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REVIEW Ports - San Juan, Amber Cove, Grand Turk

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As normal I am providing a indepth review of the ports I visited on my cruise that returned last week. It's hard to belive just last week I was in the Caribbean and now home. How time flys.

SAN JUAN  Puerto Rico

I originally had a driver for several hours but that fell through just prior to my departure. I'm familiar that at each port there are always private guides that I might negotiate a ride service but as a safety line in a mad dash I jumped on the internet made notes as to all the sites I wanted to see then created a Google maps walking route then sent myself an email of the route for easy access to the route via link. 

One thing in my research on taxes is that tourist taxi can only charge $36 per hour...information is king.

True to port form lots of independent people where offering ride services at the end of the pier. I was surprised how overly priced they where...$200 for 1 hour...for real life??? Yikes!!!! I did locate a tourist taxi and he wanted to charge $75 forn2 hours but wouldn't take just me and wanted to fill the car. No thanks. After 20 minutes of nonsense I decided to walk the 3 mile journey... I'm so happy I had the back up live/real time walking maps I created.

Old San Juan has a lot to see and so much history and I will say walking was probably  the better way to see and experience the area. I had marked out 13 stops. The walk for the most part was pretty easy but a couple of locations required to go up hill and I certainly felt the calf burn and ache.

The area was very clean, never felt unsafe and people seemed very friendly. I saw all the major historic attractions and monuments that old san juan has to offer including going inside  one of the forts from the 1800's in about 3 or so hours and never felt rushed. During the walk their are lots of park like benches so I could just take a rest for few minutes if needed and just take in the atmosphere...something that would have been missed by car tour.

Old San Juan is such a tiny portion of Purto Rico and the island is large and has a lot more to see. I would certainly consider visiting again to explore different areas.

AMBER COVE -Dominican Republic

I had a private driver for 5 hours at this port, which I would recommend if you really want to see the real country and sites. The vehicle was a new van with blacked out windows, which was great for security reasons.

This is certainly a 3rd world country in many aspects and it replicates the Philippines in sounds smells, drivers, structures, street vendors and many foods. It's a place that you will want to keep your head on a swivel and watch your surroundings. I never felt unsafe but at the same time it was a familiar feel to me as I've been to the Philippines several times and went into auto mode. India notice the driver stayed close by at all times and acted almost like security keeping me on a short leash watching the surroundings when out of the vehicle. Keep in mind Haiti boarders Dominican Republic and lots of issues in Haiti. 

During my visit I went to a cigar shop making cigars by hand, chocolate factory, umbrella street, amber museum, center town square, old fort, rum factory, cable car to top of mountain to see Jesus Statue and few other places. My favorite was the cable car. 

Amber history... Domican Amber comes in various colors, yellow and honey is the most common. In general it dates to several thousand years to millions of years old. The pieces for my mother would probably ly date back to several thousand years and my collector piece would be approx. 15 million years old.

Amber is available for purchase in a lot of places but you need to be careful as a lot of fake amber exists. As always you can negotiate prices and I highly recommend. One place I looked at some and I really didnt see anything I truly want but asked the price on a piece. Initial prices was $250 I said no thanknyou and as walking away the vendor literally chased me down and kept dropping the price to the final price of $100... lol. Keep in mind if you do buy anything with CC they will add a CC processing fee, which is steep. 

The country certainly has some beautiful areas but also comes with some risks and concerns. Really unsure why Carnival would consider this a worthy/safe stop for its guests, other than it could buy land cheap develop the area hire people dirt cheap and make huge profits off the travelers.. 

Below are a couple pics of amber purchases I made... 1 for my mother and 2nd for my own collection. My mother's I 1st picked out the earrings then selected a neckless to add to it. Purchased the jewelry box on Amazon. The piece for me has insect and several ants in it, true collectors piece.

I would NOT buy any amber at the port shops or the amber museum as they are way over priced. 

I did get the opportunity to try some local food from locations the locals would go, had empanadas and a fried chicken with plantains. The spices they use are different than in U.S. but pleasantly good

Would I go back to DR...probably not.

GRAN TURK Caicos Islands

On this stop I went scuba diving off the coral shelf and the went to an uninhibited island to play with sting rays and have fresh conch ceveiche 

Upon arrival the 1st thing I noticed was how flat the island was and lacking in trees except near the port then how beautiful the water color was. 

On the way to the dive site did see a few structures that obviously where hit by hurricane and not repaired. I can only imagine how bad a hurricane would be on this island.

The dive went well and saw plenty of colorful fish but I was a bit disappointed how non colorful the coral shelf was. I was expecting it to be full of colors but it was mostly grayish/white (coral only). Perhaps other areas are more colorful. The shelf was about 30 or so feet down then drops off to 700 feet then drops off into infinity... ekks. I stayed near the 30 foot range.

The uninhibited island was pretty small the sand was super fine and soft with no trees as well. But it was a nice place to go, with it had some palm trees though as it really would have made it picturesque.

Playing with the sting rays was amazing and they would swing all around you.  They are so velvety soft. The conch cevechie was different.

After returning to port I asked the captain where to get local food and was and he took me to local food. Had a curry BBQ chicken, coleslaw and red been and rice, all was delicious and only cost $10.

Grand turk really doesn't have a lot to offer travelers to see or do other than the port area or water related. The island has been pretty hard hit by hurricane and hasnt recovered well. Ive heard that the wild donkeys can be dangerous as well. 

A recent artical I read regarding Grand Turk is that CCL is losing money at this port so I would imagine things may change or the stop possibly eliminated. Time will tell.

Would I return to Grand Turk...probably not as not much else to see or do.












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@euroguy Thanks for you awesome port review along with great photos! You never disappoint with your reviews. Which was your favorite cruise stop? It sounds like Amber Cove was your least favorite. Unless you go to a private beach stop or planned excursion, it can be hard to feel comfortable outside of the port. I haven't visited Grand Turk but your review has me wanting to go! What I loved most about San Juan was how safe it felt. It was pretty clean and secure, which made me very confident to explore on my own. It seems you got a mean workout navigating San Juan! Did you stop at any of the beaches while in San Juan? 

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Posted (edited)

@Cruising Caribbean I did get a very good leg workout during san juan but I'm really glad I did the 3 mile walk as It was at my own pace, free, and I saw things that probably wouldn't have on an excursion or driver.

As for favorit port that is difficult as I enjoyed each as ive never been to any of them so everything was new to me. 

San juan has so much history behind it, I felt very safe and still more to see so going g back to San Juan works for me without question.

Aber Cove- dominican republic It felt familiar to me as it's very similar to the Philippines and I enjoyed my visits to P.I. and the regular every day people food etc, which I think that domican republic imulates. With that said domican republic has big risks and concerns for me, especially since Haiti shares a boarder with it and currently they are evacuati g u.s. citizens and embassies. I fear that it will add to what is already a borderline country. I do think D.R has much to see and experience. I just wish it was safer independently and as a whole.

Grand Turk really not much happening g there unless you want to just hang out on the beach and drink, which really isn't my vibe. Since I've scuba dived it not sure that I have a real reason to return as nothing really left to draw me back.

Have you been to dominican republic?

I'm already booked for Sept Mexican Riviera and looking at Feb 2025 and considering two different itineraries but not sure which one yet

1. Aruba, Curacao,  Bonaire 8 days CCL MAGIC

2. San Juan, st marten, st Thomas, amber cove. ( I would stay on ship at amber cove d.r.) 8 days CCL HORIZON OR VISTA

I'm not familiar with any of the ships but they seem to be similar to the Panorama which I've been on.

Have you been on any of these ships?

Edited by euroguy
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@euroguy You definitely get to see more when walking a self-guided tour at your own pace! San Juan is a convenient and safe location that has lots of culture and scenery unlike anything we would see in the US. I'm glad you were able to enjoy it and get, what I'm assuming was, decent weather. I have been to San Juan when it was summer time, excessively hot. It was unbearable to do anything outside for more than 30 minutes without being in the water. You went there during a really great time of year. Did you catch great weather the entire time? I agree that I would enjoy Amber Cove and all other towns in a bordering Haiti to feel more secure. I typically avoid going outside the port when traveling with family for that very reason. I have been to the DR and enjoyed my excursion, but I have never explored outside the port on my own. Interesting to read about Grand Turk. It sounds like a bit of sleepy town. I'm always down for a drink and a good beach though. I bet you you could see some beautiful marine life while snorkeling if you went to the right spot. The Carnival Magic itinerary sounds lovely! Have you been on Carnival Magic before? Have you been to any of that itinerary's destinations? 

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@Cruising Caribbean the weather for all stops was absolutely perfect. It was low 80's with light cloud cover and gentle breezes. It did rain briefly or should I say sprinkle. The light cloud cover made it nice not to feel the scoring sun... couple time in Grand Turk the clouds cleared for few minutes and could feel the intesity of the sun, but not to bad. I really think late February might be an ideal time to go to the Caribbean.

In regard to the two trips I'm looking at I've not been on any of those ships nor stops with the exception of amber cove and San juan.  The only reason I'm considering the 2nd itinerary is because of St. Marten and St. Thomas. When younger I remember thinking about and  hearing about those 2 US virgin islands and they always seemed  so cool and how only rich people got to go to them.  lolol yeah ones young brain thinks about thinks in strange ways. 

Then Aruba ... I remember when much younger hearing the song Aruba, Jamaica blah blah blah and thinking how exotic it was.  

I'm open to hearing your experiences


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@euroguy I love to hear it! I'm so glad you enjoyed the weather during the "cooler months." I'm so glad you barley got any rain. This time of year can be hit or miss with the rain, and rain/thunder can really ruin any vacation experience. I recommend cruising the Caribbean during this time of year, unless you are planning to be in the water most of the time. Not to mention, cruising this time of year avoids hurricane season which is also very nice. Carnival Horizon and Carnival Vista are really cool ships. Carnival Magic is a tad bit older, but it's still a lovey ship. I think you should cruise for the itinerary you are most interested in. I would cruise to St. Marten and St. Thomas if you are planning on doing something in the ocean. Those areas have lots of beautiful excursions in/near the water, and that's what they are notorious for. 

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@euroguy That's awesome! What are Carnival Ultra deals? I haven't heard of that promotion before. Does that promotion apply to all 2025 CCL cruises? Maybe one of these itineraries you are looking into will be included in that promotion! I wonder if I will see those deals at one of the lower VIFP statuses I'm currently at. 

Edited by Cruising Caribbean
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@Cruising Caribbean well if you rank high enough in the casino you will be offered special promotions and perks that come under  i.e. Premier, Ultra and Elite. It's a short list of special cruises  and each level provide different benefits/extras on top of my normal perks. Plus free cabins.

I've been on a Premier Cruise last year and received free balcony cabin, a welcome aboard gift, few days later chocolate covered strawberrys delivered to cabin, invites special casino events to get more gifts (electronics, cameras, laptops, and so on)and cash, invites special on ship events, enteies for $100k, special door plaque, and couple night before debarkation I got a box of 18 specialty cookies (super yummy) and on last night a going away gift.

Ultra is similar to Premier but upgraded

Elite is way better and even includes a private car to and from airport and cruise ship. The casino and cruise ship will that you like royalty 😆 

My next cruise in Sept is another Primier Cruise.

I've had the Ultra offers before but haven't done one as didn't see any itineraries that I liked. 

So now you have the inside scoop about Premier, Ultra, and Elite cruises. I'm hoping to some day see an Elite cruise offer, which will be rockin cool 😎 

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@euroguy You are enlightening me! It's like you unlocked a secret feature. I have read your post before but I forgot, how many free cabins are you typically allowed per year? I want to rank high enough in the casino without having to bring too much money to the table. I don't think that is even possible! It's too risky for me. I am comfy here, watching you earn all of these awesome, well-deserved promotions. I can't believe you get Ultra perks and are closer to Elite. When could you reach Elite status? I'm so blown away by CCL's secret perks that I will very likely never attain. If you see an Elite offer, I hope you drop everything and go for it! This could be your real deal retirement solution. What a life!

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Posted (edited)

@Cruising Caribbean I too had no idea about the Premier, ultra and Elite statuses until I received the 1st premier offer couple years ago.

I'm currently evaluating the Ultra cruise dates and sailings to see if will work for my schedule. 

As for how far away I am from an Elite offer, your guess is as good as mine as I've not seen a breakdown to what qualifies for each level.

On my last cruise I acquired little over 10k points and each point is equal to 1 point for every $2 spent in the casino. Yes the basic math would add up that I spent $20k in the casino but I didn't spend anywhere near that. You have to account for how much you win and how much you actually put in the machines. In reality I spent around $2k actual cash of my own money.

I can hear you already holy cow $2k yes but what have I received in return.... currently I have 22 special offer for free balcony cabins covering hundreds of different cruises ranging from 7 to 22 day cruises that are both U.S.,  Europe and Australia and even the south pacific. So you think wow 22 cruises that awesome... well it gets better, I can use each of the 22 offers 3 times so that is whopping 66 free balcony cruises. 😀 sounds great until you have to figure where and when you want to go... I know..I hear you already again..."geeee i feel so sorry for you" (sarcastically) 🤣 

It's actually very hard to decide especially since I'm not retired yet, if I was retired well you guessed it I would be on back to backs going around the world and jumping from ship to ship and all I would have to pay for is port fees and gratuities which add up to around $200ish for a 7 day cruise but I get it back as ship credit..also that with single occupancy which, normally is more  for me as offers are based off double occupancy 

On my recent cruise I meet a guy that has similar offers, is retired and has done 25 cruises in 1 year and had future cruises planned through the next year already.

Hope that answers all your questions. 


Edited by euroguy
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@Cruising Caribbean I wonder if you could be provided with a breakdown of what would qualify you worthy of an Elite offer. CCL's secret statuses are so intriguing to me and if I was in your shoes I would be taking full advantage of them. I feel bad that your current schedule doesn't allow for you to enjoy these sailings more often. Other than the flight to the port, these cruises can be almost free to you! It may behoove you to more closer to a major port of call, like possibly Florida! I'm curious if you are flipping a return on these plays. You are certainly a high rollers and investing much more time, energy, and funds into the casino than most. I'm curious, do you have to be a winner to earn these perks or does CCL take the losers too? I would likely fall into the loose category, but there is no way I could touch what you are playing.

So my next big question is, when would you be able to retire? This is quite the life of freedom and relaxation! Even if you could work semi=retired you would have so much more flexibility to enjoy these awesome cruises. I'm blown away by these offers, but I do think you stick out amongst most. When you cruise on these offered sailings, are you expected to play in the casino? It seems you wouldn't want to cruise any other way. You have cruising and casino playing down to a science!


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@Cruising Caribbean my current plan is to retire in 5 years, I a have a bit of time still. 

Carnival has never stated that they expect me to play in the casino, but if I'm being honest I enjoy it as it's entertaining to me, and in the short and long run I'm getting a great return on my investment by doing so. It would cost me a small fortune to take 66 cruises that are 7 & 8 days what more fir 14-22 days in a balcony. 

In regards to what counts for casino points, everytime you push the button the slot machine counts to you point count. On average every one point earned is equal $2 spent. It makes no difference if you win or lose, it all about the button push. So the more you win the longer you can play and playing on CCL money is amazing g as it's not coming out of your pocket. It about picking the less volatile machine meaning they consistently payout something frequently.

I'm not sure what you mean by if I'm flipping a return.... if you mean am I ahead of the game.... then the answer is yes. Think about it like this... how much would it cost the average person for a 7 or 8 day cruise in balcony? I met a couple on my cruise that spent $2k for a balcony. I spent zero. Then add the cost odmf beverages i.e. bottled water,  sodas, specialty coffee and alcohol. For me zero as I get free drinks everywhere on the ship. The only non free beverages for me is fresh squeezed juices and those silly drinks in souvenir cups and glasses. Then let's talk specialty restaurants, I get free specialty dinner offers for 2 people from casino host while on board,. Last cruise I went to Rudy's seafood and the meal was top notch, for everyone else it's $50 each person

So let's add this up $2k  balcony being g conservative $300 for beverages, $100 specialty dinner that's $2400 and that is 1 cruise. So now look at mine ... if I spend $2k don't win anything  I get everything for free plus can use the same offer 3X even if i dont spend another penny in the casino on future cruises. Using same math as above 3x2400 = $7200. I rarely come home with empty pockets from the casino, this last cruise I came home with $1k so I o ly spent and lost $1k. Of course sometimes I spend more but I also win more. It's a weight and balance situation. One journey cruise could potentially cost thousands but I could go for free 3X.  

I know this is getting g long winded but the point I'm making is its worth the play time in the casino.

I have heard people with a smaller bankroll can earn free inside and Oceanview cabins as well.

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@euroguy First of all, thanks for this awesome review! I loved reading your impression of Grand Turk, Amber Cove, and San Juan. You gave such a thorough analysis of these locations, and I really value this feedback. The weather in San Juan, and all of your stops this cruise, seemed really lovely. I'm glad you didn't get any bad weather patterns like I experienced on my MSC Seashore cruise. Thankfully it was short lived and I dodged most of it, but we did have to do an itinerary change because of the weather. 

These CCL Premier and Ultra offers just blow my mind. I think you are so deserving of these offers because you play hard in the casino and are such a loyal cruise guest. You could likely earn statuses like this with other cruise lines too but you continue to cruise with CCL. If CCL didn't offer these awesome perks to you, you would probably take your loyalty elsewhere. I think CCL shows how valuable you really are to the line by offering you these exceptional perks. It sure does keep you coming back, and it would keep me coming back too! 

Which itinerary are you learning towards for February 2025? It seems you really loved cruising the Caribbean that time of year, just like I do! 

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