If you're looking for a first-rate cruise for the family, look no further. This was our 4th Caribbean cruise and our 2nd on Royal Caribbean - and hands down Royal Caribbean is the best. We have two teenage children, 16 year old son and 13 year old daughter, who traveled with us and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. From rock climbing, ping pong, video arcades, basketball, miniature golf, kid friendly food such as Johnny Rockets and Ben & Jerry ice cream, in-room movies and room service, your kids are guaranteed a great time.
Older couples traveling together will have an enjoyable time too, but in my opinion, Royal Caribbean caters more to the family-friendly crowd. Last year we sailed on Mariner of the Seas (another Voyager class ship) and it was equally as good so you can pick from any of the 9 Voyager ships and know you're in good hands. I'm assuming all of the Voyager ship's are built exactly the same, since Adverturer and Mariner were identical! We definitely knew our way around the ship this time.
We arrived in San Juan on Saturday, August 12th and spent the night at the SanJuan Marriott which is only 15 minutes from the pier. The next morning, we arrived at the pier at 2pm right when you could board because we wanted to start enjoying the ship's ammenities right away. We had pre-ordered a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries to be delivered to our stateroom upon arrival, which made our sail-away very special.
We had 2 balcony staterooms on Deck 8 in the Aft section of the ship. Last year we had adjoining staterooms, but we couldn't get them this year. The adjoining rooms have a pocket door (sliding interior door) between the rooms. Getting on the ship was a breeze, although it was very hot. We had pre-printed our Sail Away Passes which speeds the entire process, so be sure to do that before you go. We were on-board around 2:45pm, which includes having our photo taken as we boarded. We met our Stateroom Attendant, Arlex from Costa Rica, who was very pleasant.
We promptly changed into bathing suits and headed to Deck 12 to read books and lay in the sun. The muster drill (lifeboat drill) was at 8:30pm with dinner for second seating guests at 9pm the first night. If you've never cruised before, be sure to request second seating for dinner (8:30pm dining) because you'll have more time for excursions and won't have to rush back to the ship to get ready for dinner by 6pm (first-seating dinner time.)
Our only disappointment on this cruise was that we didn't have a table for 4 at dinner, which we had specifically requested when we booked. We were seated at table for 10! Since we're a busy family we don't eat meals together at home as much as I'd like, so the cruise was a special opportunity to dine alone together as a family. You know kids, they won't talk if the adults are talking. Luckily, you can make changes to your dining room assignment on the first night, so I spoke to the Head Dining Manager (Mustafa from Turkey) and he was kind enough to move us to our own table. Mustafa became a special friend on the cruise because he knew how happy he'd made us by honoring our dining request. Not everyone is accomodated in the dining room, the most common request is to move from first seating to second seating, so be sure to make your dining request when you book and follow-up the first night if there's a problem.
I'm not going to talk much about each port, except for a few highlights. In Aruba, we spent the day at Palm Beach, which is a top-rated popular beach in Aruba that's only a short taxi ride from the ship. We did not book an excursion in Aruba because we'd heard about Palm Beach and wanted to go there. At the beach, we rented 2 chairs, 2 floaties and an umbrella. We forgot to bring our towels from the ship, so we purchased 2 inexpensive $10 towels at a beach-store. The kids also forgot their goggles on the ship, so we purchased 2 pairs of goggles for $10 each too. There were lots of others from the ship, who were part of the Beach Break excursion, but they could only stay for 2 hours on the beach before they had to leave. Those folks paid more and stayed less, so my recommendation is if you want to spend a day at the beach to take a taxi on your own. It's definitely cheaper and you'll have a longer day.
Next stop was Curacao. We booked the snorkeling excursion at the underwater park, which you access by boat. There were about 40 guests from the ship on this excursion. The boat ride was a bit choppy but once we got there we saw LOTS of fish, rainbows, angel fish and even a small barracuda! Seriously! But we're told it was harmless....hmmmm. Back on the ship, we overheard some other guests talking about the Sea Lion tour which they enjoyed but thought it was too long (if you've seen 1 sea lion, you've seen them all, ha, ha.) That night dinner was "Caribbean Night" and we had Red snapper, shrimp salad, lobster bisque and cherries jubilee for dessert. We purchased a Wine and Dine package (5 bottles of wine at the gold level, although there are other packages too in various price levels) and we had a nice bottle of Merlot. You can only purchase the Wine and Dine Package on the first and second nights of the cruise.
Next port was St. Maarten, on the Dutch side. Here the street vendors are a bit more aggressive, so be sure you can say NO if you're not interested in their goods. It's tricky with kids because they will come up to the kids and put merchandise in their hands and ask "How much you give me?" Just be firm, take off the merchandise and walk away. We struggled with this on our first cruise, but we're pros now. Have a tough skin, unless it's something you really want to purchase. (Side note: Jamaica is WAY worse! St. Maarten was a piece of cake.) i purchased a beautiful ivory shell and silver necklace and paid cash to get a better deal. Then we took a taxi to Orient Beach and had another wonderful day. My daughter had corn rows and beads put in her hair on the beach for $40, which she likes. dinner that night was "Italian Night" and we had cheese tortellini, crab cakes, caesar salad and baked alaska for dessert.
Next port was St. Thomas, the highlight of the trip. We've been here before but never to Magen's Bay, one of the Top 10 Beaches in the world. We took an open-air taxi to the beach for $8 per person. Tried to negotiate the price down to a flat $20, but they are firm and won't budge. The taxi ride is a bit unnerving because you're basically in the back of a pick-up truck that's been converted to a taxi with padded bench seats and a canopy overhead. The roads are very narrow and mostly uphill to the beach, so it's a roller-coaster ride. My husband and kids didn't mind, but I was not a fan. At Magen's Bay, the views are spectacular! We took lots of pictures, rented beach chairs and floaties, had lunch at the beach bar and enjoyed another great day. We all purchased Magen's Bay T-shirts before we left.
Last night: We attended the Farewell Show, which was good but a repeat of our last cruise (same jokes, same skits "Top 10 Questions the crew is Asked) so it wasn't as funny this time for us. There's definitely a "formula" to the cruise industry, so if you're a repeat customer you'll pick up on that right away. We put our luggage outside our door at 1AM even though it was supposed to be out by 12midnight. We just couldn't get everything packed on-time and wanted to soak up as much of our last night as possible. They were still moving luggage at 2AM, so I doubt it was a problem.
Leaving the ship: This was the only time we felt like we were part of a crowd. There are 3000 people on board and you don't realize it until you're leaving! They put everyone in Groups (1 through 10) and you wait in the public areas until your number is called. We were group 10 (the last one) because our flight home wasn't until later that night. We didn't mind because we sat up on Deck 11 in the solarium (covered outside deck chairs) and read.
Oh and don't forget that the food on Deck 5 (Promenade Deck) is FREE, except for drinks and Ben&Jerry's ice cream. The pizza, sandwiches, cookies, cake, muffins is all complimentary. But since it's behind a glass case (and not self-serve) it's not obvious, I guess. We felt so sorry for a family that didn't realize that until they were leaving! Oops! And another piece of advice, you can order 2 or more meals at dinner too. So when it's lobster night, be sure to get plenty! Bon Voyage!
My approach is going to be a hybrid of review and suggestions based upon experience.
To begin with 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. Your objective should be to maximize day one.
Its always a good idea to arrive in the departure port the day before and stay overnight at a local hotel. San Juan has dozens of 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. First, it costs far less than the Caribe Hilton with the added bonus of a morning breakfast that includes a couple of hot items. Mostly the choices are toast,bagels, English muffins, fruits, cereal, juices, coffees, etc. This saves you on breakfast for 2 in the morning which won't be cheap in San Juan unless you find a McDonalds.
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, just ask the driver what it will cost. From your hotel the next morning you can again hail a cab and pay a defined price to the pier. Ask people at the front desk for info on cabs. NOTE: they charge an additional $1.00 per bag that goes in the trunk.
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:
Problem 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. RCCL does nothing thing to stop this so its YOUR problem, not theirs.
Problem 2: Bags arrive at the pier whenever the cartage company truck arrives. We once arrived at the pier just before 6:00 PM and our bags didn't arrive until nearly midnight. Until they arrived we presumed them to be lost and sought help from the cruise line (Celebrity) 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. This latest trip we got lucky and our bag arrived by 3:00 PM. That is a fluke.
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 board 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 nearly 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.
DO NOT USE RCCL TRANSFERS.
ONLINE CHECKIN; 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. I suggest you do that yourself from home over the Internet. 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.
EMBARKATION: 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. While they are better than the cartage company they hire to transport your bags, nonetheless, your bags are still out of your control. Those bags then arrive at any time during the day so don't count on getting them any time soon. My suggestion is to bring with you any bags you carried on the plane. Note that large bags cannot go through their xray machines and must be handled by RCCL. You hand carry (roll) all other bags to insure their safety and timely arrival at the ship. This insures you'll at least have something.
THE SHIP: 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 the price).
CABIN CHOICE: 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. Room aft (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 quite down and behave. Midship, having lots of traffic by fact of location, offers little protection from jerks. We chose a room aft and not only was there little traffic but people were well behaved and we had no problems.
CHEAP ROOMS: In case you are not aware of this cruise lines offer rooms VERY cheap at the last minute to keep cabins full. This is desirable for them because that way the room attendants and dining staff stand do lose less money due to high occupancy. I've heard that Carnival lets rooms go for as low as $200.00 last minute. But keep in mind this is usually only possible for locals, which in the case of Miami led to noisy, unruly, barbarians. In the case of San Juan I found that to be much less of a problem. So you ALWAYS want to carefully consider the departure port for this reason.
DINING: 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 so 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.
Portofinos has great food and offered the best tenderloin I've ever had. Great deserts! Worth the $20.00 per person. Make your reservation(s) as soon as you board the ship. It can be a great escape from noisy diners in a really dignified environment.
DINING ROOM DRESS: 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.
BEDS: 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 thin it's not bad in the middle. My wife and I had plenty of room.ALCOHOL:
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 security purposes, they x-ray your bags so you are not going to sneak on liquor. But hopefully RCCL won't read this and I can pass this on to you: at San Juan pier we purchased liquor at the pier shop (AFTER we went through port security - the guys that x-ray bags) and then brought the liquor on the ship. After you go through port security no one gets intrusive with your property. At the ship's door someone was there to greet us but didn't pursue our bag (with liquor inside) as they did on past cruises. So we did manage to sneak something on board. Even if it gets confiscated they return you liquor to you on the last night. Trust me - buy champagne!
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.
When driving a car in the Caribbean you have to keep in mind you are NOT in America, but rather, the 3rd world and they don't have a tax base to support the roads and infrastructure. For example we rented a car on Barbados and found it impossible to navigate because there are no road signs. None. I'm talking about standard signs like speed limit, warning signs, and even street signs. You have no idea what road you are on and no idea where to turn. And it gets worse because the roads are VERY narrow, unmaintained, and covered with potholes everywhere. Cars driven by locals are often full of dents so that tells you how little they care and how bad the roads are.
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. On St. Lucia we paid $55.00 each (2 of us for $110.00) for a 4 hour island tour. A car rental would have been 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 in island speak means a promisory 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.
Barbados:This island is a 3rd world pit. The roads are so bad you DO NOT want to rent a car there unless its a jeep. After driving on Barbados you'll have a new appreciation of how tax dollars provides services and infrastructure. I would NEVER consider opening a business on Barbados because it cannot support one. Most "houses" owned by locals are propped up on cement blocks (so it can be moved) and there's no utility hook ups. I have no idea what they did for electricity, water, and sewer. Be advised that houses are next to the street, there's a tiny curb, and between the curb and house there's a trench for drainage, which might be used as sewage also. Barbados is a total dump! Driving is on the LEFT with steering on the right.
St. Lucia: This was far better than Barbados but still a very poor island and some of the Barbados characteristics exist here also. You can see some of the palaces owned by the rich who control the island. Driving is on the LEFT with steering on the right.
Antigua: Yet another 3rd world island. We rented a car and the roads were slightly better than Barbados but likewise roads are not marked. It is smaller than Barbados and a bit easier to navigate. Betty's Hope Sugar Plantation is in ruins but still interesting, and free because no one is there to charge you. The wind mill is very scenic and appears to be in working condition. Nelson's Dock Yard is another worthwhile place to see and entrance is $5.00 per person. There's parking just off the entrance for free. But watch out for the rental return because its very hard to return a car to the cruise port - the town is a complete zoo. Driving is on the LEFT with steering on the right.
St. Maarten: Because driving was so difficult on other islands we gave up on a car rental. But you can take a water taxi from the pier to town for $6.00 and good for all day passage as often as you like. The town had been spruced up a bit since our last visit 3 years ago. Lots of shopping & very nice beach.
St. Croix: Since this is a U.S. territory the roads are more like America. The pavement is fairly maintained and there's actual signs to assist you. This might be a good place to rent and drive a car. Driving is on the LEFT.
There are tons of excursions offered by Royal Caribbean, but what's not generally known is there are other companies providing excursions. One such 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. Get your tickets as soon as they are offered, which I believe is Monday. There were 2 musical shows that are 'Broadway' and/or Las Vegas quality. Around the ship there are various other musicians and usually pretty good.
ART AUCTIONS: 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.
Park West used to claim they sell art for 60-80% below gallery prices. That's hogwash. Today, they no longer make that claim because people were catching on. On this last cruise they wanted over $6,000 for one of pieces from Salvador Dali's 100 illustrations from the Divine Comedy, which we purchased from Park West back in 1997 for $200.00. But if you check the Internet you'll find them being sold by Lockport Gallery (southwest suburb outside Chicago) and their websites says the Divine Comedy pieces go for only a few hundred dollars.
Park West appraisals come from outer space because they don't jive with the real world. You can get some good pieces but you MUST do your homework first. If you see something you like go research it on the Internet BEFORE you bid. The will NOT tell you the minimum bid they will accept so forget that. Watch out for opening bids because they can be very high.
About once in each auction they give a low opening bid for piece and let it go just to get the audience fired up, and so Park West can claim the buyer got a really great deal. Maybe they did and maybe they didn't. But be aware there are other places to buy art so don't feel obliged. Drink their champagne and wait until the end so you get your free artwork - which is an 8 x 10 that's probably not worth much. And don't forget the purpose of the champagne is to get you loosened up to buy are their prices.
Also, you can catch the Park West people on the cruise, let them know what you are interested in, and make them an offer. You're going to have to do it blind, having no idea what their minimum bid OR opening bid would be. FYI: Often their opening bid is higher (maybe MUCH higher) than their minimum bid, which typically are 2 different things.
WARNING: Park West auctioneers like to talk about the value of a piece and how it rises so quickly. Be advised - they are salesman and very slick. Many auctioneers are NOT knowledgeable. Buy artwork because you like it and NOT because some fast talking 29 year-old says it's a great buy. Trust your instincts, not them.
Art work is shipped from a Detroit suburb and we've never had a problem. HOWEVER, you WILL see some reviews in which people describe their nightmares with Park West.
DISEMBARKATION: 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.
OVERALL CONCLUSION: We had minimal problems with obnoxious people, probably because mid January is a highly desirable time to travel so there's not too many cheap tickets issued. Food was very good, entertainment was great, the ship is fantastic, I would take this ship and cruise itinerary again.
SUGGESTIONS:It's worth it to try to sneak on alcohol at San Juan. It's your property. Don't miss the ice show. It has world class skaters and you'll see it up close rather than on TV. They are incredible on such a small ice rink. Check in online. Embarkation will be faster. DO everything possible to AVOID letting ANYONE to handle your bags. If you have problems with rude people at Windjammers then eat all meals in the dining room. WARNING: Be advised to avoid a confrontation with rowdy people. You are at sea and there is no local sheriff to arrest people. The ship's "security" will "file a report" which you CANNOT get a copy of for documentation or further legal matters. They WILL NOT cooperate with you. Been there, done that.
There were 3 couples on this trip, all forty-somethings cruising for the first time sans kids. We flew out Thanksgiving night on the red-eye nonstop from Los Angeles to San Juan on American. Given the state of the economy, I think airlines should be improving in flight customer service, not going backwards. Except for the in flight staff, the flight was uneventful.
We stayed at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan. In a word it was excellent!! I had read several reviews of this hotel on the Trip Advisor website, and was concerned about spotty service, but service was uniformly terrific!! I thought I had already gotten on the ship, as every staff member was friendly and said hello with a smile. The one very minor problem I had was taken care of very quickly, and with a smile. The property was lush, well maintained and beautiful. The private beach was wonderful. Enough about the hotel, and onto the ship.
We arrived at the port at noon after sitting in very heavy traffic for about 35 minutes. The largest ship I had cruised on before this was a Princess Grand Class ship,so WOW was this ship huge!! They had just started allowing passengers to board when we got in line, so we went through the check in process and were on board in about 20 minutes -- that was the second fastest I had ever experienced. Once onboard, we were told that cabins would not be available until 2pm, so we headed up to the Windjammer buffet for lunch. We were greeted by Santiago the singing waiter, and went inside. The buffet was a typical buffet, but the food was hot and fresh.
At 2, we went to our cabin, and dropped off our stuff, and we were greeted by our terrific cabin attendant Linda. She kept everything sparkling clean and provided towel animals on several nights. After going to the cabin, I left my wife to do the unpacking, and I went exploring. I was impressed by the variety of activities available, and all of the public spaces. While this ship is seven years old, and did show some wear, it was very clean and well kept, and I saw crew constantly cleaning. The only negative comment I have up to this point is about the lack of hand sanitizer throughout the ship. There was NONE! My wife and one of the other couples started to feel like they had a cold by Friday, and they are still sick almost a week later. After the required muster drill, we went up on deck for sail-away, got our first frosty drink and watched Puerto Rico move off into the distance.
We had late seating dinner, so off we went into the Mozart dining room, and the aforementioned Santiago the singing waiter turned out to be our assistant waiter. He and our waiter Aristides were excellent. Our head waiter Neeraj was also wonderful. This was my 9th cruise, and I don't think I have ever had a better dining room experience. We had six wonderful dinners during the week with them. The reason for only six is that all of us went to the Murder Mystery Dinner on the first formal night. DO NOT MISS THIS! It was kind of corny, but a lot of fun. There was no night that I could not find something that I liked on the dinner menu. Most nights there were at least 2 desserts that I wanted to try and usually did! For those of you wondering, yes there was lobster, but it was on a casual night instead of formal because, according to our head waiter, they were getting too many complaints about stains on formal wear!
Onto the ports -- Aruba: Never left the main shopping area, so I don't have much to say about this one.
Curacao: Here is my one big fat honkin negative complaint. We took the Jewish Heritage Tour, and the supposed tour guide either had never done this tour before, or after she was trained, she just decided to make up facts and figures along the way. I was truly disappointed about this, and when I returned to the ship I complained to the tour desk, and was given a form to fill out. I filled it out and returned it, and after investigation, RCCL refunded the full amount for this tour. The port was beautiful, and I think I could learn to live there.
St Maarten/St. Martin: I think it is a toss up between this port and St. Thomas for the most beautiful. We took the city highlights tour here and really liked the tour guide Marcel and the tour. Did a little shopping here and just like Curacao. I think I could learn to live there.
St Thomas: Did some shopping and tried to go to the synagogue here, but it was the sabbath, and it was locked in the afternoon when we got there. However, we got lucky in that a member of the congregation showed up as we arrived, and allowed us to at least get some great pictures of the harbor and Charlotte Amalie from on the balcony of a house the congregation owns and uses as its banquet hall. Sadly once back aboard, it was time to start packing.
Disembarkation was very slow to begin with, but once it started it took very little time to get to our luggage, and clear customs. After a second lousy flight on AA, we were back in L.A.
The last cruise I took was an Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Pearl, and I thought that the food and service were very good, but after several cruises with choice dining, I forgot just how much I really liked connecting with the wait staff. We were trying to decide whether to take NCL or RCCL for our next cruise, as we had no really big complaints with either. After this cruise, I give the edge to RCCL, as their food and service were just that much better. All in all, this was a great cruise on a great itinerary, and we will cruise RCCL again soon.
My wife and I sailed on Adventure of the Seas on the 10/05/2008 sailing. In a word, it was great.
Pre-Cruise We flew into San Juan on Friday, 10/03. It was a direct flight from Hartford, and, believe it or not, was only 60% full! We had plenty of room to stretch out. We arrived at a little after 1:00 PM, and took a cab to the Marriott Stelaris on Ashford Street. It is an absolutely gorgeous property. We had a corner room on the 19th floor.
We looked around the immediate neighborhood after we settled in, and had dinner at Tuscany, one of the restaurants in the hotel. Wonderful, but not inexpensive.
Saturday we took a free bus to Old San Juan and wandered around. In retrospect we should have waited until later in the day or evening, as it was very warm and humid. We had lunch and went back to the hotel. We went to church, came back and had some gelato -- there is a small store right up the block from the hotel -- and settled in to watch the ocean from the balcony for therest of the evening. Sort of practice for the cruise.
Embarkation We left the hotel and arrived at the ship at approximately 11:15 AM. We were somewhat surprised that there were no porters waiting for the cabs in order to help with luggage. So we started to drag ours through a line to where they were which took about 10 minutes. We are used to Fort Lauderdale where the porters will take the luggage from right next to the cab. No big deal, just different.
We were in line waiting when an RCI employee noticed that we had a junior suite. She immediately escorted us to the front of the line where we went through security and then immediately to the desk where we were given our Sea Passes. This is a great perk as the line was long and it was already hot.
So off we go, up escalators and ramps and finally at the ship itself where once again, we go through security. Once again, everything through the scanners. Again, no big deal, but having gone through once already, this was unexpected.
We then went to our cabin, 9264, starboard side, and dumped our carry-ons and put valuables in the safe. This was around 11:50. While they say the rooms won't be ready until 2:00 PM, ours was. We met the steward and he said it was OK to leave our stuff. Then off to the Windjammer for a bite and then walk the ship for familiarization.
Cabin As I mentioned, we had a junior suite, and compared to other cabins we have had, it was really large. There was a walk-in closet with floor to ceiling shelves and a long clothes rack with plenty of hangers. The bathroom had counter space as well as a cabinet on either side of the mirror for storage. There was also a shelf underneath the counter. It had a bathtub/shower which provided plenty of room. For once I didn't wash the sides of the shower enclosure while showering!
There was a queen size bed, a sleeper sofa, 2 chairs and a small glass topped table. There was also a large mirror with cabinets on either side, and plenty of drawers and other cabinets as well. There was so much storage space that my wife, who packs quite a bit, didn't need all of it.
The balcony was large, with 2 chairs, a chaise and a small table. We are now spoiled for life, and will be sad if we go back to regular balcony cabins.
Our steward was excellent, making different towel animals every night, keeping the cabin spotless, and always attending to it early. We gave him an additional tip in addition to the normal suggested amount which we opted to put on our Sea Pass account.
The Ship The last time we sailed RCCL was in 1999 aboard Monarch of the Seas. It was our first cruise. We thought Monarch was huge when we first saw it. At somewhat over 1,000 feet in length, AOS dwarfs it in comparison.
There is the usual Windjammer in the aft of the pool deck, with the main pool in front of that. This is separated from the Solarium, or adult pool, by bathroom facilities, and back to back bars. The Solarium has 2 jacuzzi's and a small pool. In front of it are the forward elevator bank, and then the spa. We spent all of our pool time in the Solarium area. The only drawback to this was that you could not hear the band as it was near the main pool. Still, it was really nice.
The Promenade, with all the shops and small bars and restaurants is a sight to see. We ate lunch a couple of times at the coffee place (can't recall the name) when we had returned to the ship and it was peak time in the Windjammer. Rather than wandering looking for a table, it was just easier to go there, have a couple of slices of pretty decent pizza, and some pastries, and finally a coffee. In fact, this is where I would go each morning to get the free coffee from the dispensers, and it wasn't all that bad. Not Dunkin' Donuts to be sure, but acceptable. I did this rather than room service, because we are early (6:00 AM) risers, and room service doesn't start usually until 7-ish.
The casino is pretty large, and we made sure to donate our usual few dollars. The theater is also large and has pretty good sight lines. It was interesting that even though the theater has 2 levels, one on deck 3 and the other on deck 4, we never saw anyone in the upper (deck 4) level seats. I have no idea why.
The ship is easy to navigate around as all but a couple of decks have pass through companion ways. This is unlike the Caribbean Princess which we were on last year and had a difficult time getting from fore to aft. I do not like that ship's layout at all.
There are 3 dining rooms in the aft of the ship named Mozart, Strauss, and Vivaldi. All nicely done.
Food It was OK. Some things were excellent, while others were just OK. One thing we did notice was that the menus were not sectioned with Appetizer, Salad, Soup, Entrée, and Dessert. Rather, the left hand page held choices for appetizer, salad and soup, while the right hand page was for entrees. We were never asked what we wished for each course. While I know we could have had all courses, we ordered an appetizer and then the entrée, followed by dessert. Perhaps someone can shed some light on how long this has been going on with RCCL, because it was not that way last year on Princess.
Our waiter, Cyrus, and his assistant were excellent. Cyrus does look like Buddy Holly though. Doesn't know the words to Peggy Sue though.
The one shining moment food wise was Portofino's. We were both absolutely amazed at the presentation, service and quality of food there. We each had the filet, and it was easily one of the best we have ever had. I can't recommend this strongly enough to anyone who wants quality dining. Granted, it's extra, but worth every penny.
One night we skipped the main dining room and went to the Windjammer instead. It was a buffet, and the food was good. They also had a guitarist playing during the time we were there. It was actually a pleasant break from the normal formal dining room routine, and we enjoyed it.
Entertainment If you can at all help it, do not miss the Ice Show. Those performers, doing what they did on an abbreviated ice surface, with the ship moving, are not to be believed. The house was packed and with good reason.
We also really enjoyed both production shows. We thought the dancers were excellent, and the singers good as well. Granted, it's not Broadway, but then what else is? These kids worked their butts off for 45 minutes, and it was good. We did miss the Motown group and heard they had them dancing in the aisles.
Ports Aruba: It rained, and there is nowhere you can buy an umbrella. Took a bus to check out the Marriott Ocean Club (stunning). Bought the magnet and t-shirt, got the DI charm bracelet for the grand daughter and went back to the ship. Next time we will explore more.
Curacao: It didn't rain; walked to the shopping area, got the magnet and t-shirt, took a couple of photos, then headed back to the ship. FYI -- internet access was $1.50 per 30 minutes, which is a great rate.
St. Maartin: Picked up the freebies for the grandkids, a ring for our daughter (and one for my wife as well), and went back to the ship. This was our 4th time there.
St. Thomas: Just went to Havensight where we got another DI charm for our granddaughter, then back to the ship. It rained late morning.
Sea Days We spent our time in the Solarium alternating between the lounge chairs, the pool and the jacuzzi's. We met 2 other couples from Connecticut in the pool at the same time we were. What are the odds?
Miscellaneous I want to give a plug for AOS Guest Services here. In particular Vanessa Rodriguez. When we booked the cruise it was with a $300 on board credit. When we checked our account the Monday after we sailed, it wasn't there. After emails and phone calls to out TA, it appeared that the credit was somewhere in Royal Caribbean's system. Vanessa took ownership of the issue and got it resolved the Wednesday after sailing. We were so grateful for this as we had factored that in our budget. I hand wrote a note to her manager describing what she had done and expressing our thanks. She is good people.
Disembarkation It was the usual thing. We went to the theater to wait for our number to be called. We were in group 3. Well, it was never called until the announcer said that they were disembarking groups 1, 2, 3 and G. No big deal, but that meant that a whole bunch more people now had to climb up the stairway to deck 4 at once. Still, from the time of the announcement until we were looking for the luggage wasn't more than 20 minutes.
We got a porter who helped find our bags, got us through Customs, and got us a cab. This is really the only way to do it. I tipped him well, and we were on our way back to the Marriott.
Post-Cruise This time we had a regular ocean front room on the 18th floor. Since it was very near the corner of the hotel where our other room had been, we had a great view of the ocean as well as Old San Juan.
Our plan was to use the pool Sunday afternoon, but the intermittent rain showers prevented that. So my wife enjoyed the balcony and I watched some football. We had an early dinner, and hit the sack fairly early.
We left San Juan at 8:30 that morning and arrived in Connecticut around 3:15 that afternoon. Walked in the house around 4:30.
Conclusion It was a great cruise, and we had concluded that we are "big ship" people. The staff on board was wonderful, and we will definitely sail RCCL again. Our dream cruise however is a 10-11 day Med cruise, and we are eyeing Celebrity's Solstice, but a lot has to come together to make that happen.
In the meantime, I would heartily recommend AOS to anyone.
This was the 7th cruise RCI for my wife and I. This cruise was scheduled for 7-nights in the Southern Caribbean embarking from San Juan Puerto Rico, with stops in Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Thomas.
Pre-Cruise We arrived in San Juan on Friday. Our flight from Chicago was on time and we arrived in the afternoon. We booked 2 nights at the San Juan Intercontinental Resort and Casino. We had a great room; the hotel is situated right on the beach and has one of the most beautiful pool areas I have ever seen. The staff and service were great, comfy bed and a very clean room. The only downfall of the Intercontinental is the food prices at the restaurants; the cheapest beach grill item was a $12 hotdog! However, there were many dining alternatives right across the street, including a steak house, 2 delis, a bakery, and a Puerto Rican diner. On Saturday, we toured Old San Juan and saw the El Morrow fort and the old city wall. Also we visited the burial site of Ponce de Leon. Sunday we slept in and left forthe ship around noon.
Embarkation This was easiest embarkation we ever had! From the time we walked out of the hotel room, checked out, got a taxi and drove to the port, checked in our baggage, went through security, entered the check-in line for Platinum members, checked in and was walking on the ship was a total time of……35 minutes! We did the online check-in and once again made our check-in time with the clerk only about 2 minutes. Just FYI, the Adventure of the Seas docks at the newer Pan American Pier for embarkation and debarkation, not the cruise docks in Old San Juan. A lot of reviews will tell you to stay at the Sheraton Old San Juan and the ship will dock right across the street, this is no longer the case.
The Ship We were blown away by the size and beauty of this ship! This is our 2nd cruise on a Voyager class ship, but for some reason, this ship seemed so much larger and more elegant. The Royal Promenade and the other public areas almost seemed to sparkle. The ship has 2 pools on deck 11, the main pool and an adult solarium. The sports deck has a basketball court, climbing wall, mini-golf course, roller blade track and a golf simulator. Being a Voyager class ship, the Adventure has an ice rink. The Viking Crown lounge is split into a couple of different areas, including a 19th hole lounge and the Blue Moon lounge. The children's area in the back of deck 12 has a small water slide and nice play area. I really couldn't find any flaws with the public areas, the crew was constantly cleaning and polishing and we had a full ship with never had a crowd anywhere.
The Cabin We booked an E2 balcony cabin, but received an upgrade to a D1 balcony about a week before we left. Our cabin was on deck 6, starboard side and forward. We felt the gentle rolling of the seas and slept great on this cruise. The balcony was more than adequate and we really enjoyed the view. No different than any other D1 balcony, decent room to move around, a nice couch area, no flat screen TVs yet, and the standard RCI stand-up shower and bathroom.
The Staff Of course the highlight of any RCI cruise is the service. Every crewmember had a smile and a greeting for me morning, noon and night. Our stateroom attendant did spectacular, kept the cabin spotless and handled our simple request with ease. One change is RCI will only fill the ice bucket in the evening now, no longer in the morning unless the guest requests it. Our dining room staff was the true stars of our cruise experience. Our entire wait staff performed superbly. They were so nice, we enjoyed talking to them every night. Everywhere we went the service from the RCI crew was great.
Ports of Call After a day at sea to start, our 1st stop was Barbados. We bought an excursion taking a catamaran ride and swimming with sea turtles. This was really fun, and our tour guides did a great job as well. Our 2nd stop was St. Lucia, we had some morning rain showers here and not the best weather. We had a complimentary day pass to the Sandals Regency Resort for the day, and spent the entire day in the Sandals pool. Our 3rd stop was Antigua, we also had a complimentary day pass to the Sandals Grande Resort and with much better weather, we spent this day tanning and swimming in the resort pool. Our 4th stop was St. Maarten. We booked an island tour that showed us both the Dutch side and the French side of the island. The tour took about 3 hours and we saw both the good and the bad of both sides. We had a particularly good tour guide on this tour; we spent some time in Marigot, the French side capitol and did some shopping. Out last stop was St. Thomas, USVI. Here we took a ferry tour over to St. John and did some snorkeling at Trunk Bay and took the underwater snorkeling trail. My only complaint was our tour guide who tried to be both a comedian (he wasn't funny) and a political persuader to the visiting US tourist for his favorite Presidential candidate. I, and many around me, didn't care for this and we reflected this in his tip. We don't go on vacation to get a live political commercial; we get enough of that at home. The island of St. John is a must see, 2/3 of the island is a national forest reserve, and Trunk Bay is a national underwater marine reserve. This was the most beautiful Caribbean island I have ever seen!
Dining I was pleasantly surprised at the increased quality of food on this RCI ship. We had noticed a downward trend in our previous cruises, but I noticed they made an effort to make better food in the Windjammer and kept rotating the food so it didn't sit under the warmers for long. The lack of variety is still in the Windjammer, but the quality is better. The dining room showed markedly increased quality. The menus are now hard backed, no more flimsy cardboard menus. We had many different entrees to choose from, and we could order as much as we wanted, including the lobster. The real highlight of the cruise was the Portifinos dining experience on our last night onboard. We have never had a better dining experience, and since this was our 5th wedding anniversary, the staff made our experience very special and something to remember forever. Also, let me say we once again lucked out and had great dining tablemates this cruise. We ate with a couple from the Atlanta area that was retired high school educators. What a pleasant and interesting couple to share a table with every night. Between our tablemates, the better quality food and the wait staff, this was our best dining cruise yet!
Entertainment Our entertainment was really a mixed bag on this cruise. We had 2 outstanding entertainment experiences, 1st was the ice show we saw on Tuesday evening. It is called "Hot Art, Cool Ice". It was an art expression themed show, it was spectacular and well worth going to see. The 2nd great entertainment we had was the BeatleMania Live show. The actual BeatleMania Live band from Las Vegas was doing a short tour of RCI ships and performed a shortened BeatleMania show for the ship. A really great concert that had us literally dancing in the aisles! The comedians weren't really funny, the same old cruise jokes about the sucking toilets, small showers and tiny cabins, and we have heard these same jokes on every cruise. We did enjoy the El Goucho from Uruguay, and the juggler. The Cruise Director, Mike, was really funny and did some great magic tricks and was very entertaining throughout the cruise. The cruise had the same Quest and Love & Marriage shows. They did do a new show called the "Cruise Family Feud", which is modeled after the TV game show and was unique and very funny.
Disembarkation We used the luggage valet for out debarking. We paid the $20 each, got our boarding passes for the return flight along with our airline luggage tags on Saturday night. We placed both the cruise line and airline luggage tags on our bags, and placed them outside the cabin by midnight. We were out of the room by 8am on Sunday, had breakfast and relaxed in the Platinum & Diamond special departure lounge until our group was called. We were off the ship in about 10 minutes, claimed our bags and walked them a few feet to the airline representative in the pier and didn't see them again until we claimed the bags at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. After getting off the ship, we stood in line for a taxi to the airport, and suddenly realized this was the 1st line we had stood in all week!
Overall Report I would definitely give this cruise a 9.5 out of a 10. We just had an awesome time, met some great new friends, visited beautiful islands, cruised on a wonderful ship and had the best anniversary we could've asked for. This cruise was VERY port intensive, and full of activity. When we got home, we slept for at least 12 hours straight! I highly recommend this cruise to adventure seekers, history buffs, active people and eco/nature buffs as well. The good weather, great service, beautiful ship and spectacular Caribbean islands made this our best anniversary cruise yet! One we will always remember.
We paid for transfers to and from the Pier in San Juan thru RCCL. While we did make our transfers both ways it should be noted that the bus we had going to the pier was ancient and the air conditioning could have worked better, but we made it. For $59 RCCL could have provided a better bus.
Embarkation in San Juan was not a breeze. We arrived around 12:45 PM and had to wait in a line the entire width of the terminal. It was HOT and humid. Finally after about 25 minutes we made it inside to check in. I would suggest to anyone on this departure port to dress lightly and buy a bottle of water at the airport.
Our cabin was great. We ordered a balcony and we got cabin 6514, which is the very first cabin on the starboard side in the front. In fact it does not share a balcony hole with its neighbor as most do.
See our pictures at cruisemates.com/gallery/view.php?id=3938
I have to mention this ship oddly does not have a glass balcony wall. It has heavy steel with big holes cut out. Iliked the glass better.
The cabin showed no wear and tear and was very comfortable. This is a delux which affords over 200 SF and I would say is as big as a carnival balcony if not slightly bigger. This was a surprise because all you hear is how RCCL cabins are smaller, and this is probably true, but not if you spend a few extra bucks for a deluxe cabin.
We are not cruising to watch TV, but I must mention that most of the channels play RCCL content and its mostly very old programming from a few years ago. They could spruce the tv programming up a bit. RCCL does offer CNN as well as a few other channels live, but it's not that good.
The crew was really friendly. I mean I have never seen such a friendly crew. Everyone welcomes you and says hello. We even got telephone calls from the front desk and the spa asking how everything was. A very nice touch. Our dining room attendants were excellent.
Food The food in the Windjammer is very good. It does not taste like mass-made food. It was always fresh and hot and they had a good variety with one exception.
Breakfast was the same every day. Eggs, either plain scrambled, or with some addition such as onions or shrimp, links, bacon, pancakes, waffles etc.
A little variety would be nice RCCL.
I must say the little pre-made omlettes are a nice touch.
The scammbled eggs still have a funny texture. I'm not sure why but I have seen this on every RCCL ship.
Lunch and dinner were exceptional in Windjammer.
Main Dining Room: Every meal we had was great. Lots of taste, portions were good with one exception. Night six did not offer much for desert, just ice cream. I went to Ben and Jerrys instead.
Portofino's: Nice ambiance, great service. The food is ok, I would say no better than the dining room.
Room Service: Has a nice selection and is just as good as Windjammer.
Bar Service The drinks were all made very well. I drink amongst other things Mohito's, and they knew how to make a Mohito properly.
I have one BIG complaint: Someone has lost their mind at Royal Caribbean. It now costs $48 for one Soda card for a seven-day cruise. This is outrageous! It cost pennies to fill a glass with soda. I find this disturbing and a little greedy on the part of the cruise line.
The Ship This ship is amazing! It has anything you could dream to want to do, including an ice skating rink, a "main street" with little shops and bars, a screening room, basketball, jogging, theatre, many restaurants, spa, a helipad, and much much more.
If you like big ships, this is your girl. I also liked that even though this ship was filled at capacity, you almost never felt scrunched together like you do on some Carnival ships. There are wide open spaces where you can walk.
The ship is in very good shape, I saw no wear and tear on carpets or furniture for the most part. Everything was clean, the crew were constantly cleaning and you just generally felt like you could let down your guard and not worry about grime.
I saw no rust, and the crew looked like they are constantly painting and washing the outside. A++++ on the ship's condition.
The ride was very smooth also. This ship is HUGE, waves get out of its way. I hardly ever felt much motion at all. When I did, it was the gently rocking side to side that I love when I am falling asleep.
In summary, I was very impressed with the Adventure of the Seas, so much so that I cannot compare Carnival to RCCL anymore because this class of ship is much better than anything Carnival has got, period.
One final note: Book all of your excursions early, they go quick. It's hard as heck to win at Bingo, wait until the last night to play the $2000 jackpot, and stay away from that silly money pusher game machine, you will never put enough in it to push that $50 over.
Our flight was delayed 7 hours in Philadelphia, compliments of US Airways. Initially, when finding out about the delay and the fear that the Adventure of the Seas would be leaving us behind, there was panic. But finding strength in numbers (about 120+ were affected), passengers banded together and began a rigorous 2 hours of contacting US Airway Customer Service (they were NOT sympathetic) and RCCL. After several hours and numerous phone calls, RCCL agreed to postpone the departure time from San Juan. We arrived at the ship at 8:15 pm and did not depart until 10:00 pm. We must compliment RCCL Customer Service and the Captain for showing some understanding in the situation.
Embarkation was smooth and uneventful. This was a plus as we were exhausted after leaving home at 2:00 am to catch a flight that left at 6:15 am, and arriving in Philadelphia at 7:30 am for the unexpected 7 hour delay. We did take advantage of the online check-in prior to our leavinghome. It was easy for even me, a person who is not always comfortable with on-line activities.
The ship was a city within itself. It was amazing to stand on the promenade deck and think that it was actually a ship. Our cabin was a balcony stateroom. It was a little on the small side, but yet large enough for 2 people.
One of the most enjoyable times was spending time sitting around the dining table in the evenings and sharing a meal with two other families. One family had 3 children (12, 15 and 16) and the other family had 2 children (7 and 10). My husband and I are grandparents. I found it interesting that after the first evening, our waiter pulled me aside and asked if I was ok with the set-up. What he did not realize that it brought back fond memories of when we had taken our children on a family cruise several years ago. We still cherish those memories and certainly enjoyed being a part of the family bonding that we were able to observe going on with these 2 families.
The waiter and assistant waiter went out of their way to make our dining experience wonderful. Pitty, assistant waiter, figured out our likes from the very first meal, and we rarely had to ask for anything. Our waiter was always a wealth of knowledge, making recommendations for each of the ports of call. He had been cruising for 15 years and shared with us that August would be the end of his cruising days, as he pursues plans to share his life with a special girl waiting back home.
St. Lucia: Taking a cruise can be exciting, but bring much anxiety when trying to determine where to go, what to see, and who to use for a guide during the visits to the various ports. There were so many options given by the cruise ship, but we decided to go independent and seek a private tour, prior to our departure date, that would give us a taste of what the island was really like from the perspective of someone who lived there. We were not disappointed.
Fabian's Taxi Tour Service of St. Lucia, email@example.com provided an absolutely wonderful experience for my husband and me. Fabian, himself, met us at the pier and spent the day sharing the beauty of St. Lucia with us. We started our tour as we traveled through the capital of Castries. We visited Walcott Square, where we were able to see a large Samaan Tree, which is over 400 years old. We drove the winding, mountainous road heading south where we were able to see several fishing villages. The views were breathtaking, including Marigot Bay. Part of the tour included driving through the rain forest, which gets 160 inches of rain/year. We visited the Toraille Waterfalls/Botanical Gardens and Sulfur Springs, a drive-in volcano. We had never experienced the sulfur smell of a volcano or the bubbling, black lava. He shared the history of the island that dates back hundreds of years. We were able to see several churches that were over 200 years old. We sampled local foods (tasting freshly made cassava bread, coconut cookies, fresh coconut, sugar cane, banana ketchup and the best, freshly baked bread ever). He provided unlimited beverages including local beer, rum punch, soda and water. We hit the bottled water heavily that day, but could not finish the day without tasting the rum punch. We had the opportunity to swim at Jalousie Beach that lies between the Pitons, Gros and Petit. We stopped along the road and had lessons on the growing of bananas and cashews. We now understand WHY cashews are so expensive in the US! Fabian stopped and bought roasted cashews so that we could taste how the locals prepare them. We were allowed to leisurely view each stop. It was a relaxed tour and one that Fabian created to meet OUR expectations. His vehicle was air-conditioned and comfortable. We could have invited others to join us, but we chose to make it OUR day. We now have our pictures to remind us of an unforgettable day. We promised Fabian we would share our experience with others upon our return home.
Tourism is th primary income source for St. Lucia. Word of mouth is the best advertisement for success. We highly recommend using Fabian's Taxi Tour Service when visiting St. Lucia. His ultimate goal is one of customer satisfaction. He went BEYOND our expectations.
St. Maartin: Upon leaving the ship in St. Maartin, we met up with a couple who we had met in the dining room the day before. We were making plans to walk into town and explore the shopping opportunities, when during our conversation, they invited us to join them for a private tour that they had scheduled prior to their departure from home. The pre-arranged tour was with Joyce Phillips. I must say our decision was an absolute excellent one. Joyce immediately made us feel welcome.
We began the tour stopping in town for some shopping. Once we finished, she began the journey through the town, taking us through residential areas, giving us a clear picture of life on the island. We were able to visit both the Dutch side of the island, as well as the French. We wanted to go to the beach in the afternoon. She took us to a beach that most would never have visited – Divi Beach. It was beautiful and not crowded at all. We gave her a pick-up time and she was waiting on us at the designated location.
She had lived most of her life on the island and was a wealth of knowledge. She directed us to the best places to shop for jewelry. I am happy to say that we made a few purchases. Our tour lasted 6.5 hours and she only charged $35.00/person + tipping. Joyce provided a quality tour. She really knows how to "sell" her island. We would like to return and spend some extended time on St. Maartin.
St. Thomas: We had already decided that we were going to visit Magan's Bay and relax our last day in port. We made the choice to go to the beach in the morning. It was wonderful. While everyone else was shopping, we arrived at the bay with very few on the beach. It was peaceful and beautiful. By the time we left at 12:00, it had become quite congested. A wise decision to go early.
Disembarkation was every bit as easy as embarkation. We enjoyed visiting with friends that we had made during the time that we were waiting to leave.
RCCL is a cruise line that we would re-visit. We were satisfied with the customer service, the cleanliness of the ship, our dining experiences and the many opportunities/activities available.
We flew the red-eye and after a stop in Atlanta arrived at the airport in San Juan a little after noon. We gathered our bags, took a short taxi ride to the pier and went through security, got our Sea Pass cards and were up eating lunch in the Windjammer before 1:30. A very quick and efficient process at the pier. However after a long overnight flight without a whole lot of sleep and the warm humid air we looked terrible in our boarding picture and it was the first time we didn't buy it.
The staterooms were available after 2:00 and we slept for a few hours before the muster drill which was at 6:00, without having to wear the lifejackets the muster drill was a lot quicker and more enjoyable a great change on Royal Caribbeans part. Luggage was delivered soon after the drill was over and after unpacking and a shower and change of clothes we were ready for the cruise to begin. The ship departs late at 8:00 and there was a great view of San Juan as we left. Ate dinner (second seating) in theMain Dining Room. The food was very good and so were our table mates (would someday like to find out how they assign table partners, we have always ended up with very good ones) the service was so-so the waiters seem to be handling more tables than they used to and could tell they were rushed trying to keep up.
The first day was at sea and gave us time to wander the ship. The weather was warm but was hazy so it seemed to keep a lot of people from the pool deck. We have cruised on two other Voyager class ships so we pretty much knew our way around. Spent time in the casino (won some so we didn't stay long) and just relaxed and enjoyed the only day at sea on this itinerary. We ate at the Windjammer for dinner, we actually eat most dinners there we like the quiet laid back atmosphere, good choice of food and since we were cruising this time without the kids we wanted to spend time alone.
First port-of-call Barbados, had not been to this island before and just wanted a nice relaxing beach day. We went to the taxi tent just outside the pier, the taxi system there was not set up well and would only leave when there was a full van (10-14 people) going to the same location. This took well over a half hour waiting for a full van and although the beach we went too (Blue Monkey Beach) was very beautiful and the water calm, there were so many locals trying to get you to buy things or ride the waverunners that it became very annoying and we left after a couple of hours. Went to "downtown" to try and find some souvenirs to buy but there but didn't have much luck. We also didn't have much luck trying to find something for lunch so we went back to the ship. We ate lunch played mini golf and hung out the rest of the day onboard. Overall one of my least favorite islands and would probably not go back. Ate at Portofinos, excellent food and service, although a bit slow to bring courses.
Second port-of call, St. Lucia an incredibly beautiful island. Spent the day at Reduit Beach a great beach with a nice beachside restaurant (Spinnakers) had a wonderful time and although there were a few people selling stuff they were all around in the morning but as the day wore on they left you alone. Went back to the pier at 3:30 did some shopping, the prices there are a bit more than at most of the islands but not too bad. Overall this was our favorite port because of the mountainous island, great beach with amenities and friendly people. Went to the Love and Marriage show, it was great and would recommend this as a don't miss activity.
Day 5 port-of call, Antigua another beautiful island, great taxi service. Our taxi driver was a sweat lady who gave us some history of the island as she drove us to Long Bay beach, didn't pay for taxi until after she returned us to the ship, which was great knowing that she would return at the requested time. Beach was excellent, calm water, very few people selling stuff. There were small shacks on the beach with t-shirts and drinks to buy. Had a great time did a little snorkeling. After returning to the pier we did some shopping and the prices were very inexpensive and a lot to choose from. Ate dinner at the Windjammer again and called it an early night.
Day 6 port-of-call, St. Maarten we have been here before and it is one of our favorites. Took the water taxi and shopped a bit before heading to the beach again. We asked the taxi driver to take us to Coconut Grove Beach (recommended by one of the locals) somehow though we ended up being taken to Orient Beach. I don't think he knew where the other beach was. We stayed at Orient Beach and had a wonderful time. Great amenities and lots of places to eat at. There were a few topless sunbathers but not too bad. Spent all day there and went back to the pier around 4:00 shopped a little right at the pier before boarding the ship. We decided to try the Main Dining Room again and although the food was good and our tablemates were great, the service was terrible.
The wrong drinks were brought, it was lobster night and my husband ordered lobster after his steak and never got it. My drink had a hair on the glass so I asked for a new drink and never got it. A couple at our table never got their coffee after dinner. We had way better service in the Windjammer. We went with the other couples from our table to the Quest show, it was excellent, hadn't laughed so hard in ages.
Last port-of-call was St. Croix, a very beautiful island with lots of beaches close to the pier. It was great to spend the day at the beach (Sandcastle Beach) where you can still see the ship. The beach was great with a nice little restaurant on the beach and drink service at your lounge chairs, and nobody hassling you to buy anything. There was locals selling t-shirts and stuff at the pier and overall the people are very laid back without anybody pushing you to buy stuff or taxi drivers trying to wrangle you. Will definitely have to go back.
Departure day, we had a later flight home so we picked luggage tags that weren't called till 10:15. We like that they let you leave your staterooms at your leisure and have the assigned departure lounges. After our color of tag was called we walked off the ship found our bags quickly and had one of the porters help us out (a wise decision) the taxi line was very long when we walked out but the porter went to the end of the line flagged a taxi and loaded our bags and we were off (I'm sure a lot of people in line wish they would have used the porters.) Same thing at the airport we had an airport porter help with our bags, the Delta check-in line was even longer than the taxi line was. The porter went to the front, printed our boarding tags retrieved our luggage tags took us to the front of the line and helped lift the bags on the scales and we were off. Quick note though you have to take your bags to the agriculture screening machines before lining up at the airlines line.
Overall experience was excellent, this is a port intense cruise so with an island stop five days in a row we didn't do much late night because of the early arrivals at the islands. Other than the bad experience with the waiter in the MDR we had friendly service everywhere else. Had an excellent waiter at night in the Windjammer (thanks Joel Ng) Both boarding the ship and departing went very smooth and very quick, definitely have the porters assist you when leaving. We love the Voyager class and would do this cruise again, would love to do it as a back-to-back and will at least have to look into doing the alternate itinerary.
Service -- Superb
Food -- Very good
Entertainment -- Enjoyable
Cabin (balcony) -- Comfortable
Organization of Ship -- Professional
Embarkation and Debarkation -- Smooth
Hard to find fault with any aspect of service.
I recently returned from a seven-day cruise aboard the Adventure of the Seas leaving from San Juan and calling on Aruba, Curacao, St Maartin and St Thomas. I was one of 66 cruisers participating in the 2008 Great Group Cruise, hosted by travel agent George Leppla and his wife Becca from Louisiana. This was my 32nd cruise overall and sixth on RCCL. I have been always impressed by RCCL and the way they present their product to the sailing public. My impression did not waiver on this cruise as they did a great job.
Embarkation Our group of four arrived in San Juan the day of the cruise. I realize that traveling from the New York area in the winter time poses a risk due to the weather, but we originally planned to arrive in San Juan the night before the cruise, but all the hotels I contacted in the San Juan area required a two night stay. The cost was a bit high, so we decided to take the risk and arrive the day of the cruise. We left JFK on a clear, but cold morning arriving at theairport within the two-hour guideline as suggested by the TSA for our 9:35 AM flight. We boarded an AA 757 and arrived in San Juan by 2:00 PM, leaving us plenty of time for the 8:00 PM departure. Using my FF miles, the R/T flight was only $5.00. can't complain about that. One of our travel companions had to pay full fare, about $350, so I saved a lot of cash using the FF miles. We retrieved our luggage from the baggage claim area and hopped in a van style cab and headed to the Pan American dock area where the AOS awaited. Upon exiting the cab I noticed that RCCL had a special section for Platinum and Diamond clients to transport their bags to the ship. I hailed a bag handler in this special section and entrusted our bags to him. Checking in was a snap and we bypassed all the lines because we had an individual that required wheelchair transport and were directed to a disabled counter where an agent awaited. We had our "Set Sail" paperwork completed pre cruise and were given our room keys and shipboard account cards. We were off to the ship in about ten minutes time after leaving the cab. Here I give RCCL five/five stars for a quick and painless embarkation process!
Cabin My cabin was located on Deck 6 forward #6568. This was a verandah cabin with plenty of room for two people. My two other traveling companions were located right next door in #6566. This was the lowest deck that offered verandahs and was one deck above the grand atrium and was over a clothing/dry goods shop. During the entire week, I did not hear a sound from Deck 5, even the nights RCCL had special events there. The cabin was very quiet with occasional sounds emitting from across the hall in the housekeeping closet. All and all it was a nice room and suited myself and cabin mate well. The shower had circular plastic doors, not shower curtains like other cruise lines. Shampoo was provided and I used the supply all week. There was plenty of space in the medicine cabinet for storage, though my cabin mate complained that I took up too much space with my toiletries and other bathroom supplies. I made room, but my friend used the countertop in the main cabin to store her stuff. The room was equipped with a 20" TV with satellite channels that played pretty well during the cruise, including TNT, USA, CNN, Fox News and WNBC Ch 4 from back home in NYC. The twin beds were very comfortable. Recently, RCCL has upgraded its bedding on all its ships and on some nights during the cruise I could not wait to get back into my cabin to enjoy the premium sheets and duvets. Other than the first night, I slept very well during the cruise and I was not disturbed by any noises from outside my cabin. My cabin steward, Mr. Paul, kept my room neat as a pin throughout the week, though the ice bucket availability needs improvement. He deserved the additional gratuity I and my cabin mate provided him at the end of the cruise. Rating: 4/5 stars.
Passengers Since the ship left San Juan, there were a lot of residents from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico aboard the ship. The Puerto Rican residents dressed to kill on formal nights and I enjoyed talking to them throughout the week. They were very nice and not rowdy as indicated on other cruise reviews I've read about on the AOS. There were a lot of kids aboard, but they were very well behaved. There was no screaming kids running about the hallways or riding in the elevators like I witnessed on other cruises. I never felt crowded while aboard, though the ship holds 3,000+ passengers. The mixture of mainland USA citizens of all ages and Puerto Rican residents made this cruise very enjoyable, at least for me. I did notice that a group of men traveling together from a Russian community from NYC almost caused a fight in the casino, which was quickly suppressed by RCCL casino security. I believe the dispute was caused by a Black Jack dealer who refused to offer gambling services to them because the group had a bit too much to drink. This same group also cleared out the men's sauna because of the loud talking. This was the only problem I noticed regarding the passengers during the week. Everyone seemed to get along together just fine.
Entertainment This was the first time in all my 32 cruises that I did not attend the nightly shows. I did see the ice show and it was terrific and I highly recommend it. The skating was truly professional. During the week, I did meet Ivan, the lead skater in the ice show and had a nice conversation with him. That was the only show I saw all week. I guess I was in a funky show mood. After 32 cruises, the showroom presentations are just about the same on all cruise lines. I promise that on my next cruise, I will try to see more shows and stay out of the casino! Rating: Ice Show 5/5 stars.
Ship The Adventure of the Seas, with a length of 1,020 feet, was once the world's largest cruise ship. The ship is immaculate with crew constantly cleaning and painting. She does not show her age (about 6 years old). I never saw an empty glass around and there was always a crew member there to remove it. The ice rink, rock-climbing wall, grand atrium, basketball court, and miniature golf course make this ship unique unto itself. It is a feast for the eyes as she sits proudly at a dock awaiting her passengers. Worn carpets were observed being replaced while in a port of call. In my opinion, she looks brand new. Most of our cruise was sailed in placid waters and I never felt any rolling -- just the usual movement felt aboard all ships.
Sanitary Conditions Not being an expert in shipboard sanitary conditions, I've decided to add this section because I experienced the cruise virus aboard another RCCL ship in 2007. The virus totally ruined my last sea day and forced me to go to sickbay for medical treatment. Thank the Lord I did not have any shipboard illness aboard the AOS. I was so careful this time, constantly washing my hands and using baby wipes when pressing the elevator buttons. I have read that the AOS was a hot bed for the virus and I was very careful during my week aboard. I only wish that sanitary wipes were distributed as you entered a dining area such as the Windjammer or one of the formal dining rooms. They were also not provided in the public rest rooms. They were distributed to all passengers as you embarked the ship from a port of call, but that was about it. I think RCCL could do a better job here. I did not know of any passengers that came down with the virus, though, for some reason, I lost my appetite on the second day of the cruise, but made up for it during the rest of the cruise.
Ports of Call As stated earlier, the ship called on Aruba, Curacao, St Maartin and St. Thomas. Having never been to Aruba and Curacao, I was eagerly awaiting my visit to these ports of call. I did not book any cruise tours from RCCL because of its high published costs. I understand that fuel costs are always increasing, but $50 for an hour city tour is a bit much. I simply booked a tour with one of the many cab drivers at the port of embarkation at a much-reduced rate. I had a great time.
Aruba: What a strange place, geographically I mean. One side of the island looks like a moonscape with boulders strewn about from a volcanic eruption millions of years ago, while the other side of the island looks like a typical Caribbean palm lined beach. I really liked this place and would love to stay there for a couple of days, well maybe some day. Our driver explained the story of a gold rush there and the donkeys that hauled the gold out of the ground. Some of the ancestors of the donkeys still roam the north beach area and are very gentle and friendly creatures. Our tour guide was a native Arubian that knew her stuff about Aruba and its history.
Curacao: Gee, could I extend my luck by booking another great tour from one of the cab drivers off the pier? My luck was about to run out. We boarded this gentleman's mini van for a tour of the island along with about another 10 Spanish-speaking passengers from the AOS. He promised us a bi-lingual tour, and it ended up 95% Spanish and 5% English. I missed the history lesson as it was spoken in Spanish. With my limited Spanish skills, I did understand some of it, like Playa (beach), gracias (thanks). That's where it ended. He did take us to see the floating bridge and a beach on the island. The colorful capital was just beautiful with its multicolored buildings. But Wait! Before we left the dock area, the lady sitting in front of me slammed down the jump seat right onto my left leg that was injured in an accident when I was a kid. The pain I experienced was unreal and the small cut on the scar drew blood. She said "Sorry" and that was about it from her. It kind of ruined my tour. One of my traveling partners did have a band-aid in her pocketbook, which helped stop the bleeding. This tour I give 0 stars of five. I did not even give the guy a tip because of his lack of English aboard the tour.
St. Maartin: Another beautiful day in paradise, with blue skies, low humidity and temps in the mid 80's. Life is good, I thought. It is January and here I am in summer, just a month after Christmas. I watched on the news about the below zero temps in the Midwest and here I am in summer on the beautiful island of St Maartin. What more could you ask for? I left the AOS by myself and headed for the water taxi, where five bucks gives you a ride to the downtown dock and back to the ship when you are ready to return. At the dock I met this taxi driver that offered me a tour of the French and Dutch side in an air-conditioned van for $25. I took him up on his offer. Myself and three other ladies from an Atlanta church group were passengers. After a five minute walk to his van, he told us his name is Joseph, but his friends call him Cobra Man. "I Sting" he says. He asked me to sit in the front seat with him because my leg was still hurting from the Curacao incident and there was more room. I was still trying to find out what he meant by "I sting." His tour was great and his knowledge of the island was impressive. When we crossed onto the French side, he felt that the French got the better side of the island, which I have to agree. We stopped at a jewelry store and had some refreshments on the house. One of the ladies purchased an earring set for several hundred dollars. Next stop was a nude beach on the French side. I knew my lady friends from the Atlanta church group were not too happy visiting a nude beach, but that is the culture of the island. There were some nude folks walking around and the ladies joked about a man that was frolicking in the waves in his birthday suit. We left the beach and returned to the water taxi dock for the return to the ship. It was a great tour and we left Cobra Man $30. I like St Maartin and would like to return again some day.
St. Thomas: The beautiful weather continues at our last port of call. No tour here, just a ride downtown for a visit to my friend Mac over at his jewelry store. With the price of gold so high, the price of Mac's products were out of sight, but I was glad that I paid him a visit. His family run business is not doing too well, so he says. It's the Europeans that buy today with the Euro conversion. The Americans have stopped spending because of the pending recession in the USA. I'm not too sure in his statements, but there were sure a lot of people taking cruise vacations this year. I did buy a nice figaro silver neck chain at a place near the ship for $60 bucks. Not too bad, I guess!
Food Breakfast: I ate breakfast in the Windjammer informal dining area on deck 11 aft. I tried to find a seat with some of my GGC friends and enjoyed their company during breakfast. Breakfast consisted of eggs, bacon, and sausage for me, though there were many choices available including custom made omelets, French toast, pancakes, poached eggs, fruits, cereals and sweet rolls. Coffee and juice was provided by the wait staff, which I think is a nice touch.
Lunch: I usually skipped lunch, availing myself of a slice of pizza, cookies and coffee on the grand atrium deck after 3PM. I did have lunch one day in the Windjammer and the food was fine and tasty for me. The lemonade was great!
Dinner: My group booked a late sitting dinner, which was seated nightly at 8:30 PM along with the rest of the GGC group. I thought the food was great all week and the service was excellent. I did enjoy the lobster tails on this cruise as I missed them on my prior RCCL cruise due to illness. Our waiter was right on the money with our orders. Again the service was great! The soups were not as salty as on prior cruises and I enjoyed the yummy desserts nightly. Now I need to get back on my weight loss regimen.
GGC Group Traveling with this group has been a wonderful experience. Since many of us have cruised together in the past, we are friends just waiting to see each other again. Yes, there were some first timers, as there always are. I would like to mention Mary Foster. She has been named Queen of the GGC's after having been on all ten of them. George Leppla did commend her on her support of the GGC concept and was given a well deserved gift. Mary is a fine lady and how she keeps up her stamina is beyond me. On the first day of the cruise, it is all hugs, kisses and handshakes as we meet old friends once again. What a wonderful way to start a cruise vacation. I hope the GGC concept lives on as it did on the Mercury in 1998.
Summary This was a great trip aboard a great cruise line that, in my opinion, really cares for its passengers. Yes, they do try to dollar you to death with the high prices on tours, pictures and liquor, but I suppose that is the way to go in a capitalistic economy. Every employee I passed in the hallway, elevator or anywhere else on the ship had a smile for you. That is the way it should be. I have been on cruises on other lines, where everyone looked grumpy and never made eye contact. RCCL employees try to make your cruise experience a memory that you cannot forget. The AOS is no exception to that rule. I will never forget this cruise and the fond memories of the ship, ports of call and fellow GGC'rs that I will keep in my back pocket for the rest of my life. Thanks George and Becca for making this all possible. I can't wait for my next one.