My full review can be found at: http://beentherethoughtthat.blogspot.com/2016/06/a-solid-but-not-exceptional-cruise.html
About this review: Stan Zoller is a freelance journalist and journalism educator. Information in this review is an independent viewpoint based on individual observation. No complimentary services, meals, or lodging were provided by Royal Caribbean.
It’s no secret that the cruise industry is becoming more and more competitive. What was once deemed as a vacation for the rich and famous, if not just the rich, is now a common vacation for individuals and families from all cultures, heritages and socioeconomic backgrounds.
For families, cruising the Caribbean can be utopia with a plethora of activities for passengers of all ages and itineraries that offer an array of opportunities for vacationers.
The most recent cruise my family and I took was a seven-night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s “Adventure of the Seas”, a ship that according to Royal Caribbean’s media guide, can hold up to 3,802 passengers. Commissioned in 2001, the Adventure of the Seas is slated for revitalization in October.
Our cruise, which left from San Juan, included stops in St. Maarten, Bonaire, Aruba and Curacao in addition to two days at seas.
The Report Card
Overall Condition: B- /C
Selection: A (I can’t grade special dietary accommodations, but as noted, there is room for improvement here).
Overall: B . Its focus is on family fun unlike a Mediterranean or Alaskan cruise where itineraries are more unique. Still, the itinerary on this cruise offered a lot to do.
B -- As noted, it was a fundamentally solid cruise experience, but not exceptional. A revitalization and refinement of some policies and accommodations should enhance this experience.
From the very moment my wife and I stepped on board the Adventure of the Seas we were impressed by the cleanliness of the ship and the attention and politeness of the ship's crew. Within a half an hour we were instructed to our designated life boat site and given complete instructions on what we should do in the event of an emergency. The crew was very serious and performed this important task in a very organized, no nonsense manner.
We went to our balcony state room and were pleasantly surprised that our luggage had been delivered. We met our cabin steward named Elmer Torres from the Philippines who has been with Royal Caribbean for over 7 years and informed us that he would be taking care of us and our room.
Elmer did just that plus so much more. My wife and I wondered when or if he ever rested. He always seemed available. Each morning he greeted us by our first names. When we left our cabin for breakfast he was there at our door ready to make up our bed and clean the room. Each evening after wehad dinner and returned to our cabin we would find our room prepared with the bed ready for us with a special Elmer surprise, Each night Elmer would have one of his animal creations made from towels either setting on the bed or hanging from the ceiling such as a Rabbit, or a Turtle, or a Dinosaur, or an Elephant. We particularly liked the Monkey made of towels hanging from the ceiling on a coat hanger. It got to where we looked forward to this every night. Needless to say we liked and enjoyed Elmer very much.
Royal Caribbean has a slogan that says each of the crew that serves their particular area for passengers will also address the passengers by their first names after the first day. We found that they did this not only on the very first day, but every day of the 8 day cruise. We enjoyed how clean the ship was 24 hours a day, it was as if the ship had just been built and this it's maiden voyage, when in fact it was built in 2001, 12 years ago.
The food was wonderful no matter if it was breakfast, lunch or dinner. There was always a terrific selection regardless of any ones taste or preference (it was so good my wife and I each gained 4 pounds)
At one meal we met Francisco from Italy, who was the head person over one of the restaurants (oh yeah the have a bunch of restaurants on board, all of which are great)! He has been with Royal Caribbean cruise lines over 26 years. Do you see a pattern here? Every crew member we met was happy and would take time to talk as if they had been our friends for years, and they all had been with Royal Caribbean for years. I believe that says a lot about Royal Caribbean as a cruise line and as an employer.
Our Mozart dining room waiters Andrei and Carlos could not have been more accommodating. They not only served us well, they also seemed to anticipate our needs. Both of them have also been with Royal Caribbean for a number of years.
It was great that each afternoon we would leave the island that we had visited that day, and would cruise to our next destination at night. This would allow us to dock at the next island around 6:30 am and spend all day there and be back on ship around 4:30 pm. The choice of islands could not have been better, and was complimented by the various tours offered by the ship that they had coordinated with tour groups in each port of call.
I know that this review is long, but believe me it could be much, much longer, it was just that good. This was my second cruise and my wife' third, and we look forward to taking another cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship.
Cruise with husband and two friends. The service in the diningroom was exellent, and every dining was a pleasant experience. Thanks to Gemma and Jesus. The shops onboard was a disappointment with mostly horrible service, espesially in the jewelshop where we were harassed by a saleswoman. I tried to buy some sunglasses in another shop, but the saleswoman was not very interested. I bought a pair on one of the islads instead. This made the experience of the cruise less memoriable for us. Do not think we would like to cruise again.
Cruise started in Malaga with confusion at the baggage book-in spot being opposite the cruise terminal. No sign of Royal Caribbean in sight, only the name of another ship also docked. After walking up and down we were told that it was the baggage book-in for RCL as well.
As Platinum members we were on the ship quickly, but our room was not ready until 14h00. Went to the Windjammer and what a commotion and noise, children running all over the place and apparently the ship was booked mostly by Spanish speaking passengers. They were communicating to one another from the one side of the restaurant to the other.
The food on this cruise was the worst we ever had on a RCL cruise and it was our 7th. The meat in the Windjammer was constantly tough and the variety in the main dining room was poor.
The shows were also not up to standard and one evening it was mainly in Spanish. Our previous cruise was from Sydney to Nieu Zealand and we had the most wonderful entertainers, but here it was really not worth bothering to go. Our 2nd seating inthe dining room was 21h30 which is very late, normally it is 21h00, but I presume it is because of the my time dining. By the time we were served our last course it was 23.30.
One evening about 18h00 when we wanted to have a drink in the Viking Crown Lounge we were told it is closed for a private party! As far as I know are all the lounges open for everybody. I was also amazed that there are such a lot of lounges and bars for smokers!
The get together for platinum members were in the morning of the day we entered Valencia. We were told that dress code was smart casual, no jeans etc. Our excursion was one hour later, do they really think that we must dress up twice in one morning? Why not have it while we have a day at sea?
Disembarkation was a nightmare. We had to be in the main dining room as platinum members by 7h00 where we were supposed to be served a continental breakfast. When we came there the tables were empty and a young man was standing there greeting us. He tried several times to get people to bring some food and in the end of the day they had to bring food from the lower dining room. Most of the buns, bread, rolls etc were sweet, covered with some icing or sweet dough. In the end he told us that if we do not leave for the terminal, we will be between all the other passengers who disembark later.
We had red tags numbered 1. On the conveyer belt only bags with green tags came out. A few people were standing around waiting for their red tags. I later talked to one of the ladies helping passengers and se told me that I must give it 10 min. then she will go and look at the back. One hour later we were still standing there looking all over the place, no luggage. In the end it appeared that our red tags were put with the orange tags because of the small diferrence in colour, apart from the fact that red was written on the tag if the person handling the baggage was colour blind!
This is really a trip I want to forget and I can really see that RCL is cutting down on costs. The vouchers being given are always for either the casino or spa or you must buy one to get one free. If RCL do step up their act drastically, I am sure that they will loose good and faithful customers.
One thing i would like to state first i had a lovely holiday wich id saved 4yrs for. what i was upset about was the lack of childrens activitys for my 2yr old. not at any point did i get told that kids have to be 3yrs for kids clubs and they did not have any ice skating shoes for his size. the also have no baby changing facilitys. nore did they have any way of heating my babys bottle during the night in wich he wakes up 4 times, so i had to pay for room service to do it in wich they took 45 mins 1 night. i had a good time but my poor baby had nothink to do at all i would warn people with kids under 2 to be carfull also he did not fit in the travel cot as it was so small.
The cruise was amazing for me and my wife both in thirties. But let me start from the air flight, which was a nightmare delivered by American Airlines:
1. Flight from JFK to Madrid was delayed for 5 hours. As a result we missed our connection flight to Malaga
2. Of course baggage was delayed and delivered only next morning about an hour before we were leaving to the sea port. So here is the conclusion: arrive to the embarkation port at least 1-2 days before the cruise starts.
3. Our flight back to US was late too. And again same story and even worse: last flight cancelled no meal/accommodations from AA and delayed baggage again. No excuse and nothing reimburse from AA.
Luckily as it was so bad in the air, it was extremely good in the sea: only pros:
1. Embarkation/disembarkation smooth and fast.
2. I was surprised but shore excursions were great and not pricey at all. E.g $50 per person for 4 hours Palma de Majorca City tour. I can compare because we also took a separate tour in Toledo from different tour operator: much worse and expensive. Tour was probablydesigned for American teens: a lot of useless entertainment, lack of historical information etc.
3. Food was great, European style. Windjammer café was crowded sometimes, but it does not really matter because you can take food to your stateroom.
4. We had a balcony cabin, which was great. Everything worked fine. That's a big plus to me, since I still remember Carnival cruise on Imagination we took 3 years ago with no working air conditioner in the cabin.
5. Maybe entertainment was not as good as expected, but it pertains only to production shows. Ice show was superb.
This was our sixth cruise overall with this one being our second with Royal Caribbean. At our travel agent's insistence our group flew to San Juan a day before our cruise sailed. We flew on Southwest Airlines. There is no baggage fee on Southwest but their boarding procedure is strange. There are no assigned seats. You are given a number in a Section A, B, or C. It is my understanding that the A section pays more since they board first and pick whatever seats they want. We were in the middle of the B group which boarded next. Your numbers seem to run alphabetically and fortunately for us there were still some seats left toward the rear of the plane so my wife and I could sit together. Others in our group were not so lucky and ended up at the end of the B group or in the C group. By the time they boarded there were only single seats usually in the middle of the three seats on either side of the plane. The return flight was the exact same with the same boarding order somany of the couples in our group never sat together. I absolutely don't get why Southwest does it that way.
We spent the night at the Condado Hilton in San Juan. It was a nice place but it was two buildings on each side of the street with a walkway bridge over the road joining the two sides. We were on the opposite side of the road from the main part of the hotel which required a lot of walking. Dining options where the hotel was located were limited. We ate a place called the Waikiki on Oceanfront. The service was very slow, the portion sizes small, and the meals expensive.
We were unable to take advantage of the hotel amenities due to late check in and early checkout. The hotel beach looked small. We had a voucher for breakfast in the dining room but it was a small breakfast.
Before my daily breakdown of the cruise, I will give some general comments. We found the staff on the Adventure of the Seas to be extremely friendly, cooperative, and efficient. This was especially true for out cabin steward, waiter, and assistant waiter. The ship's itinerary suited us well as we had stops every day but the last one. We took an excursion at every stop. We had booked excursions a few months before our cruise and we were glad we did as some of the excursions were booked up and many had a price increase after the first of the year. Our stateroom was small but adequate. The small bathroom was a little more problematic. Our balcony was small and the table was too big. We felt the food offerings in the complimentary dining room were substandard. The portion sizes were small. The chef seems to have a propensity for rice and mash potatoes as these two sides seem to be a part of many dishes. What I really didn't like was that often the main entry was placed on top of the mashed potatoes. This was even true of a breaded fish dish that I ordered. I had to scrape off mash potatoes from three pieces of breaded fish and two shrimp. Interestingly, the night they offered a turkey dinner they had red skinned potatoes cut in quarters not the traditional mashed potatoes. On the last night one of our party asked if there was any way he could have get a baked potato. They gave him one. I wish I would have known that earlier in the week. Another issue with the dining room is the dress code (or should I say the lack of one). The ship was very explicit that casual attire was permitted but not shorts. There were people all over the place in shirts. On formal night, many of the male dinners had no sport coat, much less a tie. I say why have a dress code if you are not going to enforce it. The Windjammer Cafe which is the buffet restaurant was okay. My complaint is that the full breakfast choices don't open until 7:00 AM. With the ship in port every day passengers all needed to eat early. By 7:15 the place was packed. I say open the buffet at 6:00 AM when passengers are getting off the ship. The last two days of the cruise you could have a sit down breakfast in the complimentary dining room. That was a far superior breakfast experience. Also, on the day at sea the restaurant was open for lunch and that also was excellent. The evening shows in the theater were also a disappointment. I will give details of that later. The ship's muster drill was the most ridiculous I have ever experienced. We had to stand out on the deck in straight lines bunched closely together. It was hot on the deck and very uncomfortable packed like sardines. I felt like I was in the crowd waiting for a rock concert to open its doors. The other muster drills I have done usually involved sitting in a theater or some other location on the ship.
Day 1: Since we had time before we could board the Adventure of the Seas, our group booked a tour of Old San Juan. We toured the fort and then had two hours for shopping. The tour was worth the $20 cost. The tour bus took us and our luggage to the pier. Our group decided to pay the $2 per bag fee to the porters and it was more than worth it. We avoided the long line of people lugging their suitcases behind them. The check-in went smoothly. The show offered in the theater was a comedian at 10:30. We were way too tired to see it. It would be the only performance by a comedian all week.
Day 2: (St. Thomas) In the morning we went into town to shop. If jewelry is your thing, this is the place for you. We went back to the ship for lunch and then went on our afternoon excursion. We did the Legendary Kon-Tiki Sightseeing & Beach Cruise. It lasted 3 hours. It was just okay and our least favorite excursion of the week. It was billed as a catamaran cruise, glass bottom boat, and beach stop. They had a live band and offered free water and fruit punch. Everything else in food or drink was a charge. The glass bottom boat was in the center of the catamaran when they lifted up the boards. You were supposed to see coral but I couldn't see it. The beach stop was only an hour. We were told we would get a beach chair but the beach chairs were first come first serve. Since it was mid afternoon when we arrived no one on the catamaran got a chair. My wife was not happy. They sold food and drinks on the beach. In the evening we went to the theater. It was a song and dance performance by the ships troupe that lasted only 45 minutes. That would be the length of all the performance each night in the theater.
Day3: (St. Croix) We took the Cuzan Rum & West End Highlights tour. The tour lasted 4 hours. This tour was a tale of two cities. The stops were great and the guides at the stops were great as well. The bad parts involved the driver and the van. The driver didn't seem to know much and his microphone didn't work requiring a women in the front to yell to the back everything he said. Also, the air condition was malfunctioning. We along with four friends were sitting in the rear seats. The air conditioner was leaking water on us. When we got back to the ship we complained and they gave us 15% of our fee back, which I thought was fair. The three stops were great. The first was where a former sugar cane plantation was located and included several of the original buildings. The staff was dressed in the attire of the time period and was very knowledgeable. Next, we visited a botanical garden that included the island plants and trees. Finally, we visited the Cuzan Run Factory and got a tour. At the conclusion of the tour we were offered a free rum drink and visited the factory store. Overall, it was a good tour. We had lunch on the ship and then went back into the town to shop. The shopping was very poor at this stop. In the evening the entertainment in the theater was a piano player with the ship orchestra. It was okay.
Day 4: (St. John, Antigua) We took Catamaran Cruise with Lobster Lunch. The tour was 6 hours long. We boarded the catamaran and sailed for about an hour while seeing many of the sights of Antigua from the water. In between the captain who was also the guide played music. Our first stop was a beach for about an hour. The crew brought us several drink choices on to the beach. We did have to rent a beach chair for $4. We then got back on the catamaran to head to our next beach. From this point on it was open bar. After docking at the next beach we had about 20 minutes on the beach. They then called us back for the lobster lunch. The lobster was larger than we expected which they grilled on the boat. It was a little dry without melted butter but quite good anyway. There was an assortment of sides to choose from. We then had about an hour on the beach. We headed back to the ship and they raised the sails and took the scenic route. The drinks were flowing, the music was playing, and people were singing and dancing. It was the best excursion of the week and I would recommend it. Unfortunately, after the excursion we only had about an hour to shop before we had to get back on the ship. There was no show in the theater at night. Instead, they had an ice show in the skating rink on the ship. We didn't go because you had to go about an hour early just to get a seat in the small theater and we didn't want to wait.
Day 5: (St. Lucia) We took the Island Delights tour. It lasted 7 hours. It was a long day but we saw a lot of neat stuff. We toured the island and had a few stops in small villages where there were vendors. We toured another botanical garden and saw a place where people pay to take a mineral bath. The highlight of the day for me was when we got to go to the only drive-in volcano in the world. There was boiling pools, steam, and a very strong sulfur smell. It will probably be the only time I am ever in the crater of a volcano. The day ended with a late lunch provided at a mountainside resort. The lunch was okay but nothing special. Overall, it was a good tour. That evening the entertainment in the theater was four singers who are an re-incarnation of the singing group The Platters from the 50's and 60's. The show was good but nothing spectacular.
Day 6: (Grenada) We took the Tropical Beach Tour. It lasted 4 hours. The first stop was at Fort George for a quick tour. We got to see much of the island as we headed to a private beach. The beach and the water were beautiful. However, the surf was rough making it hard to go out very far in the water. We spent two hours on the beach. The tour stated a drink and a snack. We got more than a snack as they gave us two small sandwiches and a drink from several different choices. We had to pay $7 to rent a beach chair. When we got back we did some shopping in the local markets. My wife bought some spices which Grenada is famous for. It was lobster night in the dining room and we each had two. The entertainment was the singers and dancers that we saw on the second night with a different program.
Day 7: (At Sea) We went to the gym in the morning. It was well equipped with a lot of machines and some free weights. After lunch we went to the pool. I went in the adult's only pool. He had salt water in it which I am not crazy about. There are plenty of hot tubs on the ship. We were hoping to use the miniature golf on the top deck but it was too crowded. The evening's entertainment was a guy who juggled and then did hand balancing. He was a better balancer than juggler.
Day 8 (Dismemberment) After a good breakfast in the dining room, we disembarked without any problems.
Overall, we enjoyed our cruise. However, I have been hearing for many years that Royal Caribbean is a superior cruise line to the others we have traveled on (Carnival, Princess, Norwegian, and Celebrity). We have now done two Royal Caribbean cruise in the last year and I have not found that it is superior to any of the others.
This was my first cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship, and it exceeded my expectations in every respect: ship, crew, activities, dining, price, and ports of call. I will describe each of them in that order.
SHIP: The Adventure of the Seas was built in 2001, which makes it almost middle-aged by current cruise industry standards (seems young to me). It is well-maintained, and other than a few fogged windows (in the aft buffet) age is not an issue.
It is 137,000 tons (three times the volume of the Titanic but smaller than its newer sister ships), and carries 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew. It is the largest cruise ship that I have traveled on so far.
I was afraid that the large size would create crowds and waiting lines, but that was never a problem. The ice skating rink (yes, ice rink) blocked through-traffic on decks two and three, and shoppers sometimes slowed traffic on the deck five mall, but the other decks never seemed crowded.
The large size of the ship allows for a greater variety of sports and entertainment venues than on smaller ships. I was surprised that I never hadto wait to participate in sports activities and always found a seat at entertainment (and enrichment) events.
The decor of the ship is stylish with a few whimsical touches. The stairwell art works are especially enjoyable. If you have a chance, take the free art tour given by a crew member several times during the cruise.
At about 153 sq. ft., my inside cabin was a bit smaller than I am used to, but it was well-designed and very functional. Only the CRT-type TV seemed dated. The climate control worked very well, and there always was enough fresh air at whatever temperature I wanted.
The bathroom was snug, but the shower had great water pressure and the circular enclosure worked much better than the usual shower curtain. I was pleased with my inside cabin. I did not have an opportunity to view other cabin categories and cannot comment on them.
For a look at the ship inside and out, a link to my photos is given at the end of this review. Photos of the ship are better than any description.
CREW: All of the crew members were well-trained and thoroughly professional, from the cruise director (Abel, a charming polyglot from Switzerland) to the numerous people who worked behind the scenes keeping everything shipshape.
I was impressed that the crew were very responsive to requests. When my shower backed up and later when my ceiling light flickered, the maintenance crew had each of them fixed within an hour. When I noted that the spa schedule was heavy on fee- and light on free-activities, the spa staff responded by adding a free stretch class every morning (try it, you will be amazed how enjoyable it is).
The entertainment crew also did a great job. The singers and dancers were very talented, and the ice skaters were world class. The activities crew made certain that guests felt welcome to participate in (or simply watch) the numerous events they offered. They were always very polite and friendly, which is not easy when one loses an hour of sleep almost every night on an eastbound itinerary.
My dining crew (I had open seating) were always first rate, and they always seemed to know my drink preferences even though I rotated tables and dined at various times.
My cabin steward Joel also did a fine job. My cabin was always immaculate, and he greeted me by name and helped me practice my Spanish (for my trip through southern Spain that followed the cruise).
PASSENGERS: Transatlantic cruises tend to attract an older and often better educated crowd with fewer children than shorter regional cruises, and that was the case on this cruise.
Since the passengers on this itinerary were about a quarter North American, a quarter Hispanic, a quarter German, and the remaining quarter other European and Asian, one had a chance to experience a broad variety of backgrounds, world views, and languages (although most passengers also spoke English). Meeting them was one of the pleasures of open dining.
Surprisingly few passengers smoked, and smoking was not an issue since it was limited to only a few areas. As on most ships, smoking was not allowed in the dining rooms and most other public areas.
ACTIVITIES: The ice rink was a surprising pleasure. The ice shows were infrequent but impressive, with the cast of ten skating at a world class level. This will be your best chance to see (up close and personal) how athletic an ice show really is. Obtain your free tickets the day you board, and go early since it is open seating.
The gym was adequate in size and equipment, but its open floor plan with a central whirlpool made it a bit noisy. Bring earplugs or headphones when you head for the gym. I carry earplugs to all cruise ship venues because of my personal bias against the muzak and over-amplified entertainment on almost all cruise lines, especially on the pool deck where one wants to relax.
The sports deck offered a wide variety of activities. The rock climbing wall on the back of the smokestack was much more fun than I had expected. Make sure you give it a try. It is exhilarating, and easier than you think.
On warm days the pool area was very busy, and as usual on cruise ships some people saved their deck chairs in advance, in spite of signs to the contrary. While it was warm in the Caribbean and western Atlantic, the eastern Atlantic was windy and very cool for April -- good for deck walks but not for sunning or swimming.
The jogging/walking track on the top deck was often busy and sometimes very windy, but the deck 4 promenade area under the lifeboats was more protected and never crowded. By climbing stairs up to deck 5 in the bow and then back down to deck 4 one could encircle the entire ship. The balcony "bulge" midship gives beautiful sea views on these walks.
The library had a relatively modest selection of books that often appeared to come from remaindered titles. You might want to bring some of your own reading material. The library had open shelves and was run on the honor system, which was convenient.
Enrichment lectures were relatively lightly attended for a transatlantic crossing, but the three speakers were all entertaining and enthusiastic. Most lectures related to the next port of call or to our final destination (Spain), which was a plus.
Some passengers were disappointed in the speed of the internet connection while mid-ocean (especially since it is billed per minute), but I did not have a problem since I only used it when we were in or near a port (public libraries in ports often have free internet, just ask locally). Wi-fi users seemed to like the outdoor tiled alcove near the solarium pool for a good connection.
CROWN AND ANCHOR: A nice perk of my diamond Crown and Anchor status on RCI (based on reciprocity with my Captain's Club status on Celebrity) was 20 minutes of free internet usage.
When you book a cruise with RCI and join their Crown and Anchor frequent-cruiser program, ask them to check your Celebrity account too, to see if you already qualify for RCI elite status.
In addition to the internet credit, I received a free 8x10 photo of myself (the professional photographers were very good, and very polite), and I received coupons for reduced prices in several venues including laundry service.
Perhaps the nicest perk was a daily pre-dinner cocktail hour in the Imperial Lounge with free wine and soda for diamond and higher Crown and Anchor categories.
DINING: Dining preferences are subjective, but the following suggestions may be useful to you.
The breakfast and lunch buffets (in the Windjammer) had both steam table and cold offerings. On every cruise line the former tend to be over-cooked, and so I tend to opt for the latter. The fresh fruit and crisp bacon at breakfast were excellent, and a wide variety of salads was available at lunch (although the main dining room salad bar was even better on sea days).
Remember that the hand gels at the buffet entry are good for bacteria, but hand washing with soap and water is even better for viruses like the notorious Norovirus.
It is just as important to wash your hands after using serving tongs as it is before entering the buffet. A nice bonus to hand washing is the beautiful view from the restrooms near the buffet entrance (they each have a glass wall overlooking the sea).
All but one of the twenty meals I had in the main dining room, both lunches and dinners, exceeded my expectations (a great record, I think). The menu is not quite as inventive and the presentation is not quite as elegant as on premium or luxury cruise ships, but I did not expect it to be. However, the quality of the ingredients and their preparation were always first rate.
At lunch on sea days, when the main dining room is open, you must try the chef's salad bar. It is the best I have had anywhere, on land or sea. Just make sure that your serving person is not too generous with the salad dressing. Main courses and desserts are offered in addition to the salad bar, but the salads are so large that you may not want anything more.
At dinner the beef was always top quality prime rib or tenderloin (I did not try the off-menu sirloin and cannot evaluate it). Only once was the prime rib well done, rather than the rare that I ordered. At my request they even grilled the filet mignon extra rare, which few ship galleys are willing to do.
The seafood (various white fish, shrimp, scallops) was always cooked to perfection, and except for the off-menu salmon, the seafood was never dry or overdone. The seafood was so good that I often ordered it.
There was no rack of lamb, but the lamb shank was tender and flavorful. There was a variety of poultry and pork, which I did not sample since I have that often enough at home.
I had a dinner salad (the Caesar) only once, and it had wilted under its dressing. At dinner it may be best to order salad with the dressing on the side. I did not try the soups, although my tablemates enjoyed them.
Desserts at dinner and during the afternoon in the buffet were usually American style, with an emphasis on cakes, puddings, pies, and ice cream. Classic French desserts were less frequent, and chocolate desserts were not as flavorful as one would like.
I opted for My Time (open) dining with pre-paid gratuities. I had multiple different servers and assistants, and all were excellent. Unfortunately there is currently no system to reward them with additional tips unless you hand each one a cash supplement at the end of the cruise. I hope some day RCI will be able to computerize this process from one's shipboard account, since it may involve a dozen different servers.
I experienced three minor disappointments with My Time dining:
First, some passengers reserved the same (usually small) table at the same time for almost every night of the cruise, essentially locking out others who might also want a table for two or six. The rest of us usually were seated at long tables for ten, which made both conversation and service difficult. To be fair to all passengers, My Time dining should not be My Table dining.
Second, the servers were so generous that they often brought unordered cheese and fruit plates before presenting the menus. On one occasion a couple at my table (perhaps they had previously complained about something) even received two huge Greek salads, a platter of bruschetta, a cheese plate, and a plate of petits fours before they placed their orders. This generosity is done with the best of intentions, but extra food should be on a request only basis.
Third, rather than seating guests in their order of arrival, my tables for ten were sometimes partly filled, service commenced, and then the remainder of the table was filled 15-20 minutes later. This staggered seating is difficult for both the servers and the earlier guests, who usually must delay their remaining courses until the later guests catch up. Open dining works better when a table is closed to new guests once the first course is served.
PRICE: The good news is that this eastbound transatlantic cruise was the best value I have encountered in more than 20 years of cruising. The bad news is that cruise prices are capacity controlled, and you might not be able to obtain such a good price for your own transatlantic cruise.
Several months before this cruise, I crossed the Atlantic westbound on a Celebrity ship. When I wanted to return eastbound on the same ship, the price was raised $400 for residents of my state (but not for residents of about 20 other states). Although I could afford the increase, the geographic discrimination turned me off.
Instead I found this RCI cruise online. It was just as long as, but cost half as much as, my prior Celebrity cruise (excluding gratuities and port charges, which are fixed). Even better, I was able to obtain a solo cabin for only a small surcharge (most cruise lines charge solo travelers 200%, and sometimes even 300-400% of their standard rate for couples).
My per diem as a solo passenger in an inside double cabin on this cruise was an astoundingly low 48 USD, before standard gratuities and port charges. Thank you RCI!
However, when I considered extending my cruise on the same ship in the Mediterranean, a solo cabin for the extra one week would have cost more than four times the rate offered to couples, and more than twice what I paid for the prior two week transatlantic cruise.
Also, when I considered taking the same transatlantic itinerary westbound on the same Adventure of the Seas next fall, a solo cabin would have cost three times the rate I paid for my cruise eastbound. Go figure.
The lesson is that there is sometimes no apparent rhyme or reason to cruise fares. One must simply stay alert and watch for good values on the internet.
I hope that RCI has another good value in the future, because I would happily cruise with them again when their solo cabin price is a good value.
(N.B. Shortly after I wrote the above, I booked back to back Alaska cruises for June on the RCI Radiance of the Seas -- not the fantastic bargain that my transatlantic cruise had been, but a good value compared with all the other solo cabins on cruise lines in Alaska.)
PORTS OF CALL: I rarely book a tour in any port of call. I much prefer to explore ports on my own, taking cheap public transportation and meeting locals along the way. The following information may help you to do the same on this itinerary.
First, my photo links are given here and again at the end of this cruise review. You will be surprised how attractive these ports are.
Click on this link (or copy and paste it in your browser if necessary):
Thumbnail photos will then appear (if you get a "stack overload" alert due to the number of photos, just click on the alert till it closes). Then click on the "slideshow" option in the upper left. Wiggle your mouse to access the control panel to set speed, pause, or go back.
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Our cruise began in San Juan.
San Juan hotels are overpriced, especially near cruise departure days, so I stayed in a basic and inexpensive (less than the cab fare from the airport) posada in old San Juan (Posada San Francisco, on Plaza Colon). There I met several others going on my cruise, and we shared a taxi to the RCI cruise terminal in the morning.
Old San Juan is a pleasure for strolling. Make sure you leave enough time to enjoy it, especially the two historic forts run by the National Park Service (El Morro and San Cristobal). For free entry to both, remember to bring your national park pass (Golden Eagle, etc.) from home.
The RCI cruise terminal is across the bay from old San Juan. There is no bus service nearby and you will need to hire a taxi to get there. Taxis from the airport to old San Juan are regulated and cost about $24 (for the entire cab), but taxis from old San Juan to the cruise terminal may take some negotiating (always agree on the price in advance, since most taxis are not metered).
Boarding begins around noon. Getting there earlier means you will simply have to wait in line (outside) longer.
ST. THOMAS, USVI: I regret to say that this is my least favorite port in the Caribbean. It is usually overwhelmed with cruise ships, even though the locals try very hard to accommodate them.
In years past we used to take the small ferry to Water Island to escape the cruise crowds (this is most convenient if your ship docks at the yacht harbor in Crown Bay). Unfortunately, local tour operators now bring party barges and catamarans into the Water Island beach every mid-day, so it is no longer quiet or pleasant.
Magens Bay beach is probably the best alternative (pay for a taxi to the north shore, then pay for beach entry). We may simply stay onboard and enjoy the empty ship when our itineraries take us to St. Thomas in the future.
ST. MAARTEN/ST. MARTIN (DUTCH/FRENCH): I am a francophile and a francophone, but I must admit that the Dutch half of this island (where the cruise ships dock) is much nicer than the French side. The French beaches (including the famous but unpleasant Orient Beach) are on the windward side, with rough surf, no free shade, and seaweed and plastic debris in the water and on the beach.
A much better alternative is to walk from the ship into Phillipsburg along the nice pedestrian walkway. A few blocks inland from the town waterfront you will find mini-vans heading west to Mullet Bay Beach (a scenic 20 minute ride for 2 USD). Look for the Mullet Bay sign in the mini-van window, and remember to greet the driver and other passengers when you enter. The driver will drop you a short walk from the beach.
Along the way you will pass the infamous Maho Beach, where jets land and take off just overhead. This is an awesome event, especially the late morning arrival of the KLM 747 from Europe (check flight schedules if you are interested in being blasted by awesome jet noise).
Mullet Bay Beach is far enough beyond Maho Beach that it is not bothered by the jets. It offers a long strip of pristine white sand and crystal clear water straight out of a travel poster. On week day mornings it is almost empty and absolutely glorious. There is shade, but no changing room, so wear your suit if you do not want to change under your towel. Vendors there rent chairs and umbrellas, and they sell snacks and drinks.
SANTA CRUZ, TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS (SPANISH): The first of the two Canary Islands on our cruise, Tenerife Island is well-developed and tourist friendly. Most of its tourists arrive by air from Europe. Most of the beaches are on the south coast, but the best sightseeing is to the north and west of the Santa Cruz cruise port.
There was a good deal of construction along the Santa Cruz waterfront (it is being upgraded), but signs will direct you along a 10 minute walk to the main waterfront boulevard, where you can catch a local bus (you will need a few euros for buses, drivers make change) westbound to the large main bus station ("Estacion" on the front of the bus, or ask the driver).
From there, you can catch a bus (there are several per hour, I believe #15) to La Laguna, an inland town about 20 minutes northwest, with a UNESCO World Heritage preserved historic center. Old La Laguna is wonderful for strolling and is just a 10 minute walk from the local bus station (or take the modern tram those few blocks). The local tourism board in the center provides free guided walks on most days around noon.
There is an old tower in the town center with nice views (it does not open till 10am), and there is a nice farmers and florists market a few blocks northeast of the old town.
Remember that clean and free public restrooms are available in the La Laguna bus station and in the farmers market building.
If you have time and interest, there are frequent buses from La Laguna to Puerto de la Cruz on the northwest coast, an additional 20 minute ride on the freeway. This is an attractive tourist enclave with a nice parks and a waterfront walk. The local tourism board has good maps for self-guided walking tours, and their historic office on the waterfront has a nice gift shop with local crafts, including handmade lace.
There is no bus station building in Puerto de la Cruz. Instead the buses all line up along one street located a few blocks above the waterfront, with street signs giving the destinations and schedules. There are frequent buses back to Santa Cruz, about a 30 minute ride on the non-stop (I believe #103) bus.
With your remaining time in Santa Cruz (the cruise port) I suggest you walk around the Calatrava-designed Auditorium of Tenerife, which is near the main bus station. It is similar to his famously winged Milwaukee art museum in the U.S.A. Make sure you look at the painted rocks along the waterfront near the auditorium. The portraits will surprise you. See how many you can recognize.
From the auditorium it is a 15 minute walk back toward the center of town to the modern TEA public library and contemporary art museum. The former is the most beautiful library I have seen anywhere (and it has free internet). The latter has temporary exhibitions, some of which are very enjoyable if you are an art lover, and are relatively inexpensive. There is a coffee shop between the library and museum, with a separate entry.
Next door to the TEA is the anthropology and natural history museum, which some recommended but I did not have time to see. From there it is a 20 minute walk back to the ship.
There is usually a shuttle from the ship to the town center for a few USD, but it was not operating early enough for me, and the public bus stop is close to the ship anyway. You will be surprised how enjoyable Tenerife and La Laguna can be.
ARRECIFE, LANZAROTE, CANARY ISLANDS (SPANISH):
Lanzarote Island is famous for its barren volcanic landscape, which has been used in some science fiction movies as an alien planet. Incongruously, one of the most popular ship tours is a camel ride in the remote volcanic national park. There are also many things you can do on your own at a fraction of the cost.
Cruise ships dock about 2 miles (3 km) east of Arrecife town. There is a small beach at the port (too cold to swim, but adequate for sunning on a warm day). Just follow the pedestrian walkway signs. One can continue on foot to Arrecife, but it is too far and uninteresting to be worthwhile.
Instead of the walkway to Arrecife, walk 10 minutes straight out of the cruise port to the main highway (follow the trucks and buses, and use caution because there is no sidewalk toward the end). On the highway traffic circle is the Estrella restaurant.
On the side of the highway next to the Estrella restaurant you can flag the local bus (I believe #3) eastbound to Costa Teguise. It departs every 20 minutes, takes about 15 minutes, and costs about 1.50 euros (drivers make change). At the end of the line, there is a condo area with shops and several pleasant beaches (walk through the mall to get to the beach promenade).
Alternately, across the highway from the Estrella restaurant is the westbound bus (I believe #3) into Arrecife (10 minutes, about 1.50 euros) and beyond to Playa del Carmen on the south coast (about 30 minutes more, although I did not go there).
Instead, I changed buses in Arrecife (at the main bus station inland or at the large outdoor Intercambiador bus stop near the waterfront) and took the #60 bus for a 60 minute long, 4 euro ride along the center of the island past the volcanic national park (no access by public bus) to Playa Blanca on the west coast.
This route gives a scenic view of most of the island, and the beach walk at Playa Blanca is very pleasant. The #60 bus runs only once every hour (near the top of the hour) so plan your return to the ship accordingly.
FUNCHAL, MADEIRA ISLAND (PORTUGUESE): Madeira Island has a local bus system, but most of it is thinly scheduled, for locals going to and from work.
However, there is good bus service (#20 or #21, I believe) up the mountain behind Funchal to the beautiful vistas and street sled rides of El Monte.
Funchal itself is a beautiful town with wonderful gardens. A ride up and down from El Monte followed by a walk through Funchal with visits to the farmers market and several churches and museums will easily fill your day.
At the cruise port pick up a free map of Funchal. From the cruise ship it is a scenic 15 minute walk along the yacht harbor and waterfront to the Praca de Autonomia (Plaza of Autonomy).
On the west side of the plaza, heading uphill along the (usually dry) riverbed is the bus stop for El Monte. It is a scenic 15 minute ride up (about 2 euros) to the church (igreja) of El Monte (ask the driver where to get off). From the church front you can look down over Funchal and the cruise port.
Right below the church is the starting point for the famous street (basket) sled rides part way downhill. The bus ride back down was thrilling enough for me, but just watching the sleds take off is fun. Near the church is a large public garden, but the entry is 10 euros, and the gardens in town are free.
On the east side of the Praca de Autonomia downtown is the indoor farmers, fishmen, and florists market. There you will find colorful photo ops, especially since the florists still wear the island's traditional red costumes and caps.
Walking along the pedestrian zone west from the market and the Praca de Autonomia you will come to the historic town center along Avenida Arriaga. There you will find many cafes, free wi-fi, beautiful blue (in spring) jacaranda trees, and a wonderful public flower garden.
If you head uphill from that flower garden, you will come to Santa Clara street, which leads up to two fine museums, a beautiful church (San Pedro) and a nice old convent (Santa Clara).
Near the top of the street is the Museu Quinta das Cruzes, a fine old mansion where the last Austrian emperor was exiled after the war. It is now a museum of decorative arts. In the museum garden is a nice orchid display.
A few blocks below this, also on Santa Clara street is the Museu Freitas. Half is a modern building with a good collection of the famous old tiles (azulejos) which one sees in churches and homes. The other half is the former mansion of Dr. Freitas. The mansion is particularly impressive because its valuable art objects are in situ, and not behind glass.
To see the Santa Clara convent you will have to ring the bell next to the gate. If it is answered, a nun (or employee) will include you in one of their tours. San Pedro church is near the convent on your way back down to the town center.
For those who are unable to walk well, I believe Funchal has a hop on/off bus tour that leaves from the waterfront, but I do not know the schedule or prices.
MALAGA, SPAIN: Malaga was founded by Phoenicians, then settled by Romans. It is surprisingly attractive and enjoyable for a day visit (or preferably an overnight), and the local tourist offices are friendly and helpful.
Torremolinos is a short bus ride west of Malaga, and Nerja (less crowded and more attractive than Torremolinos) is a 50 minute bus ride east. Buses to either leave from the bus stop on Avenida Herredia near the waterfront, which is closer to the town center than the main bus station.
Cruise ships dock about a mile (1.5 km) from the historic center of Malaga and about two miles (3.0 km) from the back-to-back train and bus stations. The airport is several miles west of town, but there are good airport buses every 25 minutes (2 euros) leaving from Alameda Principal, the short boulevard with florist booths located between the waterfront and the old town center.
On arrival in Malaga at the end of my cruise I walked off the ship at 0630 and took a taxi (they are all small, white, and metered) from the ship to the bus station (about 10 euros plus tip) for my bus ride to Ronda. I was at the bus station before 0700 and was glad to have taken the taxi since it started to rain a few minutes later.
I stayed in Malaga for two nights (at the small, central, and very reasonable Hotel Trebol) after spending two weeks traveling on my own through Andalusia (Ronda, Sevilla, Cordoba, and Granada).
From Malaga I then took an inexpensive Veuling (Iberia code share) flight to Barcelona, where I stayed a few more days before flying back to the U.S.A.
In addition to a side trip to Nerja, I enjoyed Malaga's Picasso Museum (Malaga was his birthplace) in a restored mansion with a pleasant garden cafe. While the Barcelona Picasso Museum has mainly early (adolescent) and late (Las Meninas cycle) works, the Malaga Picasso Museum has works from his middle years that he kept for himself and are now on loan from his family.
Near the Picasso Museum is Malaga's large cathedral (with a small but free art museum in the adjacent historic Episcopal Palace), and also nearby is Malaga's open Roman amphitheater.
The entire downtown area is a stylish pedestrian zone with nice shops and cafes, which are especially enjoyable for people watching during the evening paseo.
West of the town center is a photogenic indoor farmers market (a block from my Hotel Trebol), and north of that is a small but enjoyable costume and decorative arts museum
All of these sights are listed on the free tourist maps, which are available from tourist information booths near the waterfront, the cathedral, the Picasso Museum, and the amphitheater.
Like Cartagena farther up Spain's Mediterranean coast, Malaga is much nicer than one expects. Malaga is a very enjoyable place to start or end a cruise.
Again, for those interested, my photos of the ship and some of the ports are at the following link. Click on this link (or copy and paste it in your browser if necessary): https://picasaweb.google.com/efschlenk/TACruise412Album?authkey=Gv1sRgCNOnrerv9O-wUA#
Thumbnail photos will then appear (if you get a "stack overload" alert due to the number of photos, just click on the alert till it closes). Then click on the "slideshow" option in the upper left. Wiggle your mouse to access the control panel to set speed, pause, or go back.
I hope you find the above information useful. Enjoy my photos and your next cruise. Bon voyage!
Please read through to the bottom where I have posted the "politically incorrect" comments about cruises departing from San Juan.
We arrived in San Juan 3 days before so we could tour El Yunque national forest and Old San Juan. San Juan has dozens of hotel choices ranging by price. If you check Expedia.com they provide a list of hotels and give you the ability to sort the list by price or by traveler opinion. The latter is the way to go and you'll notice that Hampton Inn is consistently listed in the top 5, and its worth it. The choice of hotel really comes down to life style: some want more from a hotel and some accept less for lower price. Just remember that choosing a hotel is like paying taxes in the United States: you get what you pay for.
From the airport you can take a cab at a defined rate by zones, just ask the driver what it will cost, and also be aware it is posted at the airport by the baggage claim. From your hotel the next morning you can again hail a caband pay a defined price to the pier. You can ask the front desk for info on cabs and typically cabs hang out at hotels for morning travelers.
Trust me on this one and learn from someone who has been burned in the past. Do not, and I mean DO NOT, and I'm saying you ABSOLUTELY DO NOT take the RCCL transfers and here's why:
1) They pay a local cartage company to transfer your bags FROM the airport TO the pier. Problem 1: Bags are often pilfered due to the locks being cut off. This violates your privacy and trust in them. Cruise lines do nothing to stop this so its YOUR problem, not theirs. Problem 2: Bags arrive at the pier whenever the cartage company truck arrives. On a prior cruise we bought the cruise company transfer and arrived at the pier just before 6:00 PM but our bags didn't arrive at our cabin until nearly midnight. Until they arrived we presumed them to be lost and sought help from the cruise line who gave us a small pouch with a tooth brush, past, and comb: big deal. The bags arrived with locks cut off and contents rifled.
2) RCCL hires local buses to transport you to the pier. The problem is they decide to fill the bus and that means waiting around for passengers to arrive, which can take an hour or more and that delays your transfer to the pier and boarding time. Several years ago on a Celebrity cruise we got off the airplane at 4:00 and didn't make it to the pier until 6:00 PM. After checking in we were late for our 6:00 dinner seating and denied access to the main dining room - because the bus had to fill every seat before departing the airport.
You'll probably spend less on cabs to/from the airport/pier than the RCCL transfers, and you'll arrive when YOU want, not when THEY want you to, and with your bags intact. The lesson is to handle bags yourself to insure their safety and your convenience.
We used Royal Caribbean's online check-in and this is a must because it saves a great deal of time at the pier. Either you fill out personal information (name, address, phone, various data) online yourself or they do it at the pier, which will take at least half an hour. When you arrive at the pier all they need from you at that point is your signed "Set Sail" agreement where you basically agree to pay your ship account, and a swipe of your credit card.
In general the earlier you arrive at the pier the better off you are going to be. If you arrive in morning you will likely have to wait as passengers are still disembarking and RCCL will delay entry. But the line is short that early in the day. Unfortunately, you are going to have to take some initiative and ask about the lines into the terminal. There were 2 lines: the line to the RIGHT was to drop off bags to be handled by RCCL. Meanwhile the line to the LEFT goes into the terminal and first through security. Note that large bags cannot go through their xray machines and must be handled by RCCL. You should hand carry (roll) all other bags to insure their safety and timely arrival on the ship. This insures you'll at least have something.
Cruises start on day "one" which obviously is your first day. But if you arrive at the ship at 6:00 PM you don't have a very long "day one" so the goal would be to arrive as soon as RCCL will allow you to board the ship, which is around 12:00 noon on day one.
Adventure of the Seas is huge. OK, its not in the Oasis class (new ship) but its still huge with lots of features. It's been very tastefully decorated, far more so than Carnival ships, which tend to be gaudy & overbearing. You can find images on the RCCL website. The Royal Promenade is a great place to hang out having shops, bars, and a cafe with pizza & deserts (included in your cruise price). On this cruise we began to notice the ship is getting a bit tired and needs a few weeks in drydock to recondition rails, replace carpets, etc. But its still a great ship.
Most likely you already know the differences between inside cabin, outside with window, outside with balcony, etc. But what you may not know is you are vastly better off with a room towards either bow or stern. Rooms mid ship tend to be burdened by lots of traffic. People pass by those rooms at night, drunk, and conduct themselves like noisy recalcitrant children. But when they get near THEIR cabin they quiet down and behave like an adult (you hope). Midship, having lots of traffic by fact of location, offers little protection from jerks. We chose a room aft for less traffic. Unfortunately there can be misbehaving inconsiderate jerks in any section.
In case you are not aware of this cruise lines offer rooms VERY cheap at the last minute to keep cabins full. Be aware that cruise ships have relatively fixed costs (crew, food, etc) which doesn't change from week to week. Because of this the cruise industry maintains a business plan to fill rooms at almost literally any price and after that they can then make their profit on excursions, booze, and gambling. HOWEVER - keep in mind this is usually only possible for locals, which in the case of Puerto Rico led to noisy, unruly, barbarians (more on this at the end). You ALWAYS want to carefully consider the departure port for this reason.
Food is very good and most people typically eat lunch and breakfast at Windjammers on deck 11. Some choose the dining room instead. Breakfast at Windjammers tends to have some of the same items every day, but with many choices it shouldn't matter because you can't eat everything. Lunch tends to be similar also but they do vary some of the meats, fish, and sides. The deserts change daily and are very good.
The main dining room, which is 3 floors high with each having their own name, is excellent. For us service was very good and the food was great. Waiters work for tips so they highly motivated to please you.
DINING ROOM DRESS:
This is one major flaw in cruises and not due to the Royal Caribbean but rather very lax social standards. Many people don't understand the etiquette of dressing for dinner on cruises.
There are 2 formal nights in which the majority of people actually dress formally. If you are the kind of person who refuses to dress up then I suggest having dinner at Windjammers Cafe on deck 11. Also, if you cannot get to dinner on time you should have dinner at Windjammers Cafe. It's informal and buffet style. When people refuse to dress properly in the dining room they disrespect their fellow passengers. When they refuse to arrive on time they disrespect the dining room staff and make life very difficult for them. If you need a reason why its because waiters typically have 3-4 tables they serve and it works much better if all tables are on the same schedule, which is to say serving starters at all tables, serving main courses at all tables, and not breaking up the rhythm due to diners coming in late, forcing wait staff off their schedule. This affects service at tables where guests did arrive on time.
Other reviewers talk about how bad the beds are and if they are talking about the edge of the bed they are right. But what people forget is the cardinal rule of beds - which is you DO NOT sit on the edge of the bed. In addition you don't sleep on the edge. The beds are large and though the mattress is a bit thin it's not bad in the middle. My wife and I had plenty of room. Unfortunately the mattress was past its prime and I noticed some room attendant had stuffed a bag full of towels or sheets under the bed in the middle to keep it from sagging, another reason the ship is due for maintenance. Still it was adequate (not good but acceptable).
RCCL is pretty chintzy about this and want to make sure you ONLY buy THEIR liquor at their inflated prices.
In ports of call, for the purpose of confiscating liquor under a guise of "security", they x-ray your bags so you are not going to sneak on liquor. If you purchase liquor they WILL confiscate it from you and it they return your liquor to you on the last night of the cruise.
PORTS OF CALL & EXCURSIONS:
Renting a car VERSUS excursions:
It certainly is cheaper to rent a car than go on an island excursion, and this is true for any island. However, you have to consider that first you are driving in the 3rd world and if you are American you take for granted the roads you drive on. If you drive a highway in America there's likely local police who will offer assistance if you pull over with a problem. It is rare to find police on roads in 3rd world countries.
On the other hand if you can manage the roads the advantage of a car rental is you can come and go as you please. And it will cost less. But note that all Caribbean islands heavily push "collision damage waiver" which limits the amount you are responsible for. And worse some require a "deposit" which is island speak meaning a promissory note to pay $500-1000 in case of an accident claim. We purchased an insurance policy through CSA Travel Insurance over the Internet that covered the trip INCLUDING cruise, air, and the collision damage waiver so don't take their coverage - it stinks and is just another way to get money out of you.
Rented a car from Budget Car rental at Havensight Pier, very convenient. HOWEVER, the map provided was virtually worthless and its only purpose was to show where restaurants were, which we didn't use. We parked the car at the pier during lunch time and went back out and drove. Driving is on the left side of road. Avis is across from Havensight pier and had a better map on a prior visit to the island. For that reason I suggest Avis because driving without a map is a waste of time and money.
A very pretty island which has some interesting attractions such has Romney Manor and Brimstone Hill Fortress. Rented a car which actually worked out well, driving is on the LEFT with steering on the RIGHT. Note they require a $24 local license.
Did an offroad excursion through Port Promotions (find them on the Internet) for $84 each which included lunch, it was OK. Interesting sites that could not be seen without an offroad vehicle. Aruba is essentially one big rock.
Nice little town with a Dutch harbor. The bridge moves back and forth for ships passing through in which case it closes. Town has all the usual tourist trap stores.
In general there are tons of excursions offered by Royal Caribbean, but what's not generally known is there are other companies providing excursions. One such and previously mentioned is Port Promotions who we used in the past. They have any number of excursions on many Caribbean islands and are comparable to those provided by the vendors selected by RCCL, and may cost less. BUT - if you choose them you MUST keep track of the time returning to the ship and let your guide know. DO NOT expect them to keep track of ship departure time because they won't. You DO NOT want to arrive late for the ship since it may not still be in port.
This is pretty subjective and depends upon your personal taste so that must be up front. The ice show is fabulous and not to miss and consists of various Olympic skaters from around the world. Get your tickets as soon as they are offered because they go fast. There typically is a musical shows that is 'Broadway' and/or Las Vegas quality. Around the ship there are various other musicians and usually pretty good.
Auctions are held on most cruises lines and on most ships. I've sailed Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Carnival, and Park West Galleries was on all of them. Royal Caribbean has now established their own inhouse auction vendor due to a particularly checkered history of Park West Galleries which is a lightning rod for complaints. Just check any cruise review website and you'll see what I mean.
People leave the ship in groups and you are provided with a group number, which they call for disembarkation. RCCL wants you off the ship as quickly as possible so expect a knock at your door by 7:00 AM. This cruise required us to go through customs which took more time than without a customs inspection.
On this cruise we had a great deal of problems with obnoxious people, and because America's economy is so bad Americans are not sailing. As talked about earlier the cruise industry works on the business model of filling rooms at whatever price needed to get people on board and make money on excursions, booze, and gambling. The problem with that is you get locals who are NOT the classiest people and often are poorly behaved, which sadly was the case on this cruise.
PUERTO RICAN LOCALS:
In the past there has been a limited number of Puerto Rican passengers and typically well behaved and respectful of other passengers. This time was entirely different and it got downright ugly with half or more of passengers being Puerto Rican, it was easy to see a cultural gap that created real problems. This time we noticed they moved in squad and platoon sized groups that made people feel very uncomfortable overwhelming people nearby, and they were completely inconsiderate of others and quite rude like they didn't know how to act in public. Here are some of the problems encountered:
* They played drums and sang loudly in public areas without concern for others (I'm not making this up). * Teenagers were typically unsupervised by parents and unruly. * Many sat on and stood around stairwells blocking them. * Walked into elevators without letting people off first and you were shoved in by a large group who insisted they all get on the elevator. * Very loud in hallways at night, often yelling. * Came into the dining room late, often one hour or more late, disrupting wait staff flow. * Low local fares attracted really lower class people without manners and any concept of how to behave within society. * During disembarkation notice one man repeatedly spoke very loudly of "Gringos" while waiting in line so that Americans could hear him. This was intentional and designed to goad us.
At this point we likely will NOT sail out of San Juan until such time as America's economy improves and cabins are filled with Americans and Europeans. After what Europeans experienced I don't think they'd want to sail out of San Juan again.
Over all I would rate the ship as excellent and I don't know if it is me but the food gets better every time I cruise RCI. The only problem was going out of Puerto Rico and the ship was taken over by a certain element of people that were loud, pushy and seemed to take every seat available in the Royal Promanade and around the pool. I will think twice before going out of PR again. This was my 11 cruise and 7 with RCI.