I recently returned from a seven-day cruise aboard the Adventure of the Seas leaving from San Juan and calling on Aruba, Curacao, St Maartin and St Thomas. I was one of 66 cruisers participating in the 2008 Great Group Cruise, hosted by travel agent George Leppla and his wife Becca from Louisiana. This was my 32nd cruise overall and sixth on RCCL. I have been always impressed by RCCL and the way they present their product to the sailing public. My impression did not waiver on this cruise as they did a great job.
Embarkation Our group of four arrived in San Juan the day of the cruise. I realize that traveling from the New York area in the winter time poses a risk due to the weather, but we originally planned to arrive in San Juan the night before the cruise, but all the hotels I contacted in the San Juan area required a two night stay. The cost was a bit high, so we decided to take the risk and arrive the day of the cruise. We left JFK on a clear, but cold morning arriving at the airport within the two-hour guideline as suggested by the TSA for our 9:35 AM flight. We boarded an AA 757 and arrived in San Juan by 2:00 PM, leaving us plenty of time for the 8:00 PM departure. Using my FF miles, the R/T flight was only $5.00. can't complain about that. One of our travel companions had to pay full fare, about $350, so I saved a lot of cash using the FF miles. We retrieved our luggage from the baggage claim area and hopped in a van style cab and headed to the Pan American dock area where the AOS awaited. Upon exiting the cab I noticed that RCCL had a special section for Platinum and Diamond clients to transport their bags to the ship. I hailed a bag handler in this special section and entrusted our bags to him. Checking in was a snap and we bypassed all the lines because we had an individual that required wheelchair transport and were directed to a disabled counter where an agent awaited. We had our "Set Sail" paperwork completed pre cruise and were given our room keys and shipboard account cards. We were off to the ship in about ten minutes time after leaving the cab. Here I give RCCL five/five stars for a quick and painless embarkation process!
Cabin My cabin was located on Deck 6 forward #6568. This was a verandah cabin with plenty of room for two people. My two other traveling companions were located right next door in #6566. This was the lowest deck that offered verandahs and was one deck above the grand atrium and was over a clothing/dry goods shop. During the entire week, I did not hear a sound from Deck 5, even the nights RCCL had special events there. The cabin was very quiet with occasional sounds emitting from across the hall in the housekeeping closet. All and all it was a nice room and suited myself and cabin mate well. The shower had circular plastic doors, not shower curtains like other cruise lines. Shampoo was provided and I used the supply all week. There was plenty of space in the medicine cabinet for storage, though my cabin mate complained that I took up too much space with my toiletries and other bathroom supplies. I made room, but my friend used the countertop in the main cabin to store her stuff. The room was equipped with a 20" TV with satellite channels that played pretty well during the cruise, including TNT, USA, CNN, Fox News and WNBC Ch 4 from back home in NYC. The twin beds were very comfortable. Recently, RCCL has upgraded its bedding on all its ships and on some nights during the cruise I could not wait to get back into my cabin to enjoy the premium sheets and duvets. Other than the first night, I slept very well during the cruise and I was not disturbed by any noises from outside my cabin. My cabin steward, Mr. Paul, kept my room neat as a pin throughout the week, though the ice bucket availability needs improvement. He deserved the additional gratuity I and my cabin mate provided him at the end of the cruise. Rating: 4/5 stars.
Passengers Since the ship left San Juan, there were a lot of residents from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico aboard the ship. The Puerto Rican residents dressed to kill on formal nights and I enjoyed talking to them throughout the week. They were very nice and not rowdy as indicated on other cruise reviews I've read about on the AOS. There were a lot of kids aboard, but they were very well behaved. There was no screaming kids running about the hallways or riding in the elevators like I witnessed on other cruises. I never felt crowded while aboard, though the ship holds 3,000+ passengers. The mixture of mainland USA citizens of all ages and Puerto Rican residents made this cruise very enjoyable, at least for me. I did notice that a group of men traveling together from a Russian community from NYC almost caused a fight in the casino, which was quickly suppressed by RCCL casino security. I believe the dispute was caused by a Black Jack dealer who refused to offer gambling services to them because the group had a bit too much to drink. This same group also cleared out the men's sauna because of the loud talking. This was the only problem I noticed regarding the passengers during the week. Everyone seemed to get along together just fine.
Entertainment This was the first time in all my 32 cruises that I did not attend the nightly shows. I did see the ice show and it was terrific and I highly recommend it. The skating was truly professional. During the week, I did meet Ivan, the lead skater in the ice show and had a nice conversation with him. That was the only show I saw all week. I guess I was in a funky show mood. After 32 cruises, the showroom presentations are just about the same on all cruise lines. I promise that on my next cruise, I will try to see more shows and stay out of the casino! Rating: Ice Show 5/5 stars.
Ship The Adventure of the Seas, with a length of 1,020 feet, was once the world's largest cruise ship. The ship is immaculate with crew constantly cleaning and painting. She does not show her age (about 6 years old). I never saw an empty glass around and there was always a crew member there to remove it. The ice rink, rock-climbing wall, grand atrium, basketball court, and miniature golf course make this ship unique unto itself. It is a feast for the eyes as she sits proudly at a dock awaiting her passengers. Worn carpets were observed being replaced while in a port of call. In my opinion, she looks brand new. Most of our cruise was sailed in placid waters and I never felt any rolling -- just the usual movement felt aboard all ships.
Sanitary Conditions Not being an expert in shipboard sanitary conditions, I've decided to add this section because I experienced the cruise virus aboard another RCCL ship in 2007. The virus totally ruined my last sea day and forced me to go to sickbay for medical treatment. Thank the Lord I did not have any shipboard illness aboard the AOS. I was so careful this time, constantly washing my hands and using baby wipes when pressing the elevator buttons. I have read that the AOS was a hot bed for the virus and I was very careful during my week aboard. I only wish that sanitary wipes were distributed as you entered a dining area such as the Windjammer or one of the formal dining rooms. They were also not provided in the public rest rooms. They were distributed to all passengers as you embarked the ship from a port of call, but that was about it. I think RCCL could do a better job here. I did not know of any passengers that came down with the virus, though, for some reason, I lost my appetite on the second day of the cruise, but made up for it during the rest of the cruise.
Ports of Call As stated earlier, the ship called on Aruba, Curacao, St Maartin and St. Thomas. Having never been to Aruba and Curacao, I was eagerly awaiting my visit to these ports of call. I did not book any cruise tours from RCCL because of its high published costs. I understand that fuel costs are always increasing, but $50 for an hour city tour is a bit much. I simply booked a tour with one of the many cab drivers at the port of embarkation at a much-reduced rate. I had a great time.
Aruba: What a strange place, geographically I mean. One side of the island looks like a moonscape with boulders strewn about from a volcanic eruption millions of years ago, while the other side of the island looks like a typical Caribbean palm lined beach. I really liked this place and would love to stay there for a couple of days, well maybe some day. Our driver explained the story of a gold rush there and the donkeys that hauled the gold out of the ground. Some of the ancestors of the donkeys still roam the north beach area and are very gentle and friendly creatures. Our tour guide was a native Arubian that knew her stuff about Aruba and its history.
Curacao: Gee, could I extend my luck by booking another great tour from one of the cab drivers off the pier? My luck was about to run out. We boarded this gentleman's mini van for a tour of the island along with about another 10 Spanish-speaking passengers from the AOS. He promised us a bi-lingual tour, and it ended up 95% Spanish and 5% English. I missed the history lesson as it was spoken in Spanish. With my limited Spanish skills, I did understand some of it, like Playa (beach), gracias (thanks). That's where it ended. He did take us to see the floating bridge and a beach on the island. The colorful capital was just beautiful with its multicolored buildings. But Wait! Before we left the dock area, the lady sitting in front of me slammed down the jump seat right onto my left leg that was injured in an accident when I was a kid. The pain I experienced was unreal and the small cut on the scar drew blood. She said "Sorry" and that was about it from her. It kind of ruined my tour. One of my traveling partners did have a band-aid in her pocketbook, which helped stop the bleeding. This tour I give 0 stars of five. I did not even give the guy a tip because of his lack of English aboard the tour.
St. Maartin: Another beautiful day in paradise, with blue skies, low humidity and temps in the mid 80's. Life is good, I thought. It is January and here I am in summer, just a month after Christmas. I watched on the news about the below zero temps in the Midwest and here I am in summer on the beautiful island of St Maartin. What more could you ask for? I left the AOS by myself and headed for the water taxi, where five bucks gives you a ride to the downtown dock and back to the ship when you are ready to return. At the dock I met this taxi driver that offered me a tour of the French and Dutch side in an air-conditioned van for $25. I took him up on his offer. Myself and three other ladies from an Atlanta church group were passengers. After a five minute walk to his van, he told us his name is Joseph, but his friends call him Cobra Man. "I Sting" he says. He asked me to sit in the front seat with him because my leg was still hurting from the Curacao incident and there was more room. I was still trying to find out what he meant by "I sting." His tour was great and his knowledge of the island was impressive. When we crossed onto the French side, he felt that the French got the better side of the island, which I have to agree. We stopped at a jewelry store and had some refreshments on the house. One of the ladies purchased an earring set for several hundred dollars. Next stop was a nude beach on the French side. I knew my lady friends from the Atlanta church group were not too happy visiting a nude beach, but that is the culture of the island. There were some nude folks walking around and the ladies joked about a man that was frolicking in the waves in his birthday suit. We left the beach and returned to the water taxi dock for the return to the ship. It was a great tour and we left Cobra Man $30. I like St Maartin and would like to return again some day.
St. Thomas: The beautiful weather continues at our last port of call. No tour here, just a ride downtown for a visit to my friend Mac over at his jewelry store. With the price of gold so high, the price of Mac's products were out of sight, but I was glad that I paid him a visit. His family run business is not doing too well, so he says. It's the Europeans that buy today with the Euro conversion. The Americans have stopped spending because of the pending recession in the USA. I'm not too sure in his statements, but there were sure a lot of people taking cruise vacations this year. I did buy a nice figaro silver neck chain at a place near the ship for $60 bucks. Not too bad, I guess!
Food Breakfast: I ate breakfast in the Windjammer informal dining area on deck 11 aft. I tried to find a seat with some of my GGC friends and enjoyed their company during breakfast. Breakfast consisted of eggs, bacon, and sausage for me, though there were many choices available including custom made omelets, French toast, pancakes, poached eggs, fruits, cereals and sweet rolls. Coffee and juice was provided by the wait staff, which I think is a nice touch.
Lunch: I usually skipped lunch, availing myself of a slice of pizza, cookies and coffee on the grand atrium deck after 3PM. I did have lunch one day in the Windjammer and the food was fine and tasty for me. The lemonade was great!
Dinner: My group booked a late sitting dinner, which was seated nightly at 8:30 PM along with the rest of the GGC group. I thought the food was great all week and the service was excellent. I did enjoy the lobster tails on this cruise as I missed them on my prior RCCL cruise due to illness. Our waiter was right on the money with our orders. Again the service was great! The soups were not as salty as on prior cruises and I enjoyed the yummy desserts nightly. Now I need to get back on my weight loss regimen.
GGC Group Traveling with this group has been a wonderful experience. Since many of us have cruised together in the past, we are friends just waiting to see each other again. Yes, there were some first timers, as there always are. I would like to mention Mary Foster. She has been named Queen of the GGC's after having been on all ten of them. George Leppla did commend her on her support of the GGC concept and was given a well deserved gift. Mary is a fine lady and how she keeps up her stamina is beyond me. On the first day of the cruise, it is all hugs, kisses and handshakes as we meet old friends once again. What a wonderful way to start a cruise vacation. I hope the GGC concept lives on as it did on the Mercury in 1998.
Summary This was a great trip aboard a great cruise line that, in my opinion, really cares for its passengers. Yes, they do try to dollar you to death with the high prices on tours, pictures and liquor, but I suppose that is the way to go in a capitalistic economy. Every employee I passed in the hallway, elevator or anywhere else on the ship had a smile for you. That is the way it should be. I have been on cruises on other lines, where everyone looked grumpy and never made eye contact. RCCL employees try to make your cruise experience a memory that you cannot forget. The AOS is no exception to that rule. I will never forget this cruise and the fond memories of the ship, ports of call and fellow GGC'rs that I will keep in my back pocket for the rest of my life. Thanks George and Becca for making this all possible. I can't wait for my next one.