My wife and I took booked this cruise on the AOS in January, when our late spring vacation plans changed. I wasn't sure if we would find anything suitable, but was incredibly pleased with this cruise. I'm still not sure how such a perfect cabin was available, but I'm definitely not going to complain! But more on the cabin later. Although this was our third Caribbean cruise, it was our first on Royal Caribbean. The others were on Celebrity. We enjoyed our cruise tremendously, but concluded that we prefer Celebrity when just the two of us are cruising. We believe that the AOS would be perfect, though, for families with children.
Unlike our other two cruises, we were able to fly down the day before our cruise. Unfortunately, because we booked so late, the cruise line could book our flights but not our hotel. I went online and booked a room at the San Juan Beach Hotel in the Condado area. After counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds, it was finally time to board our direct flight to San Juan. We were very thankful that we had booked our flights through the cruise line, as we had heard horror stories during the week of families not making it to their cruises because of flight problems due to the Valentine's Day storms along the east coast.
Because I didn't think that the transportation vouchers from the cruise line would get us from the airport to our hotel (since we didn't book the hotel through the cruise line), we took a taxi. I had read some reviews about our hotel that had me a bit anxious. While the hotel could definitely use some fixing up, our room was quite large and had a wonderful view of the ocean. It was musty, though, which did not help the cold I had come down with.
After checking in and taking a quick nap, my wife and I decided to walk around the area to find somewhere to eat. After all, it was a glorious, sunny, hot day and we had just escaped from the bitter cold of the Northeast. We started out by walking away from the hotel area towards Old San Juan. We stopped at a map and decided to keep going. An hour-and-a-half later (approximately 4.5 miles, I think), we arrived in Old San Juan hot, very sweaty, exhausted, hungry and thirsty. (What I haven't told you is that my wife had total hip replacement surgery last September, and even though she has been doing remarkably, that was the furthest I think either of us had walked in years! She really did well!)
We soon found a wonderful Italian restaurant called Al Dente. I must admit, I was quite embarrassed as the front of my shirt was soaked with sweat, but the staff graciously ignored it and eventually I cooled down. The food and atmosphere was absolutely marvelous. Of course, that perception might have been heightened by the fact that our long, long walk had made us ravenous! After our lovely and relaxing dinner, we took a cab back to the hotel, as I wasn't going to make that mistake again. When we told the taxi driver that we had walked to Old San Juan from Condado, he was incredulous.
Even though it was fairly early when we returned to the hotel, we decided to go to bed and watch some TV. Well, we couldn't keep our eyes open, so decided to turn in for the night and not set the alarm. This was a good thing; we slept for 12 hours! The one significant advantage of this was that, on previous cruises, we were always exhausted the first full day of the cruise. Not this time!
When we did finally wake up in the morning, we got ready for the day and walked to a Walgreen's to buy some cough medicine for me. We also stopped at a small restaurant next to the Walgreen's for breakfast. We got back to the hotel, checked out and took a cab to Pan American Cruise Terminal, where our cruise began in earnest.
While I had read that the Adventure was big, I didn't quite realize how huge it would be! Massive is probably the best word to describe it.
Our taxi dropped us off at the cruise terminal and we got in a short line to drop off our luggage. We had arrived sometime between 11:15 and noon. Entering the huge terminal hall, we found absolutely no lines. We quickly made it through security and check in and were crossing the gangway onto the ship.
The ship was very colorful, more so than Celebrity but not as much as we would imagine Carnival to be. Remembering suggestions from the Cruise Critic boards, we went and bought our soda and juice sticker at a bar on the Promenade for the week. I really liked the souvenir mug we got; I'm sure we'll use those a lot at home. We stopped by a table for Portofino's and made our reservation for Wednesday night. Then we found out how to sign up for computer access and did so. We appreciated the computer access so we could check our email. However, we wish the speed of the computers and Internet connection were a bit quicker, as it was very easy to rack up quite an expense very quickly.
Following this, we took the stunning glass elevator to Deck 11 and the Windjammer Cafe, where we had lunch. Before entering each dining facility, the ship staff requires people to wash their hands. I must say that I was quite pleased to see this health precaution. The food at the Windjammer had quite a bit of variety. There were the standard buffet selections as well as carved meat. However, I was disappointed with the quality. Most selections had an institutional sameness about them rather than distinct flavors. Of course, with over 3,000 passengers, this is probably understandable, but it was still a let down. I was surprised that there was not more cut fruit than there was. One aspect, though, that I really appreciated was the sugar free desserts. The service was friendly and the staff did an excellent job clearing plates and keeping our soda mugs full. The area, as well as the whole ship, was kept quite clean.
Finally, 2 p.m. came and we were allowed to go to our cabins. Our cabin was a Junior Suite on the port side of Deck 10 (Cabin 1634), which was the highest deck with cabins. We were incredibly fortunate that our cabin was midship, just down the hall from the Royal Suite. We were astounded as we walked in. The cabin was much more spacious than I had imagined. Just inside the door was a decent-sized bathroom (with a good-sized tub) on the left and a large walk-in closet on the right. The closet had a nice amount of shelf space and racks for hanging clothes. On the left side of the main part of the cabin was the queen size bed and a sitting area with a loveseat, small coffee table, and two armchairs. On the right side of the cabin was a long set of cabinets that included a vanity with a large mirror surrounded by lighting, TV, desk and lots and lots of cabinets for storage. But the best part of the cabin was the large balcony. Though not very deep, it extended the width of the cabin, so we could sit quite comfortably and not feel cramped at all. We especially appreciated the partitions separating us from our neighbors. They were much better than the ones on Celebrity. And, instead of a metal wall on the sea side, the balcony wall was thick glass topped by a beautiful wooden handrail. We spent a lot of time on the balcony, especially on the second sea day going from Curacao to St. Maartan, as the sun was primarily on the other side of the ship that direction. It was very hot and uncomfortable on the first sea day, going from San Juan to Aruba. One of the special treats coming back from dinner each evening was to discover what kind of towel animal our steward had made for us while we were out. Such fun!
We spent a good bit of time on Sunday and Monday exploring the ship. It has lots and lots of activities available. We didn't do any of the more exotic activities like rock climbing or inline skating. We did want to play a round of mini-golf, but ran out of time. We really liked the Promenade. I thought the antique auto was a classy addition to the area. We spent a bit of time, and money, in a few of the shops. One shop had very nice ties for just $10 and my wife was able to buy a replacement Swarovski Christmas ornament at a lower price than we saw anywhere on land (including the States). Sunday evening we attended the Meet & Mingle. It was great actually meeting the people we had been reading and conversing with on the Cruise Critic board. The ship's staff had goodies to eat and even gave away some door prizes. I would recommend every Cruise Critic to attend this event if offered on your ship.
We also made appointments for one of our cruise extravagances - a massage in the spa. We made the appointments for Monday, the first day at sea. Such a delight! In fact, because I decided to book a second massage on Wednesday, my wife did the same. We found the spa staff very friendly and professional. I would have liked to have had a third massage on Friday, but decided I had spent enough. I did, though, lose my resolve and bought some of the products my masseur recommended. And I am very glad I did. My wife and I have used a muscle relaxant gel and oil on our shoulders and necks almost every night since we came home. We can definitely tell a difference in our comfort while sleeping and even when work gets tense the next day.
Besides the activities on the ship and times to pamper ourselves, eating is one of the prime reasons we like to cruise. For this cruise we requested a table for four to eight persons. We were really glad we got one for eight, although we were lonely the first night as we were the only ones there. In fact, I felt very badly for our waiter and assistant waiter, as we were the only ones at three of their tables. They both were delightful and did a wonderful job remembering our preferences each night. The remainder of our tablemates joined us Monday evening and we had an enjoyable time the remainder of the week. Each night we were given a different menu. Each menu had some standard alternative fare, such as a steak. But the rest of the menu usually revolved around a theme of some kind. There were always an abundance of choices. I really enjoyed the chilled fruit soups. The portions were nicely sized during the week and the food was fairly tasty, although not quite up to the standard set by Celebrity on our previous cruises.
Wednesday night, which was Caribbean night in the dining room and would not have been my favorite, we ate at Portofino's, the specialty restaurant. We felt it was definitely worth the additional charge. We had an absolutely perfect table, with a floor to ceiling window overlooking the sea in front of us. Because we made our reservations for early in the evening, we did not have anyone on either side of us for much of the meal, so we really soaked in the specialness of the evening. The food was generally delicious and beautifully presented. The waiter and assistant were very attentive and kept our sodas full! I even took pictures of every course we had! The only course I did not like was a seafood pasta that had that "fishy" taste you tend to get when the seafood is not quite fresh. We were so full by dessert that we didn't know what to get. Seeing a sampler option at the top of the dessert menu, we both got that, not knowing that it would be small versions of all four specialty desserts! They were all superb.
We decided to have lunch on Thursday, the other sea day, at Johnny Rockets. We didn't mind the small charge for eating there, as it was a fun alternative to the dining room or Windjammer Cafe. We were seated at one of the outside tables, which was very enjoyable. We gobbled down the fries and onion rings the waiter brought for our "appetizer", even getting seconds, or was that thirds?? The sandwiches we got were tasty as well.
Each evening after dinner we went to the show in the Lyric Theater. They were generally enjoyable, although I felt the sound technician allowed the music to blast through the speakers. With my musical background, I enjoy many types of music and like to savor it. However, most of the music during the shows was much more like being shouted at than sung or played to. The performers were energetic and accomplished. While I enjoyed all of the set changes and other technical aspects of the Velvet Rope production, I did not enjoy most of the musical selections or the production's concept. For a family-oriented ship, I thought it was a bit too adult-oriented.
By far, the best show of the week was the ice show. I was amazed at how much the skaters could do on such a small piece of ice. I also enjoyed all of the acrobatic work during that show. I wish we could have seen it at least one more time during the week. One of the parts I liked best was how close many of the seats were to the rink. This is really a show not to miss and was one of the highlights of our time on the ship.
One of the reasons we picked this cruise, besides the fact that it had two days at sea, was that we had not been to three of the four ports of call. We were very pleased with the itinerary, as we got to see several different types of islands.
Our first port was Aruba. We had reserved a car from Hertz before we left. After getting off the ship, we headed to the Hertz booth and got our car. The attendant was very nice and after finishing the paperwork, we were off. We spent the day driving around the island, beginning at the California Lighthouse, visiting the Alto Vista Chapel and the Natural Bridge, and then walked along Baby Beach. We didn't find Baby Beach very crowded and really enjoyed its beauty. We also really enjoyed watching the crashing surf at the Natural Bridge site. We were quite surprised at the arid and rocky land. After leaving Baby Beach, we drove up to the resort area and had lunch at a nice cafe, where the sandwiches were huge! We decided to return the car a bit early. On the way back, I stopped to fill the car up with gas. This attempt did not go well, and I definitely felt like the stereotypical "stupid American". First, I couldn't figure out which side of the car had the gas cap. Then, when I handed my credit card to the attendant, she told me to do something I couldn't understand, as she didn't speak English. I thought maybe I needed to turn my car around, which I clumsily did. That still wasn't good enough for her and, finally, after a hysterical pantomiming bit, I realized that she wanted me to go into the station to prepay. When I did, the clerk, in reasonably good English (fortunately), asked how much I wanted to put on my card. I had no idea, as the gas was by liter rather than gallon. I asked her just to fill it up, but she was pretty insistent to get an exact amount. I told her $10, but asked if she could just get it filled up to whatever it needed. She went out and told the attendant, and after some discussion together, I think that's what they did, as it came to around $13. I do try to honor the culture when I visit places, but I'm sure I gave the locals there a real chance to laugh! I guess I wouldn't do so well on the Amazing Race! After we returned the car, we walked around the shops downtown. I don't think we bought anything other than a collector's spoon. We returned to the ship and rested a bit before dinner. Because the ship didn't leave port until late night, we stood on our balcony looking at all of the colorful lights before heading off to bed.
Curacao was the second port. Curacao is not too far from Aruba, but the island did not seem nearly as dry as Aruba did. We didn't have much planned for Curacao, but found the area around the harbor delightful. We thoroughly enjoyed the bright colored buildings. We walked across the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge and visited several shops. My wife took lots and lots of pictures.
St. Maartan/St. Martin was the third port, and we had been greatly looking forward to our visit there. This island was the only one for which we had signed up for an excursion. Unfortunately, we found out the night before that it had been cancelled. Disappointed, we went to the Excursion Desk on the ship to get some alternative recommendations. The staff at the desk was the most unhelpful of any on board, and gave us the impression that they really didn't want to be bothered helping us figure out if another excursion or something else would work. So Friday morning after breakfast, we headed out on our own to visit the Butterfly Farm. We hired a taxi with a delightful retired supermarket clerk driver. We had a phenomenal time at the Butterfly Farm. The netted area with hundreds, if not thousands, of butterflies was huge. We joined a guided tour and learned a lot about butterflies. In some ways, we might have been better off not going on a planned excursion here because we took our time watching the butterflies and getting lots of pictures. When we were done, we asked the staff to call a taxi. After numerous calls, they finally got one to come out to get us and take us to Marigot, the capitol on the French side of the island. We didn't spend very long in Marigot, but did walk through the streets taking pictures and looking in shops. We joined a couple from another ship in a taxi back to Philipsburg. We spent some time shopping. We enjoyed this part of Philipsburg, but were surprised that we didn't find any jewelry or a camera lens that we were looking for at prices we wanted to pay. We did buy some handmade Belgian chocolates to take back to my office and the couple that were helping us with our dog. I was a bit nervous about leaving the chocolates at the shop to be delivered to our ship, but they made it to our cabin later that night. We also bought some linens.
Our favorite island was St. Thomas. We had been there several times before on both business and cruises, and we have a dear artist friend who lives on the island. She picked us up at the pier at 9 a.m. and we spent a wonderful, enjoyable day together. We began by getting our shopping out of the way. My wife found a lovely ring at Cardow's, probably our favorite jewelry store in the Caribbean, and a Swarovski necklace at a shop down the street. We also bought a lens for her camera at Boulchand's $50 less than at any other store and almost $100 less than we had seen it on Amazon. Before heading off to other places on the island, we visited the gallery where our friend had one of her prints being shown. After getting the shopping out of the way, we headed off to find a place for lunch. We started by visiting Mountain Top, which has a gorgeous view of Magens Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Then we drove to a hotel with a restaurant overlooking the harbor with our ship. The main restaurant was not open, but we did take some beautiful pictures. We finally ended up at Secret Harbor, which we soon realized was an excellent choice. We had an absolutely delicious lunch and relaxed at our table looking over the beautiful beach and small harbor. After lunch we walked around the beach and sat at the end of a dock watching colorful fish dart by. After we left Secret Harbor, we drove to Sapphire Beach, where our friend's daughter had been married several years ago. We had a lovely time walking along the beach and sitting on a chaise looking over at St. John. We drove around for a while longer and stopped at another overlook with a spectacular view of the harbor before heading back to the ship. I think this was our favorite day, especially because we got to spend some quality time with a dear friend and reminisce.
Debarkation and Final Thoughts
Debarkation went fairly smoothly, although not quite as smoothly as embarkation. This was the first time we really had to wait in line, and it can probably be best described as mass chaos. We used our transportation voucher and took the small bus to the airport. We paid the extra fee to check our bags directly with the airline at the pier and get our boarding passes. We were so very glad we did that, as the flights were quite full. We actually got our boarding pass Saturday night in our cabin.
The flight back to Boston did not go as well as the one to San Juan. First, we sat around the airport for a long time, and then our departing flight was delayed. We had a connection through JFK in New York that did not go smoothly at all. We were running late, but seemed to have time to make it when we landed. However, we sat on the taxiway for about 30-45 minutes because of one issue another that was keeping us from the gate. We started to get very concerned about making the connection. We had to get to a different terminal for our connecting flight, as did a good number of people at the back of the plane. We appreciated the people in the back of the plane who actually paid attention to the flight attendant's request to let those of us with tight connections out first. Apparently, no one in the front of the plane listened to the announcement. We hurried as best as we could to our connecting gate, only to find out that there was a mechanical issue and our flight was delayed. There was also a winter storm coming, and we had really hoped to get out before it got too bad to fly out. We finally boarded the small regional jet. Because of the deteriorating weather, we ended up sitting in the plane for almost 2 1/2 hours before we finally took off for Boston. Fortunately, they let us use our cell phones so we could tell our friends who were picking us up that we were running late. But we did make it to Boston eventually and got home a bit after midnight - about three hours later than we had planned. Unfortunately, one of our checked bags didn't make it to Boston with us. Fortunately, it was the suitcase with all of our dirty clothes. This experience, combined with all of the news reports from the week before and since, have pretty well convinced me to do whatever I can to avoid connecting through JFK.
All in all, this was a wonderful cruise. It provided the rest and relaxation that we really needed and we will have many wonderful memories from it. For those who read through this very long review and would like to see our pictures of the ship and ports, please visit http://picasaweb.google.com/readingdoc. Read Less