This was our first time to the Caribbean. We selected the cruise because we are not big fans of sea days, so the chance to visit five islands made it worth flying to San Juan. Our only other cruise prior to this one was with NCL in Hawaii, where you get to visit all the islands. We liked that cruise so much that we did it TWICE. We were very disappointed that the stop in Dominica was cancelled because we felt that the island would provide a different and "wilder" experience than the other islands.
I am 65 and my girlfriend is 58 and we like to "do" rather than to "see", so we did not take any land tours on any of the islands. We preferred various water activities, which I will get to later. We do not drink, so there will not be any critique of the bars on the ship.
We stayed overnite at the Quality Inn El Portal in the Condado area of San Juan. I got a good rate because I booked WAY EARLY. It was adequate for one nite, nothing special but not bad either. They have a continental breakfast served on the roof, so that is a nice way to start the day.
Like many others, we checked out just prior to noon and headed for the dock. Lots of people, but check-in went well. We checked all our bags, including the "carry-ons" so that we could then tour Old San Juan without having to carry them around. One caution: they do not start boarding until around 12:45, so there were quite a few people sitting and waiting. They call by "Groups" and you have to wait until your group is called. PLEASE DO NOT STAND IN A PLACE WHERE YOU IMPEDE THE PROGRESS OF THOSE WHOSE GROUP IS CALLED BEFORE YOURS. This was actually the only time in the entire cruise that I found many people to be rude in that they stood in the way of those trying to enter the boarding line. Security is relatively slow and the lines to get on the ship are long, but there is FOOD waiting on Lido deck when you get there. One hint: if it is difficult to find a table, find the stairs by the dessert cart and go up one flight where it is very quiet and there are lots of tables available
As with many others, we then headed off the ship to spend some time in Old San Juan.
We are not critical people. We took the cruise to enjoy it, not to nitpick, so you won't hear much in the way of criticisms from us.
We did "Anytime Dining" and we were really impressed with the friendliness of the wait staff and the efficiency of the kitchen in the MDR. By that, I mean that we rarely waited long for any of our food. We normally ate quite early, around 6:00, so perhaps service slowed down later in the evening. Still, the "Early Dining" folks were being served at essentially the same time as we were, yet our food arrived quite quickly to the table. Both the head of Anytime Dining and the Maitre'd stopped by EVERY table EVERY nite, so if you did have complaints, they were available to hear them. All of the entrees were good, and we especially like the "Jerk Chicken" and pork. The wait staff kept stopping by our table to see if it was "too spicy", but "Jerk" chicken is SUPPOSED to be spicy! The hostess was also pleasant, friendly, and efficient in seating us.
We also ate breakfast in the MDR and were once again pleased with the efficiency of the operation. Why did we eat in the MDR? Because there was no place on the buffet line where they prepared eggs on an "individual" basis. Only scrambled eggs were available, along with an omelet station near the back pool. I like my eggs "over medium", and the MDR was the only place to get them that way. We even ate in the MDR on those days when we had an early tour because we found that we could be in-and-out in less than half-an-hour with just the two of us.
The only problem we had was that one morning we were given seating at a large table where a number of other couples were also seated. As I approached my seat, I was OVERWHELMED by the smell of perfume, so bad that I literally almost gagged. I was going to be seated next to the culprit. I did not even sit down, but immediately went back to the hostess to get a table for two. EASY ON THE PERFUME, LADIES! Why exactly does one need to douse oneself with perfume first thing in the morning????????
Our room attendant, Justin from Dominica, was pleasant, efficient, and yet somewhat dignified all at the same time. We left him a nice tip.
We are not big show people either. We did catch the end of a juggler/comedian show one nite, and the end of another comedian another nite. Both were pleasant and funny.
Now a bit about the ports and the shore excursions.
On St Thomas, we did a catamaran sail to Greater St James Island on the Spirit of St Christopher. The problem with this tour is that it is now primarily for those staying in hotels. It starts at 11 in the morning, and we got back to the ship at 4:15. There were some times late in the day when I was beginning to worry. Still, it was a nice sail and snorkeling trip that includes lunch and rum. You can call Captain Jimmy and see if he will accomodate you. The website is at treasureislecruises.com.
On Barbados, we went to Accra beach, also called Rockley Beach. Our cab driver called it Accra Beach. We were dropped off right in the middle of the beach and found a couple of chairs and an umbrella for $15. The beach was very nice and the water clear. There were kiosks that sold booze, and there is also a bar at the far end of the beach. There are also a few kiosks selling local merchandise and clothing. There are plenty of taxis to take you back to the ship when you desire. We ate a a small restaurant across the street and had some excellent flying fish sandwiches.
In St Lucia, we did the "Kayak to Pigeon Island" tour through the ship excursions. If you need some exercise, this is a good way to get it. You don't really get that far from shore, probably a couple of hundred yards. You kayak for about half-an-hour or a bit more. There are refreshments waiting for you when you get to the Pigeon Island beach. At that point, you have three options: snorkeling, either guided or on your own; a guided tour hike to the top of a promontory for some excellent views; or just sitting around on the beach. I snorkeled while my g/f chilled. There were all ages on the tour, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.
In St Kitts we went to Cockleshell Beach. There are lots of lounge chairs to be had for FREE, but we selected one of the few with a thatched shade roof for $15. As the fella said, "The chairs are free, the shade is $15". *L* The beach is beautiful and the water was calm. There were some small fish swimming around and they were not shy about coming close to take a look at your legs. One lady screamed, "There are fish in here!" I said "There are supposed to be fish--this is the ocean!" *L*
We sat right in front of Lion's Bar. There is a Reggae Bar at the far end of the beach for those who want a more crowded bar scene. DO NOT MISS LUNCH FROM LION'S BAR! It was more than food, it was culinary art. You have your choice of bbq ribs or fish or shrimp, along with small portions of fried plantain, cole slaw, sweet potato, broccolli, and a few other items that I can't remember. It was "island food", kind of expensive at around $18 US per plate, but well worth it in my view. Lion prepares it on "island time", so it is not ready until around 1:00. It was one of the highlights of the trip.
Also on Cockleshell Beach near the Reggae Bar is a "shack" where a fella named Fernando sells his "folk art" paintings that he does in his home. He also sells them out of a knapsack as he walks along the beach. They are simple painting of palm trees and sunsets, some might even call them "cheesy". Then again, lots of people pay hundreds of dollars for Thomas Kinkade paintings and I don't think you can find anything more cheesy. We think that they capture the essence of the islands and recommend that you at least take a look at them.
In St Maarten, we did the "Capt Alan's 3-Island Tour". Very good tour! We started at an "island" that was not much more than a big rock a few hundred yards offshore. There were some underwater rocks and a reef that had lots of fish. Capt Alan gets you there FIRST in the morning. By the time we came back in late morning, I noticed that there were about half-a-dozen boats at the "island". We had it all to ourself earlier!
Then Capt Alan takes you to a beach where you get to do the "mud bath". How long has it been since you have played in the mud, let alone rubbed it all over yourself! What a kick! It felt like you were five years old and getting to play in the mud! Then we laid on the warm sand for awhile and let the mud "bake" into our skin. How nice that was! Finally, you get back in the water and wash it all off and your skin feels really soft.
You then go to a reef where there are a few turtles and, again, quite a few fish. We saw a few turtles on top of the water as we approached the reef, but they declined to swim with us. Still, there were plenty of fish to see.
Finally, Capt Alan takes you to "Pinel Island Beach" where you have the opportunity to swim in the shallow waters or just relax on the beach. They also have some iguanas that they feed behind the bar/restaurant if you want to see them. There is beer or soda as refreshments. All in all, a very relaxing and fun morning. One caveat: the boat does go into the "open ocean" for about 20 minutes. The ride was a bit bumpy, but Capt Alan did an excellent job of going through the waves. If you are prone to seasickness, this may be a bit of a problem.
Finally, a bit about disembarkation. We had an 11:30 flight and we had heard that the airport was "a mess", so we chose to do the "Self Debarkation". One problem is that you have to be off the ship by 7:45 or so if you do the self debarkation, so that may mean getting up earlier. Still, we got up and ate breakfast in the MDR and still got off the ship by around 7:45. If you do the self-debarkation, be advised that you use the elevators all the way to the front of the ship. They are the only ones that go all the way down to the "ZERO" level. They are also the best elevators to use in the morning when you get off the ship to head for shore.
We happened to get the Tasmanian Devil as our cab driver, so we got to the airport VERY quickly. At one point, I thought she was going to hit another vehicle and I gasped "oh wow!" "What did you say", she said. "I said oh wow" I said. *L*
The airport was virtually empty when we got there around 8:00. We took our bags through agriculture and then headed for the ticket counter. Even though we were in advance of the "three hour" rule for getting your tickets, they gave them to us anyway, I suppose because they also knew what a long line would develop later on. It was a long wait in the airport, almost three hours till boarding the airplane, but we thought it was worth it to avoid the "mess" that would develop later.
All in all, a SUPERB vacation and we highly recommend it......