--Easy to walk to Old San Juan without using an excursion, if it and shopping are your only destinations/desires. Get a map online before you go if you're worried about getting lost. --TONS of options for non-ship sponsored tours once you reach end of dock --Senor Frogs is not as fun as it used to be!
--Havensight shopping area offers a lot. --Taxis available everywhere to get to Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook (for ferries to St. John) --Taxi drivers found without shore excursion packages may not be very informative but will get you where you want to go VERY quickly (though you may have to close your eyes when passing other vehicles at 40mph around sharp curves on hillsides). --Taxi services are at a set rate, depending on destination so no need to shop around
Go to St. John!! Heard a few cruisers mention that Meagan's Bay (the popular beach on St. Thomas) is VERY crowded.
--so much more beautiful than St. Thomas as it is almost all National Park. --easy to get around. Next time I'd like to rent a car and find my own way around --Trunk Bay is beautiful and getting there yourself lets you ignore the guy yelling "Group so-and-so must be ready to leave in 15 minutes!" --Allow an extra hour and a half for travel to and from St. John. Taxis to the ferry and the ferry rides aren't necessarily short and traffic on the way back can be bad as you'll compete with all shore excursions returning at similar times --snorkel rental is cheap ($5)and bathrooms and showers are available at Trunk Bay. --Before paying the $5 to get into Trunk bay (it's part of the national park), pay attention to the water clarity ratings. They told us visibility was poor and the water ended up being rough enough that they did not rent any snorkel equipment. I'm glad we had our own but they were right--the water was VERY rough (compared to perfectly still the last time we visited). Don't know if other Cays/Bays are rough too when Trunk Bay is or not. If not, maybe explore others if possible.
--the town and its shops are a bit like the Straw Market in Nassau. Expect to be asked to try things on, check other rooms for other items, be told you "need" something, etc. --Wadadli beer (locally brewed) is a good, light, cheap beer available everywhere --Find Adventure Antigua (www.adventureantigua.com) to tour the island on water. You will not be disappointed. It's the best shore excursion (book yourself online ahead of time) we took on the entire cruise. Personal, informative, and fun. You'll visit Bird Island, Hell's Gate, and have a knowledgeable staff answer whatever you want to know about Antigua while serving you a good BBQ lunch and local juices and rum punch of course)
--Docking in Tortola found us a way's away from the tent-shopping (that isn't as 'in-your-face' as Antigua's) because of a lot of construction that seems to be going on. While most ports have ships dock right in town, this seemed a bit less central to the island.
--Get to the Baths in Virgin Gorda but if possible, book privately before you cruise and DO NOT use Carnival's shore excursion as your means to get there!!! You've been warned! The ferry brings hundreds to Virgin Gorda where many passages through the incredible rock formations allow one person to pass through at a time (while crouching, climbing, ducking, etc.). Going through them with such a large group takes away from the experience. Allow time for the beach AFTER you go through the Baths, as it is bigger and nicer than the beach on the entrance-side. To avoid the crowds from the ship-sponsored excursions, maybe getting there later or earlier in the day would help. I tried to book through Patouche Charters or White Squall but they were booked over a month in advance so I'd recommend booking as early as possible to avoid being stuck with the Carnival tour (which will book by the second day of the cruise as this is an incredibly popular excursion). With the large numbers they took, it was inevitable that a few cruisers apparently didn't pay attention to time and kept our ferry in Virgin Gorda an extra forty minutes and got us back almost an hour later than scheduled. Two Carnival employees for these hundred or more cruisers seemed unable to keep track of everyone and thus, we all suffered for the irresponsibility of either them or the two or three cruisers themselves. Either way, this would seemingly have been avoided with a smaller excursion. --a group raved about a locally-found, generic-sounding "island tour" for $20 offered by locals at the end of the dock.
--the Straw Market is great for trinkets, imitation watches, cheap purses, handmade baskets and wood carvings. It's an experience with it's incredibly narrow aisles and locals offering "deals" like "You like the purse? $20 but on sale for $18. Boss isn't here right now, so I give to you for $16." Heard that a lot. --You are forced through Festival Place, which appears to be a regulated tourism one-stop-shop for boat tours, island tours, taxi services, etc. A nice guy directed us to a man named Kendall with a small boat who took six of us out for $40 a piece (Carnival's snorkeling tours were from $60 to $80 for large, full boats). We saw more fish here than anywhere else combined on the entire trip. Lobsters, a large ray, sea cucumber, trumpet fish, parrot fish, etc.) --good, cheap conch fritters