Inspiration Southern Caribbean Cruise November 1997
We were a party of 10, ages ranging from 12-70, travelling on Carnival's Inspiration on the November 30, 1997 sailing. On Thanksgiving Day, November 27th, eight of us flew out of Portland, Maine, all jet service, made a stop in Albany, NY, and changed planes in Atlanta. The flights were long but they were excellent flights. The only problem with the flights were that we had very tight connections in Atlanta on both trips (less than an hour) and what a huge airport that is. We arrived in San Juan at 4:30 pm on Thanksgiving day, after travelling since 7 am. We had reserved a 15 passenger minivan through Budget back in August. The eight of us arrived at Budget, with all of our luggage, only to be told that they had given our van away. We were not too pleased considering we had confirmed the reservation two times. We were off to a bad start on this vacation. We had Budget give us a ride to our hotel, and decided to wait and see what we would do about our transportation needs.
We were booked for two suites at Embassy Suites and Casino. It was about a mile from the airport. What a spectacular hotel. Itís brand new, the center lobby is gorgeous, as is the pool area, complete with waterfalls. Check in at the hotel went quickly. I canít say enough wonderful things about the hotel. There is a free buffet breakfast every morning with omelets and eggs cooked to order. Every evening there is a happy hour with unlimited free drinks from 5pm - 7pm. This includes beer, mixed drinks and frozen drinks - what a deal. The hotel is not on the beach, but is an easy walk to the Isla Verde beach. There are also several fast food restaurants near by (Wendy's, Burger King, Ponderosa, Pizza Hut, Subway, Church's Chicken.)
We met some locals on our first evening in San Juan who recommended going to Charlie's Car Rental (a large local chain) which we did. We got a brand new van (12 miles on it) for half the price that Budget wanted. The rental procedure went very quickly. The next day we went to El Yunque rain forest, and were shown around by the locals we had met. We found every one to be very friendly. The roads in San Juan were a lot better than we expected to find, the ones to the rain forest were basically highways. New road signs have been put up for the tourists with pictures on them to help find your way to popular attractions.
After the rain forest we went to Luquillo Beach which we found not as nice as Isla Verde Beach. There was a lot of trash and broken glass on the ground. We also had some Puerto Rican food in a nosh pit, which was ok, but definitely not what weíre used to. The next day we were going to go to the Camuy caves, but the workers there are still on strike. We decided to spend the day at Isla Verde beach where we spent a beautiful and a very relaxing day.
Sunday was the day to board the ship. We left our hotel around noon and took a taxi to the pier. What a cluster. People were lined up outside with their bags in the hot sun. Then they herded us into a small room - it was hard to figure out where they wanted you to go. People were getting cranky, dragging their bags, being crowded.... It was hard for us because there were 8 of us trying to stay together. This confusion lasted about 30 minutes. As soon as the counters opened to sign people in things went quickly. We were all checked into the ship by 1:30 pm. It was a drag bringing our own luggage on board, but once we were at our room it was nice to have it, and not have to worry about when or if it would arrive. After eating lunch at the bar and grill it was off to explore Old San Juan. We had been here once before but that was at night time. We walked up to El Morro, very nice. The streets were decorated for Christmas, and we had a nice afternoon.
This was our third Carnival cruise, our first two cruises being on the Imagination and the Sensation. I found this ship to be pretty, but still prefer the decor of the Imagination. I found this ship to be a little more plain. With 5 ports on this cruise we were not able to enjoy the ship too much.
Monday we arrived in St Thomas somewhere around 8 am and needed to be back on board by 4 - 4:30 pm. We had seen St Thomas the year before so we decided to make the trip to St John. We caught a taxi on our own $5/person to Red Hook, then caught the Ferry to St John $6 round trip, and then caught a taxi to trunk bay $3/person. Trunk bay was very beautiful. We had hoped to snorkel on the underwater trail, but the water was quite turbulent. We still tried, but didnít see a whole lot. Recent storms had also brought jellyfish into the area, and our daughter got a jellyfish bite on the throat. It was very painful for an hour and after that she was ok, but we decided to end the day a little early. Once we were back in St Thomas we spent a couple of hours shopping, and then some time relaxing at Hard Rock Cafe which overlooked our ship.
Tuesday we arrived in Guadeloupe. We took a ship excursion here because we were told that the locals didnít speak English, and werenít that friendly. We took a tour to a waterfall (not the big one) and then to a rum distillery run by a water wheel. This tour was ok. The rum distillery was interesting, and we bought some Coco punch that they brew there. After returning to the ship we went shopping on our own. We found the stores to be nice, and the locals to be friendly. A lot of the shops close after lunch for a few hours, so plan accordingly. They also make you check all bags at the register when you come in to the stores. I was a little surprised at that. Overall I enjoyed the shopping here more than in St Lucia.
Wednesday we arrived in St Lucia. We decided to do this island on our own. The price for seeing the Pitons through the ship was quite pricey ($70-$90/person) Eight of us got together and hired a taxi driver for the day. He charged us $25/person for the same tour. The only extras we had to pay for were entrance to the sulfur springs - less than $2/person, and entrance to the botanical gardens which was about the same. If you get car sick DO NOT go see the Pitons. This was definitely a white knuckle ride (over an hour each way) up and down mountain ranges. The scenery was spectacular. The sulfur springs are very interesting, and boy do they smell like sulfur. The Botanical gardens are some of the best I have seen in the Caribbean. The two fishing villages which you drive through on your way to the Pitons are also very interesting. After returning to the ship we decided to go shopping. I did not feel comfortable walking around this town. Several other people on the ship said the same thing. We headed back to the ship shortly.
Thursday we arrived in Grenada, where we had all day, but you have to take a tender from the ship to get to shore here. This is a beautiful island and harbor. We did this island on our own, too. We were tired by the time we hit Grenada so we decided to spend the day at the beach. We caught a water taxi to Grand Anse beach right from the dock $2/person each way. If you wanted to snorkel they would take you to another beach a little further down for $5/person. Grand Anse beach is beautiful, but there are many people trying to sell you all sorts of stuff as you arrive. The people are very friendly, and usually give up after a few "No, thank you's". The items (spices, batik wraps) they are selling are better priced than what you will find in town. I bought a couple of beautiful Batik wraps for $10 each. There are also several water sports available for a price. We enjoyed Banana boat rides and inner tube rides for $5 each. I wish we had had more time to take the glass bottom boat ride for $10. It was very warm in Grenada but at the beach there was a nice trade wind. Spices are the thing to buy here, and nutmeg is the biggest thing. I bought a lot of spices to bring home.
Friday, ahhhhh, an at sea day. Our ship was not full, and this is the first time we hadnít had to fight for a deck chair. It was so hot we could only stay out a few hours. There was a lot of entertainment but having been on 2 previous cruises on Carnival we had seen it before. One of the biggest disappointments for us was the evening entertainment. The two big Las Vegas style shows on this ship we had already seen. One we had seen on the Imagination, and one we had seen on the Sensation. The second big show Shout is very well done - itís about music through the ages. We are writing a letter to Carnival about this because, after all, entertainment is figured into the cost of the cruise.
One thing that they did on the Inspiration which they had not done on our previous cruises is offer happy hours. These were offered during days in port. Drinks were on special (about a dollar off) from 5 pm - 7 pm, and there were casino specials from 5:30 pm - 7 pm, with dollar black jack. We enjoyed this. The food was comparable to our other two sailings, and for those of you who have sailed Carnival before, the menu changes very little from cruise to cruise. We have found that the steaks are always a good choice, with the filet mignon and the prime rib taking the top reviews. The cabin was spacious, and we had a wonderful cabin steward who made us different sculptures each night out of towels.
Saturday we arrived in Santo Domingo. We had read so many terrible things about it on the internet we almost didnít go ashore. We took a ship organized excursion here, and had one of the better tours of our trip. We took the caves, aquarium and lighthouse tour. All three places were great.
The caves have three underground lakes, lots of bats, and a man that dives off the wall into a lake. The aquarium is very nice, but everything is labeled in Spanish. The Columbus Lighthouse is not to be missed. It is truly something spectacular. The area where Columbus is buried is made of marble, and there are guards all around here. We were lucky enough to see the "changing of the guards." There is also a museum which is very nicely done, but make sure you stay with your English-speaking guide. We made a short shopping stop after this, but wish we had waited to shop at the area near the ship. The prices and selection were much nicer near the ship. Coffee from the Dominican Republic for $3/pound, T-shirts (which didnít shrink) from $5 - $7.
Debarkation on Sunday went smoothly, and we were able to check our bags into the airlines curbside at the boat! What a treat, we didnít see them again until we arrived safely in Portland. This was a great cruise, much busier than the three port cruises we have taken in the past, but we came away with many wonderful memories, and saw so many sights. Next November weíre trying a Royal Caribbean cruise on Rhapsody of the Seas, but we have enjoyed all three cruises that we have taken on Carnival.
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