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We just returned from a great week onboard the Adventure of the Seas. Below is the start of my review, and my pictures can be seen here: http://picasaweb.google.com/mrskennedynd Enjoy, and please let me know if you have any questions! Adventure of the Seas Review August 5-12, 2007 Pre-Cruise: Who we are: I am Jimmie, and I am 25 years old, and this was my fourth cruise (but first on Royal Caribbean). I traveled with my best girlfriend Liz (24), and this was her first cruise ever. We left the guys behind for this trip and had a wonderful girls' week out on the Adventure of the Seas! We began our journey on Friday, August 3. We live in North Dakota (me) and Montana (Liz), so getting anywhere fun is quite the process. We both flew to Minneapolis that evening on Northwest Airlines. After meeting up in baggage claim, we rented a little blue Chevy Cobalt from Avis and set off to find our hotel - the Holiday Inn Bloomington/MSP Airport (a fabulous Priceline find for a bid of $35). As previous travelers have complained, this hotel is not really that close to the airport, but it's right off I-35W, so it's really not hard to find. It was clean, felt safe, and the room was nice, so we really had nothing to complain about. After checking in, we drove the short distance to the Mall of America (Liz's first visit) for some last-minute shopping and a great dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. By the time we had finished dinner, we were exhausted, so we headed back to the hotel knowing we had a long day of travel ahead of us. As we got to talking that night, we came to the conclusion that we might have some big problems getting to San Juan the next day. First of all, President Bush was flying into Minneapolis on Saturday because of the terrible bridge collapse, which would certainly halt air traffic for a long enough time period to cause delays...and secondly, the Weather Channel was predicting thunderstorms in the Twin Cities area the next morning. We didn't want to chance missing our connection in Chicago, so we called American Airlines at 4:00 a.m. Saturday morning and found out what our options were. Basically, our best chance for getting out of MSP earlier in the day was to go standby on a flight to Chicago at 7:40 a.m. Not a problem - we got to the airport in plenty of time, and were numbers 2 and 3 on the standby list. We got our seats, and happily arrived in Chicago in plenty of time to make an earlier flight to San Juan, as well. After a very long and uncomfortable (4 hrs and 40 mins) flight on a 757, we arrived in San Juan around 3:15 pm. It felt so nice to finally be there after so many months of planning and anticipation. We claimed our bags (thankful they all arrived together even though we went standby), and as others reported, they DO check that your bag tags and your baggage claim receipts match. So, don't throw those stickers away before they are inspected. Here's where our trip gets interesting and where we almost got scammed...haha. I knew from reading on CruiseCritic that taxi fares are regulated in San Juan, and I also knew approximately how much we should have to pay to get from the airport to our hotel, the Caribe Hilton. So, I was just as surprised as the next person when I stupidly allowed some guy who asked me if I needed a taxi to take our bags and load them into his unmarked (although quite nice) vehicle that his wife was driving. Liz and I got in the vehicle and told them where we were headed and asked how much it would be. The man said $45. I knew right then we weren't in the right kind of cab...haha. I told him no way are we paying that much, so he wanted to know how much we wanted to pay. I told him $15 or $20 and he wouldn't go that low. I guess he thought we'd just pay it since we were already in the car and pulling away, but Liz and I both looked at each other and said NO...lol. They screeched over to the curb and let us out of the cab. I don't know what they were doing...besides obviously running an illegal cab business. You'd think they'd at least undercut the tourism association rates by a few bucks if they were going to get any business. Anyway, scam avoided, we hauled our four bags back over to the OFFICIAL taxi stand (it's easy to find - everyone wears bright orange shirts) and we were given a slip of paper with a price of $19. Much better! The tourism association lady working the taxi stand was really nice...she showed us to a cab and told the driver where we needed to go. Everything worked out just fine...so traveler beware - don't get into a cab without a tourism association logo on the side of it! The ride to the Hilton was only about 15 minutes tops, but it was enough to make us both realize that maybe we shouldn't venture beyond the resort grounds on our own that night. (Admittedly, now that we've seen other nicer parts of San Juan, I'd feel much better...but the area around the hotel is not that great.) We checked in at the front desk, and I inquired about getting a villa room or an executive tower room. Much to my surprise, the clerk said we were already booked in a villa room (yay!). I should mention that we got this hotel on Priceline also, for a bid of $65. I should probably also mention that it was HOT and HUMID. I've been spoiled living in North Dakota for the past year, as we have practically zero humidity year-round...just standing in the open-air lobby at the Hilton about killed us...whew! We had to wait about 10-15 minutes for our room to be ready, and when it was, an absolutely wonderful bellman took us to the villa towers in a hotel minivan, and escorted up to our room, unloaded our luggage, and offered to get us ice and anything else we needed. Now I'm not completely from the sticks, and I realize that this is what bellmen do (haha), but this guy was SOOO nice and helpful...big-time kudos to him. After cooling off in the comforts of air conditioning and marveling at the view from our balcony, we decided to take a look around. First of all, our room was fabulous. It was clearly recently renovated...we had a gorgeous marble bathroom with separate shower and soaking tub. The bathroom even had a bidet (eww), but Liz made better use of it by rinsing the sand off her feet there...haha. We walked around the resort grounds, taking pictures, gawking at the ocean, and trying to decide where to eat for dinner. Had we had more time at the resort, we would have had a blast. The pool and beach area looked great, but by the time we got there and got settled, it was late evening and the sun was already starting to go down. The Caribe Hilton has several restaurants, most of which are pretty pricey and quite nice-looking. As a side note, the concierge desk has a large album filled with all of the hotel restaurant menus and prices, as well as menus for a lot of nearby places. We settled on the Palmeras Restaurant, which is very near the main lobby area. They have a special buffet each night, and that night's feature was the oriental buffet, priced at $30 each. The buffet did look appetizing, but we really didn't want to spend quite that much on dinner, so we decided to order off the menu. We both got the rosemary chicken breast. Wow...quite possibly the best chicken I've ever had...seriously. It was $17, the portions were huge, and it came with bread, vegetables, and your choice of potato. I honestly didn't expect much from a generic hotel-type restaurant...but they totally exceeded our expectations. Liz and I would both definitely recommend eating there if you have the opportunity to do so. By the time we finished dinner and got back to our room, it was about 8:00 pm. I'm sad to say that we were both so exhausted, we crashed and didn't get to enjoy any of the nightlife going on around the resort (there seemed to be plenty). Oh well...maybe next time! Embarkation Day: We woke up around 8:00 am and quickly got ready and checked out of the hotel. The nice thing about the villa tower is that you can check out right there at their front desk, rather than making the hike over the main lobby. The desk clerk summoned a cab for us (yes, a tourism cab this time!), and we asked to be taken to Old San Juan and dropped off at the Barrachina restaurant on Calle Fortaleza so we could take advantage of their luggage storage service. The taxi fare was around $15 and it was a very picturesque drive there. By the time we got there, it was probably around 9:30 a.m. and the restaurant was not yet open. However, there were a few people milling about, and we were able to determine where to take our bags. A very friendly employee took care of us and gave us claim slips for the luggage. I had read that the service was free and that they operated on tips only, but I can report that they now charge $1 per bag. We checked 4 suitcases and a backpack, and the fee was $5. Totally reasonable, and it appeared to be quite safe. None of the shops in Old San Juan were open yet on a Sunday (they open around 11 am, I believe), so we left the restaurant and headed down Calle Fortaleza in search of another famous restaurant - La Bombonera. I couldn't remember what street it was on, so we were sort of on a wild goose chase trying to find it until we went into the Hotel Milano and asked the front desk clerk. Fortunately, we were only about a block away (it's on Calle San Francisco), and it was quite easy to find, once we knew where we were supposed to go. We arrived at La Bombonera and drooled over their pastry display in the window before going in to be seated at a table. We both tried the famous mallorcas - a fried pastry filled with your choice of meat, eggs, and/or cheese, and all topped with a generous heap of powdered sugar. It might sound a little strange, but it was amazing. It was also budget-friendly - I think they were $3-$4 each. After eating our breakfast, we walked around Old San Juan for just a little while more before we decided it was way too hot and humid yet again. We walked back to Barrachina and claimed our luggage. It must have been around 11:00 a.m. at this point, and when the proprietor of Barrachina discovered we were headed to the ship already, he vehemently tried talking us out of it. He kept telling us it was too early, and that we wouldn't be able to board until at least 1:30 or 2:00. I'm not quite sure what his problem was, but we didn't listen. I walked about half a block to where the cabs were lined up, and secured a driver to take us to the Pan American Pier where our ship was docked. We arrived at the pier shortly after 11:00, and saw a line forming outside of the building. What may not be clear to everyone at this terminal is that you go to the front of the line to drop off your luggage, and then return to the back of the line to enter the building. It really should be better-marked, but there were several employees there directing people where to go, which was pretty helpful. We were about the 30th or 40th person in line, and we only had to wait about 10 minutes before the line started moving and we were inside! We filled out our SetSail passes online prior to arriving, so we went to the designated SetSail check-in area. There was no line at all, and we were quickly issued our SeaPass cards and were able to board the ship right away. We're so glad we didn't listen to that man at Barrachina! We were ?one of the first few on the ship, and it was so much fun! We were told the cabins wouldn't be ready until 2:00, so we set off on a self-tour of the ship, starting at the top. Keep in mind that this was Liz's first cruise, and I think she was in absolute awe of the ship and its massive size. We had a lot of fun walking around and taking pictures...however, we didn't get very far until we decided it was time for the first foo-foo drink of the trip! The closest bar was the Sky Bar, and we both ordered a Miami Vice. Anthony at the bar took great care of us, and he was very personable, but there was a problem with our SeaPass cards...they wouldn't scan. So, after being held up at the Sky Bar for about 20 minutes while they fiddled with our cards, they finally entered our drink charges manually and told us to go to Guest Relations to have our cards replaced. Why they couldn't have just done that 20 minutes earlier is beyond me, but hey...we were on vacation and nothing was going to spoil our fun! We continued our tour through the ship...it was pretty cool to be able to take pictures and explore before the ship got packed with over 3000 people. Once we got to the deck with the Guest Relations desk (Deck 4?), we stopped there to inquire about our SeaPass cards. They had a Guest Relations employee pre-screening passengers about what they were inquiring, assumedly to solve any minor problems quickly and prevent people from standing in line unnecessarily. When she got to us, we explained what happened, and we got a lecture about our SeaPass cards and how sensitive they are to magnets and other magnetic cards, etc., and how we should be more careful with them. Funny, though...we'd only been issued the cards an hour before, and they hadn't been anywhere but our pockets since...not anywhere near any other cards, magnets, etc. Oh well...we got up to the desk and a WONDERFUL guest relations employee (can't remember her name!) totally apologized for the situation before we'd even said a word. She just took one look at the account and was able to easily fix whatever was wrong with it. It appeared to be just a computer glitch and we were off and running. She was so nice and had wonderful customer service skills...she even told us if we have any more problems with the cards (which we didn't), that we didn't have to wait in line...just come find her and she will fix the problem. This would be the first of many Royal Caribbean employees we encountered who were willing to go above and beyond without even being asked. After visiting Guest Relations, we headed over to the dining room to check out our seat assignment. We had Table 251 in the Vivaldi (lowest-level) dining room on Deck 3. We searched and searched for table and were having a hard time locating it, until we realized there was a side room off to the right side of the dining room...La Notte. We found our table, which turned out to be a table for 12 (geez), and affectionately referred to our secluded little dining area as the "reject room"...haha. I'd never been seated at such a large table before, and was hoping we'd have friendly tablemates. By the time we finished our ship tour, it was almost 2:00, so we headed up to our cabin to check it out. We had #8445, which was a Category N inside. Prior to this trip, I have only cruised with a balcony, so I was sort of dreading the experience with an inside cabin...but I have to say, it turned out just fine. I just felt a little detached from the world when I couldn't tell what the weather was like outside or when we were pulling into or out of port. We opened our cabin door, and found that the beds were pushed together and made into a king-size. We kind of joked that Royal Caribbean must have thought we were "together," rather than just friends...little did we know they really may have thought that (more on this later)! Other than the bed issue, the cabin was perfectly fine. It was in really great shape, minus a few stains on the carpet. We also felt that we had plenty of storage space and room to move around in for the week, which was quite obviously a plus. After seeing the beds together, I went off down the hall in search of our cabin steward, Castillo. (We found his name and picture on the card by the guest services binder in the cabin.) He was more than happy to separate the beds for us, and he was very friendly and capable throughout the week. Our luggage still had not arrived, so we decided to go up to the Windjammer for snacks and a beverage. The Windjammer was crowded, but there were still plenty of seats to be easily found. We filled our plates with some yummy desserts (the sugar free Key Lime mousse was awesome!) and grabbed a lemonade, then sat down by the window to people-watch and just take it all in. After snacking a bit, we headed back up to the cabin to check for our luggage...Liz's two bags had arrived, but mine were still nowhere to be seen. So, she was able to unpack, and then it was time for the ever-dreaded muster drill. The one thing I didn't really like about Royal Caribbean's version of the muster drill, is that we had no idea where our muster station was. There was a diagram posted on the back of the cabin door, but it didn't make much sense, and it didn't give a name for the place we were supposed to "muster"...haha. We asked Castillo where to go, and he said just to follow all the people heading downstairs, so we did. Turns out, our muster station was the dining room...would have been much easier to find if we had known where we were heading! The drill itself was quite painless. We headed back to the cabin to put our life jackets away, and discovered my luggage had finally arrived! We unpacked, lounged around the ship some more, then went up on deck for the sailaway party. It was so much fun, even though we did more watching than participating! The crew members had a large number of people doing various line dances...the calypso band was pretty good, as well. By then, it was time for our 8:30 dinner seating. We made our way to the dining room, unsure of who we'd find at our table. Admittedly, I was sort of hoping we'd either be seated with other women traveling together, or a wide variety of people. We were actually seated with FIVE married couples…four of which were honeymooners in their early 20s, plus another couple who looked to be in their mid-40s. Indeed it was a little weird, and conversation was pretty strained that night. Everyone was perfectly nice, but I'm pretty much convinced that Royal Caribbean thought Liz and I were more than just friends…haha. The food was also so-so that night…I had the Vidalia onion tart (more like quiche, which was excellent), the Tuscan tomato soup (decent), the shrimp ravioli (yuck), and some sort of apple tart for dinner (not that great). Liz had the melon and mango and the stuffed chicken breast, both of which she thought were excellent. After dinner, we had grand plans of going to the welcome-aboard show and to the Rock-a-Rokie karaoke, but we were so exhausted, we ended up going straight to bed. Oh, I forgot to add... our waiters were Mustafa and Ericson, with Mihai as our headwaiter. All 3 were great! Mustafa was from Turkey, and he was such a ladies' man...so charming! Ericson, from the Philippines, was his assistant. Ericson always performed tricks or told us jokes...he was a riot, and definitely our favorite! Mihai was probably the friendliest of all the headwaiters I've ever had...he came to our table each night to check on us and to make conversation. Was he fishing for tips? Yes, probably, but at least it didn't seem forced. First Day at Sea: We slept in this morning (yay!), and ordered pastries, cereal, and juice from room service to be delivered between 9:30-10:00. They called to let us know they were coming at 9:20, and were at our door at 9:30 exactly…talk about prompt service! Something I noticed, that I thought I should share: the room service breakfast cards that you can hang on your door the night before do NOT list any of the hot items that are available for breakfast, such as eggs, bacon/sausage, omelets, etc. However, if you look in the guest services binder in your cabin, there is a much more extensive room service breakfast menu. You will have to call them that morning to order it, rather than hanging the card the night before, but that information was good to know for when we wanted a larger breakfast. After breakfast, we put on our swimsuits and headed up to the pool. The pools were actually packed, but there were plenty of loungers to be found. We grabbed a couple on Deck 12, and laid out in the sun for a couple of hours, just reading and enjoying the tropical weather. Here's another bit of information I discovered: the Pool Bar and the Sky Bar do not have the same extensive drink menus that all the inside bars have. I ordered the frozen Key Lime Pie drink from a pool deck waiter, but I was unable to get it, so I "settled" for a strawberry daiquiri (good nonetheless!). Maybe everyone else knows this, but I didn't! :-) Around noon, we headed indoors to have the Brasserie 30 lunch in the dining room. They were advertising made-to-order pasta in addition to the regular menu. The pasta looked delicious, but I decided on the mulligatawny soup, the buffalo chicken sandwich, and the carrot cake pyramid for dessert. The soup was fabulous - I had no idea (and still don't) what mulligatawny soup was, but it was quite delicious…almost had a mustardy-curry taste to it. The sandwich was just okay…I should have gotten the pasta…and the cake was yummy. I think Liz had a Caesar salad, the cheeseburger and fries, and a peach crumble for dessert. She said the peach crumble was great…it was the waiter's recommendation, and it did look good! After lunch, we went back out to the pool for awhile, and then went inside to get ready for our formal night dinner we had reserved at Portofino. We took a few formal portraits before dinner (hardly any lines), then headed up to Portofino. I should qualify what I'm about to say by stating that we are both fairly picky eaters (neither of us eat very much fish or seafood), and I am extremely picky about what vegetables I eat. I admit that it was a little bit difficult for us both to find items on each course that we liked, BUT…what we did pick was quite simply amazing. I started with the shrimp risotto, then had the bean soup, the mushroom pasta, and the filet mignon. Liz had the eggplant roulades, the mushroom pasta, and the veal. Everything was so delicious, but our favorite was decidedly the mushroom pasta. It was served in a mascarpone cream sauce, and it literally melted in my mouth. By the time dessert came around, we were too stuffed to even think about it, but we did have a few bites of the strawberry pistachio panna cotta (me) and the apricot tart (Liz). I don't really remember our waiter's name, but Mary Grace was our assistant waiter, and she was awesome. She was really on top of things, as well as being super-friendly and seemed to really love her job. You should also know that after you've had dessert, they bring you out ANOTHER plate of chocolate-covered strawberries and petit fours, which we couldn't even bring ourselves to touch, so Mary Grace boxed it up and sent it back with us to our room. Our dinner there was fabulous, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone wanting an upscale dining experience. Once again, we had plans to go to the show and the nightclub after dinner, but after stuffing ourselves silly at Portofino, we pretty much just passed out and watched tv for awhile before falling asleep. (It was nice to get the Style network on the in-cabin tv...I got to catch up on my celebrity gossip and makeover shows...!) Oh well…vacation is for relaxing, right? Haha How could I forget…the CruiseCritic roll call party at 5pm on the first formal night! We met at the Blue Moon lounge, and we had a pretty good turnout (25-30, maybe?). Marvin from the cruise staff hosted the event, and Royal Caribbean provided canapes and lemonade/tea/water. They also did a raffle drawing for about 10 or 12 different prizes…I ended up with a Shipshape towel and Liz got a Royal Caribbean hat. It was a very nice event overall, and also fun to be able to finally put faces with names. Aruba: We woke up around 8:00 a.m. and turned on the TV to the bridge cam just in time to see us pulling into Aruba. We went down to the Windjammer for breakfast (still not that crowded) and tried to formulate a game plan for the day. Prior to the cruise, someone on the CruiseCritic Aruba board mentioned how great the Spa del Sol at the Manchebo Beach Resort was, so after checking out their web site (www.manchebo.com) we decided to book spa services for our day there. Soraya, the spa receptionist, was the one we corresponded through e-mail with, and she was awesome when we got there, as well…so very welcoming and pleasant. We disembarked the ship and walked the short distance to the bus station. There are signs by where each bus stops letting you know where the bus is headed. This probably won't make any sense to you before you get there, but the bus to Eagle and Palm Beach is the one that stops on the far left side of the terminal. Check the white 8.5x11 sign posted there to make sure. The fare is $1.30/pp one way or $2.30/pp roundtrip. They do take US dollars, and they will make change if you need it. Our driver was very nice, and he gave us our transfer ticket for the return trip. Getting to the Manchebo Resort was a little bit confusing. I knew beforehand that it was near the Alhambra Casino, so when I saw the bus stop near the casino, we got off there. It was on a little side street about 100 yards from the corner where the casino and the Tamarijn Resort are. We crossed the street and walked into the Dunkin Donuts next to the casino to ask for directions to Manchebo. Turns out it was just right behind us…there is a smaller street that runs parallel to the main street in front of the casino, and the resorts are along there. We arrived at the resort, and although it's a fairly small property, it was absolutely beautiful. We followed the pathway signs to the Spa del Sol pavilion, and Soraya greeted us warmly. Even though we had about 2 hours before our scheduled services, Soraya was able to give us lockers, robes, and anything else we needed, including a nice glass of delicious pineapple juice. I have to say here that Eagle Beach was BEAUTIFUL…I have never in my life seen such a gorgeous, perfect beach, and I've been to the wonderfully picturesque Half Moon Cay, Bahamas (my favorite until this trip). Soraya had mentioned to us that chairs and umbrellas at the resort were $5 each, so we headed over to the beach attendant. He wanted to charge us $8 each, so we declined upon principle. I know that it sounds silly to fuss over $3, but we were only going to be there about an hour, and there were plenty of places for us to sit and put our stuff for free over by the spa. That's the one thing I wish - when we're spending big bucks at the spa, it would be nice to get resort guest privileges for the chairs and umbrellas, at least. So, we dropped our towels under a palm tree and headed for the water! Seriously…amazing. There were no rocks, seaweed, or anything. I didn't even see a fish. So, it's probably pretty rotten snorkeling, but that was okay. The water was a crystal-clear turquoise, and the sand was powder-soft white. If I ever get the chance, I will definitely be back to Aruba and will definitely be staying at a resort on Eagle Beach. We returned to the spa a little while later, and used their showers…too hot to use the complimentary jacuzzi. Shortly thereafter, it was time for our spa services. I booked a 50-minute relaxation massage, which took place in one of the open-air beachfront cabanas. I felt like a celebrity! Liz had an eyebrow wax and a French pedicure, which she said she really enjoyed. My massage therapist, whose name escapes me, was very good. Our CruiseCritic roll call friends Ben and Judy were also there for massages, so it was nice to see them again and chat for a bit. After our spa treatment, we took the bus back downtown. The bus stop to return is much easier to find. Soraya drew us a little map, and there is a closer stop nearer the casino than where we stopped earlier. The bus came within 5 minutes of our arrival, and we were back downtown probably 10 minutes later. We walked around and did a little bit of shopping for about an hour, then decided we were hungry. Rather than eat in Aruba, we decided to just walk back to the ship for a late lunch in the Windjammer. After eating, we headed to the nearly-empty Solarium pool and lounged around there for a couple of hours, getting in some more sun for the day. I really, really enjoyed Aruba and wish we could have spent more time there. Is there a cruise that stops there for a couple of days? :-) Before dinner, we participated in the Majority Rules game show (we didn't win…), then returned to our dining table for the first time since embarkation night. I was sort of dreading it, since conversation was so difficult the first night, but it turns out we had nothing to fear! Two of the honeymoon couples did not show up again, and we had a new honeymoon couple, Dan and Amanda. Turns out their flight to San Juan had been cancelled and they had to join the ship in Aruba…boy, do they have stories to tell their kids someday about their honeymoon adventures! They were super-nice, and we really got along well the rest of the week. The table dynamic was much-improved. I think on this night I had the Caprese salad, which I did not like, the roasted garlic soup (good), and the chicken marsala (very good). I don't recall what I had for dessert that night. Liz had the scallop risotto with no scallops (haha), and the chicken marsala. We were both pretty pleased with the food that night. After dinner, we FINALLY made it to some entertainment and went to see BeatleMania. I was not expecting much, but these guys were awesome! They performed near-perfect covers of Beatles songs, and they really had the crowd moving. I think some of the baby-boomer crowd forgot they were cheering for a cover band and not John, Paul, George, and Ringo. (haha) The crowd loved them so much, they came out to do two encores, which was definitely not planned, because the sign language interpreter had to get new lyrics before they could start! They were, quite possibly, the best cruise ship entertainment I have seen. If you get a chance to see them, definitely go! Curacao: In Curacao, one of our fabulous roll call members, Sandytoes (Kris), had organized a private bus through Blue Angel Tours to take 16 of us CCers to Playa Porto Mari. We had prearranged to meet on Deck 2 by the Screening Room, then we all went out and disembarked the ship together. Our air-conditioned bus was waiting on us and we all loaded in, along with our guide Noosha (sp?). She was very sweet, and gave us a wonderful tour and Curacao history lesson all the way out to Porto Mari, which was about a 30-minute drive. We had the option to add on a city tour at the end of our trip for an additional $8/pp, but we all declined…we were so tired by the end of the day. May I just say right here that if you are planning on renting a car and driving yourself to Porto Mari, don't…unless you are already familiar with the island. Nothing is marked…there are hardly any road signs, and we even went over some questionable "roads" on the way there. I really would not feel comfortable driving all that way, unless I knew I had a good map and good sense of where I needed to go. Otherwise, the roads and traffic in Curacao in general were probably the easiest to travel on out of all the islands we visited (drivers are just crazy in St. Maarten and St. Thomas!). Playa Porto Mari was just like the pictures. (www.playaportomari.com) It was very scenic and remote, just as we had expected. When you first walk in the bar/restaurant is on your left, and the dive shop and restrooms are on your right. We were one of the first groups to arrive for the day, so we had our share of loungers and umbrellas to claim. Shortly after our arrival, a beach attendant came by to collect the entrance fee ($2 each) and the lounger fee ($3 each). Umbrellas are free, and are first-come, first-serve. Liz and I went up to the dive shop to rent snorkel equipment ($9 each)…the mask and snorkel were good quality, but the fins were bent out of shape and made it difficult to maneuver with them. This beach area is an EXCELLENT beach for snorkeling (more on that below), but maybe not so much for just bobbing in the waves, since there is a lot of coral and sharp rock in the shallow areas. However, once you get out to about 5 ft deep, there are large sandy spots that are much better for just hanging out. Just about the time I was ready to start snorkeling, it started to rain…and rain…and rain some more. It downpoured hard for about an hour, I'd guess. Most people didn't mind - snorkeling and swimming continued, but Liz and I waited it out under our umbrella laughing at our bad luck. Fortunately, our bad luck didn't last long, as the sun finally came out (and stayed out) a little bit later. I started snorkeling around, trying to find the underwater snorkel trail they have, marked by the reef balls. If you're not sure what reef balls are, look on Porto Mari's web site…it's quite informative and really pretty cool. I never finished the whole trail, as it was quite long and the water was a little too choppy, but what I saw was really cool…all sorts of beautiful fish and sea life. Supposedly there is some fire coral out there, but I never saw any. The people at the dive shop will give you a map of the snorkel trail to get you started…but it's kind of difficult to follow once you're in the water…they should plant some sort of sign or arrow on the bottom directing you which way to go to follow the trail (is this even possible?). After snorkeling for a while (Liz stayed in the shallow area), we headed up to the bar to get some lunch. At first, I was a bit shocked at the high prices until I realized they were in Netherlands Antilles Florins (NAF). The conversion rate to USD is $1.75NAF=$1.00USD, so things were quite cheap there, actually! I had the grilled Hawaiian sandwich (grilled chicken with pineapple and a spicy ketchup-like sauce) and a Diet Coke, and my total was $3.36 USD. Awesome…Liz had a grilled cheese sandwich (not like any you've seen before…much better, with lots of vegetables and fresh bread) and a soda, and her total was also around $4. You really can't beat that with a stick. They had burgers, all sorts of sandwiches, and dinners with chicken skewers, shrimp, and some Dutch items that we weren't quite sure about…had we been hungrier, I probably would have asked what they were, but a sandwich was sufficient, so we were set. After lunch, we laid out in the sun for a couple of hours, and proceeded to get fried (oops). (I was tan by the next day, so it wasn't too bad!) We met up with our CC friends in the bar about 30 minutes before we were scheduled to leave and had a great time chatting and talking about our cruise. Our bus arrived on schedule, and we got back to the port area around 3:00 or so. The total cost for roundtrip bus transportation was $15/pp. This was a pretty good bargain, considering some people have reported on CruiseCritic paying over $30/pp for a roundtrip cab. I also just wanted to say thanks again to Kris for organizing this wonderful tour! We had to be back onboard by 4:30, so we decided against going into town, and just did some last-minute shopping at the souvenir huts by the ship. Here's another little pointer for you—one of the huts there sells some local liquor brewed in Curacao…I don't remember the names, but one was a banana cream, and one was a pistachio cream. They gave out free samples, and the banana cream liquor was so smooth and delicious! I thought about buying some, but at $23 for a 750ml bottle, I decided not to. I later saw the same stuff at Le Gran Marche (supermarket) in St. Maarten for about ½ the price. Keep that in mind if you really like it! I think this is the day that we got back on the ship and ordered room service for snacks. Liz had the turkey sandwich, I ordered the chicken drummettes, and we got the chili dip and chips to share. Sandwich and chicken = good. Chili dip = kinda weird. Just so you know…lol. My memory is starting to get a little hazy here, but I think we just lounged around in the room that evening reading and watching tv before dinner. Dinner that night was good, and it was a menu that I have never seen before. For those of you who have seen the menus at www.thepreismans.com/Freedom_menus.htm, they have dropped the Caribbean menu, and replaced it with something different. Since I don't have it for reference, I really don't remember what I got, but I think I had a pork chop. I do remember about the dessert that evening - we did not have a choice, unless someone needed a low-fat or sugar-free option. Mustafa brought us all out a dessert sampler plate…and it was just okay. There was a rum cake, some sort of chocolate cheesecake, and another item that I don't recall. No one was really impressed with it, I don't think. However, before you think that I'm complaining, I'm really not. I just would have preferred something different, I think. The Love & Marriage game show took place this night, and we had the best intentions of going to it, but of course, we walked back to the room and decided sleep was calling our name. Fortunately, we were able to catch it on the in-cabin tv later in the week…it was very funny! (The guys had to write down their wife's bra size…one of them said 8A…!!) Second Day at Sea: After our busy days in Aruba and Curacao, we decided to sleep in until we woke up, which was around 9:30 or 10:00. As you may recall, we were in an inside cabin, so we put on our swimsuits and headed up to Deck 12, fully expecting to be able to lounge around by the pool and work on that tan some more! Well, we were in for a BIG surprise when the elevator doors opened on 12…it looked like a hurricane outside! The wind was whipping around, rain was pouring, and the seas were churning like crazy. We both just looked outside and laughed…how could we not have known? :-) We decided to head up to the Blue Moon on Deck 14 for a better vantage point of the storm…it was kinda funny watching people try to cross the deck in the wind…and some people stayed outside in the pools even though we were in the middle of a storm! Technically, I suppose, it was a tropical wave, and we were out of it by that night, but the ship really tossed and turned all day. I, for one, am especially susceptible to motion sickness, and I started to panic when I saw the way the ship was getting tossed and turned. Fortunately, however, I think either the combination of ginger pills and Target-brand Dramamine did the job, or, as my husband thinks…I've conquered my motion sickness! (I usually get sick with or without the pills, and I didn't even feel queasy…he thinks it's probably because we recently took up kayaking [in the last year], and maybe my body has adjusted to the constant motion on the water…I don't know…it just nice to not feel sick all day!) After gawking at the weather for awhile, we returned to the cabin to read…we both had picked up some great summer reading before the trip, and by this point, we were really engrossed in our books. Although I hate that the sun didn't even peek out once that day, it was also quite relaxing to just lay in bed and alternate reading, tv-watching, and napping…what a life. :-) At around noon, we headed up to Johnny Rocket's to try it out. It was quite the challenge getting in the door, as the winds had picked up and everyone was getting blown around! We made it inside, and our fabulous waiter (I really need to work on remembering names!) took great care of us. We both had the smokehouse burgers, along with the requisite basket of fries and onion rings, followed by Oreo sundaes. Also, for you Dr. Pepper lovers like myself (which is available nowhere on any cruise ship that I know of), Johnny Rocket's was the only place on the ship that had Pibb Xtra. I know it's not DP, but it was a pleasant substitute. Also, for the same price as a soda anywhere else onboard ($2.01 with gratuity), you got your drink in a giant Johnny Rocket's cup there…a better value, if you ask me. The burgers were absolutely delicious, and the fries/onion rings were just okay…I like seasoned, salty fries, and these were pretty bland. Our assistant waiter from the dining room, Ericson, was moonlighting in Johnny Rocket's that day as the dessert maker, so it was nice to see him during the day! Also, the staff performed the YMCA dance and they really got into it…so fun! After JR's, we went back to the cabin to take up our strenuous activities of napping and reading again for awhile. Later in the afternoon, we got a little tired of being cooped up, so we went to the covered area of the solarium and sat in the loungers and read some more. By then, it was time to get ready for formal night yet again. We got ready in time to go to the "Where in the World" trivia game in the Schooner Bar before dinner. As always, we didn't win, but we only lost this one by a point! We met a nice family from Fort Worth, Texas, there who helped us out in getting some of the answers right. At 8:30, we headed to dinner, where we were served the Crown & Anchor menu. I had the fresh fruit (yummy), the chilled apple soup (tasted like watery applesauce, but still okay), the pork chop (very good…and I stand corrected about what we ate the previous night…I have no idea now!), and the low-fat apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream, which turned out to be great. Liz had the fruit, the cheese tortelloni, and the black forest mousse. If I recall correctly, she and Amanda, our table mate, really thought the tortelloni was excellent. After dinner on this night, we made it to the show (yay for us for staying awake!!). We went to see Wilde & Hanes, billed as "dangerous comedy". They really were hilarious, and they did some pretty crazy knife and juggling tricks. However, what really made the show, was the 9-year-old kid volunteer, "Bryan from America" (only funny if you were there...hehehe). It was a definite must-see. We called it a night after the show, looking forward to the following day in St. Maarten. St. Maarten: We had to get up early on this day (around 7:30) so that we could disembark and meet our tour guide onshore by 8:30. We had a completely private tour booked with Beau of No Rush Tours. (www.norushtours.com) We had forgotten to order breakfast the night before, so I just called room service and asked for some pastries and juice…they were there within 5-10 minutes…very prompt service! Once onshore, I followed our guide's instructions on where to meet him, and we easily located Beau's girlfriend, Anett, at the designated meeting spot. Beau and Anett were so wonderful…they are both German, and I believe that Beau has lived on St. Martin (he lives on the French side) for the past 12 years. Anett, his girlfriend, has only been there a year or so, I think. (They met on the internet, and when she came to visit, she decided she loved it so much, she up and moved to the island!) Anett is also still learning English, but she is incredibly sweet and her English is much better than she thinks! We were driven around in their Nissan Quest minivan, which was impeccably clean and had a great air conditioner (thank goodness!). We started our day by going up to Guana Bay, where we took pictures of the Atlantic. There are beautiful photo opportunities there, and the pictures turned out pretty well. After leaving there, we ventured over to the Divi Little Bay resort. We all walked up to Fort Amsterdam, which is located on the Divi property. This is a pretty neat historic site, and you can get a picture of the old cannons pointed directly at your cruise ship…too cool! After spending some time at the fort and then walking around the resort a bit, we left and headed over to the Dutch/French border to take some pictures, and then on to the Cole Bay area. Beau asked if we wanted to buy anything like liquor, coffee, etc., and since we did, he took us to Le Gran Marche, an awesome supermarket there. It's pretty much just like any large supermarket back home, but the prices were great. Liquor was the cheapest here that I saw anywhere, and I picked up a bottle of Mount Gay and a bottle of Ponche Caribe for a friend back home. Beau also recommended Santo Domingo coffee, brewed in the Dominican Republic. Liz and I both picked up some for gifts. Total for my two bottles of liquor and can of coffee? $20 USD…it probably would have cost twice that in the tourist area, so definitely think about checking out one of the many local supermarkets while in the islands. Also, we're not smokers, but cigarettes were like $15-$17/carton here. I had no idea, but someone told us that they're over $50/carton back in the U.S., so if you need to stock up on cigarettes, St. Maarten is the place to do it! After our little shopping trip, Beau drove us over to Tri-Sport kayak rental in Simpson Bay. I mentioned earlier that I had taken up kayaking, and I really do love it, so Liz and I both wanted to give it a shot on the ocean. It was pretty windy that day, so the guide suggested we both get single boats instead of a tandem (for better control). I got in the water and started paddling around while waiting on Liz to get in her boat, but she just wasn't having it. It was pretty windy out there, so she wasn't comfortable at all. No worries, though…I was able to kayak around the bay for quite awhile on my own. It was tons of fun and there's lots to see. A word of advice for kayaking anywhere on the ocean: try to go perpendicular to the waves at all times. Kayaking parallel to those big waves can tip you over faster than you realize it's happening! Fortunately, I didn't tip over, but came close a few times! When I finished with the kayak, we still had about 20 minutes before Beau and Anett were due back to pick us up, so we walked across the street from Tri-Sport and Liz checked out the Bubble Tea place. She said it was awesome, but I'm not much of a tea drinker, so I couldn't really tell you. When we came out, we saw Beau and Anett, so we continued on our journey. The next stop was Mary's Boon Plantation beach resort. It's pretty close to the airport, and Beau wanted us to see it because it's rated as one of the best, most romantic resorts in the Caribbean. It did look pretty fabulous. The beach there was quite serene, and I could totally see myself spending some time there with my hubby! After Mary's Boon, we headed over to Mullet Bay Beach to spend a couple of hours. Beau's van is stocked with coolers of beer, soda, and water, as well as beach towels and beach chairs. He really is like an island concierge at your disposal…so wonderful! We toted the chairs over to the beach and found a nice spot. The water was sooo clear, and the bottom was perfectly sandy, except for on the left side of the beach where there were a lot of rocks, and snorkelers were seeing plenty of fish. Liz and I had been in the water about 15 minutes when I kept feeling a stinging sensation on my right arm…I kept looking around in the water, but couldn't see anything. I finally decided to just get out because whatever it was really hurt! Turns out I got stung by jellyfish, and I wasn't the only one! That pretty much did it for swimming in Mullet Bay, at least for Liz and I…my arm was starting to swell up, and I didn't want to get stung anymore. So, we made the best of it (the beach was beautiful), and I walked up to the beach bar (Daleo's Snack) to get some lunch. A gentleman at the bar suggested I rub sand on my arm, which really seemed to help the swelling. (It was completely fine by later that night, so all was well!) The folks working at Daleo's Snack were pretty cool…they had some great music playing, and the food smelled delicious! I ordered a plate of ribs with French fries ($7), and they were scrumptious! The only downside was I had to wait almost 30 minutes for them (there were several families before me who had placed large orders), but so worth it. One of the guys working there even offered me a free beer since I had to wait awhile. After we ate, it was time to meet Beau and Anett again, so off we went! Beau had the flight schedule for arriving planes at the Princess Juliana airport near Maho Beach, so we went to the Sunset Beach Bar just in time to see several of the "big planes" land. That was a totally cool experience…I'm a little bit of a commercial aviation nut myself, so it was especially fun to watch. Regrettably, there weren't any 747s landing that day (I think they only come in the winter), so we didn't get the big drama-show when one takes off, but we certainly had fun and got some great pictures nonetheless. After leaving Maho, we had about 3 hours left before we had to be back on the ship .We told Beau we'd like to get some shopping in downtown, so he dropped us in the very center of Philipsburg, and we were able to see and find just about everything we wanted. Liz found herself a pretty tanzanite ring at one of the cruise ship-recommended jewelry stores…I found myself plenty of sparkly things I like, but my problem is that I have uber-expensive taste, and a $7000 aquamarine-and-diamond ring just wasn't in the budget this time…imagine that! :-p I did find perhaps the best bargain of the cruise…five St. Maarten beach towels for $13. I don't recall what store I found them in, but they're all over the downtown area. They're not great quality (obviously), but they made affordable souvenirs for my 5 office-mates back home. I gave them out today, and they were really excited to get them! By the time we finished shopping, we were too beat to even consider walking back to the ship, so we hopped on the water taxi for $3/pp. We were somehow famished when we got back, so we headed down to the Café Promenade for some pizza and dessert…the peach cream tart was to die for! After eating, it was time to go upstairs and get ready for the dinner and the pre-dinner production show, "Can't Stop the Rock." (It seems like we were always eating on this cruise!) The show was just okay…it was a compilation of various movie themes throughout the years, and the song choice was just odd. Hard to describe, but it didn't have a smooth feel to it…very choppy and weird. Dinner that night was the Chef's Dinner menu. I had the cheese plate from the dessert menu for the appetizer, chilled peach soup, the prime rib, and a chocolate sampler dessert that was heavenly! (It had a white chocolate mousse, a flourless milk chocolate cake, and a cheesecake, I believe….yum.) Liz had the sun-ripened pineapple, the Thai BBQ chicken breast (which everyone reported was not that great), and the chocolate sampler. After dinner, we were off to bed again…another busy day ahead of us in St. Thomas! Oh, I guess I should also put in a bit more about Beau and No Rush Tours. Quite simply, the best tour we've ever taken, anywhere! Beau is very knowledgeable and EXTREMELY nice and personable. He will take you wherever you want to go on your tour - the places we went were places Beau and I had discussed prior to the trip that we were interested in seeing. Certainly if you are interested in more beach time or in seeing more of the French side, he will be able to accommodate you. We felt it was just perfect for what we wanted. I also left out one of our other tour stops - we stopped at the Turtle Pier restaurant by the airport, because they have 6- to 7-ft Caribbean carp just hanging around the dock because they get fed often. These were definitely a sight to see, and I wouldn't want to run into one of them while snorkeling, even though they are harmless! We would both highly, highly recommend Beau as a tour guide. He can take just about any size group of people, as he even has a larger van and a bus for groups over 6 and 12. We paid $60 each for the two of us for the whole day. The more people you have in your group, the lower the per-person price is...but, it was really nice just being able to do exactly what we wanted and nothing else! St. Thomas: I was in St. Thomas for the first time in March 2006 aboard the Zuiderdam, and it has since become one of my all-time favorite places to visit, so I was pretty excited we were going to return there on the Adventure. We were so torn about what to do there - so many fun things to choose from! After much debating, we both settled on doing an 11:00 a.m. Snuba dive through www.visnuba.com . After going through U.S. immigration in the dining room that morning, we went up to the Windjammer for breakfast around 8:30 a.m. This was the one and only time on the whole trip that it felt like there were 3000+ people on the ship - the Windjammer was completely packed and we couldn't even find a place to sit. We ended up sharing a table with someone else just so we could eat. Anyway, after we ate, we disembarked the ship and got in a cab headed to Coral World. The fare was $9/pp, and it was about a 15- to 20-minute ride there. Sandytoes and her hubby from our roll call also ended up the same taxi van, but they were headed to Sapphire instead of Coral World. It was nice to see them again! We arrived at Coral World, and per the e-mail instructions I had received from VI Snuba, we checked in at the ticket counter and paid for our Snuba, which included an all-day admission pass to Coral World. Liz had decided the previous evening that she did not want to do Snuba, but she still had to pay for it since she did not give a 24-hour notice. Frank was nice, though, and only charged her ½-price, even though their web site states that that they will charge the full $68 price if you cancel too late. We had some time to kill, so we walked through some of the aquarium buildings and the lorikeet garden at Coral World. It was pretty decent, but if you've been to Sea World or to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, you might be a little disappointed. Fortunately, I knew what to expect, so it was exactly as I had imagined it. Liz, on the other hand, had not really been to any larger aquariums before, so she thought it was pretty great. They did have some unique fish, and the giant spiny lobsters were incredible…I had no idea they got so large! I met Frank, our Snuba guide at the Coral World snack bar area at 10:45 as instructed. He tried to convince Liz to go ahead and try it out, but she didn't budge. She was pretty sunburned, so she just waited for me the whole time under the shade at the snack bar area. Frank was an excellent instructor and guide - he's pretty much the expert on Snuba, as he has taken over 40,000 people on dives since he and his wife started their business in the Virgin Islands. He's also a PADI instructor, which kind of gave him a little more credibility in my book. He was very thorough, and safety was his number one concern, which was nice. Turns out there were only 3 of us on the dive - myself, and a father/son combo from the Carnival Miracle, which was also in port with us that day. Frank was also with us the whole time, of course. We probably spent 30 minutes (at least) on shore going over all the safety rules and techniques for clearing your mask and relieving the pressure in your ears. I can't imagine that the cruise ship excursion spends that much time going over those important points. After we got in the water at Coki Beach (next to the Coral World aquarium), Frank took us out to about waist-deep to fit us with our masks, fins, and the Snuba weights and gear, then we had about another ½-hour to get used to breathing the pressurized air and to get used to controlling our depth with our breathing…too cool! (I definitely want to get SCUBA-certified now before my next cruise in March!) After everyone was comfortable, we started doing out a little deeper. We even passed a few SCUBA divers returning to shore! There were tons and tons of fish, coral, and all kinds of sea life. Frank even took me down to show me a moray eel hiding behind a rock. He was careful and showed us the things that are okay to touch and the things to stay away from. He also had an underwater camera with him, where he took a bunch of pictures of us that were posted on his web site for us to purchase. They can be seen here: http://www.visnuba.com/081107/index.htm . We were probably underwater around 30-40 minutes, and it was absolutely amazing. I loved being under the water swimming with the fish…it's an experience that I will always remember and that has inspired me to pursue SCUBA! I wish Liz had talked herself into trying it, especially since she had to pay anyway, but she was so wary of the water and of the "sea creatures," that maybe it just wasn't for her. I will say this to anyone who is unsure if Snuba is for them: You (and only you) are in complete control of your depth underwater at all times. If you think that 15- to 20-ft deep is too deep, that's totally fine. You can just hover around nearer to the surface, if you prefer. There is absolutely no pressure to do anything you are not comfortable with. That said, it truly was awesome and I can't wait to do it again someday (or actually dive)! After we finished with Snuba, it was around 1:00pm, and Liz and I decided to catch a cab to go downtown for some shopping. I think the fare was $8 each, but I don't remember exactly. What I do remember is the wild ride! It was one of those open-air truck cabs, and I don't think our driver drove below 60 the whole time…the posted speed limit was 10-20. Thankful to have arrived safely, we were dropped off by Emancipation Gardens and we walked to the main waterfront area. After stopping in at a few souvenir stores (including finding some Swarovski goodies!), we made our way around to the 19th Hole Bar, which is located in the Royal Dane alleyway shopping mall. I had visited this bar on my previous trip to St. Thomas, and it's just a wonderful little place. It's run by a retired couple from Dallas, and I think they said they have been living in St. Thomas for either 16 or 18 years now. They are so sweet, just like the nicest little old grandparents, and they make a mean Bushwhacker! After our lovely conversation with them (and an equally lovely drink), we continued on our way shopping. After another while, we decided we were hungry when we stumbled upon another alleyway dive, the Giggling Gecko Bar & Grill. The bartender/waitress was also from the mainland U.S., and she was super-nice, as well. We both had lamb gyros with homemade cucumber sauce and a BBC (Banana Bailey's Colada). Yum! The food and drinks were fabulous! I should also mention that you shouldn't really expect anything in St. Thomas (or Puerto Rico, for that matter) to be cheap. The tourist areas definitely have tourist prices…but we were expecting that, and felt that everything we had was worth it. After stumbling out of the Giggling Gecko, we decided to head back to Havensight and do some shopping there before returning to the ship. Cab fare was $4 each, and might I just say that cabs were more than plentiful. Every time we turned around downtown, someone was asking us if we need a taxi. Enough already! We walked (or should I say we teetered and giggled) our way through several stores in the Havensight Mall, where, as Liz says, the alcohol made her loose enough to buy a pair of tanzanite earrings and a beautiful aquamarine ring. Again, I saw plenty that I liked, just not anything that was even remotely close to being in my budget! (Darn my expensive taste…) After seeing all the pretty jewelry that Liz bought on the trip, neither of us really know if she got an unbeatable deal or not, but the important thing is that the jewelry she got was good quality, she really liked it, and she felt like she got a fair price. We returned to the ship, exhausted as usual (haha), and just kind of lounged around until it was time to get ready for the farewell show that was held before dinner in the Lyric Theater. This was the weirdest show…it started with a comedian, whose name I don't recall…he had some funny parts, but I think he didn't expect to see so many children in attendance and he had to clean up his act at the last minute. It seemed like he was just taking up time trying to figure out something to say. After his act, it was Duel Ignatov, a Russian couple who did this crazy mime-hula hoop-contortionist act thing. Oh my, that was strange, and really not that entertaining. Apparently they were the headlining act during the welcome aboard show, which we missed…thank goodness. After the show, we went to our final cruise ship dinner, where we said sad good-byes to our wait staff and our new friends. This night's menu was the Feast of Nations, and I had the table Caesar salad (very delicious), spinach dip (good, but weird with carrots in it), the onion soup (decent), the grilled NY strip steak (good), and I tried both the frozen banana custard and the key lime pie for dessert. The pie was amazing, and the banana custard would have been better if it hadn't been half-melted by the time we got it. I think Liz had Caesar salad, spinach dip, NY steak, and the brownie madness. She liked everything she had, but the brownie dessert looked pretty uninspiring. After dinner, we headed back to the cabin to pack and set our luggage out by midnight. We discovered on the very last night while setting out our luggage that Amanda and Dan, our tablemates, had the cabin right next door to us! How we managed to go the whole week without seeing each other was amazing, but we thought it was quite funny. Disembarkation: We were assigned Group 2 for disembarking. Let me talk about the one big thing that RCCL did not do right - disembarkation. First of all, we received Pink 1 baggage tags and little slips of paper that said we were in Disembarkation Group 2. I was a little confused by this, so I asked our cabin steward if we need to listen for Pink 1 (like on all the other cruise lines I have been on), or Group 2…Group 2 it was. The colored tags were given out by floor, rather than by departure time. I then asked him if he had a list of approximate times the groups would be called off, and he did not. That's the big thing I really missed from my previous cruises - the night before disembarkation, we would always be left a sheet of paper detailing the approximate times each group would be called. That way, I would have known if we needed to switch our group for an earlier or later departure, based on our flight time. Well, we had a 2:20pm flight, so we weren't exactly worried about missing our plane, so we just decided to stick with Group 2. Oh, here's another little minor beef with disembarkation procedure…never did I see anywhere where it was announced what time we had to have our bags out in the hallway. We just assumed midnight, because that's what it's always been in the past, but I never saw it printed anywhere. Okay, so the morning of disembarkation we got up around 7:00, and vacated our cabin before 8:00am as requested in the daily Compass. We went down to breakfast in the dining room, and had one last delicious meal on the ship - I had banana pancakes and bacon…yum! While we were in the dining room, no announcements came over the p.a. system, so we just assumed they had not started disembarkation yet. So, we went over and found a place to rest by the aquarium near the loyalty ambassador's desk. Next thing we knew, they were calling Group 4 to leave. We were a bit confused, so I asked someone sitting nearby if they had called Groups 1-3 yet, and sure enough, they had. They just didn't play the announcements in the dining room. Oh well, no harm done, but it just didn't make a lot of sense to me. We exited the interior of the ship, only to find an extremely long line out on deck to actually exit the ship into the terminal. It was only around 9:30am at this point, so we had nothing to do but wait, but I know a lot of people with earlier flights were starting to get nervous. It took us about 30 minutes to get through the line, but as it wound back through the inside of the ship just before we exited, there was a large group of VERY RUDE people who thought it would be okay to cut in the front of the line right there, rather than waiting in the long line with the rest of us. One lady in particular cut right in front of me, pushing and shoving her way through…then when we got outside, she threw her gum away by just tossing it out onto the walkway. The audacity and rudeness of some people just blows me away! Anyway, once we got into the terminal, it was pretty easy to locate our luggage in the Pink section. Liz's luggage is black-and-white patterned, so it stands out in the crowd. Mine, not quite as easy…plenty of black Samsonite bags out there! We grabbed our bags and headed out to the taxi stand. We were hoping that they would just cram as many people as possible headed to the airport in these large van and SUV cabs, but they didn't…I'm sure they get more money doing things this way…haha. We arrived at the airport by 10:00 a.m. and zipped right through Delta check-in and security. We must have arrived before the big rush, because we were expecting mayhem and didn't have any of the hassles I had read about in San Juan. By the time we reached our gate, we effectively had 4 hours to kill before our 2:20 flight to Atlanta. It actually went by a lot faster than we expected, and it also helped that two of our other tablemates, Dawna and Michael, were waiting with us for the same flight…so at least we had someone to talk to! We were able to take off on time, and one of the reasons we flew Delta back instead of American (they were the same price), was because we were flying in a 767 and we were able to get exit-row seats! To me, the ride was extremely comfortable…the bigger the plane, the smoother the ride, and it was quite nice. It was also nice to have the exit-row, even though it was a bulkhead, which meant we couldn't see the movie screen. We landed in Atlanta on time, and had about 2 hours before our connecting flight to Minneapolis. We had dinner with Dawna and Michael at Popeye's Chicken (I've been craving it ever since moving away from Oklahoma last year!), then went to wait at our gate. We arrived back in MSP with no incident and took the shuttle to our hotel for the evening, the Marriott Springhill Suites in Eagan. If any of you are staying in the Minneapolis area, I would highly, highly, highly recommend this hotel. We got it on Hotwire for $67 with tax, but I think their regular rate is only around $85. The beds have the new fluffy bedding (much like Royal Caribbean), and there are two queen-size beds in the studio suites. Soooo comfy! They also have a complimentary hot breakfast and airport shuttle. I took the shuttle back to the airport early the next morning, and flew Northwest home on a very bumpy ride back to Grand Forks, North Dakota. Hubby picked me up at 10:30 a.m. and it was so nice to finally be there! This might have been the only cruise I have ever been on where I was ready for it to be over when it was over. Not to worry, it wasn't because the cruise was mediocre or I wasn't having a good time - it was because I hadn't seen my hubby in over two weeks, since he was away presenting at a scientific conference in New Hampshire the week before I left for the cruise. It was so good to see him again! Post-Cruise Thoughts: This cruise, without a doubt, was full of the best-dressed passengers I have ever seen. I noticed in Sandytoes' review, she mentioned she thought it was quite casual. In our experience in the dining room, even on casual nights, the majority of the women wore very dressy outfits (not formal, just very nice). Sure, there were the occasional folks who wore jeans or shorts, but from what we saw, these were few and far between. I don't really know what else to say, except to reiterate what I told KillaFee on an earlier post in this thread. Everyone has asked me which cruise line I like the most now that I have cruised on Princess (twice), Holland America, and Royal Caribbean. I really don't know if I can choose a favorite - I like the anytime dining concept on Princess, and I like the classy feel to their ships. However, I don't like how every single one of their ships are decorated exactly the same…kinda boring to me. On Holland America, I think their service is second to none (I still have to try Celebrity), and I also really enjoyed the full-size bathtub in a regular balcony cabin. Royal Caribbean was great, as well. I think the Voyager-class ship design with the Royal Promenade is something to see, and I also thought the food was excellent. I mentioned before that I'm a picky eater, and it was pretty easy for me to find something that I enjoyed for each course every night. The food in the Promenade Café, as well as in Johnny Rocket's, was also very good. It was also nice to be able to get lemonade and fruit punch in the Windjammer, since I drink water at all the other dining venues. Additionally, Liz really enjoyed the self-serve Seattle's Best coffee in the Promenade Café. I know a lot of people have complained about so-called "issues" on the Adventure sailing from San Juan, but I can truly say that we did not experience anything negative that I would perceive as related to the clientele on the ship or sailing from San Juan in general. I wouldn't hesitate to sail from here again (or on the Adventure). We really had a great time. I don't know if I've converted Liz over to cruise addiction yet, though. She kind of discovered that she wasn't much of a beach/water person on this trip, but she did say that she really enjoyed the cruise overall, and might enjoy a trip to Alaska better than in the Caribbean. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know! Also, for those of you who made it this far and want to see the pictures without scrolling back to the first post, here you go: http://picasaweb.google.com/mrskennedynd/ (my pictures) http://www.visnuba.com/081107/index.htm (St. Thomas Snuba pictures)

Adventure of the Seas - Southern Caribbean

Adventure of the Seas Cruise Review by jimbug

Trip Details
We just returned from a great week onboard the Adventure of the Seas. Below is the start of my review, and my pictures can be seen here: http://picasaweb.google.com/mrskennedynd
Enjoy, and please let me know if you have any questions!
Adventure of the Seas Review August 5-12, 2007
Pre-Cruise: Who we are: I am Jimmie, and I am 25 years old, and this was my fourth cruise (but first on Royal Caribbean). I traveled with my best girlfriend Liz (24), and this was her first cruise ever. We left the guys behind for this trip and had a wonderful girls' week out on the Adventure of the Seas!
We began our journey on Friday, August 3. We live in North Dakota (me) and Montana (Liz), so getting anywhere fun is quite the process. We both flew to Minneapolis that evening on Northwest Airlines. After meeting up in baggage claim, we rented a little blue Chevy Cobalt from Avis and set off to find our hotel - the Holiday Inn Bloomington/MSP Airport (a fabulous Priceline find for a bid of $35). As previous travelers have complained, this hotel is not really that close to the airport, but it's right off I-35W, so it's really not hard to find. It was clean, felt safe, and the room was nice, so we really had nothing to complain about. After checking in, we drove the short distance to the Mall of America (Liz's first visit) for some last-minute shopping and a great dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. By the time we had finished dinner, we were exhausted, so we headed back to the hotel knowing we had a long day of travel ahead of us.
As we got to talking that night, we came to the conclusion that we might have some big problems getting to San Juan the next day. First of all, President Bush was flying into Minneapolis on Saturday because of the terrible bridge collapse, which would certainly halt air traffic for a long enough time period to cause delays...and secondly, the Weather Channel was predicting thunderstorms in the Twin Cities area the next morning. We didn't want to chance missing our connection in Chicago, so we called American Airlines at 4:00 a.m. Saturday morning and found out what our options were. Basically, our best chance for getting out of MSP earlier in the day was to go standby on a flight to Chicago at 7:40 a.m. Not a problem - we got to the airport in plenty of time, and were numbers 2 and 3 on the standby list. We got our seats, and happily arrived in Chicago in plenty of time to make an earlier flight to San Juan, as well. After a very long and uncomfortable (4 hrs and 40 mins) flight on a 757, we arrived in San Juan around 3:15 pm. It felt so nice to finally be there after so many months of planning and anticipation.
We claimed our bags (thankful they all arrived together even though we went standby), and as others reported, they DO check that your bag tags and your baggage claim receipts match. So, don't throw those stickers away before they are inspected. Here's where our trip gets interesting and where we almost got scammed...haha. I knew from reading on CruiseCritic that taxi fares are regulated in San Juan, and I also knew approximately how much we should have to pay to get from the airport to our hotel, the Caribe Hilton. So, I was just as surprised as the next person when I stupidly allowed some guy who asked me if I needed a taxi to take our bags and load them into his unmarked (although quite nice) vehicle that his wife was driving. Liz and I got in the vehicle and told them where we were headed and asked how much it would be. The man said $45. I knew right then we weren't in the right kind of cab...haha. I told him no way are we paying that much, so he wanted to know how much we wanted to pay. I told him $15 or $20 and he wouldn't go that low. I guess he thought we'd just pay it since we were already in the car and pulling away, but Liz and I both looked at each other and said NO...lol. They screeched over to the curb and let us out of the cab. I don't know what they were doing...besides obviously running an illegal cab business. You'd think they'd at least undercut the tourism association rates by a few bucks if they were going to get any business. Anyway, scam avoided, we hauled our four bags back over to the OFFICIAL taxi stand (it's easy to find - everyone wears bright orange shirts) and we were given a slip of paper with a price of $19. Much better! The tourism association lady working the taxi stand was really nice...she showed us to a cab and told the driver where we needed to go. Everything worked out just fine...so traveler beware - don't get into a cab without a tourism association logo on the side of it!
The ride to the Hilton was only about 15 minutes tops, but it was enough to make us both realize that maybe we shouldn't venture beyond the resort grounds on our own that night. (Admittedly, now that we've seen other nicer parts of San Juan, I'd feel much better...but the area around the hotel is not that great.) We checked in at the front desk, and I inquired about getting a villa room or an executive tower room. Much to my surprise, the clerk said we were already booked in a villa room (yay!). I should mention that we got this hotel on Priceline also, for a bid of $65. I should probably also mention that it was HOT and HUMID. I've been spoiled living in North Dakota for the past year, as we have practically zero humidity year-round...just standing in the open-air lobby at the Hilton about killed us...whew! We had to wait about 10-15 minutes for our room to be ready, and when it was, an absolutely wonderful bellman took us to the villa towers in a hotel minivan, and escorted up to our room, unloaded our luggage, and offered to get us ice and anything else we needed. Now I'm not completely from the sticks, and I realize that this is what bellmen do (haha), but this guy was SOOO nice and helpful...big-time kudos to him.
After cooling off in the comforts of air conditioning and marveling at the view from our balcony, we decided to take a look around. First of all, our room was fabulous. It was clearly recently renovated...we had a gorgeous marble bathroom with separate shower and soaking tub. The bathroom even had a bidet (eww), but Liz made better use of it by rinsing the sand off her feet there...haha. We walked around the resort grounds, taking pictures, gawking at the ocean, and trying to decide where to eat for dinner. Had we had more time at the resort, we would have had a blast. The pool and beach area looked great, but by the time we got there and got settled, it was late evening and the sun was already starting to go down. The Caribe Hilton has several restaurants, most of which are pretty pricey and quite nice-looking. As a side note, the concierge desk has a large album filled with all of the hotel restaurant menus and prices, as well as menus for a lot of nearby places. We settled on the Palmeras Restaurant, which is very near the main lobby area. They have a special buffet each night, and that night's feature was the oriental buffet, priced at $30 each. The buffet did look appetizing, but we really didn't want to spend quite that much on dinner, so we decided to order off the menu. We both got the rosemary chicken breast. Wow...quite possibly the best chicken I've ever had...seriously. It was $17, the portions were huge, and it came with bread, vegetables, and your choice of potato. I honestly didn't expect much from a generic hotel-type restaurant...but they totally exceeded our expectations. Liz and I would both definitely recommend eating there if you have the opportunity to do so.
By the time we finished dinner and got back to our room, it was about 8:00 pm. I'm sad to say that we were both so exhausted, we crashed and didn't get to enjoy any of the nightlife going on around the resort (there seemed to be plenty). Oh well...maybe next time!
Embarkation Day: We woke up around 8:00 am and quickly got ready and checked out of the hotel. The nice thing about the villa tower is that you can check out right there at their front desk, rather than making the hike over the main lobby. The desk clerk summoned a cab for us (yes, a tourism cab this time!), and we asked to be taken to Old San Juan and dropped off at the Barrachina restaurant on Calle Fortaleza so we could take advantage of their luggage storage service. The taxi fare was around $15 and it was a very picturesque drive there. By the time we got there, it was probably around 9:30 a.m. and the restaurant was not yet open. However, there were a few people milling about, and we were able to determine where to take our bags. A very friendly employee took care of us and gave us claim slips for the luggage. I had read that the service was free and that they operated on tips only, but I can report that they now charge $1 per bag. We checked 4 suitcases and a backpack, and the fee was $5. Totally reasonable, and it appeared to be quite safe.
None of the shops in Old San Juan were open yet on a Sunday (they open around 11 am, I believe), so we left the restaurant and headed down Calle Fortaleza in search of another famous restaurant - La Bombonera. I couldn't remember what street it was on, so we were sort of on a wild goose chase trying to find it until we went into the Hotel Milano and asked the front desk clerk. Fortunately, we were only about a block away (it's on Calle San Francisco), and it was quite easy to find, once we knew where we were supposed to go. We arrived at La Bombonera and drooled over their pastry display in the window before going in to be seated at a table. We both tried the famous mallorcas - a fried pastry filled with your choice of meat, eggs, and/or cheese, and all topped with a generous heap of powdered sugar. It might sound a little strange, but it was amazing. It was also budget-friendly - I think they were $3-$4 each. After eating our breakfast, we walked around Old San Juan for just a little while more before we decided it was way too hot and humid yet again. We walked back to Barrachina and claimed our luggage. It must have been around 11:00 a.m. at this point, and when the proprietor of Barrachina discovered we were headed to the ship already, he vehemently tried talking us out of it. He kept telling us it was too early, and that we wouldn't be able to board until at least 1:30 or 2:00. I'm not quite sure what his problem was, but we didn't listen. I walked about half a block to where the cabs were lined up, and secured a driver to take us to the Pan American Pier where our ship was docked.
We arrived at the pier shortly after 11:00, and saw a line forming outside of the building. What may not be clear to everyone at this terminal is that you go to the front of the line to drop off your luggage, and then return to the back of the line to enter the building. It really should be better-marked, but there were several employees there directing people where to go, which was pretty helpful. We were about the 30th or 40th person in line, and we only had to wait about 10 minutes before the line started moving and we were inside! We filled out our SetSail passes online prior to arriving, so we went to the designated SetSail check-in area. There was no line at all, and we were quickly issued our SeaPass cards and were able to board the ship right away. We're so glad we didn't listen to that man at Barrachina! We were ?one of the first few on the ship, and it was so much fun!
We were told the cabins wouldn't be ready until 2:00, so we set off on a self-tour of the ship, starting at the top. Keep in mind that this was Liz's first cruise, and I think she was in absolute awe of the ship and its massive size. We had a lot of fun walking around and taking pictures...however, we didn't get very far until we decided it was time for the first foo-foo drink of the trip! The closest bar was the Sky Bar, and we both ordered a Miami Vice. Anthony at the bar took great care of us, and he was very personable, but there was a problem with our SeaPass cards...they wouldn't scan. So, after being held up at the Sky Bar for about 20 minutes while they fiddled with our cards, they finally entered our drink charges manually and told us to go to Guest Relations to have our cards replaced. Why they couldn't have just done that 20 minutes earlier is beyond me, but hey...we were on vacation and nothing was going to spoil our fun!
We continued our tour through the ship...it was pretty cool to be able to take pictures and explore before the ship got packed with over 3000 people. Once we got to the deck with the Guest Relations desk (Deck 4?), we stopped there to inquire about our SeaPass cards. They had a Guest Relations employee pre-screening passengers about what they were inquiring, assumedly to solve any minor problems quickly and prevent people from standing in line unnecessarily. When she got to us, we explained what happened, and we got a lecture about our SeaPass cards and how sensitive they are to magnets and other magnetic cards, etc., and how we should be more careful with them. Funny, though...we'd only been issued the cards an hour before, and they hadn't been anywhere but our pockets since...not anywhere near any other cards, magnets, etc. Oh well...we got up to the desk and a WONDERFUL guest relations employee (can't remember her name!) totally apologized for the situation before we'd even said a word. She just took one look at the account and was able to easily fix whatever was wrong with it. It appeared to be just a computer glitch and we were off and running. She was so nice and had wonderful customer service skills...she even told us if we have any more problems with the cards (which we didn't), that we didn't have to wait in line...just come find her and she will fix the problem. This would be the first of many Royal Caribbean employees we encountered who were willing to go above and beyond without even being asked.
After visiting Guest Relations, we headed over to the dining room to check out our seat assignment. We had Table 251 in the Vivaldi (lowest-level) dining room on Deck 3. We searched and searched for table and were having a hard time locating it, until we realized there was a side room off to the right side of the dining room...La Notte. We found our table, which turned out to be a table for 12 (geez), and affectionately referred to our secluded little dining area as the "reject room"...haha. I'd never been seated at such a large table before, and was hoping we'd have friendly tablemates.
By the time we finished our ship tour, it was almost 2:00, so we headed up to our cabin to check it out. We had #8445, which was a Category N inside. Prior to this trip, I have only cruised with a balcony, so I was sort of dreading the experience with an inside cabin...but I have to say, it turned out just fine. I just felt a little detached from the world when I couldn't tell what the weather was like outside or when we were pulling into or out of port. We opened our cabin door, and found that the beds were pushed together and made into a king-size. We kind of joked that Royal Caribbean must have thought we were "together," rather than just friends...little did we know they really may have thought that (more on this later)!
Other than the bed issue, the cabin was perfectly fine. It was in really great shape, minus a few stains on the carpet. We also felt that we had plenty of storage space and room to move around in for the week, which was quite obviously a plus.
After seeing the beds together, I went off down the hall in search of our cabin steward, Castillo. (We found his name and picture on the card by the guest services binder in the cabin.) He was more than happy to separate the beds for us, and he was very friendly and capable throughout the week. Our luggage still had not arrived, so we decided to go up to the Windjammer for snacks and a beverage. The Windjammer was crowded, but there were still plenty of seats to be easily found. We filled our plates with some yummy desserts (the sugar free Key Lime mousse was awesome!) and grabbed a lemonade, then sat down by the window to people-watch and just take it all in. After snacking a bit, we headed back up to the cabin to check for our luggage...Liz's two bags had arrived, but mine were still nowhere to be seen. So, she was able to unpack, and then it was time for the ever-dreaded muster drill. The one thing I didn't really like about Royal Caribbean's version of the muster drill, is that we had no idea where our muster station was. There was a diagram posted on the back of the cabin door, but it didn't make much sense, and it didn't give a name for the place we were supposed to "muster"...haha. We asked Castillo where to go, and he said just to follow all the people heading downstairs, so we did. Turns out, our muster station was the dining room...would have been much easier to find if we had known where we were heading! The drill itself was quite painless. We headed back to the cabin to put our life jackets away, and discovered my luggage had finally arrived! We unpacked, lounged around the ship some more, then went up on deck for the sailaway party. It was so much fun, even though we did more watching than participating! The crew members had a large number of people doing various line dances...the calypso band was pretty good, as well.
By then, it was time for our 8:30 dinner seating. We made our way to the dining room, unsure of who we'd find at our table. Admittedly, I was sort of hoping we'd either be
seated with other women traveling together, or a wide variety of people. We were actually seated with FIVE married couples…four of which were honeymooners in their early 20s, plus another couple who looked to be in their mid-40s. Indeed it was a little weird, and conversation was pretty strained that night. Everyone was perfectly nice, but I'm pretty much convinced that Royal Caribbean thought Liz and I were more than just friends…haha. The food was also so-so that night…I had the Vidalia onion tart (more like quiche, which was excellent), the Tuscan tomato soup (decent), the shrimp ravioli (yuck), and some sort of apple tart for dinner (not that great). Liz had the melon and mango and the stuffed chicken breast, both of which she thought were excellent. After dinner, we had grand plans of going to the welcome-aboard show and to the Rock-a-Rokie karaoke, but we were so exhausted, we ended up going straight to bed.
Oh, I forgot to add... our waiters were Mustafa and Ericson, with Mihai as our headwaiter. All 3 were great! Mustafa was from Turkey, and he was such a ladies' man...so charming! Ericson, from the Philippines, was his assistant. Ericson always performed tricks or told us jokes...he was a riot, and definitely our favorite! Mihai was probably the friendliest of all the headwaiters I've ever had...he came to our table each night to check on us and to make conversation. Was he fishing for tips? Yes, probably, but at least it didn't seem forced.
First Day at Sea: We slept in this morning (yay!), and ordered pastries, cereal, and juice from room service to be delivered between 9:30-10:00. They called to let us know they were coming at 9:20, and were at our door at 9:30 exactly…talk about prompt service! Something I noticed, that I thought I should share: the room service breakfast cards that you can hang on your door the night before do NOT list any of the hot items that are available for breakfast, such as eggs, bacon/sausage, omelets, etc. However, if you look in the guest services binder in your cabin, there is a much more extensive room service breakfast menu. You will have to call them that morning to order it, rather than hanging the card the night before, but that information was good to know for when we wanted a larger breakfast.
After breakfast, we put on our swimsuits and headed up to the pool. The pools were actually packed, but there were plenty of loungers to be found. We grabbed a couple on Deck 12, and laid out in the sun for a couple of hours, just reading and enjoying the tropical weather. Here's another bit of information I discovered: the Pool Bar and the Sky Bar do not have the same extensive drink menus that all the inside bars have. I ordered the frozen Key Lime Pie drink from a pool deck waiter, but I was unable to get it, so I "settled" for a strawberry daiquiri (good nonetheless!). Maybe everyone else knows this, but I didn't! :-)
Around noon, we headed indoors to have the Brasserie 30 lunch in the dining room. They were advertising made-to-order pasta in addition to the regular menu. The pasta looked delicious, but I decided on the mulligatawny soup, the buffalo chicken sandwich, and the carrot cake pyramid for dessert. The soup was fabulous - I had no idea (and still don't) what mulligatawny soup was, but it was quite delicious…almost had a mustardy-curry taste to it. The sandwich was just okay…I should have gotten the pasta…and the cake was yummy. I think Liz had a Caesar salad, the cheeseburger and fries, and a peach crumble for dessert. She said the peach crumble was great…it was the waiter's recommendation, and it did look good!
After lunch, we went back out to the pool for awhile, and then went inside to get ready for our formal night dinner we had reserved at Portofino. We took a few formal portraits before dinner (hardly any lines), then headed up to Portofino. I should qualify what I'm about to say by stating that we are both fairly picky eaters (neither of us eat very much fish or seafood), and I am extremely picky about what vegetables I eat. I admit that it was a little bit difficult for us both to find items on each course that we liked, BUT…what we did pick was quite simply amazing. I started with the shrimp risotto, then had the bean soup, the mushroom pasta, and the filet mignon. Liz had the eggplant roulades, the mushroom pasta, and the veal. Everything was so delicious, but our favorite was decidedly the mushroom pasta. It was served in a mascarpone cream sauce, and it literally melted in my mouth. By the time dessert came around, we were too stuffed to even think about it, but we did have a few bites of the strawberry pistachio panna cotta (me) and the apricot tart (Liz). I don't really remember our waiter's name, but Mary Grace was our assistant waiter, and she was awesome. She was really on top of things, as well as being super-friendly and seemed to really love her job. You should also know that after you've had dessert, they bring you out ANOTHER plate of chocolate-covered strawberries and petit fours, which we couldn't even bring ourselves to touch, so Mary Grace boxed it up and sent it back with us to our room. Our dinner there was fabulous, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone wanting an upscale dining experience.
Once again, we had plans to go to the show and the nightclub after dinner, but after stuffing ourselves silly at Portofino, we pretty much just passed out and watched tv for awhile before falling asleep. (It was nice to get the Style network on the in-cabin tv...I got to catch up on my celebrity gossip and makeover shows...!) Oh well…vacation is for relaxing, right? Haha
How could I forget…the CruiseCritic roll call party at 5pm on the first formal night! We met at the Blue Moon lounge, and we had a pretty good turnout (25-30, maybe?). Marvin from the cruise staff hosted the event, and Royal Caribbean provided canapes and lemonade/tea/water. They also did a raffle drawing for about 10 or 12 different prizes…I ended up with a Shipshape towel and Liz got a Royal Caribbean hat. It was a very nice event overall, and also fun to be able to finally put faces with names.
Aruba: We woke up around 8:00 a.m. and turned on the TV to the bridge cam just in time to see us pulling into Aruba. We went down to the Windjammer for breakfast (still not that crowded) and tried to formulate a game plan for the day. Prior to the cruise, someone on the CruiseCritic Aruba board mentioned how great the Spa del Sol at the Manchebo Beach Resort was, so after checking out their web site (www.manchebo.com) we decided to book spa services for our day there. Soraya, the spa receptionist, was the one we corresponded through e-mail with, and she was awesome when we got there, as well…so very welcoming and pleasant. We disembarked the ship and walked the short distance to the bus station. There are signs by where each bus stops letting you know where the bus is headed. This probably won't make any sense to you before you get there, but the bus to Eagle and Palm Beach is the one that stops on the far left side of the terminal. Check the white 8.5x11 sign posted there to make sure. The fare is $1.30/pp one way or $2.30/pp roundtrip. They do take US dollars, and they will make change if you need it. Our driver was very nice, and he gave us our transfer ticket for the return trip.
Getting to the Manchebo Resort was a little bit confusing. I knew beforehand that it was near the Alhambra Casino, so when I saw the bus stop near the casino, we got off there. It was on a little side street about 100 yards from the corner where the casino and the Tamarijn Resort are. We crossed the street and walked into the Dunkin Donuts next to the casino to ask for directions to Manchebo. Turns out it was just right behind us…there is a smaller street that runs parallel to the main street in front of the casino, and the resorts are along there. We arrived at the resort, and although it's a fairly small property, it was absolutely beautiful. We followed the pathway signs to the Spa del Sol pavilion, and Soraya greeted us warmly. Even though we had about 2 hours before our scheduled services, Soraya was able to give us lockers, robes, and anything else we needed, including a nice glass of delicious pineapple juice. I have to say here that Eagle Beach was BEAUTIFUL…I have never in my life seen such a gorgeous, perfect beach, and I've been to the wonderfully picturesque Half Moon Cay, Bahamas (my favorite until this trip). Soraya had mentioned to us that chairs and umbrellas at the resort were $5 each, so we headed over to the beach attendant. He wanted to charge us $8 each, so we declined upon principle. I know that it sounds silly to fuss over $3, but we were only going to be there about an hour, and there were plenty of places for us to sit and put our stuff for free over by the spa. That's the one thing I wish - when we're spending big bucks at the spa, it would be nice to get resort guest privileges for the chairs and umbrellas, at least. So, we dropped our towels under a palm tree and headed for the water! Seriously…amazing. There were no rocks, seaweed, or anything. I didn't even see a fish. So, it's probably pretty rotten snorkeling, but that was okay. The water was a crystal-clear turquoise, and the sand was powder-soft white. If I ever get the chance, I will definitely be back to Aruba and will definitely be staying at a resort on Eagle Beach.
We returned to the spa a little while later, and used their showers…too hot to use the complimentary jacuzzi. Shortly thereafter, it was time for our spa services. I booked a 50-minute relaxation massage, which took place in one of the open-air beachfront cabanas. I felt like a celebrity! Liz had an eyebrow wax and a French pedicure, which she said she really enjoyed. My massage therapist, whose name escapes me, was very good. Our CruiseCritic roll call friends Ben and Judy were also there for massages, so it was nice to see them again and chat for a bit.
After our spa treatment, we took the bus back downtown. The bus stop to return is much easier to find. Soraya drew us a little map, and there is a closer stop nearer the casino than where we stopped earlier. The bus came within 5 minutes of our arrival, and we were back downtown probably 10 minutes later. We walked around and did a little bit of shopping for about an hour, then decided we were hungry. Rather than eat in Aruba, we decided to just walk back to the ship for a late lunch in the Windjammer. After eating, we headed to the nearly-empty Solarium pool and lounged around there for a couple of hours, getting in some more sun for the day. I really, really enjoyed Aruba and wish we could have spent more time there. Is there a cruise that stops there for a couple of days? :-)
Before dinner, we participated in the Majority Rules game show (we didn't win…), then returned to our dining table for the first time since embarkation night. I was sort of dreading it, since conversation was so difficult the first night, but it turns out we had nothing to fear! Two of the honeymoon couples did not show up again, and we had a new honeymoon couple, Dan and Amanda. Turns out their flight to San Juan had been cancelled and they had to join the ship in Aruba…boy, do they have stories to tell their kids someday about their honeymoon adventures! They were super-nice, and we really got along well the rest of the week. The table dynamic was much-improved. I think on this night I had the Caprese salad, which I did not like, the roasted garlic soup (good), and the chicken marsala (very good). I don't recall what I had for dessert that night. Liz had the scallop risotto with no scallops (haha), and the chicken marsala. We were both pretty pleased with the food that night.
After dinner, we FINALLY made it to some entertainment and went to see BeatleMania. I was not expecting much, but these guys were awesome! They performed near-perfect covers of Beatles songs, and they really had the crowd moving. I think some of the baby-boomer crowd forgot they were cheering for a cover band and not John, Paul, George, and Ringo. (haha) The crowd loved them so much, they came out to do two encores, which was definitely not planned, because the sign language interpreter had to get new lyrics before they could start! They were, quite possibly, the best cruise ship entertainment I have seen. If you get a chance to see them, definitely go!
Curacao: In Curacao, one of our fabulous roll call members, Sandytoes (Kris), had organized a private bus through Blue Angel Tours to take 16 of us CCers to Playa Porto Mari. We had prearranged to meet on Deck 2 by the Screening Room, then we all went out and disembarked the ship together. Our air-conditioned bus was waiting on us and we all loaded in, along with our guide Noosha (sp?). She was very sweet, and gave us a wonderful tour and Curacao history lesson all the way out to Porto Mari, which was about a 30-minute drive. We had the option to add on a city tour at the end of our trip for an additional $8/pp, but we all declined…we were so tired by the end of the day. May I just say right here that if you are planning on renting a car and driving yourself to Porto Mari, don't…unless you are already familiar with the island. Nothing is marked…there are hardly any road signs, and we even went over some questionable "roads" on the way there. I really would not feel comfortable driving all that way, unless I knew I had a good map and good sense of where I needed to go. Otherwise, the roads and traffic in Curacao in general were probably the easiest to travel on out of all the islands we visited (drivers are just crazy in St. Maarten and St. Thomas!).
Playa Porto Mari was just like the pictures. (www.playaportomari.com) It was very scenic and remote, just as we had expected. When you first walk in the bar/restaurant is on your left, and the dive shop and restrooms are on your right. We were one of the first groups to arrive for the day, so we had our share of loungers and umbrellas to claim. Shortly after our arrival, a beach attendant came by to collect the entrance fee ($2 each) and the lounger fee ($3 each). Umbrellas are free, and are first-come, first-serve. Liz and I went up to the dive shop to rent snorkel equipment ($9 each)…the mask and snorkel were good quality, but the fins were bent out of shape and made it difficult to maneuver with them. This beach area is an EXCELLENT beach for snorkeling (more on that below), but maybe not so much for just bobbing in the waves, since there is a lot of coral and sharp rock in the shallow areas. However, once you get out to about 5 ft deep, there are large sandy spots that are much better for just hanging out. Just about the time I was ready to start snorkeling, it started to rain…and rain…and rain some more. It downpoured hard for about an hour, I'd guess. Most people didn't mind - snorkeling and swimming continued, but Liz and I waited it out under our umbrella laughing at our bad luck. Fortunately, our bad luck didn't last long, as the sun finally came out (and stayed out) a little bit later. I started snorkeling around, trying to find the underwater snorkel trail they have, marked by the reef balls. If you're not sure what reef balls are, look on Porto Mari's web site…it's quite informative and really pretty cool. I never finished the whole trail, as it was quite long and the water was a little too choppy, but what I saw was really cool…all sorts of beautiful fish and sea life. Supposedly there is some fire coral out there, but I never saw any. The people at the dive shop will give you a map of the snorkel trail to get you started…but it's kind of difficult to follow once you're in the water…they should plant some sort of sign or arrow on the bottom directing you which way to go to follow the trail (is this even possible?).
After snorkeling for a while (Liz stayed in the shallow area), we headed up to the bar to get some lunch. At first, I was a bit shocked at the high prices until I realized they were in Netherlands Antilles Florins (NAF). The conversion rate to USD is $1.75NAF=$1.00USD, so things were quite cheap there, actually! I had the grilled Hawaiian sandwich (grilled chicken with pineapple and a spicy ketchup-like sauce) and a Diet Coke, and my total was $3.36 USD. Awesome…Liz had a grilled cheese sandwich (not like any you've seen before…much better, with lots of vegetables and fresh bread) and a soda, and her total was also around $4. You really can't beat that with a stick. They had burgers, all sorts of sandwiches, and dinners with chicken skewers, shrimp, and some Dutch items that we weren't quite sure about…had we been hungrier, I probably would have asked what they were, but a sandwich was sufficient, so we were set.
After lunch, we laid out in the sun for a couple of hours, and proceeded to get fried (oops). (I was tan by the next day, so it wasn't too bad!) We met up with our CC friends in the bar about 30 minutes before we were scheduled to leave and had a great time chatting and talking about our cruise. Our bus arrived on schedule, and we got back to the port area around 3:00 or so. The total cost for roundtrip bus transportation was $15/pp. This was a pretty good bargain, considering some people have reported on CruiseCritic paying over $30/pp for a roundtrip cab. I also just wanted to say thanks again to Kris for organizing this wonderful tour!
We had to be back onboard by 4:30, so we decided against going into town, and just did some last-minute shopping at the souvenir huts by the ship. Here's another little pointer for you—one of the huts there sells some local liquor brewed in Curacao…I don't remember the names, but one was a banana cream, and one was a pistachio cream. They gave out free samples, and the banana cream liquor was so smooth and delicious! I thought about buying some, but at $23 for a 750ml bottle, I decided not to. I later saw the same stuff at Le Gran Marche (supermarket) in St. Maarten for about ½ the price. Keep that in mind if you really like it!
I think this is the day that we got back on the ship and ordered room service for snacks. Liz had the turkey sandwich, I ordered the chicken drummettes, and we got the chili dip and chips to share. Sandwich and chicken = good. Chili dip = kinda weird. Just so you know…lol. My memory is starting to get a little hazy here, but I think we just lounged around in the room that evening reading and watching tv before dinner. Dinner that night was good, and it was a menu that I have never seen before. For those of you who have seen the menus at www.thepreismans.com/Freedom_menus.htm, they have dropped the Caribbean menu, and replaced it with something different. Since I don't have it for reference, I really don't remember what I got, but I think I had a pork chop. I do remember about the dessert that evening - we did not have a choice, unless someone needed a low-fat or sugar-free option. Mustafa brought us all out a dessert sampler plate…and it was just okay. There was a rum cake, some sort of chocolate cheesecake, and another item that I don't recall. No one was really impressed with it, I don't think. However, before you think that I'm complaining, I'm really not. I just would have preferred something different, I think.
The Love & Marriage game show took place this night, and we had the best intentions of going to it, but of course, we walked back to the room and decided sleep was calling our name. Fortunately, we were able to catch it on the in-cabin tv later in the week…it was very funny! (The guys had to write down their wife's bra size…one of them said 8A…!!)
Second Day at Sea: After our busy days in Aruba and Curacao, we decided to sleep in until we woke up, which was around 9:30 or 10:00. As you may recall, we were in an inside cabin, so we put on our swimsuits and headed up to Deck 12, fully expecting to be able to lounge around by the pool and work on that tan some more! Well, we were in for a BIG surprise when the elevator doors opened on 12…it looked like a hurricane outside! The wind was whipping around, rain was pouring, and the seas were churning like crazy. We both just looked outside and laughed…how could we not have known? :-) We decided to head up to the Blue Moon on Deck 14 for a better vantage point of the storm…it was kinda funny watching people try to cross the deck in the wind…and some people stayed outside in the pools even though we were in the middle of a storm! Technically, I suppose, it was a tropical wave, and we were out of it by that night, but the ship really tossed and turned all day. I, for one, am especially susceptible to motion sickness, and I started to panic when I saw the way the ship was getting tossed and turned. Fortunately, however, I think either the combination of ginger pills and Target-brand Dramamine did the job, or, as my husband thinks…I've conquered my motion sickness! (I usually get sick with or without the pills, and I didn't even feel queasy…he thinks it's probably because we recently took
up kayaking [in the last year], and maybe my body has adjusted to the constant motion on the water…I don't know…it just nice to not feel sick all day!)
After gawking at the weather for awhile, we returned to the cabin to read…we both had picked up some great summer reading before the trip, and by this point, we were really engrossed in our books. Although I hate that the sun didn't even peek out once that day, it was also quite relaxing to just lay in bed and alternate reading, tv-watching, and napping…what a life. :-) At around noon, we headed up to Johnny Rocket's to try it out. It was quite the challenge getting in the door, as the winds had picked up and everyone was getting blown around! We made it inside, and our fabulous waiter (I really need to work on remembering names!) took great care of us. We both had the smokehouse burgers, along with the requisite basket of fries and onion rings, followed by Oreo sundaes. Also, for you Dr. Pepper lovers like myself (which is available nowhere on any cruise ship that I know of), Johnny Rocket's was the only place on the ship that had Pibb Xtra. I know it's not DP, but it was a pleasant substitute. Also, for the same price as a soda anywhere else onboard ($2.01 with gratuity), you got your drink in a giant Johnny Rocket's cup there…a better value, if you ask me. The burgers were absolutely delicious, and the fries/onion rings were just okay…I like seasoned, salty fries, and these were pretty bland. Our assistant waiter from the dining room, Ericson, was moonlighting in Johnny Rocket's that day as the dessert maker, so it was nice to see him during the day! Also, the staff performed the YMCA dance and they really got into it…so fun!
After JR's, we went back to the cabin to take up our strenuous activities of napping and reading again for awhile. Later in the afternoon, we got a little tired of being cooped up, so we went to the covered area of the solarium and sat in the loungers and read some more. By then, it was time to get ready for formal night yet again. We got ready in time to go to the "Where in the World" trivia game in the Schooner Bar before dinner. As always, we didn't win, but we only lost this one by a point! We met a nice family from Fort Worth, Texas, there who helped us out in getting some of the answers right.
At 8:30, we headed to dinner, where we were served the Crown & Anchor menu. I had the fresh fruit (yummy), the chilled apple soup (tasted like watery applesauce, but still okay), the pork chop (very good…and I stand corrected about what we ate the previous night…I have no idea now!), and the low-fat apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream, which turned out to be great. Liz had the fruit, the cheese tortelloni, and the black forest mousse. If I recall correctly, she and Amanda, our table mate, really thought the tortelloni was excellent.
After dinner on this night, we made it to the show (yay for us for staying awake!!). We went to see Wilde & Hanes, billed as "dangerous comedy". They really were hilarious, and they did some pretty crazy knife and juggling tricks. However, what really made the show, was the 9-year-old kid volunteer, "Bryan from America" (only funny if you were there...hehehe). It was a definite must-see. We called it a night after the show, looking forward to the following day in St. Maarten.
St. Maarten: We had to get up early on this day (around 7:30) so that we could disembark and meet our tour guide onshore by 8:30. We had a completely private tour booked with Beau of No Rush Tours. (www.norushtours.com) We had forgotten to order breakfast the night before, so I just called room service and asked for some pastries and juice…they were there within 5-10 minutes…very prompt service! Once onshore, I followed our guide's instructions on where to meet him, and we easily located Beau's girlfriend, Anett, at the designated meeting spot. Beau and Anett were so wonderful…they are both German, and I believe that Beau has lived on St. Martin (he lives on the French side) for the past 12 years. Anett, his girlfriend, has only been there a year or so, I think. (They met on the internet, and when she came to visit, she decided she loved it so much, she up and moved to the island!) Anett is also still learning English, but she is incredibly sweet and her English is much better than she thinks! We were driven around in their Nissan Quest minivan, which was impeccably clean and had a great air conditioner (thank goodness!). We started our day by going up to Guana Bay, where we took pictures of the Atlantic. There are beautiful photo opportunities there, and the pictures turned out pretty well. After leaving there, we ventured over to the Divi Little Bay resort. We all walked up to Fort Amsterdam, which is located on the Divi property. This is a pretty neat historic site, and you can get a picture of the old cannons pointed directly at your cruise ship…too cool! After spending some time at the fort and then walking around the resort a bit, we left and headed over to the Dutch/French border to take some pictures, and then on to the Cole Bay area. Beau asked if we wanted to buy anything like liquor, coffee, etc., and since we did, he took us to Le Gran Marche, an awesome supermarket there. It's pretty much just like any large supermarket back home, but the prices were great. Liquor was the cheapest here that I saw anywhere, and I picked up a bottle of Mount Gay and a bottle of Ponche Caribe for a friend back home. Beau also recommended Santo Domingo coffee, brewed in the Dominican Republic. Liz and I both picked up some for gifts. Total for my two bottles of liquor and can of coffee? $20 USD…it probably would have cost twice that in the tourist area, so definitely think about checking out one of the many local supermarkets while in the islands. Also, we're not smokers, but cigarettes were like $15-$17/carton here. I had no idea, but someone told us that they're over $50/carton back in the U.S., so if you need to stock up on cigarettes, St. Maarten is the place to do it!
After our little shopping trip, Beau drove us over to Tri-Sport kayak rental in Simpson Bay. I mentioned earlier that I had taken up kayaking, and I really do love it, so Liz and I both wanted to give it a shot on the ocean. It was pretty windy that day, so the guide suggested we both get single boats instead of a tandem (for better control). I got in the water and started paddling around while waiting on Liz to get in her boat, but she just wasn't having it. It was pretty windy out there, so she wasn't comfortable at all. No worries, though…I was able to kayak around the bay for quite awhile on my own. It was tons of fun and there's lots to see. A word of advice for kayaking anywhere on the ocean: try to go perpendicular to the waves at all times. Kayaking parallel to those big waves can tip you over faster than you realize it's happening! Fortunately, I didn't tip over, but came close a few times! When I finished with the kayak, we still had about 20 minutes before Beau and Anett were due back to pick us up, so we walked across the street from Tri-Sport and Liz checked out the Bubble Tea place. She said it was awesome, but I'm not much of a tea drinker, so I couldn't really tell you. When we came out, we saw Beau and Anett, so we continued on our journey.
The next stop was Mary's Boon Plantation beach resort. It's pretty close to the airport, and Beau wanted us to see it because it's rated as one of the best, most romantic resorts in the Caribbean. It did look pretty fabulous. The beach there was quite serene, and I could totally see myself spending some time there with my hubby! After Mary's Boon, we headed over to Mullet Bay Beach to spend a couple of hours. Beau's van is stocked with coolers of beer, soda, and water, as well as beach towels and beach chairs. He really is like an island concierge at your disposal…so wonderful! We toted the chairs over to the beach and found a nice spot. The water was sooo clear, and the bottom was perfectly sandy, except for on the left side of the beach where there were a lot of rocks, and snorkelers were seeing plenty of fish. Liz and I had been in the water about 15 minutes when I kept feeling a stinging sensation on my right arm…I kept looking around in the water, but couldn't see anything. I finally decided to just get out because whatever it was really hurt! Turns out I got stung by jellyfish, and I wasn't the only one! That pretty much did it for swimming in Mullet Bay, at least for Liz and I…my arm was starting to swell up, and I didn't want to get stung anymore. So, we made the best of it (the beach was beautiful), and I walked up to the beach bar (Daleo's Snack) to get some lunch. A gentleman at the bar suggested I rub sand on my arm, which really seemed to help the swelling. (It was completely fine by later that night, so all was well!) The folks working at Daleo's Snack were pretty cool…they had some great music playing, and the food smelled delicious! I ordered a plate of ribs with French fries ($7), and they were scrumptious! The only downside was I had to wait almost 30 minutes for them (there were several families before me who had placed large orders), but so worth it. One of the guys working there even offered me a free beer since I had to wait awhile.
After we ate, it was time to meet Beau and Anett again, so off we went! Beau had the flight schedule for arriving planes at the Princess Juliana airport near Maho Beach, so we went to the Sunset Beach Bar just in time to see several of the "big planes" land. That was a totally cool experience…I'm a little bit of a commercial aviation nut myself, so it was especially fun to watch. Regrettably, there weren't any 747s landing that day (I think they only come in the winter), so we didn't get the big drama-show when one takes off, but we certainly had fun and got some great pictures nonetheless.
After leaving Maho, we had about 3 hours left before we had to be back on the ship .We told Beau we'd like to get some shopping in downtown, so he dropped us in the very center of Philipsburg, and we were able to see and find just about everything we wanted. Liz found herself a pretty tanzanite ring at one of the cruise ship-recommended jewelry stores…I found myself plenty of sparkly things I like, but my problem is that I have uber-expensive taste, and a $7000 aquamarine-and-diamond ring just wasn't in the budget this time…imagine that! :-p
I did find perhaps the best bargain of the cruise…five St. Maarten beach towels for $13. I don't recall what store I found them in, but they're all over the downtown area. They're not great quality (obviously), but they made affordable souvenirs for my 5 office-mates back home. I gave them out today, and they were really excited to get them!
By the time we finished shopping, we were too beat to even consider walking back to the ship, so we hopped on the water taxi for $3/pp. We were somehow famished when we got back, so we headed down to the Café Promenade for some pizza and dessert…the peach cream tart was to die for! After eating, it was time to go upstairs and get ready for the dinner and the pre-dinner production show, "Can't Stop the Rock." (It seems like we were always eating on this cruise!) The show was just okay…it was a compilation of various movie themes throughout the years, and the song choice was just odd. Hard to describe, but it didn't have a smooth feel to it…very choppy and weird. Dinner that night was the Chef's Dinner menu. I had the cheese plate from the dessert menu for the appetizer, chilled peach soup, the prime rib, and a chocolate sampler dessert that was heavenly! (It had a white chocolate mousse, a flourless milk chocolate cake, and a cheesecake, I believe….yum.) Liz had the sun-ripened pineapple, the Thai BBQ chicken breast (which everyone reported was not that great), and the chocolate sampler. After dinner, we were off to bed again…another busy day ahead of us in St. Thomas!
Oh, I guess I should also put in a bit more about Beau and No Rush Tours. Quite simply, the best tour we've ever taken, anywhere! Beau is very knowledgeable and EXTREMELY nice and personable. He will take you wherever you want to go on your tour - the places we went were places Beau and I had discussed prior to the trip that we were interested in seeing. Certainly if you are interested in more beach time or in seeing more of the French side, he will be able to accommodate you. We felt it was just perfect for what we wanted. I also left out one of our other tour stops - we stopped at the Turtle Pier restaurant by the airport, because they have 6- to 7-ft Caribbean carp just hanging around the dock because they get fed often. These were definitely a sight to see, and I wouldn't want to run into one of them while snorkeling, even though they are harmless! We would both highly, highly recommend Beau as a tour guide. He can take just about any size group of people, as he even has a larger van and a bus for groups over 6 and 12. We paid $60 each for the two of us for the whole day. The more people you have in your group, the lower the per-person price is...but, it was really nice just being able to do exactly what we wanted and nothing else!
St. Thomas: I was in St. Thomas for the first time in March 2006 aboard the Zuiderdam, and it has since become one of my all-time favorite places to visit, so I was pretty excited we were going to return there on the Adventure. We were so torn about what to do there - so many fun things to choose from! After much debating, we both settled on doing an 11:00 a.m. Snuba dive through www.visnuba.com . After going through U.S. immigration in the dining room that morning, we went up to the Windjammer for breakfast around 8:30 a.m. This was the one and only time on the whole trip that it felt like there were 3000+ people on the ship - the Windjammer was completely packed and we couldn't even find a place to sit. We ended up sharing a table with someone else just so we could eat. Anyway, after we ate, we disembarked the ship and got in a cab headed to Coral World. The fare was $9/pp, and it was about a 15- to 20-minute ride there. Sandytoes and her hubby from our roll call also ended up the same taxi van, but they were headed to Sapphire instead of Coral World. It was nice to see them again!
We arrived at Coral World, and per the e-mail instructions I had received from VI Snuba, we checked in at the ticket counter and paid for our Snuba, which included an all-day admission pass to Coral World. Liz had decided the previous evening that she did not want to do Snuba, but she still had to pay for it since she did not give a 24-hour notice. Frank was nice, though, and only charged her ½-price, even though their web site states that that they will charge the full $68 price if you cancel too late.
We had some time to kill, so we walked through some of the aquarium buildings and the lorikeet garden at Coral World. It was pretty decent, but if you've been to Sea World or to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, you might be a little disappointed. Fortunately, I knew what to expect, so it was exactly as I had imagined it. Liz, on the other hand, had not really been to any larger aquariums before, so she thought it was pretty great. They did have some unique fish, and the giant spiny lobsters were incredible…I had no idea they got so large!
I met Frank, our Snuba guide at the Coral World snack bar area at 10:45 as instructed. He tried to convince Liz to go ahead and try it out, but she didn't budge. She was pretty sunburned, so she just waited for me the whole time under the shade at the snack bar area. Frank was an excellent instructor and guide - he's pretty much the expert on Snuba, as he has taken over 40,000 people on dives since he and his wife started their business in the Virgin Islands. He's also a PADI instructor, which kind of gave him a little more credibility in my book. He was very thorough, and safety was his number one concern, which was nice. Turns out there were only 3 of us on the dive - myself, and a father/son combo from the Carnival Miracle, which was also in port with us that day. Frank was also with us the whole time, of course. We probably spent 30 minutes (at least) on shore going over all the safety rules and techniques for clearing your mask and relieving the pressure in your ears. I can't imagine that the cruise ship excursion spends that much time going over those important points. After we got in the water at Coki Beach (next to the Coral World aquarium), Frank took us out to about waist-deep to fit us with our masks, fins, and the Snuba weights and gear, then we had about another ½-hour to get used to breathing the pressurized air and to get used to controlling our depth with our breathing…too cool! (I definitely want to get SCUBA-certified now before my next cruise in March!) After everyone was comfortable, we started doing out a little deeper. We even passed a few SCUBA divers returning to shore! There were tons and tons of fish, coral, and all kinds of sea life. Frank even took me down to show me a moray eel hiding behind a rock. He was careful and showed us the things that are okay to touch and the things to stay away from. He also had an underwater camera with him, where he took a bunch of pictures of us that were posted on his web site for us to purchase. They can be seen here: http://www.visnuba.com/081107/index.htm . We were probably underwater around 30-40 minutes, and it was absolutely amazing. I loved being under the water swimming with the fish…it's an experience that I will always remember and that has inspired me to pursue SCUBA! I wish Liz had talked herself into trying it, especially since she had to pay anyway, but she was so wary of the water and of the "sea creatures," that maybe it just wasn't for her. I will say this to anyone who is unsure if Snuba is for them: You (and only you) are in complete control of your depth underwater at all times. If you think that 15- to 20-ft deep is too deep, that's totally fine. You can just hover around nearer to the surface, if you prefer. There is absolutely no pressure to do anything you are not comfortable with. That said, it truly was awesome and I can't wait to do it again someday (or actually dive)!
After we finished with Snuba, it was around 1:00pm, and Liz and I decided to catch a cab to go downtown for some shopping. I think the fare was $8 each, but I don't remember exactly. What I do remember is the wild ride! It was one of those open-air truck cabs, and I don't think our driver drove below 60 the whole time…the posted speed limit was 10-20. Thankful to have arrived safely, we were dropped off by Emancipation Gardens and we walked to the main waterfront area. After stopping in at a few souvenir stores (including finding some Swarovski goodies!), we made our way around to the 19th Hole Bar, which is located in the Royal Dane alleyway shopping mall. I had visited this bar on my previous trip to St. Thomas, and it's just a wonderful little place. It's run by a retired couple from Dallas, and I think they said they have been living in St. Thomas for either 16 or 18 years now. They are so sweet, just like the nicest little old grandparents, and they make a mean Bushwhacker! After our lovely conversation with them (and an equally lovely drink), we continued on our way shopping. After another while, we decided we were hungry when we stumbled upon another alleyway dive, the Giggling Gecko Bar & Grill. The bartender/waitress was also from the mainland U.S., and she was super-nice, as well. We both had lamb gyros with homemade cucumber sauce and a BBC (Banana Bailey's Colada). Yum! The food and drinks were fabulous! I should also mention that you shouldn't really expect anything in St. Thomas (or Puerto Rico, for that matter) to be cheap. The tourist areas definitely have tourist prices…but we were expecting that, and felt that everything we had was worth it. After stumbling out of the Giggling Gecko, we decided to head back to Havensight and do some shopping there before returning to the ship. Cab fare was $4 each, and might I just say that cabs were more than plentiful. Every time we turned around downtown, someone was asking us if we need a taxi. Enough already!
We walked (or should I say we teetered and giggled) our way through several stores in the Havensight Mall, where, as Liz says, the alcohol made her loose enough to buy a pair of tanzanite earrings and a beautiful aquamarine ring. Again, I saw plenty that I liked, just not anything that was even remotely close to being in my budget! (Darn my expensive taste…) After seeing all the pretty jewelry that Liz bought on the trip, neither of us really know if she got an unbeatable deal or not, but the important thing is that the jewelry she got was good quality, she really liked it, and she felt like she got a fair price.
We returned to the ship, exhausted as usual (haha), and just kind of lounged around until it was time to get ready for the farewell show that was held before dinner in the Lyric Theater. This was the weirdest show…it started with a comedian, whose name I don't recall…he had some funny parts, but I think he didn't expect to see so many children in attendance and he had to clean up his act at the last minute. It seemed like he was just taking up time trying to figure out something to say. After his act, it was Duel Ignatov, a Russian couple who did this crazy mime-hula hoop-contortionist act thing. Oh my, that was strange, and really not that entertaining. Apparently they were the headlining act during the welcome aboard show, which we missed…thank goodness.
After the show, we went to our final cruise ship dinner, where we said sad good-byes to our wait staff and our new friends. This night's menu was the Feast of Nations, and I had the table Caesar salad (very delicious), spinach dip (good, but weird with carrots in it), the onion soup (decent), the grilled NY strip steak (good), and I tried both the frozen banana custard and the key lime pie for dessert. The pie was amazing, and the banana custard would have been better if it hadn't been half-melted by the time we got it. I think Liz had Caesar salad, spinach dip, NY steak, and the brownie madness. She liked everything she had, but the brownie dessert looked pretty uninspiring.
After dinner, we headed back to the cabin to pack and set our luggage out by midnight. We discovered on the very last night while setting out our luggage that Amanda and Dan, our tablemates, had the cabin right next door to us! How we managed to go the whole week without seeing each other was amazing, but we thought it was quite funny.
Disembarkation: We were assigned Group 2 for disembarking. Let me talk about the one big thing that RCCL did not do right - disembarkation. First of all, we received Pink 1 baggage tags and little slips of paper that said we were in Disembarkation Group 2. I was a little confused by this, so I asked our cabin steward if we need to listen for Pink 1 (like on all the other cruise lines I have been on), or Group 2…Group 2 it was. The colored tags were given out by floor, rather than by departure time. I then asked him if he had a list of approximate times the groups would be called off, and he did not. That's the big thing I really missed from my previous cruises - the night before disembarkation, we would always be left a sheet of paper detailing the approximate times each group would be called. That way, I would have known if we needed to switch our group for an earlier or later departure, based on our flight time. Well, we had a 2:20pm flight, so we weren't exactly worried about missing our plane, so we just decided to stick with Group 2. Oh, here's another little minor beef with disembarkation procedure…never did I see anywhere where it was announced what time we had to have our bags out in the hallway. We just assumed midnight, because that's what it's always been in the past, but I never saw it printed anywhere.
Okay, so the morning of disembarkation we got up around 7:00, and vacated our cabin before 8:00am as requested in the daily Compass. We went down to breakfast in the dining room, and had one last delicious meal on the ship - I had banana pancakes and bacon…yum! While we were in the dining room, no announcements came over the p.a. system, so we just assumed they had not started disembarkation yet. So, we went over and found a place to rest by the aquarium near the loyalty ambassador's desk. Next thing we knew, they were calling Group 4 to leave. We were a bit confused, so I asked someone sitting nearby if they had called Groups 1-3 yet, and sure enough, they had. They just didn't play the announcements in the dining room. Oh well, no harm done, but it just didn't make a lot of sense to me. We exited the interior of the ship, only to find an extremely long line out on deck to actually exit the ship into the terminal. It was only around 9:30am at this point, so we had nothing to do but wait, but I know a lot of people with earlier flights were starting to get nervous. It took us about 30 minutes to get through the line, but as it wound back through the inside of the ship just before we exited, there was a large group of VERY RUDE people who thought it would be okay to cut in the front of the line right there, rather than waiting in the long line with the rest of us. One lady in particular cut right in front of me, pushing and shoving her way through…then when we got outside, she threw her gum away by just tossing it out onto the walkway. The audacity and rudeness of some people just blows me away!
Anyway, once we got into the terminal, it was pretty easy to locate our luggage in the Pink section. Liz's luggage is black-and-white patterned, so it stands out in the crowd. Mine, not quite as easy…plenty of black Samsonite bags out there! We grabbed our bags and headed out to the taxi stand. We were hoping that they would just cram as many people as possible headed to the airport in these large van and SUV cabs, but they didn't…I'm sure they get more money doing things this way…haha. We arrived at the airport by 10:00 a.m. and zipped right through Delta check-in and security. We must have arrived before the big rush, because we were expecting mayhem and didn't have any of the hassles I had read about in San Juan. By the time we reached our gate, we effectively had 4 hours to kill before our 2:20 flight to Atlanta. It actually went by a lot faster than we expected, and it also helped that two of our other tablemates, Dawna and Michael, were waiting with us for the same flight…so at least we had someone to talk to!
We were able to take off on time, and one of the reasons we flew Delta back instead of American (they were the same price), was because we were flying in a 767 and we were able to get exit-row seats! To me, the ride was extremely comfortable…the bigger the plane, the smoother the ride, and it was quite nice. It was also nice to have the exit-row, even though it was a bulkhead, which meant we couldn't see the movie screen. We landed in Atlanta on time, and had about 2 hours before our connecting flight to Minneapolis. We had dinner with Dawna and Michael at Popeye's Chicken (I've been craving it ever since moving away from Oklahoma last year!), then went to wait at our gate. We arrived back in MSP with no incident and took the shuttle to our hotel for the evening, the Marriott Springhill Suites in Eagan. If any of you are staying in the Minneapolis area, I would highly, highly, highly recommend this hotel. We got it on Hotwire for $67 with tax, but I think their regular rate is only around $85. The beds have the new fluffy bedding (much like Royal Caribbean), and there are two queen-size beds in the studio suites. Soooo comfy! They also have a complimentary hot breakfast and airport shuttle. I took the shuttle back to the airport early the next morning, and flew Northwest home on a very bumpy ride back to Grand Forks, North Dakota. Hubby picked me up at 10:30 a.m. and it was so nice to finally be there!
This might have been the only cruise I have ever been on where I was ready for it to be over when it was over. Not to worry, it wasn't because the cruise was mediocre or I wasn't having a good time - it was because I hadn't seen my hubby in over two weeks, since he was away presenting at a scientific conference in New Hampshire the week before I left for the cruise. It was so good to see him again!
Post-Cruise Thoughts: This cruise, without a doubt, was full of the best-dressed passengers I have ever seen. I noticed in Sandytoes' review, she mentioned she thought it was quite casual. In our experience in the dining room, even on casual nights, the majority of the women wore very dressy outfits (not formal, just very nice). Sure, there were the occasional folks who wore jeans or shorts, but from what we saw, these were few and far between.
I don't really know what else to say, except to reiterate what I told KillaFee on an earlier post in this thread. Everyone has asked me which cruise line I like the most now that I have cruised on Princess (twice), Holland America, and Royal Caribbean. I really don't know if I can choose a favorite - I like the anytime dining concept on Princess, and I like the classy feel to their ships. However, I don't like how every single one of their ships are decorated exactly the same…kinda boring to me. On Holland America, I think their service is second to none (I still have to try Celebrity), and I also really enjoyed the full-size bathtub in a regular balcony cabin. Royal Caribbean was great, as well. I think the Voyager-class ship design with the Royal Promenade is something to see, and I also thought the food was excellent. I mentioned before that I'm a picky eater, and it was pretty easy for me to find something that I enjoyed for each course every night. The food in the Promenade Café, as well as in Johnny Rocket's, was also very good. It was also nice to be able to get lemonade and fruit punch in the Windjammer, since I drink water at all the other dining venues. Additionally, Liz really enjoyed the self-serve Seattle's Best coffee in the Promenade Café.
I know a lot of people have complained about so-called "issues" on the Adventure sailing from San Juan, but I can truly say that we did not experience anything negative that I would perceive as related to the clientele on the ship or sailing from San Juan in general. I wouldn't hesitate to sail from here again (or on the Adventure). We really had a great time. I don't know if I've converted Liz over to cruise addiction yet, though. She kind of discovered that she wasn't much of a beach/water person on this trip, but she did say that she really enjoyed the cruise overall, and might enjoy a trip to Alaska better than in the Caribbean.
If you have any questions or comments, please let me know!
Also, for those of you who made it this far and want to see the pictures without scrolling back to the first post, here you go: http://picasaweb.google.com/mrskennedynd/ (my pictures) http://www.visnuba.com/081107/index.htm (St. Thomas Snuba pictures)
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