Very smooth non-stop flight from PHL to SJU. Landed at about 4 PM and went right to the Embassy Suite and Casino which was just about 10 minutes from the airport. The Embassy was a very nice pre-cruise hotel which had a delicious, buffet breakfast in the morning. It was only a 5 minute walk to a nearby Walgreens in case you needed some last minute items, like us.
Left the hotel at about 11:15 AM for the trip to the pier. There was a line of people dropping off their luggage. After that was dealt with, we were directed to another long line which was the final step to getting into the terminal.. The door to the terminal weren’t yet open because all of the passengers from the previous cruise hadn’t yet disembarked. According to the rules, new passengers can’t board until all the returning ones were off. The Set Sail pass did state that boarding would take place beginning at 1:30 PM. So, if you’re an early bird, you may have to wait for a while in a long line in the heat. The terminal doors finally opened at about 12:45 PM and people began filing in. Once inside, the registration process was smooth and seamless by a very friendly Royal staff. We headed directly to the Windjammer for lunch and shortly after finishing, went to our cabin which was ready. Speaking of Set Sail passes, make sure you have one printed up and in hand since it will save a lot of time at registration and getting your Sea Pass. The elevators going to the Windjammer (Deck 11) will probably be packed, so walk to the rear of the ship and use the banks of elevators there. Doing so should save you from a long wait with people hauling their carry on bags.
There’s a shop inside the terminal building where you can buy the two bottles of wine each cabin is allowed to bring aboard. The selection was pretty good and the prices not too bad. Since your bags have already been screened, simply buy your wine and carry it aboard with you. Very nice touch, Royal!
Day 2: St. Thomas
The day dawned bright and sunny as the ship docked at St. Thomas. The Windjammer was packed early as everyone was anxious to get off the ship and on their excursions or to the many beaches. As always, Megan’s Bay was a beautiful jewel where we spent most of the day sun bathing, lounging, or snorkeling. Try to go early to any beach you chose if there are several cruise ships in port. They can fill up fast and become crowded with cruisers.
Day #3 Basseterre, St. Kitts
We spent our day at one of the most beautiful beaches, ever- South Friars. It was just about 15 minutes away from the pier and cost just $4/pp for the taxi ride. The charge for a very large, circular love seat and umbrella was $30 but worth every cent. This beach was quiet, peaceful, and sedate. One thing nice was that there were no hawkers walking up and down trying to sell you things, so that added to the overall experience. An amazing sight was seeing the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea separated by about 500 yards of land as we descended a steep hill towards the beach. The Atlantic had waves while the Caribbean was its usual, gentle self.
Day 4: Aruba
After breakfast, we left the ship and hired a taxi for a ride to the high rise hotels, about 15 minutes away. We stopped at the Marriot, walked through their lobby, and used their beach. We rented two lounge chairs for $20 but couldn’t get one of those permanent straw type umbrellas. We were told they were only for hotel guests but sitting under any of a number of palm trees would give about the same amount of shade. They did, but the chairs had to be moved to keep pace with the sunlight. The beach was truly beautiful with white sand and no waves from the sea. Snorkling wasn’t very good due to the number of watercraft nearby pulling various types of rides behind them. After about three hours, we rented a taxi for a short tour to the lighthouse and natural bridge before heading back to the ship. Everyone in Aruba was friendly and polite. As opposed to other Caribbean islands, I didn’t see a scrap of paper or piece of trash anywhere. The ever blowing breeze kept things feeling nice and cool regardless of the actual temperature.
Day 5: Curacao
It was a very short walk from the ship to the shops and taxi stands. We contracted with a 20 passenger bus for a tour of the island which included two hours of beach time. Except for the oil refineries, this would be a jewel of an island. All of the good beaches and major things of interest are located upwind of the smoke that spews from the many refinery smokestacks. I felt really sorry for the people who live downwind from all this pollution. Our beach time was spent at Mambo Beach. Entrance was a mere $3.75 pp and chairs with umbrella another $10 pp. The fee for chairs/umbrellas seemed pretty consistent for every port we visited so you have to add this recurring fee to each of your beach visits. Of course, sitting on the sand with your towel is free so that’s something to consider as well. Mambo beach was very impressive, though. Nice and clean, no venders, and lots of shops worthy of visiting. All too soon, it was time to return to the ship and a sad time knowing this was the last place to be visited on this cruise.
Day 6: Sea Day
For most of the day it was a bit cloudy and overcast. That didn’t keep people from packing the pool area, though. As usual, near the end of the cruise Royal had a 50% off sale on many select items, such as tee shirts, sportswear, costume jewelry, and lower end watches. I don’t think there were any real bargains but people seem to think 50% off things that are overpriced to begin with is a good deal. The final dinner of a cruise is always a bittersweet time. We had five really great tablemates and lots of fun conversations each night. Our waiter, Brendo, from the Philippines, did an excellent job each night. He was very efficient and attentive to our needs. He took the time to learn everyone’s first name after the 1st night and that is always a great, personal touch.
Debarkation: We assembled in the Strauss Dining Room at 9 AM for a scheduled 9:30 departure. Royal has an option for guests to carry off all their luggage beginning at 6:30 am if you have an early flight out of San Juan. Early debarkation should help expedite those passengers through customs at the pier. Our debarkation number was called at about 9:45 and we walked off the ship and right into the luggage storage area and US Customs.
A uniformed porter approached me and asked if he could help with our luggage. I said, “Yes, if you can get us through customs quickly.” He simply said, “Leave it to me!” After locating our luggage (in a neat row according to the deck you were on), he led us to some sort of express line and we were out of the building within five minutes. The porter also flagged down a taxi for us which got around waiting in a long line waiting with others trying to get to the airport. It was really worth the $15 tip I gave the porter for his assistance.
Some final thoughts:
Food/Dining: good to very good. Prime rib was on the menu twice during the cruise. Both times, the cuts of meat were delicious and done to perfection. The 2nd formal night was Friday and of course, everyone looks forward to the lobster tail. Most at our table asked for, and received, two orders of this. On the subject of dining, I have one pet peeve. One every Royal cruise I’ve been on, there is a little program where all the hard work of the chefs, cooks, servers, assistant servers, and other staff is celebrated. Generally, they all sing a tune and then parade around the dining room(s) to the applause of the passengers. OK, I get it- they feed a lot of people a lot of meals each day and do work very hard. But, on this cruise, they performed this little show not once, not twice, but three times! Now, I am totally convinced how hard everyone works, but it seemed that after three times it became totally self-serving and disrupted all conversation while the loud music/parade was going on. You could tell that the other diners were getting tired of this, too, since their applause was very subdued during the second and third “Look How Great We’re Doing” show.
To my surprise, I discovered that Royal was back to serving Seattle’s Best coffee! For our last five or six cruises it seemed as though they were using some very inexpensive, weak excuse for coffee. Nothing starts a day better than a few cups of flavorful Seattle’s Best! This was the first of two formal nights and the food was exceptionally delicious.
After several years absence, escargot was back on the menu. There was a world-wide shortage of them so they were removed from the menu.
Windjammer. Buffet food is buffet food, period. There seemed to be a large enough selection of food to please just about anyone’s palate. For most of the cruise we had breakfast at the Vivaldi dining room on deck 3. You get to meet and talk to other people wherever it is you’re seated and we learned a lot about which beaches were good and some great tips about going to places they recommended at a few of the islands we’ve never been. Also, roving servers made sure your coffee cup was never empty and every server was highly attentive. Eating at the Vivaldi always seemed more “civilized” than eating at the Windjammer.
Fellow cruisers: This was our tenth cruise and without hesitation have to say that this group of passengers was the best, ever. Everyone was polite, friendly, and had a “good morning” for others when riding elevators, etc. In catching snippets of conversations here and there It seemed to me that there was a tremendously large and diverse group of people aboard from all over the world. Such a mix always makes for an interesting time and ways to meet people you ordinarily wouldn’t meet.
The ship: I read dozens and dozens of reviews about the Adventure on Cruise Critic prior to booking this trip. I understood that AOS will shortly be going in for a refit to be refurbished. It’s been said, several times, that many areas of the ship looked tired, dirty, and worn out. Yes, I did see a few small areas of carpet that would benefit from a deep steam cleaning but for the most part, the Adventure was very clean, well-maintained, and a pleasure to sail on. I didn’t go over the ship with a microscope but it still has the same grandeur as she had when we last sailed on her in 2008. Our cabin was kept spotless, the beds very firm, Everywhere you went, crews were always busy touching things up and keeping things in top working order. Everyone seemed to take pride in what they were doing and it showed.
The staff: Everyone, from maintenance people, cabin attendants, waiters, and others, always had a pleasant “hello, good morning”, or other pleasantry at every turn. The AOS seemed to be a very “happy” ship in this respect. I think that everyone should try an Oasis-class ship to experience the “WOW” factor, but the smaller class ships seem to offer better service and less harried workers.
I’m already thinking about booking another southern Caribbean cruise on the AOS next January. Five ports with just one sea day? Wow!
If you have any questions or would like me to elaborate on any of the things in this review, please feel free to email me at: mystyou(at)Comcast(dot)net