Hey gang...Sorry for the delay, but things have been extremely crazy around my home since returning due to the holidays, family visitors and work.
I know that most of you have a very in-depth understanding of how the cruising system works, but, for the new folks out there, I will write this review in a manner that they will understand, and hopefully benefit from as well.
As you all probably know, my wife and I left our three children at home and took the Adventure of the Seas out of San Juan on Sunday, December 9th and returned on Sunday, December 16th. This was our third cruise...we actually took the same exact cruise with the same itinerary two years ago for our 15th anniversary and last year we took our entire family on the Rhapsody out of Galveston. I am 38 and my wife is 34.
The weather was warm and sunny the entire trip with highs of around 88 degrees everyday. We had a few clouds one day, but by and large you could not ask for better weather.
I will cover the days individually and then talk about dining/entertainment at the end.
BOOKING and TRANSPORTATION:
I actually booked directly through the cruise line after doing all of my research on the internet. I have booked trips through travel agents before and enjoyed using their services, but this time I just did it myself. Having felt the sting of booking my Air through RC in the past (we paid double, $816 each to fly to San Juan), I booked through travelocity and got a great deal. We paid $512 each for round trip tickets that would have cost us over $900 each through RC. Of course, when booking through the cruise line you are somewhat protected in case you have flight delays, so, when I book myself, I always spend at least one pre-night at the departure port. On the way there, we flew U.S. Airways from Phoenix to Boston on the overnight red-eye and then from Boston to San Juan, arriving at 1:15pm on Saturday. We then took a short taxi ride to the San Juan Marriott where we spent our pre-night. Note to new folks, the taxi fare is not metered, but pre-set, so you know ahead of time how much it will cost. Just GOOGLE San Juan Taxi Rates and you will find all of their rates. It was $25 with a $5 tip for the two of us. I intentionally did not book a transfer from the airport to the hotel, since I didn't want to have to wait for other guests at the airport.
The San Juan Marriott was a beautiful Hotel. We were on the 22nd floor and had a great view of the beach and the city. I have found that if you pay the premium price and book the hotel through the cruise line, you get rewarded with a great room. We spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach and then enjoyed an outstanding meal at the Italian restaurant in the hotel. I had the fillet, which was above average and my wife had the best shrimp scampi I have ever tasted. The service was impeccable. Overall, I highly recommend this hotel for the facilities, and proximity to the airport/pier.
Although we automatically had transfers from the hotel to the pier, we simply took another taxi to the pier in the morning. Again it was $25, including a $5 tip. If you take the cruise line transfer, you will not leave the hotel until 1:15pm, arriving at the pier during the peak time. We took the taxi and arrived at the pier at 11:15am. They have built a new pier terminal (I believe it is pier 4) for the Adventure and it was quite nice. When we arrived, there were still some passengers from the previous trip waiting with their bags on the curb, so it was a bit congested, but not bad at all. Many people were confused and complaining about what to do and where to wait, but with a little bit of thought, it was not difficult to figure out. I kept reminding people that we had arrived over 1 hour before RC recommends, so it was not their fault that no one was there to direct traffic yet. We got in a fairly short line to hand-off our bags and then a second line go through the check-in process. They began letting people into the building to check-in at exactly 12:00pm and my wife and I were wandering the ship at 12:10pm. Yes, the entire process took less than 10 minutes. Partly because RC did a great job and partly because we knew what we were doing and were well prepared. We were actually the first people in the buffet!!!
I had originally booked a category D1 balcony stateroom on the 10th deck, but two months before the sailing, I found a great deal (a military rate) on a Junior Suite and decided to spend the extra money and surprise my wife. We were in cabin 9558 which is forward on the port (left) side of the ship. On this itinerary, being on the left side of the ship offers a great view of all of the cities while in port. The suite was exactly as pictured on the web-site and we really enjoyed the extra room and especially the larger bathroom. The walk-in closet was amazing and my wife utilized the extra space. Everything was in good working order. Our stateroom attendant Jeffrey took very good care of us and we were well pleased with this part of our vacation. After having a junior suite, I'm not sure if I can ever go back to a smaller stateroom.
DAY 2 AT SEA:
We spent the day relaxing by the pool and I also played in a Texas Hold'em tournament in the casino. They have now added a Texas Hold'em table that is pretty much open for business in the evenings. The drink service by the pool was great and we never found ourselves waiting very long for anything. The poolside music was good, but not great and this band did not have a real steel drum (they used a keyboard on a steel drum setting). This was, of course, the first formal night and my wife wore a beautiful dress and I wore a suit and tie. Some day I will rent a tux, but I didn't this trip. I will discuss the shows later.
DAY 3 ARUBA:
We booked a snorkeling/beach trip through RC with Pelican Adventures. A note to new folks...we prefer to book through the cruise line, since, they will likely not leave you in the event that you do not make it back to the ship on time. We boarded a catamaran at the pier and enjoyed two snorkeling sites and ended up at Palm beach. We first snorkeled at a beach site which was OK, then we went to the ship-wreck Antilles and the snorkeling there was some of the best we have ever enjoyed. After that we headed to palm beach where they fed us in their restaurant. The food was marginal, but it did the job. We spent about 1 hour on Palm beach before heading back. Palm beach is beautiful, quite calm and family friendly. It's a small world, because while eating the lunch, we sat down at a table next to a couple from the Chicago area. I asked them where they live in Chicago because my wife has family in the area, and as it turns out, the wife grew up on the same street, just a few doors down from my wife's aunt, uncle and cousins. In fact, my wife's aunt used to drive her to school and extracurricular activities. What are the chances of that? After heading back to the ship, we got cleaned up and went to town to do some shopping. Oranjestad is a neat city and we enjoyed our time there. We went back and had dinner on the ship, went to the ICE show (again, I'll cover this later) and had a great evening.
DAY 4 CURACAO:
I think that Curacao is kind of the forgotten island of the Caribbean. Nobody really talks about it, but having been there twice, I can say that I really love it. It is beautiful and the people are very friendly. We shopped in town for a few hours and then took a taxi to the Kontiki beach club. There is a man-made beach in this area with several "Beach clubs" that are basically all connected and you can walk from one to the other. The only difference are the facilities/beach chairs. I think we paid $3 per person to get in. We walked down the beach a ways and parked in a couple of beach chairs. An attendant came by and collected $5 each for the chairs. The beach was quite nice...you could swim out a little ways and climb up onto the rocky/cement beach break. There were lots of interesting crabs running around out there. The water was clear and warm. We spent a few hours there and then took a taxi back to town (about a ten minute ride), shopped for about another hour and then headed back to the ship. We did not get stuck on the floating bridge! We then had another great dinner and enjoyed the entertainment for the evening.
DAY 5 AT SEA:
This day started out kind of bumpy with some larger sea swells. The pools were sloshing around quite a bit and I sat in the Viking Crown Lounge, drinking coffee and enjoying the view. The captain and some of the ships officers (chief engineer, environmental engineer and hotel director) had a question and answer session at 10:15am in the Viking Crown Lounge. I thought this was really neat and was looking forward to it. About 25 guests showed up for this, so it was quite informal. The captain introduced himself and his staff and asked if there were any questions. Immediately, a woman (probably in her mid sixties) stated her name, the fact that this was her eighteenth cruise with RC and asked quite bluntly "WHY WERE WE LEFT IN SAN JUAN?" The captain then asked her if she was on the ship at 8:30pm Sunday and when she said "No," he said, "Well, that is why." The best I could tell, her story was that she was flying in from Detroit on Northwest Airlines via Minneapolis and her flight leaving Minneapolis was delayed. That flight was supposed to leave at 9:00am. She was ranting about how RC should have known where she was and that she knows they keep track of flights. The captain asked her if she booked her air through the cruise line and she answered no (this is why I always arrive at least one day early if I book my own air). She stated that they arrived at the San Juan airport at 8:00pm and that the ship should have waited. The captain and the officers explained that RC has a specific policy regarding waiting and that it would be unfair to the other passengers if they did not get to sea and "Open the ship up" for everyone else. I'm pretty sure that she was NOT at the airport at 8:00pm because I later heard her complain to another passenger that she didn't arrive at her hotel in San Juan until midnight!!! I understand her frustration, but she was very rude to the captain and his staff and I got the impression that she was a bit of a "Princess." Although my wife and I live in Tucson, we both grew up in Iowa, and I can tell you that anyone with half-a-brain would never count on flying out of the midwest on time during the winter. The weather is just too unpredictable and there is a good chance that you will get stuck or at least miss a connecting flight and be significantly be delayed. I book my air for at least the day before and I live in Tucson for crying out loud! After lecturing the captain and telling everyone that she would never cruise RC again (wow, that really upsets me), she got up and left. The remainder of the Q & A session was quite pleasant and informative. The weather smoothed out and later we enjoyed relaxing by the pool after eating at Johnny Rockets (I'll cover this later). This was the second formal night and once again, we had a great dinner and enjoyed the show.
DAY 6 ST MAARTEN:
We had booked the Golden Eagle Sail away snorkeling tour, but due to some wind, the trip had been changed. We still boarded the catamaran, but instead snorkeled at a different site and went to a different beach. The tour company announced this on the pier and gave everyone a chance to cancel for a full refund, but no one did and everyone went on the tour. Unfortunately, the snorkeling was just not that good, but we got some great exercise and drank a ton of rum punch. After snorkeling, we went to Mullet Bay Beach on the Dutch side of the island. The catamaran anchored about 200 feet from the beach and we swam in. The crew then used their dingy to bring some coolers full of rum punch/beer to the beach for us. The beach was absolutely beautiful and was not very busy. We spent about an hour there and loved every minute of it. We then sailed back to the pier, where, as we were just about back to the AOS, my wife lost her sea pass card in the ocean! She shrieked and I looked up just in time to see it tumbling through the air and into the water. Since we had her photo I.D., we were let on the ship without a problem and she was issued a new sea pass card withing minutes at the customer service desk. Once again, we enjoyed a great dinner in the dining room and then went to the show.
DAY 7 ST THOMAS:
We left the ship around 9:00am, took a taxi to the Redhook ferry terminal and then took the ferry to St John. We then taxied to trunk bay beach, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The water was crystal clear and warm and the sand was white and almost powdery. We rented snorkeling gear and snorkeled the underwater trail. It was truly amazing. We then spent several hours on the beach doing absolutely nothing and it was all that we thought it would be. We actually were able to call home and speak to our children since this area is part of the Sprint network. When we got off the ship and asked someone where the ferry terminal was, he directed us to take a taxi to Redhook where the ferry departed. Actually, while this was true, what he didn't tell me was that there was a ferry that leaves directly from the pier and we could have skipped the long, expensive taxi ride. We spent $40 round trip on taxi fare from the pier to Redhook and another $20 on St John to/from trunk bay. We also spent $20 on round trip ferry tickets. Had we taken the ferry that leaves directly from the pier, we would have spent $40 on the ferry tickets but could have skipped the $40 taxi fare to/from Redhook. The bottom line is that we would have saved $20 and about one hour of time by taking the ferry directly from the pier. Well, I guess that is how we learn. We returned to the ship, had a quick afternoon meal at Johnny Rockets, relaxed, went to dinner in the dining room and enjoyed the farewell show and our last evening on the ship.
Our flight left San Juan at 12:15, so were were in group 1. This process was very smooth and we simply turned in our customs form and hailed a taxi to the airport. We were at our gate by 9:00am. We met a couple at the airport gate and spent all of our time conversing with them. This passed the time quickly and helped stave off the imminent depression that we knew was coming.
One of our favorite parts of any cruise is the evening dining experience in the formal dining room. We never miss a meal there and were not disappointed this trip. Our waiter was named Mustafa (from Turkey) and we remembered seeing him on our last trip on the AOS. The assistant waiter was a wonderful young lady from Peru named Karim and we remembered seeing her last year on Rhapsody, working in the windjammer. She was very flattered that we remembered her, and we explained that she had been very kind to our three daughters and that is why we remembered her. The service throughout the week was impeccable and we were never disappointed with anything. The menu was similar to those in the past, but rumor has it that they were all changed this month. Our waiter said that food wasting was becoming too costly and that RC was going to change things up. We had the early seating since we are not night owls and were generally hungry by 6:00pm. The Windjammer (buffet) was OK, but I must say that I do not enjoy eating with herds of people or waiting in line while people serve themselves at their own pace. I get impatient and just want to get through the line. All in all, I think we only ate at the buffet one time for breakfast and twice for lunch. Otherwise, we at breakfast in the dining room and ate several lunches at Johnny Rockets. The food at Johnny Rockets is really good and the wait staff are excellent. There is something about seeing people from India or other countries, singing and dancing to YMCA or other music that puts a smile on my face. The great thing is that they seemed to be enjoying it as well and that kind of enthusiasm is infectious. A note...RC has done away with the hand sanitizer stations outside the dining rooms and now pass out hand wipes to everyone as they come through the door. Later in the week, the crew was actually serving the food in the Windjammer and even the entertainment staff was participating.
The cruise director, Mike Szwajkowski, was the best we have had. Not only was he high energy, but he was also the most involved that we have seen and it seems like we saw him everywhere. The shows were up to par with those we have seen before and we especially enjoyed the Temptations Tribute group and "El Gaucho" whom we have seen before. There was also a headliner comedian the first night who did a great bit about misbehaving children that was hilarious. They have changed the format of the Love and Marriage game show and it is actually even better than before. We participated in the Quest show for the first time and absolutely loved it. I am not the most outgoing person in the world, but they even got me out there making a complete idiot out of myself doing the can can without my shirt on with four Puerto Rican dudes. From my wife's perspective, it was hilarious. We were never bored on this trip.
The ship is still in great shape, and we didn't notice any real problems. We especially enjoyed walking around in the Royal Promenade and made friends with some of the shopkeepers. We especially enjoyed meeting and speaking with Luani, a girl from South Africa who worked in the perfume shop. The Royal Promenade seems to add so much to the atmosphere, kind of an intangible element that really enhances the time spent on the ship. The ship was clean and the staff were for the most part very courteous and professional. I have heard that RC was making a conscious effort to improve things in this area, and I could tell a difference.
All in all, this was our best cruise yet, and we really can't think of anything negative to say about the trip. Our advice to any future travelers would be to take a lesson from the disgruntled lady who got left in San Juan and choose your flights carefully. I would love to post some photos if I knew how. Thank you for your patience with waiting for this review.
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ASK ANY QUESTIONS, AS I WOULD TRULY ENJOY ANSWERING THEM!!!