I know most of my readers aren’t cruisers, but I think it’s a fantastic way to vacation. I’ve mentioned before that I travel for a bunch of different reasons, and cruising was perfect for this particular scenario. I wanted time to visit with family, some tropical weather, and a chance to relax – and this checked all the boxes!
This wasn’t a free trip. I didn’t use frequent flyer miles and I didn’t use hotel points to pay for this vacation. But honestly, cruising is cheap so it’s a good way to have a great vacation without cashing in your entire stash of miles and points.
This was my fourth cruise, and for the first time, I checked out Carnival, sailing on the Carnival Victory.
Overall, Carnival did a few things really well, but really dropped the ball on some other items. I wasn’t a huge fan of the food onboard; normally “hotel food” isn’t a consideration when I travel since I check out local restaurants, but when you’re trapped onboard each night for dinner, it becomes important. Thumbs down on that one, and potentially a dealbreaker when I decide on which cruiseline to take for my next trip. That being said, I still had a great time onboard and I made up for it by chowing down on some island cuisine at lunch.
“Sampling” islands isn’t for everyone, and I’ll admit I’ve been frustrated on occasion by only having roughly 9 hours in port. It’s impossible to see anywhere in depth with that little time. However, on many Caribbean islands, I’d go stir-crazy with a full week. I like sunshine, but I don’t like lying on a beach…so a change of scenery keeps things fresh! This particular sailing departed from San Juan, Puerto Rico and headed to St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten. Every island was unique and enjoyable. After visiting these fine locations (and enjoying all of them!), I have a better idea of which islands I’d like to return to, as well as which ones I won’t go out of my way to visit again.
Puerto Rico had always fascinated me in theory: this island that is so unique and independent despite its U.S. ties. Actually being in Puerto Rico made this fascination even more thrilling. I had about an hour to kill before the rest of my family (my traveling companions for the week) would arrive at SJU, so I made my first stop of the day at the Water & Beach Club, a trendy hotel in Isla Verde, for lunch on their rooftop terrace.
After picking up my family, we began the drive out to Fajardo, on the east side of the island. Driving in Puerto Rico proved to be much simpler than I expected (my parents, who had been to San Juan three times previously, had told me horror stories that I didn’t find to be true). Yes, I made a few wrong turns, but no worries: we eventually found our hotel without incident or event.
I love to stay at one-of-a-kind places, and both the setting and hospitality at Passionfruit B&B were perfect for our short stay. We had just enough time for dinner at Pasion por el Fogon before heading out for the whole reason we overnighted on this side of the island: to check out Laguna Grande, a phosphorescent bay.
One of five bioluminescent bays in the world that can be visited year-round, the tour was out of this world! We joined a kayak trip for the night to check out this cool phenomenon for ourselves. We kayaked through (and got stuck in…) the natural mangroves, which was pretty cool in and of itself before making it to the bay.
The mysterious green light is actually microscopic organisms (dinoflagellates) living in the water that glow. There are several theories for why this happens, and it’s likely a natural defense system. As they light up, predators see more “desirable” prey, leaving these tiny creatures alone. I wish so badly that a camera could capture how cool this looked, but instead, you’ll have to go for yourself 🙂 As if that isn’t cool enough, the stars above were a magnificent show as well.
After a restful night, our second day in Puerto Rico began. Not far from Fajardo and Laguna Grande is El Yunque National Forest. This is a lush rainforest that is easily accessible – and wonderful for some light hiking. We spent the entire morning exploring, which was great to do at our own pace with a rental car. We skedaddled and moved on to a new location every time a tour bus showed up! Some of the best parts? The beautiful views and the awesome waterfalls.
One of the more popular hikes in the park is a combination of Big Tree Trail and La Mina Trail. We were fortunate to head there early enough to get there before the crowds came in. Of course, this was a gentle reminder that traveling with my family is a little different from when I travel with my husband (or solo): hiking is a much bigger endeavor with my parents and sister, but it was still such a wonderful time. Another difference? We ended up chickening out of swimming at La Mina Falls – the water was COLD! (My husband would have just pushed me in!)
After some casual pinchos roadside for a late lunch, we made the drive back to San Juan in time to board the ship. With just over 24 hours for my first taste in Puerto Rico, I can honestly say that I loved the island and can’t wait to go back! Puerto Rico does it better 😉 Who knows when my travels will bring me back for a more in-depth visit…but it will be sometime!
Next up…St. Thomas/St. John!
If you’re looking for information on a different destination, check out my other trip reports for inspiration!