Adventure of the Seas Cruise Review by AZ ParrotHead
- Sail Date: September 2007
- Destination: Southern Caribbean
Well, we have just gotten off the Adventure after a FABULOUS week in the Southern Caribbean! In fact, we are sitting in the Starbucks in Old San Juan (Free Internet--WOO HOO!!) waiting for our 2pm Delta flight home to PHX. We've read lots of reviews over the last 6 months and we'd like to "pay it forward" to all of you getting ready to cruise. If you have any questions, let us know--we'll be happy to answers.
AZ Parrothead--4th Cruise--3 RCCL, 1 Carnival. Loves all things boats and water related.
Mrs. AZ Parrothead--3rd Cruise--2 RCCL, 1 HAL (UGGG). Loves all things alcohol. Shopping queen. Sudoku Diva. MISTRESS OF TRIVIA!!
NOTE: This is our second trip on the Adventure. We did the Barbados route last year and had a blast. Some of our comments will reflect our comparisons between last year's cruise and this year's.
Also, we stayed 3 days at the Wyndham Rio Mar Resort in Luquillo precruise.
We left on Wednesday 8/29 on a redeye from Phoenix to Atlanta at 11pm. This was great because we didn't lose a day travelling and we got to drag my brother from his comfy bed to drive us to the airport at 930.
Last year, we flew JetBlue redeye through JFK and the flight was late (in Typical Jet Blue Style). It was so late in fact that we had to literally run from terminal to terminal at JFK just to make our flight to SJU. I didn't even have time to Pee. This year, I vowed to experience the bathrooms in Atlanta so we booked a 3 hour connection there. It also helped that we got a screaming deal to San Juan--320 per person round trip.
All in all it was a typical trip; we left PHX 30 minutes late and got into ATL at 630. Stopped and had breakfast at a restaurant in the airport. Service was as bad as the food. Murphy's law--it turns out there was a nice Atlanta Bread Company next door. Oh well, we'll know for next time.
Our connection to SJU left more or less on time at 945 and we arrived right on schedule. Suggestion: sit on the DEF side of the plane to get photos of Puerto Rico on landing.
All in all Delta was fine. The seats are hard as a rock and I couldn't feel my butt after 20 minutes. We'll see how they do on the way home....cross your fingers.
(We have tried the Pier Bag Check In so I'm hoping they arrive with us later on in Phoenix)
When we arrived in SJU, we claimed our bags--yes, they really do check your Claim Tags against the bags--don't lose them.
Rented a car with AVIS (we are both preferred members and they are our rental company of choice). In San Juan, the rental cars are one size smaller than in the US. We rented an intermediate and ended up with a Corolla. This was fine as the roads are narrow in PR.
Note: Driving in PR is an adventure. People are nuts. You soon learn to "stick your nose in" in order to make a turn. The roads are not well marked and confusing. We got a Garmin with the car and that was a big help--AFTER we figured out that it was in Spanish. Yup, the GPS has all the roads in Spanish--even if it's set to English. Took us a day to figure it out. Like I said, driving in PR is an adventure...
More to Come.....
After many wrong turns and a useless spanish programmed GPS we finally made it to the Wyndham, which by the way, was a Westin last year. We chose the Wyndham because it is NOT along the hotel strip and because of the fantastic beach. They groom the beach every day. Unfortunately, there was a huge general contractor convention going on there during our stay. Participants were loud and funloving but that left us out and we were basically invisible to most of the staff. When we stayed last year we basically had the entire hotel to ourselves as it was practically empty.
In general we thought the service levels when it was the Westin were better than as a Wyndham. The prices for drinks increased and they took away the free parking for Avis customers. Not sure we would recommend this hotel. It is in need of an update. Our rate of 160 per night plus 40 in taxes and fees was reasonable for what we got in comparison to most of the other hotel offerings in the area. But you need to have realistic expectations of what you are getting. The hotel is a good 45 minutes from the aeroport and old san juan so you need a car. The casino was closed for renovations, which we knew about in advance. The hotel offered a free courtesy shuttle to the Paridisus resort from 9pm-12am for their casino and return shuttle was offered every hour on the half hour. We tried a trip up to the EL Con but unfortunately there was ZERO parking available and valet service was not available either so we didn't get in and we just drove back to the Rio Mar.
We ate out frequently in order to avoid the hotel's exorbitant charges. Breakfast was a coffee and muffin from the lobby coffee shop which cost about $8-$13 depending upon what we got. We tried a few of the local restaurants. Don Pepe's just down the road from the hotel was pretty good and offered us the opportunity to try some of the local dishes. Entrees ran about $15-$20. We recommend this restaurant-give it a try.
We also ate in Old San Juan "Le Manolin" which is frequented mostly by locals and is old style diner in feel, complete with lunch counter and swivel stools. Try the MOFUNGO and the fried plantains for a taste of local cooking. Also the Dorado-(fish) the portions were huge and for those of you that aren't familiar you mix the beans in with the rice and eat it together.
Our final dining venture was to a concierge recommended restaurant called MIO'S. A small store front and for the locals considered a 'higher end' restaurant than Don Pepes which is much more casual. We had the 'volcano' dinner which was a steak laid up on its side to simulate a volcano with shrimp dressing the top to simulate 'exploding lava'. It was a lovely presentation but overall a little too salty for my taste and a bit pricey for what it was (approx $24 for the entree). My recommendation would be head back to Don Pepes or try something else, skip this one.
One other comment, last year we went to Dragonfly in Old San Juan. The tables are set very very very close to one another (you can feel your neighbors breath) and the menu is expensive tapas. Think $20 appetizers. There is a Dragonfly2 now in Old San Juan. There are plenty of other restaurants to try in Old San Juan and quite a few of them offer happy hour drinks and specials. We tried one and it was fine.
We booked a fantastic private couples yoga class followed by a fabulous couples massage. Well worth every cent and it was a great way for us to start off our vacation. We booked with Yoga Buena. Nora and Rolando were awesome, awesome, awesome and we can't say enough about what a fantastic experience this was but we realize its not everyones cup of tea. If you're interested let us know and we can elaborate.
Last thing to mention-getting out of the hotel and getting to the ship. Last year we were able to rent our Avis car at the airport and return it on the hotel property and for $30pp the hotel shuttled you to the cruise ship. However, this year the hotel wanted $46pp and the shuttle didn't depart til 2pm and Avis wanted a drop off charge. We elected to check out and drive to the airport and return the car directly, shuttled from the Avis drop off to the terminal, and then take a cab to the cruise ship ($10pp) which was completely painless. We even shared a cab with another couple that had arrived at the terminal and were willing to split the cost to the cruise ship. All in all, for us, this was the better choice.
We made it to the Ship at about 130 or so in the afternoon and they were well into boarding. We had checked in previously on line and this is clearly the way to go. Keep a pen handy as they have you fill out a departure card with your return flight information.
A few weeks earlier, we took advantage of a price drop on junior suites and upgraded for free (JS was same price as D2 balcony cabin booked). They have special check in for suite customers both outside with the bag porters and inside the terminal with the check in agents.
While in San Juan, we bought 4 bottles of alcohol to sneak on board in our bags. We tipped the porter 20 bucks and the hootch in the bag arrived unmolested. THANK GOD!! (For those of you who are frowning right now, drinks on board have gone up about 15% over last year and we are not made of money. Obviously, we like to drink on vacation so that left us little choice).
We stopped in the duty free in the terminal as we've heard mixed success with getting the booze bought there through ship's security and into the cabin. Bought a small bottle of Bailey's (coffee and a nip anybody?) and put in DW's backpack. She got it through by smiling and winking at the guy at the X Ray.
Then, Mrs AZ decided to push our luck a bit and try for a second bottle. Off the ship we went, bought another bottle and tried again. This time, ship's security not so nice and not so easily distracted. Good Bye Bottle....
So all in all, we went 4 for 5 on our smuggling operation. Decent odds but we won't do the duty free again. We did see a bunch of folks buying airplane minis and stuffing--everything--with them. I think they made it through as they only xray the bags you carry on board.
We had our picture taken on the gangway and it was added to RCCL wall of shame on deck 3 (C'mon RCCL $20 for ONE 8x10???) on Monday afternoon. Took about a day to see the previous day's photos.
We recommend packing a small carryon rollaboard suitcase with a swimsuit and evening wear if you have early seating as they bags are sometimes slow to get to your stateroom. We didn't get our bags until 5.
We had a JS on deck nine #9268. It was in front of the hump on the starboard side about 1/3 of the way back from the bow. Last year, we were in a d2 behind the hump. We liked in front of the hump better. we were able to see forward and better sea breeze.
Our cabin: we loved it. It feels about 1/3 larger than a standard balcony stateroom. The larger bathroom with tub and walk in closet really make this a nice room. DW and I were even able to share the bathroom which is simply not possible in a standard stateroom. Our room had a queen size bed and a couch with 2 chairs with a cocktail table.
We had the new bedding (all the ships do now) but the bed is still hard. It's not a Heavenly bed by any means. All though we did find the sheets and blankets to be very nice. It was completely acceptable. Shockingly, our AC was over sufficient. We were traveling in the Caribbean but it felt link Anchorage in our cabin each night. All in all, I'll take too cold over too hot any day of the week. DW recommends a light sweater or sweats to augment your wardrobe. Make no mistake, they keep the ship cold.
A note about our balcony: It was slightly larger than our D2 last year but much more private. We had a whole "cutout" to ourselves. The standard balconies share "cutouts" with another cabin. To me, this is what made the JS much nicer. DW liked the fact the shower was big enough for 2. VEERRY NIICEE.
DW tends to get seasick so she was on the transderm patches and bonine. She was lightheaded for the first 2-3 days but then was fine for the rest of the cruise.
Typically, we buy 1 soda card at a cost of $40 and use this to mix with all the alcohol we smuggled onboard. A very thrifty way to party on board all week long.
After checking out our cabin we went over to the Brasserie on deck 5 for a quick bite-they serve 3 different styles of pizza and 3 types of petit sandwiches, typically 1 is vegetarian. They also have a selection of sweet desserts to choose from and the coffee and tea is available here 24-7 all inclusive, no additional fees. If there is a line, it usually moves pretty swiftly. There is also a Ben & Jerrys ice cream stand but they do charge you additional for your your selection. Just a brief note, we could have gone up to the Windjammer on deck 11 for the buffet but at that point of the day, this was faster and allowed us more time to explore the ships offerings. If you've never been, the Adventure is a spectacular ship and offers a lot for everyone's tastes and needs and is very well laid out.
After our brief bite on deck 5 we went up to the solarium and took a dip in the pool and hot tub. It was still pretty quiet as people were still boarding and milling about. The following day at sea the chaises fill up with people pretty early and if you are choosey about where you want to hang out for the day, nearer the bar, in the sun, in the shade, you need to scope out a locale early in the morning or you will be SOL. After our dip we explored a little bit and went back to our cabin. We called room service for a cheese platter and fruit platter and had our own private happy hour on our balcony. Dont forget to take advantage of the free room service. We called home to gloat to our families over the cruise, the balcony and our upcoming itinerary. All in all a great afternoon.
Even though the ship doesn't leave til 8 the muster drill is at 6. All passengers are required to be on board by 5:30. Keep this in mind for anyone flying in from the west coast. I recommend happy hour and a buzz for the muster drill. It makes it slightly more tolerable with a buzz and you cant get out of it. You are required to participate.
After the drill we went back to cabin, showered and readied for our evening. Our first stop was the Schooner Bar on deck 4 for trivia. We are all about the trivia, seriously.....really serious, all about the trivia. I believe we won the first nights trivia and scored the coveted RCCL key chain and pen (wow) Better shwag comes later in the cruise. We also made a quick stop at the blackjack table. Was a good night for us. Then off to diner, late seating the first night was at 9 although all other nights it was 8:30.
This year we requested a table for 2. We were stuck with some real boring couples last year and it was such an effort to make conversation we decided a private table was the way to go for us this year. Its a bit exclusionary but it was the right choice for us. I cannot say enough good things about our wait staff this year. Seri and Shirley were awesome. They were expedient, friendly, attentive and genuine. We tipped them above the recommended amounts. This year we actually met our head waiter, who stopped at our table each night, addressing us by our first names and exchanged some polite chatter about the day. We made sure to tell him his wait staff were doing a fantastic job.
The food selections were okay to good. It's not 5 star dining but it is 5 star service. Plenty of choices on the menu and if you want to try several things, go ahead and ask, they encourage you to choose multiples. Each night they offer several alternative 'healthy selections' in addition to the main chef's selection. Ladies, the dining room is freezing-bring your sweater and order the soup to warm up!!! They have a special waiter come around to encourage and bring our alcohol with your meal. They will happily pair a wine to your dinner selection. Beware the drink guy can be a little pushy but thats his job. RCCL makes a lot off passenger alcohol consumption. They offer a drink of the day which is different every day. You can find the info about the drink, the ingredients and the price in the cruise compass (cruise bible) delivered to your stateroom each evening.
We spent the first day at sea and spent most of our time checking the cruise bible for the various on board activities offered throughout the day. We played shuffleboard, hubby went for a workout in the gym, I was up in the Blue Moon for the sudoku challenge. Had lunch in Windjammer that day and gambled a little. All in all, a nice quiet sea day. There was plenty we skipped. Lots of activities and choices.
Note about the Activities staff. This is where we thought there was a big difference over last year. Last year, we had the vivacious, awesome, flamboyant Richard Spacey as our cruise director. He was everywhere. On TV, at events, smiling and greeting everyone everywhere. He is just the best cruise director we've had.
This year, we had Mike S (can't spell his last name). He was ok but not nearly as good or visible as Richard. Perhaps it's because it was his last week before vacation but we just didn't seem to click with him. Many other passengers seem to feel the same way.
Some other cruise staff we were very good however, Marvin from Jamaica and Ken from Canada were particularly talented. Everyone else however, were pretty quiet.
Finally, we went to Meet and Mingle on Monday afternoon. This was awesome. It was a great mixer and we met some great friends that we chatted with for months on CC. For those of you planning a MM we did a gift exchange and it was a great way to break the ice. We all brought a cheap 5 dollar gift from our hometown per person and the cruise host (Marvin) coordinated the exchange. Great time had by all and a nice way to meet people. We recommend attending on your cruise if it's available.
More to come. Off the airport....
We awoke to find ourselves on the beautiful island of Aruba. We ordered room service for breakfast. A note: RCCL has removed the omelets from the room service menu. This was a bummer for us as we like protein for breakfast. So we got eggs, bacon and coffee. It is the same stuff they serve in the dining room and Windjammer. Cafe promenade has pastries and coffee available in the morning also along with bananas and fruit.
Got changed into excursion wear—board shorts and swimsuits—and headed out for our adventure. We didn't plan anything for this stop so we did a wait and see thing. I knew I had wanted to check out Eagle beach and possibly some watersports.
Off the ship we went—passengers are required to scan their sea passes when getting on and off the ship so don't leave it lying around. (Actually, we did really well this cruise—we only thought we lost them 3 times and it turns out it was always in the abyss somewhere (Ms AZ Parrothead's bag).
When we got off we walked around past the fence and got the lay of the land. From info posted on this board, we knew that we could take the public bus to the beach for $2.50 US per person. This is MUCH cheaper than the cabs. They were quoting upwards of 20RT pp just to get to the beach and back. Take the bus—it's easy and the drivers are very friendly. They even made change in us dollars. To get the bus, cross the street next to the mall and walk under the archways. The busses line up by route. L10 gets you to the beach or hotel zone. The drop off for Eagle Beach Is right in front of the beach bar and chair rental—PERFECT!
Got to the beach and laid out our towels on some empty chairs. Then we got kicked out of the chairs. Turns out they were for the hotel across the street only. No big deal. We put our towels down on the sand (no charge for that) and jumped in. The water was a little sandy and not too clear since a tropical storm barreled through just north of Aruba 2 days before. Still, it was nice and the cloudy water provided some unique opportunities—SCHWING!!!
We hung out on the beach frying like Mahi Mahi for a couple of hours and then it was time to go Jet Skiing. DW had never tried this and it was a calm day so we decided to go for it. Found a beach guy to rent us a 3 person ski on steroids (we're talking like 700cc and no governor ?) and headed out. DW lasted about 10 minutes—which was 5 longer than I thought she would. Cost was 55 for a half hour. I thought it was steep but it was the going rate at the other vendors too. We had done well at the casino the night before so we didn't mind splurging a little bit on this. Plus we saved on the cab fare. Thank you Cruise Critic!
We headed back to the ship around 3 and got ready for the evening. The return busses run every 15 minutes so it was easy to get back to where we needed to be.
We looked like strawberry creamsicles when we changed out of suits. Red on top and on the bottom—lily white in the middle. Here is something we learned—Aloe Vera gel is a godsend. It's 2 bucks at Walgreens. Pick some up. It's worth every penny.
We ordered some cheese and fruit again and opened up the second bottle of vodka. Quick trip down to the Cafe Promenade for mixer (sprite, no ice) and we were ready to go. Side note, our cabin steward, Stefan was great. We pre-tipped him on Sunday and we were well taken care of the whole week. Bistro 9268 required lots of ice as it was quite busy all week. Stefan made sure we had 2 extra buckets of ice all week for out imbibing needs.
Had cocktails on the verandah for an hour or so and then got cleaned up for our pre dinner ritual. A drink with Catherine at the Schooner bar and TRIVIA!!! Tonight was TV themes trivia. I am proud to say we once again KICKED BUTT. and took home our long awaited RCCL official blue pleather luggage tags. This was important as the airline managed to decapitate the tag off one of suitcases coming in to SJU. It needed to be replaced. Thanks Delta.
Went to dinner and had another excellent meal with Seri and Shirley. Can't say enough about them. They are great.
We listened to some music for a short while in the Duck and Dog and then headed off to bed and nursed our sunburns. More Aloe slathered on.
I had done some research on Curacao and we had a semi plan in mind when we got off the ship. Once again we got up and ordered room service and put on our excursion clothes.
When you exit the ship in Curacao you walk through a construction zone (they are building a new Radisson next the Mega Pier) and through a mall built out of a colonial era fort. The fort is very picturesque and there is a photo area up the stairs where it's possible to get some great shots of Willemstad.
We had arranged a scooter rental through a company called Scooby Tours. They promised to be available at the pier next to the ship. They weren't. Apparently, they booked a massive tour with one of the hotels and left us high and dry. Don't book with these people. They are dishonest.
We walked across the floating bridge to the tourist information booth and the lady there arranged a scooter rental for us with another company next to the ship. So we walked back over the floating bridge and rented our bright yellow hog for the day. It was 55 bucks and they provide helmets, insurance and maps.
Now I know what you're thinking. They are stupid and crazy to be doing that. Scooters are dangerous blah blah blah. Here's my take on this. We are adults and we know how to drive safely. We watch our mirrors, follow traffic signs and are generally defensive drivers. We also enjoy a little adventure and we were careful which island to rent a scooter on. We wouldn't have rented on St Maarten or St Thomas where it's all hills. Curacao was a little quieter, the roads are well marked and we had a plan in mind. I realize this is not for most people but we truly enjoyed it and look forward to doing it again on our next cruise.
We headed off to Playa Port Marie and took the long way around the north side of the island. Once we got out of Willemstad it was very quiet and very beautiful. The island is dry with lots of cacti and wildflowers. Playa Porto Marie is down a side road and is a secluded semi-private nature reserve beach with a bar, chairs and dive shop.
We paid our admission: $10 for entrance and 2 chairs in the shade under and umbrella. It's a small beach but the water is exceptionally clear and warm. I checked out the dive shop and rented some snorkels and fins for DW and I. 9 bucks a rental. A little high but it was good equipment and convenient.
I also decided to do an intro dive here. For 40 bucks they offered an into scuba lesson with a 45 minute shore dive. I found the folks here to be very professional and friendly. I dove with one other tourist and we were given lessons on safety, equalizing, clearing masks and regulators and use of the equipment. Once we were briefed we went into the water and toured the reef. I am not sure if it was the most pristine reef I've ever seen but it was amazing to see it from 30 feet down. I will most definitely get certified soon. Like snorkeling on steroids. It was awesome.
After my scuba lesson, we packed up and headed back to the ship. When we got to the ship, we noticed that the floating bridge was "put away" so that ship traffic could get into the little inlet. There was a ferry taking passengers across the channel back to the ship area. Keep this in mind if you're shopping in the afternoon in Willemstad. They do move the bridge. That's why it floats….
We headed back up to Bistro 9268 for sail away cocktails and appetizers before dinner. This time, finger sandwiches from Cafe Promenade and of course, Sprite (no ice). Sunburns were REALLY sore today so more aloe and cool showers to help soothe the pain a little. We stopped at the casino and it turns out lady luck decided to go home and leave us. Lost 20 bucks each in the blink of an eye and went to the Schooner Bar (hello Catherine!) to lick our wounds and play—you guessed it—TRIVIA!!! Tonight's trivia was 50/60's music trivia. We came in second. Lost on a couple of questions about 50s doo wop groups. How are we supposed to get that? We weren't alive then.
Off to dinner. Again super service, ok food. After dinner I dragged Sheryl to the production show, "Headliners" with the RCCL singers and dancers. We both are a bit "critical" when it comes to stage entertainment so we didn't come in with high expectations. Some how, it was even worse than we expected. We suffered through until Barry Manilow showed up followed quickly by Shakira shaking her boo--tay. Back up to Cafe 9268 for shots (big ones) to dull the pain then on to the casino where we played a bit and broke even.
Tonight was also the Love and Marriage game show. We auditioned but we were turned down for the newlywed couple who practically got it on in front of the audience in order to get on stage. I look at it this way: if you really want to answer embarrassing questions about your sex life for a tee shirt THAT BAD then you should be on stage. Tonight, the cruise director made fun of my new $150 Tommy Bahama shirt in the middle of the lyric theatre. Funny, it's so ugly that they sell it in the RCCL gift shop on board…go figure. More on this later….
After Love and Marriage we stayed for the world premiere of "Fountains." By far our favorite show. DO NOT MISS THIS. We literally laughed all nite. I will not give away the details but suffice it to say the cruise director and his staff outdid themselves. Supposedly there were many hours of rehearsal and you could tell.
After fountains, off to bed.
Day 5—Sea Day.
Ahhh Sea Day! We slept in and enjoyed coffee in the windjammer around 9. I skipped breakfast as I was headed out for a run in the gym. It's weird to run on a treadmill while the ship is moving. Remember drunken streaking in college? This is similar to the sensation.
While I worked out DW grabbed a bite for breakfast and went to Napkin folding 101. Our Thanksgiving guests can now look forward to little Eiffel Towers on their plate. Woo Hoo!!!
We met up and had a late lunch in the dining room which was nice. We were sat with 8 other strangers and were quickly reminded why we liked our table for 2. "So, how was your day?" "Fine" "Great, Pass the bread…" Sigh…
After lunch it was time for the blackjack tournament. I lasted all of 7 minutes. DW did a little better. She actually got her name on the leader board for all of 2 rounds. Like I said earlier, lady luck was on vacation—but not on the Adventure of the Seas.
Today also featured Crew Vs. Guest Dodgeball. Mike (the cruise director) was captain of the 6 member All Guys AOS Dodgeball Team. I was still smarting from the nasty Hawaiian shirt comment and I looked at this as the perfect opportunity to avenge my pride. Voila Team Kill Mike.
I figured we were pretty evenly matched. We had an ex pro ball player, 2 German body builders (they were there to PUMP—Clap—YOU UP!), the Puerto Rican soccer player and Me (short guy, red had). We warmed up for 15 minutes and looked pretty darn impressive.
We were third to play the crew. Keep in mind they do this every week. The action was intense and furious. And it was over in 5 minutes. I took my wounded pride to the nearest bar—the blue moon and drowned my sorrows in a tasty, STRONG, Pina colada.
Tonight, second formal night. Once again we stood in line for photos. They came out ok . We also had dinner in Portofino this evening at 830 after evening trivia. .I believe we won Trivia this evening but I don't remember what the theme was. We did score more Pens and Key chains though.
Porofino was good. Again, it's not the best food I've ever eaten but it is well prepared. DW had the filet and I had the seafood platter. Dinner was well timed and spaced. We were surprised at the number of crew eating in Portofino this evening. In fact, we had dinner next to the Captain, Mike and the Hotel Director. Another table featured a crew member's birthday celebration.
I recommend giving Portofino a try. It's a more formal dining experience. They call it Italian. I would consider it to be more international. The roasted garlic and the dessert sampler were superb. Recommendation—get dessert to go. If you eat the whole portion of each course, you will be too full to really enjoy dessert.
That evening we attended the headliner show BeatleMania Live. They are one of the ubiquitous Beatles cover bands RCCL seems to have floating around their ships. They were good. Last year, we saw another Beatles cover band—Revolution—and they were not nearly as good as these guys. Beatlemania is a national touring act and they come to Phoenix often. We've always heard good things about them so it was nice to see finally see them live.
Off to bed after the show for St Maarten.
Day 6 St Maarten
This day was great. Except DW is allergic to St Maarten. More on this in a little bit. We got off the ship and vowed to explore the island today. Last year, we did the Dolphin Experience on Anguilla and didn't get the chance to check out St Maarten at all.
We got off the ship and decided to rent a car. This was the oddest car rental experience I have ever had. All the car rentals are lined up in a row of little shacks in the port area. Upon approaching, we immediately were accosted by ALL the car rental vendors at once screaming at us to rent with them. Each one trying to offer a better deal than the other guy. We were overwhelmed and felt like a circus ring leader or an auctioneer. In reality, it was pretty intimidating.
In the end, we decided on Hertz since they are a name brand, take American Express and seemed more professional than everyone else. This turned out to be a good choice. We filled out the paperwork and were shuttled quickly over to our car. Cost for the day was 35 plus tax and license. I also took the collision coverage for an extra 12 bucks. It's an island—take the coverage.
We had skipped breakfast on board and were famished. I was in the mood for a nice café breakfast so we headed over to Marigot on the French side. We parked on the street and walked around a bit. Everything was closed!! Even the restaurants. We stopped into a small café and the owner told us that since it was slow season everyone was on vacation. Bummer.
We got back in the car and drove around Marigot a little bit looking for an open restaurant. About this time, DW's neck started getting itchy. We pulled into a space and were referred to a local butcher shop who might have sandwiches and cheese—Le Bouchard.
Now, I speak French—poorly—and it was a good thing I could. The butcher/owner didn't speak any English but between his pointing and my incoherent French we were able to order 2 sausage and brie sandwiches to go. The owner had to run out to the bakery down the street to buy the bread!! It was classic! So as we drove around St. Maarten we had fresh, homemade sandwiches with some of the best ingredients I've ever had. It was awesome! While we waited for him to make the sandwiches, he also fixed us two nice espressos.
By this time DW's neck was starting to break out so I got the chance to use my French agaiin and ordered some hydrocortisone (prescription strength) from La Pharmacie. The cream helped a bit and, sandwiches in hand, we headed out around the northern end of the island to check our Orient Beach.
We got to Orient around 1130 and spent 30 minutes checking in with home and writing emails to work and friends.There was a small Internet/DVD rental shop in the shopping plaza at Orient. It was only $6.50 for a 30 minute session We both are professionals we needed to check in.
We were warm and so we decided to head down to the beach for a quick dip. I thought the beach was OK but way too crowded and not as nice either of the beaches on Curacao or Aruba. While we were in the water, we overheard the guy next to us in the water say that Mullet Bay Beach was the nicest beach on the island. We promptly dried off and set out to find this pristine beach.
We drove back around to the Dutch side through Philipsburg and out to Simpson Bay past the airport. We saw maho beach (it really is THAT close to the end of the runway!) on our way to Mullet Bay. We initially drove past Mullet but quickly realized our mistake and turned around after hitting Cupecoy.
Mullet Bay beach is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It is small, quiet and utterly pristine. The water is crystal clear aqua and as an added bonus the "natural scenery" here was much firmer and younger then anything on Orient. God Bless European Women.
On the other hand, there were also guys in G strings. It was not a pretty sight.
We spent about 45 minutes swimming and taking in the spectacular views and then headed over to the Sunset Beach Bar for a quick drink. I am an airplane geek and was hoping to catch a flight land. Unfortunately we timed it wrong but the Pina Coladas and conch fritters were tasty.
By this time, DW was REALLY in pain and we drove quickly back to the ship, dropped off the car and re-boarded.
For the second year in a row, we became intimately familiar with the Medical Facility on AOS. DW is allergic to St Maarten. She had the same violent skin reaction the same day last cruise. We will not be returning soon to St Maarten although we love the island.
On the cruise bible, the hours for Sick Bay were 4-7. When we got there at 430 we were told that if we saw the doctor right away, it would be an extra 30 bucks since the passenger hours were only from 5-7. This didn't make much sense to me but we filled out the paperwork and came back a half hour later. We were the first passengers to see the doctor.
I must say we were very impressed with the thoroughness and personality of the medical staff. No, the doctors are not American but they are highly trained and most practiced in US hospitals. We learned that RCCL requires that all its medical staff be trained in Emergency Room Medicine and all the nurses are RNs. By the time we saw the doc, the rash was all over DW's chest, neck and scalp. It was a good thing we went when we did as he diagnosed a severe allergic reaction made worse by sunburn.
DW was given an IV with steroids, an antihistamine shot and a couple of prescription steroids along with prescription cream. We were in the medical facility for 90 minutes. The Damage: $441. But that's why we have travel insurance.
Lesson of the day: BUY The TRAVEL INSURANCE!! We have used it twice now for the same ailment on the same island. The doctor gives you a copy of a receipt that is submitted to the travel insurance company. We will be doing this tomorrow when we are home.
All in all, we were impressed with the Medical Staff and the care we received. Very expensive but we really had no choice.
After our jaunt to the doctor, we went and got a bite to eat and DW took a nap in the cabin before dinner to rest from the medicines. That night, we just had a quick dinner, skipped desert and went to bed. Long day made longer by the doctor's office. Supposedly there was a midnight gala buffet but we missed it.
Day 7—St Thomas
Last year, we spent the day on St Thomas shopping and going to the doctor so I was determined to see a little bit of the islands and get to St John this year. We booked an all day charter with Captain Bobby and his first mate (boss) Karen on the Rumbaba. The yacht is named after the Hindu goddess of irresponsibility
We hooked up on Cruise Critic with twin sisters from NYC who were interested in sharing the charter with us. For 110 per person (Cash, 125 credit card) we had a completely customized sailing day that included 2 snorkel stops (equipment provided) a gourmet lunch, open bar and excellent company.
We got off the ship and met the twins on the pier. We went to one of the Taxi-shuttles that are all over the place on St Thomas. We told the driver we were headed to Red Hook and we had to wait until he filled the cab with 4 other passengers before he would leave. This was frustrating as we thought we were pressed for time. Turns out we were fine but I dislike that they make passengers wait for others. The cab was 10 bucks per person each way and all the cabs are cash only operations.
We can't recommend Rumbaba enough. They are the best charter outfit on the island. Turns out Captain Bobby is from my neck of the woods—New England. He and I spent the morning swapping sailing stories from out time on Cape Cod. (I grew up on the Cape sailing so this was just awesome for me to run into a guy who's been to the same bars and clubs I have). While we were sailing over, my Blackbeard Ale ball cap (acquired last year on St Thomas) decided it wanted to go home and blew off my head in the middle of the channel. Fortunately, Captain Bobby and Karen have discovered the wonderful world of custom embroidery and I bought a new hat sporting the Rumbaba logo. $20 bucks.
While we sailed out, we chatted about the islands, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney and others who are locals legends in that part of the Caribbean. It's important to note that Captain Bobby actually SAILS his charter boat. We only ran the engine to clear the moorings and get through the harbor. I was in sailing heaven as I had the opportunity to man the winches and play sailor for a day.
Keep in mind Captain Bobby does not allow spray sunscreen on his boat—they make the deck slippery and dangerous. Fortunately for us, there happened to be a drug store across the street from the dock. Sunscreen lotion $10, Bottle of water $4. No headaches or sunburns? Priceless.
We crossed the channel to St. John and pulled into Hawk's Nest Bay in the middle of a squall. It rained for about 10 minutes while we anchored and soon it was sunny and pleasant again. The snorkeling here was awesome with many varieties of fish including parrotfish and remora. We all snorkeled for about 45 minutes or so and then came back to the boat for lunch. Karen prepared a sumptuous meal that included the best grilled shrimp I have ever eaten. I want her recipe. And that was just one of two appetizers. We tossed the shrimp tails into the water and watched as the fish competed for them. It was cool
A couple of weeks before, Bobby emailed us asking our preference for lunch—Ahi Tuna (local), Mahi Mahi (Local) steak or chicken. DW got the Mahi and I got the Ahi. Bobby actually has a grill on his boat so it is freshly prepared and delicious. We were also served a nice pasta salad and greens. Ohh, almost forgot, on the way out, we were served freshly baked blueberry banana bread made from bananas from their own backyard! It was sooo yummy.
Karen makes a mean Rum Runner. Although none of us were really planning on catching a buzz, her drinks went down really smooth and we were soon begging for more pitchers. Good Stuff. After lunch, we moved the boat around the point to Kaneel Bay for more snorkeling. I saw a spotted eagle ray and a sting ray. Way cool.
For you environmentally conscious types, the bays we moored at all have permanent anchorages set up by the National Park Service. By using these, we were able to avoid dropping the anchor and causing damage to the delicate ecosystems and corals.
Finally time to head home. We set the foresail and took the downwind run to Red Hook. It was a great day. Side Note: Rumbaba is not docked . Bobby and Karen keep it on a mooring in the harbor. So your day starts out with a ride in a dinghy. Keep this in mind when thinking about booking the tour. He only carries 3 at a time on the dinghy so it might take 2 trips to get all the passengers back to the dock.
There happened to be a taxi on the dock when we got off the boat so we grabbed it and headed back to the ship. Same cost (10pp) as heading out. This time though, we didn't have to wait for other passengers so that was nice.
Got back to the ship around 430 and visited Bistro 9268 one last time. The bistro was running out of booze so we switched over to Coffee and Bailey's. Drinking makes packing a much more tolerable experience. We stuffed, poked, prodded and jammed our clothes into our bags being careful to leave out a change of clothes along with toiletries for showers the day you get off the ship. You are required to have your large bags out and tagged by midnight in the hallway.
We opted to go for the Delta on site luggage check in. There has been much discussion on this board about how this works so I'll try to point out the details as best I can. There is a fee. It's 20 per person up to 2 bags per person. Well, we were only checking in 2 bags so I only signed up one of us and put her bag and my bag under the same name. That saved us 20 bucks.
According to RCCL, you can only sign up for this if you are flying Delta, American, Continental or United. However, there IS a US Air counter in the cruise terminal staffed by USAir agents and you can pay them a porter fee to take your bags and check you in. RCCL will only do it if you are flying on the other carriers.
After you fill out the form, you are supposed to receive an envelope the night before you depart with your boarding passes and bagtags. If you don't get it you are supposed to check in with guest relations. Well, we didn't get the envelope or any instructions of any kind. We got off the ship, cleared customs (WHAT A JOKE!) and went to the Delta counter. They were able to reprint the bagtags but not the boarding passes. This was fine as Delta offers easy to use kiosks at the airport (more on the later).
Anyway, we finished packing for the evening, closed down Bistro 9268 and then headed off to a final round of Trivia in the Schooner Bar. Topic was Movie Love Themes and we prevailed once again. RCCL logo hats this time around. The Schwag DOES get better at the end of the cruise.
We had our final meal in the dining room and thanked our lovely waitstaff for their superior service. We will miss them. Then off to the room for rest and bed.
The last morning is always sad cause its much more fun being on vacation than being home in reality. Woke up, showered and dressed and packed the last few items amongst our rollaboard and backpacks. You are requested to vacate the room y no later than 8am. We opted for a final breakfast in the dining room. They offer a limited choice menu and it is somewhat rushed. DW asked for bacon instead of ham in her omelette and was summarily denied-no specials on the last day! Opted for French toast with a side of bacon instead.
I think because we opted for the baggage check in we were given group one departure tags. We stopped off to pick up a few choice photos as souvenirs of our cruise…2 8x10's for $40 but they are 'memories of a lifetime' and we have a scanner so we can distribute knock offs for Christmas to our closest relatives.
From there we went back up to deck 4 to the gangway and then the bedlam in the cruise terminal. If you haven't experienced this part in the past allow me to elaborate so that you are prepared…. You walk into a warehouse sized facility with hundreds and hundreds of bags and suitcases and hundreds and hundreds of your cruise mates. Hanging from the ceiling are giant colored signs. You are supposed to find your luggage under your color. The color matches the bagtag that you were provided in your room. Unfortunately they don't provide directions so you have to figure this out on your own. Not everyone there is capable of this feat.
After climbing and clambering around we finally find our suitcases and roll them out and over to the customs agent. He worked for RCCL not the government. Again, nice to see our government hard at work and protecting our security!!! Out past customs to the Delta agent where we found out we didn't have the right documents. Actually we had NO documents. Fortunately we were 'on his list' and he just printed new bag tags on the spot. We were given the option to wait and someone would have gone back on board to print out our boarding passes but we opted to do it at the airport.
Oh almost forgot. We received our on board account statement as we were leaving the stateroom. They say they slip it under the door but, for 2 years in a row, they have stuck it in our door number in the jam. It's easy to miss it as you walk out. That really big number in the really small print on the last page is the total damage. $930—of which half was the doctor on board.
There is an adage among frequent cruisers. However much cash you think you need to bring, double it. Cash goes quick in the Caribbean and ATMs charge huge fees and give you local currency. You need cash for cabs, scooters, water sports, drinks on the beach, chair rentals, souvenirs and of course, the AOS Casino. This time we brought $500 and used it all. Tips for staff can go on your seapass account but it you want to tip more—like we did—you will need to stick more money in the envelope. Some folks on this board have talked about giving phone cards as thank you gifts to your crew. This is a small and appreciated token. However, if it's a choice between a phone card and cash, always give the cash. These folks live on tips and they really work hard for their money. You won't be disappointed but do plan for the cost of tips in your vacation budgeting.
Once we got out of the building we grabbed a cab and headed to Old San Juan since we had 5 hours to kill. What a scary ride. This guy was in a rush to get back and pick up more people. I have been in many cabs in many countries but this one takes the cake as the most dangerous. On the plus side, we did get to OSJ quickly and promptly found out that nothing opens (except the Starbucks) until 11 on Sundays. Cab ride was $20.
However, as you know, the Starbucks does have free internet, good air conditioning and lots of comfy seating. It's located on the square across from the parking garage. You can see the Destiny from the window. In fact, you will see a lot of locals taking advantage of the service and using Skype to call friends. Had a large coffee and sat down to write.
Headed out at 1130 for lunch and stopped at Tamarind. This is one of these restaurants that also had a great happy hour. We shared coconut shrimp and the best steak quesadilla I've ever eaten. It was a cheese quesadilla topped with churrasco steak. YUMMY!! Coconut shrimp were good too. We knew were back to reality when it took 15 minutes to get a drink and 30 more minutes for the meal. Sigh.
Walked back up the hill and took a taxi to the airport. Bye Bye 20 more bucks. This time it was much more tame and slow. That was ok by us. Got to the airport and ran into the entire ship again.
There's a Jimmy Buffett quote that says, "Don't want to land in the San Juan Airport, where 5 minutes can feel like a day." That's the truth. Got to the airport and found the tucked away delta check in counter. We went to kiosk and tried to print boarding cards. Mrs Az's printed out just fine but mine wouldn't.
I asked the check in girl to please print my passes and she did it for the first leg to Atlanta only. I politely asked her for the connecting pass and she told me it was against the rules for her to print the other boarding card.
Now, between the two of us, Mrs Az and I have flown 145000 miles this year. We do this a lot—every week actually. So I was perturbed. I told her I do this all the time and she got snippy and said "I work here, don't you think I know what the rules are?" We asked for a supervisor. The supervisor walked over, didn't even look at us or acknowledge us and told the girl in Spanish that she had made a mistake. Not a word of apology or anything. Weak. But I did get my connecting pass.
Here's our SJU airport tip: Most passenger leave from the B concourse and the security line there is really long. Walk around to the C concourse, clear security there (no line) and then walk back to B. We did this and it worked out well. Except we ended up in the line with the puffer machine. I hate that machine. It's scary and it takes twice as long to get through.
Got to the gate and the flight was on time. Our flight had a group of 90 mentally handicapped folks who were on our cruise as well. They were having such a great time all week! They preboarded and then we sat down. I ended up with one of those window seats that don't have a window. Once again, back to reality.
Flight was uneventful. Landed a few minutes early in Atlanta and we headed to our connection with a quick stop at the Au Bon Pain for a sandwich to take on the plane. ATL was busy and we left the gate 20 minutes late for PHX. The captain made up the time though and we got in right on time at 830. While on board, wrote some more and popped in a movie on the laptop.
We were looking forward to Ocean's Thirteen on the flight actually but the tape had a skip in it and we couldn't watch it. DW was a little disappointed. The flight attendants put in the other movie—Georgia Rule but we weren't interested. We threw in Old School into the laptop—not sure that was airplane appropriate but we laughed the whole way home.
Bags came down quickly and my mom picked us up (with Jack the Dog in the car happily wagging his tail) and we headed home. A nice end to a fantastic vacation.
What a trip! I am not sure we topped our first AOS cruise and it was a little different since we knew what to expect. Still, it was a fabulous time. We highly recommend the junior suite. We also recommend taking a couple of days to see Puerto Rico. It's a fun island with a very unique culture.
Cruises are what you make of them. You can have a great time or a lousy time depending on your attitude. You can one of those folks who spends all day, everyday shopping or you can "get out there" and experience what each of these ports has to offer.
One small regret, we were so busy during the day, we did miss out on some of the partying and events late at night—on both cruises. That's ok though, it gives us something to look forward to on our next cruise.
We thank you for your attention and comments. Please keep them coming and we'll try to answer any questions as best we can. Happy Cruising!!!
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