My wife and I enjoy cruising. With the Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean cruise lines, we have explored the Eastern and Western Caribbean. The decision to take the Carnival Miracle was because it was going to the South Caribbean and was a different cruise line. The port of calls for the cruise were Grand Turk, La Romana, Aruba, and Curacao. We enjoyed ourselves immensely on the Carnival Miracle. Our next cruise will be on the Carnival lines.
Next step is trying to plan shore excursions. We usually take the shore excursion sponsored by the cruise line even though they are more expensive. The reason is that they guarantee you are back on the ship. We got overviews of each port by researching on the internet two main sites (http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/ http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ ). It is usually customary to tip the driver and tour guide.
We had stayed in the Grand Turks previously for a week and had enjoyed the third largest barrier reef, walking on the beach around Grace Bay, Jo-Jo the dolphin, the conch farm, and the unique experience of driving on the left hand side of the road (British roadways). Using a suggestion from the cruise mates forum http://www.cruisemates.com/forum/ we were looking forward to relaxing close to Jack's Shack (#2 of 9 of restaurants) -- beach, lunch, drinks. There is even a free rum shot coupon from the bar's website http://www.jacksshack.tc/CouponPrinted.php
When you exit your cruise ship you walk on the wharf and then walk through Dufry's Duty Free Shops which is on the cruise line properties. There are a variety of other shops on the property.
We proceeded past the cruise line property along the beach to almost the next wharf to Jack's Shack. I used my coupon to have a free rum shot. The price of drinks is cheaper than Margaritaville.
Most cruisers enjoyed the sandy beach or went to Margaritaville http://www.margaritavillecaribbean.com/welcome_grandturk.html .
In reflection, we should have stayed on the cruise line property. Although we were interested in taking the historical shore excursion tour, one of the couple's that took the tour was not impressed with it.
La Romana is in the Dominican Republic (http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/newport.cfm?ID=92 ). We had previously stayed at an all inclusive, now called Be Live Hamaca Beach in Boca Chica. We took a tour to Santo Domingo which highlighted the oldest church in the Americas, locations where Christopher Columbus stayed and where his son the governor ruled. That is why our decision was to take Altos de Chavon village tour (#3 of 16 attractions). Also, we will follow the advice of wearing walking shoes over the cobbled streets. It was designed by Oscar de la Renta
We walked to the bus that was designated to go to the Altos de Chavon village. Our tour guide, "Tony" -- Anthony Torres was very informative during the short bus ride (25 minutes) about the area of Casa de Campos.
As a group, our first attraction was the amphitheater. It was incredible. Next we walked through a courtyard where some of the locals were in dancing costumes and some were playing music near the amber museum. Some of the group took pictures posing with the dancers.
Although we were given 15 minutes in the museum, the confined space with a large group made breathing muggy. Some cruisers persisted in the area, especially those purchasing larimar and amber jewelry.
We were given 75 minutes of free time to explore. The number of indoor shops was limited, small in size, and expensive --linen, cigar, golf, artisan. There were two outside booths -- one selling dolls under a tree and the other a table of handicrafts. There were photo opportunities of the buildings, landscape, and a costumed man and his donkey. Even after having a beer at one of the 3 bars, we had too much time to kill.
When our "free" time was up, Tony took us to the church in the main courtyard and then took us to a historical museum about past inhabitants. We saw those during our free time.
Prior to catching the bus to return to the ship, I noticed three people on a golf cart. They were using a map of the area because they would look at the map and then point. I would have liked to have a map that showed the highlights.
We felt we did not get value for this tour and could not understand why the village was such a high ranked attraction.