This was our return to Royal Caribbean after two fabulous Southern Caribbean cruises with Princess. We decided to go back to RCI so that we could compare the two lines since our first two cruises were with RCI and we really loved those also. We are a couple in our early 50's and have been on 6 previous cruises, two with RCI, two with Princess, one NCL and one Carnival. This was our third out of San Juan.
We booked our air about two months in advance with Delta and paid under $400 ea round trip from Pittsburgh. Air was slightly higher than we paid in February, but not by a lot. Average seems to be around $350 if you keep a lookout. Flights were very full, but on time and we encountered no problems. We arrived around 8pm December 3.
Pre-cruise: Because of an "oops" on my part, my bid on Priceline ended us up in Farjardo at El Conquistador Resort. Since we were stuck with it, we decided to just make the best of it and rented a car for the one hour drive out. Figuring in taxis, etc, we weren't any worse off except for the time.
Charlie Cars: I made reservations with Charlie Cars online because they offer shuttle service from the airport or cruise terminal to their office (and vice versa). We called once we had our luggage and waited about 15 minutes. I put their number in my cell phone so I would have it handy. Most cell phone plans cover you in PR and the US Virgin Islands for no extra charge. The Isla Verde office is open 24 hrs which makes it convenient for late arrivals. They were very helpful with directions and maps, letting us know which roads were best and about tolls. We also brought our GPS with us, which helped A LOT, or I believe you can rent one with your vehicle from Charlie Cars. We headed out of San Juan. Let me tell you, the worst part of driving in PR is driving in San Juan. Like any city, it is difficult to navigate, especially in the dark. Once out of the city, we had a pretty strait shot up the highway. If you're hungry, like we were, wait till you're out a bit. And be prepared to wait for "fast" food.
El Conquistador Resort: BEST MISTAKE EVER! We would go back here in a heartbeat and were sorry to have to leave after just one night. We were greeted by staff as we pulled up to the main bldg. Parking is $16 to self-park or $20 valet. We chose valet simply because it was easier and we were so tired. An attendant took our bags while we checked in. At the desk, we mentioned we were on a cruise and were immediately offered late check-out at 1pm. The bellman was friendly and gave us an overview of the resort amenities as we made our way to the room. Our room was clean and large with a French balcony overlooking the pools and ocean. The bath was roomy with all of the amenities you would expect at a resort. The next morning we had coffee and muffins (which I had brought) in our room and then went exploring. This is one of the most beautiful resorts we have stayed at. It is set on the on an ocean peninsula with the mountains in the distance inland. It boasts many shops, tennis courts, golf course, restaurants (including a Starbucks), convention center, and much more. There are works of art from paintings to sculptures throughout the property; beautiful landscaping and architecture. We left around 1pm and dropped the car at Charlie Cars and they took us to the cruise terminal.
Embarkation: WORST EVER! We arrived around 2:30pm expecting to walk right in as we have done in the past. As I stated, this was our third cruise from San Juan. In the past, we would be dropped at the pier, the baggage handlers would be everywhere, someone would come up and practically wrestle your bag from your hands, and you would be off to check in inside the terminal. NOT THIS TIME. There was a massive line, which looked more like a group, of people waiting to embark. We got in one line, only to find out we had to drop our luggage from that line and wait again. No one from the pier or RCI was giving any information to passengers. But you know that people in common crisis will band together, and as someone got information it was passed on to others. Many friendships were forged in that line. It took a total of 3 hours from arrival at the pier to arrival in our cabin. I have to say that when we did make it into the terminal the workers were doing their best to move people quickly. We never heard any kind of explanation from anyone connected with the cruise line or pier. We finally got to our cabin around 5:30pm. We were soooo hungry because we had planned on eating lunch at the buffet at 2:30. Alas, the muster drill was at 6pm and dinner had to be postponed until afterward.
Ship: Adventure is a Voyager class ship. She boasts a rock wall, ice rink, and Royal Promenade which is built to resemble "main street" shopping, cafes and pubs. Although we found the Promenade to have a charming, nostalgic feel, it was difficult to navigate because of the vendors in the center and the crowds around them, especially around the dining hours. There are some nice places to sit and "people watch" from the open Promenade to quiet corners. The one thing that really bothered us was the propulsion system on the ship. We have never been on a ship that "shudders". I like the rocking motion of a ship and look forward to sleeping better than I have in months, but not on this ship. Each night, as we were underway, we would be jarred awake by the shuddering. It was like someone shaking you awake. Even my husband who always sleeps well was woke up by the shuddering during some particularly rough seas. It got worse or better depending on how bad the weather was, but it never completely went away. Someone mentioned that this is common on Voyager class ships. I think we will avoid them.
Cabin: We had an aft balcony cabin in the corner, deck 9. The cabin was roomy with plenty of storage space. We really liked the shower doors verses curtains. Our room steward kept our room nice and clean, and we had several towel animals which we missed on Princess. Being in the corner, aft, we were right next to the housekeeping door. Although we didn't hear a lot of noise from it, we did have a housekeeping cart outside our door almost constantly. And the walk from the stairway was quite a trek, something to take into consideration when booking aft. We did experience some soot on our balcony a couple of times, but there was room for a chair, table, and a lounger. The balcony was mostly covered, but since we experienced a lot of rain on this cruise, it was a good thing. It was not as large and roomy as the Caribe deck balconies on Caribbean Princess which are double-sized and half covered, half open.
Entertainment: We only went to two of the review shows on board. We are used to a very international group on board, but this ship seemed to have an abundance of Puerto Rican cruisers (about 50%) and the entertainment was geared mostly to their tastes in the theater and throughout the ship. We did not find this to be so on our Princess cruises from San Juan.
My Time Dining: We chose My Time dining because we like meeting new people and having the freedom to dine on our own schedule. If we don't click with our tablemates tonight, we can have new ones the next. We have met many fun and interesting people this way. We realized after the first couple of nights that we were being seated with the same group at the same table. If we arrived a earlier than the rest, we might wait, or order and be eating when the rest arrived. If we arrived later, we were seated at a table for two instead of a large table with others because they already had their groups formed. On other cruises, you arrived, were seated at any available table with whomever was there just before and after you. RCI seems to be trying to mix traditional dining with anytime dining, and it just doesn't work. They need to take a lesson from the other cruise lines.
Food: Main Dining Room--excellent! I love really good food and find most cruise food to be mediocre at best. What others rave about, I shrug my shoulders at. But this cruise had some of the best menu items I've seen in a while. The beef tenderloin was tender and delicious. The grilled chicken that is available every night was very tasty and tender. I wished the scallop risotto had been a main course and not just an appetizer. The soups were good across the board. The only dessert I thought would be good and was disappointed in was the chocolate soufflÃ© which was overcooked and dry.
Buffet--average. But what do you expect from a kitchen putting out 16,000 meals a day.
Room Service--Very good! We ordered room service 3 or 4 mornings for breakfast and it was delivered early, or on time, and hot from the kitchen.
Debarkation: While not quite the nightmare embarkation was, it was still a disorganized mess. We went to our assigned waiting area to be the first color group called so that we could get an early start to our day. We were supposed to be called 8:50-9:05...got called to leave around 9:20...not too bad. But then we just lined up in the corridor for another 30 minutes because they weren't letting anyone off. No explanation again. When we finally did make it to the gangway to punch out, alarms went off when my card was punched. Apparently there was a problem with our account. Even though we had checked in online and given our credit card info and again given it when we checked in at the port, they had us down as a cash account, unpaid (found out later this happened to several people). The final statement didn't have this information on it anywhere. So we were detained and given the option of settling our account with cash there on the spot, or returning to the ship's purser to pay by credit card. Luckily our balance was so small that we paid cash (they had a cashier right there at the exit!) and proceeded to the next line to the terminal. Another wait because there were only 2 customs officers working to clear the entire ship. Don't know what's going on here...whether it's RCI or the port has got some current problems or it was just a bad week. We've had two previous cruises from this port with Princess and never had an issue with either embarkation or debarkation. Whatever it was, it left a lot of people with a bad taste for RCI and San Juan.
San Juan--We stayed an extra day post-cruise to visit Arecibo Observatory and Camuy Caves. This is the world's largest radio telescope and was featured in the film "Contact". We again rented a car from Charlie Cars. We called them as soon as we had our luggage and it took them about an hour to get to us. It gets so busy at the terminal with all of the ships arriving at once, plus they have to pick up all of their clients within a short period of time. After the long wait and frustration of disembarking, next time we would just take a taxi to their office and avoid the wait. They did upgrade us to a mid-size vehicle, without our prompting, for the inconvenience. We had already put the coordinates into our GPS and along with the maps we were given, we were on our way. It is about a 2 hour drive out, but it is a beautiful drive. If all you have ever seen of Puerto Rico is San Juan, then you are missing out. There are several tolls on the road out, adding up to a total of about $3.50 each way. Charlie Cars had given us a heads up on which lane to stay in for cash and we had no problems with the tolls. We arrived at Arecibo around 3pm. Entrance fee is $10 and parking is free. We parked in a lower parking lot and had to hike up hill and many steps to reach the observatory. They give guided tours every half hour in Spanish or English. The setting is amazingly beautiful and the observatory is interesting to see. When it started to rain we headed back to San Juan for a night at the Radisson Ambassador. It cost us $12 to park here. The staff didn't seem to be on top of things, and the noise from the casino and lounges reached us on the third floor. It took longer than necessary to both check in and check out. The room itself was large with a small balcony overlooking the parking area. For one night, we found it sufficient to our needs, but would probably not book here again.
We love the itineraries available from San Juan. Our first two experiences with Princess were so good, and Puerto Rico such a lovely place to visit, that we will definitely cruise from here again. I don't think Royal Caribbean lived up to it's reputation with this one and it will be a while before we give them another chance.