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Just Back AOS Aruba 9/10-9/17

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Just got back from our cruise on the AOS Aruba itinerary. We had a wonderful time. I'll try to give a short review.

 

Flew into San Juan and grabbed a taxi to the Pan American pier. I don't recall the exact cab fare but I believe it was in the $20 range for two of us with 3 bags. Took about 15 minutes from the airport to the pier.

 

Embarkation: Quick and easy. We were on the ship by 1:15 PM but we could not access our cabin until 2:00 PM. They have the hallways blocked off until that time. We used the extra time to get something to eat at the Windjammer and explore the ship a little bit.

 

The Crew: Outstanding! I didn't see a single crew member that wasn't smiling and ready to answer any question or handle any problem in a professional manner. Excellent job by the crew.

 

Aft Cabin 7390: Not my favorite cabin. The aft balcony is large but the view is obstructed, lacks a breeze while under way, and IMO is too close to the crew areas at the rear of the ship. The crew area is brightly lit at night so that made our balcony very bright also. At night it was impossible to see the stars and when the crew were out in their area it got quite loud. I also found it to be a bit of a hike to the closest elevators at midship. The rear of the ship could really use some elevators or stairways. (there are some but they are restricted to crew only). All in all not my favorite cabin but it certainly didn't ruin the cruise. I think next time we would choose a JS or standard balcony closer to midship. Pictures of the balcony can be seen here:

http://home.comcast.net/~dave.williams5/wsb/html/view.cgi-home.html-.html

 

Pool areas: Very nice! good layout, no problems with chair hogs. I found the best time to go for a swim was in the morning. More than once I had the whole pool to myself. I liked the Solarium pool area. We met some interesting folks there. One in particular was an older Puerto Rican gentleman named Angel. We were sitting around the pool area talking with our tablemates when Angel struck up a conversation with us. Angel is a professor at American University in Puerto Rico, has been on 32 cruises, and is quite a character. He had us laughing all afternoon. Being a professor, Angel couldn't help but tutor us in the finer points of watching the ladies and drinking beer. I've always said you meet the most interesting people on cruises. This cruise was no exception.

 

Dining: We had early seating in the Strauss dining room and it was absolutely a pleasure to dine there. Our waiters and food were impeccable. Top notch! The waitstaff know their jobs and they do it well. We also were fortunate enough to have wonderful tables mates (who also happened to be cruise critic members). John, Tammie, Mike, and Nadene: It was a pleasure meeting you folks. Your company made this cruise truly memorable.

 

IMO, food in the Windjammer could have used a little more variety. I think Carnival does slightly better in that department but we certainly didn't starve on this cruise either. The small deli on deck 5 made wonderful pizza and sandwiches. Room service was always good and was always prompt. Didn't eat at Portofinos. Didn't see the point in paying for food when the food and service in the dining room were so good.

 

Entertainment: The ship had something for everyone. Shows were good. We did leave the show "The Velvet Rope" a little early because we were so tired and it wasn't quite to our tastes. The other shows were quite good. We got to see the Coaster, a Beatles tribute band, the ice show, watched karaoke, saw numerous lounge acts and danced like teenagers at the big dance party. Certainly there is plenty for anyones tastes on the ship.

 

The ship in general: Make sure you check out the extensive art collection all over the ship. It is a multimillion dollar collection that is worth noting. Also make sure you go outside on deck #4, go all the way foward, and up the unmarked stairs. This will bring you out to the very bow of the ship on the helipad. Its unlit at night and is the perfect romantic spot for a little wine and stargazing with your significant other.

 

Ports of call: Aruba - We did the jolly pirate excursion that we booked independently. We had a great time sailing, snorkeling, eating drinking, and swing off the rope swing. Went diving at the old sunken tug boat wreck. Very nice! Saw lots of fish, an 8 foot shark, and beautiful undersea life. The water was a bit choppy. Make sure you wear a life vest at the wreck unless you are a strong swimmer. Not sure I liked the rest of Aruba. Went into a casino later in the evening but left shortly after because it was a bit dumpy. Most of the shops near the port were closed by 6 Pm so we went back to the ship early in the evening. Just a note about the taxi drivers in Aruba. We were asked by the cabbies at the gangway if we wanted a tour. We said no we just wanted to take a cab over to where we were to get the Jolly Pirate excursion. The cabbie sent us walking down the pier towards town to get a cab as he said he only did tours. Some security personel turned us around and sent us back to the ship. They got on their radios and read the riot act to the cabbie at the pier. Apparently the cabbies only want to give tours and not just give short cab rides. Thats against the rules. The cab driver was told by port security that he had to give us a ride. I guess he wasn't too happy about that as he seemed to drive 100 miles an hour through the streets with a big chip on his shoulder. Oh well, we made there in one piece. It was a bit of an adventure.

 

Curacao: We grabbed a tour at the gangway and had a nice tour of the area. Stopped at the Curacao liquor factory, learned some local history and generally had a nice informative tour from a personable tour guide. We then went to KonTiki Beach for the rest of the afternoon. Had a nice time exploring etc. One note about Kontiki Beach. The beach is nice but the snorkeling right there isn't very good. I'd leave the snorkel gear on the ship if you are headed to KonTiki.

 

ST. Maarten: We have been to St Maarten a couple of times and have gone to Orient Beach. This time we opted to grab a cab to Dawn Beach. It was very nice. The surf was up, water was perfect, snorkeling was good, beach was uncrowded, and beer was only 75 cents each.

 

St. Thomas: My favorite port of call. We shared a cab to Red Hook with our tablemates John and Tammie, grabbed the ferry to St Johns, grabbed another cab to Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay. Absolutely perfect! We were the only people at Cinnamon bay. Beach was wonderful, snorkeling was good. Snorkeling at Trunk Bay was awesome and the facilities for changing, showering, and grabbing a bite to eat were very much welcomed. Had quite the experience with wildlife on St Johns. I opted to take a hike across the road to the old sugar factory at Cinnamon Bay to do a little Geocaching ( http://www.geocaching.com/ ). During my hike I came face to face with a very large tarantula, got eaten alive by blood sucking biting insects, discovered some very old Dutch graves tucked away in the rain forest, found a much needed functioning Coke machine at the closed campground, saw a couple of Mongoose chasing each other around, and had an up close and personel visit with a 3 foot Iguana. Very cool! I like that kind of stuff. BTW, for those familiar with GeoCaching, I did find the hidden treasure. All in all, a perfect day. Wonderful scenery, great traveling companions, and perfect tropical beaches. What more could a person ask for.

 

Disembarkation: No problems at all. Quick and easy. Grabbed a cab to the airport for our 14 hour trip home. Don't get me started about the gorillas handling the luggage at our layover in Philly. Watched them unloading our plane. Kinda like watching sausage being made. Probably not something you want to watch. Glad those weren't my $1000 golf clubs they were tossing around like sacks of potatoes. ScottyDogs luggage was badly damaged, mine had been opened but no note from the TSA was inside. Pointed this out to the airline rep at our final destination. She gruffly told me to file a complaint online with the TSA when I got home and then briskly walked away. ScottyDog filed a claim for her luggage damage but it sounds like it might be more hassle than its worth to follow up on. Ahhhh.... The joys of modern air travel.

 

All in all we had a wonderful cruise. Met some really great folks. Sure there were a couple of things that were not 100% but it certainly didn't ruin the cruise. I'd give this cruise 2 thumbs up.

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Had an awesome time as well. Slightly different excursions - putting a review together, but it probably won't get up on the board for a while.

 

The island portions of my review:

 

Aruba

 

We were off the ship by 9am. DH and I were doing the ATV Mania tour, 2 of our friends were taking the Island and Butterfly Farm tour, and 2 were just walking around town. Both tours were excellent and everyone had a good time. After the tours, we wandered around town for a bit, and bought a few things. For those of you looking for diving supplies, Red Sail is right on the corner of the duty-free area coming off the ship. If you’re looking for a men’s dress shirt and tie, forget it, there are none to be had.

 

We went to Carlos ‘N Charlie’s for dinner and a margarita by the yard (between $12-15 depending on what you order, vs. the $25 at Sr. Frog’s in Grand Cayman), and then 4 of us headed for the Pub Crawl. Originally Carlos ‘N Charlies was the last stop on the crawl, but it has been removed. We went to 4 local/tourist bars. The driver and guide were a lot of fun, but I still think we should have stayed at C&C. We all made it back to the ship by 12:30.

 

Curacao

 

None of the excursions at Curacao appealed to any of the group, so we decided to just wander the town and shop. We strolled around for a couple of hours and then went back to the ship to relax and enjoy the pool. Curacao is picturesque from a distance, and we took a few very nice photos.

 

St. Maarten

 

We booked a tour with Joyce Prince for the day. She took the 6 of us around the island in her SUV, and basically let us choose where to go, when we wanted to stop, and gave us ideas on where to eat and what to see. We shopped a bit in Phillipsburg, drove to Marigot, and had lunch in view of the old fort. We spend the last hour at Orient Beach, and she brought us back to the beach. Joyce was very prompt, personable, and knowledgeable about the island. We thoroughly enjoyed our day with her.

 

St. Thomas

 

4 of us took the Buck Island Snorkeling Tour. We went out in a mid-sized sailboat (the Jolly Mon) with only the captain and first mate (a husband and wife team named Gary and Gayle). Each boat holds a maximum of 6 guests, so you get a semi-private tour. We sailed for about 40 minutes to Buck Island, and then jumped in to snorkel around. Gayle was in the water with us, pointing out fish, types of coral, the wrecked ship, and a couple of octopus. After an hour of snorkeling, we got back on the boat and had some snacks and liquid refreshment. This was one of the best excursions that we have ever taken from a cruise ship. I’m not sure why there were not many people signed up for it – maybe they didn’t notice that only 6 passengers would be on each boat.

 

After snorkeling, we went back to the ship to shower and then walked around Charlotte Amalie. We were the only ship in port, and the taxi drivers were thick on the ground. They are quite annoying in their attempts to drum up business – to the point that as we were leaving our taxi into town, another driver was asking us if we needed a taxi. We ate lunch at a place called the Greenhouse. 2 for 1 coladas and college football on the big screens, all served up with fresh seafood for a reasonable price.

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Hey SeaScout - we went through Philly too on the 12:30 US Air Sunday flight. We just got our luggage back late last night. We had an interesting extra 1 1/2 hours sitting on the ground waiting for our luggage to be loaded onto our plane to Cincy (no ground crew available). On the other side of the plane, a couple of baggage crew members were "hanging out". One was actually taking a nap on the loading belt. When the gate agent went out to ask them to load the luggage on our plane they told her that they weren't assigned to our gate. Finally the pilot got out of the plane and loaded the luggage.

 

Our bags gathered some serious frequent flyer miles, going to Boston, then Columbus, then I think Cincy - and then being driven to our home, about 15 miles from the Columbus airport....

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