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ITINERARY: San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Oranjestad, Aruba; Willemstad, Curacao back to PR. Dec. 19-26, 2004. Topics written about: embarkation, food/dining facilities, the stateroom, activities, shows and each port of call. Helpful tips included. Embarkation: We arranged our own flight for the day of departure, but booked transportation from the airport to the ship through RCI; it was $13.00 one way. You'll find an RCI agent by your luggage carrousel; wheel your luggage out to the bus [or use & tip a porter]; board the bus and they drop you off at the line to enter the boat. They take your luggage [no tip] and deliver it to the boat [usually arriving between 6:00-8:30 p.m.]. This is less hassle than taking a cab. There were unmarked 2 lines: the one closest to the street was the longest. It is for folks who arrive by cab and need to process their luggage. The short line by the wall is for folks who arranged transportation with RCI [luggage taken care of]. It was fairly quick. There is a photo machine they use to take your [horrid] picture, but the photo is not placed on your plastic ID card. :) Ship time: Atlantic time, which is what Puerto Rico is on, as well as all the islands that were visited. AOS was a clean, attractive ship. The service personnel are from 62 different countries [none from the USA] and are well trained to perform their duties courteously. Misc: This was our first cruise. We have 5 kids, the youngest is 17. We read countless reviews and Q/A's in cruise forums to get an idea of what we were in for. We brought Bonine [Meclizine HCI] but didn't need it. There were a few times we felt the rock of the boat, but is was minor. There were 380+ Puerto Ricans on the ship and a goodly percentage of folks of Hebrew decent, so you noticed food and activities that were geared to them. All folks seemed polite and the many families with children kept them under control. FOOD: All ship food supplies are purchased in Florida. We are not gourmet or picky eaters. If you enjoy [Old] Country Buffet and Perkins, you'll find the food similar and some better [esp. seafood]. J. Rockets: a recent change -- there is now a $3.95/person cover charge to enter Johnny Rockets, but the food doesn't cost anything additional [except pop, juice and malts]. Dining room: Lovely surroundings, attractive table settings, pleasant music and pretty presentations of the meals. The waiters wait until all parties have arrived before taking your order. If you don't like your table, just ask Jamal, the assistant head waiter, what else is available to switch to. It took us an average of 1 hour 20 minutes to get through the dinner. It was pleasant and went by quickly. We had first seating [6:00]. Information about the dinner menu is posted outside the dining room or can be had by calling 0 and asking about the entrees. Most soups and all seafood were very good. The lamb and shrimp scampi were delicious. Most desserts were visually attractive but blah tasting, with the exception of apple crisp, cherries jubilee and a custard. A tasty dessert should find you wanting seconds; we often left desserts half eaten. We experimented, ordering 2 appetizers, salad, soup and entree. One appetizer our table mates ordered was lemon grass soup. Finding it bitter, they rejected it and requested a different appetizer. So, having seconds and making changes are acceptable. There were 2 formal nights and the rest were business casual. Dining room breakfast and lunch is somewhat casual with open seating and only served on level 3. Cafe Promenade: 5th floor, open 24 hrs. Coffee, tea, packaged-powered hot chocolate are available, plus a limited selection of fruit and food items. The food here comes with the cost of your cruise. They expect you to tip these folks, though. Pizza is served here, it's the frozen type. Beverages: tap water, coffee, ice tea, hot tea, lemonade, milk and [juice only for breakfast] is included with the cost of the cruise. Seattle's Best brand coffee was enjoyed by many. All other beverages [juice during lunch & dinner] will cost you extra in any eating/drinking location. Ice cream: The ice milk-like soft serve product is described as ice cream, but it is not. Two employees called it frozen yogurt. It comes in chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and twist. The locations are all on 11th floor: 2 in the Windjammer buffet, one just outside the glass double doors between the stairwell and elevator and the other at the kiddy pool with water slide. None of them open up before 11:00 a.m. I don't know how late they are open. We got use to the taste and ate it mainly because it was cold! Windjammer Buffet: There are plenty of food choices. We ate 5 breakfasts, all lunches and 1 dinner here. There are 3 lines; the line in back had pizza and a couple other things the side lines didn't have. We experimented by taking a tablespoon of most everything to find out what was the tastiest. Again, most things were fine, some were very good and a few were "just there." The meatballs with mushroom gravy were very tasty and so was the salmon. The desserts suffered from the same problem as in the dining room: lovely but only average or blah tasting. The fresh pineapple was sweet. The omelet station has Egg Beaters or you can request egg-white-only omelets. THE ROOM: We had a balcony stateroom on 7th level, toward the aft of the boat. There was adequate closet and shelf space. The combination safe was large enough for two large cameras. A refrigerator was in the room. You can bring food down to your room from the buffet and put it in the fridge. Room service is included in the price you pay for the cruise, but, they expect a tip. Daily, all room attendants make the cutest towel animals that are placed in your room; these are not for keeping. The paper "Cruise Compass" is delivered to your room between 6-7:30 p.m. It contains an insert with general information about the upcoming port of call and a map of the shopping district. The room TV has numerous channels with 2-4 different continuous broadcast movies each day. One of the daily movies is broadcast in 3 foreign languages plus English. ACTIVITIES: Never available prior to 9:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. Putt-putt golf: simple, flat course and that lacks obstacles; usually open. Rollerblades: short narrow maze-like track. Hours of opening usually only 4-7:00. Ice skating: This was VERY seldom open. When it was, you were limited to 45 minutes. You must wear slacks and bring a sweater; it is cool in there. Adequate amount of plastic boot, sharp hockey skates available. The ice is pocked due to hard wear from the practicing show skaters. Rock wall climbing: although there are 4-5 stations usually only 2 are manned with attendants. Most days it was open for only 2-3 hours. Twice it was open for 4-5 hours. Golf simulator: usually open 4:00-6:00 [or 7:00], by reservation. Swimming pools/hot tubs: 24 hrs/day; no lifeguards. The area around the main pool and basketball court blares rock music, making it difficult to concentrate if you are trying to read. Volleyball: 4:00-6:00 most days [after basketball shuts down]. Basketball court: open play, usually around 9:00-4:30. Most frequently it was occupied by men between 17-28. Library: adequate books, no magazines. Business room: 6th floor had summarized, condensed newspapers [5 foreign and one USA] each day. Movie screening room: very small theater with a screen 5' x 8'. Crafts: offered during sea days only [30 minutes]. Shuffleboard: on 4th level, open "24 hours." Jogging path: unusable; it is really a skinny walk path between 2 rows of reclining deck chairs. Photos: they did a nice job. They cost $10 - $20/photo, depending on the size [most were $15]. You can decline their photo-takes when they come to the tables, if you want. Promenade: 5th floor. This is mostly bars and lounges with liquor, jewelry and clothing stores, plus the Cafe Promenade. Other: there is a variety of music, dancing and numerous "pick up" lounge/bars on decks 3, 4, 5 12, and 14. There is a BIG push for shopping/buying: announcements on the overhead, TV purchasing info shows, buying seminars, etc. SHOWS: 9:00 and 10:45, lasting 45 - 60 minutes; in the Lyric Theatre. They were all okay. Day 1: 10:45 p.m. only: comedian, juggler and the RCI Singers and Dancers. Day 2: Stand-up comedian. Day 3: RCI Singers/Dancers with a rock music review from 1950's - 2000. Most was from '70s to present. The volume was deafening. Day 4: Comedian. Day 5: Ice show: Cool Art, Hot Ice. This was the BEST one. During the second half the music was too loud. They purposely pipe in "smoke-like haze" from the right side of the auditorium, but not from the left side. It affected vision, so we switched sides. Day 6: RCI Singers/Dancers: the production "Velvet Rope." 7:00 and 9:00 only. Music volume was better. Day 7: Comedian, juggler and the RCI Singers/Dancers -- 7:00 and 9:00 only [because it was Christmas, they had a second 45 minute ice show at 1, 3, and 5]. PORTS of CALL: This applies to all ports: All hotel tourist areas were lovely, clean and nice. But the rest of the islands have narrow streets, cramped small buildings of hodgepodge construction and varied upkeep, and excessive congestion, especially in the main cities. Yes, there are general road maps available, but they are mainly worthless because most roads and streets are unmarked; occasionally you'd see a street sign. Parking in any of the port cities is nearly impossible -- street parking is all taken and there are few parking lots. We rented cars in St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Curacao [we canceled the latter, as congestion was nuts!]. We'd advise against renting a car, rather use the taxi or in Aruba use the public bus. There really isn't anything to see on any of the islands besides beaches and scattered lookouts with vista views that all started to look alike after a while. Except for St. Thomas they all drive on the right side. If you are determined to rent, reserve in advance. In each port you'll find local venders right at the port announcing they have island tours available. These folks are sanctioned by the local port authority and have ID. You'll find they offer small van/bus tours that cover the major points of interest for the island [ranging from 2 - 3 hours]. The cost is significantly less than the equivalent RCI tour. We took 2 of these and were very pleased. All cities have places to rent snorkeling equipment, so you can take a taxi or bus to the best snorkeling area and do it yourself. Some tours are best arranged by RCI, but are costly. Downtown areas consist mainly of high priced tourist stores selling jewelry, watches, cameras, liquor, tobacco, knick knacks, clothes, tourist trinkets and dishes. The water temperature at all the islands ranges from 80-82 degrees; after 50 minutes of snorkeling we started to feel chilled. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Starting and ending point of the cruise. Warm, muggy. Most of it looked like the lower economic neighborhoods of Mexico. Cars drive fast and many don't obey the rules. We took the RCI City & Bacardi Rum Distillery Tour [$30] on the day we returned to port. It says not to book it if your flight leaves before 5:30. Our flight was at 4:00 and we booked this on the Internet, anyway. The tour guide asked how long we wanted the tour to last; most of us agreed that we wanted to be back by 2:00. The tour pick up was right outside the airport immigration area; luggage was loaded onto a locked truck. The stay at the fort was too short and too long at the rum factory. Two free drinks came with the tour. For us non-drinkers, we had a choice of alcohol-free pina colada or pop. The tour got us back to the airport about 1:45. All things considered the tour was a reasonable deal. Check in was simple and quick, but the line to scan our carry-ons was long and slow. Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas: You should greet everyone from your waiter to the bus driver with "Good day" or "Good morning." St. T. is warm, muggy, with lots of hills, mini mountains and many narrow poorly maintained streets with STEEP inclines. Once exiting the ship you must walk thru Havensight shopping mall to get out of the area. Avis rent a car is across the street; gas was $2.43/gal. Tourist brochures are in stores; the tourist office, located on the block where the P.O. is was closed for remodeling. Our street map came from Avis. You'll see occasional numbered road signs. It is a 1½ mile walk to the downtown area, which consists mainly of high priced tourist stores selling jewelry, watches, cameras, liquor, tobacco, clothes and dishes. There is a bus, but it isn't frequent or reliable. We parked in the pay lot just east of Fort Christian Museum and toured the museum [$3.00]. We drove to The Mountain Top to see the view of Magen's Bay; to get to it you must go thru a string of shops. The view is lovely, but haze decreased visibility. Drake's Seat is just a side-of-the-road stop with another view of Magen's Bay. We drove to Coki Beach [nice] which is right next door to Coral World [C.W is open daily 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., $18 entrance]. At Coki beach we rented snorkeling equipment [$10]. There is no admission fee; free restrooms/shower; vendors have chairs; drinks, etc. Plenty of fish, particularly because people feed them dog biscuits. Due to the haze we skipped the skyride up to Paradise Point [located 1 block to your left, as you exit the Havensight shopping area]. Traffic is usually bad on "highways" 38, 45, 43 and traffic was at a standstill, taking almost an hour to get back to the port, so plan accordingly. St. T Internet Cafe access: The very personable Marty Fredericks [from the States] runs a business [Resort Vacation Clubs] and offers 15 minutes of free access, pop or water and restroom usage to cruise and hotel tourists. He's open 9-2 and sometimes until 4. He'll ask if you're interested in seeing a 7 minute presentation about the club. We declined because we can't sunbathe [and do limited swimming due] to a bout with skin cancer. To locate: find the post office; stand in front and look up the hill just past the small park. The building isn't labeled. Either it or its shutters were painted blue. The uniformed person standing in front of the P.O. can help if you ask were Marty's place is. Philipsburg, St. Maarten: Weather: warm, not very humid. Tourist info is right there at the port. Behind the building are independent tour operators. We rented from Alamo and they picked us up at the port. Traffic was slow heading west toward the airport and after the airport it was at a standstill. It seems there is a bridge that raises to let boats in/out; that plus people stopping and chatting cause traffic. We drove the main road all around the island. The nice homes weren't visible from the street due to high walls and vegetation. There was scarcely a street sign to be seen and we drove by guessing. The traffic was bad in Marigot and things are poorly labeled or unlabeled. After asking and hunting we found Fort Louis. [If you find the Texaco station head 1 block west, turn right into an alley that heads for a old Catholic church. Turn right and go around the back of the church, head partly up the incline and park. Walk up the hill, turn right when you see the steep road. At the top is the stairs to the fort remains]. The view is beautiful. Sadly, the government doesn't believe in maintaining their historic sites. We drove around where the average citizen lives and found it depressing. Leaving Marigot we wanted to stop in Grand Case, but due to lack of signage, passed thru without realizing it. We tried to find the various points of interest labeled on the map, but due to lack of signage, missed most everything. We saw a developer's sign for Orient Beach and drove thru the lovely high rent district. We followed the sign to Oyster Beach [Fr. side] and Dawn Beach. The latter was spelled differently, so we passed by. The road to get to it is VERY steep going up and down. The parking was in the grass by what looked like a not well kept up small bar/restaurant. The powdery beach was nice [pay for chairs, huts]. The waves were about 2-3' high and some toplessness was noted. The traffic at 2:00 was at a snail's pace as you got close to the Great Bay Salt Pond [40+ minutes to crawl our way to the port]. There is a water taxi [$5/for all day] at the pier that takes you into Philipsburg, if you are just going for shopping. There is an Internet cafe in town and one at the pier, but neither were open. Four passengers from our ship were left behind, they arrived at 5:37 and the boat had already pulled away. Oranjestad, Aruba: Weather: warm and not so humid. It was mostly flat with lots of cactus and divi divi trees. Aruba is nice, cleaner and the transportation system is organized. Here all beach shore is public property, even if private homes or hotels are on it. The best free map we saw was in the back of "Aruba Experience" which is a tourist booklet. The bus runs every 20 minutes and costs US $1.15 or $2.00 for round trip w/a transfer. The bus terminal is across the street from the pier on the main drag, L.G. Smith Boulevard. If you want to see the 25 min. movie, Aruba Panorama, just walk 2 blocks down to the pink Renaissance Marina Hotel's Crystal theater [inside the casino area, cost $5.00, shown on-the-hour between 11 & 5]. We had booked, paid and confirmed a tour with De Palm but they screwed up and didn't run the tour and had no space to put us on a substitute. They told us to come back tomorrow!! We returned to the port and found private operators giving the same land 2 hr. tour for $10.00!! Winston Simon [5'5", 50 year old black male with small oval sunglasses and a straw hat] stands in the walk promoting the tour [Preketchie Tours was printed on the white 20 passenger air conditioned bus, but not on him]. Tours times: 9, 11, 2:00. We took the tour and were satisfied. The driver, Big Mac, had a touch of humor as he pointed out everything. We saw the Ayo rocks, natural bridge, gold mine ruins, Arashi beach, Calif. Lighthouse and homes of the well-to-do and typical residents. Along the way to these, he pointed out all sorts of things. A couple got off the tour at Arashi beach to go snorkeling. They took the bus back to the port. I realized I had left my camera on the tour bus. When we returned to town, I talked to Simon and he arranged to get it from Big Mac and put it in the Port authority office. :) We got off at the Aruba Grand Hotel and walked along the north side fence to Palm beach area to rent snorkel equipment [$12.50]. You must have a credit card, but can pay the bill in cash. Do not snorkel at Palm beach, per other passengers it was very poor snorkeling. We went back out to the road and caught a bus that said hotels and flashed Malmok after that. Most buses stop at the end of the hotel row and the bus that goes to Malmok only comes every 35-40 minutes. It drops you off at a dirt circle, which is Malmok. Just head north down the road for 2 blocks and you'll see Arashi Beach grass huts to your left and all the catamarans in the water. There are no facilities, we put $ and papers in a Ziplock baggie and tucked it in my swimsuit. Our clothes, towels and glasses were fine on the beach. Snorkeling is best done before 1:00 p.m. When finished, walk back down to the dirt turnaround at Malmok and hop the bus back to the bus station. Admission to the Butterfly Farm is $12.00; it is right next door to the Aruba Grand hotel. Internet cafe: Walk straight to L.G. Smith Blvd.., turn right and go 1/5th of the block and look right for Inter Transfer. They have pay phones and Internet; the latter is $1 per 15 minutes. Willemstad, Curacao: We took a tour that cost $15.00 for 2 hours and saw the few high points of the island. There is one guy with a sign that says he'll take off with 6-8 in his taxi van. The other guys sign doesn't say that, but he was more pleasant. Sometimes they charge $20, confirm the price with whomever is driving. If the weather and timing were better, we would have gone to the Sea Aquarium [$18]. If all you are going to do is shop, just turn right and follow the walk path by the ocean [3 blks] until you come to the pontoon bridge. Once you cross it there is a better visitor info booth with many more maps and other information than the one at the port. For the Internet cafe: go straight ahead as you get off the pontoon bridge, walking 2 blocks. KF Chicken is on your left and the place is kind of just before KFC, 15' down a narrow alley like walk path. It is called Swift Internet. The price was $2.00 for up to 30 minutes. Nice owner. Many of the downtown streets are marked, but the signage basically quits outside the downtown area. Traffic was awful and there is no place to park so we canceled the car. If the pontoon bridge opens to allow boat traffic, just take the free water taxi boat. All the little museums and the synagogue charge $2 or $3 admission.

Adventure of the Seas - Southern Caribbean

Adventure of the Seas Cruise Review by M in MN

Trip Details
ITINERARY: San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Oranjestad, Aruba; Willemstad, Curacao back to PR. Dec. 19-26, 2004.
Topics written about: embarkation, food/dining facilities, the stateroom, activities, shows and each port of call. Helpful tips included.
Embarkation: We arranged our own flight for the day of departure, but booked transportation from the airport to the ship through RCI; it was $13.00 one way. You'll find an RCI agent by your luggage carrousel; wheel your luggage out to the bus [or use & tip a porter]; board the bus and they drop you off at the line to enter the boat. They take your luggage [no tip] and deliver it to the boat [usually arriving between 6:00-8:30 p.m.]. This is less hassle than taking a cab. There were unmarked 2 lines: the one closest to the street was the longest. It is for folks who arrive by cab and need to process their luggage. The short line by the wall is for folks who arranged transportation with RCI [luggage taken care of]. It was fairly quick. There is a photo machine they use to take your [horrid] picture, but the photo is not placed on your plastic ID card. :)
Ship time: Atlantic time, which is what Puerto Rico is on, as well as all the islands that were visited. AOS was a clean, attractive ship. The service personnel are from 62 different countries [none from the USA] and are well trained to perform their duties courteously.
Misc: This was our first cruise. We have 5 kids, the youngest is 17. We read countless reviews and Q/A's in cruise forums to get an idea of what we were in for. We brought Bonine [Meclizine HCI] but didn't need it. There were a few times we felt the rock of the boat, but is was minor. There were 380+ Puerto Ricans on the ship and a goodly percentage of folks of Hebrew decent, so you noticed food and activities that were geared to them. All folks seemed polite and the many families with children kept them under control.
FOOD: All ship food supplies are purchased in Florida. We are not gourmet or picky eaters. If you enjoy [Old] Country Buffet and Perkins, you'll find the food similar and some better [esp. seafood].
J. Rockets: a recent change -- there is now a $3.95/person cover charge to enter Johnny Rockets, but the food doesn't cost anything additional [except pop, juice and malts].
Dining room: Lovely surroundings, attractive table settings, pleasant music and pretty presentations of the meals. The waiters wait until all parties have arrived before taking your order. If you don't like your table, just ask Jamal, the assistant head waiter, what else is available to switch to. It took us an average of 1 hour 20 minutes to get through the dinner. It was pleasant and went by quickly. We had first seating [6:00].
Information about the dinner menu is posted outside the dining room or can be had by calling 0 and asking about the entrees. Most soups and all seafood were very good. The lamb and shrimp scampi were delicious. Most desserts were visually attractive but blah tasting, with the exception of apple crisp, cherries jubilee and a custard. A tasty dessert should find you wanting seconds; we often left desserts half eaten.
We experimented, ordering 2 appetizers, salad, soup and entree. One appetizer our table mates ordered was lemon grass soup. Finding it bitter, they rejected it and requested a different appetizer. So, having seconds and making changes are acceptable. There were 2 formal nights and the rest were business casual.
Dining room breakfast and lunch is somewhat casual with open seating and only served on level 3.
Cafe Promenade: 5th floor, open 24 hrs. Coffee, tea, packaged-powered hot chocolate are available, plus a limited selection of fruit and food items. The food here comes with the cost of your cruise. They expect you to tip these folks, though. Pizza is served here, it's the frozen type.
Beverages: tap water, coffee, ice tea, hot tea, lemonade, milk and [juice only for breakfast] is included with the cost of the cruise. Seattle's Best brand coffee was enjoyed by many. All other beverages [juice during lunch & dinner] will cost you extra in any eating/drinking location.
Ice cream: The ice milk-like soft serve product is described as ice cream, but it is not. Two employees called it frozen yogurt. It comes in chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and twist. The locations are all on 11th floor: 2 in the Windjammer buffet, one just outside the glass double doors between the stairwell and elevator and the other at the kiddy pool with water slide. None of them open up before 11:00 a.m. I don't know how late they are open. We got use to the taste and ate it mainly because it was cold!
Windjammer Buffet: There are plenty of food choices. We ate 5 breakfasts, all lunches and 1 dinner here. There are 3 lines; the line in back had pizza and a couple other things the side lines didn't have. We experimented by taking a tablespoon of most everything to find out what was the tastiest. Again, most things were fine, some were very good and a few were "just there." The meatballs with mushroom gravy were very tasty and so was the salmon. The desserts suffered from the same problem as in the dining room: lovely but only average or blah tasting. The fresh pineapple was sweet. The omelet station has Egg Beaters or you can request egg-white-only omelets.
THE ROOM: We had a balcony stateroom on 7th level, toward the aft of the boat. There was adequate closet and shelf space. The combination safe was large enough for two large cameras. A refrigerator was in the room. You can bring food down to your room from the buffet and put it in the fridge. Room service is included in the price you pay for the cruise, but, they expect a tip. Daily, all room attendants make the cutest towel animals that are placed in your room; these are not for keeping. The paper "Cruise Compass" is delivered to your room between 6-7:30 p.m. It contains an insert with general information about the upcoming port of call and a map of the shopping district. The room TV has numerous channels with 2-4 different continuous broadcast movies each day. One of the daily movies is broadcast in 3 foreign languages plus English.
ACTIVITIES: Never available prior to 9:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m.
Putt-putt golf: simple, flat course and that lacks obstacles; usually open.
Rollerblades: short narrow maze-like track. Hours of opening usually only 4-7:00.
Ice skating: This was VERY seldom open. When it was, you were limited to 45 minutes. You must wear slacks and bring a sweater; it is cool in there. Adequate amount of plastic boot, sharp hockey skates available. The ice is pocked due to hard wear from the practicing show skaters.
Rock wall climbing: although there are 4-5 stations usually only 2 are manned with attendants. Most days it was open for only 2-3 hours. Twice it was open for 4-5 hours.
Golf simulator: usually open 4:00-6:00 [or 7:00], by reservation.
Swimming pools/hot tubs: 24 hrs/day; no lifeguards. The area around the main pool and basketball court blares rock music, making it difficult to concentrate if you are trying to read.
Volleyball: 4:00-6:00 most days [after basketball shuts down]. Basketball court: open play, usually around 9:00-4:30. Most frequently it was occupied by men between 17-28.
Library: adequate books, no magazines.
Business room: 6th floor had summarized, condensed newspapers [5 foreign and one USA] each day.
Movie screening room: very small theater with a screen 5' x 8'.
Crafts: offered during sea days only [30 minutes].
Shuffleboard: on 4th level, open "24 hours."
Jogging path: unusable; it is really a skinny walk path between 2 rows of reclining deck chairs.
Photos: they did a nice job. They cost $10 - $20/photo, depending on the size [most were $15]. You can decline their photo-takes when they come to the tables, if you want.
Promenade: 5th floor. This is mostly bars and lounges with liquor, jewelry and clothing stores, plus the Cafe Promenade.
Other: there is a variety of music, dancing and numerous "pick up" lounge/bars on decks 3, 4, 5 12, and 14. There is a BIG push for shopping/buying: announcements on the overhead, TV purchasing info shows, buying seminars, etc.
SHOWS: 9:00 and 10:45, lasting 45 - 60 minutes; in the Lyric Theatre. They were all okay. Day 1: 10:45 p.m. only: comedian, juggler and the RCI Singers and Dancers. Day 2: Stand-up comedian. Day 3: RCI Singers/Dancers with a rock music review from 1950's - 2000. Most was from '70s to present. The volume was deafening. Day 4: Comedian. Day 5: Ice show: Cool Art, Hot Ice. This was the BEST one. During the second half the music was too loud. They purposely pipe in "smoke-like haze" from the right side of the auditorium, but not from the left side. It affected vision, so we switched sides. Day 6: RCI Singers/Dancers: the production "Velvet Rope." 7:00 and 9:00 only. Music volume was better. Day 7: Comedian, juggler and the RCI Singers/Dancers -- 7:00 and 9:00 only [because it was Christmas, they had a second 45 minute ice show at 1, 3, and 5].
PORTS of CALL: This applies to all ports: All hotel tourist areas were lovely, clean and nice. But the rest of the islands have narrow streets, cramped small buildings of hodgepodge construction and varied upkeep, and excessive congestion, especially in the main cities. Yes, there are general road maps available, but they are mainly worthless because most roads and streets are unmarked; occasionally you'd see a street sign. Parking in any of the port cities is nearly impossible -- street parking is all taken and there are few parking lots.
We rented cars in St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Curacao [we canceled the latter, as congestion was nuts!]. We'd advise against renting a car, rather use the taxi or in Aruba use the public bus. There really isn't anything to see on any of the islands besides beaches and scattered lookouts with vista views that all started to look alike after a while. Except for St. Thomas they all drive on the right side. If you are determined to rent, reserve in advance.
In each port you'll find local venders right at the port announcing they have island tours available. These folks are sanctioned by the local port authority and have ID. You'll find they offer small van/bus tours that cover the major points of interest for the island [ranging from 2 - 3 hours]. The cost is significantly less than the equivalent RCI tour. We took 2 of these and were very pleased. All cities have places to rent snorkeling equipment, so you can take a taxi or bus to the best snorkeling area and do it yourself. Some tours are best arranged by RCI, but are costly. Downtown areas consist mainly of high priced tourist stores selling jewelry, watches, cameras, liquor, tobacco, knick knacks, clothes, tourist trinkets and dishes. The water temperature at all the islands ranges from 80-82 degrees; after 50 minutes of snorkeling we started to feel chilled.
San Juan, Puerto Rico: Starting and ending point of the cruise. Warm, muggy. Most of it looked like the lower economic neighborhoods of Mexico. Cars drive fast and many don't obey the rules. We took the RCI City & Bacardi Rum Distillery Tour [$30] on the day we returned to port. It says not to book it if your flight leaves before 5:30. Our flight was at 4:00 and we booked this on the Internet, anyway. The tour guide asked how long we wanted the tour to last; most of us agreed that we wanted to be back by 2:00. The tour pick up was right outside the airport immigration area; luggage was loaded onto a locked truck. The stay at the fort was too short and too long at the rum factory. Two free drinks came with the tour. For us non-drinkers, we had a choice of alcohol-free pina colada or pop. The tour got us back to the airport about 1:45. All things considered the tour was a reasonable deal. Check in was simple and quick, but the line to scan our carry-ons was long and slow.
Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas: You should greet everyone from your waiter to the bus driver with "Good day" or "Good morning." St. T. is warm, muggy, with lots of hills, mini mountains and many narrow poorly maintained streets with STEEP inclines. Once exiting the ship you must walk thru Havensight shopping mall to get out of the area. Avis rent a car is across the street; gas was $2.43/gal. Tourist brochures are in stores; the tourist office, located on the block where the P.O. is was closed for remodeling. Our street map came from Avis. You'll see occasional numbered road signs. It is a 1½ mile walk to the downtown area, which consists mainly of high priced tourist stores selling jewelry, watches, cameras, liquor, tobacco, clothes and dishes.
There is a bus, but it isn't frequent or reliable. We parked in the pay lot just east of Fort Christian Museum and toured the museum [$3.00]. We drove to The Mountain Top to see the view of Magen's Bay; to get to it you must go thru a string of shops. The view is lovely, but haze decreased visibility. Drake's Seat is just a side-of-the-road stop with another view of Magen's Bay. We drove to Coki Beach [nice] which is right next door to Coral World [C.W is open daily 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., $18 entrance]. At Coki beach we rented snorkeling equipment [$10]. There is no admission fee; free restrooms/shower; vendors have chairs; drinks, etc. Plenty of fish, particularly because people feed them dog biscuits.
Due to the haze we skipped the skyride up to Paradise Point [located 1 block to your left, as you exit the Havensight shopping area]. Traffic is usually bad on "highways" 38, 45, 43 and traffic was at a standstill, taking almost an hour to get back to the port, so plan accordingly.
St. T Internet Cafe access: The very personable Marty Fredericks [from the States] runs a business [Resort Vacation Clubs] and offers 15 minutes of free access, pop or water and restroom usage to cruise and hotel tourists. He's open 9-2 and sometimes until 4. He'll ask if you're interested in seeing a 7 minute presentation about the club. We declined because we can't sunbathe [and do limited swimming due] to a bout with skin cancer. To locate: find the post office; stand in front and look up the hill just past the small park. The building isn't labeled. Either it or its shutters were painted blue. The uniformed person standing in front of the P.O. can help if you ask were Marty's place is.
Philipsburg, St. Maarten: Weather: warm, not very humid. Tourist info is right there at the port. Behind the building are independent tour operators. We rented from Alamo and they picked us up at the port. Traffic was slow heading west toward the airport and after the airport it was at a standstill. It seems there is a bridge that raises to let boats in/out; that plus people stopping and chatting cause traffic. We drove the main road all around the island. The nice homes weren't visible from the street due to high walls and vegetation. There was scarcely a street sign to be seen and we drove by guessing.
The traffic was bad in Marigot and things are poorly labeled or unlabeled. After asking and hunting we found Fort Louis. [If you find the Texaco station head 1 block west, turn right into an alley that heads for a old Catholic church. Turn right and go around the back of the church, head partly up the incline and park. Walk up the hill, turn right when you see the steep road. At the top is the stairs to the fort remains]. The view is beautiful. Sadly, the government doesn't believe in maintaining their historic sites.
We drove around where the average citizen lives and found it depressing. Leaving Marigot we wanted to stop in Grand Case, but due to lack of signage, passed thru without realizing it. We tried to find the various points of interest labeled on the map, but due to lack of signage, missed most everything. We saw a developer's sign for Orient Beach and drove thru the lovely high rent district. We followed the sign to Oyster Beach [Fr. side] and Dawn Beach. The latter was spelled differently, so we passed by. The road to get to it is VERY steep going up and down. The parking was in the grass by what looked like a not well kept up small bar/restaurant. The powdery beach was nice [pay for chairs, huts]. The waves were about 2-3' high and some toplessness was noted. The traffic at 2:00 was at a snail's pace as you got close to the Great Bay Salt Pond [40+ minutes to crawl our way to the port]. There is a water taxi [$5/for all day] at the pier that takes you into Philipsburg, if you are just going for shopping. There is an Internet cafe in town and one at the pier, but neither were open. Four passengers from our ship were left behind, they arrived at 5:37 and the boat had already pulled away.
Oranjestad, Aruba: Weather: warm and not so humid. It was mostly flat with lots of cactus and divi divi trees. Aruba is nice, cleaner and the transportation system is organized. Here all beach shore is public property, even if private homes or hotels are on it. The best free map we saw was in the back of "Aruba Experience" which is a tourist booklet.
The bus runs every 20 minutes and costs US $1.15 or $2.00 for round trip w/a transfer. The bus terminal is across the street from the pier on the main drag, L.G. Smith Boulevard. If you want to see the 25 min. movie, Aruba Panorama, just walk 2 blocks down to the pink Renaissance Marina Hotel's Crystal theater [inside the casino area, cost $5.00, shown on-the-hour between 11 & 5].
We had booked, paid and confirmed a tour with De Palm but they screwed up and didn't run the tour and had no space to put us on a substitute. They told us to come back tomorrow!! We returned to the port and found private operators giving the same land 2 hr. tour for $10.00!! Winston Simon [5'5", 50 year old black male with small oval sunglasses and a straw hat] stands in the walk promoting the tour [Preketchie Tours was printed on the white 20 passenger air conditioned bus, but not on him]. Tours times: 9, 11, 2:00. We took the tour and were satisfied. The driver, Big Mac, had a touch of humor as he pointed out everything. We saw the Ayo rocks, natural bridge, gold mine ruins, Arashi beach, Calif. Lighthouse and homes of the well-to-do and typical residents. Along the way to these, he pointed out all sorts of things. A couple got off the tour at Arashi beach to go snorkeling. They took the bus back to the port. I realized I had left my camera on the tour bus. When we returned to town, I talked to Simon and he arranged to get it from Big Mac and put it in the Port authority office. :)
We got off at the Aruba Grand Hotel and walked along the north side fence to Palm beach area to rent snorkel equipment [$12.50]. You must have a credit card, but can pay the bill in cash. Do not snorkel at Palm beach, per other passengers it was very poor snorkeling. We went back out to the road and caught a bus that said hotels and flashed Malmok after that. Most buses stop at the end of the hotel row and the bus that goes to Malmok only comes every 35-40 minutes. It drops you off at a dirt circle, which is Malmok. Just head north down the road for 2 blocks and you'll see Arashi Beach grass huts to your left and all the catamarans in the water. There are no facilities, we put $ and papers in a Ziplock baggie and tucked it in my swimsuit. Our clothes, towels and glasses were fine on the beach. Snorkeling is best done before 1:00 p.m. When finished, walk back down to the dirt turnaround at Malmok and hop the bus back to the bus station. Admission to the Butterfly Farm is $12.00; it is right next door to the Aruba Grand hotel.
Internet cafe: Walk straight to L.G. Smith Blvd.., turn right and go 1/5th of the block and look right for Inter Transfer. They have pay phones and Internet; the latter is $1 per 15 minutes.
Willemstad, Curacao: We took a tour that cost $15.00 for 2 hours and saw the few high points of the island. There is one guy with a sign that says he'll take off with 6-8 in his taxi van. The other guys sign doesn't say that, but he was more pleasant. Sometimes they charge $20, confirm the price with whomever is driving. If the weather and timing were better, we would have gone to the Sea Aquarium [$18].
If all you are going to do is shop, just turn right and follow the walk path by the ocean [3 blks] until you come to the pontoon bridge. Once you cross it there is a better visitor info booth with many more maps and other information than the one at the port.
For the Internet cafe: go straight ahead as you get off the pontoon bridge, walking 2 blocks. KF Chicken is on your left and the place is kind of just before KFC, 15' down a narrow alley like walk path. It is called Swift Internet. The price was $2.00 for up to 30 minutes. Nice owner.
Many of the downtown streets are marked, but the signage basically quits outside the downtown area. Traffic was awful and there is no place to park so we canceled the car. If the pontoon bridge opens to allow boat traffic, just take the free water taxi boat. All the little museums and the synagogue charge $2 or $3 admission.
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