First off a little about ourselves. We were in a group of four, my parents, grandmother, and me. This was my 9th, my parents 10th, and my grandma's 5th cruise I believe. We've cruised on NCL, Carnival, Celebrity, MSC, and Costa. This was our first Royal Caribbean cruise.
I was turning 18 and graduating from high school and I wanted to do something special, and we decided a cruise would be a nice gift. I was doing all the work this time around, and I narrowed it down to this cruise and a 7 night Carnival cruise, but because my grandma is in her 60s, we thought the party like atmosphere would make her cringe, even though it was at least $200 cheaper, we decided to go with Royal. We called the cruise line directly and got two connecting staterooms on the 10th floor, all the way forward, my parents in one room, my grandmother and I in another. Now for the cruise...
We left two days early and flew into San Juan down on Air Tran and back on American, for I guess a reasonable price. We got into the SJU airport and the baggage area looks a little dingy but overall it's a nice airport, and we arrived with all of our bags! Yay! We spent two nights at the Embassy Suites and had really luxurious rooms, and it was a really nice hotel, only a block or two from the beach, though we didn't get to enjoy it as it rained all the time we were in San Juan. The second day we took a tour through the hotel, that lasted most of the day, with a tour of San Cristobal (one of the forts), and we've previously toured El Morro. It was really hot that day, but bearable. We had a really nice tour guide, and we stopped at the capital and other tourist places around town for pictures. We toured the Bacardi Rum factory and it was a really interesting tour, which included two free drinks. Overall it was a really nice tour. Beware, the rainforest tour has a long drive which is why we decided against it, and this tour guide only accepted cash, and for four people we spent $200, at least, so have lots of cash or an ATM card handy.
We had a van take us to the port Pan Americano, I believe, not the other one, around 11:00 am, and we stood in one line to give our bags to the porters, and then proceeded into another line where we waited to go inside and get our SeaPass cards. Once inside, since we are Platinum members we were directed to an agent promptly and we received our SeaPasses. My husband had to revisit an agent because something was wrong with his card when we tried to board the ship. We got on the ship, and headed straight to the Windjammer, where the buffet is arranged in the nicest way, with signs, unlike other cruise lines, and we found a table and ate a great lunch. We explored the ship, and our rooms had the nicest views of San Juan off our portside balconies. We had a great room steward as well.
We found that the Muster Drill at 8:00 was towards the end of our early dinner, and we had only a few bites of dessert before being directed to the Theatre to listen to the lifeboat drill instructions, and the greatest part, no lifejackets were required. Yay!
Since our cruise was out of San Juan, about 75% of our cruise passengers were Hispanic, more than likely from Puerto Rico, so language was sometimes a barrier, and yes everything was spoken in two languages.
The first sea day, I lounged by the pool most of the day, and it was really crowded but they had some interesting contests on the pool deck during the week, like the Sexy Legs contest, which was hilarious!
Formal night, was a mix of attire, we dressed up, and most men I saw were in at least dress shirts, ties, and slacks, some with jackets, some without, and most women were in dresses, some a little more casual than others. The formal picture photographer's selection was decent, but some of the backgrounds were awful.
Our first port was Curacao, and my grandmother and I did a Dolphin encounter that was cut somewhat short due to the rainfall, which we found out was due to a tropical storm near the area that was bringing in a lot of rain. I should mention all of our tours were done through the ship, and even though we are experienced cruisers, we've never done private tours, so I'm only evaluating our cruise tours. By the time our tour was over with, we were soaking wet from being caught in a downpour, and we decided to check out the mall right off the pier. It was filled with some highly recommended shops, however, we didn't find much that we liked, as there were only a few places to buy t-shirts and what not. My parents did some sort of City tour which they said was one of the worst tours they have ever taken. There wasn't even a reason to tip.
Our second port was Aruba, and this time we had lots of sunshine and warm weather. My grandma and I went horseback riding, which was a one hour ride down along the beach, with some prestigious hotels and resorts not to far from us, and then an hour back. The ranch was in good condition and everyone was extremely nice and it was a great tour. Our tour guides were hilarious, something I would definitely recommend. There is a ton of shopping right off the pier in Aruba, and we bought t-shirts, along with some jewelry from the ships recommended jewelry store, not Diamonds International, though they had a good selection, for what I was looking for it was out of the price range. There are numerous jewelry stores right off the pier and I feel Aruba is a great place to buy if you need to buy. My parents went to Diamonds and bought some really nice DiVersa Jewelry I believe, which is really nice looking. Don't bother going to the Shopping Talk on the cruise it's a waste of time.
Dominica was a very interesting port, I'm not sure if I would return. We did a snorkeling and falls tour, which was really nice, but I found we didn't get a lot of time in each location. We first went snorkeling, and then proceeded to Sulfur Springs, which spent awful and made me nauseous. We went to Trafalgar Falls next, and it was a really long hike up to the falls, make sure you were super comfortable shoes. There is a tour that swims in the falls, which might have been nice as well. Right off the ship there are some flea markets that sell handy crafts and t-shirts, we stopped and bought some nicnacs and whatnot, but overall it's not the most developed country. I think next time we may try one of the beaches.
We had another sea day, which was filled with sunny weather also, and I laid out most of the day. This however was not the other formal night which I found odd. I never did get the chance to mini golf or go rock climbing.
St. Thomas was our last port of call, and is my favorite destination. We went on a yacht and snorkeling tour which was fantastic, we saw some huge turtles and some really nice coral and fish. We even learned how to drive the yacht. There were four of us, and the tour was really nice. Definitely recommended. We did some shopping in St. Thomas as well, which is right off the pier, and everyone except me did the SkyRide, which they said was really nice. I'm terrified of heights, so I decided not to do it. This was our last formal night.
Getting our luggage on the first night was a breeze, we got all of our bags within the first hour or two. And at the end they were collected about midnight, and the next morning we ate in the main dining room and waited in our lounge to be dismissed. Disembarkation was so simple, and we got a porter found all of our luggage and went through customs. The only issue was us going to the horse ranch but it was quickly cleared up. We got a taxi right outside the port and went to our Caribe Royale Hotel which has its own private beach and really nice pool. It was a really nice upscale hotel, thought there was a few restaurants to eat, it was extremely pricey as those kind of restaurants usually are.
Getting to the airport the next morning was extremely HECTIC! Give yourselves a good two hours in the morning otherwise you will be extremely stressed. First make sure you go through the USDA inspection. Then we proceeded to do the online check in for bags and what not which was expensive. We had to wait in a long line in order to check our bags, and by this time we were panicking, as we thought we might miss our flight. After this we had to wait in the security line which was taking longer than usual even at the busiest airports. There were three lines all moving at an extremely slow pace, and we barely made it to our flight, but overall it was an eventful morning. Just give yourself plenty of time otherwise you'll be panicked.
Some other random side notes. Our dining room staff was amazing. One night the waiters did a dance where they balance objects on their heads, it was quite interesting. One man from Greece I believe sang some beautiful song one night. And I found out they can no longer do the Baked Alaska dance as I call it because they are no longer aloud to have an open flame. Maybe people caught the curtains on fire. Oh and we had a nice table for four by the window. We met some really nice people sitting at the tables around us. The food was really good, better than most I've had on cruises. We had breakfast in the buffet almost every morning and though the selection lacked, or maybe I just didn't look hard enough I enjoyed the variety of fresh fruits offered in the morning along with staple items like potatoes, hash browns, bacon and what not. The orange juice was always warm though. Most of the time I chose to go without.
I feel my age group the 18-20 year olds is slightly neglected, and I never went to any of the Club events that were hosted, as no one really showed up. I however saw lots of kids who were part of the big Quinceañera party going on during our cruise, and they all gathered on deck twelve by the Teen Disco area. It was a small area from what I could tell, though the night of the party, all the girls looked great in their white dresses.
I went to the Vortex Nightclub every night and it went on until the early morning hours. I chose not to stay that long but I met quite a few people up there who were around my age. They do ID you and it's a strict 18 to enter kind of thing. Drinking on the cruise ship was also very strange, 21 for the cruise, I thought that was odd because in international waters the drinking age is 18, but I guess it varies from cruiseline to cruiseline. I'm not a drinker so that wasn't a big deal but a lot of guys who looked way older than 18 or 19 found ways to get alcohol in their system almost every night.
I honestly don't remember much of the entertainment that went on in the theatre, so I can't comment or review that.
I apologize for the really scatterbrained review, I tried to include everything I could remember, but it was a really great Birthday and Graduation cruise, and I would love to return to the Southern Caribbean maybe on the Adventure of the Seas! =]] Thanks for reading.
We later returned to the pier and used the Cruise lines recommended shops to venture through Aruba and we visited countless jewelry stores, and eventually bought some nice jewelry, and got an amazing price. Tanzanite is a good investment especially right now.
Lots of good shops right off the pier definitely something to check out!
The mall right outside the cruise pier was nice and had some great cruise recommended shops where we bought some tshirts and what not.
The only downside was the weather.
Our tour consisted of snorkeling, then going to Sulfur Springs, and then to Trafalgar falls. It was an interesting tour though there is not enough time in each place to really enjoy, though overall it was a great tour. Maybe next time I'll go to the beach of swim in the falls.
I thought it was a really under developed country but I'm not sure if that was just me or not.
My family except me did the Skyride which gives you an amazing view of the ships in the harbor and what not. We also did some shopping in the shopping area right off the pier. Overall it's a great port and I love visiting here.