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Austin Kearney

Age: 55

Occupation:Print Shop Owner

Number of Cruises: 13

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Adventure of the Seas

Sailing Date: May 27th, 2007

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

My wife, Joanne, and I are Diamond level Crown and Anchor Society members (10+ cruises on Royal Caribbean). A couple of months back, she found a whale of a deal for this cruise on Orbitz. We had an outside D2 cabin 8648 with balcony including round trip air fare from Atlanta, for less money than a windowless inside cabin without air fare. We booked this cruise before somebody discovered the aberration. We had taken the identical cruise in January 2004 and loved both the ship and itinerary.

A Couple Of Pre-Cruise Tips

I've posted a number of cruise reviews over the past few years to journal my travels and interact with fellow cruisers like you. Another cruiser made me aware that if you owned 100 or more shares of Royal Caribbean stock, the cruise line would credit your on-board account with $100 for every cruise you take. Royal Caribbean told me to send them a recent brokerage statement indicating ownership, my cruise date, ship name, reservation number and Crown and Anchor member numbers and they would take care of it. They did. I also have a Royal Caribbean VISA card and redeemed 25,000 points for an additional $250 in on-board credits. When we stepped on the ship, our account had a $350 credit for use in the shops, casino, spa, bars, shore excursions or anything else your sea pass card is used for. It's pretty close to free money.

Sunday - San Juan Departure

Our 8:30 a.m. flight from Atlanta arrived in San Juan at noon and we were aboard by 1:30 p.m. Check-in was fast and efficient. We had a small roll-on suitcase for essentials until the rest of our luggage caught up with us. You can't get to your cabin until 2 p.m. so the staff can get everything cleaned and ready. The ship keeps the heavy steel fire doors closed between the elevators and stair case areas and the cabin hallways. We headed for lunch in the Windjammer.

Later, we met our cabin attendant, the delightful Agnes from Peru, who kept our cabin ship shape for the week. She met her husband on the ship and he is one of the chefs aboard. She introduced us to him later in the week and he told us he hoped we were enjoying all the food he and his fellow chefs were serving up all week. The scales do not lie. We were enjoying it to the extreme.

A fellow cruise critic once wrote me and told me a great way to enjoy an evening departure from San Juan is to make dinner reservations in Portofino. We made reservations for 7:30 p.m. with an 8:00 p.m. sailing time. Portofino is on deck 11, starboard (right) side of the ship and there is a $20 per person, charge which is well worth it. It is a truly sublime experience to have a table for two at the window and watch the lights of the city and Morro Castle glide past while enjoying an exquisite dinner. I had a pasta appetizer, Caesar salad, made tableside (with anchovies) and veal wrapped in prosciutto with a wonderful cream sauce. The first night of any cruise is apparently the slowest night of the week in the premium restaurants. There were few tables occupied and the largest group was a table full of the ship's officers celebrating some occasion. Jeanette from the Philippines took wonderful care of us. After leaving port, the Adventure hung a left in the Atlantic to loop westward around the island and into the Caribbean for the week.

Having gotten up at 4:15 a.m. to make our flight, we couldn't bring ourselves to partake of the ship's evening entertainment that was capped off by a big parade in the Royal Promenade at midnight. The Adventure has some wonderfull new bedding. White-on-white sheets with embroidered RCI logos and multiple fluffy pillows beckoned us to dreamland.

Monday - Cruising South To Aruba

In a futile exercise against the culinary temptations of the Adventure this week, we arose, donned our exercise clothes and headed to deck four, the Promenade Deck at about 9 a.m. to do some brisk orbits of the ship. Six trips around the Adventure, worked up a good appetite that was sated, up in the Windjammer. Note to self...we have 3,600 passengers, 1,200 crew onboard and walking on the promenade deck, there were exactly six other people besides us. A couple was playing shuffleboard portside and four people were similarly occupied on our starboard pass. There were hundreds of empty deck chairs and lounges for the taking if you wanted a private chunk of ship for your own.

After breakfast, we grabbed our books and a couple of lounge chairs in the shade up at the pool deck on 11 and we had a front row seat for the Women's Hairy Chest Contest, or whatever complemented the excellent songs aired by the band, Mega 4. These musicians set a fine mood for a Caribbean cruise, and when we sailed with them on the Mariner two years ago, we bought two of their albums.

At about 2:30 p.m., we headed to the Café Promenade on Deck 5 forward to grab a couple of coffees. A bridge crosses the Royal Promenade between the Promenade Café and the Duck and Dog Pub. Tucked underneath a stairway heading up to this bridge, is an 8x10 foot raised band platform. The Rosario Strings, (a violinist, bass fiddle player and guitar player) started filling the Promenade with Latin flavored tunes. These guys are an instrumental group, not singers. At the second number, all the surrounding Puerto Rican passengers joined in song to the tune. In a few minutes and a few songs later, the shops emptied of all of our Spanish speaking friends. At least 200 were singing the tunes played by the Rosario Strings. We sipped our Seattle's Best coffees and just relished the superb concert unfolding in front of us. I have no idea if this happens every Monday at 2:30 in the afternoon or if this was a special moment to be savored, but what a great cruise experience.

Sailing south all day, we were escorted by numerous sea birds. They were white with a black stripe along the leading edge of their wings. I guess the ship's passage was churning up lunch for them as they would rise to a couple of hundred feet above the wave tops, tuck in their wings and dive like a bullet vertically into the Caribbean. A few seconds after they disappeared underwater, they would resurface with a smile on their beak, belch, flap their wings to get airborne and renew their search for another bite of lunch.

At 5 p.m. we headed up to the Blue Moon on deck 14 four our Cruise Critics Meet and Mingle get together. The ship laid out a spread of hors d'ouvres and we could meet with about twenty-five fellow cruisers that we had been exchanging e-mails with prior to sailing. Sign up for one of these prior to any cruise you take. It's really fun to correspond with people you will be vacationing with.

This was the ship's first of two formal nights. I used the Royal Caribbean web site, prior to our departure, to order a tux for the week. When we entered our cabin upon boarding, it was hanging in our closet. It came with everything as advertised, including two shirts, and it all fit. I was one of the few black tie clad passengers that evening, but our Puerto Rican young lady contingent dressed to the nines. We had ship-wide eye candy galore. There were hundreds of lovely young ladies aboard and they all dressed like J-Lo headed to the Grammies.

This evening, we met our wonderful tablemates for the week along with Nareen our waiter from India, Paulo his assistant from Peru and Mahai our head waiter from Romania. I don't know why, but our last two cruises on a ship this size, the Mariner of the Seas, the main dining room cuisine was ordinary and I said as much in my reviews. The meals on Adventure were superb.


Tuesday - Aruba - Das Boot With Cheese And A Side Of Murder

At dinner the previous evening, Del Gado, one of our tablemates from San Juan, recounted that Aruba was THE place to buy your Dutch cheese on this cruise. I said, "I beg your pardon?" Apparently, everyone living in the Caribbean knows that the best place to load up on your Gouda cheese is Aruba. Folks from the Caribbean on this trip, will return home with Gouda and share it with their friends and families. Del Gado recounted that one of his fondest childhood memories was having a hot chocolate with a slice of Gouda cheese melting in it. What a quaint custom but I'll take mine on a Ritz cracker.

We got off the ship with the plan of hiring a taxi for an island tour. Step out of the terminal building at the pier and it's difficult to avoid. We shared a taxi/van with another couple from St. Croix for a two-hour island tour for $15 each. Three years ago, one of the trademark tour stops was "Natural Arch" on Aruba's North shore. We learned, not on this trip. The Natural Arch was now Fallen Arch and it collapsed into the sea about a year and a half ago.

We had a lunch back on Adventure. At 1:00 p.m. we exited the dockside terminal and walked about 50 feet across the pier to the waiting tender that would take us out to the Atlantis VI submarine tour, $89 per adult, $49 per child. The tender ignited its warp drive engines and flew us at 40 knots to Submarine Atlantis VI. First, the preceding submarine passengers got off onto our tender and then we boarded the Atlantis. Our sub driver bore a striking resemblance to the actor, Jurgen Prachow. You film buffs know what I'm talking about.

We have been on submarine tours before in St. Thomas and Bermuda. This was the best. First of all, the water was extremely clear with well over 100 feet in visibility. We made a pass at the reef at a 30 foot depth. The reef was rich with all kinds of fish and coral and you could still see lots of colors at this depth. The Capitan then did a 180 degree turn so the passengers at our backs on the port side of the sub could enjoy the identical view we just had. We dropped down to 90 feet and made a pass at a ship that was sunk on purpose, years ago, to provide scuba divers with a neat site to dive. We were delightfully still dry and enjoyed our tour. The sub driver did another 180 so everyone had a view of the wreck. We then dropped to a 120-foot depth to make passes at another wreck. This one was sunk the old fashion way, by a drunken crew, gravity and Mother Nature. It appeared to once have been a three-masted cheese schooner out of Amsterdam.

For the highlight of this mini-sub cruise, Jurgen put the sub gently on the sandy bottom at a depth of 150 feet. No fish were present at this depth. There is more food for the fish up at shallower depths where the sunlight is stronger. Good news. No popping rivets, bursting water pipes, or ASDIC pings by British destroyers about to drop depth charges on the intruding tourists. The sub, we were told, was certified to dive to 180 feet, so we had at least a comfortable 30 feet to go before crush depth was reached. Pass the Gouda and celebrate.

Having done this before, and being a certified scuba diver, you know that the deeper you dive, only the blue wavelength of light penetrates. I was wearing a light pink polo shirt, which photographed as white on our digital camera without using the flash and just the natural light through, the portholes. With the flash at that depth, the shirt was its predictable pink. Gee Mr. Wizard, that's neat.

When we surfaced and hopped back on the tender, it stayed in the area so we could watch and film Atlantis VI dive with its next load of passengers. If you want to take a different tour in Aruba, this one is a good choice. Dive, dive, dive!

Prior to returning to Adventure, we celebrated our mini cruise with a couple of fluffy drinks at Carlos and Charlie's that is at the end of the pier in view of the ship. We asked our waitress where the best place to buy cheese was in the neighborhood. She told us to take the first left out of the bar into the mall and head to Planet Cheese. The store would sell you a ten-pound wheel of young Gouda cheese in a handled carry-on box for $19.95. We were one of the few couples returning to Adventure without cheese in tow. There were quite a few passengers each hauling four to six ten-pound boxes of Gouda aboard. Who would of thunk it?

After dinner, we headed to Studio B on deck 3 for "Cool Art, Hot Ice". Be sure to see the ice show. It's great. You have to appreciate the incredible talent and athletic prowess of these performers. There were two more performances on Thursday, our second sea day.

Wednesday - Curaçao - Andruw Jones, Proprietor

After breakfast, we walked off the ship onto the Mega Pier. As in Aruba, we hooked up with a two-hour island tour for $20 per person. We had a nice, clean, air-conditioned mini-bus with driver and a tour guide. It would take days to cover the island but in two hours, we got a good flavor of the island and had numerous stops for photographs etc. One of the stops was the original Curaçao liquor factory. It was a quaint old mansion in town where no distilling took place any longer but was a purely delightful tourist destination. You could taste the Curaçao liquor in all its variations, orange, coffee, chocolate, rum raison, and of course purchase all you want. We didn't buy anything, but I noted a 750 ml bottle of the blue liquor was $9.95 at the factory and the same bottle was $16.95 in the shops in Willemstad. If you want Curaçao liquor...buy at the factory and save some bucks.

One of the final stops was a little gift shop with a spectacular view of a cove where we actually snorkeled on our last cruise here. Overlooking the cove and everything within miles was the Atlanta Braves ballplayers' house of Andrew Jones. Local boy makes good. Andrew built himself a very nice hacienda three stories high and bigger than the Governor's house and second in size on Aruba only to the Oil Refinery.

Our tour finished near the floating bridge to town. At the moment, the bridge was retracted to let ships into and out of the harbor. A couple of free ferries operate every few minutes so we boarded one to cross to the side of the harbor with the floating market, shops and restaurants. We strolled past the floating market and took some colorful pictures of the vendors selling fresh fish and produce to the locals. Around the corner we settled into an umbrella shaded table at the harbor-side for a bit of lunch. The bridge opened and closed twice during lunch with numerous ships coming and going. Your club sandwich will cost more than back on the Adventure, but what a wonderful view!When returning to the Adventure side of the harbor, Joanne remarked that, back in the States, OSHA would be having kittens over the hundreds of laws we and everyone were breaking as we hopped either on or off the floating bridge before it had stopped swinging into locked position.

We started to really feel the peer pressure as we again returned to the Adventure without armloads of Dutch cheese. Many of our fellow travelers bought up the town's supply of this Caribbean delicacy. Late in the afternoon, Joanne had signed up for an acupuncture treatment on her back in the spa. She thought they were very professional and felt it helped.

That evening as we cruised out of the area for a sea day to St. Maarten, you could look south towards Venezuela and see towering black clouds illuminated by lightning. Sadly, the storm didn't reach us. This may sound twisted, but a nighttime electrical storm at sea is not something to sleep through. You want to head up to a comfy lounge on a high deck and watch the horizon-to-horizon lightning show. We've seen a few spectacular ones in our travels and their not to be missed.

Thursday - Cruising North To St. Maarten

Sleep late and relax. We spent a leisurely day up at the pool reading and listening to Mega 4. The interesting thing on our two sea days on this cruise, was that I saw no other ships at all. We had the sea lanes traversing the Caribbean to ourselves. Had we hit an iceberg this week, we'd all be treading water for at least a day before another ship reached us. At one point during the day, I was looking over the ship's side and saw some very small fish, just two to four inches in size, sail out of the side of a swell and fly a few inches above the water's surface for ten or twelve feet before submerging. I've seen flying fish on previous cruises and they were bigger, 10 to 14 inches, and flew much further distances. I'm guessing these were baby flying fish just getting pushed out of the nest.

Late in the afternoon we were down in the Royal Promenade shopping for a few gifts and the Rosario Strings struck up the band with the same reaction from hundreds of passengers as occurred on Monday. The crowd wouldn't let them leave without a couple of encores. These concerts were, honestly, two of the most wonderful hours spend in a great week aboard. When the set finished and the crowds moved off, I went up to one of the trio members and asked him if this happened every time they played? He smiled and told me "Pretty much. We know what they like." Clearly they did.

Joanne had been going into the Perfume Shop on the Promenade twice a day for a spritz of something nice smelling. Today she broke down and legitimized her free aromas for the week by buying her perfume. Eau du Overpriced. I'm just saying, for what Joanne paid for five ounces of eau de cologne ($59), you could buy your weight in Absolute Vodka ($6.95/liter) on St. Maartens. Oh the humanity!

This was our second formal night and it was great to see how everyone dressed up. Unfortunately this evening, we did not attend "Motown Live!" featuring Spectrum, the headliner show that evening in the Lyric Theater. All of our fellow cruisers we spoke to the next day said these guys put on an incredible show. We'll just have to rebook this cruise, but you people learn from our mistake and go to the show.

After dinner, we attended the Crown and Anchor member reception in the Imperial Lounge on deck 5. There was music, food, friends and drink. It was a cozy reception where the crew welcomed everyone back to Royal Caribbean. Captain Nyseter hosted and talked a bit about the new "Genesis" class ship coming into service in a year or two. It will be a few feet longer than the Freedom class, however it will be two decks taller, 300 feet in width (almost double the Freedom), displace something like 240,000 tons or another 75% more than the Adventure. It will accommodate 6,000 passengers 2,000 crew and still have a draft of 29 feet like the existing super ships. This allows the ship to dock at all the current Caribbean ports that the Voyager and Freedom class ships visit today. I love the Voyager class of ships, I have not yet tried the Freedom class, but Genesis sounds disturbingly large for my taste. I will wait to read your reviews before I step up to that one. I sensed that Captain Nyseter, who is one of the most senior Royal Caribbean ship drivers, was hoping he be retiring before he had to deal with Genesis. This is my impression, not his words. Captain Nyseter did a great job hosting us for the week.

Friday - St. Maarten - Damn Your Diamonds...Give Me Cheese!!!

Prior to this cruise, we were hoping to catch a high-speed ferry to St. Barths from our stop in St. Maarten. We have never been to neighboring St. Barths which we have sailed past on previous cruises to the area. We were told by the folks on the Adventure that the high speed ferries to St. Barths weren't operating at the present time. New ferries were on order from France.

As a flashback, I was at Tiffany's in NYC last August and told Joanne I saved us $8,500 by not buying her some exquisite diamond earrings I saw. Big mistake, wrong answer. Joanne has held that over my head for the past year. The best prices on jewelry in the Caribbean are on the Dutch side of St. Maarten and I now needed diamond earrings in the worst way.

The diamond earring crusade was on and we were successful. Beautiful earrings were found at Diamonds International. They have like thirty-five locations in St. Maarten on Front Street and they are probably all owned by RCI. Great diamond earrings for many mucho thousands less than Tiffany's in New York. Joanne may have freed her demons, but I was feeling incredible pressure. This was our last Dutch West Indies stop of the week. I cracked from the stress and went into a local shop and asked the owner to show me Gouda. I resisted buying the 40 pound starter pack and settled for a three cheese micro sampler of young, flavored and aged Gouda. They were the conventional size you would find at the Kroger back home. I felt a wonderful catharsis and didn't see my modest purchase as a threat to our cholesterol levels. We returned to the ship walking tall with the pride that cheese ownership bestows. The increase in height also reflected the lightening of my wallet in Diamonds International.

Dinner tonight was the chef's mega Ausgeschwein (Pig-out) Lobster was the signature dish but they were also serving up prime rib. Only one solution I could see. Nareen, see if you can scrounge up a surf-and-turf combo. What a great meal. The buttered lobster melted in your mouth and the prime rib was perfectly medium rare with horseradish sauce. A dollop of Lipitor garnished the feast. Joanne is a purist and just had four lobster tails.

After dinner, there was a special reception we were invited to as Diamond Crown and Anchor Members. Up in the Blue Moon lounge on deck 14 we were entertained by the Rosario Strings and had a special thank you from Royal Caribbean for our loyalty. It was a very nice event and Royal Caribbean really tries to make their repeat customers feel special and appreciated.

Shortly after leaving the pier, Captain Nyseter, got on the PA system to tell us we were returning to St. Maartin as there was a medical emergency and we needed to get a passenger to a hospital ashore. While not knowing any of the specifics, the next morning, the Captain announced that the passenger that we dropped off was doing much better.

Saturday - St. Thomas - When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Go Shopping

We had diamonds, we had perfume, we had gift watches, we had Gouda. Why wasn't I on a booze cruise snorkel catamaran tour to Caneel Bay on St. John's? Because, St. Thomas is the Hong Kong of the West and there might be something in town we (read...Joanne) can't live without. I actually enjoy browsing around the shops and alleys of St. Thomas.

There is a neat little shop downtown that overlooks the harbor and sells marine salvage items dating back 300 years or so. Ship's wheels, binnacles (or is it Rabbinicals?), antique maps, etc. Despite diamond earrings and perfume, I am forbidden to purchase a front porch mountable, five-inch diameter, troublesome neighbor, deck cannon. It was reasonably priced and was last used to clear enemy shipping in 1750 or there about. Joanne just lacks decorating vision for the man-cave. I'll look for one on eBay.

Diamond Crown and Anchor Status

This is reached after ten cruises and has some nice benefits. It gets you in the Concierge Club Room on deck 9. When you board, in addition to your Sea Pass card, you are also issued a special card to gain access to the Concierge Club Room. You also have access to the Concierge Club if you book one of the large suites, which are essentially double sized cabins. A continental breakfast was laid out every morning and there was an open bar and hot and cold hors d'ouvres each afternoon from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. DeDe was there to help you with reservations to ice shows, shore excursions or reservations to Portofino. It is really a nice service and DeDe is wonderful.

There are other benefits that start after five cruises or sooner. These include special check-in lines, departure lounges, bath robes, private receptions, discount coupon books for all sorts of things on the ship, little Royal Caribbean gifts left in your cabin such as beach bags. One day, the cabin elves welcomed us back to the room with a plate of chocolate covered strawberries.

Because Royal Caribbean also owns Celebrity Cruise Line, I believe all the benefits you enjoy, gain you the same status on Celebrity. Don't quote me but ask your travel agent if this is so. It seems to me this is a relatively new enhancement to the program.


Dining And Food Service

Meals in the main dining room combined wonderful service with what I thought was high quality delicious food. Book your Portofino reservations early. When we finished our meal there on Sunday night, we immediately tried to make another reservation later in the week. Everything was booked save for a few late sittings.

This was the first cruise in memory, where we were in the main seating dinner at 6:00 p.m. I think we like the second seating better. It just always seemed rushed to conclude your afternoon activities and get cleaned up for dinner. The shows and ship activities seem to flow better around the second seating.

Our Cabin And The Ports

As reported earlier, Agnes took great care of our cabin and us all week. We were on the port (left) side of the ship. In San Juan, this faced the airport south. In Aruba and Curaçao the view was the piers we were tied up to and the islands (northward). In St. Maarten and St. Thomas the opposite side of the ship had what I would call the preferred view overlooking the harbors to the west of the piers. The Adventure was the only ship in port in Aruba, St. Maarten and St. Thomas. We only had one other small ship in Curaçao with us. What this meant was that we weren't competing with other ships' passengers for taxis, excursions, shopping or restaurants for the week. This time of year, a number of cruise ships are repositioned to the summer Alaska routes from the Caribbean, so a winter cruise on the Adventure will have more company in port.

Summary

This review reflects my experience for the week. Ships like Adventure are so large and diverse that you need to appreciate that for every experience you have, you probably missed fifty other events happening elsewhere aboard or ashore. The only person that attends them all is your cruise director, which is a mystery. You could probably book a cabin for a year and not get bored.

The week flies by, but by Sunday were ready to head home. There was a new service we tried. For $20 we could check our luggage with the airline at the pier after we cleared customs. I don't know if it's available with all airlines, but it worked with American. If your catching a flight, the check-in service is money well spent. We made it off the ship as efficiently as we checked on a week earlier.

This was our second time on this cruise and we enjoyed it every bit as much as the first time. The ship, crew, entertainment and fellow passengers were all wonderful. We may do an Alaska cruise next year and my preference would be that at least half the ship's passengers hail from San Juan. This could be tough to arrange.

If you enjoyed my review, drop me a line. If I can answer any questions you may have on an upcoming cruise, ask away. I look forward to hearing from you.

Austin Kearney
Dunwoody, GA
pepperdog@mindspring.com



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