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Cruisin’ With Carnival!

Cruisin’ With Carnival!

“We should do a cruise!”

“I’ve never been on a cruise.”



“We’ll fix that!”


That brief exchange is what started the ball rolling down a slippery incline to a whole other aspect of travel for me. If you’ve read the “About” section on the website, you’ll recall that until 2014, I had never been off-continent and had no real travel experience to speak of.  Tina was determined to take my cherry in that regard and has been a motivating force in getting me to see the world ever since.

Obviously, when she learned I had never been on a cruise ship before, she set about taking yet another cherry.  I must say that although she is very strongly determined to see me experience the world, she doesn’t try to throw too much at me all at once.  For instance, in getting me on a plane for our first vacation off-continent, she made sure it was a quick 7-day all-inclusive with a short, direct flight to Cuba.  In planning to get me on my first cruise she maintained her winning strategy and got to work on a 7-day Caribbean cruise with Carnival cruiselines that departed from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Although not the highest-rated cruise line and with a reputation for being a party line, Carnival does offer a good selection of 7-day itineraries in the Caribbean which once again kept things close and simple for a first-timer.

Flying into the airport at San Juan, Puerto Rico was quick and easy and a short transfer to the cruise ship docks had us in the queue for check-in and boarding. Although Puerto Rico is an island country with a rich and interesting history we would not have time to explore its rich culture before our departure.  We will come back to that.

Boarding proved to be fast and effortless and it was a new experience handing over my luggage and being told it would be waiting outside our stateroom door, but I let go and went with the flow.  Orientation and safety presentations at our “Muster Station Drill” were also new things for me.  Since the Titanic disaster, and the creation of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) cruise lines have made it a regular and mandatory part of every embarkation.  Although it’s a very serious part of every sailing, the mood on the Carnival ship “Fascination” had the vast majority of passengers bypassing the drill completely.

About to embark on his maiden voyage with trusty travel agent/partner/wife/shewhomustbeobeyed.


Stubbornly staying until the end of the drill, we then moved on to the main reception area to enjoy our first of many onboard drinks while we waited for our stateroom to be readied.  A stroll from one end of the deck to the other proved to be a worthwhile endeavour as the tour presented the vast amount of staterooms, bars, restaurants, shops, lounges, pools, and services available on this huge ship capable of housing over 2600 passengers and crew.

It wasn’t long until the lines were cast and we were beginning our first day at sea.  If you’ve never been on a cruise before, I hope that some of the information that’s shared in the post will serve you well.  Once your stateroom is ready, you drag your luggage inside and unpack.  You will want to FULLY unpack because there’s not really enough room to leave a suitcase out for you to pick things out of as you need. Unpack and stow your empty luggage under the bed.  Once you’ve got everything where you want it, go ahead and grab the bottle of champagne that’s been left for you and sit and enjoy a glass of bubbly with your travel partner.  If you upgraded to a balcony, ( we didn’t take the upgrade on this cruise, but we never book anything less than balcony now) take it outside and sit and enjoy the view of the land slipping away as you glide into your first day of cruising.

Someone is definitely excited to start this cruise!


You’ll soon be feeling peckish after a long day of travel, so get yourself ready to hit the buffet or one of the many specialty restaurants and snack bars that are dotted around the ship.  We’ve found that the buffet on a cruise ship is usually better than a lot of 4 and 5-star all-inclusive resorts (remember there are always exceptions to a rule).  Afterward, you’ll want to check out some of the lounges onboard for their great live entertainment and social interaction with some other passengers.  You may be tired early on this first day so it’s not unusual to hang out on an outdoor deck with a tasty nightcap and take in the departing scenery.  Most cruise ships, including the one you’re on, are a beautiful spectacle at night so enjoy the lights before heading to bed. Night-night!

If you’re an early riser, chances are good (depending on which side of the ship you’re on) that you’ll watch as you pull into your first port of call.  You can pre-plan when booking your stateroom to be on the side of the ship that will mostly face land, or will mostly face sea from your stateroom, simply by checking the itinerary map and choosing either port or starboard for your room.

Our first morning put us at St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.  This gem is a virtual postcard from all aspects, air, land, and sea.  If you’re booking an Eastern Caribbean cruise, you should try to make sure this place is on the itinerary.  Another island with a long and diverse history, St. Thomas was purchased from the Danish in 1917 for $25 million.  Built around the rum industry, and later the refining and pharmaceutical industries, the main income for the islands today is from tourism.  Rising from the continental shelf as a volcano, its flora and fauna are as diverse as the marine life surrounding the sandy beaches and coral reefs.


One of the great things about taking a cruise is that you get to see multiple destinations on the same vacation.  Although you may not get to spend days touring and sightseeing any single destination, in most cases you get ample time to visit at least one major attraction, or spend the day on the beach, or just wander around sampling the local culture in food, art, and shopping.  This being my first cruise, I planned to do all of these things over the course of  7 days.

Wherever your day was spent onshore, when it’s time to get back on board, you don’t want to take it lightly.  The schedule is given to you at the beginning of the cruise, and the loudspeaker announces disembarkation and embarkation times at each port.  You would do well to ensure you remain cognizant of the time while ashore.  If you aren’t back onboard at the designated time, the ship WILL leave without you.  It will then be up to YOU to figure out how to get to the next port on the itinerary so that you can rejoin your shipmates.

Once back aboard, it’s time for a shower, a change of clothes, and something to eat.  Most cruises offer options for dinner times and sittings.  You can opt for early or late dining and a table for 2 up to 10.  A lot of cruisers enjoy sitting at the larger table where you get to meet and socialize with your dinner mates. Others like the intimacy of having the table to themselves.  I recommend you try all the options and enjoy the niceties of each!

On this cruise, She Who Must Be Obeyed had signed us up for late dining at a table for 8.  It would not have been my choice, but she insisted that I would enjoy it.  As the rest of the dinner guests sat down, we each introduced ourselves and shared a brief bio (where we’re from, what we do, how we’re enjoying the cruise, etc).  Once again, my wife was right.  During the course of a delicious meal, we certainly heard a lot of interesting stories from our co-diners, and the meal was punctuated with good cheer and laughter.

Just when I was really comfortable and thoroughly enjoying my meal, someone started shouting.  A moment later, loud party music is blasting out of a loudspeaker in the restaurant.  The next thing I knew, all of the wait staff had formed a congo line and were weaving in and out of the tables and singing at the top of their lungs, cajoling passengers to join the line, waving their napkins around over their heads.  Now, I may be a bit of a fuddy-duddy, but at that moment in time, I was completely at a loss.  At first, I thought it was someone’s birthday or anniversary that was being celebrated by the staff, much like you see in any family restaurant back home, but no.  As it turned out, this is (or was, I’m not sure if it’s still a thing) a regular, nightly dinner ritual on Carnival.

This was the first reinforcing evidence that Carnival ships are indeed party ships.  Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not against parties.  I’ve certainly attended and enjoyed my fair share over the years.  Hell, I’ve even hosted a bunch of crazy parties in my time!  However, one of the things about all of those parties was the fact that I was in control of where, when, and for how long I was going to party.  Having my nice, relaxing, enjoyable meal suddenly turn into party central was off-putting and disappointing.

After that dining circus, we strolled the deck for a bit and then took a table at one of the lounges for a pre-show drink.  Every large cruise ship has a theatre.  On each sailing, the cruise line provides an assortment of entertainment in the theatre for a wide variety of tastes.  In this aspect, Carnival did not disappoint.  Every one of their nightly performances in the theatre was of high quality and well received by all passengers.

You’ll find you tend to stay up a bit longer on a cruise because there’s so much to see and do.  There’s a casino, a gallery, shopping galore, cocktail lounges that offer entertainment in the form of game shows as well as live music, and of course you can’t minimize simply hanging out deckside to take in the stars and the waves as you sail to your next port of call.


In the morning, we found our next port of call to be Sint Maarten, Dutch Caribbean.  Previously an island territory of the Dutch Antilles, St. Maarten comprises the southern portion of the island below the French Saint Martin and now shares equal status with Aruba, Curacao, and the Netherlands.  We docked at the capital town of Philipsburg and disembarked for a day of tourism and beach bumming.  Just off the pier is a long street of colorful shops and businesses that front a long and pristine beach.  We strolled at our leisure checking out each shop in turn and chatting with some of the locals.  We stopped for ice cream and a drink while checking out some local artwork.  Heading back to the pier we stopped again and had a great lunch of local seafood and more frosty beverages.  The remainder of our time at port was spent lounging in the sun on the beach and listening to some great Caribbean music provided by local performers.

St. Maarten is another beautiful island in the Caribbean with a rich history.  Its profile as you sail in or out of port is breathtaking and it is most definitely a fun place to visit.  We would happily return and spend more time exploring the island in its entirety, including crossing the border into French St. Martin.  This time around, however, it was back to the ship for some more cruise life!


Another thing I’ve learned about cruising is that most popular cruises are geared toward families or passengers who enjoy a good party.  As I’ve begun aging gracefully, I’ve decided that I have certain preferences when it comes to travel.  I find adult-only experiences to be one of those preferences.  Part of my aging gracefully process has brought with it an increasing lack of patience for kids, animals, and people.  I have been called curmudgeonly and because another symptom of that same process has been a finely honed straightforward attitude, I will not disagree with that description.

A huge in-ground (or in-deck) pool on a massive cruise ship with 2600 passengers onboard might seem like a great idea, especially when sailing in the Caribbean where there’s a hot sun beating down on you for most of the day, however, when you enter tipsy young adults trying to hold onto their drinks; or better yet – young children with tiny bladders and no supervision into the equation, it dissolves any and all appeal for me.

Let’s just move on to another delicious dinner, some social drinks after in the lounge, ending with another night at the theatre.

Our next destination, St. Kitts, proved to be yet another gem in the Caribbean crown.  Bouncing between Spanish, British, and French rule since 1493, St. Kitts and her neighboring sister island Nevis, now constitute the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.  For over 360 years, St. Kitts economy was based solely on sugar cane.  In 2005 the government closed down the sugar cane industry completely and St. Kitts’ economy is driven entirely by tourism.  It’s easy to see why.  She and her sister island are home to beautiful picturesque landscapes, historical sites, and golden beaches.

There’s nothing like a few too many drinks taken during the course of a long hot day to get you off to bed a bit earlier than usual, but sometimes that’s just what the Dr. ordered.  We still had a fabulous meal and a nightcap in the lounge, but we decided to forego the late-night entertainment for an early bedtime.  We had pulled out of St. Kitts harbour right around dinner time and had been at sea for maybe a couple of hours when we hit some rougher water than we had encountered thus far.

Here was yet another first.  The roll and pitch of the ship in response to the waves while lying in bed was….unsettling…at first.  Although I had imbibed far more alcohol during the day than She Who Must Be Obeyed, after the initial discomfiture of the rolling motion, there were no real negative effects for me.  My usually steadfast companion however was NOT happy.  Admittedly the first few minutes of experiencing this gargantuan tipping of an otherwise firm foundation under one’s footing is decidedly unnerving.  I expect people who have experienced the ground moving under them during a mild earthquake or aftershock must be able to relate, but for some people onboard a seagoing vessel during high waves, it can bring on an extended bout of seasickness.

I adjusted rather quickly to the sensations and tried to provide some form of comfort to my erstwhile warrior princess.  Fortunately, she did eventually come around and adjusted to the rolling ship after several minutes of concentration.  We could then both relax and enjoy the motion as it lulled us to sleep.

For those of you who have yet to encounter this experience, it’s said that being as close to mid-ship as possible will lessen the effects of a rolling sea, but it will not completely negate it.

Feeling no worse for wear after the previous day and night, the next morning brought us into the island country of St. Lucia.  As a travel agent, this destination provided a lot of anticipation for me.  The training seminars and sales brochures painted a picture of paradise that would be hard to beat.  Luxurious resorts on gorgeous beaches surrounded by lush tropical flora, enhanced with exotic food and drinks and a very culturally alive population, all waited to be explored by a ship full of anxious tourists.

Our excursions into St. Lucia however did not take in much in the way of sandy beaches and resorts.  Instead, we ventured into the interior for some amazing jungle experiences, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and some stunning vistas.  One of the things that St. Lucia may be best known for is “The Pitons”.  These twin volcanic spires reach up to 2,500 feet and can be seen from anywhere on the island.  They were named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004 under 2 criteria.  Criterion I – “Outstanding examples representing major stages of Earth’s history”, and Criterion III – “Superlative natural phenomenon or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”.  These amazing formations certainly meet and exceed the mark!

Our tour of the island took us to many different areas, one of which was Morne Fortune, a hill overlooking Castries.  It’s also the burial site of Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott a St. Lucian poet.  Getting there (or getting anywhere on St. Lucia) makes for a very scenic journey.  It’s a very hilly island, and the roads switch back and forth up the sides and around the peaks before curving back down into the valleys.  This offers some spectacular views of the island at almost every turn.  We stopped at various places along our route, taking in a hot spring, some local artisans and fishermen, and finally stopping for lunch at Marantha Garden where there is a magnificent display of local flora displayed in its natural habitat.

Even though we didn’t get to experience them, the beaches of St. Lucia are among some of the most beautiful in the world and the island is a very popular destination every year for beach weddings because of this.  It’s absolutely a destination worth visiting.

Back on the ship, a change of clothes and some refreshing drinks allowed for some downtime before our evening meal.  As always the fare offered onboard met our requirements and we ended the day with a stroll around the ship before heading to our stateroom for the night.

Our next stop was the island of Barbados.  Barbados is the easternmost Caribbean island and has been claimed by the Spanish, Portuguese, and finally the British in 1625.  Barbados gained independence as a Commonwealth realm in 1966 and eventually transitioned to a Republic in 2021.  With a historical economy based on sugarcane and rum, tourism, manufacturing, and offshore investment have become increasingly important to the Barbadian economy.

It’s easy to see why tourism is so important.  Barbados is another Caribbean island with all of the attractions,  Beaches, reefs, food, art, culture, music, and history coupled with a moderately high standard of living where English is the official language make Barbados very attractive to visitors!

We were fortunate enough to have a friend who is a resident of the island offer us a personal tour of the island which we happily accepted.  A popular tourist attraction of Barbados is Harrison’s Cave.  The caves are naturally formed by water erosion through the limestone rock. The calcium-rich water that runs through the caves has formed the unusual stalactites and stalagmites that dominate the cave.  Travel through the caves is by tram, and at certain points during the tour, visitors are allowed to alight from the tram and get up close to the formations.

The things you find out about your spouse AFTER you’re married.  It turns out, we both enjoy exploring caves.  I’m fairly confident that neither of us has any desire to become serious spelunkers, but these types of tourist adventures appeal to us both.  Who knew??

No visit to Barbados would be complete without visiting the small coastal town of Oistins and experiencing the Oistin Fish Fry.  A tradition has developed over time where tourists in Oistins join with locals at the Friday night (and slightly quieter Saturday night) Fish Fry and “lime” (social gathering), which involves the food and drink stalls selling fried fish meals and local craft, all to the accompaniment of loud music, while older residents practice more traditional ‘old time’ dancing. The area is fairly close to many of the south coast hotels in Barbados and has several beaches nearby so the turnout is usually quite sizeable.  I can tell you this….the food is amazing and there is no shortage of fun to be had!

Although nowhere near as hilly as St. Lucia, there are still some nice views of Barbados, and of course, the beaches are beautiful.  It was great having a personal guide for the day and we spent every last minute of our shore-time on the island and enjoyed every moment!  I hope we have the opportunity to visit this lively island again.

Barbados was a great way to enjoy our last island on the cruise and head back to Puerto Rico.  Cruising the Caribbean islands was certainly more than I’d ever expected it to be and I was really glad that She Who Must Be Obeyed had presented the idea.  I was actually feeling a little sad that our voyage was nearing its end.

On our final day of the cruise, we sailed into San Juan to disembark.  It had been a voyage with a lot of new experiences for me, and I was already contemplating when and where we might cruise again.  Having several hours until we were to be shuttled to the airport for our flight home, we decided to purchase a brief tour of San Juan.  I’m so glad we did.

Puerto Rico and the city of San Juan are steeped in history, and the island fairly vibrates with a unique rhythm all its own.  The historical monuments and remains are clearly cherished by the people of Puerto Rico, and although politics is a regular discussion among locals, there doesn’t seem to be any anger or contentiousness associated with these debates.  The people we encountered along our tour were all very friendly and outgoing and willing to talk about their city and their state with pride.

Obviously, since 1492 and for the next 400 years,  Spanish influence developed a lot of what you will still see and experience in Puerto Rico today.  Becoming a commonwealth and unincorporated territory of the United States in 1898 brought Puerto Rico under U.S. rule and it remains that way today and Spanish and English are the two official languages there.

Our tour took us past the Capital Building in Old San Juan, the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.  A quick drive by the Castillo San Cristobal led us back towards Old San Juan for some streetscapes.  Believe it or not, I found Puerto Rico to be a destination that I would like to explore at greater length.  I can foresee a future visit to this interesting little island!

While waiting for our flight home to Canada, I was asked “So what did you think of your first cruise?”  I took a moment to reflect on the entire experience before answering “When can we go on the next one??”

I highly recommend cruising, however now that I’ve got a few cruises under my belt, I would urge clients to fully research the reviews of various cruise lines.  Carnival is certainly a party cruise line and doesn’t come with the highest ratings, but I’m sure it maintains a great deal of appeal to a certain type of passenger.  Having cruised with Princess Cruise Lines, I would absolutely recommend them for their Caribbean itineraries.

Regardless of the cruise line, cruising presents the unique ability to deliver multiple destinations in a single vacation.  Excursions are always plentiful and varied.  There is never a lack of things to see or do, and when onboard ship you are presented with whatever amount of relaxation, downtime, or solitude you prefer.

Bottom line:  If you haven’t cruised, do it!  Bon Voyage!

The post Cruisin’ With Carnival! appeared first on The Beery Traveler.

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