I would recommend arriving in San Juan a day early. Old San Juan is a beautiful part of the city. I would recommend it to anyone who can appreciate good food, excellent shopping and old historical buildings and streets. The people are very friendly and many of the sights are very close to the cruise ship dock. DO NOT miss out on getting to see such a wonderful city!
After stocking up on some supplies at the CVS down the block from the ship we headed back to board around 3PM. We had seen most of Old San Juan the night before and wanted to make sure we were on the ship in case they decided to leave early. Heavy rain bands from Irene had already started moving into San Juan at this point. The line to board the ship was a little long, probably took about 30-40 minutes but I think that this was the result of the rain and the threat of the ship leaving early.
When we arrived at our stateroom our bags were already there. We had booked a balcony on the Verandah deck and were very pleased with the size of the room as well as the bathroom. It was not huge by any means, but was more than we expected and was more than comfortable. Having a balcony is a definite plus as you can see what is going on outside. Our room was cleaned twice a day and the housekeeping staff was outstanding.
We were informed by the Captain that the ship was going to leave at 6PM instead of 10PM due to the Tropical Storm headed towards Puerto Rico. We were also told that we would have to miss St. Thomas and spend a day at sea because of the storm as well. We didn't mind this so much as we were just glad to be getting out of port. I heard that there were around 500 people left behind because of the early departure. I felt bad for them but find it hard to believe that so many people would book flights that landed so close to a cruise ship departure, especially with the uncertainty of airline arrival times. (Our flight the day before was 3 hours delayed for no good reason). I heard these people were put up in hotels and flown to Barbados to meet the ship a few days later.
The first night of cruising was a little rocky due to the rough seas but the captain did an outstanding job getting out of harms way and leading us into beautiful weather for our two days at sea. The only complaint I have about the boat is the lack of swimming pools. The are a few pools but they were small and tended to be packed all of the time. The hot tubs in the Serenity section were nice, but often packed as well. Be sure to use the water-slide, no matter what age you are, as it offers a fun way to cool down.
The ship itself is in great shape. Everything looks relatively new and all of the public areas were perfect. The layout made it easy to get around, but most importantly I did not feel that I was sharing the ship with 2000+ other people. There was always plenty of room to walk around and enjoy what the ship had to offer.
Dining on the ship was great as well. The breakfast buffet lines on the Lido Deck were a little slow but the breakfast was very good. We had dinner every night in the dining hall, we ended up switching to the early dining option at 6:00pm as this gave us more time to enjoy the nightly entertainment. The dining staff was great and attentive. The food was very good as well. I'm not going to say that every dish was great, but you are able to order more than one appetizer and entree off the menu at a time, so if you cannot find something you like to eat from a large offering on the menu then you are too much of a picky eater. The waitstaff went out of their way to entertain and make us happy at dinner. Dining every night was a great experience.
The boat had some great entertainment as well. We made sure to see every comedy show that was offered. The first two comics were great and had shows the first two nights at sea. The last two comics were not as good and had a hard time making the audience laugh. I would like to see a better quality of comics next time as well as shows every night instead of just 4 nights out of 7. We saw a musical performed by the Carnival staff. People seemed to enjoy the show except to me the cheese factor was through the roof. I am also not a big fan of musicals or anything Broadway so my opinion is biased as I could not stop laughing at how cheesy the songs and dancing were. I ended up leaving after 30 minutes because I could not take it anymore. I would definitely recommend that they review some of the live entertainment as I felt that some nights we were searching for things to do. The casino was always a good time except when we lost and found ourselves watching Karaoke and watching people make fools of themselves.
Overall our first cruise was a wonderful time. We will definitely be cruising with Carnival again in the future. All of the staff was wonderful and friendly and went out of their way to make sure we were happy with our experience.
We decided to walk around Bridgetown a little after our excursion. At first glance the center of the city is very pretty but then it quickly turns into a hustling and bustling city with crazy traffic and pushy vendors. Walked up to Swan street where we were met with glares from the locals as if we were aliens from a different planet. We quickly turned around and headed back to the ship. The ship is a distance from the center of town so leave yourself some time to get back.
Shipwreck beach was ok. There was a huge line of coral on the beach so you could only access the water from a certain point. The views were wonderful and the little bar that is there offered great drinks. I would have preferred to go to Cockashell Beach where they offer more water sports. But it was a nice relaxing day on the beach.
You can get some really goods deals on souvenirs at the shops in Port Zante. You can often get things for half price, especially when buying a bunch of things.
We ended up in Charlotte Amalie to do some jewelry shopping at the end of the day. You can walk back to the cruise ship from downtown (about 15-20 minute walk) so do not let the cab drivers fool you. You will get asked 1000 times if you need a cab back to the ship.
St. Thomas is a beautiful island. The natives could take better care of it, but the views and beaches are unmatched.