This is our fourth cruise (our prior cruises being on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas in the Mediterranean, Freedom of the Seas in the Western Caribbean and the Norwegian Pearl in the Eastern Caribbean.)
We got to San Juan a day early and stayed at the Embassy Suites near the airport. It's a nice hotel for families and a good value since it includes evening cocktails and a full breakfast. We spent the day at the pool just relaxing.
The next morning we took a cab to the pier and checked our luggage with a porter. The cab ride was $15, plus $1 per bag. The area around the port was a zoo at 11:00. Tons of people were still getting off the ship and getting taxis and others were lining up to get on. We actually had the cabbie drop us at CVS across the street to buy liquor. We just put it in our Rum Runners right there and walked our bags across the street and checked them with a porter. Everything was waiting at our rooms about five hours later when we got on the ship.
We set off to explore Old San Juan and the forts. We walked to San Christobal fort first. It's an easy 5 - 10 minute walk from the pier. Take lots of water - it's brutally hot and we had a lot of kid whining. We started with the quick overview film about the history of the forts. It's included in the admission and most importantly, it was air conditioned in there and gave us an opportunity to cool off. We walked around the fort and took lots of great photos. It was pretty interesting to us adults and pretty boring to the kids. Their favorite part was the iguanas in the outside grass area.
Next we walked the one mile to El Morro fort. This one didn't seem quite as interesting to us as there wasn't a dungeon and there weren't as many labeled exhibits to look at. However, there is a big grassy area in front of the fort where locals were picnicking and flying kites. Very picturesque and fun to see what the locals do on a Sunday afternoon. If I had to do it over, I'd just see Christobal and walk around the town more. After, leaving El Morro we tried to catch the free shuttle back to the port area but it was full so we just decided to walk. We were all very hot and hungry at this point so we didn't take the time to explore. I would have liked more time to check it out since the cobblestone streets and old buildings were really inviting.
We stopped at CVS again and bought a case of bottled water and a case of diet coke to bring on the ship. After lugging it through the line we realized they sell the same stuff in the embarkation lounge area for three times the price. It might be worth it to not have to carry it. Embarkation took about 1/2 hour total.
The first thing I noticed when we embarked was that the windows in the public areas were really dirty. Bad first impression. We went to our cabins on deck 6. We had a balcony and the kids had an inside across the hall. The cabins were fine. Typical cruise ship cabins that compared in size to our previous experiences. The bathroom really showed some wear and tear. Mildew in the grout in the shower and some cracked tiles. No charge for the hairs left behind by the previous passenger. Grossed me out. Lots of storage space though. The inside of the closet smelled like dirty laundry to me so I was glad I had brought a small Febreze with me. The bed was super comfortable to us. We like firm beds (and have a really expensive mattress at home) and we loved it. Our friends traveling with us thought it was too hard though since they like soft mattresses. One thing I didn't know was that even though the inside cabin for the kids was listed as a double cabin, it was no big deal to add a third person. They simply put a trundle bed in there that stored under one of the twins.
Next stop was the buffet (Mediterranean Cafe) for some food. It was really crowded and poorly designed IMHO. It's a horseshoe shape with duplicate offerings on both sides of the horseshoe. This forces everyone to wait in the same line whether or not you want what's in that area. Creates really long lines as opposed to a different design with stations where you can bypass what you're not interested in. The food options seemed really measly: a small salad bar like what you'd see at a Pizza Hut, one soup, a meat/cheese area, fresh fruit, ham, prime rib, a chicken dish and a fish dish. There just didn't seem to be a whole lot to choose from. Outside by the pool there was also a grill area with hot dogs and hamburgers. By the adult pool on the other side of the buffet, there's pizza available. We were so turned off by the buffet we only returned one more time that week.
After eating, we got off the ship (adults only) and walked to Barrachina for pina coladas. Great garden courtyard bar that was really mellow and fun. The bartender was nice and the pina coladas were yummy. So yummy that we had to try a mojito the bartender recommended. Very minty and strong. After that, we went to Senor Frogs for a few more drinks. Then it was back to the ship for sail away.
The muster drill is at 9:30. Don't be there early or even on time as you end up at the back of the crowd and it's very claustrophobic. It has to be done though. Sail away party next. This is where I can say Carnival does a good job. The entertainment staff really got the crowd going and the majority of the crowd was dancing and participating. Lots of fun.
Next day was St. Thomas. Hubby went to the buffet for breakfast to bring back to the room and it was crowded and unpleasant. From there on out we ordered room svc for brkfst or went to the dining room. We decided to make this a sea day as we've been there before. The ship was very uncrowded and it was fun to explore and get photos.
Entertainment on the ship was ok. We didn't see a whole lot though. We saw the magic show, the Love and Marriage, and Liars Club. The piano bar at night was fun. The smoke really got to me though so we didn't spend a lot of time there.
We ate in the dining room every night but one. Food was fine. Not great, but not terrible either. Service was a bit slow. That doesn't bother me, but it bothered our traveling companions. The waiters did a lot of singing and group entertainment which we all enjoyed.
Food, or rather the lack of it, on this ship was one of our big complaints. Every day when we got back on the ship between 3:30 and 4:30 from a full day touring, we'd head to the buffet and it would be closed. Really? Seems like that would be a popular time for people to want food. We usually didn't have lunch so we were starving by late afternoon and it was difficult to find food. Pizza was available, but you don't want that everyday. There's also a wonderful made to order sandwich area/deli, but the line was often very looong at that time of day. When you're starving and food isn't quickly available, it becomes really aggravating. A few mornings we tried to go early to the dining room and it wasn't open. We'd get into port at 7:00 am, but the dining room wouldn't be open until 7:30. How does that make sense? The days we did have breakfast in the dining room it was yummy and service was good. One evening we decided to skip the dining room and planned to eat late after the show. At 9:45 the buffet was shut down. So it was pizza for dinner. Again, it doesn't seem very customer service oriented.
Ship seems to be in need of some refurbishing. Lots of cracked tile, stains, and rust in pool area. It doesn't feel dirty, just a bit old.
The itinerary on this ship is amazing! That's the main positive it has going for it. We saw so much and loved everything we did. I'd recommend everything we did:
Dominica: Bumpiing tours - we went to Titou Gorge, Trafalgar Falls and Champagne Reef. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn't cooperate for snorkeling at the reef, but it was still an amazing day. Beautiful, beautiful island. Can't believe Carnival is dumping this port.
Barbados: Took a taxi to the Boatyard for a day of swimming and relaxing. Loved the rope swing, water trampoline and beautiful water. Beach vendors were mellow and easy to get rid of with a polite, "No, thank you." Negotiated with the privately run jet ski owners for 50 mins for $50. Reasonably priced drinks and overall a good value. Fun, fun day.
St. Lucia: Island tour with Herod. Very beautiful island and a very fun and informative tour. You even get to have lunch home cooked at his mom's house. Such an amazing personal touch. Definitely pay extra to take a boat back to the port. The roads are twisty and time consuming. Be prepared for very aggressive street vendors here.
St. Kitts: Island tour and rainforest hike with My Islands Tours by Javin. Very unique and personal tour with a great guy who is trying to build his business. Highly recommend.
St. Maarten: Full day boat trip and tubing around the island with Captain Alan. The water here was the most beautiful we'd seen on the whole trip. Such an amazing Caribbean blue you'd think it was a postcard. Our most expensive day, but our favorite day.
Overall, this was a fabulous, but exhausting trip. I loved every excursion we did and loved something different about every island. The ship was really just a tool to get us to these fabulous places. It wasn't what made the trip. Everything about the ship seemed just adequate: food, entertainment, service, public areas. I think it's important to adjust your expectations and know what you're wanting from the cruise. We went into it knowing it was for the itinerary and we loved it. Parts of the ship were great and parts were really annoying, but we knew that wasn't what we took the trip for. As long as you're not expecting an over the top ship in impeccable shape I think you'll enjoy it.