First I want to tell you that I really liked our trip. When I tell people about our adventures, I usually never pinpoint the bad things. But now you’ll understand that for the sake of this article, I will mention some disappointments I had… so you can make a better decision when it comes to your trips!
It all begun at 9.30PM on Friday night, the night before our flight to Puerto Rico, I received a call (I was desperately trying to stop thinking about our luggage and to fall asleep) telling me that our 6.30AM flight was cancelled! Nice way to begin a vacation! Right away, I called the airline (Delta Airlines) and talked to an agent who, after 45 minutes of research, booked us on another flight that connected in Toronto AND Atlanta, instead of just JFK (the weather in New York was awful, that’s why our initial flight was cancelled). We would arrive later (9PM instead of 5PM), but it would still be our best bet since we were leaving on a cruise on Sunday.
We got up at 4AM, got dressed and woke our baby up (she was instantly in a good mood: if we were waking her up in the middle of the night, it was obviously to have fun!!). My mother-in-law was kind enough to drive us to the airport (thank you so much Diane!). We first planned to arrive at the airport 1h30 before our flight, but our way to get there was terrible: we had to follow 5 snow plows that were driving at 30km/h… we were going nowhere! We finally arrived at Quebec’s airport at 5h10AM (and met our friends who were going to travel with us the whole trip), went quickly to the counter, and talked to a super friendly agent who booked us on ANOTHER flight… a much better one! Oh yess!! Instead of having 2 connections, we would only have 1, and instead of arriving in Puerto Rico at 9PM or even 5PM, we arrived at 3PM!! Perfect!! This is a good service! (Thank you very much #Westjet and #Delta!)
The flights went amazingly well! It’s always something to travel with your almost 2 years old toddler (she turned 2 a couple of days after we got back home). But she was very nice! And she was nice to everyone, even when she took a little walk and said ‘sorry’ every time she passed someone on the plane, as you can see in this video!
Our flight arrived on time, in the middle of the afternoon… the sun was shining brightly in the sky, the temperature was hot (compared to our -25 oC) and humid (adios shiny straight hair… hello frizzy hard to manage hair)! Perfect happiness!!
Our hotel for the night was OK (Coral by the Sea, it’s an old, not ultra clean hotel). Hotels in San Juan are expensive! We left our bags there and went for a stroll to have a nice beer and dinner. There’s nothing like a nice cold beer by the sea! The day after, we met other friends with whom we were going to travel with (total 6 adults, 2 babies) and visited Old San Juan. It was wonderful! Old San Juan is gorgeous! It looks a little bit like a Spanish Town… so pretty!
Old San Juan is at a distance walk from the pier where we embarked on our cruise ship, the Carnival Valor. The ship is very impressive, so big! Right before we embarked, we headed to CVS (a drugstore) one block away from the pier. It was the perfect time to buy the last supply we needed (diapers, wipes, sunscreen), since everything is more expensive on the islands.
The embarkation process went very smoothly, especially for us since there was a family line, and we were the only one in it. Other people had to wait in a long line to get their picture taken for the ID card they were giving us. Then security (just like at the airport) and finally we were on board! Yes!!
I saw a cool guy before security: a backpacker. Well, I thought he was a backpacker, because he had all his Lonely Planet books, a backpack, and a casual vibe. When I saw him, I just wanted to go talk to him! I thought to myself: we are the same kind of people (since we are usually backpackers too), in an ocean of cruisers! I didn’t talk to him, but wondered if he was going on the same cruise as us.
We first headed to our friends’ cabin: a nice balcony cabin with a king size bed and a sofa. The view was cool!
Then, we headed to our cabin. OMG! I was so disappointed!! It was the size of a closet! And we didn’t even have Emma-Kate’s crib yet. There was no room for it anyway… in fact, the only place we thought it would fit in was in the shower! I was seriously disappointed. But hey, we had what we paid for: an interior cabin, right on top of the Eagle’s Lounge where music and animation was playing loud late at night. If I had known, I would have more seriously picked my cabin. After dinner, we went at guest service to see if they made a mistake putting us in that cabin since it was too small to put a crib in (in our opinion), but they told us that there were 2 bunk beds that came out of the ceiling for more people to sleep. So yes, the cabin could fit more people!! And when we came back there at night, the crib was there: it fitted tight just beside our bed. One good thing about having an interior cabin: sleeping in the morning is glorious!! It’s so dark in there!!
Dinner at Washington Dining Room was nice. Our waiter and the staff were very polite and nice, very friendly to the kids. Food was good, and the fact we could order anything and everything on the menu was amazing for me, since I like to taste everything!
We finally went to bed that night, in our very dark tiny interior cabin, and slept like babies!
St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
The night before, we have made arrangements with our friends to meet them for breakfast at 8:30, but we got up so late (thanks to our dark closet cabin!) that they left the boat without us and we met them on St Thomas.
Aawwwww! St Thomas!! It’s a gorgeous island!! It has luxurious mountains and awesome beaches! We went by taxi to Magens Bay: a wonderful bay with ‘almost white’ powdery sand. There weren’t too many people there, but the backpacker was there! We spend the day playing in the water and hanging out under the warm sun rays! Emma-Kate loved so much to play in the water and in the sand, she was very easy! She didn’t need any toys or activities: just going in and out of the water, taking sand in her hands and throwing it in the water. Who said that a 2 years old is difficult?!! When we got back to Charlotte Amalie, she napped in her stroller while we took the Skyride, a 7 minute cable car ride that takes you 700 feet up to Paradise Point. The view from up there was magnificent! We drank a Virgin Island beer (it was good) and a Bushwacker (it was sublime!). With a sleeping baby… that was paradise!!
We then got back to the cruise ship (a little bit late, but not too late! Let’s say we ran the last 400m! 😉 and came back to our cabin. Waiting for us on the bed: a cute towel sculpture that Emma-Kate just loved! Every night, there was one different sculpture on our bed, and Emma-Kate just came in the cabin running and screaming to go get it… and destroy it and then cried because there was no more. It took her a couple of days to figure out she had to be careful with it.
After dinner, myself and Emma-Kate went to bed, exhausted! Clinton went to see a comedy show and came back late! Every night, I wanted to go out and have tons of fun (there’s so many things to do on that cruise ship!!) but I could never get out of our cabin after putting our baby to bed. My bed was way too welcoming!
A Day at Sea
The second day of the cruise is a day at sea (Carnival calls it a ‘Fun day at sea’). We began our day with a good brunch in the dining room, then we visited the whole cruise ship. There’s tons of stuff to do! We had trouble finding the pool for our babies… I understood why when I saw it: it was a little bit bigger than a bath! Seriously, we can’t even call that a pool! This was another disappointment, but this time, I think I’m right to be disappointed. You see, we had to pay a good amount for Emma-Kate’s cruise (like 70% of an adult’s price), so I expected to have services and amenities in exchange. But there was nothing on the ship for 2 years old, except day care, which you had to pay extra. And that tiny pool. There wasn’t even a slide, or balls to play with. Just a tile bath with tile all around it, which was super slippery. Not good for children! At least there was a canopy on top so that toddlers can be in the shade.
Besides that, we had a nice day! There was animation by the main pools, the water slide was fun and the drinks were refreshing! And the backpacker was at the breakfast buffet… he was everywhere!
I had high expectations with Barbados. For me, Barbados was THE Caribbean paradise! Yes, Barbados is beautiful, but in my opinion, it’s not the most beautiful Caribbean Island.
We took a taxi to go to Payne’s Bay Beach, and our taxi driver was very nice. He explained to us a lot of things about Barbados. He even took us to Sandy Lane Golf Course, where Tiger Woods got married, so that I can get a score card for my dad (he collects them).
Payne’s Bay Beach is beautiful, and there wasn’t a lot of people… but there was quite a bit of locals who were trying to sell us goods. That was annoying at one point, but we understood that everyone has to make a living! And the backpacker was there again!
We rented jet ski 40$ for 30 minutes, and it was fun! So much fun!! We saw a lot of big turtles, from the beach, and some rays too! The beach was gorgeous, although it was a little hard to find some shade.
Awww St Lucia!!! This is such a romantic island! St Lucia is exquisite! We didn’t see its beaches though, but the mountainous landscape is stunning! I think that’s what made Barbados a little less irresistible: it’s mostly flat. Mountains are so much more fascinating!
We hired a taxi for the day, and went all the way to the Pitons. It’s quite a ride from Castries! The roads are winding but the scenery is wonderful. We wanted to climb the Pitons, but it would have taken us too long. This is the inconvenience of the cruise: no time flexibility!
We stopped at Soufriere and Marigot Bay, and it was nice to walk around and meet the locals. They are very friendly people!
Saw the backpacker again!
I didn’t expect a lot from St Kitts. I’ve never really heard anything about that island, so I thought that I was only being nicely surprised! And St Kitts is a beautiful island. Not as dazzling as St Lucia or St Thomas, but it is quite lovely.
We hired a taxi again (told you we were not the ‘excursion’ type of travelers in my post ‘Our next adventure: our first cruise!‘) and went to the most beautiful beach of the island, according to locals. The taxi driver promised us perfect white sand and turquoise water. Turtle Beach. It’s a beautiful beach, but the sand is not white. I had to make it clear. Not white. But it’s a beautiful beach.
We rented a lounge chair and an umbrella (10$ for both). The water was shallow, so it was nice for the kids. We could have rented jet ski again, but the price was higher than in Barbados, and we couldn’t even negotiate.
OMG… who did we see? The backpacker!!
On our way back, we stopped at a viewing point where there was a man with a donkey and a monkey, to take pictures with. We really felt bad for the animals who stood there the whole day under the very hot sun!!
The landscape of St Kitts was charming. I wouldn’t really come back, but I’m happy I went.
Our last cruise stop: St Maarten. After all the islands we’ve been to, I didn’t even take time to expect something out of St Maarten. But it wowed us! In my opinion, it’s the most beautiful island of all the ones we stopped to, and I would come back for more! St Maarten and St Martin are absolutely sublime!!
We rented a Jeep to go visit the island on our own. It was very easy to find our way with only a map. The island is separated in 2: one side is French (St Martin) and the other side is Dutch (St Maarten). We started by Maho Beach, next to Princess Juliana International Airport, where we could see huge airplanes land a couple of feet from us. That was very impressive!!
Then, we headed to the Paradise Peak where we had the most impressive and gorgeous view of the beaches and lands all around! It was easy and fast to get there by car.
After that we drove around, visiting villages. One thing about St Martin is that there’s butterflies everywhere. It’s magical! There’s even a butterfly farm, but you have to be a real fan because it costs more than 30 euros per person.
We ended up at Orient Beach, to have lunch, and it was exquisite. We ate at a little French restaurant, by the sea. The sand was powdery, the water turquoise and crystal clear. Some say it’s the most beautiful beach on the island, and I believe them!
Finally, we headed back to our cruise ship. It was an incredible day! But we didn’t see our favorite backpacker… hmm… strange 😉
El Yunque and Fayardo
The cruise ended on Sunday. It was fun, and tiring. Since we were in the Caribbean, the sea is usually calm, so we didn’t feel seasick at all. But I would compare it as if we would have driven all day: being seated in a car all day is not physically tiring, but it kind of is. So I thought the cruise was tiring, even if I wish I didn’t go to bed so early every night.
And there would be no more backpacker following us or us following him everywhere!
Here’s other things I learned on our cruise. First, you have clean beach towels provided to you every day. So you don’t have to bring your own. They’re big, so they’re comfortable, but bulky to carry. Also, there’s always wind on the ship, since it’s usually moving. So if you are planning on lying on a lounge chair, bring some big pins to fix your towel to your chair so it doesn’t fly away.
Another thing is that you can prepare yourself a lunch with what’s provided at the breakfast buffet every day. You can make yourself sandwiches, bring muffins, pastries, fruits. I always took with us little boxes of cereals for Emma-Kate to nibble. She loved it!
If you’re planning on shopping, pay attention to the little newspaper they leave in your cabin, since the cruise ship has some flash sales that can last only 15 minutes but you can save big bucks.
So we disembarked on Sunday. We rented a taxi for the 8 of us, and drove all the way to El Yunque Park, a tropical rain forest, at the east end of Puerto Rico’s island. We trekked for about 1h30 in the beautiful rainforest. When I say trekking, I should say walking: my shoes were still very clean at the end of the ‘trek’. But there are some nice slopes to climb.
We finally made our way to Fayardo, where we got ourselves to a superb hotel: the Fayardo Inn. Our only deception was that we didn’t arrive sooner. It has 2 beautiful pools, 2 good restaurants, and the staff is very friendly! That’s where we watched the Superbowl! It all happened at the Blue Iguana Mexican Grill. The nachos were sooooo good and the beer, amazing! I finished watching the game alone in my bedroom because I put Emma-Kate to bed and Clinton lost his game with our friends. Typical 😉
We were supposed to leave for Culebra (an island next to Puerto Rico’s main island) in the morning, but we decided to take the 3PM ferry because we wanted to enjoy more the pools at Fayardo Inn. But that morning, Clinton woke up extra early to get tickets to the 3PM ferry. You see, there’s a big buzz about the Fayardo-Culebra ferry. The locals say that tickets get sold out pretty quickly, and I’m sure it’s true, except for us! Clinton get there super early, and there was almost no one there. Poor Clinton 🙁
The ferry ride was something! Remember New York’s storm? Well, it was now Puerto Rico’s storm! The waves were crazy, and so was the ferry. A lot of people got seasick (and one of them was one of our friends)… even Emma-Kate almost got sick. It was brutal!!
We finally arrived and went directly to our accommodation: Hillbay View Villas. It was a nice place, clean, with an amazing view and a super friendly owner! We left our things there and just went for a walk. The day was gorgeous, and we needed some fresh air. We rented a golf cart (just like in Belize) and went to THE Flamenco Beach (#2 of the most beautiful beaches in the World!). The waves were so huge! And yes, the beach is gorgeous! We met locals who were very friendly.
We ate a delicious dinner at Mamacita’s Restaurant. The waiter was funny and the food was excellent. Moreover, the river by the restaurant is illuminated underwater so we could see the fishes. It was cool for the kids!
The next day, we went to Zoni Beach, on the other side of the island, and I have to admit I prefer this beach to Flamenco Beach. We were almost the only one there. The sand was very powdery and white, the water was divine and the coconut trees were inviting (see the picture below 😉
We went back to Flamenco Beach to finish the afternoon, and then cooked ourselves a nice dinner. We left the next day to come back to San Juan. The ferry on our way back was a real charm! And Clinton went to play golf at the one and only Trump Championship Golf Course. Lucky husband! He still owes me for that!!
So in recap, it was a very nice trip! It wasn’t the first time we traveled with friends… we went to Chicago with the same friends (they don’t want to be named or appear in the pictures I post… I understand them ;).
I think the most important thing when we travel with friends is that everyone has to feel comfortable not to be always together. Like if one day, Clinton and myself want to go alone, it has to be fine with everyone. I really like my friends, but I don’t necessarily want to be with them ALL the time. And we’ve known each other a while now, so we know which buttons not to push 😉
I liked the cruise too. Next time, I will carefully choose my cabin, and I will probably try to find a cruise ship that has more activities for my Emma-Kate. I don’t think I will go on a cruise every year, but it was a fun experience!
I wonder what happened with our backpacker…