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We cruised on the Adventure of the Seas from 21 – 28 March 2010. This was our first RCI cruise. We travelled with our three kids (two teenage boys and a seven year old girl) and a teenage friend of my oldest son's.
Travel Agency – We usually use AAA travel agent services, but for the first time we chose to book this cruise through USAA. Although they are primarily an insurance company, they also provide a number of other services. This turned out to be a disappointment, and we will not use them again. The contracted agent booked our cruise and insurance through Royal Caribbean's website, but that's all he did. We had to take care of transfers, lodging, airfare, excursions, on-board reservations, etc. on our own. We would prefer a full service TA in the future.
Website – A little difficult to use, compared to other cruise lines (in our opinion). One of our disappointments was in trying to book a SCUBA certification course for our two sons and their friend who travelled with us. The course would show up under excursions, but when we clicked on it, it would ask for our reservation number. Entering that caused the excursion to disappear. We asked our travel agent for help, but he could do nothing. We called RCI and spoke to several people, but none of them were able to help. The conclusion was that it probably wasn't offered on this particular cruise. We accepted that and booked something else for the boys, but found out once we boarded that the course was indeed available. The other minor glitch was our reservation for Porofinos somehow disappeared. We were able to re-book it onboard.
Lodging – Other Cruise Crazies have recommended arriving early and spending the night in San Juan, which we did. We also stayed the night following our cruise. On the front side, we stayed at the Hilton Caribe, which was originally built in 1949. Among other things, they claim to be the birthplace of the Pina Colada. The hotel was very nice, with a private beach and large pool. There was also a small Spanish Fort adjacent to the hotel, but it was closed to the public. The one drawback was that the meals were very expensive. On the first night, we entered their steakhouse to find people dressed in evening gowns and tuxedos. Way more formal than we were expecting, but this may have been due to an event that night. I immediately corralled the family back out of the restaurant and we went somewhere else. We weren't wearing shorts and flip flops, but still felt underdressed in our casual clothing. On the return trip, we stayed at the Embassy Suites, which was right next to the airport. They have a nice pool and atrium. There is also an Outback steakhouse on premises, and the beach is about three blocks away.
Tansportation – Prior to leaving, we made arrangements with a shuttle service that provides everything from luxury sedans to 24 pax vans. Since we had six people with luggage, we wanted to make sure that we could find a vehicle large enough that would be waiting for us at the airport. We also arranged to have the same driver pick us up at the cruise port on our return for the same reasons. As it turned out, the super-size van and pre-booking weren't really necessary, as taxis were abundant at the airport, the sea port, and both hotels. The full-size van taxis we took from the hotel to the seaport and from the hotel to the airport were cheaper, adequately sized, and easy to hail. If anyone does wish to arrange for a shuttle, the driver we used can be reached at 787-549-6058 or mrcontrol (at) hotmail (dot) com. He was very nice, and punctual.
Activities – We had all day Saturday to enjoy San Juan. We opted to provide ourselves with a walking tour to nearby Castillo de San Cristóbal, where we spent about 2 – 3 hours. It is perhaps a little less famous than El Morro, but well worth the time. It is maintained by the National Park Service, and offers spectacular views of the beach as well as the cruise port. We later walked to Old San Juan and had an excellent lunch, before catching a taxi back to the hotel.
Itinerary – our cruise lasted seven days, and included Puerto Rico, Aruba, Curacao, Dominica, and St Thomas. We had never done a Southern Caribbean cruise, so these ports were new to us. Also, this was the most international cruise we've taken yet. There were a lot of Puerto Ricans on board, but also quite a few French Canadians, South Americans, and Europeans. All in all, a very polite bunch of people to cruise with. Also, upon leaving San Juan, we never saw another cruise ship until we returned, meaning we had each port to ourselves.
Excursions -- At Aruba, we caught a taxi to the beach. For some strange reason, the taxi drivers were claiming that they were limited to 5 people. One was in a sedan, so I understood that; but we hired a driver in a van who also claimed the same thing. We convinced him to do us a "favor" and take all six of us so we wouldn't have to split up. The beach itself was nice, but lacking any accommodations other than chairs and a few grass huts. At Curacao my wife and I did a SCUBA excursion, which consisted of two shore dives. We have not been diving in awhile, so we enjoyed the experience. The boys went for a sea kayak trip. PROBLEM: My oldest son Austin was 18, and had no problem leaving the ship without us, but his friend and my other son were 17 and 14 respectively. In Aruba, security did not allow my oldest to chaperone the other two. This caused us concern, since we would not be back in time to escort them off the ship, and they did not want to get up when we left early that morning. Sharon and I spoke to the Guest Services officer the prior evening, and he had us hand write a waiver that we both signed. We also had a notarized letter from our friend's parents. Guest Services worked with Security, and somehow it all worked out. Austin told us it took awhile, and they had to keep going higher up the chain, but eventually someone in authority approved their departure from the ship without us, and they were able to participate in their excursion. Dominica was a little rundown, and seemed very poor in relation to our other ports. Tourism will eventually help elevate their standard of living, I think. We opted for the Wacky Rollers River Tubing, which we all enjoyed very much. They drove us to a locale in the rain forest, where we picked up inner tubes and floated about 2-3 miles toward the sea coast. At the end, we were treated to rum or soft drinks and fresh fruit. I would definitely recommend this excursion to anyone travelling to Dominica. Finally, we landed at St Thomas where we took the Turtle Cove Sail and Snorkel. This was our favorite port, and our favorite excursion. The small 3 person crew played some good cruising music as we motored out to Turtle Cove (they hoisted a sail, but kept the motor running.) Turtle Cove was next to Buck Island. The whole area is protected, so we could not go ashore. We were able to float and watch the young sea turtles graze about 10 – 15 feet below. There was also a reef and lots of marine fish. This was very relaxing. On the way back to the ship, the crew served refreshments, which included adult beverages for the adults. I would highly recommend this excursion.
Dining – The food quality in the main dining room was excellent, and so was the service. The Headwaiter was the best we've seen. A very outgoing South African lady, she stopped by every night to chat with each and every table. She also provided us with a ships pin for Crazy Bear. The pin was from 2004, and no longer available. It was a nice gesture. As expected, the Windjammer was a madhouse whenever we used it for breakfast or lunch. We ate at Portofinos one night, which unfortunately, I do not recommend. It's not that the food was bad; but it wasn't any better, nor significantly different enough from the main dining room to justify the $40 extra we paid to eat there.
Room Service – No complaints. I know that others have expressed a decline in service from previous years, but it was not evident to me. No, we didn't get a mint on the pillow, but I don't need one. They kept our room clean and adorned with towel animals. All stewards stopped what they were doing to smile and greet us each time we walked the hallway.
The Ship – Loved it. It was clean, tastefully decorated, and easy to get around.
The Spa – Sharon enjoyed this, although I didn't use it. Heather also went there with Sharon the first night for a pedicure. Sharon says the same people manage the spas on all of the cruises we've been on (RCI, Carnival, Princess, and Disney); but the Carnival Conquest had a little bit nicer spa than this one.
Children's Program – Heather enjoyed this, although I don't think it's the best program we've seen (that honor goes to Disney Cruise Line). She made lots of new friends, and had fun with the activities. One night, they dressed as Pirates and paraded around the ship.
Although Disney is still our favorite cruise line, we are now fans of RCI and will use them again.