by Judy & Roger Best
October 24, 2004
This was our seventh cruise, six on Carnival and one on Royal Caribbean. We are 40+ business professionals, married 25 years with two children, but we cruise as a couple.
Pre-Cruise: We left Little Rock at 7:40 a.m. Saturday morning via Delta Airlines, with a stop in Atlanta, before arriving in San Juan shortly after 3 p.m. Our flight was timely and uneventful. We had no problems gathering our luggage in San Juan, although airport personnel were verified you were the owner of luggage before you were allowed to leave the terminal. We went to a counter in the transportation area, where we were given a document with our destination and the cost. A taxi was quickly hailed, and we were off to the Holiday Inn Express.
Our pre-cruise room at the Holiday Inn Express was very small, more like a sleeping room than a normal room at a Holiday Inn. But, it was clean and perfect for one night before a cruise. Check-in was a breeze, and we were given a free t-shirt. We settled our luggage in our room, and then wondered back downstairs to wait on another couple, Steve and Connie, who were meeting us there for the same cruise. They were just arriving, so we agreed to meet for dinner in just a little while.
We had dinner reservations at Baru at 7 p.m. with Steve and Connie, Jim and Bev, and Pete and Christine. Steve and Connie and Roger and I headed on over to Baru early to have drinks at the bar before dinner. I had a Mojito, while the others had Rum Punch. The Mojito was a refreshing mint drink. When the others arrived, we were shown to our table. We couldn't decide what appetizer to order, so we just allowed the waiter to choose for us. He brought out a Mahi-mahi cerviche, Plantain chips with a black beans sauce, and Yucca chips with a cream cheese and almonds dip, which we all loved. We then each ordered an entrée, which the waiter warned us he would be bringing out in the order the kitchen completed the dish. We ended up all eating a portion of each entrée as it came out, so we enjoyed a taste of every dish. We wrapped up the meal with desserts that were less than memorable. We highly recommend this restaurant, but reservations are necessary, and the meal is pricey. We caught a cab back to our hotel and wondered across the street to a small bar for a few more drinks and cigars.
We had a nice night's sleep, and a light breakfast in the morning. We decided to walk around the Condado area where our hotel was located before leaving. We found that we were just a couple blocks from the ocean, so we relaxed sitting on the pier looking at the ocean and the beach. Several people were lying on the beach or playing in the ocean in that area. We ran into Steve and Connie there, so we decided to go checkout to head over to the pier.
Embarkation: We caught a taxi van at the Holiday Inn for the four of us and our luggage at 11:00 a.m., and we were at the terminal by 11:15. A line had already formed near the terminal entrance gate, so we got in the queue. They allowed us to enter in just a few minutes. As we walked up the sidewalk, we noticed a kiosk where anyone with gray TBA tags was asked to stop and get other tags. (All of our friends and we had booked specific cabins but were sent TBA tags.) That exchange occurred quickly, with them ripping off our gray tags and replacing them with our correct tags with just our last names and cabin numbers written on them in black markers.
As we entered the terminal, porters were taking luggage to the left, grabbing tips as smoothly as they were loading the luggage. Our next stop was up the stairs where they asked if we had completed the FunPass. We had, so they directed us to the FunPass lane that was much shorter. Our paperwork was processed and we were handed our sail 'n sign cards right there. We then moved to the next room where there were bathrooms, then the first professional photographs. I strongly recommend using the bathroom before the picture, because that's the last bathroom before getting on the ship. We all snapped our pictures, and then were in line to have our security pictures made, which quickly started moving. Once our security pictures were made, we were in line to enter the ship. (We never saw yellow chairs.) In just a few minutes, security came by with several guests who we assume were Skipper's Club guests. The entire line moved on to the terminal ramp to enter the ship by Noon. They stopped the line at the ship deck to allow only the "special" guests to enter the ship first. We were all so excited!
Then security came on the ramp, telling us that somehow the ramp had separated from the ship deck, and they asked that we back part of the way back down the ramp while they attempted to fix the problem. We grudgingly moved back. Five minutes turned into fifteen minutes, until they stated we had to get completely off the ramp. So, we were backed off all the way to the security picture machines, where we were crowded in a very small area, with no chairs, no water, and no bathrooms. When an hour had passed, some of the crowd was becoming angry, while others of us simply needed a bathroom. So security allowed us to reenter the terminal a back way to use the bathroom, then get back in line with our friends and family. As I went to the bathroom, I noted a crew entrance that was being used and wondered why they hadn't considered allowing us to enter via that entrance. Within moments of returning from the bathroom, security said they were going to allow us to enter by an alternate entrance and asked that we follow them, and they led us right to that crew entrance. This entrance wasn't the best first impression for the first time guests, but we were all just so glad to be on the ship finally at 1:15 p.m.
The ramp problem was the Port Authority's responsibility, not Carnival's. That problem aside, this was the smoothest embarkation I've experienced anywhere!
We went to our cabin, 8152 on the Verandah deck, and then headed to the Sun and Sea casual restaurant on the Lido deck for our first slice of pizza and our first drink. We met the other three couples at the Solar bar by the Lido pool. We were supposed to share a dining table, and we had requested late dining, but we were all at separate tables, different dining times, and different dining rooms. So, the women headed up to speak to the maitre d', while the men settled in at the bar to make friends with Lloyd who became one of our favorite Carnival bartenders. Babu, the Galaxy maitre d', said the late dining was full due to a group of 400 who booked together, but he could get us all at one table at the 6:15 dining time in the Galaxy. We agreed that was the best of a bad situation. He said we would be notified of our new table number by a card in our cabin the next day.
After acquainting ourselves with the various places on the ship, we visited the Palladium Lounge at 4 p.m. for the Travel and Shopping Talks. We decided to book a ship excursion for only the port of Dominica, and Fun Vision wasn't working when we first boarded, so we got in line at the shore excursion desk to book our Champagne Snorkeling excursion in Dominica. We met new friends from Kansas City, John and Melody, during this talk and while standing in line to purchase our excursions.
The first night's dining is open dining with very casual clothes. When we boarded we were given a card telling us to go to open dining at 5:30 p.m. the first night, but we weren't hungry at 5:30 p.m., so we returned to our room to unpack our luggage. (One of our friends got a message to pick up one of his bags in security. They had removed his travel iron, promising to return it at disembarkation. Our friend met lots of nice people who too were picking up luggage that had travel irons in them.) We caught a meal in the Sun and Sea Restaurant, which was just so so. The muster drill at 10 p.m. was brief and painless. We moved to the muster drill area slowly, so we would end up in the front of the crowd, rather than the back, because I'm short and a little bit claustrophobic. We returned our life vests back to our room and found a place along the Spa Deck rail overlooking the terminal to enjoy the sailaway.
Drinks were plentiful, photographers were snapping shots, the band was playing, and folks were dancing. It was great fun! We met George and Kay, another couple on the cruise, for just a few minutes at sailaway. We danced with everyone around us until shortly after midnight, and then settled in for a night's rest. I kept waking up during the night, because our bathroom door was creaking as it swung from the ship's movement. Roger solved that problem by securing the creaky bathroom door to the shower with the bungee cord we'd brought along for the balcony door.
Monday, St. Thomas: We had breakfast in the Sun & Sea Restaurant before heading off the ship. (The made-to-order omelets are wonderful. But, it was very difficult to get a glass of tomato juice in this restaurant.) We had made arrangements with Jim and Bev, and Steve and Connie, to meet on the pier at 9 a.m. to catch a cab together to Secret Harbor for the morning. This beach was beautiful and uncrowded with a bar and restaurant, chairs and umbrellas. We relaxed there for the morning. The boys snorkeled, while the girls visited. Iguanas of all sizes, shapes, and colors were wondering around the beach and the open-air bar. We had lunch before heading back, the others to the ship, while we headed to the downtown. We got our shopping done and our postcards mailed, then headed back to the ship.
This was our first formal night and the Captain's reception. We dressed for formal night, and then headed up for pictures and the free liquor tasting at the gift shop. Unfortunately, our dining at 6:15 wrapped up at 8:15, and the Captain's receptions ran from 7 to 8:30. So, we missed the Captain's reception, except for getting a couple of drinks from Lloyd in the Point After disco between 8:15 and 8:30. Our dinner was good, but the service was slow, and we missed the Captain's reception - a big disappointment.
After dinner, we headed to karaoke with Michael. It was great fun, and we met up with three new friends from New Zealand - Mel, Angela and Lynn. After karaoke wrapped up, we moved on with our new friends to the Piano bar where Eric was playing. He preferred singing to us, rather than encouraging sing-a longs, so it wasn't much fun, and we slipped off to bed.
Tuesday, Dominica: We again had breakfast in the Sun & Sea Restaurant. Then headed off the ship to grab some postcards. As we were purchasing our postcards, we agreed to take an island tour with Mr. Able. We really enjoyed the tour of this beautiful island. The steps to the twin falls were steep and somewhat hard to climb, so I would advise anyone with leg or knee problems from attempting this climb. But, the falls were beautiful!
We returned to the ship to grab a quick lunch before meeting our friends again on the pier for our Champagne Snorkeling excursion. We had to walk a short distance down the pier to a boat taking us out. They offered us free water or we could pay for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Due to rough waters, we were unable to snorkel in the "champagne" area, so they took us a little farther out where they promised the snorkeling would be better. Visibility was not good on this trip, so the snorkeling was disappointing, but I think they did the best they could. Still had a great time in Dominica!
When returning to the ship, we slipped into the last of the art auction, where we had some champagne and picked up our free small art. Our dining time of 6:15 now conflicted with the past guest party, which ran from 7 to 8:15, so we took our leisure dressing for the evening, then headed up to the party. We found all our friends settled into a round booth, with an excellent band playing. The drinks and appetizers were plentiful. After this party, we headed up to the Sun and Sea Restaurant for dinner. I hated eating up there instead of the dining room. I was disappointed that the food was again just so so.
After our poor dining experience, we headed upstairs for the Pub Crawl. We were told this was the first week for a Pub Crawl on the Destiny. It started at the Destiny bar outside the casino. Shots for the pub-crawl were $2.50, and each bar had a specific shot for that price. We met our new honeymooning friends from Virginia, Dan and Jennifer here. When the social hosts, Holly and Calvin, showed up to start the event, they asked everyone there to get up and dance the twist with the live musician. Then they narrowed down to three couples to compete, and we were chosen. We weren't nearly as good as the other couples, but we all received a bottle of champagne for having fun dancing.
The next stop on the Pub Crawl was the Piano Bar with Eric. Eric played lots of requested songs, including Snoopy, Hang On, for the Ohio State girls, who taught us to spell O-H-I-O with the song. I enjoyed the shots of Woo Woo here the best, but I have no idea what it was. Then we were on to karaoke. They welcomed the Pub Crawl Crowd, by requiring us to sing "Summer Nights" from Grease, girls against the boys. It wasn't bad, considering we didn't need a mike! Then Calvin picked five of the guys to lead karaoke in "YMCA," including Roger, Pete, and our new friend, Dan. The Onyx bar was our next stop, and then our final stop in the Point After disco bar, where they played some male-female games on the disco dance floors. We headed to bed pretty quickly after our night's fun. Great pub-crawl, Calvin and Holly!
Wednesday, Barbados: We had a light fruit and coffee breakfast in casual dining, then headed ashore in Barbados. We picked up postcards and souvenirs in the port shopping, and then caught a cab to Crane Hotel for lunch and to see Crane Beach, at the recommendation of the Islander on the BB. It was a long drive and well worth it. The lunch was pricey, but we ate on a terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on Crane Beach. I could have sat there all day; this was the most relaxing moment of our entire cruise. Our taxi driver waiting on us while we dined and snapped pictures, then he drove us back to the Boatyard for the remainder of our day. We ran into many of our old and new friends during the day there, as we lounged in chairs by the ocean. As the sun began to set, we headed down the beach to have dinner at Lobster Alive. They remembered us and treated us like royalty. We again loved our lobster meal and crab appetizers, as well as the excellent service and friends. Mel, Angela and Lynn, our New Zealand friends, joined us for this meal, so we snapped lots of pictures before returning to the ship.
Thursday, Day at Sea: We decided to start our first day at sea with breakfast in the dining room. This was so much more relaxing than the lines in the casual restaurant. I headed to the travel and shopping talks for Aruba, while Roger headed up on deck to catch a few rays. I then grabbed Roger for lunch in the dining room, another excellent experience. We attended the art auction again, drinking champagne, bidding on art, and getting our free piece of art. We then went to the Onyx Bar for a wine and cheese tasting, accompanied by jazz music.
The Destiny Bar had Martini Happy Hour, where they poured your selected martini into a funnel through an ice sculpture to chill your martini, before you catch the liquid coming out of the ice sculpture directly into your martini glass. This was really cool, so I encourage you to stop and see this process happening even if you don't drink martinis.
This was our second formal night, so we dressed for dinner, taking our bottle of champagne with us to share with our table. When we arrived at dinner, our maitre d', Babu, approached our table, asking why we had all missed dinner in the dining room several nights in a row. We explained to him that 6:15 was simply too early for our group for meals and that we were disappointed to miss the meals in the dining room as well. He spoke to our server, Muharrem, who agreed that we could arrive at 6:45. We appreciated this attempt to meet our needs. At the end of the meal, Chef Hans came to the dining room to speak, and we discovered that one of our friends at the table had met him earlier in the day on deck. Our friend stepped over to greet him, so Chef Hans returned to our table to visit with each of us personally, and Babu came with him. He was a very interesting and personable man.
Friday, Aruba: We didn't make any solid plans for Aruba before arriving, and this is my one regret. I wish we had booked a water excursion in Aruba, because the water was inviting, but the island was cacti and rocks surrounded by beautiful water. We enjoyed shopping, and we toured the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel. This hotel has a "canal" of water coming directly into their lobby. A motorized boat drives right into the hotel to pick up hotel guests and day pass guests to take them out to an island. The boats arrived and departed every ten minutes. This looked like a fun way to start a day, and we may do that if we return again. After shopping, we stopped at Iguana Joe's for lunch.
We took our bags back to the ship, and then returned to the pier to catch a bus tour for just $10 that we had been offered by an independent tour operator. The tour took us to all the neat places on the island, but buyer beware - we were the only English-speaking people on a large tour bus. The tour guide spoke fluent Spanish, but very little English. He was clearly entertaining, because everyone around us was laughing wildly throughout the tour, but we had no idea what was being said. As we headed back to the ship, the tour guide sang the Aruba national anthem, then the Spanish-speaking guests sang the Puerto Rican anthem, then they asked us if we wanted to sing the US anthem. We passed! We enjoyed the sites, but we were disappointed with the tour.
We got back on the ship early and relaxed in the sun. We had dinner on the ship with our friends, before they headed over to Carlos 'n Charlie's, and we headed for our cabin. Our balcony cabin overlooked the town, and as we periodically stepped out on the balcony, we could hear the rocking music and shouts from patrons at CnC. About 9 that evening, we saw an ambulance pull up alongside the ship, and a man was carried off the ship on a stretcher. We never heard what happened and whether it was a guest or employee.
At 10:30 pm, we attended a wonderful Guest Talent Show in the Palladium Lounge. This was the only show we attended all week.
Saturday, Day at Sea: We returned to the dining room for breakfast - just a wonderful relaxing way to start the day. Then I headed to "Win a Cruise Bingo" and the debarkation talk, while Roger headed up on deck to catch some rays. I didn't win a cruise, and I didn't learn anything new about debarkation. We had lunch in the dining room and attended one last art auction. The Destiny Bar was having a Margarita Happy Hour today, with the same funnel running through the ice sculpture and wonderful margaritas. We had our final meal in the dining room, met friends around the ship to say goodbye, and then headed to our room to pack our luggage.
Sunday, Disembarkation: Announcements to go through US Immigration started at 6:20 a.m. We got up about 6:40 and headed up to the Lido just to grab a cup of coffee. As time passed and our color wasn't called, we decided to have breakfast there as well. We returned to our room after breakfast, still waiting for our color to be called. When our color had never been called, but they were calling colors to leave the ship, we called Information to see what to do. They instructed us to go on to US Immigration. Within moments of arriving there, our color was called, so I guess they just start letting people off while people are still clearing Immigration. After clearing immigration, we went up to wait in the Casino. Our color wasn't called to leave the ship until 10:15 am. We found our luggage quickly and headed out of the terminal. As we exited the terminal, we saw a table filled with travel irons that they were returning to departing guests!
At the curb people were fighting for cabs. We discovered that attendants were again filling out sheets with your destination and the cost, and then flagging a taxi for us. So, for speedier taxi service, find an attendant to get the sheet, and then get the taxi. Tour guides were trying to get us to take a tour, saying we couldn't check into our hotels until later, but we wanted to drop our luggage off at our hotel, before deciding how to spend our day.
We returned to the Holiday Inn Express, where we were checked in within fifteen minutes of arrival. Our room this time was a wonderful room, with plenty of space. We found that Steve and Connie had already arrived, because their color was the first one called!
The four of us walked down the street and found a marvelous Mexican restaurant with great food and margaritas and an outdoor terrace. Since it was raining, we returned to our cabins to relax and watch Sunday football. Sunday night, Roger and I walked back down the street to Orozo's for a wonderful Italian meal.
Monday, Post-Cruise: We enjoyed a light Continental breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express, before heading in a taxi to Old San Juan to shop. The last time we were in San Juan, we had purchased a piece of Don Quixote art at the Gems and Pearls shop, so we wanted to shop there. We arrived as the shops were just opening, so we wondered through various shops waiting for Gems and Pearls to open. Once it did, we purchased another neat Don Quixote art sculpture, then caught a cab back to our hotel. I took a quick nap in the cabin, while Roger wondered across the street to the beach for sun and snapshots. Then we walked to another great Mexican restaurant for a late lunch.
We got a late checkout from the hotel, so we could head to the airport at 2 p.m. for our Delta flights home. When we arrived at the Delta counter, they informed us that we had to be checked at the USDA counter before we could check-in there. So, we had only our checked bags scanned at the USDA counter, and then we returned to quickly check-in with Delta. Our Delta flights were timely and comfortable, and we watched an in-flight movie, "I Robot", as we flew home.
Final Thoughts: While this wasn't our favorite cruise, it was wonderful. This wonderful itinerary kept us way too busy. We were disappointed that we were unable to enjoy our dining room experience more and even more disappointed that our mealtime conflicted with both the Captain's reception and the Past Guest party. Our cabin steward, Greg, was invisible but great, and Muharrem, our lead waiter, did the best he could with an unhappy table. It was wonderful cruising with old friends, while making new friends. Any day on a cruise is the best!
Pictures will be posted in the next few days at http://community.webshots.com/user/judyjbest.