My family, (Mom, Dad, 10 year old son and 7 year old daughter) loved our Royal Caribbean cruise! This was our first cruise as a family, although my husband sailed previously on Carnival. We were so relaxed and happy on this ship that we are going on another Royal Caribbean ship next year.
The day before our cruise, we flew United from Washington, Dulles to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with an hour long stop in St. Thomas. We arrived on time at 1:00 pm.
We stayed overnight at the Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino in the Condado Section of San Juan. Our room was on the Ambassador Club floor. Our rate included a room with two double beds, complimentary breakfast, internet access and happy hour food. Drinks were available from an honor bar. The hotel was clean and the location was convenient. We were a ½ block from the ocean and within walking distance of many shops and restaurants. The hotel was fine for a one night stay and our kids enjoyed the rooftop pool. However, the hotel lobby is narrow, confusing to navigate and dominated by a tired looking casino. The Club level elevator stopped working, which was annoying. The hotel staff was not very efficient, but they were nice.
We got to the Panamerican terminal around 11:45 after about a 10-minute taxi ride from the Radisson. We had completed our SetSail Pass online at home and printed it out before we left Washington. We went right to the check-in line, got our Sea Passes and were on the ship within 15 minutes. Our stateroom was ready and our suitcases were waiting in the hall for us at 1:00 pm.
We left San Juan on March 23, 2008 for a 7-night Southern Caribbean cruise. We visited Aruba, Curacao, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas. The ship is beautiful and tasteful. Once you get your bearings, you'll see that it is well laid out. Even though more than 3000 people were on the ship, we never felt crowded. We especially liked the 5th floor promenade with the pubs and shops. Café Promenade on deck 5 always has food, which is very convenient if you don't want to go all the way up to the Windjammer on the 11th floor for lunch. Because our stateroom was on the 2nd floor, Forward, we did do a lot of walking to get anywhere. Be aware that you can not walk all the way through the ship on some floors. We had to go up to the 4th or 5th floor to get across to the Aft elevators to eat in the dining room or the Windjammer. We didn't mind, but for those with limited mobility, it's something to keep in mind.
Everything was very clean and crew were always cleaning and maintaining the ship. Even though some passengers just left trash and used glasses on the ground, the crew cleaned it up right away; they work hard on this ship.
We had an ocean view stateroom, midship on Deck 2. We had two twin beds that we left as two singles so our kids could climb into their beds above. The beds are extremely comfortable; we slept like babies every night. The room was quiet and we didn't feel as much of the roll of the ship as we did when we were higher up at the pool. Our stateroom attendant Sheldon, was a wonderful person! Our room was always spotless and he was very nice to our kids. They were so excited when "Mr. Sheldon" left towel animals for them; the towel animals were one of the best parts of the trip for my daughter.
I used the gym and it is very nice. It's a bit odd being on a treadmill with the roll of the sea, but it's a beautiful facility with a good layout and plenty of machines. The jogging track looks nice, but it shares a deck with the lounge chairs and when they are extended, they obstruct the track. It's also windy on the track; it's good to look at, but I preferred the gym.
My kids loved the pools, and the inline skating track. The water slides had very limited hours and my kids ended up not using them at all. They spent most of their sea days in the pool until dinner. On the first day at the pool, they made friends instantly, and didn't really talk to us until dinner. Every day after dinner, at 7:00 pm, they went straight to Adventure Ocean. WOW! For parents and kids this is the best part of the cruise. My kids begged us to let them stay until 1:00 am, which we did a few times. They loved Adventure Ocean. They had a special meeting with the captain, dressed up as pirates and paraded around the ship, had a dance contest, it goes on and on. It's a wonderful facility and the staff is great and very creative. The only concern I had was with the behavior of a few of the kids. Adventure Ocean has a very clear policy about the children's behavior and they are very serious about the kids' security. A few kids refused to behave and had to be removed by their parents. The staff handled it all well and the rest of the kids were very well behaved.
We didn't attend any shows, but the band at the pool was really good. We enjoyed listening to them every day. The Cruise Director seemed fun; he held contests at the pool that were fun to watch. We also saw a parade on deck 5 that my kids enjoyed.
My husband really enjoyed the Cigar Lounge. The person in charge, Phil, was a great guy! He made my husband feel right at home and made his vacation that much better.
We ate dinner at the main seating at 6:00 pm because of our kids. Our waiter, Franky, and assistant waiter, Chester, were lovely. They paid attention to our kids and treated us very warmly. When we saw them around the ship, they went out of their way to say hello. Victor, our beverage waiter, was friendly and funny. He knew what we liked to drink at the pool and at dinner and was ready with our drinks as soon as he saw us.
The food in the Dining Room and the Windjammer Buffet was good. You can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Dining Room or the Windjammer. We preferred breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer and dinner in the Dining Room, although the kids ate at Johnny Rockets once. If you've ever been to Johnny Rockets, you can skip it on the ship. It's a fun time, but no different from the experience we've had at home. The food selection in all the eating venues was good and we all gained weight. When you eat in the Windjammer, go all the way to the back, on the left side, if possible. The food is the same all the way around, but the views are better in the back, and In addition to the regular buffet food, you can get made to order omelets, pizza, burgers and hot dogs only in the back. You'll figure it out after your first time there, but save yourself that first day and go straight to the back.
My husband and I had dinner at Portofino once; it takes a full 2 ½ hours to eat there. It was lovely, and the food was a bit better than that in the main Dining Room. However, the service in the main Dining Room was better and friendlier than Portofino. Also, the ship information states that no kids under 13 can eat in Portofino, but while we were there, two families had about 12 kids under that age at their own tables. They were well behaved, but we were surprised to see them.
Since this was our first cruise, we booked all of our excursions through Royal Caribbean. On Aruba we went on the Snorkel, Sail & Swing with the Jolly Pirates. You can book this trip yourself on the Jolly Pirates website. This trip was a blast! My kids are strong swimmers but they had never snorkeled before. The first stop was great for beginners; 10 feet of water, lots of fish, very clear. The second stop was at a sunken German ship in 60 feet of water. The seas were very heavy there and the current was very strong. My kids were fine, but my husband and I were too worried to enjoy this stop. The water was also too murky to see much. My advice is to stay on the boat at the second stop and relax. The final stop is the highlight of the trip! The crew climbs into the rigging and does all sorts of cool rope tricks and then dives off the side of the ship. Then it's your turn. My son and daughter LOVED this excursion. It's a good time.
In Curacao we took the Sea and See tour: see the island, a liquor factory stop and a trip in a Semi-Submersible ship. The tour and liquor factory were ok, but the submersible was the best part of the excursion. There were only 3 kids on this tour. My kids enjoyed seeing all the sea life, including a small octopus. The crew was great and we had a good time.
In St, Martin, we took the tour of the Dutch & French sides with a 2 hour stop at Orient Beach. The beach is beautiful, but the ocean was very rough and most people had a hard time with the waves that day. Our day in St. Thomas started with a 45 minute Screamin Eagle jet boat ride. If you have a 10 year old boy, this is a must. Power boat heaven! After that, we went to Megan's Bay for 2 hours, relaxing, lovely, but a bit crowded. The ocean was calm and my kids caught a fish. All in all a fantastic day.
Overall, our fellow passengers were good, friendly people. There were people from a wide variety of backgrounds and everyone got along well. On the very few occasions when someone was obnoxious, the crew quietly stepped in to diffuse the situation. We did notice roving packs of teenagers after 9:00 pm, but they were all really polite kids out having a good time. None of them were rude or problematic. The ship has a 1:00 am curfew for teenagers, so we never heard noise or had a problem with their behavior. The only loud, obnoxious people I saw were four moms who seemed to have had too much to drink at the pool; go figure.
Disembarkation was easy. We put our luggage out in the hallway by midnight the night before and didn't have to deal with it until we were off the ship. We left our room by 7:00 am the next morning; you have to be out by 8:00 am anyway. We had a relaxed breakfast in the Windjammer. We waited in the Lyric for about an hour and then disembarked. Be warned, the wait in the Lyric Theater is boring. Bring a book; they had CNN on large screen TV's that repeated the same news every 15 minutes. . .ARGH. Once we were off the ship, we had no trouble finding our luggage, it was color coded. We used the $20.00/person luggage valet service which means once we picked up our bags, we walked 10 feet and United took them from us and sent them to the airport. We didn't have to deal with them until we got home. Since we didn't have to worry about our luggage, we took a 2 hour tour of Old and new San Juan that ended with us being dropped off at the airport. Everything went very smoothly.
We had a fantastic time overall and can't wait to do it again. Our vacation was easy, relaxed and fun. Thanks Royal Caribbean!