Another great cruise on AOS
So this is our second time on AOS. Last time was about six years ago cruising out of San Juan to Curacao, St. Thomas, St. Martin and Aruba. This time out of San Juan to St. Croix, St. Martin, St. John's Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados.
The ship is still in excellent shape. We had our first suite experience, (thanks to our parents!! Happy 50th Anniversary, Mom and Dad!) the Junior Suite, and it blew us away!!!! I read that the difference in space was not that noticeable, but I completely disagree! With the walk-in closet and large balcony it felt so spacious that I spent tons of time in my lovely suite. Usually I want to get the heck out of the room as soon as possible. The suite also has a much larger bathroom (for a ship) and a BATHTUB!! Woo Hoo!! I think I took 10 baths just because I could! I tend to get a little urpy, unfortunately, on cruises, and the baths helped tremendously. It will be very difficult to go back to a regular room now. I'll have to work More
harder to make that extra money, I guess.
Now, unfortunately I have to say that the atmosphere on board was a little more sedate than I remember from previous cruises. Not as jovial and energetic. The staff seems a little overworked, perhaps, and tired. By "staff" I mean the bartenders and storekeepers, and especially the coffee shop. That is not at all to say they seemed unfriendly or grouchy, just not as energetic and happy as I remember from my previous RCCL cruises. I witnessed some passengers' rude behavior, so maybe that's why. Makes me so mad. These people work so hard! There is no excuse for being rude!!! If you are irritated at having to wait for your specialty coffee, go complain to the front desk and let them know they need more help! Being rude is not going to help anyone! Grrrrr.
Unfortunately we did not get to experience the Portofino restaurant because it was very difficult to get a reservation for our group of 14. That was very unfortunate because I have read wonderful reviews about this restaurant. The embarkation process was mostly smooth but kind of confusing. Wasn't the greatest, but no biggie. The staff at our dining table was superb, especially "Bet" (we couldn't pronounce her real name, though we tried!) was so sweet and helpful and friendly! LOVED HER!! And Augusta on Deck 9 was a joy as well! Jesters was fun and they played some good music, and we loved the Latin Music Bar, Blue Moon I think it is called. Great drinks, but strong, so watch out! This ship had the deadest Schooner's Bar I have seen thus far.
The itinerary was extremely port-intensive, so we didn't see any of the shows, which is a first for me. I really loved the ship-shape menu each night!! Great food and very healthful and light! My husband teases me for choosing this menu, but I look at it like one of the really expensive retreats that the stars go to that ordinarily I could never afford. Plus, I needed to chose that after San Juan, Puerto Rico, and all the delicious food there!!
Speaking of delicious food in San Juan, I just cannot recommend the Flavors of San Juan Tour more! It was just excellent!! Also speaking of food, this Windjammer was the best I have ever experienced. Usually I really do not like the Windjammer much at all. This time I really enjoyed it! Great choices and flavorful and everything tasted distinct and different.
Some areas I think Royal Caribbean needs to improve on are the operating hours of their attractions like Jesters, Blue Moon, pool-side music and Johnny Rockets. For instance, during the "party under the stars" night, everything else was closed. It was windy and dead up there, so we went to Jesters, only to find they didn't open until 1:30 a.m! What? And that is only one example of a few incidents like this. It seems like they are really cutting back on staff, to me. And I sure wish they would add a take-away breakfast/lunch spot in the Solarium like they do on Celebrity cruises where they specialize in healthful, light foods like wraps and fruit and the like. We had room service every morning for breakfast, and although the staff were so friendly and marvelous and the food was quite good, the menu is rather limited and gets old quick. And the nickel and diming is out of control! Everywhere I looked there was a "fee" for this, a "fee" for that. Johnny Rockets cost 24 dollars by the time we were done. I had a hot stone massage and it was great. Not cheap, but worth it! The ports of call were great. I will review those separately. Great cruise! Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
I hope I have the right port of call. I meant St. John's Antigua. Anyways, this port of call is all about the beaches, from what I read. We took a ship's excursion for ziplining. As I mentioned earlier, I am a total chicken, and I was scared to death! Almost chickened out last minute, but I closed my eyes and set off. And it was FUN!! It is quite exhilarating and safe. My biggest fear was not being coordinated enough to land and hurting my knees or something. But I had no problem at all. I will say, however, that the steps from some of the platforms to the next could be a bit taxing for very mature person. And I definitely would NOT recommend the obstacle course if you are not fit and you do not have very good upper-body strength. I met two 50-something year old women, and they were dying. They said they should not have done the obstacle course part of the excursion. We did not do that part, thank goodness! I have wimpy arms! Our daughters went to Sandals after being pointed in that direction by a waitress in Hemmingway's Restaurant, and their pictures of the beach and facilities were gorgeous!! That is probably what I will do next time in this port. Or Valley Church Beach I heard fabulous reviews on as well, and I think it's free!
We took the ship's excursion: Beach and Bar Hop. It was FABULOUS!! Fun, fun, fun! Everyone in our group wants to go back to Barbados for vacation for sure!! I felt this excursion was also a decent value. Each establishment we were given tickets for two drinks. There were three establishments!! Yikes! Party bus for sure! Lorin was great!
We actually got into San Juan about 3:00 after a red-eye flight out of SFO on Friday. Our ship left San Juan on Sunday. We absolutely LOVE SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO!!! Having been to Seville, Spain, I feel San Juan is like a mini-trip to Spain. If you're a foodie, you're gonna love it here! We stayed at the Sheraton Old San Juan. It was expensive, but a relatively good buy in comparison to other hotels' prices here, from my research. And the location is fabulous. But it IS expensive! Here is the review I wrote for Tripadvisor for the FLAVORS OF SAN JUAN TOUR we took on Friday night. It was excellent!!
Wow, wow, wow!!!!! That absolutely sums it up!! We had a party of 14. Every single last one of us were so overwhelmed with the quality of this tour! The food was absolutely phenomenal and our tour guide/director Paulina was energetic, informative, and as charming as is humanly possible!
We had a red-eye flight out of SFO and had very little to no sleep, but I decided to book this tour anyway, figuring we would just go straight to bed and waste our first night in San Juan if we didn't. Plus, it was a great way to learn about the City and how to navigate it so we could use that knowledge the next full day we had to explore. I am so very, very glad I did exactly that. Every one of us used the knowledge gained from the tour on Friday night to get the most out of San Juan for our precious Saturday in this fabulous city! We all did separate things but felt confident about what we were doing, and all of us re-visited at least one if not more of the establishments that Paulina introduced us to. Our group ranged in age from 25 to 71 years old.
We started at an out-of-the-way place that there is no way in heck I ever would have found on my own. It was very hidden, classy and absolutely delicious!! I am not going to give details unless you specifically ask me because I think it would kind of spoil the fun a bit.
Next we had the best mojito I have ever had in my life paired with a very satisfying and delicious food pairing. Again, I will not divulge details on the food unless you specifically ask me, but I don't think you should spoil the surprise. Next we walked to another quaint out-of-the-way establishment to try Puerto Rican specialties such as mofongo and beans and rice. Now I have had mofongo before, but I thought it was rather bland. Well, let me tell you, there was NOTHING bland about this mofongo!!!!!! And the beans and rice were spectacular!!! YUMMMMMMM!!! Last but certainly not least we walked to a cozy little bar/tavern type place and had dessert with coffee. Again, delicious!! En route we were treated to a walking tour explaining the City's history and the buildings were were walking past. It was absolutely magical!!! And, remember, we were completely exhausted from our flight, and sometimes it was pouring down rain. Yet every single one of us were completely thrilled! We even had some extremely picky eaters in our group, and they were very satisfied with this tour as well!!
I know I am using way too many exclamation points in this review, but I guarantee you, if you take this tour you will find yourself doing the same! Guaranteed!!!!! Bless you, Paulina!!!!
We booked the Gecko ATV tour and it was A BLAST!! Talk about your money's worth! Now, I am a chicken, I admit, so I thought it was nerve-wracking and scary! But out of nine of us, ranging in age from 25 to 71, I was the only Nervous Nelly. Super impressed by this company! It was really easy to find, and a bar was very conveniently located right next to it, which helped with my nerves. This was my first time not booking with the ship, and I was nervous. No need to worry though. I highly recommend this tour, but book early as there are only 5 ATVs per outing, and there are three outings per day! At the end of the tour everyone went back to the ship in the van, but me and my husband and our daughters stayed right there where the tour ends at the beach, Rainbow Beach, and the bartender there was FABULOUS!!!!!!! And really good music too. And the beach was beautiful, warm and calm. After that, we went to a place our taxi driver recommended and tried some delicious local food of salt fish and pork knuckles and beans and rice. OMG!! So good!
This island is volcanic and absolutely stunning! But from what I heard, the port itself is rather hard to navigate, so I really recommend booking an excursion so you don't miss out on this island's incredible natural beauty! This was my second time not booking an excursion through the ship. The first time was in St. Croix with Gecko ATV tours. I booked Spencer Ambrose tours. He responded to my many nervous emails and put my mind at ease. We booked the Jalousy Beach excursion. (spelling!) Actually, we booked the Jalousy Beach Excursion with Soufriere highlights, but after getting on the boat, it seemed that our group of four were the only ones who wanted that tour, so I just opted for the Beach excursion tour as well. Spencer's staff was very easy to find, and I felt I was in good hands, as Spencer was our boat operator! There was quite a bit of confusion at the beginning of the tour as some people on the Carnival ship were late (some people said they had a different start time, but I don't know) and Spencer tried very, very hard to pick them up, but one of them fell and was injured pretty badly. Spencer still waited while they assessed their injuries, and finally left. This put us behind schedule, I assume, because Spencer sped along to Jalousy Beach telling us he would give us the tour on the way back. Jalousy Beach is absolutely stunningly beautiful! I wouldn't miss it for anything! And the snorkeling was really good, IMO. The rum punch was scrumptious and S-T-R-O-N-G! And let me tell you about the lunch! SO GOOD! Especially the chicken. I really enjoyed this excursion very much. The only irritation was at the end of the tour, things got quite hectic and we were told to get on a catamaran. I told the representative that we were waiting for Spencer because he was going to give us the tour by boat. He said Spencer told him to get us on the Catamaran. We still had all the rum punch you wanted and other drinks, and the Catamaran was lovely and not too crowded, but I was not very happy about it. And when Spencer's boat sped by us, giving that group the tour, I asked for another rum punch. I just think it would have been better business to make certain that the group who got the late start was on that last boat with Spencer and getting that promised tour. Even if it was a speedy tour due to time. But to be fair, do I feel I got my money's worth? Absolutely!! And there was no ship excursion that went to Jalousy Beach, so I would do it again for certain. I would just be more firm next time. And when I go to St Lucia, I am definitely booking the Cosol tour as well! I later heard great reviews and he seemed so friendly!
My favorite island. This is our second time to St. Martin, and I loved Orient Beach so much the last time, we just went straight there again!! Man, would I LOVE to see Orient Beach at night!! Someday we will come here for a week.... or more! We took the ship's excursion, and it was a really good value. I think it was 54 dollars and included one cocktail or drink of your choice and a lunch of either ribs, grilled fish or chicken and a lounger. You could rent an umbrella for three bucks. But since the ship leaves at 5:00, we were there at approx 10:00 and left approx 3:00, so many establishments were still closed. Afterwards, the tour operator gave us the option to go back to the ship via the bus or stop off in St. Maarten for some shopping. So we shopped a little and enjoyed the city before heading back to the ship. Wanted to go to Maho Beach to see the planes, but we were told it was too late to see the planes land. Oh, well. Next time!!