Finished our first cruise in April and I would definitely suggest going with a shore excursions. I know they are expensive but well worth the money over going it on your own and being disappointed that you couldn't do what you wanted to cause you couldn't find the place, or you couldn't get in without paying an exhorbiant fee, etc.
We went to Nassau and tried to go it alone and were sadly disappointed that we couldn't do what we wanted to do. I wanted to see the aquarium and the beach. After walking what seemed like miles we were sore, tired, hot and still hadn't seen anything we wanted to, so we headed back to the ship.
We had been encourages by several shipmates that we could go it on our own, but that didn't seem to be the case with us.
I wish you all the luck and have a wonderful cruise. I must warn you though, cruising is addicting.
It's too bad that you had a disappointing experience in Nassau. You are correct that booking shore excursions through the ship is a good idea, the problem is that once you have been to a particular port several times, the ship's excursions may not be enough. I would recommend thoroughly checking out sites such as this one to see exactly how to go about "Going it on your own." That way you will know exactly what you are getting into.
For example, there is no reason to book the ship's excursion in Cozumel to go to Playa Mia, since you can simply take a taxi there for less money and spend more time on the beach. It really just depends on the port and where you want to go.
The bottom line is that you are always safer going on an official ship's excursion and the ship should not leave you, but there are some places where it works out really well.
You are in for the time of your life, Cruising is very addictive.
Go to your family Dr and ask for a prescription for the transderm patch for seasickness. You put them behind your ear and forget it. No worries at all.
Those handy dandy little patches have saved me from getting sick a few times. Last yr on the Dream we were in the remenants of a hurricane and had a few rough seas. Better to be safe then sorry.
my recomendation will be to stay on the old San Juan, renting a car is not an option.
San Juan can get very difficult during the day, even in the highway you will have traffic jams that can take you for ever to get back to the ship. El Yunke (rain forest) is far away from the port like a 45 minutes car drive and considering the traffic problems and the situation that you have never drove a car in Puerto Rico, believe me it can get very difficult even for me, I don't recommend it.
Now what I recomend is to stay in old San Juan maybe you can visit "El Morro" is not far from the ship, not a lot of $$$. You will not have any trouble getting there even walking if you are up to it, not my case, but there are also a few trolleys in port that can take you there.
Also old San Juan have a lot of places to visit:
* "La capilla del cristo" this is the resting place of Juan Ponce de Leon the historic person that was looking for the fountain of youth.
* "The home of la Pina Colada" this is the place where literally the pina Colada was invented maybe not exxactly the place but the owner is the one that invented the drink. Yes the Pina colada was invented in Puerto Rico...
* "El morro" an spanish fort in good conditions and a good photo oportunity.
* "Bacardi" here I will recomend to book directly from the ship excursions and besides is our rum destilery so you will get good prices in the rum and yes is a strong rum be careful with it.
I have live all my life in this island you can send me a message if you need any info...
This is the first cruise we had to fly to. We originally did Alaska has a money saver to avoid airfare. But when I look back now, the bargains that can be found to cruise the Caribbean can make up for the airfare. I think all in all both vacations were comparable in total cost even though the Caribbean cruise was four days longer.
Since we have family in Florida we flew in a few days early and rented a car to do some family visits. But even if we had not had family in the area I would definitely fly in a day early. There are a couple of reasons I say this. One is that I am an extremely paranoid traveler. I'd be sick to my stomache with worry if I had to worry about connecting flights, snow storms, or other. One couple we met on-line pre-cruise had such problems and just barely made the cruise ship in Miami. That couple was one bundle of nerves and I can't even imagine the stress they faced with two separate delays trying to fly in the day of. Another reason is that I like showing up at the pier at 10:00a. Yes, I have to wait to get on board, but its so much more relaxing than the cattle call of my first cruise where we showed up at 2:00p. Lunch at the Windjammer at noon the first day cannot be beat. I would have a hear time finding flights that would get me to the pier in time for that early boarding.
The ferry to St. Johns is $6/pp, entrance to Trunk Bay used to be $4/pp, the taxi to Red Hook to catch the ferry in St. Thomas used to be $22/pp, and the taxi to Trunk Bay used to be $6/pp. I'm sure it's changed, but still approximate. Trunk Bay is one of the top 10 beaches in the world, with a self-guided snorkeling trail about 50 yards off shore. Snorkeling is MUCH less expensive than diving. The water in Trunk Bay is absolutely crystal clear and calm (unless there's a storm). Truly worth the hassle of getting there.
If you stay on St. Thomas, Coki Beach is better snorkeling that Megan's Bay. Sapphire Beach is better snorkeling than Coki, but not as nice of a beach.
I totally agree with Cas, Old San Juan is marvelous!