If you're looking for a first-rate cruise for the family, look no further. This was our 4th Caribbean cruise and our 2nd on Royal Caribbean - and hands down Royal Caribbean is the best. We have two teenage children, 16 year old son and 13 year old daughter, who traveled with us and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. From rock climbing, ping pong, video arcades, basketball, miniature golf, kid friendly food such as Johnny Rockets and Ben & Jerry ice cream, in-room movies and room service, your kids are guaranteed a great time.
Older couples traveling together will have an enjoyable time too, but in my opinion, Royal Caribbean caters more to the family-friendly crowd. Last year we sailed on Mariner of the Seas (another Voyager class ship) and it was equally as good so you can pick from any of the 9 Voyager ships and know you're in good hands. I'm assuming all of the Voyager ship's are built exactly the same, since Adverturer and Mariner were identical! We definitely knew our way around the ship this time.
We arrived in San Juan on Saturday, August 12th and spent the night at the San Juan Marriott which is only 15 minutes from the pier. The next morning, we arrived at the pier at 2pm right when you could board because we wanted to start enjoying the ship's ammenities right away. We had pre-ordered a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries to be delivered to our stateroom upon arrival, which made our sail-away very special.
We had 2 balcony staterooms on Deck 8 in the Aft section of the ship. Last year we had adjoining staterooms, but we couldn't get them this year. The adjoining rooms have a pocket door (sliding interior door) between the rooms. Getting on the ship was a breeze, although it was very hot. We had pre-printed our Sail Away Passes which speeds the entire process, so be sure to do that before you go. We were on-board around 2:45pm, which includes having our photo taken as we boarded. We met our Stateroom Attendant, Arlex from Costa Rica, who was very pleasant.
We promptly changed into bathing suits and headed to Deck 12 to read books and lay in the sun. The muster drill (lifeboat drill) was at 8:30pm with dinner for second seating guests at 9pm the first night. If you've never cruised before, be sure to request second seating for dinner (8:30pm dining) because you'll have more time for excursions and won't have to rush back to the ship to get ready for dinner by 6pm (first-seating dinner time.)
Our only disappointment on this cruise was that we didn't have a table for 4 at dinner, which we had specifically requested when we booked. We were seated at table for 10! Since we're a busy family we don't eat meals together at home as much as I'd like, so the cruise was a special opportunity to dine alone together as a family. You know kids, they won't talk if the adults are talking. Luckily, you can make changes to your dining room assignment on the first night, so I spoke to the Head Dining Manager (Mustafa from Turkey) and he was kind enough to move us to our own table. Mustafa became a special friend on the cruise because he knew how happy he'd made us by honoring our dining request. Not everyone is accomodated in the dining room, the most common request is to move from first seating to second seating, so be sure to make your dining request when you book and follow-up the first night if there's a problem.
I'm not going to talk much about each port, except for a few highlights. In Aruba, we spent the day at Palm Beach, which is a top-rated popular beach in Aruba that's only a short taxi ride from the ship. We did not book an excursion in Aruba because we'd heard about Palm Beach and wanted to go there. At the beach, we rented 2 chairs, 2 floaties and an umbrella. We forgot to bring our towels from the ship, so we purchased 2 inexpensive $10 towels at a beach-store. The kids also forgot their goggles on the ship, so we purchased 2 pairs of goggles for $10 each too. There were lots of others from the ship, who were part of the Beach Break excursion, but they could only stay for 2 hours on the beach before they had to leave. Those folks paid more and stayed less, so my recommendation is if you want to spend a day at the beach to take a taxi on your own. It's definitely cheaper and you'll have a longer day.
Next stop was Curacao. We booked the snorkeling excursion at the underwater park, which you access by boat. There were about 40 guests from the ship on this excursion. The boat ride was a bit choppy but once we got there we saw LOTS of fish, rainbows, angel fish and even a small barracuda! Seriously! But we're told it was harmless....hmmmm. Back on the ship, we overheard some other guests talking about the Sea Lion tour which they enjoyed but thought it was too long (if you've seen 1 sea lion, you've seen them all, ha, ha.) That night dinner was "Caribbean Night" and we had Red snapper, shrimp salad, lobster bisque and cherries jubilee for dessert. We purchased a Wine and Dine package (5 bottles of wine at the gold level, although there are other packages too in various price levels) and we had a nice bottle of Merlot. You can only purchase the Wine and Dine Package on the first and second nights of the cruise.
Next port was St. Maarten, on the Dutch side. Here the street vendors are a bit more aggressive, so be sure you can say NO if you're not interested in their goods. It's tricky with kids because they will come up to the kids and put merchandise in their hands and ask "How much you give me?" Just be firm, take off the merchandise and walk away. We struggled with this on our first cruise, but we're pros now. Have a tough skin, unless it's something you really want to purchase. (Side note: Jamaica is WAY worse! St. Maarten was a piece of cake.) i purchased a beautiful ivory shell and silver necklace and paid cash to get a better deal. Then we took a taxi to Orient Beach and had another wonderful day. My daughter had corn rows and beads put in her hair on the beach for $40, which she likes. dinner that night was "Italian Night" and we had cheese tortellini, crab cakes, caesar salad and baked alaska for dessert.
Next port was St. Thomas, the highlight of the trip. We've been here before but never to Magen's Bay, one of the Top 10 Beaches in the world. We took an open-air taxi to the beach for $8 per person. Tried to negotiate the price down to a flat $20, but they are firm and won't budge. The taxi ride is a bit unnerving because you're basically in the back of a pick-up truck that's been converted to a taxi with padded bench seats and a canopy overhead. The roads are very narrow and mostly uphill to the beach, so it's a roller-coaster ride. My husband and kids didn't mind, but I was not a fan. At Magen's Bay, the views are spectacular! We took lots of pictures, rented beach chairs and floaties, had lunch at the beach bar and enjoyed another great day. We all purchased Magen's Bay T-shirts before we left.
Last night: We attended the Farewell Show, which was good but a repeat of our last cruise (same jokes, same skits "Top 10 Questions the crew is Asked) so it wasn't as funny this time for us. There's definitely a "formula" to the cruise industry, so if you're a repeat customer you'll pick up on that right away. We put our luggage outside our door at 1AM even though it was supposed to be out by 12midnight. We just couldn't get everything packed on-time and wanted to soak up as much of our last night as possible. They were still moving luggage at 2AM, so I doubt it was a problem.
Leaving the ship: This was the only time we felt like we were part of a crowd. There are 3000 people on board and you don't realize it until you're leaving! They put everyone in Groups (1 through 10) and you wait in the public areas until your number is called. We were group 10 (the last one) because our flight home wasn't until later that night. We didn't mind because we sat up on Deck 11 in the solarium (covered outside deck chairs) and read.
Oh and don't forget that the food on Deck 5 (Promenade Deck) is FREE, except for drinks and Ben&Jerry's ice cream. The pizza, sandwiches, cookies, cake, muffins is all complimentary. But since it's behind a glass case (and not self-serve) it's not obvious, I guess. We felt so sorry for a family that didn't realize that until they were leaving! Oops! And another piece of advice, you can order 2 or more meals at dinner too. So when it's lobster night, be sure to get plenty! Bon Voyage!