Transatlantic Cruise Review & Port Guide
ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS
San Juan to Malaga, April 15-28, 2012
This was my first cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship, and it exceeded
my expectations in every respect: ship, crew, activities, dining,
price, and ports of call. I will describe each of them in that
SHIP: The Adventure of the Seas was
built in 2001, which makes it almost middle-aged by current cruise
industry standards (seems young to me). It is well-maintained, and
other than a few fogged windows (in the aft buffet) age is not an
It is 137,000 tons (three times the volume of the Titanic but
smaller than its newer sister ships) and carries 3,000 passengers
and 1,000 crew. It is the largest cruise ship that I have traveled
on so far. I was afraid that the large size would create crowds and
waiting lines, but that was never a problem. The ice skating rink
(yes, ice rink) blocked through-traffic on decks two and three, and
shoppers sometimes slowed traffic on the deck five mall, but the
other decks never seemed crowded.
The large size of the ship allows for a greater variety of sports
and entertainment venues than on smaller ships. I was surprised that
I never had to wait to participate in sports activities and always
found a seat at entertainment (and enrichment) events. The decor of
the ship is stylish with a few whimsical touches. The stairwell art
works are especially enjoyable. If you have a chance, take the free
art tour given by a crew member several times during the cruise.
At about 153 sq. ft., my inside cabin was a bit smaller than I am
used to, but it was well-designed and very functional. Only the
CRT-type TV seemed dated. The climate control worked very well, and
there always was enough fresh air at whatever temperature I wanted.
The bathroom was snug, but the shower had great water pressure and
the circular enclosure worked much better than the usual shower
curtain. I was pleased with my inside cabin. I did not have an
opportunity to view other cabin categories and cannot comment on
For a look at the ship inside and out, a link to my photos is given
at the end of this review. Photos of the ship are better than any
CREW: All of the crew
members were well-trained and thoroughly professional, from the
cruise director (Abel, a charming polyglot from Switzerland) to the
numerous people who worked behind the scenes keeping everything
shipshape. I was impressed that the crew were very responsive to
requests. When my shower backed up and later when my ceiling light
flickered, the maintenance crew had each of them fixed within an
hour. When I noted that the spa schedule was heavy on fee- and light
on free-activities, the spa staff responded by adding a free stretch
class every morning (try it, you will be amazed how enjoyable it
The entertainment crew also did a great job. The singers and dancers
were very talented, and the ice skaters were world class. The
activities crew made certain that guests felt welcome to participate
in (or simply watch) the numerous events they offered. They were
always very polite and friendly, which is not easy when one loses an
hour of sleep almost every night on an eastbound itinerary.
My dining crew (I had open seating) were always first rate, and they
always seemed to know my drink preferences even though I rotated
tables and dined at various times. My cabin steward Joel also did a
fine job. My cabin was always immaculate, and he greeted me by name
and helped me practice my Spanish (for my trip through southern
Spain that followed the cruise).
Transatlantic cruises tend to attract an older and often better
educated crowd with fewer children than shorter regional cruises,
and that was the case on this cruise. Since the passengers on this
itinerary were about a quarter North American, a quarter Hispanic, a
quarter German, and the remaining quarter other European and Asian,
one had a chance to experience a broad variety of backgrounds, world
views, and languages (although most passengers also spoke English).
Meeting them was one of the pleasures of open dining. Surprisingly
few passengers smoked, and smoking was not an issue since it was
limited to only a few areas. As on most ships, smoking was not
allowed in the dining rooms and most other public areas.
ACTIVITIES: The ice
rink was a surprising pleasure. The ice shows were infrequent but
impressive, with the cast of ten skating at a world class level.
This will be your best chance to see (up close and personal) how
athletic an ice show really is. Obtain your free tickets the day you
board, and go early since it is open seating.
The gym was adequate in size and equipment, but its open floor plan
with a central whirlpool made it a bit noisy. Bring earplugs or
headphones when you head for the gym. I carry earplugs to all cruise
ship venues because of my personal bias against the muzak and
over-amplified entertainment on almost all cruise lines, especially
on the pool deck where one wants to relax. The sports deck offered a
wide variety of activities. The rock climbing wall on the back of
the smokestack was much more fun than I had expected. Make sure you
give it a try. It is exhilarating, and easier than you think.
On warm days the pool area was very busy, and as usual on cruise
ships some people saved their deck chairs in advance, in spite of
signs to the contrary. While it was warm in the Caribbean and
western Atlantic, the eastern Atlantic was windy and very cool for
April -- good for deck walks but not for sunning or swimming.
The jogging/walking track on the top deck was often busy and
sometimes very windy, but the deck 4 promenade area under the
lifeboats was more protected and never crowded. By climbing stairs
up to deck 5 in the bow and then back down to deck 4 one could
encircle the entire ship. The balcony "bulge" midship gives
beautiful sea views on these walks.
The library had a relatively modest selection of books that often
appeared to come from remaindered titles. You might want to bring
some of your own reading material. The library had open shelves and
was run on the honor system, which was convenient.
Enrichment lectures were relatively lightly attended for a
transatlantic crossing, but the three speakers were all entertaining
and enthusiastic. Most lectures related to the next port of call or
to our final destination (Spain), which was a plus.
Some passengers were disappointed in the speed of the internet
connection while mid-ocean (especially since it is billed per
minute), but I did not have a problem since I only used it when we
were in or near a port (public libraries in ports often have free
internet, just ask locally). Wi-fi users seemed to like the outdoor
tiled alcove near the solarium pool for a good connection.
CROWN & ANCHOR: A nice
perk of my diamond Crown and Anchor status on RCI (based on
reciprocity with my Captain's Club status on Celebrity) was 20
minutes of free internet usage.
When you book a cruise with RCI and join their Crown and Anchor
frequent-cruiser program, ask them to check your Celebrity account
too, to see if you already qualify for RCI elite status. In addition
to the internet credit, I received a free 8x10 photo of myself (the
professional photographers were very good, and very polite), and I
received coupons for reduced prices in several venues including
laundry service. Perhaps the nicest perk was a daily pre-dinner
cocktail hour in the Imperial Lounge with free wine and soda for
diamond and higher Crown and Anchor categories.
preferences are subjective, but the following suggestions may be
useful to you. The breakfast and lunch buffets (in the Windjammer)
had both steam table and cold offerings. On every cruise line the
former tend to be over-cooked, and so I tend to opt for the latter.
The fresh fruit and crisp bacon at breakfast were excellent, and a
wide variety of salads was available at lunch (although the main
dining room salad bar was even better on sea days). Remember that
the hand gels at the buffet entry are good for bacteria, but hand
washing with soap and water is even better for viruses like the
notorious Norovirus. It is just as important to wash your hands
after using serving tongs as it is before entering the buffet. A
nice bonus to hand washing is the beautiful view from the restrooms
near the buffet entrance (they each have a glass wall overlooking
All but one of the twenty meals I had in the main dining room, both
lunches and dinners, exceeded my expectations (a great record, I
think). The menu is not quite as inventive and the presentation is
not quite as elegant as on premium or luxury cruise ships, but I did
not expect it to be. However, the quality of the ingredients and
their preparation were always first rate. At lunch on sea days, when
the main dining room is open, you must try the chef's salad bar. It
is the best I have had anywhere, on land or sea. Just make sure that
your serving person is not too generous with the salad dressing.
Main courses and desserts are offered in addition to the salad bar,
but the salads are so large that you may not want anything more.
At dinner the beef was always top quality prime rib or tenderloin (I
did not try the off-menu sirloin and cannot evaluate it). Only once
was the prime rib well done, rather than the rare that I ordered. At
my request they even grilled the filet mignon extra rare, which few
ship galleys are willing to do. The seafood (various white fish,
shrimp, scallops) was always cooked to perfection, and except for
the off-menu salmon, the seafood was never dry or overdone. The
seafood was so good that I often ordered it.
There was no rack of lamb, but the lamb shank was tender and
flavorful. There was a variety of poultry and pork, which I did not
sample since I have that often enough at home.
I had a dinner salad (the Caesar) only once, and it had wilted under
its dressing. At dinner it may be best to order salad with the
dressing on the side. I did not try the soups, although my
tablemates enjoyed them.
Desserts at dinner and during the afternoon in the buffet were
usually American style, with an emphasis on cakes, puddings, pies,
and ice cream. Classic French desserts were less frequent, and
chocolate desserts were not as flavorful as one would like.
I opted for My Time (open) dining with pre-paid gratuities. I had
multiple different servers and assistants, and all were excellent.
Unfortunately there is currently no system to reward them with
additional tips unless you hand each one a cash supplement at the
end of the cruise. I hope some day RCI will be able to computerize
this process from one's shipboard account, since it may involve a
dozen different servers.
I experienced three minor
disappointments with My Time dining:
First, some passengers reserved the same
(usually small) table at the same time for almost every night of the
cruise, essentially locking out others who might also want a table
for two or six. The rest of us usually were seated at long tables
for ten, which made both conversation and service difficult. To be
fair to all passengers, My Time dining should not be My Table
Second, the servers were so generous that they
often brought unordered cheese and fruit plates before presenting
the menus. On one occasion a couple at my table (perhaps they had
previously complained about something) even received two huge Greek
salads, a platter of bruschetta, a cheese plate, and a plate of
petits fours before they placed their orders. This generosity is
done with the best of intentions, but extra food should be on a
request only basis.
Third, rather than seating guests in their order of arrival, my
tables for ten were sometimes partly filled, service commenced, and
then the remainder of the table was filled 15-20 minutes later. This
staggered seating is difficult for both the servers and the earlier
guests, who usually must delay their remaining courses until the
later guests catch up. Open dining works better when a table is
closed to new guests once the first course is served.
PRICE: The good news
is that this eastbound transatlantic cruise was the best value I
have encountered in more than 20 years of cruising. The bad news is
that cruise prices are capacity controlled, and you might not be
able to obtain such a good price for your own transatlantic cruise.
Several months before this cruise, I crossed the Atlantic westbound
on a Celebrity ship. When I wanted to return eastbound on the same
ship, the price was raised $400 for residents of my state (but not
for residents of about 20 other states). Although I could afford the
increase, the geographic discrimination turned me off. Instead I
found this RCI cruise online. It was just as long as, but cost half
as much as, my prior Celebrity cruise (excluding gratuities and port
charges, which are fixed). Even better, I was able to obtain a solo
cabin for only a small surcharge (most cruise lines charge solo
travelers 200%, and sometimes even 300-400% of their standard rate
for couples). My per diem as a solo passenger in an inside double
cabin on this cruise was an astoundingly low 48 USD, before standard
gratuities and port charges. Thank you RCI!
However, when I considered extending my cruise
on the same ship in the Mediterranean, a solo cabin for the extra
one week would have cost more than four times the rate offered to
couples, and more than twice what I paid for the prior two week
transatlantic cruise. Also, when I considered taking the same
transatlantic itinerary westbound on the same Adventure of the Seas
next fall, a solo cabin would have cost three times the rate I paid
for my cruise eastbound. Go figure. The lesson is that there is
sometimes no apparent rhyme or reason to cruise fares. One must
simply stay alert and watch for good values on the internet. I hope
that RCI has another good value in the future, because I would
happily cruise with them again when their solo cabin price is a good
value. (N.B. Shortly after I wrote the above, I booked back to back
Alaska cruises for June on the RCI Radiance of the Seas—not
the fantastic bargain that my transatlantic cruise had been, but a
good value compared with all the other solo cabins on cruise lines
PORTS OF CALL:
I rarely book a tour in any port of call. I much
prefer to explore ports on my own, taking cheap public
transportation and meeting locals along the way. The following
information may help you to do the same on this itinerary.
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO:
Our cruise began in San Juan. San Juan hotels are overpriced,
especially near cruise departure days, so I stayed in a basic and
inexpensive (less than the cab fare from the airport) posada in old
San Juan (Posada San Francisco, on Plaza Colon). There I met several
others going on my cruise, and we shared a taxi to the RCI cruise
terminal in the morning. Old San Juan is a pleasure for strolling.
Make sure you leave enough time to enjoy it, especially the two
historic forts run by the National Park Service (El Morro and San
Cristobal). For free entry to both, remember to bring your national
park pass (Golden Eagle, etc.) from home.
The RCI cruise terminal is across the bay from old San Juan. There
is no bus service nearby and you will need to hire a taxi to get
there. Taxis from the airport to old San Juan are regulated and cost
about $24 (for the entire cab), but taxis from old San Juan to the
cruise terminal may take some negotiating (always agree on the price
in advance, since most taxis are not metered). Boarding begins
around noon. Getting there earlier means you will simply have to
wait in line (outside) longer.
ST. THOMAS, USVI: I
regret to say that this is my least favorite port in the Caribbean.
It is usually overwhelmed with cruise ships, even though the locals
try very hard to accommodate them. In years past we used to take the
small ferry to Water Island to escape the cruise crowds (this is
most convenient if your ship docks at the yacht harbor in Crown
Bay). Unfortunately, local tour operators now bring party barges and
catamarans into the Water Island beach every mid-day, so it is no
longer quiet or pleasant. Magens Bay beach is probably the best
alternative (pay for a taxi to the north shore, then pay for beach
entry). We may simply stay onboard and enjoy the empty ship when our
itineraries take us to St. Thomas in the future.
ST. MAARTEN/ST. MARTIN (DUTCH/FRENCH):
I am a francophile and a francophone, but I must admit that the
Dutch half of this island (where the cruise ships dock) is much
nicer than the French side. The French beaches (including the famous
but unpleasant Orient Beach) are on the windward side, with rough
surf, no free shade, and seaweed and plastic debris in the water and
on the beach. A much better alternative is to walk from the ship
into Phillipsburg along the nice pedestrian walkway. A few blocks
inland from the town waterfront you will find mini-vans heading west
to Mullet Bay Beach (a scenic 20 minute ride for 2 USD). Look for
the Mullet Bay sign in the mini-van window, and remember to greet
the driver and other passengers when you enter. The driver will drop
you a short walk from the beach.
Along the way you will pass the infamous Maho Beach, where jets land
and take off just overhead. This is an awesome event, especially the
late morning arrival of the KLM 747 from Europe (check flight
schedules if you are interested in being blasted by awesome jet
noise). Mullet Bay Beach is far enough beyond Maho Beach that it is
not bothered by the jets. It offers a long strip of pristine white
sand and crystal clear water straight out of a travel poster. On
week day mornings it is almost empty and absolutely glorious. There
is shade, but no changing room, so wear your suit if you do not want
to change under your towel. Vendors there rent chairs and umbrellas,
and they sell snacks and drinks.
SANTA CRUZ, TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS
(SPANISH): The first of the two Canary Islands on
our cruise, Tenerife Island is well-developed and tourist friendly.
Most of its tourists arrive by air from Europe. Most of the beaches
are on the south coast, but the best sightseeing is to the north and
west of the Santa Cruz cruise port. There was a good deal of
construction along the Santa Cruz waterfront (it is being upgraded),
but signs will direct you along a 10 minute walk to the main
waterfront boulevard, where you can catch a local bus (you will need
a few euros for buses, drivers make change) westbound to the large
main bus station ("Estacion" on the front of the bus, or ask the
driver). From there, you can catch a bus (there are several per
hour, I believe #15) to La Laguna, an inland town about 20 minutes
northwest, with a UNESCO World Heritage preserved historic center.
Old La Laguna is wonderful for strolling and is just a 10 minute
walk from the local bus station (or take the modern tram those few
blocks). The local tourism board in the center provides free guided
walks on most days around noon.
There is an old tower in the town center with nice views (it does
not open till 10am), and there is a nice farmers and florists market
a few blocks northeast of the old town. Remember that clean and free
public restrooms are available in the La Laguna bus station and in
the farmers market building.
If you have time and interest, there are frequent buses from La
Laguna to Puerto de la Cruz on the northwest coast, an additional 20
minute ride on the freeway. This is an attractive tourist enclave
with a nice parks and a waterfront walk. The local tourism board has
good maps for self-guided walking tours, and their historic office
on the waterfront has a nice gift shop with local crafts, including
There is no bus station building in Puerto de la Cruz. Instead the
buses all line up along one street located a few blocks above the
waterfront, with street signs giving the destinations and schedules.
There are frequent buses back to Santa Cruz, about a 30 minute ride
on the non-stop (I believe #103) bus.
With your remaining time in Santa Cruz (the cruise port) I suggest
you walk around the Calatrava-designed Auditorium of Tenerife, which
is near the main bus station. It is similar to his famously winged
Milwaukee art museum in the U.S.A. Make sure you look at the painted
rocks along the waterfront near the auditorium. The portraits will
surprise you. See how many you can recognize. From the auditorium it
is a 15 minute walk back toward the center of town to the modern TEA
public library and contemporary art museum. The former is the most
beautiful library I have seen anywhere (and it has free internet).
The latter has temporary exhibitions, some of which are very
enjoyable if you are an art lover, and are relatively inexpensive.
There is a coffee shop between the library and museum, with a
separate entry. Next door to the TEA is the anthropology and natural
history museum, which some recommended but I did not have time to
see. From there it is a 20 minute walk back to the ship. There is
usually a shuttle from the ship to the town center for a few USD,
but it was not operating early enough for me, and the public bus
stop is close to the ship anyway. You will be surprised how
enjoyable Tenerife and La Laguna can be.
ARRECIFE, LANZAROTE, CANARY ISLANDS
(SPANISH): Lanzarote Island is famous for its barren
volcanic landscape, which has been used in some science fiction
movies as an alien planet. Incongruously, one of the most popular
ship tours is a camel ride in the remote volcanic national park.
There are also many things you can do on your own at a fraction of
Cruise ships dock about 2 miles (3 km) east of
Arrecife town. There is a small beach at the port (too cold to swim,
but adequate for sunning on a warm day). Just follow the pedestrian
walkway signs. One can continue on foot to Arrecife, but it is too
far and uninteresting to be worthwhile. Instead of the walkway to
Arrecife, walk 10 minutes straight out of the cruise port to the
main highway (follow the trucks and buses, and use caution because
there is no sidewalk toward the end). On the highway traffic circle
is the Estrella restaurant.
On the side of the highway next to the Estrella restaurant you can
flag the local bus (I believe #3) eastbound to Costa Teguise. It
departs every 20 minutes, takes about 15 minutes, and costs about
1.50 euros (drivers make change). At the end of the line, there is a
condo area with shops and several pleasant beaches (walk through the
mall to get to the beach promenade). Alternately, across the highway
from the Estrella restaurant is the westbound bus (I believe #3)
into Arrecife (10 minutes, about 1.50 euros) and beyond to Playa del
Carmen on the south coast (about 30 minutes more, although I did not
Instead, I changed buses in Arrecife (at the main bus station inland
or at the large outdoor Intercambiador bus stop near the waterfront)
and took the #60 bus for a 60 minute long, 4 euro ride along the
center of the island past the volcanic national park (no access by
public bus) to Playa Blanca on the west coast. This route gives a
scenic view of most of the island, and the beach walk at Playa
Blanca is very pleasant. The #60 bus runs only once every hour (near
the top of the hour) so plan your return to the ship accordingly.
FUNCHAL, MADEIRA ISLAND (PORTUGUESE): Madeira Island has a local bus
system, but most of it is thinly scheduled, for locals going to and
from work. However, there is good bus service (#20 or #21, I
believe) up the mountain behind Funchal to the beautiful vistas and
street sled rides of El Monte. Funchal itself is a beautiful town
with wonderful gardens. A ride up and down from El Monte followed by
a walk through Funchal with visits to the farmers market and several
churches and museums will easily fill your day.
At the cruise port pick up a free map of Funchal. From the cruise
ship it is a scenic 15 minute walk along the yacht harbor and
waterfront to the Praca de Autonomia (Plaza of Autonomy). On the
west side of the plaza, heading uphill along the (usually dry)
riverbed is the bus stop for El Monte. It is a scenic 15 minute ride
up (about 2 euros) to the church (igreja) of El Monte (ask the
driver where to get off). From the church front you can look down
over Funchal and the cruise port. Right below the church is the
starting point for the famous street (basket) sled rides part way
downhill. The bus ride back down was thrilling enough for me, but
just watching the sleds take off is fun. Near the church is a large
public garden, but the entry is 10 euros, and the gardens in town
On the east side of the Praca de Autonomia downtown is the indoor
farmers, fishmen, and florists market. There you will find colorful
photo ops, especially since the florists still wear the island's
traditional red costumes and caps. Walking along the pedestrian zone
west from the market and the Praca de Autonomia you will come to the
historic town center along Avenida Arriaga. There you will find many
cafes, free wi-fi, beautiful blue (in spring) jacaranda trees, and a
wonderful public flower garden. If you head uphill from that flower
garden, you will come to Santa Clara street, which leads up to two
fine museums, a beautiful church (San Pedro) and a nice old convent
Near the top of the street is the Museu Quinta das Cruzes, a fine
old mansion where the last Austrian emperor was exiled after the
war. It is now a museum of decorative arts. In the museum garden is
a nice orchid display. A few blocks below this, also on Santa Clara
street is the Museu Freitas. Half is a modern building with a good
collection of the famous old tiles (azulejos) which one sees in
churches and homes. The other half is the former mansion of Dr.
Freitas. The mansion is particularly impressive because its valuable
art objects are in situ, and not behind glass. To see the Santa
Clara convent you will have to ring the bell next to the gate. If it
is answered, a nun (or employee) will include you in one of their
tours. San Pedro church is near the convent on your way back down to
the town center.
For those who are unable to walk well, I believe Funchal has a hop
on/off bus tour that leaves from the waterfront, but I do not know
the schedule or prices.
MALAGA, SPAIN: Malaga
was founded by Phoenicians, then settled by Romans. It is
surprisingly attractive and enjoyable for a day visit (or preferably
an overnight), and the local tourist offices are friendly and
Torremolinos is a short bus ride west of Malaga, and Nerja (less
crowded and more attractive than Torremolinos) is a 50 minute bus
ride east. Buses to either leave from the bus stop on Avenida
Herredia near the waterfront, which is closer to the town center
than the main bus station. Cruise ships dock about a mile (1.5 km)
from the historic center of Malaga and about two miles (3.0 km) from
the back-to-back train and bus stations. The airport is several
miles west of town, but there are good airport buses every 25
minutes (2 euros) leaving from Alameda Principal, the short
boulevard with florist booths located between the waterfront and the
old town center.
On arrival in Malaga at the end of my cruise I walked off the ship
at 0630 and took a taxi (they are all small, white, and metered)
from the ship to the bus station (about 10 euros plus tip) for my
bus ride to Ronda. I was at the bus station before 0700 and was glad
to have taken the taxi since it started to rain a few minutes later.
I stayed in Malaga for two nights (at the small, central, and very
reasonable Hotel Trebol) after spending two weeks traveling on my
own through Andalusia (Ronda, Sevilla, Cordoba, and Granada).
From Malaga I then took an inexpensive Veuling (Iberia code share)
flight to Barcelona, where I stayed a few more days before flying
back to the U.S.A.
In addition to a side trip to Nerja, I enjoyed Malaga's Picasso
Museum (Malaga was his birthplace) in a restored mansion with a
pleasant garden cafe. While the Barcelona Picasso Museum has mainly
early (adolescent) and late (Las Meninas cycle) works, the Malaga
Picasso Museum has works from his middle years that he kept for
himself and are now on loan from his family.
Near the Picasso Museum is Malaga's large cathedral (with a small
but free art museum in the adjacent historic Episcopal Palace), and
also nearby is Malaga's open Roman amphitheater. The entire downtown
area is a stylish pedestrian zone with nice shops and cafes, which
are especially enjoyable for people watching during the evening
paseo. West of the town center is a photogenic indoor farmers market
(a block from my Hotel Trebol), and north of that is a small but
enjoyable costume and decorative arts museum
All of these sights are listed on the free tourist maps, which are
available from tourist information booths near the waterfront, the
cathedral, the Picasso Museum, and the amphitheater. Like Cartagena
farther up Spain's Mediterranean coast, Malaga is much nicer than
one expects. Malaga is a very enjoyable place to start or end a
My photo links are available at this
photos will then appear (if you get a "stack overload" alert due to
the number of photos, just click on the alert till it closes). Then
click on the "slideshow" option in the upper left. Wiggle your mouse
to access the control panel to set speed, pause, or go back.) You
will be surprised how attractive these ports are.
I hope you find the above information useful. Enjoy my photos and
your next cruise. Bon voyage!
Adventure of the Seas Photo: Courtesy of
Royal Caribbean International