We've been to St. Thomas many times, but today is the first time I can
recall being one of only two ships here-Explorer of the Seas and Carnival Triumph.
Mind you, between these two ships, passengers and crew total more than 8,000
people being dropped on this little island for the day.
St. Thomas is normally one of the Caribbean's busiest ports, offering a
diverse cross-section of tour activities, including party boats, snorkeling
tours, and beach tours to St. John or local beaches like Magens Bay or
Sapphire Beach. And of course, St. Thomas is well known as a Caribbean
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For Mrs. Kuki and me, this cruise is developing into a relaxation week. We
have nothing strenuous planned, and are just taking things as they
come-mainly because of the fairly active cruise we were on last week, and
the fact that we've been to many of these ports before.
This is one thing that makes cruising such a terrific vacation: Those who
want to keep busy and run from one activity to another can do so easily,
while those who want to de-stress and just laze by the pool can do that as
well. And Explorer of the Seas, more than many other ships, offers plenty of
that something-for-everyone scenario.
We slept in a bit, and after a nice room service breakfast, casually walked
off the ship. We hopped into a taxi and paid $3 per person for a ride to
downtown Charlotte Amalie. We trekked along familiar streets, visiting many
of our favorite shops. Bargaining with the shopkeepers for better prices was
easy this trip, because there was nothing we were really looking for--we
were doing it for entertainment value, just to see how low they would go. Sure
enough, this got me into trouble when one of the shopkeepers accepted my
"bargain basement" final offer.
We returned to the ship for a late lunch at the Johnny Rockets diner. As
Canadians, we've never been to any of the chain's land-based restaurants.
All I can say is, GREAT onion rings!!!! The hamburgers, fries and malts were
pretty good too, but the onion rings really stand out. All the food is
included here, but you pay for the malts, shakes, sodas, and even iced tea.
I understand the extra charge for the drinks, but the charge for the iced tea
seemed a bit bizarre.
Last week on Carnival's Triumph, we felt the programming variety on the
in-cabin TV was very limited, with a couple of free movie channels and two
network channels. When we boarded the Explorer and checked the in-cabin TV,
we were pleased to see a broad selection of channels. However, to this point
in the cruise, satellite reception has been very poor, and the availability
of all the offerings on "RC TV" has been limited to only a few hours.
On the other hand, for anyone traveling with a laptop computer, RCI offers
unlimited Internet access from passenger cabins at a rate of $100 for the
entire cruise. This program, called "Cyber Cabin," involves a hook-up
procedure so simple even I could follow the instructions. While it's a
dial-up connection, not as fast as DSL or cable modems, it has worked very
well, and saves dragging a really long cable behind the ship.
Click for Pic Portofinos
Tonight Mrs. Kuki and I dined at Portofinos, the alternate restaurant, which
carries a $20 per person surcharge. The food and service were good, but I
honestly didn't see much difference from the dining room. There was possibly
a slight difference in food quality, but the staff in Portofinos couldn't
match our regular dining room servers. One thing I found oddly bizarre: On
RCI, sodas are free in the dining room, yet in Portofinos, after paying the
extra service charge, I had to pay bar prices for sodas. Not that the $1.73
is an issue, but I thought it rather cheapened the experience.
After dinner, we attended the Newlywed/Not So Newlywed Game. Maybe they
should change the rules of how couples are chosen to participate. A random
selection was made from volunteers, and that turned out to be a HUGE
mistake, in my mind. Couples were asked to demonstrate their enthusiasm to
participate, and one couple jumped on stage and performed simulated sex.
Amazingly, they were chosen to play the game. As you might expect, their
"performance" went downhill from there, in terms of taste.
I'm hardly a prude, and have had my own taste in jokes questioned many
times. But at least I didn't tell them on stage aboard a family-oriented ship.
Following this game, we checked out a Toga Party on Lido Deck. It was pretty
well attended, with many passengers donning their togas and having fun. Mrs.
Kuki isn't a toga kind of gal, so we were dressed in street clothes.
I returned to the cabin, and found our Cruise Compass saying Day 5. Oh no!
We're approaching the last couple of days of an outstanding vacation, and I
still haven't climbed the ship's climbing wall, though I've had Mrs. Kuki
climbing the walls a few times.
Day 5 on Explorer of the Seas
Kuki dodges the climbing wall again and meets the captain
This morning Mrs. Kuki and I had to stop by the Purser's desk, where I was
tempted by a sign on the counter offering present guests an extra week
onboard for as little as $450.
I started to think how I could make this possible. Alas, I've been gone
more than two weeks already. The thought of my children at home, and the image
of steam coming out my business partner's ears when I called to say I'd be
staying another week, quashed any hope of accepting RCI's offer.
Before we could get off the ship today in San Juan, each passenger had to
show a photo ID as well as their cruise card. I thought the process might
make disembarkation an ordeal, but things went very quickly.
Mrs. Kuki and I went for a walk through Old San Juan, and visited Josef
Mancini's, our favorite jewelry shop in the Caribbean. This shop also
features a gallery of work by artist Frank Meisler. We weren't buying
today, but the gallery is always worth a visit to see the distinctive works of
After a few hours we returned to the ship, where we were required to show
our ID and boarding card at four security checkpoints, and then once again at
the gangway. To me, this demonstrated that the cruise lines and ports are very
serious about improved security.
I had been psyching myself up all morning to attempt the rock climbing
wall today. As I made my way up to Deck 12 to give the safety harness it's most
severe test to date, the sky opened up in a torrential downpour. Surely
this was a signal from the gods. My daredevil act challenging the law of
gravity will have to wait for another day. Instead, I did something that comes
much more naturally for me: I took an afternoon nap.
This evening we've been invited to dine with Captain Ole Gronhaug. We
happily accepted, not only for the honor of dining with the master of the vessel,
but also for the chance to talk to other human beings during dinner.
Captain Gronhaug was a gracious host, making a special effort to greet and
talk directly to each person at the table. He reminded me of my favorite
Captain, Captain Bang. They seem to share the same delightful sense of
humor. Captain Gronhaug has a warm smile and a devilish sparkle in his eyes when
he jokes around.
I was especially pleased to see that our regular waitress, Kinga, and her
assistant Vincente were the servers for the Captain's Table. It was fun to
keep up the teasing I had been aiming at Kinga all week, even though we
were at the Captain's table. I did make a point of sharing my high opinion of
Kinga and Vincente with Captain Gronhaug. Hopefully telling "the boss"
directly works even better than filling out the comment cards.
In a nice gesture from the Captain, we received an autographed souvenir
menu and group picture even before we left the table. I'm sure he was equally
delighted when I gave him a CruiseMates/FOK (Friends of Kuki) T- shirt.
In the next day or two, I'm going to get the opportunity to sit down for a
short private chat with Captain Gronhaug, which I'll of course make public
if I get any juicy stories out of him.
After dinner we met our four "regular" tablemates for drinks. They were
thinking about taking advantage of the great rates for next week's cruise,
and wanted to ask me some questions. The story of these four ladies is
amazingly sad and yet touching, and I hope to share it with you in a
separate article a bit later.