There were 3 couples on this trip, all forty-somethings cruising for the first time sans kids. We flew out Thanksgiving night on the red-eye nonstop from Los Angeles to San Juan on American. Given the state of the economy, I think airlines should be improving in flight customer service, not going backwards. Except for the in flight staff, the flight was uneventful.
We stayed at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan. In a word it was excellent!! I had read several reviews of this hotel on the Trip Advisor website, and was concerned about spotty service, but service was uniformly terrific!! I thought I had already gotten on the ship, as every staff member was friendly and said hello with a smile. The one very minor problem I had was taken care of very quickly, and with a smile. The property was lush, well maintained and beautiful. The private beach was wonderful. Enough about the hotel, and onto the ship.
We arrived at the port at noon after sitting in very heavy traffic for about 35 minutes. The largest ship I had cruised on before this was a Princess Grand Class ship, so WOW was this ship huge!! They had just started allowing passengers to board when we got in line, so we went through the check in process and were on board in about 20 minutes -- that was the second fastest I had ever experienced. Once onboard, we were told that cabins would not be available until 2pm, so we headed up to the Windjammer buffet for lunch. We were greeted by Santiago the singing waiter, and went inside. The buffet was a typical buffet, but the food was hot and fresh.
At 2, we went to our cabin, and dropped off our stuff, and we were greeted by our terrific cabin attendant Linda. She kept everything sparkling clean and provided towel animals on several nights. After going to the cabin, I left my wife to do the unpacking, and I went exploring. I was impressed by the variety of activities available, and all of the public spaces. While this ship is seven years old, and did show some wear, it was very clean and well kept, and I saw crew constantly cleaning. The only negative comment I have up to this point is about the lack of hand sanitizer throughout the ship. There was NONE! My wife and one of the other couples started to feel like they had a cold by Friday, and they are still sick almost a week later. After the required muster drill, we went up on deck for sail-away, got our first frosty drink and watched Puerto Rico move off into the distance.
We had late seating dinner, so off we went into the Mozart dining room, and the aforementioned Santiago the singing waiter turned out to be our assistant waiter. He and our waiter Aristides were excellent. Our head waiter Neeraj was also wonderful. This was my 9th cruise, and I don't think I have ever had a better dining room experience. We had six wonderful dinners during the week with them. The reason for only six is that all of us went to the Murder Mystery Dinner on the first formal night. DO NOT MISS THIS! It was kind of corny, but a lot of fun. There was no night that I could not find something that I liked on the dinner menu. Most nights there were at least 2 desserts that I wanted to try and usually did! For those of you wondering, yes there was lobster, but it was on a casual night instead of formal because, according to our head waiter, they were getting too many complaints about stains on formal wear!
Onto the ports -- Aruba: Never left the main shopping area, so I don't have much to say about this one.
Curacao: Here is my one big fat honkin negative complaint. We took the Jewish Heritage Tour, and the supposed tour guide either had never done this tour before, or after she was trained, she just decided to make up facts and figures along the way. I was truly disappointed about this, and when I returned to the ship I complained to the tour desk, and was given a form to fill out. I filled it out and returned it, and after investigation, RCCL refunded the full amount for this tour. The port was beautiful, and I think I could learn to live there.
St Maarten/St. Martin: I think it is a toss up between this port and St. Thomas for the most beautiful. We took the city highlights tour here and really liked the tour guide Marcel and the tour. Did a little shopping here and just like Curacao. I think I could learn to live there.
St Thomas: Did some shopping and tried to go to the synagogue here, but it was the sabbath, and it was locked in the afternoon when we got there. However, we got lucky in that a member of the congregation showed up as we arrived, and allowed us to at least get some great pictures of the harbor and Charlotte Amalie from on the balcony of a house the congregation owns and uses as its banquet hall. Sadly once back aboard, it was time to start packing.
Disembarkation was very slow to begin with, but once it started it took very little time to get to our luggage, and clear customs. After a second lousy flight on AA, we were back in L.A.
The last cruise I took was an Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Pearl, and I thought that the food and service were very good, but after several cruises with choice dining, I forgot just how much I really liked connecting with the wait staff. We were trying to decide whether to take NCL or RCCL for our next cruise, as we had no really big complaints with either. After this cruise, I give the edge to RCCL, as their food and service were just that much better. All in all, this was a great cruise on a great itinerary, and we will cruise RCCL again soon.