Just 4 days after my epic Trinidad trip, I set sail on a 7 day southern Caribbean Carnival cruise from Puerto Rico with my teenage son and my mom. It wasn’t ideal to have a these trips back to back, but we had to work around my son’s spring break from school. Tough life but someone has to live it, right?
The ship was Carnival Valor and our stateroom was nothing spectacular, just an inside cabin. I was well aware that I shouldn’t try to compare this cruise with my past experiences on Disney CL or Royal Caribbean. The selling point for this cruise is all about the awesome itinerary! In just 7 days we explored Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and St. Maarten. I couldn’t possibly try to cover the entire cruise in just one post. Each port of call deserves its own post for sure. Be sure to read the posts for the individual ports of call to get the scoop on my experience at each destination. However I’ve amassed these 5 tips when taking a cruise from San Juan Puerto Rico to the other beautiful islands of the Caribbean.
1. Make Time To Explore
If you haven’t visited Puerto Rico before, then try to arrive early in the day or even the night before in order to give you time to explore. It’s definitely worth the short taxi ride up to the forts, El Morro and San Cristobal. They are walking distance but it’s an uphill walk so consider yourself warned. Don’t forget your camera for the fantastic views! There is a trolley that will take you between both forts if you buy the ticket for admission to both. If you only have time for one, I highly suggest visiting El Morro.
2. Get Supplies Ashore Before Disembarking
The cruise line allows you to complete check-in and leave the ship as long as you return in time to set sail. While you’re off the ship, purchase a case of bottled water from the nearby Walgreens in Old San Juan.
You are also permitted one bottle of wine for each adult on the ship. We took a rolling duffel bag with us so that we could roll the water along with us and not worry about carrying a 24 pack around. That would be no fun!
You have 7 days to eat cruise ship food. If you have a little extra time in a city like San Juan, full of authentic Puerto Rican food just waiting to be consumed, then have a meal before heading back to the ship. A favorite restaurant of mine is El Patio de Sam in Old San Juan. You will not be disappointed. The drinks are tasty and the mofungo is excellent. If you are pressed for time, there is also a plaza near the port with the most excellent street food. The empanadas and papas rellenas (potato balls) are two of my favorites!
4. Get off the ship
If you’re the adventurous type, as you know I am, you will want to do every excursion possible on each of the islands. However if you aren’t adventurous by nature, I beg of you, please please please force yourself to get off the ship. You will literally step into a postcard on the beautiful islands.
Be sure to pace yourself and don’t forget to account for this in your budget while planning. The taxi fares will definitely add up. The shore excursions offered by the cruise line are perfectly fine, but a bit on the expensive side. We opted to do a snorkel trip in Saint Thomas and a zipline in St. Kitts through the cruise line. With a little bit of research and planning ahead of time you may be able to schedule some excursions directly with other vendors. Some work exclusively with the cruise lines but some will work directly with you. Tripadvisor is your friend when it comes to finding vendors and getting realistic reviews.
5. Don’t plan your trip to death
Allow for some spontaneity in your trip. Some of our best times on the islands came from just going with the flow. You never know what hidden treasures you may find. Our flexibility, sense of adventure, and calculated risks were rewarded with an impromptu snorkeling adventure with sea turtles, exploring a ship wreck, and discovering a secret secluded beach!
Also, talk to other people who have visited that port of call before. Crew members from your ship or other ships in port who are taking some time off they are more than willing to let you in on their favorite haunts. They were super helpful to us and a great source of things to do a bit off the touristy path.
A cruise with an itinerary like this one really is a great introduction to the Caribbean Islands. While we managed to pack a lot into our days at each of the ports, one day just wasn’t enough. You can fully expect to start thinking of future plans for trips directly to the islands after you visit them. You may even start to inquire about acquiring property! I know I sure did. It really was just that beautiful. I hope my 5 tips when taking a cruise from San Juan Puerto Rico will help you to get the most out of your vacation.
Most of the islands will accept the US dollar. However, they may not always have change readily available. If you intend to use cash, try to change your money into smaller bills before you leave the ship. You can do it at guest services onboard and Carnival had a change machine as well. This will prevent you from having to give a tip that is a bit more generous than intended because they did not have enough money to make change for you. Credit cards area accepted for purchases in gift shops and most restaurants, but if you intend to do any street vendor shopping or using taxis then you will need cash.
Lauren G., Outdoorsy Diva™
“Adventure is a lifestyle.”