This was our second cruise on the AoS (April 20 - April 27 itinerary). My wife and I cruised on it about 4 years ago, also to the Southern Caribbean (Aruba, Curacao, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten). As soon as we got on the ship 4 years ago we said that one day soon we had to do this ship again, only we had to bring our kids too. Well, 4 years later we were able to bring them too and neither we nor they were disappointed (children's ages are 11, 13, 14, and 17). The ship was as wonderful the second time around as it was on the first journey, albeit not seeming as "huge" as our first experience. We also had friends with their 3 children (2, 9, & 12 years of age) join us on this cruise and they too had a great time.
We flew out of JFK non-stop on Delta the day before (Sat. April 19) and stayed for the night at the Best Western right in the airport. Very convenient, priced right, very clean and everyone was friendly and kind. There was a slight delay with our flight and then there was an additional delay due to an apparent security breach. We had to all clear the plane and go through security once again. We were scheduled to depart at 8:35am, but instead ended up leaving around 10:45 or so. We landed in San Juan about 2:00pm. After getting our baggage and such we headed to our hotel. We at first went outside and walked a short distance toward the hotel until I realized you do not have to leave the interior of the airport to get to the hotel entrance and check in area. It is literally right across from the AA counters. We checked in, went to our rooms and decided to venture out for an early dinner immediately. We had been to San Juan on a couple of prior stays and a few years back we asked a taxi driver to recommend a restaurant where we could get traditional Puerto Rican food and he recommended a restaurant that was excellent and just what we were looking for. Well, this time around we wanted to take the kids there, but neither my wife nor I could remember the name of the restaurant. When we again asked the taxi driver to recommend a traditional style restaurant, this time around he too recommended the same place. Once my wife heard the name, she knew right away. It has to be good if on two separate occasions, two different people recommended the same place. The name of the restaurant is "El Jibarito" and I recommend it highly. After lunch we walked around a bit and visited the "Fort" for about an hour or so and then decided to head back to the hotel.
The next morning after getting up we went and had the free continental breakfast at the hotel. It was very good and better than many CB offered by other hotels. The Royal Caribbean documents say and when speaking to an agent prior to arriving for the cruise tell you to arrive about 2:00pm for boarding, however, based on past experiences we arrived about 11:00am and boarded the ship at 11:30. Boarding was fast and very pleasant. Line at the pier was not long when we got there, but was getting longer as we started to board. Our cabins were not ready yet so we all went to the Windjammer and had lunch. We found the food at the WJ for lunch during the week to be very good in most cases and changed daily. There was always something you could find at the buffet and if you could not, there was always the pizza and hamburgers/hot dogs. You could also eat lunch at the Cafe Promenade where they have delicious sandwiches and pizza all the time. The ice cream, yogurt ice cream and cookies were great. For us, the desserts were hit and miss at lunch and at dinner. Some that sounded and looked great did not taste that good. I have found this on other cruises too, as well as at some very nice resorts. I pretty much stuck to my ice cream and cookies (peanut butter, oatmeal & chocolate chip).
At dinner time we had Luciano and Yalitza as our wait staff. They were great and treated us very well. With 6 kids and one 2 year old, their job was never easy, but they rose to the occasion and did a magnificent job. It was actually Yalitza's first cruise on the job, so we broke her in and I'm sure after dealing with our crew, everyone else will be a piece of cake LOL. We really enjoyed the dinners, always eating in the main dining room (2nd seating). We tried just about everything and never had to worry about trying more or if we did not like something, getting something else instead. The steaks were very good, along with the shrimp cocktails (Luciano kept bringing them out), escargot (refer to last comment), and lobster night was awesome. Tails were great and tender and again you could have them all night if you wanted. Never be afraid to ask as the waiters love to see you eat and enjoying the food. It is almost like they get insulted if you do not eat everything on your plate and they really want you to be satisfied. As mentioned earlier, I usually finished my meals with a nice bowl of Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry ice cream. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the head waiter that dealt with us was definitely the best head waiter that we have ever had on a cruise (8 cruises). Usually they show up the first night, introduce themselves and then you do not see them again until the final night. I apologize that I cannot remember his name, but he was awesome. He came around every night, helped with the baby at the table, brought "special" soda to one of the kids every night, and just went above and beyond. We were at table 373 so if you get him, you will be very lucky.
Breakfast was also very good. Nice variety of foods along with omelet stations if you wanted them. Service at breakfast and lunch was good as there was always a wait staff person around to get you your drinks and coffee, etc. We used room service for breakfast twice and they were on time and everything was perfect.
As for the ship...Still beautiful. Very clean and you could always see staff going around cleaning or painting or repairing things. Rooms never had any kind of odors to them and everything always seemed fresh. It took about a day or so to be able to navigate the ship without heading off in the wrong direction and ending up at the opposite end of the ship from where you intended to be. The kids actually knew the ship better than us.
Speaking if the kids...They had a great time. They did spend time with the kids club, but they also did a lot independently from the club. Ice skating, basketball, mini golf, arcade, table games, and rock climbing wall they were always busy.
We always enjoy the entertainment and do not miss a show. We saw a group called Abracadabra that re-enacted all the hits of Abba and they were great. It didn't hurt that I was chosen to come up on stage and was "seductively" (all in good fun) sung to by one of the very lovely lead singers and had the "tough" job of holding her on my lap throughout the song. It was really a very good show. We also had the opportunity to be entertained by the Drifters. I enjoy Doo Wop songs and although a couple of the members are up in age, they along with the "new" blood can still sing and entertain. Of course the RCCL singers and dancers do a good job throughout the week Mike the cruise director was hilarious and could be seen all over the ship. He is a very entertaining guy with his jokes and card tricks and definitely a natural at the job.
On our first cruise on AoS, one minor complaint we had was the lack of oversight/staff around the pools, keeping order and keeping over exuberant kids from infringing on other patrons from having a good time. This time around, it looks like they listened to past suggestions because staff (deck patrol) were watching out and removing kids from adult only hot tubs, warning them about jumping where they weren't supposed to be, and just having a presence on deck. I will say also, that they seem to be cracking down on people reserving chairs, almost a bit too much in my opinion. They were definitely moving people's stuff after a period of time from chairs. Word was after 30 minutes, but some people who said they had stuff removed said they were only gone for a short time, either were in the pool or went to get a quick bite to eat. We ended up trying to always have someone by the chairs so our stuff would not be moved. I understand the reason for those who come out early, place their towels on a chair or chairs and then disappear for hours, but for those who are either in the pool, or at lunch, I do not think it is right.
As for the ports...We went to Moomba Beach in Aruba which would have been fine except the water had a terrible stench. The beach itself was nice with chairs and water sports available, but the water was a real downer. I don't know if it was a one day occurrence or if it is like that all of the time, but I would be reluctant to return there due to that. Curacao: Only I, my daughter and my friend's daughter got off the ship. We enjoyed walking around town and taking some nice pictures in Curacao. I love the pastel colors of the buildings. We walked from the pier across the floating bridge and the kids got a kick out of that. St. Maarten: Went to Kakao Beach. Beautiful. Water was calm and clear. We did the excursion through the ship, but next time I would recommend just taking a cab there and spend more time then the excursion allowed. We did the jet skis there and had a blast. St. Thomas: We did the ship excursion with the ferry ride to St. John's and went to Trunk Bay. Kids did the snorkeling trail. Water is gorgeous, as clear as any water that I have ever seen. Again, the next time I would just take my own taxi to Megan's Bay (on St. Thomas) which we were at a couple of years ago which is also gorgeous and spend the entire day there.
Getting off the ship was smooth and a pleasure. We got up around 7:30am, got out of our rooms and went up to the WJ for breakfast. We sat there until about 9:15 and then proceeded to the Lyric Theater. We sat about 15 minutes and they called our group. Got off the ship in a few minutes, found our luggage and were off to the airport for our return trip home on AA. 3 hour delay coming home, but we did arrive safely and overall it went well. We really did have a great time on this cruise. I recommend the AoS and RCCL highly. I would like to cruise on this ship again in the future, but would like to do the other itinerary which includes Barbados and St. Lucia. Any questions, please e-mail me at email@example.com
Other than that, there really is nothing to say that was negative.