We hadn’t lined up our Puerto Rico or Grand Turk excursions before getting on the boat, but luckily, there was still plenty available. They say to book early, and some stuff did fill up, but we really weren’t sure what we could and could not do financially until we got down to the wire. In San Juan, we chose a Rainforest Drive up through the Yunque Rainforest, a 28,000-acre rainforest that is the only one in the United States.
But first: Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, from our ship
Our tour guide was funny and knowledgeable, regaling us with historical and political facts during the 50-minute drive to El Yunque. He was also resourceful: Since Carnival and plenty of other touring companies were sending scads of buses up those long and windy roads, he took us to the trail at the 3,000-foot peak first, rather than last, making the other stops on the way down. This meant the trail was less crowded and it took us less time to go through that stop. This also meant more spare time after the tour, should anybody care to go shopping or take a tour around Old San Juan.
The hiking trail was no big thing, but it was stunning. I kept reminding myself I was in a rainforest. In Puerto Rico. For somebody who’s never been outside the continental United States, it was pretty exciting. OK, I’m a dork. But it was just the coolest thing ever.
Next, we stopped at the lookout tower, which is 98 steps and provides a view from 1,500 feet up. In all directions were peaks and hills of trees and mist. You could see water and villages. Yet the tiny top was crowded with people ogling the sights and taking pictures, so there wasn’t tons of time for oo-hing and ahh-ing.
Lookout tower at 1,575 square feet
Our last stop in El Yunque was Coca Falls, one of several rainfalls in the forest.
Once the guide dropped us back off a the port, we had about 4 hours before we had to be back on ship. He let us know about a free trolley that runs through Old San Juan, providing a quick and cheap way to see the city. You can get on and off anywhere. So we hunted one down and hopped aboard. We cruised through downtown, up hills, past the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro… and then came to a screeching halt as traffic mucked things up. We must have moved an inch every 10 minutes. Finally, we hopped off the trolley since our ship was in site, and just cut straight through town to make it back on board. We weren’t cutting it close necessarily, but it sparked a fear deep inside of me, because listen here:
- The ship will leave with or without you. Which is to say, if you’re not on board by the appointed time (30 minutes before sail-away), you are paying your own way to the next stop. You’d think this was common sense, right? There were 3,300 people on board. How fair would it be for the ship to wait for stragglers, people who got lost, people who lost track of time? Not at all fair. Yet it happened all the time. Seriously, at every stop, they left people behind. Bring a watch!
View from the fort entrance
I wish we had planned better — we would have been able to cut straight through and done a better tour of the fort, taken plenty of pictures, etc. But as it was, we got some shots on the move. I took my standard late-afternoon nap, and prepared for our final stop in Grand Turk.
Part of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Grand Turk is where NASA had the 1962 splashdown of the Mercury space program’s Friendship 7 capsule. It’s the largest island in the archipelago, but is still only 6.9 square miles, with 3,720 residents.
We’d planned to just laze about the public beach right off the dock, but I kept hearing how clear the waters were and how great the snorkeling was. So at the very last minute (VERY VERY last minute, since the shore excursion desk was closing in about 30 minutes as we made our approach to dock), we booked the Ultimate Snorkeling Adventure.
Probably the best decision of the whole trip. We first stopped at the Horseshoe Reef, with depths up to 25 feet. We saw a couple of sand sharks and the reef at certain points was close enough that I could almost touch the fish (PSA! Do not touch the reefs! Even brushing against them could kill them, destroying entire ecosystems. I seriously saw like 4 people dive down and just touch the reefs. Why? Don’t do that. </nerdalert>)
Then, we stopped at a point where the reef sloped down to 40 feet deep, then dropped off to 7,000-foot-deep water. Here, our guide fed the fish, bringing them right to the surface where they swam among our group. A few even bumped into my mask. If you’ve ever wondered if you can giggle underwater, I am here to say, you absolutely can.
After our trip, I made a stop to appease Mr. Ladyfingers and we ate at Margaritaville. Tourist trap it is, the food actually wasn’t all that bad or ridiculously priced for what it is, and what we got.
This was the second of our elegant evenings, and was filled with just as much picture-taking as the first night. We caught a show, bedded down, and woke up around 8 the next day to enjoy our last day at sea — trying to ignore that the experience was almost over.
We tried to take as much advantage of the day as we could. We had the aforementioned breakfast and lunch in the main dining hall, lounged by the party pool for the first time on the trip, and played two games of Bingo. I also attended a class where they taught us how to fold all those adorable towel animals they leave in your room each night. I could totally come to your house and fold you an elephant, or perhaps a puppy. We sat in on a Newlywed Game-style panel, and took a quick nap before dudding up for our reservations at the five-star Harry’s Steakhouse.
I don’t even know words that would describe how amazing this was. Like I’d mentioned, it’s $30 per person, which is really NOTHING for what you get. They brought me a little teeny bowl of salmon chowder, and brought Mr. Ladyfingers two teeny lamb rolls. I ordered the lobster bisque and the surf and turf – filet mignon and Maine lobster tails. Mr. Ladyfingers had the iceberg wedge and the Maine lobster ravioli. I’ll take his word for it when he says it was awesome, because I was too absorbed in my meal. The filet was not only amazing quality, but they did this thing where I thing they coated it in brown sugar and caramelized it? Whatever, it was totally delectable. It was on top of a bed of caramelized toasted nuts. There were Yukon gold mashed potatoes involved, and a possibly-ill-advised ordering of the 4-shot-glass chocolate sampler for dessert.
We went to the Carnival Legends show that night, where guests who had auditioned throughout the week got on stage and dressed, sang, and swung it like James Brown, Britney Spears, and more. We sat in the lounge for a bit and listened to live music. We people watched.
And then we had our last sleep in the surprisingly comfy beds, packed up the remainder of our belongings, and prepared to leave.
Back in Miami…
A couple of final tips for you:
- Prepare for gratuity. I have found this listed a million places since I got back, but it apparently escaped me pre-cruise: gratuity for MOST services is included, and charged to your sail-and-sign account on the second or third day. However, gratuity is NOT included for the following: spa services, alcoholic drinks, dining in the steakhouse, room service, or the maitre’d. Duh on the spa, drinks, and steakhouse — but it had totally escaped me that room service stewards expected to be tipped. We seriously ordered room service three times and I didn’t tip a soul. I was so embarrased! And we also learned in that last newsletter that the maitre’d’s tip was not included in the $10/person/day already charged to us. They left us a little envelope and everything. But since we’d completely spent all our cash on shore and are too cheap to incur the $5/transaction ATM fee, we had no cash with which to catch up our room service folks or bestow upon our maitre’d. So! Bring plenty ‘o cash and be prepared.
- Also, you’ll need to tip most everybody on all your stops: the porter at the port who takes your checked luggage, taxi drivers, tour guides, bus drivers, etc.
After disembarking – which was a startingly smooth experience (by the way, Port Authority employees are so nice and funny! No offense, but much nicer than TSA employees. Unless you or a loved one is a TSA employee. In which case, it’s not possible to get nicer than them.) – we kicked around Miami until it was time to check into our hotel at 4 p.m. Yeah… kicked around from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. We’d decided long ago to spend the night in Miami for one last night of honeymoon, and while we didn’t regret it – the kick-ass Miami Book Fair International was going on and I picked up some awesome finds – I do wish we’d had that day/night to decompress. As it was, we got home around 2 on Sunday, and had to unpack, read mail, go grocery shopping (for the week’s food PLUS Thanksgiving), and prepare for the real world.
Like I said, we’re planning our next cruise already.
Well, that’s enough honeycapping from me! As we await our pro pics, I’ll take another brief leave from you before launching into my recaps. Till then!
All photos personal