First cruise for us so we went with an open mind. On the advise of a cruise adviser we settled for Adventure of the Seas as it catered for a 17 year old. My 17 year old was not disappointed.
We flew from Gatwick to Malaga. The flight with British Airways went very smoothly. We were a bit uncertain where to find the Royal Caribbean rep when we arrived at Malaga but eventually found them outside of the terminal building guiding everyone towards the coaches. Once we had located the rep this all ran smoothly.
We arrived at the ship terminal. As a first time cruiser we found this a bit bewildering. Our luggage was already finding its own way on-board ship so we just joined a queue and hoped we were in the right queue. Basically that is all you need to do. The queue led to a check in desk where we gave our details, showed our credit card that we had registered with and were then given our sea passes. Then we were confronted by an array of confusing stands (My time dining, soda packages, etc). As first time cruisers we weren't sure if we needed to do anything here but basically you didn't.........everything on offer at the check in terminal was also on offer on-board so best to just walk past it all really, it is just a sales pitch. So, one final show of sea passes and we were then confronted with a "photographer" before we then made our way on board! Security photos were taken at the embarkation gate and then we were free to roam the ship. Our rooms weren't ready until 1.30 but we only had half an hour to wait.
We opted for a balcony room on Deck 6. It was bigger than I expected with a drop down bed for our son. Personally I found the decor perfectly adequate and didn't think it looked dated at all, it was light, airy, comfortable and above all spotlessly clean. Our cabin steward kept it that way for 7 days. I cannot speak highly enough about the service provided by the cabin steward. The bathroom was "compact" but perfectly adequate for a 7 night stay and plenty of hot water, and a constant stream of clean towels (many very cleverly made up as animals, a very nice touch).
We found Deck 6 to be a good place to be in the ship, it was half way between everything and very quiet. The inside cabins opposite us though looked over the Royal Promenade which was great for parade nights as they had a birds eye view of the entertainment but I suspect a little noisy due to their position. I personally wouldn't choose an inside cabin on decks 6, 7 or 8 of this ship as they all overlook the Promenade.
I have read many reviews about the problems with smoking and vibration on this ship. As far as smoking goes we didn't find it a problem and we are very anti smoking. Some people did smoke but we just moved on elsewhere, the majority of the ship was smoke free the week we went and we didn't find it a problem at all.
The ship did have a slight vibration, as this was our first cruise I can't compare it to other ships. Someone did say it was because the ship had a propeller (I thought all ships had propellers but who knows). It was a mild vibration, not a bad one. We didn't feel it at all in our cabin but it could be felt at the rear of the Windjammer, in certain bars and sometimes up by the pool. It wouldn't put me off going on this ship again though.
The food was amazing. We had planned to use the dining room but spent a whole week in the Windjammer. The choice was exceptional and we never had a bad or indifferent meal there. It did get very busy at times, we just learnt to avoid the busy times. Food is on tap on this ship 24/7 if you take into account the Cafe Promenade which is open all night.....it really isn't worth fighting over a table when an hour later the buffet will be virtually empty and all the food still there waiting to be eaten!
There were 3,500 people on our cruise. 2,500 of them were Spanish, 600 Brits and the rest made up of a lot of other nationalities. Lovely to see a very strong contingent of Irish on board as well. However, given the Spanish contingent it is safe to say there was a very Spanish feel to this cruise. The entertainment did slant to the Spanish as well but the Cruise Director Abel (let's call him the compÃ¨re of the evening) did a great job of making sure everyone knew what was going on in both Spanish and English. Abel was very entertaining and TBH was better than some of the evenings entertainment. The entertainment in the Lyric Theatre was a mixed bag but we went every night and it is worth doing that because you somehow start to feel a part of the ship and Abel kept us up to date with what would happen the next day. I speak highly of the Cruise Director, he did a great job. The entertainment is down to personal taste, we enjoyed some of it but not all of it.
I was concerned that prices on board would be high. To be honest they were high compared to where I live but this is an all inclusive cruise, you only have to spend money if you choose to. Alcohol I thought was on a par with any European country we have visited. Cocktails were 7 - 9 US Dollars, Beer 6-9 US Dollars. Wine was the worst, it averaged 8 US Dollars a glass and a bottle ranged from 25 - 35 US Dollars (given I can buy a very good wine in a local supermarket for Â£5 sterling I thought that was steep). And of course there was a 15% service charge as well......I feel sorry really for the bar people as given the prices you are very reluctant to add a tip to the bill as well given a service charge has already been added.....just hope they get to see some of it in their pay packet!
On the plus side bringing your own alcohol on board is strictly controlled. This led to a very calm and safe environment on board ship I thought. We didn't see one incident of an alcohol fuelled difficult situation on board at all.
Also it was quite funny watching everyone dressed up in their finery on the formal night, then pushing and shoving to get to the "cheap" jewellery and watch sale after dinner. Everyone loves a bargain so don't be tempted to buy gifts from the shops on board, wait until midweek when the inevitable "sale" starts!
So Ports of Call. We had only booked an excursion to Rome preferring to savour life on board as it was a first time cruise. When we docked at Valencia you could get the ships shuttle for 15 euros per person but apparently being a Sunday Valencia is very quiet so we chose to sit up on deck and sun worship (a little bit of heaven because the sun is a rarity in Wales). Our first day of sea was very rough and there were quite a few people looking a bit green but the sea sickness tablets from Guest Relations seemed to work a lot better than any bought at home from the chemist so worth bearing that in mind. Rome unfortunately for us was a washout because it didn't rain, it poured it down. We just joined the Rome fashion of the day and bought brightly coloured macs off the street vendor. A pity but you can't control the weather. The excursion however was led by a very knowledgeable lady and I can't fault the excursion itself........need to go back to Rome one day and see it in the sun. We didn't get off at Livorno again preferring the sundeck but you can get a 5 euro return bus ride into Livorno if you haven't booked an excursion. Adjaccio was lovely, the ship docks right at the pier and you can walk off the ship into the town. From a port of call point of view this was the highlight for us. Valencia, Civitavecchia and Livorno were very much a dock area (which is fine if you have an excursion but not very picturesque if you choose to stay on board). Ajaccio though was lovely.
I was concerned that a cruise would not interest a 17 year old without his big brother this time but it was fine. Day one he found the sports court and started kicking a football around on his own. Football is an international language and he soon had people joining him. He made friends from the UK, Ireland and Spain and we saw very little of him for the whole week. He was happy so were we! There was a 15 to 17 year old club, no young children or adults allowed...it worked well and a 1 am curfew for all teenagers under 18 was great, he was back at a sensible time so we didn't need to worry and the ship was quiet at night.
Overall I loved this cruise, can't wait to do another one. Nothing is perfect and I know past reviews have highlighted a few concerns which are probably justified to certain degrees but in the greater scheme of things we had a fantastic week and wouldn't hesitate to go on this ship again.