Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Adventure of the Seas
Sailing Date: December 23rd, 2006
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
My husband and I just completed our second cruise with Royal Caribbean (RCCL) and we were not disappointed. Christmas time is a great time to cruise as the temperatures are a little lower and you can escape the craziness of the holidays. On the downside, the ship is filled to capacity and the ports are busy with all of the Christmas travelers staying on the islands. Also, if you port on Christmas day, the stores are closed and there are limited hours on Boxing Day.
We booked our airfare through RCCL and although it was considerably cheaper than if we had booked it ourselves, the flight was quite long and a bit of a milk run. It took us 13.5 hrs to get to Puerto Rico from Calgary Canada. In hindsight, I would probably book my own flight that was more direct, however, if you don't mind a long flight the savings are worth it.
By booking our flight with RCCL our transfers were included to the ship. A very nice touch as we didn't have to worry about our luggage. If you want, you can even put your luggage on the bus and then grab a taxi or rent a car for the day so that you can see San Juan. The ship doesn't leave until 10pm so you have lots of time to explore. Like all cruise ships, your luggage is delivered to you later in the evening. Make sure you take items with you on the ship so that you can clean up and dress for dinner as your luggage will likely not be available before then. In case you haven't flown in a while, there are some serious restrictions on bringing liquid and gel products onto the aircraft. I would recommend packing a small bag with your toiletries and change of clothing and put it in your suitcase (and they will actually take it from you at the airport). This way you can just grab that bag when you land in San Juan and not have to dig through your suitcase to find items before handing your luggage over to the ship.
When leaving San Juan, the ship offers an airport check-in service for $10 per person. If you chose this option, you actually check your luggage in at the airline counter at the cruise dock and get your boarding pass. This will avoid the lineups at the airport to check-in. Although they moved fast, there were so many people there at once that it is a little overwhelming. We'll definitely doing the boarding from the ship option next time.
About the ship, all I can say is that it is beautiful and well maintained. They have an Italian restaurant, Portofino, on the ship that costs $20 per person to eat there. We just loved the food and service there and found the extra cost to be worth it. If you do want to eat there, be sure to make your reservations as soon as you get on the ship as it fills up quickly, especially if you have a group larger than 4.
There are two formal nights on the cruise. For you first time cruisers, this actually means formal dress. Men wear tuxes and women wear gowns. Now with that said, I did see some people in very casual clothing so they will let you in the dinning room but you will stick out!!
There's not much to say about the food. There is a wide selection at the buffet for breakfast and lunch (didn't eat there for dinner) but the choices are mostly the same from one day to the next. The first time I cruised, I took a little of everything and after a few days I got sick of eating the same food. There are no spectacular dishes served at the buffet so if you are thinking that you'll get lots of seafood and exotic fruit you'll be disappointed.
The ports on this cruise are wonderful. All of the islands are very small and you can see the entire island in a day. What's nice about that is the excursions tend to be shorter in length and then you still have time to see the town and shop.
ARUBA - very desert like place with tons of very neat cactus. We did the ATV Mania tour and it was fabulous. You get to drive your own ATV (automatic transmission) from one end of Aruba to the other. You do take them onto the highway and there is some tricky terrain near the end. It is a suitable tour for a first-timer or limited ATV experience, however, if you scare easily, you may find the highway driving and rugged terrain a little intimidating . There was an older lady in our group that really struggled and didn't have a lot of fun because she was afraid. The rest of us had a blast!! You don't have to be back on the ship in Aruba until midnight so there is plenty of time to go out in the evening. A taxi to the Palm Beach area (where all the luxury hotels are) is about $15. Make sure you confirm this before you get in. The beaches in Aruba are spectacular and the sunset is something you'll never forget. Don't miss out on them!
CURACAO - I can't say enough about this island. I didn't even know it existed before I booked the cruise and it is now my favorite place in the world. The town is just charming and a great place to sit by the water and eat lunch or have a drink. We did a snorkel excursion to a sunken tugboat. The boat ride out was a little rough - because of the constant trade winds, it's always windy and rough. If you have a tendency for sea sickness, I would rent a car and drive to the snorkel location rather than take the boat. A beautiful trip, but a few people did get sick. The snorkel area is beautiful with tons of interesting fish. I would recommend bringing a fish identification card with you as there were lots of fish that I had never seen before and didn't know what they were.
ST. MAARTEN - a very beautiful island and a nice change from the desert islands in the south. We rented a car and toured the island on our own. The car rental (4 door compact) was $67 and we paid $9 to fill up the car at the end of the day. There is one road that loops the island and one that cuts through the middle so there really is no way to get lost. It takes about 1.5 - 2 hrs to do the loop around the island. The signs for different attractions are not well marked so you may find yourself driving past it a few times. There is a fort in Marigot (the French capital) and the views from it are breath taking. We did make a stop at Orient Beach and sure enough there was some nudity. It wasn't over the top and most people were sunbathing nude rather than walking up and down the beach with no clothing. Lots of children around! We weren't brave enough to take off our clothing on shore but we did strip down once we got in the water and swimming naked is a complete joy! Depending on the number of cruise ships in port that day, there can be a long line of traffic back into the dock so make sure you plan for this so that you don't miss your ship.
ST. THOMAS - before you get off the ship, you have to clear US customs. This is done in the dining room between 7-9am. We got there at 7am and moved through the line in about 10 minutes. When we went by at 8:30, there were line ups out the door. The island is very beautiful island, but expensive! We tried to rent a car but they were all rented. We were told that this is common because of the large number of cruise ship passengers that come every day. If you want to rent a car, I would recommend booking it online before you get there and getting off the ship as early as possible to get your car (on-line rentals are not always guaranteed). If you don't rent a car, there are taxis that do regular stops around the island and are readily accessible. I would recommend going to Maegan's Beach. It is ranked in the top ten beaches in the world for a reason!
SHOPPING - RCCL has a professional shopper
on board who can give you great information about shopping and where to go. They
do have a list of preferred stores and they actually guarantee your purchases
there. With that said, buyer beware!! Do your research before you go or you will
get burned. I bought a 1.6 ct tanzanite and diamond ring from Diamonds
International in Aruba (a guaranteed store). I didn't know anything about
tanzanite (and not much about diamonds either) and ended up not getting a good
deal. I managed to bargain the price down by about $500 USD but when I got home
and got it appraised, it is actually worth $300 USD less than what I paid for
it. RCCL is currently looking into this for me, and have been very helpful.
However, if I had been educated about tanzanite, I wouldn't have gotten suckered
in like that. Also, some of the stores on the back streets offer substantially
better deals. The other area I would look out for is with watches. The prices
are excellent, however they tend to only carry the best of the best in watches.
My husband was looking at Tag Heuer and Tissot watches that were about 75%
cheaper than what we can get them for in Canada; however, because they only
carry the best of the best, you may find yourself being sucked into buying a
watch that is more expensive and with more gadgets than you would have both at
home. Do your homework before you go and know what you would pay for a similar
item at home and you won't run into problems. If you have any questions, please
contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org