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Aaron

Age: 24

Occupation:Engineer

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Adventure of the Seas

Sailing Date: July 16th, 2006

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

My wife and I really enjoyed this cruise. Our 7-night trip itinerary consisted of boarding in San Juan, a day at sea, Aruba, Curacao, day at sea, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas. It was a nice pace to have two ports, one day at sea, two ports; it seems that too many islands in a row would be a bit tiring, and two days at sea would get a little long.

San Juan
We flew to San Juan a day early and would recommend this. May as well see Puerto Rico while you’re there. When you arrive at the airport, find the people in orange vests at the orange kiosk. They will get you a cab (for free) and make sure you know how much it should cost. We stayed in Old San Juan, which is right next to the pier. (Our view looked out over the cruise ships.) We did the walking tour of Old San Juan that was in our travel guide (Frommer’s Caribbean Ports of Call), which included the old city wall, city gate, El Morro fort, and others. It was a great way to see the sights. We also highly recommend Café Puerto Rico for dinner – very friendly service and good food. The next morning we went to see the El Yunque rainforest, booked through the hotel concierge. ($40 per person) It was cheaper (and more convenient) to see the rainforest through an organized excursion than it would have been by renting a car, taking a cab, or through the cruise line because it’s about a half hour drive away from Old San Juan / the pier.

Embarkation
We arrived at the pier around 3:00. Embarkation was quite hectic outside the building but very organized inside. Royal Caribbean could certainly do more to welcome travelers to their cruise by just putting up a few signs and having a few employees out there to direct people. Since they don’t, though, here’s what you do: If you are in a suite, you can take your luggage directly to the employees working at the luggage carts along the sidewalk. Otherwise, wait in the line/herd with your luggage and give it to the porters. Then you have to go back down the line and cut across the line in order to meet the employee who will check that you have your confirmation papers. They will send you on your way into the building where they will check your passport and give you your Sea Pass card, which serves as your onboard credit card and ID. (Honeymooners, it’s easiest to just book your cruise ticket in whatever name is on your passport / identification in order to avoid having last names on your ticket and identification that don’t match.) There is a duty-free shop in this building, but keep in mind you cannot bring alcohol onboard. Some reviews have stated that you can bring wine onboard and bring it to the dining room for a corking fee, but we learned that what this means is that you can buy wine in the onboard stores and bring it to the dining room. All alcohol is (supposed to be) checked when you board the ship. Pack a carry-on with clothes for dinner, because some friends didn’t get their luggage until after dinnertime. There's a muster drill after dinner on the first night. Bring your camera along with you for some fun pictures of all your friends (and everyone else) in their giant life vests!

The Ship
The ship was certainly impressive – very clean and spacious. The pools were nice, and they have the usual poolside band and games, although they could afford to turn the volume down on the pool games. There are plenty of chairs available on deck, even on the days at sea. Be sure to check out the peek-a-boo bridge where you can look in on the ship’s bridge. Also, I think that you can walk out on the helicopter pad at the ship’s bow, but we didn’t realize this until the end of the cruise. For the ice skating shows, there’s a huge line for tickets when they first give them away, but there were plenty to pick up at the Guest Relations desk later on. Our tablemates went to the “Quest” scavenger hunt show (adults only) and had a great time. We did the wine tasting on one of the days at sea ($10 per person) but wouldn't recommend it. It was a bit rushed and the presentation was hard to follow. The entertainment we saw in the theater was great - comedians, an a cappella group, a juggler, and an impressionist. The comedian was funny, but I agree with previous reviews that he made some jokes that were pretty inappropriate for the opening night family welcome show.

Dining
There are multiple options for dining onboard:
- The main dining room serves all three meals
- The Windjammer is a cafeteria open 7 am – 9 pm
- The Promenade Café has light eats and is open 24 hours
- Portofino’s restaurant is $20 per person. (Alcohol and specialty drinks still not included.)
- Room service is free and was great
- Johnny Rockett’s is onboard but has a $4 per person cover charge

There are two formal nights in the dining room (on the days at sea). There is a dress code for all the other nights, though, so don’t go tromping in there wearing a tank top and flip flops. Our wait staff, Lobo and Mehmet, was great and very friendly. You can get as much food as you would like, and we thought the food was fantastic. Portofino’s: Great service and great food. I had the best filet mignon I've ever had there. Our cruise agent gave us dinner there as a congratulations for my wife’s grad school graduation, and we really enjoyed ourselves – we spent three hours at dinner, just relaxing and making and evening of it. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth the cost for you, though - don’t forget that you’ve already paid for a full four-course meal in the fantastic dining room.

Aruba
The island of Aruba is very quintessentially desert (see picture), not the lush vegetation of some of the islands. We rented a Jeep on our own and drove around the island with our tablemates and had a great time. We tried to book a Jeep ahead of time, but don’t bother – there are multiple car rental agencies right on the dock with agents competing for your business. Use this to your advantage and negotiate a good rate. We got a Jeep for the entire day for $75, plus gas. Gas is expensive on the island, though - $1.75 a liter! (That’s more than $6 a gallon.) This was much cheaper than the shore excursion doing the same thing, though, and we had the whole day to drive around instead of just four hours. We drove up to the Arikok National Park where there are some pretty beach views (no swimming) and some caves (definitely not spelunking, though – just little tourist caves), wild goats and lizards. Like I said - pretty much a big desert. There is a bar / restaurant / gift shop along the coast. Also, yes, the Natural Bridge did fall down, as reported by other reviews. After the national park we drove up the western coast. At the end of the road is the California Lighthouse, but Jeeps can continue along the northern coast by off-roading (legally). Very fun! On the way back to the boat, we stopped at several beaches along the west coast. The water was actually a bit chilly, but there was some great snorkeling. Aruba is also very big on wind sports (parasailing, wind surfing, kite surfing, etc), so it would be easy to find those there. The boat stayed until 1 a.m. in Aruba, so we hit up the bars with our tablemates. We had fun together, although there didn’t seem to be a ton going on except for Carlos ‘n Charlie’s bar right next to the pier. This is a Latin American chain and can be fun – kind of a throwback to college frat parties, though. Very loud party atmosphere.

Curacao
We booked a scuba diving excursion through the scuba shop onboard the cruise. (By the way, they also offer scuba certification onboard the ship, and they sell and rent scuba and snorkel equipment as well.) Of all the islands on our trip, Curacao and St. Thomas were recommended to us by multiple sources as the best islands for diving. We really enjoyed the two shore/wall dives that we did, although the current was quite strong that day. We saw porcupine fish, the typical angel and parrot fish, a huge school of silvery fish, and even a barracuda. Don’t forget to bring cash to tip your scuba guide because none of the places we went to had the change to break a U.S. $20!

St. Maarten
We started off the day by doing some souvenir shopping near the pier. We hadn't planned on buying any alcohol, but they have the stuff cheap there. We bought a bottle of name brand vodka for $5, and I would say on average the prices are a third to half the price you would pay stateside. Some of the sales people tend to be a bit pushy, but there's plenty of friendly ones as well. After shopping we went on an afternoon shore excursion booked through the cruise with our tablemates. The excursion was called Loterie Farm Treetop Adventure Tour. The excursion catalog pitches it as a tour including 'history, ecology, and preservation of the 300 year old former sugar plantation', but the tour was minimal. It's really just a ropes course including rope bridges and zip lines. We had a lot of fun and certainly enjoyed the company of our tablemates, although I don't know that I would pay $82 per person to do this again. I didn't really feel like I experienced the island by doing this excursion, which is what I like to do while traveling. We hit the beach near the cruise for a short time before heading back to the ship, although the beach wasn't very impressive except for its view of the port.

St. Thomas
St. Thomas was my favorite port of call of the cruise and I will definitely be heading back there some day for a vacation. It's what I picture when I think Caribbean - lush vegetation, beautiful beaches, and islands dotting the horizon. In the morning we did the St. John Beach Tour shore excursion and really enjoyed it. We debated trying to get over to Trunk Bay (on the neighboring island of St. John) by ourselves, but it would have involved finding multiple modes of transportation, so we decided it would be easiest just to book it through the cruise line. Although we couldn't really hear the 'tour' part of the beach tour because our taxi driver's PA system was broken, Trunk Bay is totally worth the trip. (See the panoramic.) I've been to quite a few beaches and this is easily one of the best I've seen. It's a beautiful setting and has great snorkeling. The reef goes out probably 300 yards or more, so you can swim quite a ways without getting into deep water. I wish the excursion would spend more time at Trunk Bay, though, because you only get an hour or so there. After returning from our excursion, we took a taxi ($9 per person) over to the north side of St. Thomas to visit Magen's Bay ($3 per person entrance fee). It was also a beautiful beach with more space (and people) than Trunk Bay, although there isn't any snorkeling at Magen's Bay. There are taxis right at the beach that can take you back over to the cruise ship. One tip for St. Thomas is the info booth in town near the cruise ship. The woman there was more than helpful and gave us a map, recommendations on shops and beaches, and even coupons for our lunch! Also, our friends did the mango grove kayak and snorkel excursion and had a great time.

Disembarkation
Disembarkation was painless. The only annoying part is that you have to pack your bags and put them outside your cabin doors before midnight. It would be nice if this didn't have to be done until later, like 3am or so, for those of us that would like to stay up for one last night on the ship without needing to worry about getting back to the cabin to pack. Anyway, you can just go to breakfast and wait around until they call your disembarkation number, which they will tell you the night before. I do NOT recommend booking your ground transfer to the airport through the cruise line. It’s more expensive than a cab, you sit around waiting for your shuttle to load, and then there’s this idiotic system of brining your luggage to the airport in a separate van. Anyway, there’s plenty of cabs at the port, so I would recommend that.

A few negatives
- No non-alcoholic beverages at the pool. I understand they're trying to sell alcohol, but how many dads are going to walk up to the bar, ask for a few lemonades for his kids, and then say, “Oh, no lemonade? Then just give me four Mai Tai's instead.” Come on.
- Although the pools are “open 24 hours”, a lot of the pools and hot tubs closed early for cleaning. It would have been nice if the hot tubs didn’t close until late (at least after midnight) so that all of those wanting to go for a late night dip didn’t have to cram into one of them.
- My wife would have liked a wider selection of wines by the glass in the dining room, and a wider selection of beer on the ship would have been nice as well.
- Beer was served in a can at the theater - I'm not a snob, but that seems a bit rustic for a cruise ship.

General tips
- Check with others (valet, bellhop, information kiosk, etc) about how much cabs should cost before getting in one.
- US cash was accepted in all ports.
- You can buy local stamps from Guest Relations desk and mail postcards right there too. They take the mail off the ship before leaving each port.
- There are no irons in the room. (The whole 'potential fire on a cruise ship' thing isn't encouraged by the Coast Guard.)
- No alarm clocks in the rooms, but you can get a wakeup call. There is, however, nice, relaxing music in the room if you turn on the switch next to the vanity.
- Book your shore excursions ahead of time online, or if you don’t get a chance to, you can use the interactive television system to book them in your room. Much better than standing in line at the excursion desk.
- There are a limited number of feather pillows available from your room steward, so ask him/her for them right away if you want them.
- Our cell phones worked in the U.S. ports (Puerto Rico and St. Thomas), and I saw other passengers on the phone at other ports as well. Check your carrier for coverage.
- My public service plug: Take the opportunity to take care of your body and your wallet onboard. Take the stairs when you can because they’re quicker than the elevators anyway. Forget buying soda because you have all the tea, lemonade, water, and coffee you want, plus you would have to lug around a soda cup all the time. Forget buying junk fast food and ice cream when you have all the gourmet food (and non-brand-name junk food and ice cream) you could want.

Summary
We really enjoyed our vacation on the Adventure of the Seas. The ship was clean and offered plenty of activities, the staff was quite helpful and friendly, and the food was first rate. I felt like the cruise line was always trying to sell me something (drinks, gambling, jewelry, photographs, etc), but I'm guessing that might be typical of the mega cruise lines. All of the ports of call were interesting, although my personal favorite was St. Thomas. The shore excursions we booked through the cruise line were all fun, but some excursions can easily be done on your own for less money. I will happily travel with Royal Caribbean again, and can't wait to return to the Caribbean!

Happy cruising!

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