The timing of this cruise gave us the opportunity to witness some extraordinary moon rises over the sea --- with a red gold shimmer on the water, which erupted into a perfect full golden Harvest Moon. Our tiny grandsons were mesmerized by it. We were revisiting the Explorer of the Seas on a family reunion. We had sailed on her in October 2000, her Maiden Voyage to the Caribbean. The five Royal Caribbean International (RCI) Voyager Class ships are a destination in themselves, boasting of four deck tall Royal Promenades, which can be a meeting place, shopping mall, the scene of parades, or even the site of the Captain's Welcome Aboard Party.
RCI Voyager Class ships, the Voyager, the Explorer, the Adventure, the Navigator and the Mariner are the BEHEMOTHS of the Seas. They have lengths of 1,020 feet; beams of 157.5 feet; drafts of 29 feet at 138,000 gross tons. Their passenger capacity is 3,114 and carry a crew of 1,200. This voyage, Captain Ole` Johan Gronhaug stated that there were a total of 4,600 souls on board. This is a floating small town!
On board with us this cruise were twoof our sons, Nicolas and Marcello and their wives Laura and Paige respectively and our two grandsons, Nicky and Marcello. Also on board was Mary's sister Elizabeth with her husband Vito and their daughter Rhonda, son-in-law Richie, two grandchildren Michael and Mallory and friend Jamie. The ages represented in our group were from eighteen months to sixty-eight years old. We had babies, teenagers, thirty something, forty and fifty and sixty year olds.
We feel this class of ship best accommodates all ages and we are right: ice skating, in-line skating, golf, basketball, gyms, extravaganza shows, night clubs and more! Since, we have reviewed the Explorer before, here we want to concentrate on the logistics of traveling with family groups.
EMBARKATION Since there are eight of us in the family, we arranged for a limousine to Miami as did Elizabeth with her family. The grandsons require car seats and the limo service was kind enough to store their seats until the next Saturday pick up at the Port of Miami. The one hour ride from Boca Raton to the port was fun for all --- we checked our luggage curb side and proceeded to the Crown & Anchor Society Express Check-in. We were quickly expedited and on our way to the ship with only fifteen minutes "Curb to Cabin." Our cabins were 7600, 7606, and 7608. The proximity to each other was handy during the cruise. We booked this cruise early in order to select these cabins. At the same time, Vincent arranged for a large table for nine at Main Seating (6:00pm) and a table for six at Second Seating (8:30pm). We ate early with Elizabeth's family and returned to our cabin, so we could baby-sit while our sons and their wives could dine elegantly. Elizabeth's family rotated dining at second seating, thus allowing for family gabfests. All cruisers know that the evening meal in the beautiful three tiered dining room is something not to be missed. We checked on the dining arrangements as soon as we boarded. There are two nice alcoves on each side of the entrances to the dining room which, we now feel, should be reserved for large families or groups traveling together. It would enhance the family time on board.
CABIN Our Stateroom 7600 is wheelchair accessible, something Vincent has needed since his double back surgeries have left him partially incapacitated. This cabin has a double wide door and when entering on the left, there is a huge bathroom with safety rails all around and a handy mirrored medicine chest angled in the corner. The shower is 4x4 ft. with both high and low shower heads. Continuing in the room, on the left are a hide-a-bed sofa, an upholstered arm chair and a glass coffee table, which we slid under the desk whenever our grandsons were in the cabin. There are also a T.V., a mini refrigerator, a personal safe and a desk/mirrored vanity. Entering on the right is a long, handy shelf with a mirrored wall, a triple armoire, and a closet with shelves. There is a king size bed with two night stands and reading lamps strategically placed.
The far wall is floor to ceiling windows with a door to the verandah which had two chairs and a small table. In addition, the wonderful cabin steward Roxanne brought a chaise lounge for Vincent, who spends a lot of time on the balcony. This is something that Holland America on our last cruise on the Zuiderdam refused to do. We felt it was unfortunate, especially since the wheelchair accessible cabins have oversized balconies and their occupants would most likely enjoy the added comfort. Roxanne is one of the most competent and pleasant stewards we have ever had. She anticipated our wants. Thanks Roxanne!
The color scheme in this cabin was reminiscent of the Vision of the Seas, a combination of pale blue, dark blue and and lavender with an abundance of light oak wood. It was very restful and comfortable.
THE SHIP Of course, this ship was brand new, when we were last on her, and after two years of carrying almost one half million people, she has been kept sparkling clean and still looks incredibly new. Captain Gronhaug should be proud of the Explorer which is run like a five star hotel.
Deck 2 has Category I Outside Cabins, the Entertainment Complex, the Conference Center, and the main floor of the Palace Theatre, which is simple in decor, but functional with excellent acoustics.
Deck 3 has Category H Outside Cabins and features Studio B, a hi-tech sound stage/skating rink and the Chamber, a nightclub with gargoyles stain glass windows and Knights of the Round Table atmosphere. Aft is the Magellan Dining Room.
Decks 4 & 5 are all public areas. Forward on four is the balcony of the Palace Theatre; next to it is the Schooner Bar and mid ship is the Casino Royale with its Las Vegas decor (two larger-than-life fiberglass statues of show girl at the entrance). Toward aft is the gorgeous Aquarium Bar flanked by educational exhibits and walls of aquariums. All the way aft is the Da Gama Dining Room.
Deck five is the most interesting deck afloat. Forward is the Observation Deck, which allows passengers to go all the way to the prow of the ship. This can be the most exhilarating place to feel the wind and the ocean air, while getting the best unobstructed view of the ocean. Access to this area is one of the best kept secrets: go through the side door of the Maharajah Lounge near the Connoisseur Club (Cigar club).
These ships of the Voyager class have double centrums, one at each end of the Royal Promenade, with banks of elevators in each. In between the centrums is the most wonderful indoor promenade, with stores, cafes, bars, pizza, desserts and sandwich areas, coffee/tea and water stations, an ice cream Bar (with sprinkles and jimnies), jewelry and perfume shops. All the way aft is the Columbus Dining Room, the top tier of the triple deck restaurant.
Decks 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10 are all cabins.
Deck 11 forward has the Bridge, and the Ship Shape Spa & Fitness Center. There is the Solarium, strictly for adults only, with a swimming pool and two whirlpools. This area is decorated with many majolica pitchers and vases and life-size bronze sculptures of matadors bulls and horses. Midship is the main pool area with two swimming pools and four whirlpools. Aft is the Portofino upscale restaurant ($20 per person), and then there is the most popular place on the ship: the Windjammer Buffet. Most Americans can't resist a buffet.
Deck 12 has some unique areas: a jogging track, the Club Ocean Arcade, the Kiddie Pool and the Children's play area, and then the popular Johnny Rockets (a 50's retro diner with juke boxes, red naugahyde and stainless steel everywhere) which offers both inside booths and outside tables. This was our grandsons' favorite dining place --- French Fries, Onion Rings, Floats and Apple pie, also great hamburgers and hot dogs!
Deck 13 has the Rock Climbing Wall, Basketball and Volleyball Courts, the in-line track and the mini golf course "The Dunes."
Deck 14 has the Viking Crown Lounge, an area surrounded by lounges: Dizzy's jazz music bar and the 19th Hole Sports Bar where Elizabeth and Vito cheered this year's playoff team, the Boston Red Sox, until they went down in a heartbreaking loss in game seven to their old nemesis, the New York Yankees!
Deck 15 has the Skylight Chapel which can accommodate 60 guests, an ideal place for weddings at sea. FOOD The first impression is that the food is plentiful and the portion sizes are huge. The menu is varied and as Vito said the steaks were always as ordered ---- No errors here: medium rare was truly medium rare, an accomplishment in itself. Executive Chef Leigh Hesling serves 19,000 meals per day. That's incredible --- From the freshly baked cookies (oatmeal raisin, macadamia nut, chocolate chip, etc.) to the beautiful dessert stations and crisp salad bar in the Windjammer, to the Dining Room's great assortment of entrees, everything was truly appetizing!
As usual, the best dining on board is at the Captain's table. Captain Gronhaug proved to be a most cordial and informative host. The menu included Citrus cured salmon with dill cucumbers, Wild mushrooms in flaky puff pastry, French onion or Roasted peach soup, House salad of escarole and vine ripened tomatoes, Surf & Turf (lobster tails and filet mignon), Seafood Brochette (skewered scallops, shrimp and lobster) and Asian Pork tenderloin Wellington. Dessert was the ultimate enticement: an edible bowl of caramelized sugar and almonds filled with wild berries and vanilla ice cream. All served under the guidance of Maitre d' Harry Simons. This was a night to remember: Great food; Great Company. Thank you, Captain Ole` Johan!
SERVICE Hotel Director Sue Richardson has everything under control and service is snappy, pleasant and prompt. We had breakfast in our stateroom every morning and it was always on time and hot: omelets, bacon, toast, croissants, juice and coffee. Every "Thank you," was answered by the staff with "My pleasure." and a smile.
The dining room staff is sharp and efficient. Order ice tea or lemonade the first time and every day, thereafter it is there automatically. Our Waiter Fritz was superb and Asst. waiter Rufo was very observant and helpful.
Royal Caribbean's Crown & Anchor Society is the best organization afloat for repeat cruisers. Concierge Roberto Pita offered personal assistance in the Concierge's Lounge which is filled with amenities --- Breakfast buffet, cocktail hour, tender passes and ice show tickets. Danney League, the Loyalty Ambassador remembered us from the Grandeur Transatlantic crossing in May '03, and treated us like family. Martin Jackson, Chief Purser was very cordial and helpful. There is not a crew more friendly or available to passengers than RCI Crews. It is the reason why we have sailed more often on RCI than any other line!
ENTERTAINMENT This ship has more than the usual venues. The Skating Rink provides the setting for "Planet Ice," a must see spectacular. The mainly Russian performers were excellent. However, Elizabeth felt that the involvement of the audience in judging the individual performances was a bit demeaning to the skaters. Outstanding in this show were two ice skating pairs of Olympic quality, one from Russia and the other Canadian, and the breathtaking Steel Ring act of Olga & Alexi. Only the "Majestic" duo in the Palace Theatre was as exciting. These acrobatic dancers did a routine using silk cloths to suspend themselves out over the audience. You had to be there to believe it.
Of course, the Royal Promenade figures prominently in many of the celebrations aboard with parades featuring performers up close and personal throughout the week. It is the center of activities. Throughout the ship there is always something going on, such as Bingo, Casino Tournaments, Fitness Training, Sports Games, Trivia Sessions, etc.... We did not participate in many of them, but our family members did. Baby-sitting can take up time. However, we loved it and hope to do another family cruise soon.
PORTS OF CALL We did not go ashore in any of these ports, since we have seen them many times, but members of our group did. They participated in several shore excursions and activities.
* Day 1. Miami -- Departure 6:00pm * Day 2. At Sea * Day 3. Labadee, Haiti -- Arrival 8:00am Departure 4:00pm -- Here Vito and Mallory went parasailing, as we watched them soaring into the beautiful sky from our verandah. We knew then that they were having an exhilarating time and they did. Elizabeth and Michael rode the banana boat where some of the riders fell off, including Elizabeth. But it was fun. Most of the group participated at the barbecue on the beach which they thoroughly enjoyed: Broiled Ribs, Burgers, Hot dogs, etc., along with games and great fun at the beach. * Day 4. Ocho Rios, Jamaica -- Arrival 9:00am Departure 5:00pm -- Elizabeth and her family visited the Enchanted Gardens and climbed the spectacular Dunn's River Fall; Paige went horse back riding along the beach; Nicolas went shopping for the delicious Blue Mountain coffee. * Day 5. Georgetown, Grand Cayman -- Arrival 8:00am Departure 5:00pm -- Here many in our group took the Stingray City Swim and Snorkel Excursion. They enjoyed feeding and petting the friendly stingrays. * Day 6. Cozumel, Mexico -- Arrival 10:00am Departure 7:00pm (Scheduled); however, the ship departed four hours late (unexplained reasons). Here Laura had a beautiful experience Scuba Diving in one of the world's most spectacular sites, diving in underwater grottos and admiring amazing coral formations. Naturally, everybody went shopping for bargains.
SUGGESTIONS Elizabeth complained about the long lines at the buffet in the Windjammer, especially the first day at lunch, after embarkation, and on port days at breakfast between 8:00 and 9:00 o'clock. Our suggestion is cruisers should anticipate the lines of people at critical times and plan accordingly. We rarely encounter any lines on this or other cruises, since on the first day, if possible, we take an early lunch and on port days, we usually order our breakfast in the stateroom or go to the dining room where there is very little waiting.
Our daughters-in-law, Paige and Laura suggested that a ship's area or playroom should be dedicated to children under 3 supervised by their parents. It seems that older children have places and programs dedicated to them, but nothing is available for younger babies. We have noticed that more and more families cruise with babies, so it is appropriate to dedicate some facilities to them.
CONCLUSION We had a great cruise, even though on this trip we did not take any shore excursion or participate in many on board activities. We did see the "Planet Ice" show and strolled a few times in the Royal Promenade, but overall we had relaxation and enjoyed our family, especially the grand children. Of course we are going to cruise again on the Explorer or any other RCI ships, especially the new ones. We love new ships and the feeling of discovering them. We have already booked a cruise on the Serenade in December and another on the Mariner in February, while in between we'll be cruising on the new Costa Mediterranea. Happy Cruising!
Day One - Sept. 27th 2003
Took the first flight out of Houston in the early morning hours headed to Miami. Arrived on time at Miami International Airport. (under construction). Found RCCL rep's and arranged for ground transports to the Explorer of the Seas. Got to the Pier rather quickly considering that the Grand Prix of Miami was going on. Embarkation around 1pm went quicker than we could have hoped for considering Navigator of the Seas was also leaving the same day. Since the RCCL rep didn't look real hard for an upgrade for us, we stayed with our 10th level Balcony (rm. 1530) and were very pleased. The Rep. Wanted $600 to upgrade to a suite which was not much if any of a discount to us (considering we found out through some of the crew later that the ship was sailing with 600 empty spots, RCCL missed out on that one). Got to our room and met our Stateroom Attendant "Monica" from Trinidad/Tobago. She was a jewel the entire week. Just a note on stateroom attendants on E.O.S., they work their tails off and we've found several of themto be the nicest people on the ship. First order of business was checking dinner seating, We had sailed on E.O.S. the last two years and wanted our same Waiter "Gerald" but to our disappointment he was on vacation this week. Took pictures of the Navigator alongside as we left the Port of Miami to the sound of blowing horns from motorists along the Portside. At dinner the first night we met a nice couple from the Philippines and enjoyed the conversation and meal very much. Attended the welcome aboard show, my wife has seen the same shows three years in a row now and still wants to go back everytime we're onboard.
Day Two Sept. 28th 2003
At sea today headed for Labadee (Haiti), RCCL's private island. Mostly people watched and worked out in the great facilities they have on board in anticipation of future meals (discussed later in summary). We chose not to partake in the formal night festivities, which were on tap for the night. We chose to eat at the Windjammer on the 11th level. We dress up every day for work and when we're on vacation we get a little rebellious and don't go along with the whole program sometimes. After talking with others on board we might try Princess Cruise Lines with there "Freestyle Dining", Sounds great for people like us who don't always want to be on a schedule when we're on vacation "that's what we're vacationing from!"
Day Three Sept. 29th 2003
Took the early tender over to Labadee and picked out a shady spot on Hideaway Beach to do a little snorkeling and relaxing. Chose not to go on the waverunner tour this time, RCCL has raised the price to $100 it was $75 two years ago. Labadee is fun even if you just do nothing. The BBQ lunch is always great tasting. Back onboard at dinner we were shifted from our original table to another larger one (which we had originally requested, nice way to meet folks). Two couples from Toronto Canada were our tablemates now which suited my wife and I just fine, they were very friendly. Attended shows and Karaoke (Riot).
Day Four Sept. 30th 2003
First real Port of call Ocho Rios Jamaica. I was a little hesitant on going onshore here since I had read so much on web-sites about how much problems people have had with the natives. We booked the Dunns River Falls and Dolphin Cove Tour through the ship. All I can say is if you missed the falls because of listening to web-site madness then I feel for you. The Falls were great, not to be missed. We met two nice ladies on this tour and became great friends onboard (Thanks.Susan & Jackie). The tour of the Haitian Market was also not as bad as I had imagined. A firm "Thanks but no." always did the trick. If you're so thin-skinned that a comment back to you after a No bothers you then this may not be the place for you, but as I tell my wife "put your sunglasses on along with a New York attitude and it'll be OK! The Dolphin Cove side of the tour can be missed if you want, not that exciting. We spent an Hour plus there and never saw a Dolphin Show! On the trip back to town we decided to invite our new found friends for a drink and stopped at Jimmy Buffet's Margarittaville, It was great (not to miss) if you don't drink there's plenty of other things to do (eat/shop/waterslide). If you do partake the drinks are fantastic, the waiters friendly, attitude and high energy dancing are great and the Jamaican Rum is to die for.
Day Five Oct. 1st 2003
Port of call Grand Cayman, Booked a tour NOT through the ship (could have been a disaster) Point to remember Ship's time and G.C. Time are an hour apart. RCCL crew will not tell you unless you're persistent the difference because they assume you booked your tour through them and they don't want to confuse you with ship and local time (excuse me aren't we all adults here, I had to really get short with one of the Tour directors over this). Another Point to remember Tendering over to G.C. can take 30 - 40min. lots of people loading and unloading. Now we get to the good part of the morning, even though we were 20min. late to our tour meeting spot Billy of SOTO'S TOURS waited for us and took us to the boat launch (short drive). My wife and I both thought "these people are going to mad" having to wait for us. Nothing was further from the truth, Kerry Soto was so nice and told us not to worry about it. We found out later that if we hadn't shown up they might have had to cancel the tour. Soto's takes small groups 8 being the minimum so they can offer a more personalized service. It was great pulling up to the other ships with dozens of people on them (loaded) and here we have a guide for every 3 people onboard. The tour stopped at 3 spots to snorkel, most only go to Stingray City. They were the best and at $19 pp it was the best deal of the week. We also bought their video which we never do, it was great too (Only took a week to have mailed to me). Onboard it was another formal night so we proceeded up to Johnny Rockets for the best meal of the cruise. Nothing like a good hamburger and all the trimmings when you've been snorkeling all day.
DAY Six Oct 2nd 2003
Port of call Cozumel, Booked "Catch the Wave" snorkel tour through the ship (couldn't find a web-site tour I liked). Glad we took this tour, not much of a boat ride (short) but the snorkeling, food and open bar were great, trying the BOND (underwater bubble transport) next time looks like fun, would definitely use them again! Dropped us off downtown for some shopping and calling home! Places that looked like fun Carlos & Charlies (downtown) and Senor Frogs at the Pier, both Lively Places.
Day seven Oct. 3rd 2003
Day at Sea, Most of day at pool or Rock-Climbing. RCCL does have a variety of programs for your days at sea, never run out of things to do. Packing tonight, hitting the Casino one last time.
Day eight Oct. 4th 2003
Disembarkation was timely and the transports to the Miami Airport were better than I expected. Great trip all the way around!!!!
Crew - Very friendly and helpful Ship - Clean & looking good (3yrs old now, couldn't tell) Service - Good, especially cabins Entertainment - down a notch from previous two sailings Food - not any better or any different from the last two years, needs a change. Embarkation/Disembarkation - Much better, even with Grand Prix Race and Navigator on same day.
Brief: The ship is huge! Every positive and amazing thing you've heard about the Explorer of the seas is true. This review will benefit first-time cruisers more than than cruise veterans.
The first thing you must do is relax, you are on vacation, have a good time. Don't get caught up in taking pictures, and videotaping every detail. You can't do everything, but you can experience more than you think.
Carry your cruise compass with you in your pocket everyday, so that you don't miss any shows, or activities. The ship is a vacation in itself. There are many great bargains on board in the promenade. You can see most of the ship in an hour, despite what you've heard. Internet reviews make the Explorer sound bigger, and more confusing than she is. The ship is very well put together. The rooms, lounges, and atriums all interlock beautifully into eachother.
The Ship: Take lots of pictures, and if you have a camcorder take it everywhere. Remember you are allowed to walk anywhere on the ship, take advantage and explore it may be a long time before you go on another cruise. The dininghall is gorgeous, and so is the theater. The chamber (the ship's nightclub)is cool, The ship isn't as confusing as other reveiws make you believe, but it is more beautiful than you've heard.
Day 1 Embarkation: Despite what you hear, RCI is very efficient, considering that 3000 people have to board this ship in about 5 hours. You may have to wait in a few line ups, but where do you have to go? relax, you are on vacation. Once aboard drop your stuff off and go eat at the windjammer/island grill. Then grab your compass and explore. This would also be a good time to book shore excursions if you haven't already. I booked online, before my cruise, which was convenient and hassle free (bring your on-line confirmation just in case). Watch the sail away on the top deck, it's beautiful.
Day 2: At sea: This is a good day, to take pictures of the ship, and videotape, and suntan. There is never a shortage of deck chairs.
Day 3 Ports: Labadee: Do take advantage of the vendors in Labadee, there are some gorgeous carvings you could purchase here. Just remember to low ball them, otherwise they will charge you 10 times what this stuff is worth.
Day 4 Ocho Rios: Got off the ship without an excursion, and were swarmed by the locals hassling us from every direction. They were offering us everything from Jet ski's to drugs. They were fighting over us, and weren't even smiling. All they want is your money. Unless you have a shore excursion booked, travel in a pack, stay with your group, or stay onboard, we got off...then got right back on the ship.
Day 5 Grand Cayman: Beautiful Beaches. We spent the whole day at 7 mile beach, it was gorgeous, turquiose water. Hot. Like a dream.
Day 6 Cozumel: We spent the day at Playa Sol, unless you plan to drink all day, don't buy the ship excursion. Go there on your own and pay $8.00 to get in. The beach is crowded but beautiful, blue water, and hot. Use the tubes, they're fun and free with your admission. Also when shopping, you can probably get whatever you're buying for a third of the price they are asking you for.
Day 7 Remember not to pack anything sharp in your carry on. Put it all in your checked luggage, Pack early, it's a bummer to pack last minute.
Disembarkation: If you hav an early flight, like we did (11:00 am) to Toronto,Canada. Get Early luggage tags (White, 7:00). It can take you up to two hours to get off the ship, clear customs, get your luggage, bus ride to the airport, and check in. Don't do this on the first day of your cruise, but do early on second last day.
Complaints: If you have a lot of complaints about you are not on vacation. I don't complain much but if you must know here it is:
1. After a couple of days the elevators start to smell funny. 2. There will be times when you will feel the ship moving slightly but nothing you will not get use to, not intense.
Tips: 1. Buy drink cards to spend less on drinks 2. Make sure you tip your cabin steward and waitstaff, they really deserve the suggested minimum, and more.
Do's: Watch the ice show. it's amazing. Watch at least one sunset and sunrise. Watch as many shows as you can in the palace theater. Listen to the live calypso/reggae band Heatwave on the pooldeck. Bring two formal outfits minimum. Be prepared to buy some beautiful pictures the ships photographers take of you, they're great. Eat at Johhny Rockets the burgers are amazing.
Weird stuff: 1. It gets a little breezy on the top deck 2. the stalls in the bathroom are shaped funny.
Caution about Camera film: Also an extra note on photo film and airport x-rays. There has been recent buz aboutt film being affected by new airport x-rays machines installed in airports since September 11. Some say it affects film, others say it's fine, you decide. but remember it's your cruise memories.
When I first cruiesed four years ago I had two rolls of 800 ISO film ruined (fogged) by the x-rays, my 400 ISO fim was fine. Remember the damage is culmative, so every time you get on and off the ship you put your stuff through an x-ray, may cause damage!
Solution, a lead lined film bag. They are available for 400 and 800 film. Use one, I had no problem, and they are clearance items at Walmart. Some say that using a lead lined bags actually causes airport security to open your bag because they see a black blob on the screen, but I had no problem at all, they never asked once, not on the ship, or the airport.
You could have your film hand inspected, but I think that is a hassle for them, even though you are within your rights to ask, I actually think that makes them more suspicious, but that is my opinion. Also, who wants to argue with a airport security. Use your own judgement.
Have a great cruise!
We flew into Fort Lauderdale at 9:30 am and transferred to a bus that took us to the Royal Caribbean pier. As we approached, our bus driver pointed out our ship. That was the first time we realized just how huge it was. We stayed on the bus while they got the suitcases off. We identified our suitcases and the RC porter took them away. We proceeded into the building to check in. We waited in a lobby area for about 10 minutes before they allowed us through metal detectors to the actual check in. We stood in line for 5 minutes before we checked in and were given our SeaPass, which acts as both your room key and your money on the ship. They then told us to go into another room to wait. While in line, I called my cousin who lives in Miami so that she could pick us up and drive us around Miami for a couple hours. Others that were with us said that they waited in that room for over an hour before they actually let you get on the boat. When wereturned to the boat at 2:30 pm, we walked right on to the boat. They took our picture in front of a sign with the boat name on it. I was disappointed because I thought that they would take a picture with the actual boat in the background. Little did I know that that would be done many times in the future.
When we first got on the ship we initially felt disoriented because we could not figure out which end was which. This did not last long thanks to the wonderful ship maps that are posted by every set of elevators. What can you say about the ship except it is simply breathtaking. I knew that it would be beautiful but did not expect this. Take pictures. After we got on the ship, we immediately went in search of our cabin.
The cabin was larger than I expected. We had an inside cabin on the 7th floor. The decor was mediocre with melon and blue colors. This did not bother me because I did not plan on spending much time here. Every nook and cranny had storage space. We completely over packed and there was still room for every item that we had and then some. We were surprised to be greeted with a bottle of champagne on ice and a fruit plate waiting for us. The Cruise Compass was also waiting. This is the daily planner that lists every single thing going on at every moment of that day. We loved this. Take this with you every time you leave your room so that you will be sure to catch the going ons.
DAY ONE Embarkation
At 4 pm we were required to do a muster drill for safety. We put our life jackets on and were supposed to go to a particular life boat depending on the number on our life jacket. This was confusing. We were guided there by the staff. I did not mind this and thought it would be helpful but don't think that I could get back to that lifeboat if I had to. We ended up standing there in rows with a person just 1 ft away on all sides of you for 30 minutes while we waited for late comers to get in line. Kids were crying and it got to the point that people were not listening. After we got this out of the way, it was smooth sailing for the rest of the trip.
We went to the top deck to watch as we sailed off. After this was over, we had our first of what would be many colorful drinks in tall glasses. We sat in Dizzy's Nightclub and watched the sunset as we sipped our drinks. Dizzy's was one of our favorite places on the ships. You could listen to soft piano music while sitting in big comfy chairs and look out of their floor to ceiling windows. Heaven, pure heaven.
We went to the Welcome Aboard show and met Paul Rutter, the cruise director. He was really good. He was funny and seemed to be at every activity no matter what time of day. He will tell you all that is happening on the ship that evening and the next day. We had the last seating for dinner which happened to be at 9 pm on this evening. Dinner for the rest of the cruise was at 8:30. Eating that late was fine because we at so much during the day that we were not starving on any day.
Day Two At Sea
We ate breakfast at the Windjammer Cafe. Other reviews complained at how bad the food was here. I did not think that it was bad. It was not great, but good. After breakfast we picked up tickets to see Planet Ice, the ice show. Before getting these, I had mapped out the other different shows that we wanted to see with their day/time. This was helpful because they give you 5 different ice shows to pick from. This was a tip given to us during the Welcome Aboard show the night before.
After breakfast we went to workout. Walking on the treadmill while looking out of the windows made me dizzy. I tried to keep looking away. I felt like I was going to fall so I just rode the stationary bike instead. The rest of the day was spent exploring the ship. Lounging in the sun while drinking the fruity concoctions and enjoying the hot tub. This is a good day to plan your excursions if you have not done so. We set ours up on-line before we left.
We missed the Captains's Welcome Reception, which was disappointing. Instead we took a nap before getting ready for the first formal night. We don't have many (if any at all) opportunities to get so dressed up and go to dinner. My husband complained about having to buy a suit to go on a cruise. He ate his words later when he admitted to feeling like royalty. The reason why was due to our excellent wait staff, Shankar and Hennery. There was never an empty glass. Shankar's suggestions were always right on. They got along with each other well and it made for a wonderful dinner every night. After dinner every night we went to see the show of the evening. Don't miss these. They are all great. There were some people that never went to any of the shows. We couldn't believe it.
Day Three Labadee
No excursions planned. We visited the open market. Big mistake. If you like the natives begging you to come and look at their goods, then you will enjoy this. We did not stay there long but instead walked along the ocean side of this beautiful little island. Haiti is only a hop, skip and jump away and is very beautiful backdrop for you pictures. We toured the various sites on the island before plopping down on beach chairs for an afternoon nap in the sun. The RC staff comes on the island and makes you lunch. It is cookout style food with a bunch of extras. Very nice to not have to go back to the ship for food/drink. The waiters walk the beach selling those yummy drinks that we all loved and you use your SeaPass to pay for them. The island is not crowded at all. No other cruise lines there since RC owns this island. We headed back to the ship at 2:30. After dinner and the evening show we went to the Country Western Dance Party where we learned how to line dance.
Day Four Ocho Rios, Jamaica
We were able to walk right on the island from the ship. That was nice. We had an early excursion to Dunn's River Falls and Dolphin Encounter. The falls were awesome and a must see. The encounter could be skipped unless you were getting in the water with the dolphins. We did not. We shopped. We ended up buying quite a bit of alcohol & Jamaican coffee. We walked away with 5 bottles of different rums and rum creams. Everywhere you turn they are offering free rum samples. Jamaica is not what I expected at all. It was very dirty and the people are so desperate to get you to buy something from them. What I thought would be my favorite port was my least favorite. We ate lunch back on the ship and relaxed before getting ready for the ice show. The ice show was very impressive. Go see it.
Day Five Grand Cayman
We had an excursion on the Nautilus (glass bottom boat) and island tour. The Nautilus was great. Sunken ships, coral reef, lots of fish. A definite must see. The island tour was ok. We visited the rum cake factory and Pedro St. James which is the oldest estate on the island. Because we were waiting on 2 people that were late, we did not have much time at Pedro St. James. Had we not been rushed through this, I am sure it would have been great. We shopped downtown which was very enjoyable. The island was pretty and clean. We went back to the ship and had our second formal dinner night.
Day Six Cozumel
We headed out with empty shopping bags for this port. Since I am somewhat fluent in Spanish, I intended on doing most of my shopping here. After shopping in the am we came back to the ship, ate, emptied our bags and went on our 2:30 pm snorkeling excursion. The snorkeling was nice but I didn't see as much fish/coral reef as I had expected. The water was very clear and blue and it was still very enjoyable. After we finished here, we shopped some more and went back to the ship for some rest.
Day Seven At Sea
We did much of the same thing this day as we did the previous at sea day. This evening's headliner was comedian T.J. McCormack which we thought was awful. It does not take much to make me laugh and I was forcing myself to do so only a couple times during his routine. We went to the farewell show and then back to the room to pack.
They give you color coded tags to put on your suit cases the night before. When your color is called you can leave the ship. We took this waiting time to walk around the ship and take pictures. This allowed us to have great pictures of the different areas without the crowds of people in them. After our color was called it took about 15 minutes to get through customs. We quickly found our bags and were off to the airport.
Cruise video - when they first advertised this I did not want to pay $29.99 for this. At the farewell show, they show you part of this and you can see how professional it is done.
Pictures - everyday somewhere on or off the ship, they are taking formal pictures. I suggest taking them. There is no obligation to buy them. We took them every opportunity that we could. We ended up coming home with 7 shots that were awesome. We didn't purchase the other 20 that were so so.
TV - the tv in your room is very helpful. You can check the balance on your SeaPass acct, see what's on the agenda for the week and see the actual video tapings of all the activities that happened on the ship. They also show a different first run movie everyday.
Restrooms - the women's restrooms have free tampons and pads in them. How nice!
Kids - there were only 273 kids on our cruise. They were all well behaved and busy with the many activities that RC offers.
Food - excellent. The gala buffet was unbelievable. Impossible to pass a soft serve ice cream machine without getting a cone. They are every where. We bought the recipe book
Staff - went over and above every time. They were all wonderful.
Drinks - are delicious. We bought the recipe book to make these.
Ship Motion - we did feel it moving at times but we took our Bonine and were both fine.
Entertainment - go see the parades that are at the Royal Promenade, go to as many of the shows that you can. Go ice skating, roller blading, putt putt golfing, rock climbing. Do the things that you would normally not do. Why not, you are on vacation!
This was our second cruise, and we had a wonderful time!
Day 1 - Saturday. Arrived at pier around 11AM via cruise connections bus from Ft. Myers. Our baggage was immediately taken by the porter to be transfered to the ship. We went inside the terminal, and people were already checking in. The lines were not that long, and the check in process was pretty quick. Once we had our sea pass, we were ushered to a waiting area, as there was nobody boarding yet. We waited for about 1 hour in there, and then the line started moving onto the ship. First impressions were awesome, she is a huge vessel! Very clean, everyone seemed happy to be there! We were able to go to our room right away... 7th floor (7574) with a balcony, it was sweet. Seemed so much bigger than the Monarch room, the bathroom was huge! We headed to the Island Grill for a late lunch, then it was off to explore the ship. We were late seating for dinner, and our waiter Ciprian and assistant waiter Christopher were amazing. Great service! We had our baggageby 6PM on Saturday night, plenty of time to unpack and change for dinner.
Day 2 - Sunday
Day at sea... weather was a little on the cool side, but finding deck chairs that were sort of sheltered from the wind made a lot of difference. Don't be afraid to just move some deck chairs out of the way - there are TOO MANY, and you end up squished like sardines if you don't move some away! They could get rid of even 1% of the chairs and it would make a huge difference... I don't think strangers, even on vacation, want to be that close together!
Day 3 - Monday
Labadee - this was a GREAT STOP!!! The island is so pretty, the water was warm. Lots of places to spread out, so it wasn't like 3000 people on one little beach. We really loved this port, and enjoyed walking around. The market is pretty cheesy... didn't really look at anything to buy here. We did not have our son with us, but it looked like there was a cool water park thing for kids. You can get the floating mats on shore, I think - same price... so if there are big lines to try and reserve one while you are on the ship, don't worry about it. Formal night for dinner, and the food was AWESOME. There are black and white photo's available too - you may have to look for the right station. It was on Deck 4 for our cruise, right outside the door to the DaGama dining room.
Day 4 - Ocho Rios
Hated this port. We only got off for about an hour. The locals were pushy and aggressive... actually touching our arms and stuff trying to get us to go down alleys that looked like nothing good could come of them. We had to forcibly extract ourselves from their hold, and then bee-line it for security. Once we were closer by the police, they left us alone. We just grabbed a few t-shirts and made a quick call home, then headed back to the boat. It was nice, as most people had gotten off, so we had the ship to ourselves. The Solarium pool for adults only (which was also subject to review, apparently) was the coolest spot to just kick back and relax. There were a few folks that tried to bring their babies in the pool/hot tub there, but passengers were more than happy to point out the rules of no under 16's allowed.
Day 5 - Grand Cayman
Nice port as well, although we were not able to get out to see the sting rays :-( Book that one early if you want to go... otherwise, look for a guy named George Busch - (really!) on the pier. Our friends ended up going with him on a private tour, ~$20 and they had the best time! He got them front and center in sting ray city, and they had just as good a time as those on the pricier RCI excursion.
Day 6 - Cozumel
This was our favourite place... the people were really nice, and the water is so beautiful! The weather was great, and we wandered around town for a hours. Do NOT be afraid to haggle with the vendors over price... it's fun to do and they expect it! I am glad that we waited to buy in Cozumel as the deals appeared to be the best there of all the stops. We got a great price on a 1ct. sappahire... 3rd anniversary present! If you want to call home, or check internet email etc. - there is a great place in Cozumel, I think it's called the Phone Connection - right near Maraf Jewellers. .10 a minute for internet access... and the people were really nice there. We went to Portofino for dinner this night, and it was well worth the $20 surcharge. The food was by far the best, not that the dining room is bad, cuz it's not... but you will know when you go. It was amazing there, and they even had a special anniversary cake for us. The cappuchino was to die for... the tiger prawns were the best I have ever had anywhere, as was the tirimisu!
Day 7 - At Sea
Another day at sea, we were able to get good deck chairs around the solarium pool around 10:30 AM as it was still pretty breezy. I think a lot of people thought it would be cold on deck. It did get really crowded after lunch.
The cruise was fantastic, and we can't wait to go again! The ice show - Planet Ice, is well worth waiting for tickets... make sure you see that. One the first and last night, the pair called Magestic will perform, and they are simply astounding... a combo of ballet and gymnastics... they do things that no body should really be able to do! The entertainments was good, I didn't really like the singer, but that was just based on musical taste. She had a wonderful voice and performed well. GO TO PORTOFINO, for sure!
There were a lot of kids on the ship this week (+800) as it was Thanksgiving... but we really only had a couple of times that we "noticed" them. For the most part, the activities, arcades, Ocean Adventure program kept them busy and out of the adults hair! The balcony cabin was great, it was nice to sleep with the door open and hear the water at night. There was plenty of storage in the room, lots of hangers. I wished we had brought a little travel alarm clock, as the only clock was on the phone, and you can't see it at night! There are blowdryers in the rooms, so you don't need your own.
I had read that some people were buying bottles of alcohol on board, and paying a surcharge to take it to their room. This was NOT available on Explorer. However, we did by two bottles in Cozumel, and just walked on with them, no questions asked. Nobody tried to take it away from us, so either they didn't care as it was close to the end of the trip, or it really is not a big deal. We are not sure.
Hope this helps, and have a great time if you are going on this ship!!!
We just returned from our cruise, and it was great! I have three boys ages 9, 13 and 15. My situation is a little unusual because my husband broke his ankle 10 days before the cruise and was in a wheelchair.
The good thing about being in a wheelchair is that we went to the front of the line, so our check-in took about 15-20 minutes vs. 1- 2 hours. Our dinner companions told us they were in line approximately 1 hour 45 minutes before boarding the ship.
After we checked out our rooms we headed to Johnny Rockets (they were open!) instead of the Windjammer Buffet. Johnny Rockets has the best hamburgers on the ship. It doesn't have the complete Johnny Rockets menu, but it is good enough--although there is a charge for the ice cream drinks and sodas. They will honor your "soda card," if you have one; milk shakes are $3.60 and floats are $2.60.
The unlimited soft drink cards for the seven-day cruise are $20 for children and $33 for adults, plus a 15% tip; these can be purchased at any bar.
The ship is incredible, very impressive. (Thisis my fourth cruise; my last was in September 2000 on Royal Olympic from Athens through the Mediterranean.) Although the ship is big and we did get turned around a couple of times the first day, we knew our way around by the second day, and of course the kids never seemed to get lost.
We had two cabins across from each other on the 8th deck -- an outside with balcony and an inside. I was impressed with the size of both cabins; each had a sofa and coffee table across from the desk and chair, with the beds toward the back of the room. Even with the wheelchair folded up and leaning against the wall, we were not cramped. The balcony was a good size, and I enjoyed being able to walk outside whenever I wanted to.
There is a minibar in the room that is fully stocked, so you can't use it as a refrigerator, which bothered me. The ship has Coke products on board, and my husband is a Pepsi man, so on our first stop (Jamaica), we bought some bottles of Pepsi on the dock. It was $1.00 for a 16-oz. Bottle; on board the ship the liquor shop was selling 16-oz. bottles of Coke and Sprite etc for $2.00 It would have been nice to store our drinks in the fridge--but it was full.
My 13-year-old was off and running to meet kids his age, and he was thrilled with the "teens only" club room. It was right across from Johnny Rockets and the Arcade. He had a great time, was always busy and loved the activities. My 9-year-old also loved the activities. They had something every day for all of the age groups, so even if you didn't go on a shore excursion, there was something for the kids to do.
Evening kids' activities were from 7-10 p.m.; then from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., for my 9-year-old there was a $5.00 per hour group babysitting fee. My child begged to go every night! He loved "late night" activities. They did have Playstations and movies in this age group for late night, and they served a snack. It was a pleasant surprise when they took photo portraits of the kids. I didn't even know--I found it by accident when I was looking at all the other photos the ship's photographer had taken. It looked like the younger kids had their picture taken with the captain. It was a good picture, one of the few I purchased.
My 13-year-old won a medal playing "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." Needless to say, those two were very happy and occupied all the time. My 15-year-old is very shy and preferred to hang out with Mom and Dad, which was fine because he helped wheel Dad around. At our dinner table there was a 16-year-old boy; he said he enjoyed the activities, was having fun and met people his own age.
At the Arcade, you could purchase cards instead of using cash. The average game was 75 cents, and my kids ended up spending $110 in the Arcade in a week. I probably lost that much in the casino, but I think they could have made the Arcade games a little cheaper. The casino was nice, and it was big. I participated in a slot tournament for a $20 entry fee. The Black Jack tournament was canceled because not enough people participated. Both were scheduled for Sunday afternoon, our first day at sea. I don't think enough people knew about them; maybe the last day at sea would have been better. The Bingo games were fun, but expensive. The standard Bingo set was five or six games, six cards a game for $35. My in-laws just got back from a Princess cruise and some of those things were cheaper.
Other miscellaneous info: There was always a line for the rock climbing wall; my 13-year-old finally got to do it on Friday night. There's no fee for inline skating, ice-skating or rock climbing, but if the kids are under 18 an adult needs to sign a waiver. There was no charge for miniature golf, which I did on the last day, Saturday, while we were waiting to get off the ship.
The entertainment was very good. I went to most of the shows. Our celebrity was Susan Anton, which was a pleasant surprise--she was fantastic. There were a couple of comedians and a magician, as well as the standard musical performances, which were very good. The Palace Theater is beautiful--and so big. I have to mention "Barry from Boston," the singer in the Piano Bar: He plays and sings really well; my husband and son were in there every night making requests. We missed the ice show; you have to pick up tickets because of limited seating, and I kept forgetting to get the tickets.
Service was excellent and the food was good. I have high expectations for food on a cruise, and even though the food was prepared well and was flavorful I just don't think it was spectacular. I never did eat at Portofino's, the 64-seat restaurant that costs $20 extra. I guess you just get ambiance there, because the menu is posted outside and it looked the same as the dining room.
We usually ate at the Windjammer for breakfast because it was open later. I just couldn't seem to get to the dining room before 10 a.m. for breakfast. The Promenade Café had little sandwiches, pizza and desserts, also ice water, coffee, tea and hot chocolate, and a bar for drinks and sodas. It was open 24 hours a day. When my kids got back from late night activities, they would tell us they were going for pizza (they were in paradise with unlimited food!) A couple of times they ordered room service, but I think they liked the pizza better from the Promenade Café. Right outside the café was the self-serve frozen yogurt (or ice cream, I'm not sure which) machine, with cones and sprinkles. It seemed no one could walk past without helping themselves.
The Promenade was really something. The shops were okay, and there were some nice bars there. It gave you a real feeling of spaciousness; you definitely did not feel like you were on a ship along the Promenade; it was fun just walking around there.
As for the shore excursions, Labadee was okay, but if I go there again I probably won't get off the ship. My 9-year-old was stung by something in the water. The bar-b-q was not worth the trip to shore. The beach was not as beautiful as those in Mexico or Grand Cayman. My husband didn't even bother coming ashore since he couldn't get wet. It was very hot in July.
Next stop was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We didn't do a formal excursion because of the wheelchair. The cruise director recommended going to Margaritaville, within walking distance of the dock. Taxis were parked on the sidewalk so we had to struggle with the wheelchair on a bumpy road. It was really HOT there--we didn't know that Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffet owns it) had a pool in the restaurant, and it was right on the beach with beach activities. It was a little shopping village too. Really a neat place.
Grand Cayman was our favorite stop. We did the island tour and the turtle farm. The wheelchair was folded up and placed in the aisle of the bus, no hurrying off of this bus.
On Cozumel, I did a shore excursion with my two older boys. We went to Tulum. It was HOT but interesting and we enjoyed it. I can handle heat, but standing in the hot sun for 45 minutes while our tour guide told us about different ruins, I felt like I might get sun stroke. Our guide told us that the previous day it was 92 degrees but it had rained that night so it wasn't as humid. The tour also include Xel-ha (pronounced shel-ha), a water park of sorts. You could do snorkeling, snuba, swim with the dolphins, or take a dolphin encounter. We had about 1 hour 45 minutes there, and if we had known ahead of time about the activities we would have had time to do something. As it was we just explored and walked around the entire park.
As for disembarking, they told us that it used to take only took a couple of hours but that now it was a lot longer. My flight was at 2:09 p.m., so we took the 10:15-11:00 a.m. departure time. We didn't get off the ship until 11:45 a.m., the bus left at 12:20 p.m. for the Fort Lauderdale airport, and we got there by 1:00, but we were the last stop so it was a close call.
There was at least one other person in a wheelchair. Getting around wasn't too difficult on the ship but the shore excursions were trying. I can't imagine going on a smaller ship now that I have been on this one. We didn't have a single rough day at sea and sometimes you couldn't even tell the ship was moving unless you could see something outside moving.
We had more than 3,500 people on our ship and it didn't feel crowded. The only time you felt a little inconvenienced was when you were waiting for the elevator. I took the stairs as often as I could to compensate for the food I was eating, but when you have a wheelchair you really have no choice.
We have traveled on three other cruise line but this was our first cruise with RCCL. The Explorer of the seas was awesome. Even though there were over 3,000 passengers on board it was never crowded. The food was wonderful. We had late sitting and our tablemates were the greatest.
We had lots of laughs...Entertainment was super - the best on any cruise we have been on. I love the quiet, adult pool where the age limit was for 18 and older. It was nice and relaxing away from the main pool, but you had that option if you wanted to. Again, we will be sailing on RCCL in the future. A great ship!
We just returned on May 11, 2002 from our cruise on Explorer of the Seas. (Two years ago we sailed sister ship Voyager of the Seas) We stayed on Deck 10, Category C, room #1646. There is very little difference between the Voyager and Explorer---the Palace Theater on Explorer was not as elegant as Voyager's. The sports bar was larger on Explorer. And of course, the artwork and some of the decor was different, but many areas (including most of the many bars) were the same as on Voyager. Our Category C Room was identical in every aspect (bedspread, carpet, colors, etc.). If you're having trouble deciding between these two ships, there's not enough difference to matter--they're both great!
This was a wonderful vacation. We were with a group of 6 other couples. All had cruised several times before on different cruise lines and we all agreed that this was our best cruise yet! The staff was extremely friendly, the service was very good, the ship was immaculate, the food varied from good to excellent, and the entertainment was the highest quality and most professional we've seen. Entertainer Matt Yee made theSchooner Piano Bar the most fun place to be in late evening (11 p.m. to 1 a.m.). If you go, don't miss this fun bar.
On the negative side, for those of you thinking about taking RCCL's day-before arrival and hotel stay, I can tell you, you would be better off arranging your own air and hotel. RCCL does have a bus pick you up at the airport, but you must claim your bags at the airport and take them to your hotel room (we were told when we booked this package that we would need to take a carry-on, because our checked luggage would be held overnight by RCCL, once they picked us up at the airport, and delivered to the ship the next day. Not so! We had to claim our luggage at the airport, take it to the bus, then get it from the bus to our hotel room, then get it back on the bus the next morning before leaving the hotel for the ship (with a lot of tipping to the folks who handled it on the bus, at the hotel and the porters at the pier). We also waited in line for 2 hours for the buses to pick us up at the hotel to take us to the ship. Another reason for getting this day - before package, was that we would be able to do the pre-cruise check-in from our hotel and board the ship instead of waiting in a long line. We were told after we arrived at the hotel that this procedure changed after 9/11. However, instead of making people aware of this ahead of time, we were given written instructions by RCCL a few weeks before our cruise with pre-9/11 instructions. Taking RCCL's package did not benefit us in any way. Had we known the procedure had been changed, we would have booked our own day-before room and air and saved quite a bit of money. I guess that's why they don't let you know until you get there.
There is one other piece of information I'd like to pass on about the purchase of bottled alcohol in port and on the ship. RCCL no longer allows you to bring liquor purchased in port to your room. It is confiscated when you get back on ship and held for you until the end of the cruise (we'd never had this happen on previous RCCL cruises). You could purchase bottles for your room from the liquor store on board the Explorer; however, they added a $9.00 per bottle up-charge.
I hope I've given you some helpful and new information. This is a marvelous ship and I would go again in a minute!
THINGS WE LIKED ABOUT THE CRUISE
This ship has the BEST children's program and facilities of any we have been on so far. The counselors do a lot of interactive activities and really engage the children. The children's program is also now FREE IN PORT!! This was nice for us on San Juan, when the kids realized it wasn't a beach port and prefered to go into the children's room rather than walk around with us. Mike and I had a great day there. Children also can eat with the counselors on 3 of the 7 nights at Johnny Rockets, including both formal nights. We forced our kids to dress up one night and eat with us, but the other two nights they were more than happy to eat at Johnny Rockets and enjoy company of the same age.
The dining staff were very accomodating. Children's meals were brought early on nights when Johnny Rockets was unavailable, so that the children wouldn't be antsy, and then could leave at 7 for the evening children's program.
Food and service from both the dining staff and cabin attendant were very nice. Our waiter/waitress wasBarbara from Poland, assistant waiter Kristoff from Poland as well and our cabin attendant was Amanda. Each were very friendly and accomodating and seemed to genuinely enjoy their work.
The ship has many excellent facilities, most of which we had no time to use. The miniature golf course was large and beautiful. The inline skating rink looked like so much fun. The thought of going skating was very tempting, but unfortunately we didn't pack long pants necessary to skate. Our afternoons were spent primarily at the kiddie pool/waterslide area. The children LOVED it. When they were in the program, Mike and I mainly just explored the ship and enjoyed the rare moments of time to ourselves.
Another nice perk was the availability of soft serve ice cream in chocolate, strawbery and vanilla as well as strawberry/vanilla and chocolate/vanilla swirls throughout the ship. There was also a toppings bar on the Royal Promenade which made it extra nice.
A shampoo dispenser is in the shower, so that you don't need to bring your own shampoo unless you want to. Feminine products are supplied free in all the public restrooms in case they are needed.
The food on board was excellent and the midnight buffet was super. We missed that on the Grand last year, not so much the availability of the food which was NOT an issue, but the terrific presentation and food artistry.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER One of the main things that we both agree on that we missed was a self service laundry that we've used on other ships. The price of the ship's laundry was quite high and adds up fast, even if it is used sparingly. Our advise to anyone traveling on the Eagle class ships is to pack more than you think you will need, so that you can minimize use of the ship's laundry service.
Second thing that really bothered me was the extent of drink pushing. I know drinks are a major income source of the cruiselines, but people on the Grand Princess still bought MANY drinks going up to the bars themselves. On the Grand nobody had the in your face drink sales technique. On the Explorer, eager bar attendants seemed desperate for a sale and reluctant to take no for an answer.
The MOST annoying thing however was the LINES during embarkation and debarkation in Miami. Princess' embarkation process went very smoothly, RCI's was rough with the kids, but tolerable with the anticipation of getting on the ship. We did not expect huge lines at debarkation though, and with only going home to colder weather to look forward to, it left a sour taste in our mouths, that and cruise ship happy hour at the airport. Many cruises return on Sat, so long lines at security and baggage check in are to be expected at Miami and Ft Lauderdale airports. This is not the cruiseline's fault, but the airports should realize this and have twice the available staff that day to help it run smoother. We also heard from other passengers that had been on Carnival and Princess ships that their debarkation went smoothly, which made us feel worse about it. This was our first post Sept 11, cruise, so we did expect more hassles to begin with, but hearing the hassles on other cruise lines wasn't as bad leads us to believe that RCI can make things smoother and hopefully will.
Our trip to Nassau Nassau was our first stop, and the least enjoyed. We slept in, and did not feel we had time to do a beach or go to Atlantis, so we opted to look around the town. The peddlers here are without doubt the pushiest. One even put bracelets on our wrists saying they were free and then requesting a $5 "donation" each. We took off the bracelets since we didn't even like them and didn't appreciate being approached like that. We weren't impressed by the city of Nassau. The kids were hot and cranky. I did agree to get a few braids. We were quoted $1 per braid, charged $1.50 per braid, no big deal except PRINCIPAL, had my hair braided near the horse drawn carriages, and had the odor of horse to breath while getting it done. The braiding also exposed my scalp causing me to get a sunburn there. Overall, my advise to anyone doing Nassau on a cruise, go through the ship and take a "tour" to Atlantis. Unless you do this, it is not a great stop to take the kids.
Our experiences on St Thomas This was our second stop on the cruise, and a port we've been looking forward to going back to for a long time. We knew ahead of time that there would be a party on Megan's Bay. The first taxi driver that we talked to told us that Megan's was packed and they were not allowing any more people in. We stupidly believed him and were taken to Morning Star beach. This beach was not as nice and had a very strong surf. After about 20 min or less, we left Morning Star, went back to the ship for more money, got another taxi to Megan's bay, which was NOT all that "packed." There were a decent number of people there, a band playing and a navy patrol, but the lake beaches where we live on any given Saturday are more crowded. The beach was well worth the trip back. The water is calm and gorgeous. We all had a wonderful time swimming here and playing in the water. Everyone had a great time here as expected.
On a side note, there was an aircraft carrier stationed just outside the harbor. We also had to go through immigration the morning we docked in St Thomas on the ship. There was a long line for this, but it moved fairly quickly considering. This is now mandatory entering a US port after having been in one outside the US. Everybody on board had to present birth certificates and id or passports to the immigration officers, or could not get off the ship on St Thomas or San Juan.
San Juan When the children found out that this was not going to be a beach stop, they wanted to go play in the children's room. Mike and I quickly said ok, took them up there after breakfast and watched them run in with barely a look back at us even.
We got a chance to walk around on our own. We walked up to El Morro. It is really nice to look around. It is a very well preserved fort and gives a glimpse into the past. The views are incredible too and we took a lot of pictures here. This was a very enjoyable excursion, and it was amazing to be able to do anything alone with Mike.
The people we met were all very friendly and helpful. Of all the ports we've ever been too, Puerto Ricans seem the most welcoming and friendly to tourists. Great people and a great island.
All about Labadee, RCI's private port Of all the islands, this one was our favorite. The beaches on this island are phenomenal, and scenery is out of this world. Look up and see beautiful green mountains, look out to the sea and see the ship docked off shore.
There is also a rock formation called the Dragon's Breath. The way the waves hit against it it sounds like heavy breathing hence the name. The kids had a great time with this. We told them there was a dragon sleeping under the rocks. Tommy my oldest looked afraid at first. Mikey immediately went to stick his head down toward the hole to see the dragon. Tommy didn't stay scared long seeing everybody looking down the hole. In no time at all we were yelling at him to stop climbing on the surrounding rocks.
There is also ruins of an old house called Nellie's Place, rumored to be the oldest whorehouse in the new world. That was pretty neat, beautiful flowers and bushes all around.
The island also has a lookout point for pictures, and a children's waterplay area with a trampoline out in the water and some things to climb on. Unfortunately we didn't check that out. The kids were having so much fun at the beach we didn't feel like rushing everywhere, just felt like enjoying every minute. The ship and island had so much to do it felt like there was no way possible to do it all.
For those not spending every minute on the island with young children, there were a LOT of watersports: Kayaks, jet skis, parasailing, banana boats, etc.
There were also plenty of bars, and a nice barbecue style lunch at this port which was relaxing. There is also a nice shop selling local crafts and such. The only annoying thing was one bar tender screaming out "Labadoozie!! Get your Labadoozie!" Not a big deal and didn't spoil our time. I'd just prefer going to the bar if I want a drink instead of being hounded.
Labadee is WELL worth taking Royal Carribean to visit.
Children's Program on the EOS The children's program on this ship was by far the best one we've seen yet. Counselors have many interactive activities with the children. If anyone thinks it is just a group of young adults watching the children play they are so wrong. The counselors interact with all of the children, have science related activities that are age appropriate, and give out terrific prizes like medals that make each child feel special.
For anyone traveling with children ages 3 and up that are potty trained, this is the ship, or class of ships to travel on. As for younger children or children not yet potty trained, they CAN NOT participate in the group activities. Night time in cabin babysitting is available though. For younger children, I'm glad we traveled on Carnival and Princess. Both of those lines take children in at age 2 and Carnival changes diapers. Princess will page if a child needs a change. On the other hand, I don't think Carnival offers private babysitting in the cabin, but personally I PREFER a group setting.
The ship was packed full of families, with children ranging from small infants through teenagers. Each age group was well represented and we did not travel on a school holiday. There were also a lot of people traveling pregnant too. I traveled pregnant on the Ecstasy and felt like the only one.
On the other end of the scale, there is a lot to do for teenagers. They have their own disco. There's also the inline rink, ice rink, rock climbing wall, pools, basketball court, miniature golf course, etc. Kids in all age groups should have a blast on this ship.
Every wonderful thing that you have read about this ship and it's beauty must be multiplied by at least 10. To say it is simply gorgeous is actually an understatment. Words just don't seem to do it justice.
We arrived at the pier at 12:10 after having driven from the west coast of Florida. We dropped our luggage with the porter, waited while my husband parked the car ($70 in advance) and proceded to the check in counter. Before we went into the check in room, someone checked to make sure we had all our paperwork filled out, they have seats and plenty of extra copies of all required paperwork in case you did not have it all. We went through the security line to the check in. This was a very fast process and we were on board by 12:30.
We proceded to our cabin #1274. A beautiful Category B suite. We had booked a C cabin but were upgraded months ago to a B. We loved this cabin, it was just far enough off the centrum, just about in the middle of them both, to make going to eitherend of the ship very convenient.
We then proceded up to the Windjammer for some lunch. For future cruises, don't eat in the Windjammer, proceed back to the Island Grill. They have the same buffet but the view out the back of the ship is better than the side seating in the Windjammer. Most people see the first sign of food and feel they need to grab a plate, the Island Grill side was quiet since not too many people had discovered it yet and we had some great service back there. Later in the week, after others had discovered this seating area, it did get more crowded but we never were unable to get seating.
Back down to our cabin to start unpacking from the luggage that had already arrived. We had four bags, two came before 2, one by 4 and the other about 6. We had late seating but I did hear that there were many people at first seating in the dining room in shorts because their luggage did not arrive till after 6. No one was denied service because of this.
We met our cabin steward, Desmond and the concierge, Mary. Both were delightful. There were 14 in our group all together with 6 of them being children 6-14. We had a dvd player in our room and the concierge lounge had dvd's so when it was time for the kids to just chill, Mary was there to get them a great movie. (Note, on the second day, Sunday, one of the children sprained his ankle playing in the basketball tournament and on the third day one of them broke her toe on the water playground in Labadee so the dvd player came in very handy).
We went to the sail away party on the pool deck, met up with the rest of our crew, learned a new dance and had our customary drinks with umbrellas in them. Returned to our cabin for more unpacking.
Muster drill went off right on time at 4:15. My daughter was given a wrist band with her muster station information on it in case she was not with us during a real emergency. All children 11 and under were give the same thing. Anyone who wanted one, could also receive one. Ship did not set sail until about 6 due to some late flights.
We had late seating for dinner. We were on deck 3, Magellen Dining Room. The first night dinner was not until 9:00 but all other evenings it was 8:30. We had the absolute best waitress ever! Monika was just back for her second week after her vacation. Seems that they slowly break them back in so she only had our group which was a table for the six children and the table for the eight adults. The first night I got up and asked my 14 year old son to please help the six year old to cut his food. Monika came right over, told me I was not to worry about this, to stay in my seat and enjoy my meal, she and the assistant waiter Fari would take care of the children. And take care of the children they did. Monika saw that they had their dinner right away, (which was great because most nights they had "children plans"), she cut, tossed, and seasoned everything for them to perfection! She made wonder suggestions to us, told us why she did and did not like particular dishes. We loved her!
As others have stated before me, the food was tremendous. Every night the food was wonderful. None of the 14 of us could find a complaint even if we tried. It was just that good. We ate in the dining room all but one night when we had dinner in the Windjammer. We had a wonderful meal there. They had a pasta station, a steak station and the regular buffet. One family in our group did not bring formal clothes so they ate here those nights and also said it was wonderful.
Our itinerary was a unique one. The normal Eastern Caribbean tour goes to Nassau, Sea, St. Thomas, San Juan, Labadee, Sea. We did this in reverse which the crew told us was better. We were in Nassau from 11 till 6 which gave us plenty of time to do a snorkel excursion and in San Juan from 11:30 till 8. Normally the ship leaves both ports by 2 we were told.
Having the first day at sea was great because it gave every one a chance to check out the ship. Some of the group went to the pool, some participated in organized activities and some just walked around in amazement. RCCL now puts your pool/beach towels in your room the first day and they charge you $20 for missing towels. This is supposed to help with the saving of pool chairs. We still saw plenty of un used chairs that has personal items on them but we did not have a problem finding a chair although we did have to search for one at 2 in the afternoon. This being spring break/easter week I am sure there were many more people on board then other weeks but we truly did not find 3500+ people too much.
We had been given a notice from the captain about behavior and how we were all expected to behave. He also made an announcement about this. He told us two families had been put off the week before for not abiding by these rules. Our concierge told us one family's 15 year old daughter had gotten drunk and stripped on the pool deck, the other had two boys 16 & 17 drunk and disorderly. Both were put off in San Juan. On our cruise, one family was put off in Nassau. Their 15 year old son had gotten vodka in St. Thomas and brought it on board in a water bottle. He and a friend proceded to get very drunk and took all the ornamental mulch they put around the plants and dropped them all over the stairway by Portofinos. This mulch is like marbles therefore creating a very dangerous situation. They then proceded to throw the plants outside Portofino down the centrum. Luckily they were stopped but got very ugly with the hotel manager as did their parents with the captain. They were secured to their cabins and put off in Nassau. With as many people on board and almost 900 children that we had, we really had not problems with crowds or much rudeness. Some children ran in the hallways and played with the elevators we were told but luckily we did not see this. As for our own children, on Friday I was approached by a gentleman who said he was sitting next to our childrens' table and he wanted to let us know they were the most polite and well behaved children he had ever seen and that when they had first seen them sitting there on Saturday night they feared the worst but received the best. Good thing, all six kids (two mine) would have been toast if we had seen anything but their best behavior! LOL
Ports - Labadee
We did the Artic Playground and had a great time. My daughter did get her toe caught on one of the rope stairs on the iceberg and break it but she did not tell us for fear we would take her back to the ship. We love Labadee, it was our third time back and we can't wait to go again. We had some of the island drinks that used to be called Cocolocos but now are something to the effect of Labadoozas. They changed the souvenior cups this year so of course I had to have extra drinks to get one in each color! LOL The snorkeling was pretty bad we heard, we did not do it as we had heard it had been bad previous times we were there. The marketplace was just as pushy but we did get some great items at what we felt was a fair price.
San Juan - We did our own walking tour. My son's spanish teacher is from Puerto Rico and gave us some sites we should see. We visited the oldest chapel, the fort, the park where you feed the pigeons and the Barachina Restaurant. They say they invented the pina colada. We all had one, they were great along with some appetizers that the waiter suggested we try as being authenic puerto rican delicacies. They were very good also. We then went back to the ship as the port was very crowded. Since we changed our route, we were an extra ship putting an additional 3500+ people on the streets. You can imagine the streets if you've ever been there before, they are very narrow and with extra people, well you get the picture.
St. Thomas - We did an excursion with the Coki Dive Club that I had read about on one of the boards. They picked us up at the pier at 9:30 and drove us over to their offices where the five that were diving took a class. They had never dived before but Coki offers a program for non divers for $55. The other nine of us then went on to Coki Beach for some snorkeling at $16. This was the best deal we have ever gotten. The ship charged $99 for the diving and $39 for the snorkeling. All 14 of us had the best time, got great pictures and saw some awesome fish, coral, star fish, sea urchins, etc. I highly recommend these people. Pete and Laura are the best!
Nassau - Since it was Good Friday, we were told everything was closed so we booked the Blackbeards Cay tour with the ship. It was $21 which included a drink, your boat ride to and from the island and a lounge chair. Since it was the last day of our cruise, we were all a bit tired so only the kids snorkeled at $8, another bargain or so we thought. There was just about nothing to see and there was a strong current and wind. My son found some "friendly urchins" brought them to shore for everyone to see and then put them back, they were actually kind of cute. This was a nice island and we did enjoy just lounging. When we boated back to Nassau, we noticed some shops were open along the water front. a t-shirt shop, one liquor store and a jewelry store. There were at least 6 ships in port so you can imagine how crowded they were! We did not even bother. We tried to get my daughters hair braided. She just wanted four braids on the side, no one was interested in earning $8, they kept trying to talk us into the $50 half head which she did not want so we just went back to the ship.
We did use the Fitness Center, the rock climbing wall, the in-line skating rink, and the kids slide. All were wonderful. The Spa was also used by two of us. A pedicure that should have been $55 was $220 after purchasing the products and the facial at $89 cost one of us $170 after the product purchase. They are very pushy with the products. I did want two of the pedicure products having used them before but the other I could have done without. I got away with purchasing no facial products using the excuse that my husband had gone crazy in St. Thomas (we did not even shop) and I would have to check with him of how much I could spend. I did not go back but if I had, the products she wanted me to buy were $529, not including the facial! My mom had her hair done twice for $35. It looked beautiful, it really did, Lottie did a fantastic job but she did manage to talk by mom into getting some Vitamin C for her hair! My mom just can't say no.
We did not get to all the shows as they were at 10:45 after dinner and we were just too tired. The four we went to were excellent and we truly enjoyed them.
Disembarking was a nightmare. We went to the dining room for breakfast and left about 8:45. Our color had already been called so we assumed we could just get off. Unfortunately this was not the case. They only let so many off and then they closed the doors. We waited about 15 minutes and then they let the next group off. We thought we would go right for our luggage but we had to go through the first set of custom agents. This was a 30 minute wait. They checked our passports/birth certificates, asked our children how old they were and then let us go. We got our luggage and proceded to the next customs agent. We turned in our form and got pulled aside. My husband was wearing his Rolex and they questioned him about how old it was, (five years), where he got it (an award from work), how much we paid for it (hello, nothing, it was a gift! cheapest rolex there is), what purchases did we make to get to our $500 (the t-shirts we were wearing, the $90 watch I was wearing, one piece of crystal and other little items) I guess he liked our answers (they were truthful) so he let us go. We were in our car about 10:30 and waved a sad goodbye to the Explorer.
Good news though, we booked the Navigator for the same time next year while we were on the ship. We got a great deal and $200 on board credit!
Any questions and or comments, please feel free to e mail, just put explorer in the subject line. I'm sure I have left out many things so do ask and I will answer if I can.