the time in the MDR, but the few times we ate on Lido deck we did not find the lines overly long or at least the same length as those on other cruises we have taken. We did notice cutbacks in food portions, but if that is an issue, just order two entrees instead.
The fitness room on this ship was nicer than that of the Spirit class ships we had previously sailed. We also liked the walking/running track.
In St. Thomas we proceeded to take a taxi to Red Hook and then ferry over to Cruz Bay and then taxi onto two beaches in St. John. We loved St. John. At the time we traveled we were unaware of the very heavy murder rate in St. Thomas. Not to be an alarmist as I am usually anything but however, this would concern me if I were to return to the island and would make me hesitate spending much time there. If you decide to go to St. John take the taxi, ferry, taxi and return trip the way we did you can figure on spending about $48 pp to get to there and back. We preferred this over a tour as we got to spend about 5 hours on the beach.
For our one and only tour in Dominica we went river tubing with Antours. On this island there is nothing you can really do on your own and a tour is your only option. Antours were disorganized at the port (they overbooked a group of 10) but once we got moving the tour ended up being fun and worth the money. Remember to apply bug repellent if visiting the falls etc. We didn't even think about mosquitoes until we felt the bites.
In Barbados we went to Payne's Bay to go snorkeling with the turtles. Again we did this on our own. If you are not a strong ocean swimmer I would not recommend doing this on your own and instead use a tour. We had a great time with the turtles but left Paynes bay beach to go to Accra to hang out for the remainder of the day. Accra is a much nicer and prettier beach and we did not encounter any vendors.
St Lucia we treated as our "sea day" and we stayed near the ship. We took a water taxi into town as my wife wanted to do some shopping. The shopping in St. Lucia wasn't bad. In St. Lucia most of the tours take 5-6 hours minimum to include heavy road time and that didn't interest us as we have plenty of road time with our commutes to and from work. We found this to be our least favorite port.
St. Kitts we took a taxi to Shipwreck beach bar. We loved this place as it was not touristy, quiet and relaxing. Please be aware of shady taxi drivers in St. Kitts and specifically cab #Kennedy 355 (the number is on his license plate). The normal cab cost back to the ship from Shipwreck is about $16. He tried to double that amount. Needless to say we passed and grabbed another cab instead. There are plenty of cabs and if one gives you a hard time there are others whom will not.
In every port including those that are government regulated, always pre-negotiate the price of the cabs before getting in.
St. Maarten - we took a cab to Orient beach. We loved it there. In the afternoon we then took another cab to Maho beach to watch the planes land. This is really fun. We did notice that when we left the ship in the morning some people were leaving the Victory that day rather than taking the ship back to San Juan. Hindsight being 20/20 that is probably a very good idea as we would have liked to have spent a few extra days in St. Maarten.
Disembarkation was no problem. However, the soonest they were letting people off was 8:10 am. We had some friends that had a 9:30 flight time and missed their flight. While the distance from the port to the airport is short, the airport is not a quick one in which to navigate. In addition, you have a USDA line to go through before walking through security. We would recommending spending the night in San Juan like we did post cruise and taking a flight out on Monday.
Post cruise we stayed at the Doubletree in San Juan. We picked up a very reasonable rate on the Hilton website. The hotel staff is the nicest we have ever met and our room was great. Further, they let us check in early and check out late. We couldn't have been more pleased with our stay at the Doubletree.
We really liked the ports on this cruise. We would do it again for the ports. The ship is nice and 99% of the staff we came in contact with were friendly.