It took me a while to book my first cruise. I was concerned that I would be “bored on board” or that I wouldn’t have enough time in port. Having now cruised on three different Carnival ships within the last six months, I needn’t have worried. Whether traveling with girlfriends, a sweetie, or solo, I discovered that cruising is a ton of fun!
Carnival Valor is no exception. Departing from Puerto Rico’s Port of San Juan, cruisers have an opportunity for a fun-filled 7 days, visiting St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Kitts, Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Maarten.
Here are some not-to-miss opportunities:
1. Cast off with your umbrella
As soon as you get on board, go up to the open-air lido deck, where the music is playing and fun begins. You can grab a buffet lunch, then snag a beach chair where the many meandering waiters will find you to offer you one of those cliché umbrella-and-fruit laden tropical drinks. Sip on your libation and wave goodbye as you witness the shipping leaving port.
2. Make new friends on board
This has turned out to consistently be one of the highlights of my Carnival cruises. Everyone is assigned to their own particular table in the formal dining room along with several others for the entire cruise. It’s a great way to get to know other people on the ship. Good conversation and laughs flowed freely every night as we shared our experiences of the day as well as our lives back home.
3. Race an America’s Cup regatta
Slicing through St. Maarten’s warm turquoise Caribbean water on one of the world’s fastest boats sounds like fun, right? What if you could be part of the crew, racing against another America’s Cup boat? I was given the role of “grinding” which turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought. Read more about my America’s Cup regatta racing debut.
4. Take a volcanic sulfur mud bath on St. Lucia
Located in the world’s only drive-in volcano, the St. Lucia sulfur mud baths and thermal pools make for a unique and possibly therapeutic adventure. Slathering on the thick black mineral sludge, still pretty hot from the boiling caldera, is reputed to have medicinal value including therapeutic qualities for the skin. The warm thermal pools may wash most of the mud from your body, but it will take several days to remove it from underneath finger and toenails. Read more about my dirty tricks in the St. Lucia mud bath.
5. Ride a catamaran to Nevis
Sit back with your rum punch, relax and let the wind billow through your hair; or join the congo line and dance to Caribbean and Latin music. The catamaran glides by the craggy volcanic-framed coast until you reach the crystalline blue waters of Pinney’s Beach on Nevis. On the sail back, a really good buffet lunch is served.
6. Learn to merengue
If you’ve always wanted to learn some of those exotic dances you’ve seen on Dancing with the Stars, there are lessons offered in the lounges on board. Latin, salsa, and merengue – you’ll receive step-by-step instruction and then a chance to practice with your partner.
7. Snorkel in St. Kitts
Taking a boat ride along the coast, we arrived at a private cove to snorkel with no one else around. Our boat anchored just off shore and we jumped overboard to get a look at the underwater marvels. The only negative was that wearing a light life vest was mandatory, whether an individual felt they needed it or not. I’m an experienced snorkeler and scuba diver and the bright yellow vest hindered our underwater photo ops.
8. Walk on a beautiful beach in Barbados
Okay, maybe the activity isn’t new, but with so many stunning beaches, you’re bound to find one you haven’t visited. On the island of Barbados, there are numerous beaches to choose – from the calm transparent aqua waters and white sand on the leeward side to the wild crashing waves and brilliant turquoise surf on the east and south coast.
9. Go sea kayaking
A night excursion through a long mangrove out to a bioluminescent bay on the eastern tip of Puerto Rico is available. There are very few of these in the world, and seeing the neon lights from these organisms as you trail your hand or oar in the water is pretty spectacular. Word of caution: do not book the excursion through Viator/Rico Sun/Island Kayaking. That tour is a cattle call and very dangerous – someone in our group got hurt and it needn’t have happened. Book your adventure through the cruise as those tours are fully vetted and if there’s a problem, Carnival will help you. We actually did our tour the day before the officially cruise started.
10. Drive on the wrong side of the road
Several of the islands still reflect the British influence and you will be driving on the left side of the road. The island of St. Thomas further complicates matters. Contrary to the normal standard which dictates that when you drive on the left, the steering wheel is on the right (opposite to the US where you drive on the right with wheel on the left), in St. Thomas, you drive on the left but the steering wheel is also on the left. Either way, if you’re accustomed to the American way of driving, renting a car to explore one of these islands can be a
frightening exhilarating adventure in itself.
11. Find a panoramic view
Because the islands were once volcanoes, nearly all have opportunities to drive up a winding mountain road to take in a stunning vista. St. Thomas also has an aerial cable tram you can ride to view the seascape below – and of course includes the ubiquitous restaurant and souvenir shop.
12. Explore the ruins of old forts
Castillo de San Cristóbal in Old San Juan stands sentry over the shimmering aquamarine sea. Explore the extensive grounds and majestic fort and then take a 10-minute walk along the malécon to San Juan’s other fort, Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Both are just a 10-minute walk from downtown where you’ll find a plethora of shops, cafes and bistros.
13. Shop at a local outdoor craft market
Since tourism is the number one income producer on most if not all of the islands, there are no shortage of shops selling local wares and every manner of souvenir. I enjoy the bartering process, but for those who like a fixed price, those are also abundant.
14. See a comedy show
The earlier show is family-friendly, but since those performances were always early, during my dining time, I was only able to make it to the adult comedy show. The topics were very funny, though often not politically correct. If you’re offended by “edgy” language, you will want to go stick with the family show.
15. Test your singing talent with karaoke
You can find karaoke just about every night, although the venues and lounges may change, including opportunities to sing with a live band. Choose from one or more thick binders filled with songs – you’re bound to find one you know. Why not give it a try? You’ll never see these people again!
16. Master the water slide
Located on the open-air Lido deck, the waterslide offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of the vast blue ocean before zooming down 114 feet of curls and twists before landing in the pool below three decks below.
17. Eat something unusual
Every night in the formal dining room, the menu has an appetizer called “didja” (as in did you ever …) which is described as “food you always wanted to try, but did not dare.” I never pass up a dare. My favorites were the spicy alligator fritters and the frog legs with provencale herb butter.
18. Try the local beer
Just about every island has its own brewery for local beer. I’m not a beer drinker, but a lot of cruise passengers had fun sampling and comparing the local brews.
19. Try an exotic drink
Carnival has a whole host of unique, exotic drinks. One popular drink was the “Twilight Zone” – which tastes similar piña colada.
1oz Bacardi Light Rum
1/2oz Melon Liqueur
1 1/2oz coconut cream
5oz crushed ice
Blend all ingredients except Blue Curacao until smooth, then float Blue Curacao over the top
20. Hit the jackpot
Full disclosure, I’m not a gambler, so I didn’t place any bets. But a couple of times I did hang out with friends in the lively casino who seemed to be really enjoying themselves. Some even came out ahead.
21. Hang out by the 24/7 ice cream machine…. Constantly
Upon embarking, my first order of business is to find the location of the ice cream machines for my daily fix. ‘Nuf said.
22. Take a corny photo op
You know you want to! So don’t walk by or avoid eye contact with the multitude of photographers lined up on the walk to the dining room. Choose a few different backgrounds and ham it up. You can let them take as many as they want – you only have to pay for the one(s) you actually want. You (and everyone else!) will be able to view the night’s pictures in the “Hall of Fame” the next day. Note: you probably won’t be able to control laughing at the outtakes!
There’s a reason why Carnival ships have the moniker “Fun Ships.” In fact, there are many reasons – lots to do onboard at night and on sea days, the variety of shore adventures and excursions, the opportunity to make new friends, and the abundance of food and libations. Add to that dinning staff (thank you Elvis and Albert!), housekeeping staff, cruise director, and guest services who are determined to make sure your time on board is perfect, and you have the formula for a vacation you won’t want to end.