Cruisin' with Friends -- Aruba, Curacao, St. MaartenAuthor: Jacqueline Didier
Date of Trip: March 2006
As a background, our group (which averages 18-20) has been cruising together for several years. For me personally, this was my seventh cruise--my fifth with Royal Caribbean. We usually book our trips with All Aboard Cruises out of Miami; we have had good luck with them and recommend them highly. This cruise was aboard RCCL's Adventure of the Seas out of San Juan on March 26, 2006 with stops in Aruba, Curacao, St.Maartin and St. Thomas. Without question, eveyone in our group agreed it was the best one yet.
This was the first time we did not book our flights through the cruiseline. In the past we would arrive on the sailing date and were usually frazzled and exhausted by the time we finally got on board. For this trip we booked our own flights and hotel, coming into San Jan the day before sailing, with www.hotels.com and were very pleased with the price and the flights. The hotel (Best Western Pierre) was just okay -- the location wasn't that good and the beds were too firm to be comfortable. It was clean though, the continental breakfast in the morning by the pool was very good. The staff at the desk was very helpful when my husband and I were given a smoking room when we had requested non-smoking. They moved us immediately and gave us an upgraded room. We found a couple of pretty good restaurants within walking distance, but as I said, the location was not in a good area of San Juan.
Before boarding the ship, our group booked a small bus on our own and took a tour of the Bacardi factory. The cost was pretty reasonable and they took us directly to the pier after the tour. The factory tour was fun and interesting, and after a couple of free drinks we boarded ship in a very happy mood. If you can make the time, this tour is a must-do in San Juan.
As I said, this was our seventh cruise, but arriving at the dock we were awestruck at the size of this ship. Boarding was very easy with Royal Caribbean's Sea Pass which you can complete on line. We were on board within an hour. A word to the wise -- they have a duty-free shop in the terminal where you can buy liquor at a reasonable price. Do not carry your purchase in plain sight when boarding the ship. We did and it was confiscated. Others who put it in their carry-ons had no problem at all. My husband went down later with the intention of returning it since we didn't want to carry it home, but the store put it in a bag and he was able to bring it on board that way.
The best word I can think of to describe the Adventure of the Seas would be magnificent. This is without a doubt, the most beautiful ship I've ever seen and spotless from top to bottom. It is huge (over 3,000 passengers and crew), but not once did we feel crowded. Even the days at sea there was not much problem with the usual "chair hogs" at the pool. Even though there were a few as there is on every cruise, we never had a problem finding a place to sit. At the center of the ship is the "Main Street" with shops, bars, pubs, customer service areas, and everything kinds of feeds off it. All areas are well-marked and easy to find. I never had a problem finding our room which says a lot for me! Everyone in our group had a balcony cabin and I'll never cruise any other way again. We enjoyed the openess, the views, the fresh air, and having room-service coffee there every morning. A word about room service - it was wonderful. They bring your order on time and even call before coming to your room. We also sat outside long into the night enjoying the ocean and if you've never seen the night sky from the middle of the Caribbean, you've missed a gorgeous sight.
Aruba was our first stop. I'm glad to have finally seen the island but even though the resort areas were very pretty, I don't know if I'd want to dedicate a whole trip to going there. The downtown shopping area was a little disappointing, but we went to Carlos and Charlies for lunch and had a great time. Since we were a large group we were fair game for the antics of the staff with hillarious results. The place is mobbed at night, but at lunctime they had the staff available and the time to keep us royally entertained. Don't miss this place. We took the sunset cattamaran cruise which was one of the ship's excursions and would highly recommend this. They served REAL drinks - not the usual awful rum punch and they kept them coming. I don't remember actually seeing much of the sunset because we were on the opposite side of the boat watching the "moon-rise" courtesy of some kids on the beach who followed us along the shore for quite a while providing entertainment. We had a blast!
Next stop Curacao, a truly pretty little island. There's not much to do there, but the beaches are okay and the shopping is better than on Aruba. You have to take a ferry to get to the town from where the ship is docked, and it's a nice walk along the shoreline (long but nice)to get to it. The houses and shops there are all painted in pastel colors with a real European feel to the place. We weren't expecting much from this stop but were pleasantly surprised.
We had another day at sea (there were 2 on this trip) and then stopped at St. Maarten. They've made a lot of improvements to the dock and downtown area there and the shopping is the best in the Caribbean in our opinion. We got great deals on watches and jewelry and they were very willing to bargain at Diamonds International and Kays. We enjoyed our day there very much.
Last stop (insert heavy sigh here) was St. Thomas. Some of us took the ferry to St. John and we're so glad we did. We took the island tour and if you want to spend a few hours just gazing at beautiful, undeveloped national parkland you'll love this tour. The mountain views contrasting green wooded hills, white beaches and sapphire water with other islands in the distance was just breathtaking and we got some awesome pictures. Others in our group went shopping, snorkeling, or hit the beaches and felt that St. Maartin offered more than St. Thomas in these areas.
Disembarking in San Juan was very easy this time. Our flights were with American Airlines and for $10 a person, they picked up our bags at the terminal and took them directly to the airport for us. While there was some confustion with RCL staff on how this works, it was well worth it I think. San Juan airport, or at least the terminal where American Airlines is located, has vastly improved since our last visit there two years ago. Security was quick and efficient, and there were shops and plenty of places to eat.
All in all, this was just a great trip. We were disappointed with the service and other aspects of the cruise with RCL two years ago, but felt this one was more up to RCL standards and what we've come to expect from this cruiseline. We're looking forward to our next trip with them next year.
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