Please read through to the bottom where I have posted the "politically incorrect" comments about cruises departing from San Juan.
We arrived in San Juan 3 days before so we could tour El Yunque national forest and Old San Juan. San Juan has dozens of hotel choices ranging by price. If you check Expedia.com they provide a list of hotels and give you the ability to sort the list by price or by traveler opinion. The latter is the way to go and you'll notice that Hampton Inn is consistently listed in the top 5, and its worth it. The choice of hotel really comes down to life style: some want more from a hotel and some accept less for lower price. Just remember that choosing a hotel is like paying taxes in the United States: you get what you pay for.
From the airport you can take a cab at a defined rate by zones, just ask the driver what it will cost, and also be aware it is posted at the airport by the baggage claim. From your hotel the next morning you can again hail a cab and pay a defined price to the pier. You can ask the front desk for info on cabs and typically cabs hang out at hotels for morning travelers.
Trust me on this one and learn from someone who has been burned in the past. Do not, and I mean DO NOT, and I'm saying you ABSOLUTELY DO NOT take the RCCL transfers and here's why:
1) They pay a local cartage company to transfer your bags FROM the airport TO the pier. Problem 1: Bags are often pilfered due to the locks being cut off. This violates your privacy and trust in them. Cruise lines do nothing to stop this so its YOUR problem, not theirs. Problem 2: Bags arrive at the pier whenever the cartage company truck arrives. On a prior cruise we bought the cruise company transfer and arrived at the pier just before 6:00 PM but our bags didn't arrive at our cabin until nearly midnight. Until they arrived we presumed them to be lost and sought help from the cruise line who gave us a small pouch with a tooth brush, past, and comb: big deal. The bags arrived with locks cut off and contents rifled.
2) RCCL hires local buses to transport you to the pier. The problem is they decide to fill the bus and that means waiting around for passengers to arrive, which can take an hour or more and that delays your transfer to the pier and boarding time. Several years ago on a Celebrity cruise we got off the airplane at 4:00 and didn't make it to the pier until 6:00 PM. After checking in we were late for our 6:00 dinner seating and denied access to the main dining room - because the bus had to fill every seat before departing the airport.
You'll probably spend less on cabs to/from the airport/pier than the RCCL transfers, and you'll arrive when YOU want, not when THEY want you to, and with your bags intact. The lesson is to handle bags yourself to insure their safety and your convenience.
We used Royal Caribbean's online check-in and this is a must because it saves a great deal of time at the pier. Either you fill out personal information (name, address, phone, various data) online yourself or they do it at the pier, which will take at least half an hour. When you arrive at the pier all they need from you at that point is your signed "Set Sail" agreement where you basically agree to pay your ship account, and a swipe of your credit card.
In general the earlier you arrive at the pier the better off you are going to be. If you arrive in morning you will likely have to wait as passengers are still disembarking and RCCL will delay entry. But the line is short that early in the day. Unfortunately, you are going to have to take some initiative and ask about the lines into the terminal. There were 2 lines: the line to the RIGHT was to drop off bags to be handled by RCCL. Meanwhile the line to the LEFT goes into the terminal and first through security. Note that large bags cannot go through their xray machines and must be handled by RCCL. You should hand carry (roll) all other bags to insure their safety and timely arrival on the ship. This insures you'll at least have something.
Cruises start on day "one" which obviously is your first day. But if you arrive at the ship at 6:00 PM you don't have a very long "day one" so the goal would be to arrive as soon as RCCL will allow you to board the ship, which is around 12:00 noon on day one.
Adventure of the Seas is huge. OK, its not in the Oasis class (new ship) but its still huge with lots of features. It's been very tastefully decorated, far more so than Carnival ships, which tend to be gaudy & overbearing. You can find images on the RCCL website. The Royal Promenade is a great place to hang out having shops, bars, and a cafe with pizza & deserts (included in your cruise price). On this cruise we began to notice the ship is getting a bit tired and needs a few weeks in drydock to recondition rails, replace carpets, etc. But its still a great ship.
Most likely you already know the differences between inside cabin, outside with window, outside with balcony, etc. But what you may not know is you are vastly better off with a room towards either bow or stern. Rooms mid ship tend to be burdened by lots of traffic. People pass by those rooms at night, drunk, and conduct themselves like noisy recalcitrant children. But when they get near THEIR cabin they quiet down and behave like an adult (you hope). Midship, having lots of traffic by fact of location, offers little protection from jerks. We chose a room aft for less traffic. Unfortunately there can be misbehaving inconsiderate jerks in any section.
In case you are not aware of this cruise lines offer rooms VERY cheap at the last minute to keep cabins full. Be aware that cruise ships have relatively fixed costs (crew, food, etc) which doesn't change from week to week. Because of this the cruise industry maintains a business plan to fill rooms at almost literally any price and after that they can then make their profit on excursions, booze, and gambling. HOWEVER - keep in mind this is usually only possible for locals, which in the case of Puerto Rico led to noisy, unruly, barbarians (more on this at the end). You ALWAYS want to carefully consider the departure port for this reason.
Food is very good and most people typically eat lunch and breakfast at Windjammers on deck 11. Some choose the dining room instead. Breakfast at Windjammers tends to have some of the same items every day, but with many choices it shouldn't matter because you can't eat everything. Lunch tends to be similar also but they do vary some of the meats, fish, and sides. The deserts change daily and are very good.
The main dining room, which is 3 floors high with each having their own name, is excellent. For us service was very good and the food was great. Waiters work for tips so they highly motivated to please you.
DINING ROOM DRESS:
This is one major flaw in cruises and not due to the Royal Caribbean but rather very lax social standards. Many people don't understand the etiquette of dressing for dinner on cruises.
There are 2 formal nights in which the majority of people actually dress formally. If you are the kind of person who refuses to dress up then I suggest having dinner at Windjammers Cafe on deck 11. Also, if you cannot get to dinner on time you should have dinner at Windjammers Cafe. It's informal and buffet style. When people refuse to dress properly in the dining room they disrespect their fellow passengers. When they refuse to arrive on time they disrespect the dining room staff and make life very difficult for them. If you need a reason why its because waiters typically have 3-4 tables they serve and it works much better if all tables are on the same schedule, which is to say serving starters at all tables, serving main courses at all tables, and not breaking up the rhythm due to diners coming in late, forcing wait staff off their schedule. This affects service at tables where guests did arrive on time.
Other reviewers talk about how bad the beds are and if they are talking about the edge of the bed they are right. But what people forget is the cardinal rule of beds - which is you DO NOT sit on the edge of the bed. In addition you don't sleep on the edge. The beds are large and though the mattress is a bit thin it's not bad in the middle. My wife and I had plenty of room. Unfortunately the mattress was past its prime and I noticed some room attendant had stuffed a bag full of towels or sheets under the bed in the middle to keep it from sagging, another reason the ship is due for maintenance. Still it was adequate (not good but acceptable).
RCCL is pretty chintzy about this and want to make sure you ONLY buy THEIR liquor at their inflated prices.
In ports of call, for the purpose of confiscating liquor under a guise of "security", they x-ray your bags so you are not going to sneak on liquor. If you purchase liquor they WILL confiscate it from you and it they return your liquor to you on the last night of the cruise.
PORTS OF CALL & EXCURSIONS:
Renting a car VERSUS excursions:
It certainly is cheaper to rent a car than go on an island excursion, and this is true for any island. However, you have to consider that first you are driving in the 3rd world and if you are American you take for granted the roads you drive on. If you drive a highway in America there's likely local police who will offer assistance if you pull over with a problem. It is rare to find police on roads in 3rd world countries.
On the other hand if you can manage the roads the advantage of a car rental is you can come and go as you please. And it will cost less. But note that all Caribbean islands heavily push "collision damage waiver" which limits the amount you are responsible for. And worse some require a "deposit" which is island speak meaning a promissory note to pay $500-1000 in case of an accident claim. We purchased an insurance policy through CSA Travel Insurance over the Internet that covered the trip INCLUDING cruise, air, and the collision damage waiver so don't take their coverage - it stinks and is just another way to get money out of you.
Rented a car from Budget Car rental at Havensight Pier, very convenient. HOWEVER, the map provided was virtually worthless and its only purpose was to show where restaurants were, which we didn't use. We parked the car at the pier during lunch time and went back out and drove. Driving is on the left side of road. Avis is across from Havensight pier and had a better map on a prior visit to the island. For that reason I suggest Avis because driving without a map is a waste of time and money.
A very pretty island which has some interesting attractions such has Romney Manor and Brimstone Hill Fortress. Rented a car which actually worked out well, driving is on the LEFT with steering on the RIGHT. Note they require a $24 local license.
Did an offroad excursion through Port Promotions (find them on the Internet) for $84 each which included lunch, it was OK. Interesting sites that could not be seen without an offroad vehicle. Aruba is essentially one big rock.
Nice little town with a Dutch harbor. The bridge moves back and forth for ships passing through in which case it closes. Town has all the usual tourist trap stores.
In general there are tons of excursions offered by Royal Caribbean, but what's not generally known is there are other companies providing excursions. One such and previously mentioned is Port Promotions who we used in the past. They have any number of excursions on many Caribbean islands and are comparable to those provided by the vendors selected by RCCL, and may cost less. BUT - if you choose them you MUST keep track of the time returning to the ship and let your guide know. DO NOT expect them to keep track of ship departure time because they won't. You DO NOT want to arrive late for the ship since it may not still be in port.
This is pretty subjective and depends upon your personal taste so that must be up front. The ice show is fabulous and not to miss and consists of various Olympic skaters from around the world. Get your tickets as soon as they are offered because they go fast. There typically is a musical shows that is 'Broadway' and/or Las Vegas quality. Around the ship there are various other musicians and usually pretty good.
Auctions are held on most cruises lines and on most ships. I've sailed Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Carnival, and Park West Galleries was on all of them. Royal Caribbean has now established their own inhouse auction vendor due to a particularly checkered history of Park West Galleries which is a lightning rod for complaints. Just check any cruise review website and you'll see what I mean.
People leave the ship in groups and you are provided with a group number, which they call for disembarkation. RCCL wants you off the ship as quickly as possible so expect a knock at your door by 7:00 AM. This cruise required us to go through customs which took more time than without a customs inspection.
On this cruise we had a great deal of problems with obnoxious people, and because America's economy is so bad Americans are not sailing. As talked about earlier the cruise industry works on the business model of filling rooms at whatever price needed to get people on board and make money on excursions, booze, and gambling. The problem with that is you get locals who are NOT the classiest people and often are poorly behaved, which sadly was the case on this cruise.
PUERTO RICAN LOCALS:
In the past there has been a limited number of Puerto Rican passengers and typically well behaved and respectful of other passengers. This time was entirely different and it got downright ugly with half or more of passengers being Puerto Rican, it was easy to see a cultural gap that created real problems. This time we noticed they moved in squad and platoon sized groups that made people feel very uncomfortable overwhelming people nearby, and they were completely inconsiderate of others and quite rude like they didn't know how to act in public. Here are some of the problems encountered:
* They played drums and sang loudly in public areas without concern for others (I'm not making this up). * Teenagers were typically unsupervised by parents and unruly. * Many sat on and stood around stairwells blocking them. * Walked into elevators without letting people off first and you were shoved in by a large group who insisted they all get on the elevator. * Very loud in hallways at night, often yelling. * Came into the dining room late, often one hour or more late, disrupting wait staff flow. * Low local fares attracted really lower class people without manners and any concept of how to behave within society. * During disembarkation notice one man repeatedly spoke very loudly of "Gringos" while waiting in line so that Americans could hear him. This was intentional and designed to goad us.
At this point we likely will NOT sail out of San Juan until such time as America's economy improves and cabins are filled with Americans and Europeans. After what Europeans experienced I don't think they'd want to sail out of San Juan again.