Please take me back! A Southern Caribbean Adventure

My wife and I spent the last week(April 8-15) on board the Carnival Fascination visiting numerous, beautiful, Caribbean islands.  Many of those islands were new to us, even with our extensive cruising history.  Since I have already expressed my love for Carnival Fantasy class ships in a previous blog post, this review will focus a bit more on the ports of call and what we did at each.  Before getting into that though, I will mention a few key points about the Carnival Fascination itself.

The Fascination was recently in dry dock (February 2018) and it was apparent as the ship looked and felt very fresh.  I have sailed numerous times on Fantasy class ships and this was probably the best shape I have seen one in.  This class of ship really bodes well with this port intensive itinerary.  It is easy to learn the layout and you can focus more on the ports themselves.  The Fascination has a great passenger to space ratio and I could count on one hand the number of times I waited in a line for something all week.

Guy’s Burgers(complementary) and Bonsai Sushi(fee) were two standout food options for me.  For dinner, we had late seating and were sat at a large table with four other couples.  The group of us really seemed to gel and it made for a great dining experience.  With the exception of service being slow two of the seven nights, we really had no other complaints and enjoyed the main dining room.

As I mentioned I would just touch briefly on the ship.  Let’s jump into the adventure!

Pre-Cruise and Day 1: San Juan

With the amount of cruising that I do I’m not sure how this happened, but this was my first visit to San Juan.  We arrived around noon the day before our cruise.  We took a taxi from the airport to the AC Hotel in Condado.  I believe it was around $18 flat rate.  Our room was not ready quite yet when we arrived but we were able to check our bags and head back out to explore.

We decided pre-trip that we would go have lunch at the San Juan Smokehouse.  It was about a 12 minute walk from our hotel and the food did not disappoint.  Although I should mention that the brisket and pork belly were not out of the smoker at the time we were there(around 1:30pm).  If you want to ensure they have everything available it might be worth going for dinner.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel and our room was ready.  We grabbed our bags and settled into our room.  With the little time we had in San Juan we decided to head right back out and grab a taxi to Old San Juan.  From our hotel in Condado  it was a $16 taxi fare to OSJ.  During our time in OSJ it was spent taking photos of the beautiful streets and buildings, exploring Fort San Cristobal, and a quick drink at Senor Frogs.

We were now approaching dinner time but  neither of us were hungry and both of us were exhausted.  We had been up since 2:00 am to catch the first leg of our flight from CT and we had over 15,000 steps on the day (a lot for me, I’m at a desk most days).  We decided to call it a night and just relax in the room.

The good thing about going to bed so early is that we were able to easily be up and head down to the beach for sunrise.  We walked the beach down to the Marriott in Condado and got some great photos of the sunrise.  The Marriott is a sister property to the AC Hotel we were staying at.  This would give us access to the beach and pool at the Marriott if we wanted.  With our short stay we did not take advantage.  We grabbed a quick breakfast at Starbucks and headed back to our hotel to enjoy some pool time.

Normally I like to be to the port on the day of sailing around 10:00-10:30 am, but with the late departure times out of San Juan we did not rush today.  We left our hotel around 11:00 am and we were checked in and boarding the ship a little after 11:30 am.  It was one of the easiest and quickest embarkations I’ve experienced.  Since we were only travelling with carry-on bags  we brought them on the ship ourselves versus handing them over to the porters.  Combine that with our cabins being ready upon boarding from my Platinum VIFP status we were unpacked in our cabin by noon.  We were ready to start our vacation!

We spent the rest of day 1 relaxing poolside.  Dinner on night 1 is open seating  between 5:30 and 8:00 with muster being at 9:00 pm.  We attended the sail away party after muster and then called it a night.

Day 2:  St. Thomas

Today would be another first for me, and my wife.  We were going parasailing!  We had a 9:45 am time slot and showed up to the pier around 9:30.  We were informed that we were the only two for that time slot so we headed over to the boat.  We booked this through Carnival, but the parasail company they use is called Parasail Virgin Islands.  You can save about $10 pp person if you book direct with PVI.  In the future this is what I would do.  The guys who run the operation are super friendly and do a great job.  They come highly recommended.  I really enjoyed the boat ride and the time up in the sail.  The views were amazing and we got a bunch of good photos and video footage while we were up there.  After the excursion we grabbed some juice smoothies from a stand nearby and walked around the port area.  We headed back to the ship for lunch and spent the rest of the day on board.

Day 3:  At Sea

We enjoyed our one and only sea day.  Typical lounging by the pool, eating Guy’s Burgers, and watching the various pool deck activities.  Looking back I think we would have enjoyed maybe one more sea day in place of one of the ports, but it really is hard to complain about such a great itinerary.  We capped off the night with karaoke and our first of two formal nights in the dining room.

Day 4: Barbados

The Boatyard was the name of the game today.  Simply take a $5 per person cab ride to The Boatyard.  Upon arrival you pay $20 per person.  This gets you loungers with umbrellas on the beach, access to non-motorized activities, one free drink, and your cab ride back to the port.  It is a steal in my mind.  The beach is beautiful and the food and drinks are great.  Aside from the free drinks from your admission, they run several “happy hours” throughout the day where drinks are buy one get one free.  I don’t think we paid full price for a drink all day by timing it right.  If you are looking for food be sure to try the Captain Jack’s platter.  It includes a number of seafood options in it but most notably a local favorite, flying fish.  This place was paradise to me and I could have spent every day of my vacation at an establishment like The Boatyard.

Day 5:  St. Lucia

We had a five hour island tour (booked through Carnival) today.  It included stops at a lookout for photos ops of the Pitons, the sulfur mud baths, and the Morne Coubaril  Estate.  My wife was set on doing the mud baths while we visited the island so we had booked this tour simply based on that.  The mud baths were interesting and I would say it was a cool one-time just to say you did it type thing.  I actually didn’t go in and mostly just took photos.  My wife enjoyed the experience but we probably wouldn’t visit a second time.  Our favorite part of the tour ended up being Morne Coubaril Estate.  We had no idea what it was going into the tour and it played no part in us picking the tour.  The estate is absolutely beautiful and the tour was very educational and interesting.  We also got to sample numerous chocolate and coconut products along the tour.  You can read more about the estate here.  One last thing I’ll mention about St. Lucia, they have mostly winding roads.  If you are prone to car sickness you might want to re-think doing a long island tour at this stop.

Day 6: St. Kitts

With such a busy itinerary we purposely didn’t make plans for St. Kitts.  We did get off the ship to walk around town for a bit and take photos but that was the extent of it.  Pre-cruise I did a little research and found that there was a place called Independence Square near the port area that would provide some good photo ops.  I didn’t look up specific directions and just hoped that we would find it.  Oddly enough we left the port area, walked down a few streets making random turns, and it appeared before us.  It ended up working out perfectly and we were able to get some great photos.  We grabbed some free WiFi for a few and then headed back to the ship.  When we return in the future we will definitely do a tour or excursion.

Day 7:  St. Maarten/St. Martin
A couple weeks before we were to set sail we got notification that the excursion we had booked for St. Maarten was cancelled.  After doing some research in the Facebook group I run, Cruise Life Group, I decided that we would do an island tour through Bernard’s Tours.  Everyone seemed to have great experiences with them and they were very reasonably priced.  We only had to pay a $10 deposit and the remainder was due upon arrival.  We found our way to the Bernard’s Tours tent just inside the main port area around 9:15 am and we were on our way shortly after.  There was only 7 passengers on our bus so it felt almost like a private tour.  Our driver, who went by the name “Mailman”, was very informative and a pleasure to listen to for the duration of  our tour.  Complementary beverages are available throughout the tour, including water, soda, beer, and the ever so famous rum punch.  The tour had us doing almost a complete loop of the island, we visited areas on both the Dutch and French side, crossing the border twice on our travels.  We would have extended stops in Marigot (French side capital) and at Maho Beach.  We had a fabulous lunch in Marigot and enjoyed seeing the planes land and take off at Princess Juliana Airport just behind Maho beach.  For those of you who don’t know, St. Maarten was one of the islands hit the worst by Hurricane Irma last year.  They are still very much in a rebuilding process and this was apparent as our tour went along.  The island had 127 resorts pre-Irma and as of this time only two are still operational.  It is estimated that it will take 5-6 years to fully rebuild from Irma’s destruction.  Seeing such things on a vacation can sometimes be unwanted but I was happy we were there, spending money, and helping a community that relies on tourism.

Final Thoughts With so many “first times” this past week it would be hard to not have an exciting trip.  It was nice to have some alone time with just my wife as well as meeting some great new people.  I was able to rekindle my love for Fantasy class ships while at the same time visiting some amazing new ports of call.  I think it’s safe to say we would sail this ship and itinerary again in a heartbeat.  Another sailing in the books filled with great memories!

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