Before I dive in, just want to take a moment to thank all of you trip-report-writers. Your reports were an invaluable asset in planning our vacation. Thank you so very much for taking the time to share your experiences.
WHAT WE LIKED
Overall, my husband and I really enjoyed our News Years' cruise on Royal Carribean's Adventure of the Seas and would definitely recommend it. It wasn't the biggest, best, newest ship in the world, but it DID offer an awesome itinerary and something for everyone in our widely-diverse group. If those are your needs, then this is a great cruise for you.
We loved the itinerary because every morning (except the last) found us in a new port, and at a pier (as opposed to tender) by 8:00 am. This gave us the freedom to get on and off the boat quickly and easily, and explore for a full day. Having been on 7-day cruises with 2-3 days at sea, we found this a huge plus and would look for it again! We departed from San Juan, PR on Sunday, were in St. Thomas on Monday, St. Croix on Tuesday, St. Kitts on Wednesday, Dominica (pronounced dom-in-EEE-ka) on Thursday, Barbados on Friday, and at sea on Saturday.
This trip was a family vacation, generously provided by my father. As a result, our group included my dad (a gentleman in his 80's who has cruised many many times), my husband and I (a couple in our young 40s, who have been on just 4 cruises), and my sister's family (also in their 40s with four kids - ages 17, 16, 13, and 12 - on their second cruise). This ship worked well for us because the youngest enjoyed the mini golf, inline skating, rock wall and (I must include) soft-serve machine, while the teens enjoyed the freedom of hanging with their own, and the adults liked being able to retreat to the relative calm of the solarium area.
We were also fortunate with the weather. The temps ranged from about 79-degrees in Puerto Rico to about 85-88 degrees in Barbados. While Puerto Rico was a most cloudy and windy, by the time we hit Barbados it was truly tropical - a real treat as the northeast got hit with 30" of snow. Previous holiday trips departing from the mainland never got us the warmth and the sun we enjoyed during this trip ... though I heard we were a bit blessed this week!
Overall, we found the ship clean, the crew friendly and helpful, and the food to be 'very good.' We did not experience any of the rudeness that had been reported in some of the earlier summer posts (thought the premium price of a holiday cruise could be the cause of that), nor did I hear of any thefts or illness. I also have to thank the Christmas Cruisers, as they appear to have worked out any water issues by the time we boarded.
WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE
While I understand it, I did not like the new trend to offer up-sells. I don't think I should be asked to pay more to use a golf-simulator or attend a wine tasting or eat at a specialty dining room or add a cut of Filet Mignon to my menu while on my cruise; it takes a bit of the glamour out of a vacation like this when you constantly have to pay more to get the luxury experience you thought you had already paid for. I miss the shampoos/conditioners/etc. that used to be provided, chocolates on the pillow, and the midnight chocolate buffet.
We ate all of our dinners in the dining room at the early seating and had very good meals... on all except the last night. Our waiter's recommendations - not the Chef recommendations - were nearly always the BEST option by far. In particular, I really enjoyed the prime rib the first night, the shrimp scampi, rack of lamb, filet and shrimp, and lobster tail dinners. The very last night was the only one in which nothing wowed me and so I went with basic salmon and it was okay. The Caesar salad was consistently good too. For appetizers, I really enjoyed the escargot and asparagus soup. Getting hungry just thinking about it all! Our waiter Boon often spoiled us by bringing out 'samples' to try before we ordered and often second dinners once he learned our tastes, so we never missed a special item.
We did not attend any of the shows because none of them sounded particularly interesting - except the ice show which we missed getting tickets for. Like a previous post noted, we didn't run into any particularly great musicians in the lounges and found the few interactive games to be too short and/or canceled. That said, this didn't really disappoint us because we tended to go to bed early in order to enjoy full days. From the talk around the boat, it sounded like the best shows were the newlywed game and the ice show.
What else? Oh! Flying in a day or two early - and/or buying insurance - I think is critical during winter months with unpredictable weather. My husband and I flew out of DC on the Friday before our cruise. A mechanical failure had us delayed for over 5 hours in Charlotte. The 40 passengers on our flight that were catching a cruise that day were frantic. Also, we heard over 1,000 folks missed our own boat's departure on Sunday due to snow that hit the northeast. I think they caught up to us in St. Thomas, but am not really sure.
Day 0, Sun., Puerto Rico - My husband and I checked out of the Conrad hotel in Condado and went to the airport (a short 10-15 min. ride) to pick up my dad who got in at 11:00 am. Since it was a cloudy/windy day and we had bags, we went direct to the pier, even though we were told NOT to bother arriving before 2:00. We figured, if we had to wait somewhere, why not on line at the pier? Well, we got lucky - we got to the pier around 11:45 (only 20 min from the airport) and I think they started processing folks a little after 12:00 because we weren't waiting long before the line started moving. We were on board and having lunch in the Windjammer by 12:45.
My sister used the afternoon to book spa visits for our dad, find our dinner table, and get the kids settled and unpacked - my husband, father and I used the afternoon to learn the location of the bars!
Day 1, Mon., St. Thomas - Deep Sea Fishing with About Time Charters
The one thing my father really wanted to do on this trip was go deep sea fishing with his grandsons.
This is the one excursion I didn't book through the ship. Having been to St. Thomas before, I knew we could find a cheaper alternative on our own - and we did. I booked a charter for me, my husband, dad, and two nephews with About Time Charters for $600 for a ¾ day (6 hours) by calling them in advance. (ONLY hassle was that they only accept cash or travelers checks so I had to be sure to get those in advance.) We got off the ship a little before 8 - no line, no fuss, no muss - and we were the first folks to grab a cab. After a memorable, twisty-curvy 15-20 min. cab ride, we were over to Red Hook's American Yacht Harbor and out to sea a.s.a.p.! It was a GORGEOUS day! Calm seas, blue skies, soft fluffy clouds - but no fish.
My youngest nephew reeled in a 12" black fin tuna and the other caught a 30" barracuda, but that was it. We actually cut the trip short to head in early because the youngest got sea sick (five times!) and we just couldn't stand to see him suffering through it! On the way back to the boat, we caught one of the $2 per person safari buses back to the pier. It was a slow ride with lots of stops but for only $2 pp, and with no time constraints, who cares??? (One of the things I hate about St. Thomas is their practice of charging taxi fares per person and so this was a pleasant alternative! Now I might actually consider going back!)
While we brought the required 'picture id' with us every time we got on and off the boat, the only thing we EVER needed was our Sea Pass card. I'm sure it was good we had our IDs, but I must admit that boarding and disembarking were as easy as slipping our card in the machine!
Day 2, Tues., St. Croix - SCUBA Diving with Cane Bay Dive Shop
This was my favorite day of the cruise. We'd booked a two-tank wreck dive but due to some boat issues, the operator had to change the dive to a two-tank reef/wall dive with shore entry that was spectacular. They bused all of the divers over to their shop on the North shore - an easy 25 min. ride - where we discovered a wall dive just 100 ft off shore. The entry was from the beach that is located directly across the street from the dive shop and offered a pretty easy entry since seas were calm. That said, it did require a 100 ft kick-out before we dropped down but the reef was abundantly healthy and we saw a ton of hard and soft corals and wide variety of colorful reef fish. It was literally like swimming through an aquarium! The visibility was over 80 feet, the water temp was 79 degrees, the sun shined on us all day. Ahhh, heaven!
The dive operation was VERY professional. As busy as they were with two boats in port, all of the equipment was handled well, briefings were thoroughly given, and groups were broken up into manageable groups of 8-9 divers per guide. All top notch! On the first dive we kicked out, then went down and traveled the wall at 60-80 feet from east to west; on the second dive went west to east and hovered mostly around 60-40 feet. I could have spent the week there!
After our dives, my husband and I enjoyed a fantastic lunch at Eat (restaurant) located adjacent to the dive shop, with a view of the beach. Can't beat sitting at the bar enjoying great food with great company looking out at a beautiful beach! We stayed on the Cane Bay beach until 4:00, then caught the last shuttle back to the boat. It was a fantastic day!
Day 3, Wed., St. Kitts - Sky Safari Zip Lining
Wow! What another great day. When my sister texted me to ask if I would take her three kids NOT afraid of heights zip lining, I thought, "sure, no problem, did it in Cancun last year, easy!" Boy was I in for a surprise! In St. Kitts, the first of four zip lines travels ACROSS a ¼ mile line the spans two peaks, at a height of roughly 25 stories! This was a heck of lot higher then what I experienced in Cancun!
The operation is situated on the site of an old sugar cane mill and is very picturesque. The guides were all wonderful and clearly seemed to be enjoying their work, which was nice. Guess I should mention that the site is technically in the rain forest so you might want to take a waterproof jacket; it rained on us once or twice, though not enough to dampen our spirits.
They bus you to the tour site, get you all geared up, and then do a sample run about 10 ft off the ground so you have a chance to get comfortable with what you need to do before they take you to the top for the first run. The kids loved it and so did we - though this trip is not for the faint of heart! At the end of the tour, they take you back to the office and try and interest you in a few photos before bussing you back to the ship. While we were waiting, a local boy came by with his baby monkey so the kids got to see one up famous St. Kitts monkey's up close and personal. It was very cool - though sad to learn the monkey population is 5x that of the human population and, thus, not protected.
Day 4, Thurs., Dominica -- River Tubing & Emerald Pool Adventure
Okay, this was another fantastic excursion! Everyone in our group (except my dad) participated and had a blast. The river tubing has some significant rapids so this is not your lazy float down a river tubing trip. We had toyed with bringing dad and he would NOT have been up for the bouncing and bobbing experienced on this tour!
The scenery in the gorge was beautiful and, like on St. Kitts, the few passing sprinkles that went through did not ruin our mostly-sunny day. At the end of the tube ride, they took us to a welcome center for rum punch, then on for another 20-30 min. ride to the national park where you hike in ¼ mile or so to the Emerald Pool. It wasn't a huge fall - they say 50 ft though I thought it looked more like 35-40 - but it was very pretty. The boys had a lot of fun climbing the rocks and getting under the falls while the girls found the water a little too cold for their tastes! It took us 30 min. to get back to the boat and so we didn't get back until around 4:00. With dinner seating at 6:00, that's just enough time to get a little hot-tub time in before needing to shower and change for dinner!
Day 5, Fri., Barbados - Tiami Five Star Catamaran & Turtles
This was the kids' favorite day of all - though I was really surprised they said it topped either the zip lining or tubing/waterfall day! I think the best part was that this was the one event EVERYONE got to do together! Also, this was probably the best weather day of the trip. While it sprinkled on us 2-3 times here as well, it was easily the warmest and most tropical of the islands. Everyone loved Barbados.
When we got to the terminal meeting point to pick up this tour (you have to walk though a maze of shops to get to the terminal), we were told that the conditions at their normal snorkeling spot was too rough to guarantee turtle viewings so had to be changed. While not required, they offered anyone who didn't want to go a full refund which I thought was very generous of them. We didn't care - we were there for a day on a catamaran and we were not disappointed by our choice to go. In fact, it probably worked in our favor as the catamaran that normally takes 80, only had about 65 folks on board, so we had a comfortable about of space to move around in. (Can't imagine what it would have been like at capacity!)
We also lucked out in that we were able to see turtles at the first stop! We had a great time snorkeling with the turtles, enjoyed a wonderful lunch on the boat, snorkeled at an okay wreck site at the second site, and then really had fun jumping off the boat MULTIPLE times and swimming to the beach at the last stop. From the beach stop, we were just a 10 min. ride back to the catamaran dock. What a great way to wrap up a year!
Day 6, Sat., At Sea
Spent the last day lounging pool-side. It was a bit windy at times but hot in the sun... which is just what you want on the last day of your Caribbean vacation!
Day 7, Sun., Puerto Rico - Travel Day
I think it took a while for the ship to get cleared upon our return because they didn't start calling the folks slated for an 8:00 am departure off until almost 9:00 and so we were all pushed back about an hour. That said, once called, exiting moved pretty quick, customs was straight forward and easy, and cabs were lined up to take you the short 20 min ride back to the airport. The weather was windy, overcast and rainy so it made it easy to wave good bye and head home.
Our flight home was direct - and left on-time.... unlike the miserable, delayed-flight we had on the way IN! With the direct flight, it made me realize just how easy and convenient it is to catch a cruise out of Puerto Rico and I would definitely consider doing it again!