First of all, huge kudos to Carnival for taking very good care of us in these crazy times. They started by giving us a generous OBC per cabin (we had 2 with the kids in a connected room) the Friday before our cruise left on Sunday. It was for staying on the cruise, but we had to cancel 3 days before. So, we were excited about the OBC. They switched out St. Lucia ahead of time since St. Lucia did not have their covid-19 rules in place, so that we had port that would accept us instead of learning the day of that we could not dock. We made all our ports and only had a challenge when ready to disembark in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico had added new rules, while we were gone, that would require we quarantine in the ocean for few days and other rules (but full details were not given). Carnival got clearance in Miami, though some concern that the clearance may be removed before we got there. They opened up the phones and internet and helped us get through to American Airlines. Also, kudos to American for getting us on a flight from Miami instead. Rescheduling flights for 4 people from a cruise ship is not easy, but everyone helped out. The sail to Miami gave us 2.5 extra days on the ship where additional days and service charges were complementary. Carnival also provided airport transfer in Miami complementary. I’m sure they were eager to cut ties with us after the extra 2.5 days, but they kept up spirits and service level.
Now a little bit about us, we are a 40-something couple traveling for Spring Break with two sons, 11 and 14, traveling in 2 connected rooms -- oceanview cabins. This was the 14th cruise for the adults, and 3rd and 4th for the kids.
This was a rougher embarkation. We originally just wanted to drop off our luggage early, and had read this was possible, and then go back and explore Old San Juan more. We had tired of hauling luggage around. By the time we found someone taking it, they said they were full and told us to go to another line, which was regular check in, ahead of our scheduled arrival time. There was a health survey – our way of life had not been too disrupted when we left on March 8th but got very tough while we were away – asking if we had visited countries noted by the State Dept as do not travel to due to Covid-19 or if we had been around any sick people in the last 14 days. Then check in with our paperwork and passports was fast. Then they took our temperatures before we entered the security lines. Security line was long and slow. Security tossed 2 out of 4 empty water bottles – grr – we need them for ports and the airplane back! This really annoyed me and left me with a sour start to the cruise. Though I believe the security employees are San Juan’s not Carnival’s. After security was a long wait to board in three lines that they were slowly taking a few people from each. Our boarding experience on Carnival in Miami was much, much better and in Galveston much better.
After boarding, 3 out of 4 of us enjoyed our first delicious Guy’s burger, and husband enjoyed some buffet samplings. They warned us on embarkation about no self-serve in the buffet. We appreciated the care to keep everyone onboard healthy (which was successful, to our knowledge), but it is harder to try just a little of several things. We were served larger portions then we would take for ourselves.
We planned to get some soda for our rooms before boarding (and even promised the kids, who do not normally get soda), but after getting through the boarding process, we decided it was too much trouble to get back off. They were selling, I believe, 6 tall cans packs (not in a box) in the terminal before security. I had read beforehand that Puerto Rico had 8 pack cans instead of 12 pack cans in boxes, so maybe this was 8, but thinking less.
When rooms were available at 1:30, we rested a bit after our overnight flight to San Juan from DFW. After I did not fall asleep, I checked for luggage, and it had been delivered. So, I started unpacking in the kids room until husband got up.
Best muster drill of any of our previous cruises. Normally painfully long on our previous Carnival cruises, but it quicker – we were in the Theater – and our host with the mic was funny.
We had your time dining, which is in the Sensation Main Dining Room, and went each evening (early) as a family of 4. Good service and food that was pretty quick. Lois from Peru was awesome. We would normally get a kid’s menu and regular and let the kids pick which to order from. Some of our favorites or not so favorites:
- Mac and Cheese side – kids and my favorite
- Port of call fish the first night (San Juan) was not husband’s favorite.
- Oldest son who does not eat too much meat tried the vegetarian Indian dish – which was huge – and was not a fan. Husband was and ate some and had it a couple of other nights.
- Braised brisket the first night was very good! With our extra nights, it was offered again where it was still good but not as good.
- Caesar salad -- is a favorite of the kids and me (though I like NCL’s better).
- Fried oysters – husband loved
- Prime rib – very good
- Tiramisu – favorite, melting cake and Crème Brule – always favorites
- Hazelnut cake – so good with delicious chocolate sauce
- Lasagna – one kid like and the other did not
We also enjoyed breakfast in the Main Dining room several mornings. Normally, slower than dinner, but good. The broken egg sandwich was a new one for me, and myself and youngest enjoyed it.
I also had the Deli a few times, and it was always good. I was also able to get the dark chocolate sea salt cookies that I could not get on our last cruise. They were good. I had the ham and cheese panini a couple of time and the special of the day once, which was either a teriyaki beef or chicken, I think beef. It was good. And, of course, we had more Guy’s burgers, some Blue Iguana tacos, and some more buffet. The Continental buffet for breakfast, also in the Buffet, was not too crowded and worked. At the beginning of the cruise, I toasted my own bagel, but later they figured out pre-toasting them and bread/toast worked better. It did; however, the challenge was that the cream cheese was not beside the bagels but in one of the two main buffet lines (mostly in one but moved around).
Again, Carnival excelled at cakes with the best chocolate icing. We also enjoyed the Alchemy Bar a couple of times – I like the Deal Closer. Husband had the martini flight that was good.
We visited the candy store – very good, but challenging without self-serve, trying to explain how many of each weighed item that you want.
Better TV than we have come to expect. They had Cartoon Network and Nick for the kids and HGTV with a guide channel. Also, the remote was one piece, easy to sanitize between guests, instead of individual little buttons.
We all enjoyed the comedians. Four were expected, but with the virus, the original 2 was stuck with us the full time and the 2 new ones could not get on. Cole was our favorite. Our youngest got up on stage with the assistant cruise director to each tell a joke. He won a big lollipop from the candy store and a ship on a stick. He was excited.
The kids enjoyed putt-putt, though very windy at the top, front while the ship was moving. Without a promenade deck on this ship (that was missed), we walked the walking trail around the putt-putt after dinner. That was very windy too, but the star viewing was nice.
We also enjoyed trivia and a game of trivial pursuit. Our youngest noted that they should have a video game trivia, and few days later, they did. Though we told him not to get his hopes too high because some questions will probably games from before he was born. He knew some. We missed the Harry Potter trivia for our oldest. Husband won the food and drink trivia.
The planned Puerto Rico arrival time was 7:30am, Sunday; when we did not see land outside around 7am, hum set in. We watched the location on the TV – circling. The first announcement was about 8:30 when we were at breakfast; Puerto Rico added new rules that cruise ship had to comply to before docking (since the week before). The Captain and team would follow up with an update in about an hour. When they came back, one rule was quarantining at sea for a few days before docking. So, the new plan was to sail to Miami where clearance was currently granted. A request by the Captain to allow Puerto Rican citizens to disembark was denied, which seems crazy because they are going to fly home after getting to Miami anyway. This update noted a Tuesday morning arrival. Later announcement of opening the satellite phone lines and wi-fi for travel re-arrangements and letting family know. We were not getting through to the airlines to change our flights. Our original flight from SJU was early Tuesday morning, so we expected to fly on the same day. Husband was not sure that he was doing the call correctly – there was a button on the room phone and a code to get out that they gave in to the announcements. We assumed these did the same thing, but being not sure, I called the Service Desk to ask, noting not getting through. She asked the airline and offered to try and connect me if she got through. Since Tuesday morning was the time frame, we got a 3:30 pm flight. Right after I got it changed, I found a note outside saying Tuesday noon arrival and then cruise director staff recommended a 7pm or later flight – doh! On the last night, we saw a lull in the normally very long Service Desk line and asked if they had an earlier disembarkation for those that did not know until later not to book as early of a flight. After asking someone else, they said to just getting off with the first group. When we did, they questioned us, asked flight time, and let us go. The ship arrived about 11am instead. So, though initially concerned, but we had plenty of time.
We arrived in Miami an hour earlier than announced. It was good to see a familiar skyline approaching (from a cruise the Nov before). Oh, no, there were lots of police outside; that is concerning. Still not knowing for sure if we would be allowed to get off or under what circumstances. Then someone was brought off the ship in handcuffs and one more escorted off by police. After that, the police presence dropped some. Then we saw our comedian and others on the entertain team disembark – good sign. Then fairly quiet for a while with only trickles of people in the disembarkation ramp to the terminal. We were port side with a great view of the disembarkation proceedings. Then later a better stream of people on the disembarkation ramp, but no announcements or decks called yet. So, we decided to check and were permitted to disembark with a higher deck going then.
In the terminal, the process was normal – escalators or wait for an elevator up, through passport control/friendly gentleman, and outside Carnival directed us to the complementary airport shuttles. When at customer service the night before, I noticed custom forms, asked if we needed it, told yes, and filled it out. At passport control, he had not interest in it.
We are glad that we got to take a Spring Break cruise with the kids and glad our ship stayed healthy, not taking or picking up the virus from the islands we visited, and still healthy. The world became scary while we were gone. Prayers for nurses, doctors, and first responders; they are working hard now!
Our room steward was awesome! The connecting door worked well -- on our last cruise with the kids the door did not latch well and picked the worst time to slam closed and we were locked out of one room. You will have to see that review separately :). This room only has one door instead of 2 between the rooms. It did block views of the TV from many parts of that one room when open, but maybe avoidable. No problem with noise, layout was good, beds were comfortable, and plenty of storage space. We had twice a day service and enjoyed towel animals each day. The toilet in our room only stopped working once. When they came, it flushed immediately for him, and he noted fixing the vacuum earlier. A piece that annoyed me was that safe did not have a keypad but required a non-room keycard card (said it would break the keycard; I did not test it) to lock and unlock it. I used a driver’s license, which then meant the driver’s license could not be safely stored in the safe, though better than a credit card option.
We went to the service desk and requested the adult keycards work on both rooms. They gave us each a separate “room key only” cards.
We also had a lost teenager cell phone incident. He thought he left it up near trivia/the Stars Bar, but we could not find it. The service desk had not had it turned in. Later/another day, it was found between the two mattresses in his bed (volume not on). I’m sure he stuck it there and forgot; I don’t think it could have fallen that way. Annoying at first because he recent bought the phone with his money.
It was raining off and on this day. Just planned some shopping at the port. We did that, got the kids a soda (trying to make good on the aforementioned soda promise), and a quick view of the beautiful island.
We planned the local bus to Maho Beach to watch the planes. I read the taxi was $10 each way/per person. That adds up with 4 people. $2 each way/per person sounds much better. We walked to town/Philipsburg (P-BURG on the bus signs) to catch the bus. As we read, all the stops were on a street within the block on Back St and behind the Courthouse. The buses are Toyota vans. When you want to get off, say “Stop, Please” and pay. Maho is at the end of the route, so it was easy. I seat next to one lady on the way that said the kids should only be $1 each and to call the police if I was charged $2. I was just happy not paying $10 each :). He did charge $2 for the kids there, but our driver on the way back just charged a $1. There were several beautiful vistas on the bus ride of the island and ocean. After arriving, there was a grocery store right where the bus let us off. We went in to find some snacks for the beach. We got aged gouda (new for us and good), some normal cheddar Chex Mix and pringles like we have at home, and sodas (again soda promise)/husband a beer.
We landed early at SJU on embarkation day and took an Uber to town -- Walkway of the Presidents, where we started our tour. We found a park for the kids to play. Explored the walls, Pigeon wall, and the gate. We planned the fortresses and the rainforest after disembarking, but never got to come back.
We only planned to walk around. We walked to Independence Square, nice and cooler with trees; kids enjoyed climbing in the trees, and to an arena, could not see in much, so not too exciting.
Dominica was substituted for St. Lucia. I noticed that this was done the week before too on the webcam, so I had some heads up. We had a very cool sounding tour planned for St. Lucia; though it was nice of Carnival to proactively schedule a replacement. This change was communicated in paperwork that we received when originally boarding.
Upon approaching Dominica, we could see that it was a very beautiful island. I had to go to the top, front of the ship for some mountain pictures after breakfast. I had done a small about amount of research of what Dominica had available to see, but we planned to look at what tours were offered on shore. Not knowing what to bring, we did not bring swimwear. I know that tours offered on shore can be a good and a good value, but I’m normally intimidated by their pushy sales nature and my wondering if they are legit. On this island, they had taxi/transportation vests and logos, which looked official and comforted me. We took a tour of the rainforest, waterfalls, hot spring, and botanical garden tour for $20 pp. It worked well for us because we were the last 4 slots they needed to sell. We debated the swimwear when talking the tour salesperson, but we did not feel that we missed anything without suits. This is a very mountainous island with steep, hairpin turns on the drive. Our tour guide provided a lot of good information about the citizens and the island. Our first stop was the waterfall with an additional $5/person to hike through the rainforest to waterfalls. To be sure we would have enough cash for the tour and tips, I asked if any other stops had an entrance fee. This was the only one. So, we did the 10 minute hike to waterfalls. Rainforest and waterfalls were very beautiful. We did get a glimpse of the waterfalls from the bus that our tour guide pointed out from the road. It started to pour right after we arrived at the covered area to photograph the waterfalls, that was luckily. It was called Trafalgar Falls with a mother and a father falls. We got some pictures, and oldest and husband hiked out on the rocks closer while youngest and I enjoyed the falls from the covered area. This is when oldest landed in the water and soaked one shoe that later lost an inside sole piece – sigh.
Then, we backtracked and stopped at the hot springs. The kids had not seen or smelled volcanic activity before, so this was a cool new for them. We also saw a hummingbird feeding on flowers here. At this stop, one couple took a hot springs soak; this would be all that we would have needed a swimsuit for. They said that there was the hot spring water and cold water both flowing and mixing so that it was not too hot. Next, we went to an overlook point where we could look down the ocean, town, and see our ship. The hotel here had restrooms (but lines); there were also restrooms at the first stop at the rainforest. The final stop was the botanical gardens, which was our plan if we ended up just walking around on our own. It had some large cool trees and one big enough and with “vines” for the kids to swing on. It has some flowers, not as many as other botanical. It also had a school bus crushed by a large tree that fell on it; the tree was then nicknamed “Goliath”. Finally, we returned to the port. A group behind us was requesting a trip to the beach, and they were ready to accommodate a side tour for them.
The tour was good, informative, and a good value.
We planned a walk to Boatyard to snorkel with sea turtles. This was a sad experience; youngest and I (after St. Lucia that also changed) were most looking forward to swimming with sea turtles. However, the day before many little jellyfish came into the bay; they noted that they would be there about a week. I do not know how many times a year this happens. I know jellyfish are not their fault, but I wish they would have been more upfront about them. We all got in the water and swam to the water toys before our boat trip to the turtle and shipwreck snorkel sites. We were not told about the jellyfish until our first boat stop. Our youngest and I are allergic to things like this (mosquitoes, fire ants, etc.) and get whelps. More than a month later, I still have discoloration on my legs from the stings; they were whelps and itchy for the rest of the cruise. Both of us, already stung, skipped the turtles. I definitely would have saved my stinging for the turtles if I knew :(. Youngest was crying in the boat because he was missing the experience. Husband and oldest snorkeled with turtles; husband for the longest and said they were awesome. Our memory card on the underwater camera was full, so we could not even watch them after – grrr. Husband also said the shipwreck site was awesome with so many fish! The rest of us did not go.
The visit to Boatyard included a boat trip for snorkeling, chairs (our slowly disappeared, but fine because we did not sit in them much. We were there once, and he asked), an umbrella, a drink (with a subset of beer and sodas as options), restrooms, showers outside to remove sand, and a shuttle back for $25/pp. This also included wi-fi that husband could use; he was the only one that brought his phone. When you arrive, you put your name on the snorkel trip list and listen for your name to be called on the long speaker. I was not understanding the first announcements from our chairs, so I went to the booth and asked for time estimate to pay close attention then. We did hear it fine. They have space on the boat for stuff, but I don’t recommend bringing too much and leave on your chair (so you have one when you get back ;) ).
We had our drinks with some purchased fries – the fries were okay. We also took a walk down the beach, and the kids, esp. the oldest, enjoyed snorkeling right by the shore where the jellyfish were not.
The shuttle back was not a long wait and worked smoothly. Back at the port terminal, we found a grocery/convenient store for me to look for some Shirley crackers/cookies for my Mom. I saw an ad on a bus stop when we walked earlier and noted that I needed to get them for my Mom, Shirley. We found some other candy get and try later. We decided to take the little train shuttle down the pier back to the ship; earlier we walked, not knowing who was allowed to the use the shuttle. Also of note, this is the only port that took our temperature on entrance, which was a good practice.