We flew to San Juan a day early and stayed at the Hampton Inn Isle of Verde. Nice accusation and hotel. They had overbooked and I had prepaid for a Suite 2 Doubles Pool view. To compensate they provided a king size suite and a second king size room for the same price. Breakfast was complimentary and very nice. The cabs were abundant to cruise terminal but be sure to check with driver up front on cost since some like to add tip automatically. Cabs are by zone with set charges and bags are $1 each. About $26 plus tip should get you there and the same back to airport.
Ship was nice, nothing special but well maintain for its age. Our accommodation was an Ocean Suite forward on Deck 7 which was comfortable, plenty of room, nice balcony, but it wasn't as nice as other suites we had on Carnival ships including the Liberty and Pride. Out cabin attendant was efficient and satisfied all our requests keeping the cabin clean without being in the way. We dined manly in the Pacific dinning room which seem to be the nicer of the two dinning rooms, the other being the Atlantic mid ship. We seldom ate on the Lido deck where there were long lines and sometimes rude people. We used room service in the morning which was always on time for morning coffee and juice (remember to tip, they earn it). When on board we had lunch in the Pacific dinning room. Service was adequate but nothing special including our dinners. The typical Carnival dinner show times were daily and rather annoying and interpretive of meals, we could have done with less of them. We didn't use the pools or hot tubs. We were always able to find an abundance of deck chairs on deck 10 aft. We didn't get to see any shows due to my wife having an ailing knee which sort of inhibited her movement and enjoyment, she didn't get to get off the ship during any port visits and my daughter and I went by ourselves. We enjoyed the Seven Seas bar and entertainment in the lobby except for some annoyance by noisy rude passengers (which were present especially during embarkation, some of whom seem to think they were entering a fraternity party) which leads me to the worst part of our cruise which was the quality and manners of the passengers. There were many who appeared to never have been socialized. A minority of them pushed and shoved like they had no parenting or respect for others. While there were some very nice people we met during the cruise there were just too many whose actions distracted from the overall enjoyment of the cruise and give us pause regarding sailing with Carnival in the future. After four cruises with Carnival we find there are too many who cruise with Carnival that distract from overall enjoyment. But the crew was very good and as we do we rewarded the better service during and at the end of the cruise very well in addition to normal gratuity taken by ship to share among crew. Remember the guy/gals who deliver drinks work for commission based on business they get. They get very little salary. That's why you see so many running like chickens all over trying to osell drinks.
Embarkation was a bit chaotic even though we had VIP boarding privilege. But that was partially our fault since we arrived around 12:30 when there were still people leaving the ship. But after we got through customs and the sign-in process we were able to board the ship and have our lunch on the Lido deck before the majority of passengers came on board and things became harder to navigate. I would suggest limiting carry-on baggage since you will need to carry them with you until your cabin is ready around 1:30PM or so.
I've covered most things but would like to also cover the tours which I arranged directly and not through Carnival. I find doing that provides a more selection and are less expensive. And, don't worry they are dedicated to getting you back to the ship in time for its leaving the port. Just do research over the Internet by port. Some tours are better than others. I can recommend the tours we took.
St. Thomas - We took a Sightseeing and Beach tour with Sunny Liston Tours and Sunny was our great guide. He was right there to meet us at the cruise terminal in Havensight where there is plenty of shopping and also a ski-lift to Paradise Point which provides a grand view of the bay for those not wishing to take tours. We did the ski-lift on a previous cruise along with a trip/tour of St John. Our tour started out taking us to Charlotte Amalie for some time to shop. Then we headed to Mountain Top for a wonderful view from 1534 ft above the ocean of Magen's Bay. We sampled some fine banana daiquiris, shopped a bit and then headed out to tour the island some more. Finally we headed for a beach break at Coki Beach which I think is a nicer beach than Magan's Bay. We settled on Coki over Magan by vote. After that we headed back to the ship via Red Hook where you can get a ferry to St John.. The total time for the tour and beach was around 5 hours and the cost was $35 per person paid in advance when scheduling (mine by Master Card)..
In Barbados we chose Scenic Barbados Tours for 2 hours touring and 2 hours beach time, which cost $30 per person payable at the beginning of the tour by cash. Edwin Lovell was our tour guide . Edwin was very gracious even though only four of us showed up. Other scheduled but did not. I ensured I tipped him very well to help make up for the loss, We saw highlights of Barbados beginning with a drive to the west coast where we stopped at the oldest church on the island, an Anglican Church dating back to 1628. We next went through Rock Hall, the oldest village in Barbados, and then to Highland lookout for a wonderful view. We drove along the eastern coast to Bathsheba which is a surfers paradise and then on to beach for two hours of swimming and relaxing. Finally we headed back to our ship.
St Lucia is my favorite island of the cruise. We schedule a tour and beach break with Cosol Tours, Baptist was our guide and he was great all during the tour. The cost was $65 per person and a real value. Drinks including beer, water, rum punch and soda were provided - all you want and all during the tour. We also stopped for a wonderful sampling of island food which include dozens of dishes including chicken and fish, Very well prepared and great eating. More than enough for all and free as part of tour. Highlights of the tour included: Visiting Castries, Capital of St Lucia where we were briefed on the island and the people. Marigot Bay, a banana plantation where we sampled fresh bananas and mangoes, Anes La Raye fishing village and Canaries. Then on to Soufriere, The Pitons, Piton and Petit Piton are two giant volcanic plugs located south of Soufrière and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saw the Toraille Waterfall, Sulfur Springs the world's only drive in and active volcano located along southwestern side of the island, near Soufrière. Then took a small boat ride to Hilton Jalosie Beach for time to swim and relax before heading back to our ship. The tour was around 6 hours.
St Kitts was another wonderful island to visit. We schedule Best of St Kitts & Panoramic Tour with a beach break through Rosevelt Taylor Tours - Sheldon was our guide - we enjoyed his friendly expertise all during the tour. We had a wonderful informative tour of the island high point including visiting historical Basseterre, the majestic Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site perched on the top of a volcanic cone 800 feet above sea level with stunning views of mountain, and neighboring islands. We stopped at lush tropical gardens the home of Caribelle Batik to get a demo of batik fabrics being produced. Stopped at Timothy Hill for a panoramic view out to the sister island of Nevis. Then onto a beach break at Cockleshell Beach which had a wonderful bar and restaurant.
Unfortunately we didn't get to dock at St Martin because of strong undercurrents and after attempting to do so our captain made a decision to have a sea day. This didn't bother me too much since we had already spent most of our days ashore. But I did want to see the beach where the airplanes come into the airport very low over those on the beach. Perhaps next time.
I should add that all of our tours were professionally provided with the comfort of air condition vans with plenty of room.
Debarkation was well handled although I missed not having the Express Baggage service since the ship did not offer it so we had to manage our luggage to the airport and check in and print boarding passes ourselves. But we did have Priority 1 debarking and after having a nice breakfast we were able to debark without waiting in any lines where hundreds of people waited. We were met by a porter and had our luggage delivered to a cab and a nice ride to the airport. Then a nice airplane trip back to PA.
Of all the Caribbean cruise I like the Southern Caribbean the best.