In order to avoid the risks associated with winter weather in Canada we flew to San Juan on Friday (no stress, no mess). We stayed two nights at the Embassy Suites in Dorado Del Mar which is about 30 minutes west of San Juan. I highly recommend this particular Embassy Suites location (see later that this location is not to be confused with the San Juan location) a)at $125 an night for a suite that comfortably slept 4 (you could do 5) and included breakfast, it is a great value b)it has its own golf course, tennis courts, pool, a small beach and is close to many other big beaches c)they provide the names of taxi drivers who will meet you at the airport d)there are two rental car locations nearby
Our favorite activity in San Juan... the Hike to Lamina falls within the El Yunque National Forest. A bit hard / time consuming to get to but well worth the effort. Bring a bathing suit and take a dunk at the bottom of the falls.
On return we also decided to avoid the rush and stress of catching a flight the same day and chose to spend Sunday in San Juan. This time we stayed at the Embassy Suite in San Juan (Isla Verde, near the airport) . We would not recommend this Embassy suite location. a)At $ 360 This room was almost 3x the price of the other location b)They were very disorganized. We did not get our room until 8:30 PM despite the the 4PM room availability we were promised upon arrival and that was clearly posted. When we finally did get the room there was no bedding on any of the beds. It all seemed like a comedy of errors. c)The usual courtyard area was not as well appointed as it usually is. It was more like a bare floor with some tables and chairs.. d)The pool water was very cold and the hot tub was under repair. e)There is a casino that opens up to the courtyard area that took away from the usual family atmosphere of the Embassy Suites locations.
Boarding: Based on feedback on the cruise critic website we headed to the peer and arrived just after 12:00 Noon.. The taxi convoy into the peer was a bit long but not outrageous. Once at the terminal it took a grand total of 20 minutes from the time we unloaded our luggage from the taxi to the time we were on board the ship. I was impressed by the logistics as well as the number and attitude of the staff present during the boarding process. This first impression of everything being well organized with a very informed and helpful staff turned out to hold true for the rest of the cruise.
The State Rooms: Once on board we had a quick lunch and proceeded to explore the ship, locate all of the attractions and count the bars (lots). Our rooms were ready at 2:00PM as promised. My wife and I travelled with our two teenaged daughters and my 82 year old father. We had booked one Junior suite and two inside cabins. The Suite was our common spot but the girls and my dad slept in their inside cabins. I highly recommend getting a separate cabin for the teens, if you go with an inside cabin near your own cabin it is not that much more money and in my opinion well worth it. All of our cabins were at the very back of the ship on level 7. Having a Junior Suite at the back was great because of a bigger deck but we did find it a bit bumpier than a cabin towards the center of the ship. The Cabins on this ship are much roomier than comparable ones we had had on Disney Magic. I also recommend a junior suite, it is as big as a good sized hotel room and has a decent sized bathtub / shower and loads of storage space.
The Ship and Amenities: The Adventure of the Seas is very nice with great amenities and plenty to see and do. Our favorite activities were the Rock climbing wall and the Games room. Some reviews had said that this ship is showing its age... I disagree, yes the carpets are a little dirty in some spots but really nothing to complain about.
The pool deck area was busy on sea days but there are a number of different nooks with sun or shade and we were always able to find a spot. Sometimes we would hide from the kids in the adult only Solarium area which is very well laid out and beautifully decorated. They don't lock the doors so the kids can find you if they need to.
What impressed me the most were the staff.. From 60 different nations, highly motivated and seemingly happy.
With such a large ship on what is probably one of the busier weeks of the year I had expected long line ups and crowds at popular activities and locations. This was not the case.
Shows: The ice shows were amazing. Short and sweet and very well performed. We had read that getting tickets would be difficult but that was not the case. We turned up 15 minutes ahead of the appointed 10AM time on Monday morning and had the tickets within 3 minutes. Again I found the logistics to be well tuned and the staff quite friendly. The main shows were good but not as good as the ones on Disney Magic.
Bars: There are lots of different bars each with different atmosphere. Our favorite pre/post-dinner drink spot was the Crown room on the rear of Deck 14 overlooking the pool decks. The drinks are reasonably priced. The bar staff very friendly and helpful, special mention goes to Jamal who was working the Solarium bar during our week (Bar staff apparently rotate among the many bars every two weeks) . He brews the best Long Island Ice tea I have ever had... highly recommended if you want to spend a few hours in a semi "medicated" state.
The Food: I have to admit that with 2000+ guests on board we boarded with "realistic" expectations for the food. Our expectations were exceeded. Based on a suggestion in one of the posts we had pre-booked (via RCDL website) our "departure dinner" at the Portofino restaurant at 8:00PM. This was a perfect way to start, seeing Old San Juan all lit up as we pulled away was really nice. The menu was very interesting, the food outstanding and the service very attentive. Well worth the 20$ extra fee. We ended up booking a second dinner at Portofino for later in the week. Here again I had expected based on previous experience that this would be difficult to do since in the last two weeks leading up to the departure date the web site seem to indicate that the restaurant was fully booked. To the contrary I just called down to the front desk on Monday morning and I was able to book for later in the week.
After enjoying our first meal at the restaurant we told ourselves: Maybe we should not have had the restaurant meal on the first night, now we will be disappointed with the Main dining room food. We were wrong, the Dining room menu and food were also very good. Always plenty to choose from including a number of "normal items" (my daughters words" and more adventurous items. As to be expected of a cruise the service was excellent. Our waiter and assistant waiter always would provide tips and suggestions. They also seemed generally concerned that we enjoy everything we ordered. On one or two occasions where one of us did not like what we had chosen, the waiter would offer and bring us a different choice. First class food and first class service. The menu varies from night to night but I highly recommend the Lamb Shank on Tuesday or Wednesday... Wow... As good as I have had in any $100+ a head restaurant. Even the Head waiter spent a bit of time with us each evening with information about upcoming menu items, events or tips for the ports of call. When he heard that my wife was a fan of Spicy Indian food he arranged for a specially prepared "pimped up" dish to be provided on the Friday. Nice touch.
Room Service: On Christmas morning we had decided to order room service for breakfast. There is no extra fee for this other than a tip for the person who brings you the food. When the food had not arrived at the indicated time I called down to see what the problem was. It turned out they had misread our time request, they apologized and we had our food less than 10 minutes later. The food was as good as in the dining room, the only limitation was the selection. I recommend room service breakfast once or twice as a treat but I think the Windjammer is great for its variety. Service in the Windjammer was surprising. There are lots of staff roaming around and someone will bring you coffee and juice within seconds of you sitting down. The main dining room is also a very nice alternative for breakfast. They have a good variety including Eggs Benedict and a very nice Smoke Salmon plate.
Ports of Call: Our cruise included 4 ports of call: Aruba, Curacao, St Maarten and St Thomas. We did a combination of outings offered by the cruise and our own planned beach days. I recommend consulting the ports of call boards on the CruiseCritic.com site. You can get valuable tips and find something that suits you. I also found it useful to consult the travel web sites of each island to research the beaches.
http://www.aruba-travelguide.com/beaches/beach-2.html#playa http://www.curacao.com/ActivitiesEvents/Beaches/Beaches.aspx?lang=en http://www.st-maarten.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=13&Itemid=35 http://www.vinow.com/stthomas/beaches_stt/
In some of the ports of call we pre-booked outings with the ship. The best value was the Pirate Cruise at Aruba. A nice half day aboard an old wooden sail boat. The snorkeling was ordinary (bobbing in the water with 75 other tourists) but the atmosphere on board and the rope jumping at the end was amazing.
I you are looking for one day of big waves (body surfing, boogie boarding) I highly recommend Dawn Beach at St Maarten.. Not for the faint hearted.
Photo Shoots... Of all the "extra services" offered on board, our favorite was the daily photo shoots. Every night around dinner and at very port of call there are several photo shoots that are set up to take photos of you and your family. They use a variety of backdrops and settings. They will take as many pictures as you want. The photographers are professional (not all the same level) and they are using high end cameras and lights. The shoots themselves are free and you only pay if you buy photos. The photos are not cheap but when you consider the quality of the photos and that you only pay for shots you like it is not so bad. We had a good 60 different photos taken and ended up purchasing 5 8x10" photos for $20 each. They have kiosks on board where you can see, crop and select your photos.
Conclusion... We were very pleased with this cruise, this ship and this itinerary. We would recommend to any one who is looking for a great family vacation.
Big Closet, lots of storage, Big Bathroom, great balcony excellent floor space to bed space ratio. A little bumpier at the back... excellent sound isolation