The January 27 sailing of Adventure of the Seas stopping at St. Croix, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados was our seventh cruise out of San Juan and overall it was enjoyable with good officers and really great service from a hard working crew.
We are Canadians, ages 57 and 61 and I'm writing this review from my perspective which is that of a careful planner who reads the Cruise Critic Reviews, avoids school and public holidays and has a plan B should something go amiss. I pay attention to airline schedules as well as travel and cruise industry news in general. As a result, we've always enjoyed our cruise vacations, never had lost or late luggage or suffered any travel horrors and delays. We are not in the least bit "high maintenance".
All the stuff about boarding lines and disembarkation procedures, ships excursions and islands visited are covered extensively in other reviews so I'll mention only what matters to us.
Dining and Food:
The new RCI menu seems to have fewer items to choose from than years past though I'd still describe the food as good banquet class dining. The Windjammer lacked soup choices at lunch and a few strong curries would have been welcome, but we didn't go hungry.
We ate dinner in the (My Time Dining) Mozart with a reserved table for 6 at the early seating each evening. The first thing we did after boarding the ship on Sunday afternoon was make that reservation with the Maitre d'. The fixed time early seating was already filled up when we booked this cruise in late August.
My Time Dining is a bit of a misnomer as it really fills quickly for early seating at 6:00 pm and then no openings are available until the first seating is cleared away and second seating starts at 8:30 pm. So it's important to make a reservation and stick with it.
Drinks are overpriced by about 30% to 40% and one pina colada in the Lyric Theatre seemed watered down and quite awful. It's also time for Royal Caribbean to ban smoking everywhere on this ship.
The Lyric Theatre had all the usual production shows typical for a Caribbean cruise, short variety act song and dance numbers, a comedian and musical acts. There were some fun high energy theme parties around the ship which are pretty much standard fare on these cruises.
We enjoyed the shows but found the evenings were missing ordinary social dancing. The Imperial Lounge has the largest dance floor but the audio sound system there appeared to be broken. We like to dance, Latin, Ballroom and American Social but the Blue Moon lounge on Deck 14 had almost no floor space while the Lobby Bar on Deck 4 had only a little more floor space but was too close to the smoke wafting out of the Casino. Jesters Nightclub had a good dance floor but seemed mostly unoccupied because it only played ear piercing disco/rock at full volume. One night with nobody else in there I asked the DJ to put some contemporary dance music on at lower volume and he said he couldn't. So we left. Another evening we came back in and again it was empty but I managed to persuade the DJ to play a Mambo and a couple of Cha Cha's but couldn't persuade him to turn down the volume.
Rock music, rap beats and techno disco played at full volume is not pleasant in small lounges and certainly nobody seemed to stay and listen or order drinks. A competent Cruise Director should be on top of that sort of thing.
Pedro, the guitarist, was the one exception and always superb. Metrotone along with the Adventure of the Seas Orchestra were both good but not as dance bands. The piano bar singer was painfully loud and bad.
We skipped all the art auction and diamond and gemstone shopping talks. We never went into the movie screening room and not once turned the cabin television on. The ice show was not an attraction for us, as we came to the Caribbean to forget about the cold weather at home, and chose not to watch it.
I'm usually good at Trivia but the questions on AOS seemed fiendishly hard and made more difficult because the presenter in the Schooner Bar spoke such poor English.
As on all the other cruise ships there is too much wasted effort taking official ship photographs. Doesn't everybody have their own digital camera these days? One formal night pose is more than enough.
The Ship and Cabins:
The inside cabins are smaller than on any ship I can remember and there were some nasty sewer smells on Deck 2, Deck 6 and Deck 7 aft. Our toilet didn't work on two different occasions for several hours. However, the laundry service is excellent and always returned by 5:00 pm next day (5:30 p.m. for friends down the hall). So no need to bring too much luggage. Men should only need one light summer blazer or sport jacket and a tie for formal evenings. Cruises out of San Juan simply don't require tuxedos. Save some room in your suitcase for the drink-of-the-day Royal Caribbean logo glasses you get to keep.
The graphic displays near the elevators that show your present location are excellent. They're easy to read and understand which is important because it's a huge ship and with such a large inside promenade and lack of outside directional cues very handy. The artwork (supposedly $15 million of it) placed around the ship was an important and necessary visual clue in helping me to find our inside cabin.
Normally I never go near a spa on a cruise ship, but Adventure of the Seas has an excellent gym, hot tub and change room area which didn't smell like chlorine. The elevators though, did smell strongly of disinfectant but I completely understand the need for constant cleaning.
If you really want guaranteed good weather and sunshine in January or February for a winter cruise, then San Juan, PR is the only low cost departure point that gets you into the southern Caribbean fast without any days at sea going back and forth to a Florida departure port.
San Juan has huge hotel capacity and excellent air connections from mainland US. There are always last-minute hotel and air deals available so don't book too soon in advance.
Just know you must avoid booking your cruise on or near any school holidays, Christmas, New Year and the San Sebastian Festival which occurs around mid January. That includes New York school and public holidays because the Puerto Ricans who live in NY outnumber those on the island itself and those festivals and school holidays bring them back to PR in droves.
We fly from Detroit, not Toronto and do our own hotel, flight and cruise bookings online. We also decline all medical and trip insurance which saves enough in costs to pay for a few days pre-cruise at a hotel/resort in Puerto Rico.
We fly midweek to San Juan (SJU) to avoid the crush of same day cruise travelers at the airport and we try to avoid hotels in Old San Juan, the Convention area and along Condado Beach which can be high traffic and noisy. Instead we prefer the beach area along Isla Verde. There's the Courtyard Marriott (our favourite) at the east end of the beach next to the Ritz, an InterContinental, El San Juan; and in easy walking distance, the Verdanza, a Hampton Suites and the Embassy Suites Hotel which is also one of our favourites with breakfast and happy hour included.
Since it's always a taxi ride to and from the ship no matter where you stay, it makes better sense to be near a good beach. The public bus (53 and T5) from Isla Verde to Old San Juan is just .75 cents compared to a $20 taxi ride into town along the freeway.
For this trip, we booked four nights at the Embassy Suites and received El Yunque Rainforest Tour tickets (valued at $120 for the two of us) which is a tourist travel promotion currently offered in Puerto Rico. This promotion has four or five free tours including the bioluminescent caves by kayak, city bike tours, zip line experience and a catamaran trip to a remote beach. Which ever you choose the tour vans pick you up at selected hotels and bring you back about four or five hours later.
The ship is pleasant and the passenger mix mostly middle aged Canadians, Americans and a smattering of South Americans and Europeans. There were almost no children on board. It was a better cruise experience than Carnival Victory (4*) in 2012 but less enjoyable than Serenade of the Seas (4.5*) and Caribbean Princess (5*) and Celebrity Millennium (5*) all out of San Juan in previous years. Our first cruise out of San Juan was on Nordic Empress in 1999. Ships have different personalities and it's almost impossible to say which one is better or worse as it boils down to what sort of cruise experience you enjoy. We tend to pick any ship that goes to Barbados and are not loyal to any one cruise line by trying different ships every year, so my recommendation is take a cruise on Adventure of the Seas and judge for yourself.
My opinion of the ship and the itinerary, the food and overall service is that it is good value for the cost.