Occupation:President - Contracting firm
Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Explorer of the Seas
Sailing Date: August 2nd, 2003
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
This was our family’s first cruise. My wife and I, our two daughters (16 and 15) and our son (13) flew from Philadelphia to Miami the day of the departure. The flight out of Philadelphia was delayed two and one-half hours, which meant that we did not get to Miami until 1:30 PM. Even with a delay, the luggage for three of us did not arrive in Miami with our flight. We got to the terminal at 3:00 Pm and boarded the ship at 3:45 PM, which was too late to grab a bite to eat at the Windjammer. After the muster drill, and Bon Voyage, we freshened up and went to eat at our early seating (6:00 PM), very hungry and a little nervous over whether we would get our luggage. After dinner we were relieved to have all of our luggage (the missing pieces made it on a 4:00 PM flight and US Air delivered it to the ship terminal). This experience was the only bad part of our entire week.
I won’t go into too much detail about the ship – enough reviews at this website do that. Even after reading many of these reviews, we were amazed at the sheer size of the Explorer. It took a good three days just to get to know your way around. The Royal Promenade in the middle of the ship is amazing. We found the Schooner Bar on the 4th deck to be our favorite, we spent a few evenings there at the piano bar, and our children were able to join us also (when they were not occupied with the youth activities hosted by RC).
We chose Explorer of the Seas based on recommendations by friends who have cruised on the Voyager class size ships. It was big enough to host activities for people with many different interests. Bingo, line dancing, art auctions, karaoke and bridge tournaments were offered all during the week. The two parades and the two midnight buffets were also great. It is also big enough to handle 3200 passengers without feeling crowded. The only line we had to wait in was for the excursions early in the week.
Since we were a party of 5, we had two rooms – 9552, a D9 outside stateroom with balcony and an inside stateroom across the hall. The bonus was that the inside stateroom was handicapped accessible, so it had a much larger bathroom. The balcony stateroom was fantastic- I don’t know if I would ever cruise again without one. We would read out there in the morning, and sit and watch the moon there at night. The closets and storage areas were plenty of space for all of our stuff. Our stateroom attendant, Elliott, was fantastic; he even cleaned up after our children who usually left things out on the floor. Our children especially liked the towel animals that appeared when we were at dinner.
I’ve read that the food on Royal Caribbean cruises is about average --- we had no complaints, and found some items to be well above average. The themed dinners were very good, especially the soups and desserts. The lobster, prime rib, and the lamb entrees were excellent. Our favorite deserts were the key lime pie, Tiramisu, warm chocolate cake and the grand marnier soufflé.
Dennis, our waiter, was the highlight of our trip. He made us feel very at ease, and even though he was hustling to wait on 4 tables, he always took the time for us. Our son usually had two entrees each evening. Dennis even had a few magic tricks and brain teasers for us, and our children looked forward to seeing him every night. Our bar server, Waldemann, was also a favorite of mine. By Wednesday, he would be off to get my Vodka tonic before I even took my seat at the table. He was also a very good salesman with the Loving Cup after dinner drinks.
Lunches at the Windjammer and Johnny Rockets were very good. We had breakfast in the Windjammer a few times, and it is standard buffet fare. The Island grill in the back of the Windjammer has omelet stations, and a great view out the stern of the ship. Breakfasts in the main dining room were usually the best, and the menu in the main dining area for breakfast is the same every day.
There are also soft serve ice cream stations at different places around the ship, which were used quite often by our children.
We missed two of the shows early in the week, but the Welcome Aboard show with Gordon, our cruise director was very good. Later in the week, the Qwest scavenger hunt was very funny, and the closing night with Carl Strong, a comedian, was hilarious. The Love and Marriage game show was also fun. I read on this website that the ice show is not to be missed, and I whole-heartedly agree. How they can do that much skating - on a rink that is about 1/8 the size of a regular rink - is hard to believe.
Our Children participated in the Adventure Ocean Program on the “at sea” days and at night. This program had activities such as skating at the ice rink, rock wall competitions, ping-pong competitions, etc. Our daughters enjoyed being at “Optix”, the teen disco for 14 to 17 year olds. Some nights, they did not return to their rooms until 1:30 AM or 2:00 AM. Our son was not as excited over his activities for the 12 to 14 year olds, but I think that had more to do with his interests rather than RC’s activities. The ship has a curfew of midnight for all children under 18, unless they are in Optix.
Ports of Call:
We are not big shoppers, so we did not enjoy the vendors in Haiti, Jamaica or even Cozumel. We really were not in the market for anything of great value, so we window-shopped a little, and our children bought T-Shirts in every port. They especially enjoyed Del Sol in Georgetown, where everything in the store changes color when it is exposed to sunlight. For those that are shoppers, RC does a great job televising their “shopping expert” who explains in great detail what to look for in each port, and where the best deals are.
Day One – At Sea – If you want a spot by the pool, get there early, we found a lot of deck chairs reserved. We got there at 9:30, and we had trouble finding 5 near each other. The only thing I would recommend for the “at sea” days is an insulated can cooler for beer cans (if you are a beer drinker) or an insulated mug for water/beer/soda.
Day two – Labadee, Haiti – This was a nice beach day – the snorkeling was not that good, except my son and I enjoyed seeing the airplane wreck on the bottom of one cove (it is the cove to the left as you face the island from the ship- it is marked with an orange buoy). The beaches on the far side of the island had better waves and were less crowded. The buffet lunch fare provided by the ship was the only below average meal on the trip. The barbecued ribs and hamburgers were not that good; the chicken was average. The market vendors were too pushy, but we were prepared for that. Our son bought a hand made box for $15, and the starting price for it was $45. I bought a few Cuban cigars to smoke on the trip, and found the prices to be competitive with cigar prices in later ports of call. Our daughters had their hair braided for $50 each.
Day Three – Ocho Rios, Jamaica – We signed up for an excursion through RC prior to our departure to Dunn’s River Falls and Dolphin Cove – price wise, it would have been cheaper to get a cab and pay admission to these places, but we were a little concerned based on some of the things we heard about Jamaica. Dunn’s River Falls was very crowded, but we enjoyed it. Walking in the river pools was nice since it was so hot. The market area at Dunn’s falls again had pushy vendors, but if you keep your eyes forward and keep walking, they won’t bother you too much. Dolphin cove was also nice to see, but we should have signed our children up for the Dolphin encounter. The encounter allows people to get in the water over your waist and wade with the Dolphins. We could not upgrade our tickets while we were there since it was already booked up. I would recommend this trip, and if you want the Dolphin encounter, book it ahead of time with RC.
Day Four – Georgetown, Grand Cayman- We booked a half-day trip thru the internet with Captain Marvin’s to snorkel at the Coral Gardens, the Reef and then onto stingray city. I would recommend this trip – we only had 25 people on our boat, and the captain and his mate created some great photo opportunities with the sting rays. The snorkeling at each location was excellent – we saw an eel, stingrays and many colorful fish. An independent video-grapher was aboard for the trip, and he was selling DVD’s of the trip for $60. You order the video and it comes in the mail two weeks after your trip. He dove with us and videoed everyone snorkeling and holding the stingrays. There is no audio– the video is set to Caribbean music – we previewed it on the boat without sound and I would recommend it. Grand Cayman was our favorite stop on the cruise.
Day Five – Cozumel, Mexico – At the last minute we booked the RC “Discover Scuba” excursion for the five of us. It was outstanding – none of us ever tried scuba diving, and the crew at Sanddollar sports (within view of the ship) did a great job of training us and then taking us on a ½ hour dive. Unfortunately, we had to split up since they only do it in groups of 4, so my wife went with a gentleman and his two children. Pancho, our guide, was excellent, he showed us eels, and picked up a stingray. My wife got to see an Octopus in her group. We were in about 25 feet of water for the dive.
Day Six – at sea – a nice day to unwind from everything – the Calypso band at the pool was great. We also found the chairs in the shade towards the stern end of the pool area to be the most comfortable – it was a hot day, and there was a nice breeze blowing back there. We also participated in the adult dodge ball tournament and our children participated in the rock climbing competition. RC did a great job of creating events near the pool on the two “at sea” days to keep you entertained – if you want to avoid them, you can always walk over to the Solarium Pool for adults only, which is much quieter.
Day Seven – Disembarking – this was a breeze compared to boarding the ship – we left our stateroom at 8:00 AM, ate breakfast, heard our color, got our luggage and were in a cab by 9:00 AM. We were at the Miami airport by 9:20 AM.
The RC staff was excellent. Our children had a great time with the directors of the youth activities, and everyone we met was courteous and helpful. The entertainment was good, and we enjoyed the food. We purchased quite a few pictures of ourselves, especially the ones taken on the formal nights.
Overall, we had a fantastic experience. Our children loved it. My wife and I really enjoyed having a stateroom with a balcony. In Cozumel, we were docked next to a Carnival ship, and we laughed when some of them shouted over to us, “Hey, can we trade ships, I want a balcony.” After seeing the Carnival ships in Cozumel, I don’t think I would cruise on anything but Royal Caribbean. We enjoyed the vacation of a lifetime.