Viking Group is the name of Sue Whitfield's group of mostly her agency's clients from all over the country. There were about 69 of us on this cruise.
Embarkation: I have to break down the embarkation to what seems to be Miami's port personnel working for RCI and the check-in folks from RCI. We had to wait on a few lines and at one point sat down in a row of chairs while we waited to be boarded and almost all of the folks barking orders at us were about as pleasant as workers found at your local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). This was horrible treatment. Once we got to the check-in desk the woman behind the counter was pleasant and polite. It took a while to embark, about 45-50 minutes, and there was the sense of extra security. An interesting thing is my wife, Claudine, was not allowed to take a picture of the exterior of the ship at the Miami port.
Explorer the ship for its targeted audience: Familiar RCI signature spaces are all present: the Royal Viking Crown lounge provides various types of entertainment and a commanding view forwardfrom midship/aft high up on the ship and also an overview of the pool area, on the Explorer it is Dizzy's the jazz club by day and evening and Latin hot spot at night; the Champagne Bar provides wine and champagne and some appetizers; the nautical theme Schooner Bar provides piano bar style entertainment; the glass covered Solarium provides a pool to relax in and a jacuzzi and lots of loungers. The Centrums with glass view elevators but this time it is times 2 and connected by the Royal Promenade which provides a few shops, a very large gathering area, a 24 hour eatery, people watching opportunities, a stairway to the Casino, a sports bar, a pub, some video games, unlimited ice cream with toppings. Here, also performers called "Krooze Comics" interactively perform for the pax. The idea of the Centrum, in Europe the Center of Town and what inspired RCI's chief designer, Njal Eide, to make the center of RCI's ships, is now expanded to a main street that's about a block and a half in length and has a ceiling extending 4 decks. 2 parades are given during the 7 night cruise. The ship has a standard large buffet, a specialty restaurant, Johnny Rockets. It also has an ice rink that has ice shows, but also allows passengers to skate, and the floor is also used for a party (flooring changed for this purpose). Outside she has mini-golf, full court basketball/volleyball, rock climbing, inline skating. For youngsters there's lots of video games, for kids their own dedicated spaces. So, this ship succeeds in offering RCI pax many options and the combination of the placement of the public areas in the proximity of the Royal Promenade and Centrums, and various activities and music playing especially evenings and nights, makes for a definite electricity and hustle bustle in the air that I think many fans of the line enjoy immensely.
Explorer the ship: This ship's public areas are designed around mostly two 12-14 deck Centrums and the two lower deck levels, 4 and 5, of public spaces fore to aft. The upper deck areas, 11-14, have much of the active outside areas and kids and teen area in addition to the Windjammer and other eateries. The higher deck forward areas are mostly Spa and solarium areas. Midship is the signature RCI Viking Crown lounge. The skating rink and photo gallery is on deck 3. The ship features a fully wrap around promenade deck with stairs near the front going up to the bow that had full passenger access. The rock-climbing wall, mini-golf, inline skating track (that's padded), are all located aft on deck 13 (yes, this ship has a deck 13).
My critique: I think this ship has a major shortcoming and I found some questionable layout issues.
2 Main Elevator Banks with 14 Elevators ain't enough: I find this to be the major shortcoming of the Voyager class. There are only two main elevator banks, one forward, one between midship and aft, for this 1000 foot ship hosting 3500+ pax. Elevator waits were often excessive. By contrast there are 14 elevators, total, on the 62,000 ton, 1440 pax, Zaandam, and 3 elevator banks located forward, midship, and aft. There also are only two major stairways for the Voyager class ships for pax. This made for long walks between major public areas of the ship and I felt tired walking around this ship.
Cacophonous areas: There are places where public areas merge. The Schooner Bar is located forward near the forward Centrum, within the Schooner Bar is the entrance to the Chamber, the disco, and right near the entrance to the Chamber is the Casino. So, the Schooner has its piano entertainment, the beat of Chamber can be clearly heard since it is an open entrance, and the casino, that turns the sounds of its machines up, can also be heard quite well. In about 1/3rd of the Schooner Bar these three public areas sounds combine and tend to produce, at times, cacophony.
Another problem area of sounds merging is between Dizzy's and 19th hole. Sometimes Dizzy's and 19th hole, only separated by glass, play different types of music, and both can be heard at the same time. Also, sometimes Dizzy's statue, located at the main entrance to the lounge, plays some of Dizzy's famous recordings - but this doesn't last very long.
I also, at times, had problems in the quiet solarium. It's located near the pool area and sometimes the band in the main pool area played loud enough so that they could be heard in the solarium. But even when they weren't playing loud enough to hear when folks came from the main pool area into the solarium, through the sliding doors, every time the door would open the sounds from the pool area would intrude.
I think a somewhat interesting placement of a public room is Portofinos. It is located right next to the very casual Windjammer. Portofinos is an reservations only, for fee, restaurant, and its placement seemed a bit strange to me.
Tale of two waiters: We originally had a table for six, and it was a bit away from the main members of the group. When two of the members switched to early seating, we were changed to a table for four and received a new wait staff. Our first waiter delivered our food later than most of the tables, frequently got the orders wrong, reached over us, did not take the woman's orders before the men's, and seemed unpolished though he was nice enough. His assistant was quick and seemed polished. However...
Our second waiter got all of our orders right, served all meals from the right, took the women's orders before the men and served them before the men, always asked us if we were enjoying our meal, and was very quick in delivering the meals to us. The two RCI waiters in this area combined with our group antics and were very loose while at the same time did their job very, very well.
I think the moral, if I can be a bit preachy here, is that one should never judge a line's dining service based on one waiter (your waiter) and should at least observe some of the other waiters and converse with others on the performance of their waiter(s) and dining crew before coming to any sweeping conclusions about the overall dining service of the line. Also true of the cabin stewards as well.
Bar service: sort of omnipresent on the decks, if you are interested in all sorts of drinks on the deck bar service engages and is quite available. I found, at times, some of the staff too eager. We would sit down for no longer than a few seconds before a bar server would come by to ask us if we wanted to drink. We prefer a less aggressive approach.
Mellow Ferdinand: Is the exception and someone my wife and I immediately clicked with. Ferdinand is coming from Silverseas. Preferred RCI, less pressure, more laid back, less demanding clientele. Ferdinand, from the Phillipines, was very much like a HAL employee. He addressed us by name and I guess if we had established any preferences he would have had it ready for us when we came by. But we changed from night to night. Ferdinand was in the Champagne bar, which was somewhat under used.
The Sell: Ah yes. This is a revenue ship and I did feel the ship sell more than on HAL or Celebrity (which I expected). When we first visited Portofinos the escort to the restaurant very strongly encouraged us to experience the "extraordinary" dining pleasures of Portofinos. When we were strolling along the promenade we looked at a painting for no more than 5 seconds before a saleswoman came by to tell us how great the prices were and how wonderful it is to buy art from the ships. There were plenty of for sale signs in various areas of the promenade. There was also a flower seller parked outside of the entrance to the Windjammer in the mornings, but he never called us over to him.
Announcements: Announcements were moderate, and fairly helpful. I did find "the sell" included in the delivery and pitch of some of the activities and ways to spend money on the ship. All OK in my book, noticeable but not obnoxious.
Captain's address: like HAL, there were regular daily updates from the Captain. The Captain was fairly succinct and had a nice speaking voice and a good command of English.
Just flat out fun stuff: Towel animals, especially the hanging monkey (with cig in mouth); the toga party that was oh so festive; the horseracing was great in that the cruise director called a great race - sometimes it is not the game, but how it is called; the utterly entertaining 50-70s party where the cruise director played Austin Powers with his "groovy man" schtick (sp?) and other cruise members did John Travolta and the Village People - this was done in the ice rink and the floor for dancing and activities was huge; the belly flop which included Dave in a bathing suit and Dave (Sue's husband) with something extra strapped around his waist was another high energy call by Cruise Director Dan Whitney - did I say I found him to be extraordinary?; the wild and crazy Quest game with men and women running around like maniacs. Some of the highlights of the fun activities onboard this 7 day RCI Caribbean cruise.
Overall entertainment: the showroom entertainment is typical revue show but high energy and lots of wonderful sets and costumes and pulsating music. I'd rate it higher than what I've seen so far which is showroom entertainment from HAL and Celebrity. The ice show was a blast, acrobats from Russia were the highlight. The actual skating was OK, it wasn't a show for skating aficionados but its entertainment value was high. The toga party featured line dancing and a people train.
The two areas of entertainment I could have lived without are the Royal Promenade parades and the Krooze Comics. This is the time where the RP felt hot and crowded. The Krooze Comics were good performers but my wife and I just wanted to avoid them and not be part of the entertainment. They are fine, did their jobs well, but we found them a bit intrusive.
Space ratio: excellent, actually. The only time I felt the number of folks onboard was during the RP parades and waiting for those elevators. Even tendering wasn't painful.
Ceiling height: the ship had pretty high ceilings especially on decks 4 and 5 where most of the inside public areas are. Much better than the low ceiling Nordic Empress I toured in New York City. The ship had some interesting ceiling treatments but most were the standard RCI type that we've seen on Legend, Grandeur, and earlier RCI ships.
Ah, the group!: The Viking Group cruise actually is an annual celebration of Dave and Sue Whitfield's anniversary. It's become quite the cliche to say these so and so are a wonderful couple and individually are wonderful people but this absolutely applies to Sue and Dave and I mean this with absolute sincerity. Sue and Dave are both fun-loving and are loud at times but never did I witness them being abrasive, obnoxious, or disrespectful of fellow passengers or crew members.
These are the leaders, planners, coconspirators of the group. They made a booklet with a brief bio of everyone who was on the cruise. They planned shore excursions, ship activities, prizes for people that Sue emceed, all sorts of fun outfits to wear for dinner. And these folks have style. What do I mean by this?
They dress well for formal night, fancy digs. Yet they put a spin on it. Dave, came in as a crime boss, hat and everything, and of course, the presence and attitude. But the real Dave style came through in the belly flop contest. Sorry to report he did not get the gold prize but in my book he won on all stylistic points. He hammed it up totally. He danced, pranced, shaked and shimmied and at one point wore a very revealing outfit (though it wasn't the real thing he was revealing). He gave wonderful speeches during the dinners about his appreciation for all of those who joined in on the group cruise and to his wife and daughter.
Susette made some of her own outfits including a colorful flamingo shirt and also made some outfits for others on the group. Every night she was stylish with a new outfit with matching hats. She engaged everyone in the group.
The idea of the group, I think, is to entertain fellow pax as well as ourselves. So, most in the group, wore various hats, jester, flamingo, Christmas, Viking, and others. The dining staff picked up on it the first night and wore the hats and really seemed to enjoy the group. Every night a procession of us walked down from the top level into the 2nd level where we were seated and most responses favorably cheered us on, laughed, enjoyed the group. I videotaped some of our fun.
Much of the group activities were around the pool area, Schooners Bar, and the dining room. We did the prize awards in Dizzy's lounge where some wonderful appetizers were provided for us. Our group photo was on one of the winding stairways of the Centrum, a popular place for photos. We weren't sure if the stairway could hold 69 folks, but somehow it did.
I didn't do much at the ports but we did find each other in Labadee where the group boasted of their bargaining skills. Not only did they bargain with money, they also used food and bandanas!
One group of our folks, the Tregunnas, had their own themes on dining nights. One night they were dressed as Pirates, in red with black hats. They looked great. They had two of their grandchildren with them and kept them in the spirit. On formal nights the toddler, Danny, and the baby, Cameron, had their own tuxes. Cameron's was the first time I've seen a tux that small.
One more thing (as Columbo would say) is the lobster tail contest. Well, I don't think it started out as such but the grand winner was Eric, who I believe had 7 lobster tails, though it may have been 8. Pete, at my table, had one less. That's a lot of lobsters. I didn't eat any lobster tails, but I went to a restaurant in Maine and ordered a hamburger. So much for me.
I like the size, versatility and style of this group. In the daytime we mostly did our own thing except the days of the belly flop and horseracing and sometimes got together for lunch. At night we got together for the dining procession. I think Sue and Dave had the ideal amount of activities for the group and space for us to do our own thing. I think a very successful and enjoyable cruise was had by all of the group's members.
Disembarkation: the usual colored tags procedure. But, 3 colors were called for the first group. There was some crowding near the elevator shafts and a problem with people cutting into the flow of pax disembarking the ship when they were getting out of the elevators. I also witnessed too many people who ignored the stay out of the stairwells rule.
OK, I'll talk about the decor a bit: There's a I'm not really on a ship feel here to this ship. The corridors of the ship, many of the stairwells, and at least the standard staterooms all use a pastel palette. The pastel is pretty and tropical in feel but some of the carpets are just plain standard RCI and were really dull (Schooner bar, Aquarium Bar, Champagne Bar) - all of these rooms could have benefited from the punch of more vibrant flooring. The area, the "heart" of the ship around the Royal Promenade and Centrum really is where one was hard pressed to feel like they were on a ship. For some this is desirable. I felt that the promenade was pretty much done in suburban mall style. Claudine thought that the promenade area, after looking at it for a while one day, could be improved by making it more charming. She thought it could be done so by1) replacing glass shutters on windows on the above decks with colored wood or faux-wood shutters and painting different sections above the shops/bars/cafes on both sides to resemble brownstones. 2) softening the lighting - less neon/fiber-optic feel 3) making the floor more of a solid cobblestone and more matte and less shiny a texture.
I thought that the addition of old fashioned street lamps would add some needed charm to the area.
In general I think the ship is pretty tropical urban hotel in feel and doesn't really have that public lounge that I found full of some sort of an evocative environment that lulled me in to it time after time. I found Maharajas to be in the Atlantic City casino mode of themed lounge though it worked well. The Aquarium Bar was hotel style but I must say I love watching the beautiful tropical fish in the real aquariums, the Centrums with their almost always active elevators seemed to be more hotel than ship to me. The aquarium bar was pretty, though not intimate because it was split in the middle by Centrum stairs. I have to say I'm not a huge fan of off-the-atrium public rooms and Schonners, Aquarium Bar, Champagne Bar, Royal Promenade all felt like off-the-atrium areas. Dizzy's has some jazz club ambiance but overall the combinations of the furnishings didn't quite do it for me though it is quite a nice room. I think I would prefer less patterns and more solid colors. I did enjoy the carpet leading to Dizzy's from the elevator bank. Fun and jazzy and full of personality. Perhaps Portofinos had ambiance - I did not elect to go there but it felt like it may have had it when I briefly went inside the first day of the cruise. I don't feel I need to spend that much time on decor on this ship because I think the main part of this ship is the action, amenities, and the wonderful deck spaces, not so much her decor. I know lots of people love the Centrums and RCI's decor, and it is pretty, but not necessarily my cup of tea. I prefer the smaller scale lounge areas of Princess and I especially like Princess' rich Wheelhouse Bars, the clubby and quasi-classic ship nooks of HAL's lounges, and the more chic, often art deco inspired, and often period designs of Celebrity's ships, also the traditional splendor of P&Os fleet and the understated chic look of Radisson's Seven Seas Navigator. I also found the dining rooms of HAL, Celebrity, and Princess to feel more luxurious and grand and overall the ships of HAL, Celebrity, and Princess to offer more premium furnishings although not necessarily having the Voyager's class amenities. This was expected. For me the marketing categories stand.
I like it on deck best: Yes, that's where I was much of the day. The promenade deck is truly wonderful, and I'll excuse RCI for not making most of it teak. It is wide, it wraps fully around the ship, there's full access to the bow, and there are a few loungers. The only problem I had with the promenade deck is that sometimes RCI played music out on this deck. The only music I wanted to hear was the sound of the sea on this deck. I also love the peak over the bridge area, the main pool area worked well, and the whole entertainment complex in the aft section worked well.
Sleepy time: I don't know if it was the size of the ship, its motion, or that I felt compelled to be on the deck in the daytime but I took frequent naps on the promenade deck, in the solarium, or any place, usually outside, that I could find a reasonable quiet place, and there were enough areas where I could.
Some outstanding crew members: Dan, Dan, the Party Man. Wow. Very energetic cruise director that made the cruise that much more fun. His calling of the horse race and belly flop and quick wit made him a delight. His sidekick, codirector Double D Derek was also wonderful. Our room steward was one of the best. Never came in on us, the room was clean and he folded our clothes, he was almost magical. Ferdinand, of course. Ozzie, our waiter, in addition to serving us swiftly and professionally and getting our orders right, was witty, entertaining, and engaging. He felt the personalities of our table out well and went along with our style of conversation and humor.
Our impressions of the food: food is absolutely subjective and I really am no connoisseur of fine food. I'm actually not a big eater at all, my wife is a moderate eater. We found the buffet food overall fair at best. Some hits but some real misses. Not a big selection at all for such a large ship, Zenith seemed to have a larger selection. Dining food presentation was inconsistent and the effort was OK, but the execution fell a bit short. The food itself had some standouts, particularly the lobster. The sauces for the meat/fish/foul was where I feel HAL and especially Celebrity had RCI beat. I did enjoy the included sodas at dinner. I think the 24 hour food in the Cafe Promenade was tasty, pizza had a thin crust. The coffee, I must say, may be the worse I've ever had. I welcome the news that the Adventure is going to have a Seattle's Best onboard. Now, time to retrofit it to the other ships. The custard for the ice cream seemed a bit lacking in cream taste but was good enough. Kids had a great time putting as much ice cream as possible on the little cones provided.
It was Christmastime: and the ship was decorated wonderfully. Right outside the Cafe Promenade a wonderful gingerbread village display complete with a train was set up. Tree ornaments were creatively done and located in various public areas. Near the Windjammer were two animated nutcrackers.
Maintenance and cleanliness: The exterior of the ship and painted areas of the deck were absolutely pristine. She was probably the most evenly and freshly painted ship at most of the ports visited and we shared the ports with NCL, HAL and Carnival ships. Inside, it was not quite up to the level of HAL or Celebrity. Carpets were not vacuumed often which allows the dirt to set in and show and for the carpet to have a duller appearance than if they are "combed" by vacuuming them. Their pale and pastel colors also seem to reveal some areas of dirt. The tables in the buffet were not bussed as quickly as they could have been. On the decks there seem to be more cans, papers, food left around in various places than on HAL or Celebrity. The overall cleanliness was good and sometimes very good and not at all objectionable, but not up to the higher standards of other ships I've been aboard.
The big ship moves: Well, the first night we felt nothing. However, with a moderately strong headwind and some moderate seas of 6-8 feet that old familiar feeling of bow pitching with some roll was present. Actually, it felt quite similar to the Century in the same sort of conditions. Also, the Viking Crown lounge vibrates a bit at times and sometimes shakes a bit. Is this true of other RCI ships? So, while the Voyager class is a smooth sailing ship that seems to have no problems staying straight in windy conditions, I think reports of the ship having no motion are optimistic. While the ship is way big the ocean and wind and the forces of nature are way bigger, and she'll still behave like a ship. I welcomed the motion.
Is this big ship small? I feel in some ways it is. I think because the Promenade is scaled mall/main street it seems a bit narrow. Also, not the stores, but the entertainment pubs seem a bit small within. RCI has done a great job of making the smaller scale seem like a larger scale, the illusion was expertly done, but it is still present when one uses references of the scale land-based areas of this type usually have. And, while the Centrums are impressive in a way because one is on a ship, 14 decks is a lot shorter than 14 stories of a hotel. And hotels tend to go up 20 -30 or more stories, so there's much more spacing. During peak hours of activity the promenade can seem a bit crowded and RCI brings out tables to sell things onto the promenade making it feel a bit more crowded. Also, there's lots of stuff in the promenade in the form of huge suspended pieces of art, different textures, different store fronts, and one effective way of making small places seem larger is limiting the amount of stuff. But that would be at odds with the hustle bustle feel and I think RCI did the right thing by putting in all of the stuff. It's their style and pax have responded well to the Royal Promenade.
I think on the deck that the inline track seems a bit squeezed. And I find it interesting that the Millennium seemed to have far more shops than the Explorer of the Seas, larger lounges, a larger quiet solarium area with a higher glass area, and a more expansive feeling spa area.
No port report: We didn't do much at the ports.
Overall: RCI is the fun line I thought it would be. I have plenty pics of their ships and videos and the actual ship really isn't much different than what the photos suggest. I had a wonderful video of much of the action on the Explorer from Bruce Stein, the parades, the singing waiters, the towel animals, the deck antics, and it was very noticeable how much was repeated, almost exactly on this Explorer cruise from the Voyager cruise one year earlier. It is more fun to be involved in it than watch it on video (though it is fun to watch it after being involved in it). There's some of the ballroom dancing and piano bar banter of HAL but it is much less the focus of the cruise as it is on HAL. The proportion of it is less, compared to HAL, and compared to what I've experienced on Celebrity. There's some fun science stuff near the aquarium bar, and a small screening room for edifying facts about ocean life.
I do not, however, think that the Voyager class is the ultimate ship. I am still of the opinion that while it can offer a ship experience it really takes it to the limit and feels, in many ways, to try its hardest not to feel like a ship. I love the ice skating rink and the wonderful show that was presented on it, the rock climbing wall, the mini-golf. I do not however care that much for the Royal Promenade and if the group decides on RCI after the Celebrity Constellation next year I would vote for the Radiance ship because it is a more manageable size, has less pastel colors, and does not have a Royal Promenade while having the mini-golf and rock climbing. And actually, the group did very little meeting at the Royal Promenade. Radiance also seems to have, from viewing her deck plans, a much more sensible placement for Portofinos next to the specialty Steakhouse and near the Schooner Bar. It seems the aft of the ship on Deck 6 has the Champagne Bar near the Centrum, the Schooner Bar, the two specialty restaurants and then a billiard Club, Card Club, and two lounges - there seems to be a unified theme to this area and that it was thought out a bit more than on the Voyager class. Radiance seems to lack the skating rink, this I would miss. If the group decides on Adventure or Navigator or another one of these mammoth beasts, though, I would not hesitate to go again. Haven't decided on Celebrity Constellation but I will predict a cruise with a narrower range of activities on this line with a different type of interactivity from the crew. The ship is also kind of fancy schmancy and understated for the group but they'll figure out a way to have a blast. However, I think groups would do far better with RCI, and don't quite understand why Celebrity is chosen so often for group cruises vs. RCI.
I enjoyed Sue's Viking group cruise immensely. I think they succeed well in their aim to entertain fellow pax often during the dining hours. They encouraged the hard working staff by providing laughs and fun at least during the time they served our group. I think cruising still is a big value.
I look forward to the next group cruise, whether we choose to do the Constellation, or wait until the group chooses RCI again. I would be interested in NCL as a choice as well. I did not find anyone in the group that liked Carnival so that will not be an option. The group tried Princess and it wasn't quite the same, a bit dull, but maybe they'll try it again. HAL would be way too sleepy. But, even if I don't cruise with the group in December, I'll see most of the folks at their annual picnic.
Claudine and I still prefer non-Carribean cruises of 10-12 nights and Celebrity is more often than not our first choice as a couple's cruise. Maybe our next cruise is on the Mercury or a Millie class ship, but may be the Zenith. We will try Princess and we are extremely pleased that we tried RCI and group cruising and look forward to another group cruise with Sue and hopefully on Radiance or Brilliance of the Seas - those shampoo ships.
It's interesting finally sitting down and writing one of these reviews, finally having the pleasure of being on this side of the page. For anyone who hasn't cruised yet, you must do this for yourself. You won't regret it. OK.on to business.
I'm a 32 year old, divorced male. I support the computers at a children's hospital, and went on 3 cruises while I was still in grade and high school, but it had been 15 years since my last one.
Day 0 -Miami
Not sure what the weather was going to be like at the airports in December, and this being the first time I've flown since 9/11, I allowed several hours between all my flights so my baggage would arrive with me, and I'd be OK if there were minor to significant delays. I also flew down a day early. The weather was warm, and I was able to make it through the added security with plenty of time to spare at each airport. My bags arrived with me in Miami, and things were off to a great start. I took a cab to the Miami Biscayne Bay Intercontinental, whereI'd requested a room with a port view.
Arriving in my room, a little tired from traveling for the past 11 hours, I was immediately reenergized by the view I had. My 11th floor room overlooked the port, and I could see RCI's Rhapsody of the Seas, two NCL ships I couldn't see enough of to identify, Carnival's Fascination, and Celebrity's Horizon. I also had a great view of Bayside Marketplace and Bayside Park. The room was very definitely decorated by someone with a Miami sense of style (can we say BRIGHT!), but was very nice. The hotel itself had great guest services, and was very attractive. I'd recommend this hotel to anyone overnighting before a cruise. It wasn't the cheapest, but it also wasn't anywhere near the most expensive (the Hyatt and Wyndham both cost more).
After contacting a friend I'd made on the internet who was going on this cruise too, we headed over to Bayside for some dinner at Bubba Gump's. This was another great recommendation I'd gotten of the various cruise boards, and I'll just add my praise to the list. Bayside is a nice place to spend the night before cruising, and was a short, pleasant walk from the hotel. I never felt unsafe while walking to and from Bayside, and noticed that the park you have to walk through to get from the Intercontinental to Bayside is well patrolled.
We turned in early, as both I and my friend were tired from traveling.
Day 1 - Miami
Woke up this morning to see the Explorer of the Seas docked along with the NCL Sun, and Carnival Triumph. What a sight! Explorer is truly a massive vessel!
My friend had two complimentary breakfasts with her room, so she kindly invited me to use one. We had breakfast at the buffet in the lobby restaurant (Indigo), which had a really great breakfast spread. It was a great warm-up to eating on the cruise. We checked out at 10:15, and took a cab together to the pier.
I think we were sitting in the lounge, waiting to get on the ship at around 11:00 am, and were allowed to begin checking-in and boarding at 11:30 am. In the lounge, I met another person I'd exchanged mail with on the net, but never met in person. We'd intended on meeting at the Sky Bar at sail away, but ran into each other on the pier. After checking in, we went and visited the Pier Coordinator, and I got an upgrade from a category N to a D9 for $300. I thought this was great, as I was traveling single, so I had the balcony cabin to my self for an amazingly low price. Always visit the Pier Coordinator (at the far left of the check-in area) to see what's available. At around noon, I'd made my way through the entry picture, and welcome aboard photo, and was stepping on to Explorer.
I haven't sailed in 15 years, and the last ship I was on was only 40,000+ tons, so getting on the Explorer was almost overwhelming. She's very beautiful and very big. I headed straight to my cabin to drop off my carry-on bags. I was one of the lucky people whose room was already clean and ready. I had 9310, the 9th deck balcony on the forward edge of the "hump" over the dining room, starboard side. This cabin is neat, since it's at the edge of the hump. The balcony is triangular, allowing you to set up a chair so you have a view looking forwards along the ships course. What a great cabin!
After figuring out where my muster station was going to be, I headed out to explore the Explorer. Knowing this was going to be one of the least crowded times, I took my trusty video camera with me to do a walkthrough of the ship. This ship is amazingly beautiful. It has areas that range from gaudy/glitzy to classic to subdued and elegant. There's something for everyone. Looking forward from the aft centrum through the Royal Promenade, or across the main pool deck from the deck above gives you a real impression of how big she is. I'd examined the deck plans for the ship in advance, and knew something about most of the public areas, so it only took a few minutes to have my bearings down. I never once got lost on this ship, for all her size. She's very well laid out, and the maps available at almost every major junction are very easy to read (especially the neat 3D ones on the Royal Promenade). I took a tour of the spa, and signed up for a nice, long massage on the first sea day. Book early, and don't let them force you into an inconvenient time. They seemed to want to fill up the time slots from first to last, but I just told them that I really wanted the morning of the first sea day, and I got it. I then headed up to the Windjammer for some lunch. This was the last time I ate in the Windjammer, because I discovered that if you just continue through this eatery, you ended up in the Island Grill, with its huge panoramic window over the stern. The food here was good, but not spectacular. It was certainly more than adequate for it's purpose. Ice tea, tea, coffee, lemonade and water were available free of charge, and sodas and alcohol could be purchased from a small bar in the restaurant. There were a number of bar servers pushing Pina Coladas in souvenir cups in the lobby outside the Windjammer, but I declined for now. After a little more exploring and the compulsory muster drill, it was time for the sail away party. Ok, now it was time to start into large, brightly colored drinks with umbrellas :-). The Explorer's Calypso band "Heat Wave" played some great music while everyone got their drink in hand, and found a place to watch from. The Triumph and Sun headed out in front of us, then we pulled away. I didn't expect to even feel the motion, but I noticed as soon as we started to move. I'd never been on a ship with thrusters before, and watching us pull away from the pier sideways was a neat experience. We sailed off into a beautiful Miami sunset, with a light breeze. by then, it was time to be off to dinner.
When I watched Titanic, I was impressed by the grand entrance stairway to the dining room. Well, being a little bigger, the three level dining room on Explorer blew away Hollywood's look at the Titanic. I was under the impression that you entered the dining room on the grand staircase, but you actually enter on the opposite end on either deck 3, 4, or 5. This works out better, as you enter looking straight at the staircase for a better view. I was in the De Gama dining room on deck 4, main seating. We had a table overlooking the main floor, but still were able to see out the large picture windows (table 444 to be exact). Our waiter and assistant were excellent, and made short work of almost any problem or trifling inconvenience we experienced during dinner throughout the cruise. While it's true that most of the younger, single crowd ate late seating, I liked early seating as we could enjoy the view out of the windows, and I could explore or take a nap after dinner while the second seating was occurring and the ship was a little less crowded, and fewer activities were occurring. Overall, the food was excellent, and the wait staff very accommodating throughout the cruise. I didn't have anything I thought was less than great, and had a few very excellent dishes. I also have to make mention of our head waitress, Kristen. I've heard all the horror stories of head waiters just cruising for a tip on the last evening. Kristen was anything but this way. She made it to our table by the second night, and really did her best to make everything perfect. One night, she arranged for a Philippino dish to be served to our table for two of the ladies. She also took care of some other dish wishes, and was around to check up on us almost every night. She was there doing the flambe deserts, and cracking open the lobster at the tables on her level. This was absolutely fantastic service from a Head Waitress with a lot of ground to cover.
After dinner, I stopped back at the room to see if my luggage had arrived yet. My room steward had made a trip to my original cabin, and retrieved my luggage and left the bags in my room. Sure, my bags took a little longer to get there, but I had made a cabin change at the pier, so I had expected to get them late.
It was now time for the sail away parade. What a fun time! The excitement of the crew and passengers really made this a fun and unique event. After all, how many ships have a street on board that they can have a parade on? The theme of the parade was 'famous explorers' and included Columbus, Magellan, and the crew of the S.S. Minnow. Also represented were King Neptune and his Queen, and some really great costumes of undersea creatures in his realm. The kids really seemed to especially enjoy this event.
Finally, I headed up to Dizzy's Jazz Club for a nice Guinness, and watched the people exploring the hot tubs. I explored the ship a bit more, and sat in the hot tubs at the main pool before retiring for the evening. What a great start!
Day 2 - Nassau
I woke up at around 8 am this morning, and headed up to the Island Grill for breakfast. Joining us in port were the Carnival Fascination (which left shortly after we arrived), and the HAL Maasdam (I think). The HAL Zaandam later joined us. Breakfast was good, with plenty of things to choose from, and was the same each day. I never did do breakfast or lunch in the dining room. I had promised a friend that I wouldn't go to Atlantis, as she wants to go and experience it with me, so I decided to head into town to see what else was available. I had made a reservation to go on the Yellowbird beach cruise, but it had been cancelled because they didn't have enough people sign up. Some of the shops were open downtown, but not all that many, so I decided to walk to the bridge to Paradise Island and shoot some footage of Atlantis from there. Yes, it's possible to walk to Atlantis from the pier, but with the ship leaving at 2:00 pm, I wouldn't recommend it. It's a long walk (maybe 2 or 3 miles), and there wouldn't be enough time to explore Atlantis with all that walking time. I got back to the ship just in time for lunch at Johnny Rockets. Wow, what a great place to eat. We have a Johnny Rockets in Indianapolis, but they charge extra for fries, and I never feel like I'm getting good value for my money. Not the same on Explorer. When you sit down, they immediately bring you a plate with fries and onion rings that is refilled whenever you want. All the burgers are included in your cruise price, and are very well prepared. The shakes cost something like $3.50, but are well worth it. They're thick and very tasty. Flavored Coke will also cost you extra, but so what? It's worth it. After lunch, I headed aft for sail away. When we were at sea, I spent some time in the solarium pool area, and in the hot tubs there for a nice, peaceful afternoon. I headed down to my cabin early to prepare for the first formal night. I own my tux, so getting ready was pretty easy and quicker than I thought it would be.
The bathroom is small, but efficient, and the clamshell doors I heard everyone praise on the cruise boards deserve the accolades they receive. The toilet was interesting. They must not treat the water in the septic system like they do the rest of the water on the ship. Whenever I flipped up the lid on the toilet, I knew it was a toilet thanks to the smell. It wasn't overly unpleasant, but it would have been had the odor been any stronger. This was a minor problem, and one I chose to completely ignore after noticing it for the first time. I include it here, only because I've never heard anyone mention this aspect of ship toilets.
Since I had time, I used the TV set to check my Supercharge account to make sure the Yellowbird excursion had been removed. Using the interactive TV to check my account was simple, and this proved to be a great tool to keep track of my spending so I was never stressed about money. I was concerned that my St. Thomas excursion tickets, which I booked online, had not yet shown up, so I went down to the excursions desk to check on them, and to change the times on one of the tours. They couldn't change the time without the tickets, and asked me to return the next day, whether I had the tickets or not at that point. I also made a stop at Royal Caribbean Online. This is a very nice facility, that sort of shares space with the library (an open well in the center of the room looks down into the library on the deck below). The computers were nice, and fairly well maintained. For me, getting online and checking and sending e-mail was easy, though my friend had trouble, as her Supercharge card wouldn't work in the computers for some reason. Beware of spending too much time here though, as price adds up quickly at $0.50/minute. I spent $11.50 the first time, and was more careful on future visits.
OK, so on to formal dinner. I'll warn you now, that if you want a formal portrait, be prepared to stand in line for a long time. As a single guy, there was really no point in getting a portrait, so I snuck past the long line of those desiring photos, and into the dining room. The filet served on this night was good, but not top notch. I think that may have been partly due to how it was prepared, and personal taste. It certainly was tender in any case. I also ordered a bottle of wine, which I took to my room after dinner so I could enjoy a few glasses of wine on my balcony. This turned out to be a treat, but more on that in day 5 :-). Unfortunately, the Captain's reception occurs during the main seating dinner, so I didn't get to hear his speech. After dinner, I left to catch the tail end of the Champaign party, and found that I was glad I couldn't attend the whole thing. The Royal Promenade was packed with people. There were way too many for the space they were trying to occupy. This is one of the only times I found the ship to be crowded.
The Captain had gently warned us that we might face some high seas, and by the time dinner was over we were doing 21 knots straight into 25 knot winds for a nice total of 46 knots across the deck! Seas were 7-8 feet, and you could definitely feel the motion. I don't get motion sickness, but I understand that some people had a hard night of it.
After escaping the tangle of people that was the Captain's reception, I headed to the show for this evening, a song and dance review called "History Repeating." RCI really did a good job with this show. I'd say it rated as an off-strip Vegas show. It had the lavish costumes, and big dance numbers with some really talented singers. The numbers they performed ranged from great to spectacular, but it wasn't quite as good as what you'd find in the major hotels on the strip. Mind you, that's not a complaint at all, just a point of reference. This is far more than I expected at sea.
After the show, I went up to the Schooner Bar. I'd met Marilyn Wood, the entertainer, earlier at Johnny Rockets. She's a lovely person, and a very entertaining and skilled performer. She makes a real effort to interact with her audience, and does a great job of drawing the whole bar into her show. Thanks to Marilyn, the Schooner Bar is a great place to meet people and make new friends. I ran into one of my net friends and some of the people in her group, and we had a great time that night. The purple people (you know who you are ;-) ), really knew how to have a good time. Later that night, I made the first of many trips into The Chamber: the adult disco. The Chamber is built like a goth club, but plays pop and R&B. For me, that's a let down, but not a surprise, and I'm sure most enjoyed the music. Even if you have no interest in dancing at all, you should make sure to at least walk through this area. There are suit of armor, gargoyles, fake torches, and medieval inspired high backed chairs. Quite a sight.
At this point, I'd had enough for one day, and I retired to my room.
Day 3 - At Sea
Today started way too early. I had to get up and get clean for an 8 am massage. Because we were changing time zones, the clocks had been moved forward an hour last night, so I got an hour less sleep than I would have liked. That's OK though, because that hour was valuable when it was returned on the last day of the cruise. I should have scheduled for later. The spa staff was very nice, but I was dreading the usual sales pitch, where they try to sell you all sorts of products. To my surprise, my masseuse, Sabine, didn't pitch a single product. She made some minor recommendations, but there were no pressure sales. That truly made the experience relaxing, and so she got a really good tip. Hopefully this is a sign that Steiners is changing the way they do business, but I suspect it was just luck on my part.
After a relaxing massage, most of the tension I'd built up over the past 8 months since my last vacation finally was on its way out. I helped it along by having a drink in the solarium area. This adult pool area features lots of shaded deck chairs, and some in the sun too. The deck chairs here have the large, comfortable mats on them for that extra relaxing experience. I never had a problem finding a chair, until the last day or two, and I didn't notice any trouble with people saving chairs. I did see pool patrol people remove towels from chairs that had clearly not been used in a long time. The solarium is a great place to relax and curl up with a book. On this cruise, I only ever saw one child in the pool, and he was with his father, and very well behaved. Since it was windy (still a good 30-40 knots across the top decks), it got a little chilly after a while, and I made use of the hot tubs. The adult only hot tubs are tucked back under the upper deck, and have a very nice roof painted blue with little lights for stars. Very relaxing.
There's so much to do on this ship during your sea days, but I chose to just relax on this first one. It turned out to be a good choice. I didn't participate in bingo, or horse racing today, though both were offered.
Before dinner, I stopped at Royal Carribean Online again, and stopped by the Explorations desk again since I still hadn't received any tickets. The staff at the desk made the excursion time change I wanted, and reprinted my tickets. They had all my intenet reserved tours listed, but somehow the tickets had never made it to my new cabin assignment. The staff was very helpful, and got me what I wanted without any hassle or billing errors. Today was also the day to get "Planet Ice" tickets, but since one of my friends had a suite, she'd arranged tickets for us in advance through her concierge.
Dinner tonight was the Italian Feast, and I made a pig of myself by having both the Shrimp Scampi and the Eggplant pasta. Both were superb! The wait staff performed 'O Sole Mio', which was entertaining for me as a first time Caribbean cruiser. The performance really didn't interrupt food service at all.
I skipped the show tonight, though I think I should have gone. Domenick Allen was the performer, and the reviews I heard later in the cruise were very positive. He's apparently a very talented and interesting man. It was also Country and Western night, but that's not my scene, so I avoided that as well.
Instead of the show and C & W party, I went back to the Schooner Bar, and listened to Marilyn again. There was a well hosted game of "Name That Tune" this evening, and our team came in third (just short of the prizes.darn). Marilyn did a great job with this, making it so that teams really needed both young and not so young team members to be competitive. This was a great chance to meet people and make some new friends.
After that, I retired a little early since I had to tackle the excitement of St. Thomas tomorrow.
Day 4 - St. Thomas
I woke up this morning in time to watch us come into port from my balcony. The dawn approach to Charlotte-Amalie is something not to be missed. Unfortunately I was also to find out that this was the best weather we were going to have all day.
I had breakfast up in the Island Grill, and got a window seat so I could watch the Carnival Triumph pull up in front of us. What a great breakfast show.
After breakfast, I gathered my snorkeling gear and headed down to the aquarium bar for my sail & snorkel excursion to Buck Island. On this excursion, you take a sail boat with 5 other guests and two guides out to Buck Island to either Turtle Cove or Wreck Cove. We went to wreck cove, and I think that was a good choice. About the time our boat, the Happy Hour, pulled away from the dock, it started to rain. It poured for almost the entire sail to Buck Island. This wasn't a bad thing though, as it got us ready to jump right in the water, and made a great conversation starter. The snorkeling at Buck Island was OK, but not spectacular. There's been a lot of damage to the area due to storms. There were a lot of fish to see though, and it was still very beautiful. I got some great underwater shots. In hindsight, I should have gone to St. Johns if I really wanted to snorkel. The friendly crew, and the fact that I met another guy my age with similar interests that I hung out with for much of the rest of the cruise, however, more than made up for that minor disappointment. I can see fish at an aquarium, but each new friend is a blessing. We had more rain while snorkeling, and got drenched on the way back. The crew did a great job keeping my bag with my video camera dry, and by the time we were back at the dock, the rain had all but stopped.
After some lunch, I wanted to try to head over to St. Johns, but the cab drivers persuaded me that I really didn't have enough time. That was probably a good thing, but letting them persuade me that snorkeling at Morningstar Cove was as good as Coki Beach was a mistake. There was nothing to see, but I know where to find things when nothing is obvious, so I managed to find an octopus and a mated pair of puffers. I decided to make the hike back to the ship, rather than take another cab. What a great decision! It was a fairly long walk, but I earned my dinner, and saw some really neat bits of island nature. At one bend in the road, there was a tree with at least six huge wild iguanas in it.
by the time I got back, there was only an hour left before we were due back on board, so I relaxed in the hot tubs, and went to the toga wrapping demo (yep.tonight was toga party night). Dinner tonight was the Caribbean Colors dinner, but we had a special dish instead, thanks to our tablemates from the Philippines. We had this special meal tonight, because it was suggested that this evening was the weakest of all the menus. Maybe that was true, but the regular dinners still looked very yummy.
After dinner, is was off to Planet Ice. It's been said before, but I'll say it again. You must see this show. What the skaters do on this small ice is amazing. On top of choreography that is only tolerant to about a foot or two for landing rotations, the skaters manage a fantastic finale on ice that is really chewed up by the time they get that far. This, and on a ship that you can feel moving while you're in your seats. This show has all the Icecapades/ Disney On Ice shows beat, hands down.
Shortly after the show was over, it was time for "Win a Cruise" bingo. I didn't win this time, but someone did. Right after bingo, the "Not-so-newlywed Game" was on. This is another thing I'd recommend to anyone. It was a great time, and some of the best laughs I had on the cruise.
As soon as the game was done, it was time to rush up to my cabin and get my toga on. by the time I got up on the pool deck, the party was underway with Cruise Director "Dan Dan the Party Man" keeping things lively. There was a small midnight buffet for partygoers, and plenty of fun to go around. Everyone was having such a good time, the band played an extra set. I ran into my friend I'd made on the excursion today, and met some lovely young ladies from Scotland that he'd met the night before. After the party was over, we all headed down to The Chamber, and kept it going until 3 am, when sleep finally caught up with me.
Day 5 - San Juan
This isn't a port I was very interested in, and I needed my rest from the night before, so I slept in until about 10:30. I ate a nice lunch at the Island Grill, and then wandered around on deck until sail away. I think leaving Puerto Rico is the best part of the stop, not because there's anything wrong with P.R., but because passing the El Morro fort is so dramatic. Be on deck when you leave this port.
When we were out to sea, I took my video camera exploring again, and discovered the promenade on deck 4. If you want peace and quite, this is the place to be. If I'd had time to curl up with a book, this is another place I would have come. I took a relaxing walk around the ship, including getting way out on the bow. We had the wind at our back today, so the bow was finally a comfortable place to be, with little or no breeze as we cruised towards Labadee.
This was the second formal night for dinner, and it was lobster night. Ask for seconds! The lobster was fantastic, and there was plenty to go around. I noticed fewer tuxes than the first formal night, dark suits being the preferred attire for men this evening. Formal portraits were just as crowded this evening as before.
Tonight's headliner was Yakov Smirnoff, which was a pleasant surprise. He did a fantastic job, and really entertained the crowd. I'm glad I had the opportunity to see him perform.
After Yakov, I headed up to Dizzy's for a Cognac, and watched the ocean go by until it was time for Latin Dancing beneath the stars. I hung out for a while here with my new friends, but pleaded exhaustion, as Latin music isn't really my thing, and I really was tired. Instead, I went back to my cabin, and finally enjoyed the bottle of wine I'd picked up two nights ago out on my balcony. Serendipity struck, and I was treated to a meteor shower while listening to music and watching the sky and ocean go by. Just that hour was worth the price of the whole cruise.
Day 6 - Labadee, Haiti
I was up early again today to watch us sail into Labadee. It looked overcast, but later in the day the sky cleared right up. The sea was heavy all day though, and this affected some of the activities today.
I had a 10 am parasailing appointment, so I was off the ship on the first tender. I explored the peninsula for about 45 minutes before I needed to be at the pier to get on the parasail boat. This was an interesting parasailing trip. There were 6 foot swells, so instead of being towed, we relied on the wind to do most of the work of keeping us in the air. Three of the six people on the boat got sea sick while waiting for their turn. We each went up individually, and it was worth the wait. It's just so peaceful up there, floating. This does come with a word of warning, however. RCI makes it seem like you get 30-40 minutes in the air. In reality, each person only gets about 5-6 minutes airtime. Take this into account when deciding if this is worth the money.
After parasailing, I met my friend, and we headed back to the ship so I could pick up my snorkeling gear. We tried to go snorkeling, but the visibility was about 2 feet, and there were jellyfish about. We even tried to go to the marker buoy where an airplane wreck is suppose to be, but still couldn't see anything. I even followed the line down to the bottom, and still couldn't find the plane.it was just too murky. On days like this, RCI really shouldn't even rent snorkeling equipment, or at least they should warn people that it's really not a good day to try this. I was very disappointed, and glad I hadn't had to rent any equipment.
The barbeque was very tasty, and on the way there we passed the folk dance show in progress, which looked to be a very interesting performance. After lunch, while I lazed about on a floating mat for an hour, my more energetic friend played some beach volleyball. I would recommend the floating mats for anyone looking to relax. They really are nice. We also attempted to ride the banana boats, but they had been shut down after the first run because the seas were just too heavy, and nobody could stay on (Kudos to RCI for looking out for our safety here).
Day 6 went way too fast, and before I knew it, it was time to get back on the tender and head out to the ship. Even with the little problems due to the conditions on this day, Labadee was a wonderful stop, and a great day at the beach. I never felt unsafe, even though I was in Haiti. The area is well secured, and patrolled. RCI has found a wonderful piece of land, rich in history (Columbus landed here, and we parasailed over the wreck of one of his ships) for their private paradise.
Since this was my last chance, I spent the sail away from Labadee on the bow of the ship. Do this at least once if you get the chance. It's a dramatic way to enjoy leaving port on this truly magnificent vessel. Leaving Labadee, the Captain gets to show off the ship's maneuverability by using the thrusters to do a pirouette about the ships vertical axis, and then taking her out to sea. It's amazing that something so large can turn on a dime when needed. I think tugboat pilots are going to be out a job if they keep building vessels like this.
I'd dropped my underwater pictures from St. Thomas off the day before at the photo shop, and so just before dinner I went to retrieve them. The photo lab on board did a fantastic job with them, actually managing to pull the best color out of my shots. They didn't skimp either, printing them on Kodak paper. I wish I'd had more film for them to develop, since they did such a great job.
Dinner was wonderful again tonight, but I don't remember what I had. I think it was rack of lamb. The reason I don't remember is that tonight was also the midnight gala buffet. Viewing for the buffet started at 11:30 pm, and the feasting commenced at about 12:45. Go to the viewing, as the presentation is truly something to behold. It's also amazing how fast a group of people that has been looking at this food for an hour can devour it. Within an hour there was nothing but crumbs and non-palatable food sculptures left.
Tonight was also the "Fast Forward" production show, which I skipped, and the "Dancing through the Decades" party in Studio B (they cover the ice for this). I spent a little time at the dance party, but wanted to film the buffet, so I left early. It was a good time, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, young and not-as-young.
Finally, I spent some more time out on my balcony watching the continuing meteor showers and listening to the ocean go by. I tried not to think about the fact that I was technically in my last day.
Day 7 - At sea
Here it was, the last day, and there were so many things I hadn't done. I was tired from the night before, so I slept in, and was resigned to not doing as much as I wanted. I was pleasantly surprised to find that when I woke up, we'd been given back the hour we lost on day 2, so I was up an hour earlier than I thought. What a nice treat :-). I now had time to do whatever I wanted.
After breakfast, I headed down to Studio B to do some ice-skating. The ice seems even smaller when you're out on it. This is one of those things you just have to do, just because you can. I enjoy skating, and had a good time knowing I was skating on the sea in the Caribbean.
After skating, it was time to pack, so I wouldn't have to worry about that later, then up to the rock climbing wall on the back of the stack. I'd never done a climbing wall before, but the staff was very friendly, and helpful, and I had no trouble scaling the wall to it's top. I wish I'd done this earlier, because if I had, I would have been back for more. It was a great way to have fun and exercise at the same time.
That was enough for the day. It was my last day, and I wanted to spend the rest of it doing what I came on this vacation for: getting away from it all. I found myself a lounge chair, and had a few drinks with umbrellas and fruit skewers while watching the horse racing, the belly flop contest, and finally taking a nap by the pool.
Everyone got a higher than recommended tip from me today, since the service had been so good. It was sad to walk out of the dining room for the final time. I'd had so many good meals and so much nice conversation in there.
I skipped the farewell show, since I didn't want to be reminded of that, but I did go to the farewell parade on the royal promenade. This was another high-energy parade, much like the first, and was a nice send off from the staff.
Finally, I met a friend, and went to the farewell dance party, where few were in the dancing mood, but the band played a wonderful set anyway. After the band was done, the adult comedian came on, and got us all laughing again. After this, it was off to The Chamber one final time to say farewell to friends over a drink, then off to my room to get a little sleep before the long travel day tomorrow.
Day 8 - Miami
It was an early, sad morning. I had to say goodbye, for now, to this beautiful ship and her wonderful crew. Disembarkation was a snap, and by 10:00 am I was off the ship, even though I had a 2:00 pm flight, and was therefore not one of the early groups off. I spent my time between breakfast and disembarkation napping in the Maharaja's Lounge, though I could have also spent it in Studio B, or watching CNN in the Palace Theater. Air travel home went flawlessly, and every thing added up in the final analysis to a perfect vacation.
I'd like to thank all the people who posted such wonderful reviews of their cruises, which helped me narrow down which cruise I wanted, and prepared me for all the things that would occur. Being this prepared maximized my enjoyment and relaxation during this wonderful cruise.
A special thanks to Kuki for pointing out how good BBC's are ;-).
Truly, it's like no vacation on earth.
On a 1-10 bad to best scale
SHIP FEATURES: 9
Cabins: Standard Ocean View with balcony vs. Inside The size of the inside vs. ocean view with balcony was about the same. If you want to upgrade do to the lack of passengers the best time is at the port after you pass customs and get your room card. Plenty of rooms were unoccupied.
Beautiful ship. Three story dining room was a very bold statement of enormity. The mall down the center said the same. No problems getting a lounge chair on deck. Childrens pool had a waterslide and play area. Main central pool. Never overcrowded. Jacuzzis by main pool were usually full though. There was a pool area just for adults. Excellent tile and artwork combination there. Very extravegant. The jacuzzis there were usually not too crowded and also very large. Best time for jacuzzis and pool was at night after the shows let out. Rock climing wall was large and moderately difficult. Miniature golf course was very difficult. Large rocks in the way. In-line skating area was ok. Basketball courts were large and walled in. Ice skating rink was excellent. Thecasino was tight. Wait until Atlantis in Nassau if you take the Eastern Caribbean cruise. Super arcade for kids. Childeren's dance club reminded me of mtv. Adult's night club was great. Mideaval theme with a nightclub mix and mood. Cigar club area was average. Internet cafe was good. Video postcards, 10 seconds for almost eight dollars. Theater was good size with excellent seats wherever you chose to sit.
RCTV: TELEVISION ACCESS TO YOUR ACCOUNTS, SHORE EXCURSIONS, ROOM SERVICE, MOVIES AND EXTRAS WAS AWESOME. It was basically the ships web tv. You could browse the menus, see videos of shore excursions and then buy them. Order wine or breakfast or room service. ELEVATORS ARE HORRIBLE-WAIT-WAIT-WAIT. The library had good selection of books to read. Good size conference rooms. Good size chapel. Shops: The liquor shop had excellent prices. It even beat some prices on the islands. Good watch sale. Jewelry was ok but way better deals on the islands. Artwork: Good selection for the auctions. Photoshop: Expensive as usual. Formal pictures: Good selection of backgrounds. $19.00
SHIP SERVICE: 5
The pursers desk was understaffed at critical times. I had requested my double beds to be made up as one and when I arrived in my cabin, it was not. The room was cleaned thoroughly though. The waiters were excellent. My luggage was lost upon debarking the ship. It was found a few hours later and u.p.s'd to my house in Chicago area in about 5 days. Security was excellent upon boarding and leaving. Everyone went through multiple checks.
At the bon voyage parade the entertainers were excellent. It was held in the mall. It was crowded and I had to fight to get a good view. Very colorful. Excellent for kids. The Broadway shows were superb. Very well coriographed. GO TO EVERY BROADWAY SHOW. See the guest singers too. The Ice show was good, but not specatacular. The singers/comedians were great. The only show which was not great was the farewell show. It was a dud compared to my last cruise. The game show type entertainment was fair. Bingo was expensive. Bands: The main poolside band was "standard". One band did have excellent music selection and great guitarist who was able to belt out an hours worth of Santana without flaw. GREAT TOGA PARTY
Breakfast was the pits. Watery eggs. The same dishes over and over again. The only plus to that was you can request omelettes made for you. Lunch was better but still lacking. Dinner: Good, but not superior. The place settings were not fully laid out. The appetizers were ok. The cheese plate was lacking. Great wine selection. Pop was free at dinner. Dinner entertainment was a quartet of 2 violins, chello, accordian. Played well, but after hearing the same songs each night it got boring. Midnight chocolate buffet was neat and very filling. Long lines though for pictures. Bars: They were ok. Not large selection of import beers. They all had Corona, Fosters, Red Stripe, Heineken. Mixed drinks were powerful. Cafe promenade: The pizza was cardboard pizza, but free. So were the desserts. The drink service on pool deck was fairly quick. TWO SUNDAE MACHINES ON BOARD, SELF SERVE ALL THE TIME. Johnny Rocket's cafe: Good burgers, French fries and shakes. Good place to pig out.
EASTERN CARIBBEAN PORTS: The city of old San Juan area was beautiful and screamed culture. Explore Old San Juan yourself to get best taste of culture and pictures. Nassau straw market burned down but relocated and is thriving down Bay Street a little farther down. Barter there for a good price on goods. Always play "LETS MAKE A DEAL" with peddlers. St. Thomas was the most beautiful place I have cruised to date. Awesome picture time. They also had excellent and more rare liquor selections. Nassau came in a close second. Labadee was a beautiful beach time.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: 7
The shore excursions were ok. Not a lot to choose from. I had the best time when I went off on my own sight seeing tour. Didn't feel pressured for time that way either.
I went on this cruise as part of a Seminar at Sea with Cruise.com and Royal Caribbean. Please remember that this review is merely my opinions and feelings which may differ significantly from others.
I was very excited to experience the largest ship afloat. My husband was unable to get time off work to come with me so my sister took his spot. It was a nice chance for us to spend time together away from husbands and children. The ship is gorgeous and, despite its size, fairly easy to get around. However, I think the cruise was half over before I "found" the front half of the ship.
We had a balcony cabin on Deck 6. This was my first balcony cabin, and although we didn't use it a lot, it was nice to look out at the ports in the morning and enjoy the nice ocean breeze. There was plenty of space for everything, however, I would have preferred a few more drawers. The closet had many shelves which took the place of drawers for shorts, t-shirts, etc. The bathroom was a typical cruiseship bathroom EXCEPT for the shower. Thiswas amazing! No flimsy shower curtain that sticks to you…it was a round shower with shower doors! This was wonderful and all the new ships should have this. Our cabin stewardess, Eva, was outstanding! The room was always immaculate, her personality was very friendly and all our wants were always handled with a smile. Even had lots of towel animals.
We had 2nd seating dining, which is not my preference, but since we were with this large group from Cruise.com we ate with them. The food was probably the main disappointment on the ship. Don't get me wrong…I certainly didn't starve, however, it could have been better. Mashed potatoes at dinner tasted like they were out of a box and the scrambled eggs ordered in the dining room for breakfast tasted like powdered. Beef tended to be overcooked…try ordering one less than you usually like it. Iced tea was so strong it looked like coffee. My sister started ordering an extra glass of ice and mixing to get it the right strength. Dessert selection was ok…some were outstanding. Two things stand out as fantastic with the food…Caesar Salad (which is available every night) and the chilled fruit soups. I am a big fan of the Chilled fruit soups both on Celebrity and RCL. After tasting mine, my sister would frequently order the soup for dessert! Service in the dining room was good. No complaints here. The wine list was fairly extensive…lots of options, however, I miss the sommeliers.
Entertainment…I didn't go to a lot of the shows, however, the ones I saw were very good. The ice show was outstanding and one of the highlights of the trip. The comedians on board were very good. My sister went to the "adult" show and was impressed that even at an adult show, a comedian could be funny without all the profanity. The topics were of adult nature…John Wayne Bobbitt, Jeffrey Dahmer, etc. and were not appropriate for children. A couple of other popular events were the toga party (see pictures on my web site) and the sock hop (I think that's what it was called). It took place in the ice rink and covered music from the 50's to the present. It was near the end of the week.
Favorite Places: My favorite place on the ship was the Solarium Pool. This was so peaceful and relaxing…no one under 18 is permitted in this area and it seemed to be enforced. The only thing that would have made it better was if we could have heard the music from the other side. Yes…I said I liked peaceful that doesn't mean it has to be quiet. My other favorite place was the Promenade. The Cafe Promenade was especially good. You could get cookies, mini-sandwiches, pizza, lattes, etc. 24 hours a day. No charge for any of it except the special coffees (I think).
Ports of Call - This cruise stopped at Nassau, St. Thomas, San Juan, and the cruise line's private island in Labadee. My sister and I took the Yellow Bird excursion in Nassau because we had both been there before and didn't need to see any of it again. The excursion was fun…it takes you to the Sandals Resort Beach for about 1 to 1 ½ hours of beach, swim, etc. There are refreshments on the island and the boat has free fruit punch and rum punch. In St. Thomas our goal was to "shop til we dropped". I will say we did reach our goal. We both came home with the purchases we set out to make…and then some. Again, we had both been to this island before. In San Juan we just decided to get off the ship and walk/shop a little in Old San Juan. Nothing big…just some souvenier t-shirts, etc. We stopped in the terminal on the way back to sample the free rum punch…DO NOT MISS THIS…it was fantastic. I think Labadee was our favorite port. We did nothing but rent the floating mats and lounge in the water and on the beach. The weather was perfect. Lunch was brought from the ship and was one of the best meals we had all week.
Security - given that this was only one month after the terrible tragedy in our country, security was tight. However, there were only a couple of instances where I would say it slowed things down. The first was the arrival at the pier. If you were on a bus from the airport using RCL transfers, it was a long wait. You now had to claim your luggage at the airport, watch it be placed on the bus, claim it after you got to the pier and personally take it to the porter. We waited about 1 ½ hours on the bus after arriving at the pier. Thankfully, there were vendors with drinks, etc. and the air conditioning on the bus was working. Also, my fellow passengers on the bus were very patient, although anxious to board the ship. Once we arrived in St. Thomas, EVERY PASSENGER had to go through immigration prior to disembarking. The system worked very well. Once through immigration, your Super Charge card (which gets you on and off the ship) was marked so that they could tell you had gone through the process. So if you didn't want to get off the ship, you didn't hold up the other passengers. The only catch was if you didn't go through immigration in St. Thomas, you couldn't get off the ship in San Juan, either. San Juan was the only port with any problems with security. Upon entering the terminal to get back on the ship, everyone had to have their bags screened and walk through the metal detectors in the terminal. There were 2 cruise ships in port (Explorer and the Carnival Paradise). There were 3 security screening and metal detectors, HOWEVER, 2 were broken. People were waiting in line over an hour to get on the ships and there was a lot of pushing, etc. I heard that eventually they just let everyone go…not much security. We were late leaving San Juan and the Captain apologized for the problems everyone encountered at that port. As such, drinks were complimentary for 1 hour that afternoon on the Promenade. Overall, I wasn't inconvenienced by extra security and I never felt unsafe in the ports.
Overall, I had a great time on this cruise and would cruise this ship again. There are things to do for all age groups. I talked to several people traveling with children that raved about the children's programs.
This was our 7th cruise together. We decided to go on this particular cruise last November when we went to a Royal Caribbean/Celebrity presentation by their local sales representative. My wife took one look at the video on Explorer and said, "We have to go on that ship." So we did. This was our third time sailing with Royal Caribbean, and our third cruise in 2001, so I will be comparing some aspects of this cruise with our previous cruises on the Grand Princess and Carnival Destiny as well our cruise on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas, which we took last July. I will say up front that we had a fantastic cruise on the Explorer of the Seas.
We spent a few days at Walt Disney World before arriving in Miami the afternoon before the cruise. My wife's parents joined us in Miami as well. We spent the night at the Courtyard by Marriott MIA Airport South, which is our usual Miami pre-cruise hotel. This property has three of Marriott's brands: Marriott, Courtyard, and Fairfield Inns. We can almost always get a free night using our Marriott Reward pointsthere, plus they have an airport shuttle and are only a few minutes away from the pier. We had an excellent dinner on Friday night at the Hereford Grill across the street (sort of) from the hotel. The hotel arranged for a van to pick up the four of us and all of our luggage at 10:30 Saturday morning. The van was right on time ($8.00 per person) and we were at the pier at 10:45 AM.
Check-in was a breeze. Since we got to the pier so early, I thought we might have to wait a little while, we were checked in immediately. While we were checking in at one end of the terminal, my mother-in-law (who was in a wheelchair) was escorted to a separate check-in area and their formalities were handled quickly as well.
We had cabin 9608, a Category "C" suite with a balcony, right in the middle of the ship. We met our steward almost immediately, and he said that he was still making up our cabin (although it looked just about finished to us), but we could leave our things and explore the ship. Our cabin steward also had already converted the beds from two twins into one queen for us. This was the largest cabin that we have had and we enjoyed it immensely. The balcony was used by both of us quite a bit, and we could sit out and read while listening to our walkmans and watch the scenery pass by. This is the fourth time we have had a balcony and find it hard to go back to a cabin without one. I will say that if we have a balcony we spend much more time in our cabin than when we do not have a balcony.
We were on only the 39th voyage of the Explorer of the Seas; she is less than a year old. The amenities that this ship has are amazing. The Sports Deck on deck 13 has all the goodies: Nine hole miniature golf course, inline skating track, and the basketball court. One more deck up on the back of the funnel is the rock-climbing wall. On deck three is the ice skating rink; although we did not skate there we did see the ice show that was performed. The ship is in excellent shape, and we saw very little wear and tear. She has fifteen decks including the Viking Crown lounge and the wedding chapel. The main dining room is three decks high and is on decks three, four and five. The Windjammer and Island Grill are on the aft of deck 11 as well as the alternative restaurant, Portifino's. The showroom is two decks high and is on decks three and four. I would be remiss to not mention the Promenade on deck five; that is where all the shops are as well as additional bars and the Cafe Promenade. Twice weekly parades are held on the Promenade as well as the Captain's cocktail party. Also the purser's desk is on deck five as well. The casino, along with a few bars is on deck four. The Adventure Ocean (kid's) program as well as the game room are on deck 12. There are two main pool areas on board, both on deck 11. Towards the bow is the Solarium, which has the adults only pool, and this time (unlike our cruise on the Enchantment) we noticed that the staff was keeping kids out of the pools and Jacuzzis. A little farther aft, but really in the center of the ship on deck 11 was the main pool area. This is where all the action is, compared to the relative quiet of the Solarium. There were many additional various bars spread around the ship; I don't think that we even saw them all. The elevators were a little slow at times, but they all worked (except one). However, we very rarely used the elevators and walked up and down the stairs 99% of the time-no weight gain on this cruise for us! We also enjoyed a tour of both the Oceanography and Atmospheric labs on the ship. It was very educational to see the work that was being done, and we both appreciated the fact that RCCL included it on the Explorer of the Seas.
The service that we experienced on this cruise was sensational. Our Cabin Steward, Cesar from the Philippines was wonderful. He kept the room very clean, the ice bucket full, and we very rarely saw him. He also made us some very cute towel animals a few of the nights. Our dining room waiter Pedro from Portugal was one of the best we have ever had. My wife has some food allergies, and after being told of them on the first night of the cruise was very cognizant of what was being served and made changes when appropriate. He was also very personable and made some good suggestions on the food being served. Our Assistant Waiter, Sunil from Trinidad and Tobago was also excellent. He had our preferences down on the first night and never forgot them. He was also very personable. Both our waiter and assistant were also the waiters for the Captain's table. The one night that the Captain and his entourage ate at the main seating with us, we did not notice any degradation in service, even though both of our wait staff had an extra table. I would also like to mention our headwaiter, Juan from Spain. My mother-in-law can only eat certain foods, and each night Juan would show her the menu for the next night, and if there was nothing on the menu that she could tolerate, Juan would arrange an off menu main course. He also had a special anniversary cake made for us. One of my wife's allergies is to coconut, and their usual anniversary cake has a coconut icing, so per her request he arranged for a lemon cake that was better than any of our deserts in the main dining room all week. We also ate at Portofino's one night and the service was very professional and polite in there as well. Even the service at Johnny Rocket's did not leave anything to be desired. The service on this cruise was miles ahead of Carnival, and even a bit better than the great service that we had last year on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas. It is hard to compare to Princess since we used their Personal Choice dining, but suffice it to say we were extremely pleased with the service we received on the Explorer of the Seas.
In the main dining room, the food was very good on this cruise and a definite improvement over the food on Royal Caribbean last year. The menu changed sufficiently that I had plenty of choices each evening. I particularly enjoyed the Filet Mignon, Chicken Cordon Bleu, and the Prime Rib. My wife thought that although she found a lot of different choices (and she enjoyed the lamb and most of the fish dishes), and she agreed that the food was better this year, it would have been better if the chefs did not try to "improve" the food with nuts, which is her major allergen. The Ship Shape meals all seemed to have nuts on one item or another, which we both thought was strange since most nuts have a lot of fat in them. Perhaps the Ship Shape meals could have been a little plainer? The Windjammer and Island Grill were good for both breakfast and lunch. The Cafe Promenade had good snack items as well. We did splurge and go to Portofino's on one night. Even though the charge was $20.00 per person, we thought it was the best meal of the cruise. The food was fantastic and plentiful. Even though we greatly enjoyed the main dining room, it was nice to have the change one night. We enjoyed the food on this cruise more than on the Grand Princess.
The spa was set up very well. It did have a large Jacuzzi as well as many up to date work out machines. I did use Steiner's services twice, once for a massage and once for reflexology and enjoyed it. My wife went to Yoga and had a personal training session and enjoyed both of those as well. What was interesting is that on the Grand Princess, Steiner went out of their way to make sure that my wife could get a massage by trying to find one of their products that she was not allergic to. On the Explorer, the manager told her that she could not be accommodated. Very interesting. Also the Steiner personnel were more "hard sell" on their products than they were on either the Destiny or the Grand Princess including in the Gym at the personal training sessions.
Ports of Call
To be honest, we went on this cruise for the ship and not the ports since we have been to all of them many times, except for Labadee. We went to Nassau, St. Thomas, San Juan and Labadee with two days at sea. We only booked one shore excursion, the glass bottom boat tour on Nassau, which was interesting. We actually ordered this one in advance on RCCL's web site a few weeks before the cruise. St. Thomas is always fun, we wandered around on our own for most of the day. In San Juan, my father-in-law and I walked for two hours around old San Juan, while my wife and mother-in-law did their own walk around old San Juan. Since neither my wife nor I are beach people, we decided that when the ship got to Labadee that we would enjoy all the facilities on the ship when everybody else was gone. It was a good idea, there was almost no one else on board and we could do everything we wanted without the crowds. We did take the tender over to Labadee to say we were there, but we turned right around and went back to the ship.
The entertainment was very good. We greatly enjoyed the ice show, Planet Ice, even though we thought that the costumes were a little over done. We also enjoyed a great pianist named Jason Perrin who played nightly at the Schooner Bar. Of course, we went to the "Newlywed/Not so Newlywed" show; even though we know the questions and will never volunteer to go on stage ourselves, we still like to watch that show. We also played in the casino a little and actually broke even! The music we heard around the ship was very enjoyable as well.
We thought that debarkation was handled well, especially for a ship the size of the Explorer of the Seas. Our color was one of the last called and we were off the ship and had our bags by 9:45 AM. One of the things we appreciated was the baggage carousel. It was much easier than searching through mounds of similar black bags spread around a warehouse. We got a taxi and were at the Miami airport a few minutes after 10:00 AM.
We had a fantastic time on this cruise. The ship was great, the service excellent, the ports of call were fine and even the weather cooperated. Would we take Royal Caribbean again? In a heartbeat! Even though there are some things about the line that annoy us, (the singing waiters, for example), we are always pleased with their service and enjoy their ships. Would we go on a Voyager class ship again? Definitely. In fact we look forward to booking another Royal Caribbean cruise soon.
Oh my gosh!!!! i had the longest day of my life, at all the airports, changing planes, and claiming our luggage, AND having to go through customs, but as soon as i walked down up the plank, to and stepped aboard the world's largest luxury cruise ship, i new that this would for-more than compensate for the long, frustrating day.
In Nassau, we pulled in to port next to the Carnival Pride, (The largest ship in Carnival's fleet), and it was a tiny joke, next to ours. You would think that a ship that is this size, and carries over 3000 passengers would be way too crowded, and very uncomfortable for someone seeking peace and quiet, but this is hardly the case! You would never have guessed that there were that many people on board, for there were never any lines to get into the restaurants, or the theatre, or even to get a drink at the bar. despite all the people that were on the ship, i was very surprised to see how "uncrowded" it was, and there was always a place on the ship to go and find solitudeand no other passengers.
All in all, i had the best week of my life this past March, and i told my family that i wanted to plan another cruise right away, and i told them this before we even stepped off the ship! the entertainment was phenomenal, the food was gourmet, the service was like hand-and-foot, and all the people on board were very, very friendly. it was very easy to make friends with other passengers, and i came home with the email addresses of many people who i met during the trip.
i liked this cruise soooo much that i am extremely reluctant to even think about booking a cruise on any line other than Royal Caribbean. it was so awesome that i would never want to settle for anything else! i highly recomend the Explorer of the Seas to anyone who is a first-time cruiser, or on their honeymoon. i will say, however, that this is a very active cruise-line, with endless parties and out-of-this-world fun!-Fun!-FUN!
Royal Caribbean--You made my dreams come true, and i look forward to sailing with you again!!!
I have been on several Royal Caribbean cruises and this is the most beautiful ship of all. The ship is decorated with much of brass, wood and glass, this makes it for a feeling of quality and elegance which can not be topped.
I can tell you that the food was good but yes believe it or not the smaller ship seemed to have better food in the dining room. The Windjammer was an upscale comparison to Morrison Rest. The Johnny Rest. was however, very good for fast food type burger and fries. The roomserve food was awful and the coffee onboard anywhere was totally awful. This coffee issue was a problem since my husband and I are big coffee drinkers and we could not find a good cup of coffee anywhere. The deserts where good in the dining room but not good anywhere else.
As for the entertainment, the skating show was absolutely great. The comic had alot more practice and new jokes to make he was not worth my time and many felt the same way. The night show which I only saw 2 times was good but Ithink the Sovereign had a much better show and considering they did not have the better equipment I felt that much improvement on the shows could be had. The shows on the Promanade are good and the Parade was very nice as well.
The service is what makes this ship top quality. I think with the exception of one individual every single individual working onboard had only the best attitude and friendly quality to them. Unfortunately ,the one was on the mid teen Adventure Ocean employee.(This made for my daughter to not go to the facility as often as she would like) According to my daughter she tried to run it like a classroom which made it more of a school atmosphere. (Raising hands to speak and yelling at other kids for being loud) The stewart was very good, he seems to alway manage to sneak in and out without being a bother and cleaning everything like magic. The dining room servers are very nice and they really direct alot of attention to the kids and their needs.
The pool area was great and there is always alot of things to do and not get bored. They have ping pong, basketball, mini golf. I think though it would be a good idea to bring some more inside activities inside for the elderly (other then bingo) and the others which can not be outside during daytime hours.
Something to keep in mind, this ship is huge not for the weak or fragile. There is alot of walking to get from one place to another and many elderly have a problem with this. The ship in my opinion is for a younger age group.
Things to remember alway be prepared, we had to take a trip to the medical facility which they are very good but the cost of medicine is high and so is the visit. (no insurance)and I am not refering to seasickness which they give you free pills at the front desk.
I would take this trip again in a heart beat. Next time better prepared and definitely in the summer. Not matter what anyone says the November water is choppy even in good weather but in June the water is like silk and the ship is so smoothe you can not remember your on a ship.
This ship is fast pace and a wonderful experience for those seeking continious action. If you like a slower pace stay with the smaller ships they are just as nice only more rest received.
*My wife and I flew from Orlando to Miami and rented a car from Avis for a 2 day pre-cruise. (on our own.) We stayed at the Marriott Biscayne Bay were you can see the bay and the Port of Miami. This is great hotel and is worth the few extra $ to stay on the 29th. floor for the view. I was able to drop the rental car back at Avis which has an office located at the Port of Miami within easy walking distance or a quick shuttle ride provided by Avis to the Explorer Of The Seas.
*At about 9:45am we were one of the first in line for embarkation waiting at the baggage conveyer belt with our luggage and not allowed to check in the terminal until about 11:15am and no one was able to board until about 12:30pm as passengers were still leaving the ship at 11:00am.
*The Explorer is a BIG, beautiful, clean ship and it's easy to get around as long as you have your handy "Welcome Aboard" pamphlet with map.
*We were in an owners suite on deck 10 which was very, very spaciousbut had an extremely small balcony. My wife received her luggage at 3:00pm and I finally received mine at about 5:15pm. (explain that one)
*Food at the Windjammer Cafe on deck 11 was good and plentiful. Johnny Rockets has great hamburgers (chili) fries and onion rings. There is no charge for this or water but for lemonade, soft drinks or shakes there is.
*Portofino is an Italian alternative restaurant in which reservations are required and is $20.00 per person. We did not eat there and I understand that not many passengers did.
*Midnight Buffet is on Thursday and it starts at 11:30pm-12:15am for picture taking only and then at 12:30am you all wait in line to partake in the buffet. The ice sculptures and chocolate carvings were just beautiful I thought the buffet itself was very disappointing as compared to other Royal caribbean cruises and other cruise lines.
*In San Juan it was easy enough to leave the ship but you had to go through 5 security checkpoints and baggage x-ray to get back on the ship.
*The Explorer was not filled to capacity and they were offering a back to back cruise for the second week from $350-$775 per person depending on your cabin.
*Debarkation went extremely well. At 7:50am the first group of passengers were allowed to leave ship according to the ticket color given to you by your cabin attendant on the last evening. All luggage is now on a carousel to be picked up according to your ticket color called. The cruise line is very strict about this as all ticket stubs with the color called are checked before you leave the ship. Security is plentiful and you will be checked at the customs booth prior to leaving the terminal.
*All in all the cruise was great, we made new friends and looking forward to our next Royal Caribbean cruise. (smaller ship though.)
Diary and Review for RCI Explorer of the Seas
Friday We departed St Augustine fittingly in the rain on a National Day of Mourning. Tropical Storm Gabrielle was just coming ashore below St Petersburg bringing 70 MPH winds and torrential rains to Florida. The trip down was rather uneventful with strong winds and occasional heavy rains as we traveled through the feeder bands. Once below Jupiter, Fl. the weather cleared considerably and was just your typical Florida weather. Arriving in Miami around 4PM we checked into the Best Western Bayfront. The hotel was actually quite pleasant. We had decided to stay at this hotel because of the widely differing reviews that we have seen. Checking was quick and efficient and we were shortly in our room on the tenth floor overlooking the Bayfront Market. A crowd was gathering at the Spirit of Freedom Park to honor those brave rescue personnel in NYC that lost their lives attempting to help others.
It really was quite a sight to see all these people come together waving the American Flag while the Mayor of Miami, the Miami Chief of Police and others all made statementsof gratitude and promises that life will go on for us Americans and that we are all united and determined to rid our world of these cowardly terrorist. There was quite a bit of media around and I was cornered by a reported from the LA Times for an interview. Mrs Robo ended up being the focus point of the television cameras when she assisted a homeless man who was in tears and so shaken he could not light his own candle. Needless to say it turned into a very moving moment. As the ceremony ended the skies opens up and torrential rains fell for almost an hour afterwards as if to indicate Gods sorrow and tears.
Off to Lombardi's to hopefully meet other fellow cruisers who were able to negotiate the skies delays. Shortly after 8:30pm we found Nikki and Brian from Minn. After drinks had been ordered Angela and her lovely daughter located us as did Susan and her husband Manny also stopped by. They told us that they had met at least four other couples in the group but nobody else seemed to locate us. Much discussion was had and many of the worlds problems solved as we got to know each other. Great folks and we will all hook up later for resume our fellowship. As our Cruisemates Cruise Director Kuki was unable to find any way out of the North Country Sylvia and I took over and tried to be good hosts and extend a Cruisemates Welcome to them all.
Saturday, Embarkation Day.. On to the Port Of Miami ships terminal! The Port was heavily patrolled by Police, US Customs, and Immigration as well as others I can only guess as to which Agency they represented. The Port almost seemed deserted compared to the traffic that usually was around. We went to the check-in area at 11AM and were led to seats where the paperwork for the Bahamas was passed out and instructions were given for everyone to please fill out all documents that were needed for embarkation. A quick check through the metal detectors, (yes I set them off again as usual, they don't call me Robocop for nothing), and on to check-in. We were quickly taken from the regular line and escorted into the Chairman's Club and quickly checked in. We did try and tell them we were Mo and Geela Blitt and wanted our Owners suite but the passports gave us away. Check-in was really very pleasant and the staff of RCI was doing everything in their power to make everyone happy. Boarding the ship itself is still on delay at 1PM where we sit in the lounge waiting for the ship to clear. RCI is checking the passengers departing very closely and I am sure that they have uploaded new software in their systems to check the names of those of us embarking today.
Well, embarkation has taken place and the RCI rep just came and escorted those of us in the Chairman's Club right onto the ship! What so many of us did to be treated this well I don't know but never look a gift horse in the mouth! We have been told that she ship will not be sailing until around 8PM, most likely in order to allow more passengers to make connections as the ship is pretty empty. This was the first time that I saw the passengers so quite and uncomplaining during the lifeboat drill! Attendance was taken and I have no doubt that the cabins were checked and everyone took part this time.
Our cabin is on deck 7 directly overlooking the Royal Promenade and we are quite happy with it. With the ship this empty many people were jamming the pursers desk asking for free upgrades and in many cases they were successful. If offered we would have most likely accepted but we are happy with our Atrium cabin so went to explore the hotel...I mean ship. It is a natural mistake because unless you are on one of the outer decks you will have no idea that you are on a ship instead of at the local mall or a land resort. The ship really is beautiful but doesn't have a ship 'feel' about her. The "Explorer" is quite an apt name as Mrs Robo and I spent hours 'exploring' this huge vessel and still had not seen it all. We stopped at the Pub and were joined by a number of our cyberfriends that managed to find their way onboard. The Royal Promenade is really the heart of this ship with everyone wandering the street, and it really is a street! We finally went off to our dining assignment to sample the wares of the "Explorer of the Seas"!
The dining room is spectacular, three levels of shining wood and steel and glass. We had requested, and received a large table for eight. After even waiting for an extra half hour for more diners to show we finally realized that nobody else from our table were coming. Not only that, but of the five tables immediately around u,s only one other has two people sitting there. Service was incredible because our waiter and busboy had only us to serve. Both remained with us during almost the entire meal and we actually felt like they were fellow guests with wonderful conversation. It was very sad though to look over the dining area and realize that maybe only one quarter of the guests were present. Rumor was that they would either be closing one or more of the dining rooms, or having just one seating, we shall see. The evenings entertainment was actually very good and we were treated to a preview of what was to come from the staff and our CD Kirk Detweiler. A talented and sociable young man he has actually been a Cruise Director for RCI since 1989 and will shortly be leaving the "Explorer" to 'take out' the brand new "Adventure of the Seas". The stand up comedian was an exceptionally talented and funny Rodney Johnson. If you ever have the chance to view this mans material, do so, it is great. We survived the opening show, I say that because the CD spied Mrs Robo and choose her to talk to while he was getting to know the crowd. Unbelievably she retained a few brain cells when the microphone was placed in front of her! Did my heart proud until I found out she closed her eyes and pretended she did not know there was a mike in front of her. Fortunately people just thought she was light sensitive and not really crazy, they will find that out later I guess. The Parade down the Royal Promenade was delightful and the crowd seemed to get into it forgetting all the tragedy that has befallen us this last week. Anyway, I'm tired and going to bed. Hope Mrs Robo doesn't snore tonight.
Sunday, Day Two, Nassau It's really 8 o'clock? Prove it! I was still tired and was sleeping wonderfully when Mrs Robo woke me. There is nothing like sleeping on a ship. I love the gentle rocking. In this case it was a side to side shaking but what the heck, I'm at sea again. We are in Nassau and even though I really don't care much for this port I had to walk into town and view what was left of the famous "StrawMarket". They are not delaying the reconstruction of this landmark and demolition was well on it's way, even this Sunday morning. It was a very sad to witness this terrible destruction and all that was lost. It struck me that this landmark was as important to the Bahamian people as the Trade Towers were to New Yorkers. Both were destroyed because of sick revenge. Fortunately there was no loss of life at the StrawMarket and physical building can be rebuilt easily. I did take note of a local lady standing off to one corner across the street who was staring at the workers demolishing the ruins. There was a far-away look in her eyes that combined with a terrible sadness and look of firm determination all at the same time. Was she imagining the remains of the World Trade Center? Probably had I not been so pre-occupied with the tragic happening this last week I would not have noticed. I m glad I did as it further reminded me that people all over have to face tragic happenings and we should be aware of their feelings as much as our own. It really is one world.
Back to the ship by 11AM as I want to hit the gym and spa, my most favorite place! The equipment is first rate and widely varied so both Mrs Robo and I burned off calories. Unfortunately the men's steam room was not working so I had to settle for the sauna. Ironically the ladies sauna was not working but their steam room was! I wanted to share but the staff didn't think much of the idea. Afterwards time in the sun and visiting with Angela and Amy and Tommy from Savannah, Ga., and then a little lunch it was back to sea enroute to St Thomas.
After returning to our cabin we discovered that we had indeed had our dining assignment changed to a different dining room. We won't be there tonight as we had received an invitation to dine with the Captain! What an unexpected honor! It is also the Captains formal night so we will definitely but the K-Mart clothes away and break out the good stuff Now if I can just remember which fork............see you after dinner.
What a wonderful dinner and dining with Captain Gronhaug was indeed an honor and a pleasure!Also seated with us were a couple from Akron, Ohio who are both surgical assistants at a major hospital and they are scheduled to be married Tuesday in St Thomas. Also seated were a three other ladies, one a RN who used to work for a cruiseline, the mother of a crewmember, and a young lady who has spent the last three weeks onboard the Explorer! Apparently she has become SERIOUSLY addicted! Actually I believe she the guest of the Chief Purser Randy Johnstone who was the final guest at the table. Captain Gronhaug was a most delightful host and enthralled us with some stories of his career. I have suspicions that the Captain went to sea before he walked. This man looks 40 years old at the most and has two small boys age 3 and 7 living in the New England area with his wife. He first went to sea on his family fishing boat in 1959 and then on to the Norwegian Merchant Fleet in 1964 and by 1971 had graduated from both the Norwegian Merchant Marine Academy AND the .Royal Norwegian Naval Academy earning a degree in Business Administration. The Captain also served his time in the Royal Norwegian Navy and Naval Reserve after which he returned to the Merchant Marine Academy and received his Captains degree in 1975. A member of RCI since 1976 he first served as a Navigation Officer promoted to Chief Officer in 1979 and then again to Staff Captain in 1981. He was appointed and began serving as a Master in 1990 with his first ship being Royal Caribbean's former flagship, the Song of Norway. The Captain really was a wonderful host and the dinner and entire evening were really wonderful.
We arrived at the show a little late but I can say that RCI's entertainment has greatly improved over our last cruise. The show was "History Repeating Itself" and the production was well put together and the performers did a wonderful job of presentation. One of the female lead singers can really belt out some serious vocals! A most enjoyable evening and we were ready to turn in and get some much needed rest as tomorrow looks to be a very busy 'day at sea'.
Monday, At Sea Up and at em and off to the spa early to try and burn off some of this high living. Mrs Robo and I found that the spa facilities to be quite extensive and modern. Trust me on this one folks, no matter what your routine for daily workouts are, this place has the equivalent or better equipment. Mrs Robo walked and rode a bicycle while pretending she was powering across the sea and I did the weight machines. Then getting a great steam and sauna finishing off with the therapy pool to massage the muscles and then the whirlpool to relax everything. A day at sea is supposed to be one of total relaxation's and self-indulgence and we definitely did our part to uphold that tradition. We did meet up with Tommy and Amy at the adults only Solarium and enjoyed each others company for the day. I might add at this time that RCI apparently has a pretty strong enforcement policy about children in this area and in the pools. Twice I saw children attempt to enter the whirlpools in this area and both times they were stopped before they got wet including the one who was there with his parents. I must confess that this day I really did nothing but relax and enjoy the company of many great people.
Dinnertime found us again at a different assigned table but Tommy and Amy invited us to their table and it was quickly arranged through the Matre D'. The table was directly beside the fullwall window and the view was spectacular. As some of you know, last time I was on a RCI ship even though I thought the service was great I didn't care for the food. RCI got it right on this ship as the food is excellent and the service still remains the best I have had. We finished a great dining experience quickly as this was to be a busy entertainment night. We found some great seats and shortly began to watch a very nice and entertaining dish spinning act by Flash and Fever. Nothing much to write home about so I won't The headliner was a singer named Brandi Chapman and my immediate response was "Who?". Seems that this lady has been in Branson, Mo for a dozen years and is a top act there. Okay, lets see who this lady is........Surprise! It was the very same lady that Mrs Robo and I had spied a number of times around deck and thought she was a model or Beauty Queen that somehow found herself taking a break after not winning the latest Miss Whatever. A beautiful woman with that flashing Beauty Queen smile she came onstage and began to wow the passengers with her tremendous vocal ability and a personality that was the best. Let me tell you people, this lady could belt out a tune from Classic to Rock to Country and even yodeling! We were impressed to say the least! I will have more on this lovely lady later BTW as if you couldn't guess. We then drifted on down to the Studio B Ice Center to watch the Ice Show. Let me tell you that RCI's entertainment certainly has changed! I thought the shows on the Splendour of the Seas was rather like a High School class play. The entertainment onboard this ship is anything but amateur! This show was spectacular and the production itself was deserving of an award. I can't spoil it for those of you who are looking to sail this vessel and see these Ice Shows but believe me that this will be one of the finest shows you will ever see onboard a ship. At the ending note of the show I was on my feet, (and that is saying something), clapping and yelling my appreciation for a wonderful job well done. After the Ice Show we were back in the Palace Theater which is the large main showroom on the Explorer of the Seas, to attend the late night adult show of Rodney Johnson the comedian onboard the vessel. Rodney is a very talented man who uses everyday events and real life to point out the comedic side of life and he does it very well. Mrs Robo purchased one of his CD's to enjoy later. When leaving the theater I ran into Kirk the Cruise Director who introduced me to Brandi Chapman the feature entertainer and we had a very nice conversation with the promise of meeting later in the week for photos and an interview. She really is a very nice young lady that is highly talented. Additionally I was introduced to one of the males skaters from Canada that appears in the Ice Show. He and his partner are Canadian and the other two couples are both Russian. They all came from the "Holiday on Ice" company and are very much the professionals.
It's very late and well past my bedtime and I have been stopped and talked to by at least a half dozen people just on my way back to my stateroom and all wanted to talk about the Cruisemates website. We must be doing something right as a number actually already know of the website and many others are expressing a strong interest in what we do here.
Tuesday, St. Thomas Lovely St Thomas, what else can you say about the Caribbean's shopping mecca. A perfectly beautiful day and a great leisurely breakfast overlooking Charlotte Amelia. The Carnival Triumph is also in port directly in front of us. Security is still very tight and because we have visited a foreign port as in Nassau, ALL passengers are required to pass through immigrations showing Passports or other proof of ID before disembarking. Additionally I found out that no crewmembers are being allowed off the ship. I have never seen St Thomas as quite as we did during this stop. With the two largest ships in the Caribbean in port at the same time the town should have been full of tourists but we constantly saw shopkeepers sitting idle with no customers. I spoke with a merchant at the Straw Market who confirmed that the last week has been devastating for the local economy with very little spending. Mrs Robo did her part by purchasing a dress and I found a great little Rum in a wonderfully unique decanter. Unfortunately my ankles are still in bad shape so it was back to the ship early for relaxation around the ship and meeting up with other Cruisemates.
I must admit to being very lazy today and this evening other than the party on the Royal Promenade called Caribbean Street Fair we did very little.
Some of us did manage to attend the mandatory "Not So Newlywed Game" which did it usual cheering up for those of us that have been watching the news and need some comic relief. The Toga Deck Party was this evening but I found myself drawn to the bed for a somewhat early evening.
Wednesday, San Juan, Puerto Rico It is always a delight to sail into San Juan past Ft Morro. I really think this is one of the nicest sights, even more so when it is dark outside and the lights of Old San Juan are glowing in the background. Mrs Robo and I took care of some needed 'housecleaning' and rearranging of our belongings to make the cabin somewhat more comfortable before we disembarked. Security is still tight but it was not necessary to pass through immigration even though we did carry both our ship ID and passports and had to show them three times before getting out of the terminal and three times when we embarked. The Explorer does not spend much time in San Juan and I really do think that RCI needs to reconsider and find some way to stay a little longer. I know of a few people that would have taken the rainforest tour had there been a little more time. Instead most just wandered around town. Mrs Robo and I walked to the other side of the terminal to meet up with our best friend Tracey who works aboard the Carnival Paradise. We had a great reunion and as the crewmembers were allowed to disembark form not only the Explorer, but also the Paradise for the first time since the attacks in NYC and Washington, we also got to meet her boyfriend and some other crewmembers, some who we have met in the past, and some new friends as well. We did manage to have a wonderful lunch at one of the many sidewalk cafes and catch up on the news. I was able to find out a few things about our upcoming cruise on the Carnival Legend, trans-Atlantic, that we will be doing next September. It does indeed seem that John Heald will be the Cruise Director for that cruise and Tracy said that she may also be onboard! She will find out more info this weekend so I will await her next e-mail. She said if she finds out anything really interesting about this cruise she will tell John and ask him to pass the info on to us when we are onboard the Triumph next week. Sadly, as I said the Explorer does not stay in port but until 2pm so we had to return quickly and prepare for departure.
It was again formal night and immediately after dinner we all gathered around Studio B and everyone took photos of everyone. We as a group cornered a very nice young man and the women made him take photos of this crazy group. This poor guy must have had almost a dozen cameras he was operating! There were some many people arriving and leaving that we all decided to gather for lunch on Friday and take a large group photo. Anyway, it's now showtime in the Palace Theater for RCI's production of "Fast Forward". Again, RCI has found itself in the entertainment field and this show was very good and professionally done.
Next was the Karaoke finale and we had heard some stories about this particular cruise that indicated this may be a very entertaining show. Oh yes, it didn't take long for the social host to loose complete control of this group! We had a very large group from Indiana that were wonderful and exceptionally funny. One lady was supposed to sing and before you know it there were two dozen onstage and belting out a great song! Many of these folks were in the hometown church choir and they were tremendous! Needless to say we were all treated to a number of Motown hits that will never be the same! What a wonderful group!
Thursday, Labadee Haiti Labadee really is a beautiful part of Haiti that has been leased by Royal Caribbean since 1991 or 92. This 'Private Island' took a terrible beating last year during hurricane season and was closed down for repairs for a short time as well. RCI has completed renovations and the 'island' is back better than it was before IMHO. The land itself is truly beautiful and breathtaking with jagged rocks, cliffs, and foliage that is very comforting and relaxing. RCI has added the modern conviences and one can often find free hammocks to while away hours just forgetting everyday troubles and soothing and recharging the soul. You may swim in any of four designated beaches with one facing the ocean and three in the bay. Waverunners and Kayaks are available for tours and floating mats and snorkeling equipment are readily available. Snorkeling is not a highlight of this place though as the water is usually rather murky and there just isn't really much marine life to be found.
The "Cat and the Curse". Okay, now this gets a little weird right here but what else is new for me. Mrs Robo and I first watched some native dancing directly across from the StrawMarket and then decided that we didn't have enough junk this time so we ventured into the den of the Haitian huckster. Now I had given Mrs Robo very specific instructions prior to entering as last time we brought back enough wood to start our own lumberyard. First thing out of this woman's mouth when we walked in was, "Isn't that pretty, I like that".
Not only did she disobey and open her mouth, she even pointed! Immediately we were surrounded by locals that were trying to hand her items and drape them over her. I dragged her out screaming"no mas, no mas!" This was a better reminder to her than my fussing so I figured she had learned her lesson and would behave, wrong. She thought it was okay to whisper. No, she immediately had more items thrust in her directions. Fortunately she had the foresight to tell them that I had all the money. When approached my verbal statements were "Vos is louse?" and "No Spreken ze Anglas". Now what I would have done if one of them spoke German I didn't know but figured it had a good shot anyway. It worked and the left me alone. Now Mrs Robo loves cats and there was a nicely carved cat for sale for originally $50. Of course this is the price for really stupid people and I told Mrs Robo no, I would not give her $50. The price did finally come down to $12 but I loudly and pointedly handed Mrs Robo a $5 bill and told her that is all she was getting and if she really wanted it, deal with it and walked away. I made it past four whole stalls before one snatched the $5 from her and handed her the cat she wanted. Hey folks, it works, I'm really not that bad a guy. That is the cat part of this story, the Curse followed. As Mrs Robo caught up to me suddenly one of the local pointed to my tattoo that I got in Tahiti of a Manta Ray on my shoulder and started yelling "Sea Monster!". No, that is a Manta-Ray and is sometimes called a "devil-ray". Wrong choice of words. Suddenly there were a half dozen local pointing and shouting "Devil-man, Devil-man!" with one standing frozen in place with his eyes looking like he had seen Lucifer himself! I saw one reaching for those voodoo dolls and I grabbed Mrs Robo and we ran out of there before the Curse could take hold! This really did happen people, I cannot make up stuff that funny. We took our cat and went back to the ship.
This was another formal night so we again broke out the Sunday Go-to-meeting duds before meeting others for dinner. I might mention at this time that our dining table consisted not only of Amy and Tommy Blackwelder from Savannah, Ga, who turned out to be our dinner mates but also the couple we 'hung out' with for much of the cruise, and Mark and Betty from Key West, Fl who were really a delightful couple that we hope to see on Cruisemates in the future. After another fine meal we all gathered near Studio B for photos of all of the group that had met up and gotten to know each other. Again a great entertaining show performed by the ships company led by the CD Kirk Dietwielder. I have really been impressed by how much RCI has improved all of their entertainment areas. In addition to improving the professionalism, they have made sure to target something for all ages groups which means everyone has a great time.
Friday, At Sea. Lazy day! Of course we intended to try and find all the areas that we didn't have time for earlier. First things first however and I wanted to climb that rock wall at the smokestack. Unfortunately when I get there I discovered that they were holding a competition that morning for wall climbing. Not one to allow common sense to ever stop me from doing what I want, which was try climbing that wall, I just signed up with a dozen others.
First all contestants had to qualify by climbing up just a short ways and then crossing from one side of the wall to the other. Not that big a problem until that one area where the handholds were placed a wide distance apart. I didn't quite get this 'wide body' across and slipped and fell a few feet. Now understand please that I have very few appendages that are fully functional as it is and this short fall caused my left knee to make a very strange sound. The left knee is also one of the few good parts I still have left. Didn't really bother me very much at the time and on to the next phase of the competition we went. Tommy was smart enough not to sign up as he tried the wall once already and Mrs Robo just laughed and told me I was drinking too much when I asked her to sign up but Amy did so we spotted for each other anyway. Speed climb was next! I now discovered that these wonderful looking handholds really aren't all that great or large. I was nearing the top with really just one more panel to go and doing fairly well when another sound caught my attention. Shoulders are not supposed to make noises. Unfortunately try as I might I just could not get my right arm to go above my head so I had to back off and come off the wall and call it a day. I wasn't nearly the best, but at least I was in the later part of the competition which a number of others didn't even make. Okay now, remember the funny noises my 'good' knee made earlier? Well after a very nice lunch I tried to stand up and guess what don't work anymore? You got it, I have sprained my left ACL. No dancing for this guy and no climbing of steps either as it just don't work anymore. I will not let it stop me from having fun but is does look like it will slow me down for the next week or so. I'll have it checked in a couple weeks when I get back.
This is our last day full day so we all arranged to meet for lunch. This was a very nice group of people that we were privileged to sail with. Even thought this was not a Cruisemates Cruise I really feel like we did all become Cruisemates during the cruise and look forward to seeing many of these folks in the future. My knee really was bothering me so I didn't do much of anything the last day except for watching the various final shows and doing lots of sitting. We all did go to the show called "Quest" which is basically where teams sit together and bring various items that were called for with the team scoring the most points winning. Points are won by not only having the items but getting them to the front the fastest. Our teams did exceptionally well I thought always obtaining the items needed one way of the other, often by means of the 'other'. Fortunately a number of the items needed we body parts scars, and tattoos which are right up my alley. The only real scary moments occurred when they finally asked for a couple of bras. Amy was right there and ready and very fast but surprise of surprises Mrs Robo "let the dogs out" so fast she knocked down three people and two tables without ever getting out of her seat! I plainly remember the CD exclaiming "Oh my God" when the items were shoved in his face! Unfortunately the game had to be rigged as we really figured we had won but it wasn't to be. We ended this cruise with a great feeling knowing that we have made many new and wonderful friends.
Saturday, disembarkation Miami. Disembarkation was fast and very easy, especially since all the new security procedures. When our tag color was called we left the ship and gathered ourselves behind the long line passing through security and immigration. Now listen closely everyone, with the new security measures imposed upon US Immigrations is checking every document closely and taking their time. When we lined up an official was walking down the line asking everyone if they had their documents ready we said yes and displayed out passports, we were then immediately directed to walk past others and proceed directly to the front of the line! All we had to do was walk past all these folks and on the way out flash our passports and we were out the door! This is just another very good reason to make sure you get your US Passport!
Well, end of cruise, end of story and we are now driving down the pier to board the Carnival Triumph.
WHO George in NY ( 51 ) and Linda ( 46 ). Cruising since honeymoon in 1984 on board NCL Skyward at 16,000 tons. Have cruised 30 plus on numerous ships including, NCL Skyward, Starward, Norway, Seaward, Dreamward (2 ), Celebrity Zenith (9), Horizon, Century (2), RCI Grandeur (2), Sovereign, Monarch, RV Viking Star, Carnival Celebration and who remembers ;) I was original Cruise Guide for The Mining Company for those that remember and also an outside agent for a cruise agency some years ago after retiring young in 1990. Definitely a cruiseaholic! Besides sailing many I have also had the pleasure of touring many of the new builds when they passed by NY piers. No doubt the Zenith is our favorite ship both for intimacy of it's size and many memories she holds for us.
AIR PACKAGE Phooey, no more, nope never again. Too much money for too little value at $380 pp what I got was early a.m. Delta express flight, you know the ones that have three blankets for one hundred and twenty passengers. That followed by a connecting tour of Atlanta on the way home! So whatto do? Low and behold RCL offers " custom air " which means for yet more dinero, 75.00 bucks a head they will try again to get it right! I thought nada to myself.
A quick visit to the net and better flights, better plane, better times, direct, and best of all 300.00 cheaper! Even with the 100.00 cancellation penalty and absent ground transportation, still a good savings. Also saved us flying into FFL and being bussed into MIA as RCI planned to do. Went direct to Miami and paid for a cab, just 17.50 plus tip. airport to Miami in comfort. No more air/sea packages for this guy. Should have listened to my TA Tony who recommended this method in the first place. This will teach me that when traveling that " best way to go " can change and it pays to listen to a travel pro even when you have lot's of past experience. Things change!
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency which is located both near the pier and Bayside Market. Bayside is by the pier and has restaurants on the water, boat rides, horse carriage rides, and shops. A great pre-cruise, get in the mood happening.
We were meeting up with our friends Len and Karen from Texas later in the evening. We originally met Len and Karen as tablemates on board the Carnival Celebration in 1988 as tablemates. Through the years we have become great friends and have been in almost daily contact via email. Six years ago we again cruised together on RCI's Monarch of The Seas so this would be our third cruise together. We have also met up on land a couple of times through the years. We were really looking forward to cruising together again!
Cruise Day The hotel - Hyatt Regency Miami - Embarkation
Staying at the Hyatt as a RCI pre-stay gives you transportation to pier and express check in. The new and great deal this truly provides is in getting onboard nice and early! Almost like getting an extra cruise day! In previous years RCI had pre-check in at the hotel and then bussed us to the pier later, around one P.M. This time we were directed to check out and meet RCI staff in the lobby for direct transport to the pier at 10:30am. The bellhop advised that luggage would go directly from the hotel to the pier without any further handling by us. We met in the lobby and off we went arriving at the pier before eleven. There we were ushered into the pier facilities built new just for the Voyager class ships. This is very large and comfortable embarkation facility. We checked in and received all our sign in cards etc. right on pier and proceeded up to the ship. Something new for us is the process of having your photo taken with your sign in card. The card does not contain your photo , rather, a photo is entered into the ships database with the card information. Next the customary embarkation photo and onto the ship. Following what appears to be a new policy of many lines you no longer have to wait for 12 pm or later to board but can get on early with the proviso that your cabin is not ready as yet. So we went to our cabin and deposited our carry on's and proceeded to start wandering the ship.
CABINS One of my assigned duties once on board was to immediately check out three cabins that a friend was considering for a January cruise. Another positive of boarding early is that all the cabins are pretty much open and being made up allowing you to sneak around and check various categories out. In this case there were three cabins I had to see. An added bonus was finding the Royal Suite open as well. So for those that are considering like cabins I will include the photos here. The three cabins I had to check were 1692 and 1698 on deck ten. These are AFT balcony cabins actually facing the wake of the ship. In the case of 1688 it is a corner cabin which presents an unusual footprint and was of special interest to my buddy as he is taking his family and could use a little extra space. The 1692 also faced the wake but proved much smaller. Finally 9322 on deck 9 was a standard side view cabin.
Now believe it or not, I was so intent on photographing several cabins that I forgot to take proper shots of ours so you will have to live with a description. The cat B, 1324, that we had is located on deck 10 just where the ship bows out and had a great balcony size wise easily fitting two chairs, a chaise, and a small table. The bathroom which I really regret not photographing, featured two sinks and a bathtub and was huge compared to any bathroom previously encountered within my own cabin. Unlike most bathrooms where you can sit, shower, and brush your teeth all from one location, in this one you had to move about :) Lot's of mirror and cabinet space behind the double sinks.
Lot's of glass covering entire bed to balcony area wall. Good sized living area with couch and two chairs. You will not want for space in a cat B.
Hairdryer located in a drawer by large mirror and cosmetic table is wired in and fairly powerful, more so than any other encountered on board ship. Wall safe in cabinet and multiple lighting throughout cabin with slide dimmer switches. Caller ID phone with programmed room service etc buttons. Plenty of drawer and closet space and a mini bar under bar that contained soda and peanuts and the like, no booze. No price list but it is not complimentary I am told. We only used it as a refrig so don't know much else.
Category B and above suites come with access to the Concierge room and services which are provided by John ( from Hawaii ). John stopped by the cabin when we first arrived to leave our Concierge access key and information packet. He is a real friendly and great Concierge host, you'll love him, and just not for the booze and hors d'oeuvres either. The Concierge room is located on deck 9, between port and starboard and is actually almost hidden. A special key card allows entry to a lovely room with leather couches and chairs. An hour or so before dinner various alcohol, wine, beer, and sodas are available at a self service bar. Hot and cold munchies also provided and best of all they are all complimentary. In addition you may borrow DVD's ( cat B suites have DVD and CD players in cabin ) and CD's here. John, as Concierge, will also secure your ice show tickets ( they are free to all but required as ice area is small and limited in seating for shows) paid excursion packages, and so forth for you. Best of all though is just John's great attitude and personality. Okay the free booze is a biggie. We used the room to meet almost every evening and much to our fascination is was seldom occupied by other guests. This room also has 24 hour coffee machine and copies of Times Fax, daily compass, and so forth including dinner menu. We really did enjoy the amenity! You also get a little something delivered to the suite each afternoon such as strawberries dipped in chocolate or cookies and so forth.
THE SHIP The words that come to mind, are LARGE, BIG, Holy Cow! The Voyager class ships are by far unique to anything I have ever sailed before. Virtually a city upon itself with just about every amenity you would find anywhere. I have to admit at this point that although this was a great cruise and a wonderful experience that I would be hesitant to sail this class ship again. This because my personal preference would definitely lean toward smaller and by smaller I even mean the previously defined mega ships in the 70,000 plus range. A ship this size really eliminates the last vestige of shipboard intimacy, something I enjoy. Many of the crew even advise that despite living onboard for months that they don't even know each other in many cases. The ship is just that big! In many ways to me, more like going to Disney World than sailing a cruise ship. For that reason I am surely glad I sailed her but this is not a ship that I feel I would want to repeat again even though we missed so many of the things to do the first time. But don't get me wrong, this is a wonderful cruise and an elegant ship to say the least. Everyone should try this one once at least just for the astonishment she brings to you. This is not another ship, this is another world.
Want a old fashioned diner? You got it with Johnny Rocket's. A must do while onboard for the old burger and shake lunch. Food is included but shakes and drinks are additional but the shakes are worth the price just like I had heard from others. And do try the onion rings best I ever had. Best time to try to get a seat is when the ship is in a port and many are off on the island.
Want to climb the rock wall, play miniature golf, go ice skating or roller blading, then this is the ship for you. Plenty to do for the exercise oriented among us. Now myself, I am a cold beer and a soft seat kind of guy so I passed on much of that. Also being generally lazy I never even saw the exercise rooms and equipment. Heck I wouldn't even mosey up to take a photo in fear someone, Linda, would try to get me onto some machine. I am told, however, by Linda who frequents the gym equipment that there was an excellent selection of great machines all usually available. We did note, however, that some classes like yoga and spinning, carried additional $10 per class add on charges. This according to the daily compass. Which brings us to one of my favorite subjects nowadays.
NICKEL and DIMING I have been a big protester of ADDED charges onboard ships recently. I will say that I really did not feel nickel and dimed on the Explorer. YES there were those exercise class add on charges ( not for machines etc just those special classes like spinning ) but I was happy to see that ice cream was not only available free but all the time. There is a great ice cream yogurt dispenser complete with a fixings bar located on the promenade. Another cone machine on the pool deck. I don't know if they were 24 hours but certainly they were there and functioning almost 24 hours. No attendant, no charge, just step up and fix yourself what you need.
There is also a place that I fell in love with, again on the Promenade and also open 24 hours a day. This is called the Cafe Promenade, a fantastic place for me anyway. This area serves the greatest little sandwiches, cookies, tarts, and pizza and there is no additional charge for any of it. You just step up and say give me this and give me that. There are coffee machines located there as well and a small bar to get that beer for the pizza. The bar of course charges as is the norm. You can sit inside or outside. After that mosey a couple of feet away and into the Sports type bar, or the Irish pub. Have to tell you, keep your rock climbing walls, the Promenade is the place you will find this degenerate :) And while you enjoy your booze, food, and people watching the ladies can shop away at the stores also located on the Promenade. If there was one innovative design to this ship that should be heralded, it is the Promenade. There are also various parades and music events held here during various times of the day and evening.
Everyone advised that the ice show was not to be missed and they were correct, it was great! The group of skaters on board were doing their last shows on this cruise and are to be replaced by a new troop but I am sure they too will be great. You must get tickets for the show, there is no charge but merely for controlling show crowds. There are several days and times for the show but you would be smart to get them early as possible no matter which show you would like to attend. Also seating is first come so don't be too late especially if there are several of you and you want seats together. The rink is small enough that you pretty much have a great view no matter where you are seated. There is no flash photography allowed but as you can see from this picture there is enough lighting from the show itself to allow for many cameras to take a shot without the flash.
Besides the ice show you have your evening Palace Theatre shows which were very good. We really enjoyed Paul Boland who does impersonations of a whole range of singers. This is not normally my thing but he was so good that you had to enjoy his performance and I did, at least up until I was grabbed with another gentlemen to gyrate both in the audience and eventually on stage to the singing of Elvis songs. Oh well into each life a little rain must fall. I apologize to my fellow passengers for having to endure this uncoordinated gyrator ;) The good news was that I did get a free scotch and soda out of it at least. Fortunately I have no photo's of this none event. We didn't make all the shows but the ones we did make were all worth going to.
There are also various parades and events held on the boulevard, pool games, and the usual fare.
CASINO The casino staff were very pleasant and extra tables were opened at busy times. There were some $5 and 1$ machines and lots of quarter machines. That's the good news. The bad news is that not only did I not win anything ( I did have a small hit on the $5 machine making $90 on a $10 investment ) I didn't see anyone else hitting anything either and I did spend some time in there. I played slots and Caribbean poker without success and Len played Blackjack with no great success. In fact the only time I made anything was when I made a quick stop at the Wyndam Hotel Casino near the pier in Old San Juan. A quick $100 profit for 10 minute endeavor. I actually saved money since I decided there was little chance of coming home a winner from this casino.
DINING The dining room is three tiered and magnificent in design. Most tables were for 8 and we were located on the second level. Food during the cruise was very good but I didn't much care for the actual dinner choices most evenings. You can order a steak or chicken any night, also a Caesar salad. I suppose because of this they didn't offer another beef selection most evenings. As a beef eater I would have preferred varied beef dishes as well. The only complaint I heard and also voiced was with the shrimp scampi which sounded much better than it was in reality. Not really any scampi I have seen, more just some split open shrimp which were under cooked. Our waiter and assistant waitress were exceptional always anxious to please and always remembering our preferences. Cheese and olive plates were requested the first evening and appeared every night after that without having to request again. Beverages were ready when we arrived at the table and refilled often, again without need to ask. A couple of waiter singing shows were presented during the cruise but you really had to be at the main level to see them other than the quick parade around the other floors. On lobster night we were rewarded with good sized tails and our waiter brought seconds and thirds without any request. The prime rib, served the following evening ( wish they had served those on lobster night too for a little surf and turf ) were excellent and very thick.
The Buffet area was very good both in food and design with a grill area aft for hamburgers and so forth. Various hot and cold dishes were provided and all that I tried were very good. Ice tea, water, and so forth were provided at several beverage stations and most times staff were there filling the glasses to keep from having jam ups at the stations. There was also beverage carts with bar waiter at end of line for those that wanted to purchase beer and soda. In addition hot dogs were placed by the pool in serving dishes for those that just wanted a small bite before going for the big meal. There was only one midnight buffet to my knowledge and honestly I didn't go. The other evenings staff walked around with various little munchies being served.
BAR SERVICE Might not have bothered having any at dinner. This was one area that really fell short in dining room. The bar waiter came around the first evening with the after dinner shots in those souvenir glasses. I bought one and he never came around again. In fact even when we requested bar service no bar waiter showed one evening. Another evening one couple got drinks and not only never saw the bar waiter for a second round but he didn't even come back to have them sign for the drinks.
Add to that the fact that there are no wine stewards either, the waiters now have to serve the wine, and there was little drinking around us at dinner. Doesn't seem to make sense eliminating wine stewards since with no one really coming up to ask about wine or recommend no one at our table bothered buying any the entire cruise. Seemed that the waiter had more than enough to do without serving wine.
SERVICE IN GENERAL Service through out the ship was generally very good and the staff were pleasant and friendly, always tried to be helpful, no complaints. Room service was good, usual minor screw up on orders from time to time but on time. In fact if you order by TV almost as soon as I clicked to finalize the order the phone would ring, room service to confirm my order. You can order by sticking the old card on the door at night, by phone, or by TV menu. They also always called to ask if they could serve your order before they came and always asked if they could come in. We noted the second day that our air conditioning wasn't working very well and when I called there was a service man there in moments. This of course was after the lady that took the call asked me if I had the deck door open. I did assure her that I was aware that if the deck door was open hot air comes in ;) After the technician checked I knew we had a bit of a real problem since first there was one guy, then two, then three, and finally a real Officer from engineering. They went about opening walls and ceilings while being very apologetic about disturbing us. Within an hour or so they located the problem and it was repaired properly to where we set the thermostat from full to warm it worked so well.
Another time I stopped a staff member to ask where the Concierge room was. He didn't know and was very upset that he didn't have the answer and asked me to please wait while he found out. He then went to a phone to call someone and get the information. He was very apologetic that I had to wait for answer, I assured him of course that I appreciate his efforts.
ODDS and ENDS This is definitely a family cruise ship as evidenced by the number of kids on board. This makes for much of the standard bell ringing and running ( many cabins have door bells ) away antics, reversing do not disturb signs to please make up room side and so forth. Kids will be kids I guess. The main pool areas had many kids enjoying themselves during the day also. The nice thing is that there is another pool area, the Solarium pool, which is adult only and nice and quiet for those who prefer to relax a little more.
Something a little more serious that I would note is that we on two occasions saw young teenage girls that were quite obviously very high and acting a bit wild. Whether they brought something with them or managed to get a hold of something onboard who knows but I would offer a caution to parents that checking the kids should not go out the window simply because you are on a cruise. If I still had young teenagers, especially attractive young girls, I would not want them to unattended onboard any ship but especially one this size. The annoyance factor is something we can live with but their safety factor is another.
Someone had posted on RTC newsgroup that the staff had told him that there was a morale problem due to lack of staff and added work load. From talking to some staff they do apparently feel that they are being overworked, like waiters having to be wine stewards and the such, yet I must say they did not let that effect how they interacted with passengers. All the staff we encountered worked diligently and with a smile tending to ours needs. I did note though that there appeared to be much less staff than one would expect on a ship this size with this many passengers.
I didn't cover ports as they are standard ports of call for Eastern Caribbean. I will mention that I had been concerned about Labadee being over crowded with this large a ship but indeed it didn't feel that way. Several beaches and lunch areas, good sized tenders, so all in all wasn't bad at all. We did the wave runner tour on Labadee which I would recommend with the caution that this is not an easy wave runner ride around. For whatever reason they run this at a race from point to point always running at full throttle which is about 55 mph. Between speed and jumping over waves while making sharp turns it is comparable to riding a bucking bronco. Your arms and legs will feel the ride by the time you finish the tour.
One final note * dress as cool as possible when you board. As is usually the case the lifeboat drill is held prior to sailing and it was hot in Florida. Couple that with the longest drill I have ever seen and many of the people were starting to complain that they felt that they were close to passing out. Most started removing life vests long before drill was over. Besides having to group up over three thousand passengers the drill was a very extended one as the announcements were repeated in at least 5 languages and they actually checked off each cabin and how many people were there from the cabin. So if you can wear shorts or light clothes when you board do so.
I know there are a million things I haven't covered so please feel free to email me any questions I might be able to answer. This is a big ship so I guess it rated a big review :)
As I stated the cruise was great, the ship wonderful, but for me, I really have no urge to do one this big again as a personal preference.