St. Thomas was our first port of call. We booked our shore excursions through the desk on board the ship for this island. I went snorkeling at Trunk Bay on St. John. The beaches are beautiful and the water warm and clear. It was supposed to be the best place to snorkel in the world but I think the Bahamas has better. The beach is just like the pictures only with more people. You snorkel right off the beach and it's a good way to spend the day. The ferry boat to St. John picks you up right under the nose of the Victory and the mates on board give a good talk about the islands on the way over to St. John. Caution: Wear lots of sunscreen. I bought a bottle of SPF 70 at the CVS right across the street from the dock in San Juan and used the whole thing in less than a week. The views on St. John are spectacular!! We had an open air bus take us from the harbor in St. John to the beach that seats 18 people or so but the roads are good and it was nice to have the fresh air.
My wife opted for the shopping tour of St. Thomas that included a tour of the amber museum and lots of shops. DO make sure and sit through Derrick's shopping speech on the ship the night before if you plan to shop. It got a little long and not really my thing but my wife did save some money on a ring she bought with the knowledge she got from Derrick's speech. Be advised that some of the tours are combined with people from other cruise ships at the dock.
Dominica was our worst port of call. I'm not sure why Carnival puts this stop on the schedule. We walked off the dock and along the front street and were overwhelmed with the guys trying to sell you a taxi tour and anything else you can imagine. The little bazaar seemed to have mostly the same things at every stand. We walked down the street a bit more and then back to the ship. This was the only port we really didn't feel safe in. Not sure why but we have traveled a lot and have a pretty good feeling when things don't seem just right. Some of the people we talked to took tours and had an "OK" time but were not overly impressed with this stop. One of our main reasons for leaving the ship was to get a stamp at the Post Office in our passports. They will sell you a stamp and cancel it for you if you ask. We did this in every port.
We decided to book a catamaran tour with El Tigre via the internet based on other cruise critic reviews. Their van picked us up at the dock and took us to the small boat harbor where the boat is docked. We were on the 60' catamaran and the weather was not bright and sunny in the morning but we set sail anyways. Capt. Nick and his crew promised it would clear up later and it did. We had a fast sail to our first dive spot a few miles away just off the beach. There is a resident group of turtles that seem to enjoy the snorkelers and vice versa at this spot. Our second stop was just short distance away and also near the beach. This spot has a sunken barge in about 20' of water and thousands of fish. This is the first wreck I have snorkeled on and it's a nice change. There are also a few patch reefs within easy swimming distance. After this stop they served lunch. Plenty of food! Chicken, fried flying fish and an assortment of side items made for an great lunch. They include all the drinks you want. Rum, beer, cokes, rum punch and water!! It seems that all the islands in the Caribbean really like their rum! Our third stop was just a few yards off the beach on was a good way to cool off and swim some more. Good food, good rum, good crew and good music! I would recommend this tour for a couple or a family.
We booked a tour of St. Lucia with Cosol tours. Book on the internet and pay at the end of the tour. Everything you have read about Cosol is true. He met us at the dock and seems to have the lion's share of the tour business on the island. Cosol told us we had to finish all the food and all the refreshments before we got back to the ship or there would be an additional $20 charge. One of the guys in our tour bet Cosol $20 that we could finish it all. Cosol wasted no time shaking on it. He didn't get where he is by losing bets!! WARNING: Be careful with that spiced rum he provides!!!! Note: The drivers do not drink. There is a blue van that travels behind the group. Every time we stopped the van pulled up and the bar was open. The St. Lucian's don't seem to have an open container law like we do here in the states. We stopped at a banana plantation and had fresh off the tree bananas and then stopped at a house for breakfast. All kinds of local food is brought out and Cosol would not let us leave until it was all gone. Next stop was to Soufriere, a small fishing village where we we met on the beach by pangas(local fishing boats) for a trip to a small beach between the Pitons. I had been looking for paradise in every port and this was it. Fantasy Island could have been filmed here. Someone said they even brought in the white sand beach. It was all topped off by the 200'+ private antique yacht sitting in the bay. I snorkeled the roped off park area to the left of the beach and being a volcanic island there are mostly BIG rocks and some coral. Lots of different fish here. The Pitons rise up out of the water some 1500' or so and continue off into the depths at the same rate. Anyone who has been in the water in the deep ocean will get that same feeling here. The best snorkeling of the whole trip. Note: I brought only my mask and snorkel with me and got along fine without fins. Fatman, his real name is Bernard but he claims no one will know who you are talking about if you don't ask for Fatman, was our driver and guide. He knows a lot about the island and was a lot of fun.
We booked the tour on the ship for the fort and Batik factory. We were picked up at the ship and taken to the fort first. Our guide, Agatha explained a lot about the island on the way to the fort. We were given 45 minutes at the fort and the views of the surrounding sea and islands are spectacular! Unlike some of the forts here in the states we were allowed to go in all the different rooms and there are ample displays explaining the history of the fort. On to the Batik factory. Actually the factory is more of a plantation estate with a nice shop where the batik is sold. I was not too excited about visiting a batik factory when my wife book the tour but ended up buying a beautiful batik shirt! I just wish we would have had more than 30 minutes(I can't believe I said that) to do our shopping there. We went back to the ship, ate lunch and did some more shopping at the shops in the port. St. Kitt's is doing a great job of making their port a showpiece of the Caribbean.
We decide to make St Maarten our beach day. We grabbed a cab with a few other people and headed to Orient Bay on the French side of the island. There is a nice beach just a short way from the dock on the Dutch side but I've heard good things about Orient Bay. When we got to the beach we were some of the first people there in the morning. Our cab dropped us off at next to the Bikini Beach Bar and we rented two chairs and umbrella for $18. While the beaches here are all clothing optional most people who wish to go sans clothing head to the right and topless to the left although you may see a little bit of everything. For those of you who are wondering, most people we saw had bathing suits on. It's really not as big of a deal as people make it to be. There are lots of nice tiki type places to get food and drinks all along the beach. The further down the beach you go the better the deal on the chairs. We saw several places offering chairs, umbrella and a bucket of beers for the same price we paid. The beach is beautiful and they take US dollars on par with Euros, the local currency. We decided that if we were going to visit only one island it might just be St. Maarten.
We were glad to get back to the states and drive on the right side of the road, be able to read the road signs and hear English again. We heard French, Dutch, Creole, Spanish, German, Russian and a few other languages spoken on this trip.