The Carnival booking agent suggested staying at the Sheraton Old San Juan which is just about a block from the Carnival pier. Accordingly, we went down on Saturday afternoon before the cruise. We drove to the Orlando airport from Jacksonville in order to catch a direct AirTran flight and in order to save money. We arrived at the San Juan airport about 6 P.M., retrieved our bags and caught a taxi. We had seven bags so we were delighted to get in a mini-van that had plenty of room for us and our luggage. Once checked in at the hotel we took a walk along the waterfront down to a festival like park where there were numerous street vendors and musicians entertaining the crowd. We had been warned that San Juan has a rampant crime problem and not to leave the hotel after dark. We did NOT get that impression at all and felt very safe, especially along the main streets. The hotel was very convenient to the ship, but was quite a bit pricey and was not up to the standards of a U.S. hotel that you would pay $250/night for. Check out time on Sunday was 11 AM and they would not even discuss a late checkout since they have a crush of disembarking passengers on Sunday that want to check in. The hotel will hold your bags and provides a meeting room for waiting passengers to relax and grab some refreshments. We decided to walk down to the ship to get the lay of the land and were delighted that they invited to enter the terminal to register and obtain our key cards with the understanding that we could not get on-board until around 1:30 PM. If you are a light packer it is easy to simply roll your suitcase(s) from the hotel to the ship at boarding time. Unfortunately we had 5 large bags so we took a one block, $20 cab ride!When we boarded at 1:30 PM, the rooms were not ready and the fire doors to the stateroom hallways were closed. We decided to go up to the casual dining room on the Lido deck for lunch. Given that we have cruised with Carnival numerous times we always feel at home because the ships are so similar in terms of layout.
The suite I booked turned out to be spectacular. I had originally booked a regular balcony room, something we had never had. Several weeks later a Carnival rep called to offer a very affordable upgrade. I'm glad we got the larger cabin. There was a large bathroom with jacuzzi tub and glass shower door, two closets, mini-bar, dressing room and a larger living area and balcony.
Overall it was a wonderful trip and one I'm very glad we took. I would offer the following observations:
Traveling outside the U.S. to catch the ship significantly increased the cost of our trip. Our airfare and baggage fees were about $1,500. What you gain is more ports of call and no days at sea.
The Victory is starting to look a little tired and seems to need a face-lift. I assume this is partly driven by the economy and Carnival's desire to defer maintenance expenses. We spotted numerous areas where metal was rusted, carpet in some of the stateroom hallways very badly worn, soiled and in need of replacement. The most obvious place I saw this problem was on the putt-putt course. The green AstroTurf carpet was torn and threadbare. How difficult and expensive could it be to put down some new carpet? Please! The public areas inside were consistently clean and in nicer overall condition that some other areas on the ship.
Take lots of dollar bills with you on your trip. It seemed that every public restroom on land was being guarded by several "locals" who insisted on the payment of $1 per person to use the facilities. The payment was supposedly to cover the cost of cleaning the restroom and providing supplies such as toilet paper. That is an absolute joke because all of the restrooms we went to were filthy! In St. Kitts the bus driver that was returning us to the upscale market right by the ship told us specifically that he was dropping us off by the "free" restrooms. NOT! There was a woman there on a broken down old chair with her metal cash box insisting on payment. I told her what the driver had said and she just shrugged her shoulders and held out her hand. I found this whole issue disgusting. I don't understand why these cruise lines can't go to the local authorities and say "look, you patrol these restrooms and make sure your citizens aren't taking advantage of our passengers or we're going to simply bypass your country and go elsewhere.To end on a positive note, Carnival now offers "your time" dining. Rather than being forced to select early or late seating, if you have "your time" dining you can report to the mezzanine level of the dining room anytime between 6 and 9 PM. Previously we had always stressed about getting everyone bathed and dressed to get to dinner on time. This option was the highlight of the trip because every evening was relaxed. The only downside is that you may have a different wait staff each evening. I am not sure if you need a certain class of cabin to get this dining option, but I would highly recommend it.
I would love to go back to St. Marteen by plane and spend some time there. There is so much to do in this island that is divided between a French side and Dutch side.