Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Explorer of the Seas
Sailing Date: July, 26th, 2003
Itinerary: Eastern + Western Caribbean back to back
14 day Eastern- and Western Caribbean cruise on Explorer of the Seas (back to back)
Last year my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and I graduated from high school. To celebrate these events, my parents (now 54 and 52), my sister (now 21) and me (18) went on an ten day Eastern Caribbean cruise on Celebrity’s Millennium. We loved this ship and became addicted to cruising the minute we stepped onboard. My review of this cruise can be found on http://www.cruisereviews.com and http://www.cruise-addicts.com .
This year my sister graduated from college. We didn’t plan to go on another cruise though. What we originally wanted, was to visit two or three islands in Greece (we live in Holland, the one in Europe, not the Michigan version!). But this turned out to be almost impossible. My father mentioned: “Then we might as well cruise through the Mediterranean sea.” He shouldn’t have said this, because two seconds later I was surfing the internet looking for the options. We all liked a certain cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance, but it’s departure dates didn’t match our agendas. There was one on Millennium as well, but we all wanted to try a different ship and cruise line this time. Don’t get me wrong, Millennium is a fantastic ship, but we just wanted to try something else.
Then a 14 day Eastern- and Western Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer caught our eyes. It visited 9 different ports (including Miami) of which we had seen only two on the previous cruise. After convincing my mom that a big ship isn’t all bad (on their honeymoon, my parents cruised the Mediterranean on a, for nowadays standards, tiny little cruise ship) , the cruise was booked. Then the time for preparing came. I really think I have read all the reviews and seen every single picture of the ship available on the internet.
Arriving in Miami
From Amsterdam, we flew to Miami on KLM. I am over 6 foot tall, so there was very little leg room for me on this 9 hour flight, but hey, we’re on vacation! The real fun began when we finally reached Miami. First there was the immigration line, in which we waited for 45 minutes. Of course, we managed to find the slowest (or perhaps most thorough?) immigration officer of the airport. Then, after several passport checks and x ray-machines, we reached the baggage hall. What a mess! There were people everywhere. It was awfully crowded. Somehow, we managed to spot our luggage. So, after another 15 minutes in another line, we found ourselves a cab. It took us 1.45 hours to get from the airplane to the cab. Well done Miami! I don’t know what Ft. Lauderdale’s airport is like, but I can’t imagine it being worse than Miami International, so please, if you have the choice, choose Ft. Lauderdale.
We came two days prior to our embarkation, so we stayed in the Four Points Sheraton in Miami Beach, the same hotel as last year. This wasn’t because we liked this hotel so much, but because it was the only option for us. The hotel itself is good, the rooms are huge, with all the amenities. However, the service is not what you would expect it to be like, and the food is expensive and not very good. Thank god the Fountainblue Hilton is next door, so this is where we went for breakfast. Amazing!
So, after a day of buying the unavoidable Gap’s and
Abercrombie’s (yawn!), it was time to go to bed and prepare for the embarkation
We took a taxi from our hotel to the port of Miami. We could get a clear view of all the ships in the port. Of course, there was the Explorer with its sister ship Navigator of the seas, Carnival Glory and another Carnival ship, but I don’t know which one. We arrived at about 11.00. We filled out our Bahamas immigration forms, went through some x-rays and then went over to the “check in”. Needless to say, we ended up with the slowest, least experienced employee, but who cares. We received our sea-passes and my parents declared in writing that I was allowed to drink beer and wine. Then, after having taken our embarkation picture, that wasn’t even that awful, we stepped on board on deck 4 forward. After all it took us about 45 minutes to embark, but if we had had a more experienced employee checking us in, it would have been faster.
All in all, the embarkation was a lot more efficient
then on the Millennium. Now, let’s go check out our staterooms!
My sister and I shared an interior stateroom on deck 6 (6647). It was a very cozy cabin, with 2 single beds, a sofa, a desk with hairdryer and tons of storage space. The bathroom was not very large, but its layout was very clever, so we didn’t mind. The shower had a sliding door, not the sticky shower curtains that I heard are on other ships. Our stateroom had lots of mirrors, so I didn’t feel claustrophobic at all. In fact, my sister and I would close the curtains at night, so that the room was divided into 2. Also, there was an interactive television that could be rotated, so it was possible to watch TV from bed, as well as from the couch.
My parents had an exterior stateroom with a private balcony (6638), that was actually very private. More private than the ones on Millennium. Now that we’re talking about the balconies, I have a little suggestion: If you want a balcony, choose deck 7 or higher. These balconies have a glass “window”, so that the view is even better. All the exterior cabins on deck 6 had a steel “window” that you can’t see through. It didn’t bother them, but it’s something you could keep in mind. The cabin itself had a large bed (I don’t know if it’s queen- or king-size). Their cabin was a bit larger than ours, and my parents loved it.
Our stateroom attendant was called Teddy and he was very good. We loved the towel animals he made for us. My sister’s formal Shanghai-dress got some stains on it on the way over, so she gave it to him the first day, and got it back the next afternoon, spotless and right in time for the captain’s cocktail.
As I said, we did two different cruises. Coincidentally, we had a different captain the second week. Our captain on the Eastern itinerary was Ole Johan Grønhaug (or something like that) from Norway. He would talk to the passengers every day through the PA-system.
On the next cruise, Carlos Pedercini from Argentina was our captain. He was the youngest captain of the fleet. He was a bit less “outgoing” than Ole, but I heard some crew members say that Carlos was friendlier to the crew. After the cocktail party, it was time to go to the theatre, to see “History Repeating”.
The Entertainment on Explorer is simply amazing. The theatre is called “The Palace” and it is huge, with a capacity of about 1250.
There were 2 production shows, the first one called “History Repeating”, the second one was “Fast Forward”. I loved History repeating, which is a journey through the centuries. Fast Forward was something like a tribute to all the famous dance movies like Footloose, Dirty Dancing etc. I didn’t like this show as much as the first one, but I went to see it again the second week anyway.
All the guest entertainers were wonderful as well.
Our fantastic cruise director was Gordon Whatman from the United Kingdom. He is a great guy, but he should stop his irritating giggle. This man was everywhere, all the time. I wondered if he ever slept.
There were lots of bands all over the ship, even on the Promenade.
The center of the ship is definitely the Royal Promenade on deck 5. It is a beautiful, 4 deck high street, with lots of terraces and people to watch. On each side of the promenade were atriums that were about 10 decks high. The whole concept of the promenade works, it is fabulous.
There was a lot of jewelery to be found here, as well as a souvenir shop, an arcade, a sports bar, an entrance to the casino on deck 4.
All the way forward on the starboard side of the promenade is the café promenade. This is the place to get those to-die-for chocolate chip cookies. They also had some terrific pizzas, croissants and sandwiches 24 hours a day.
Right in the middle of the promenade on port side
was the Crown and Kettle’s pub. This is were we would go before dinner to eat
popcorn and have something to drink, while watching the people go by.
Both of our cruises were fully booked, which means there were approximately 3700 passengers onboard, of which there were, hold on, a thousand(!) kids. They didn’t really bother us though, except for the fact that they would sometimes hang out in the elevators.
I think about 95 percent of the passengers was from
the United States. However, we did come across some other Dutch people the
second week. They were also doing a back-to-back cruise, so we could tell them
about the ports of call.
The Ports of Call
San Juan, Puerto Rico: We arrived in San Juan at about 2 pm. Celebrity’s Galaxy was docked next to us. We did a 2.5 hour old and new San Juan bus tour. It was nice, to be driven around in the comfort of an air-conditioned bus. We also visited the fortress, which offered some great views of the harbor. After our tour it was time for shopping. I read about a Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren outlet store. These store were not very interesting though.
After a refreshing drink, we returned to the ship, since it was time to go to dinner. The Galaxy was gone, but now Celebrity’s Century was our neighbor. We sailed at 8 pm.
Philipsburg, St. Maarten: We had been to St. Maarten last year as well. We rented a jeep then and drove around the island, visiting the French side (Marigot) as well.
This time we docked at about 8 am. Disney’s Magic was already there. We took the water taxi to town, which will set you back 5 dollars per person.
First my mother wanted to visit an old colleague of hers. (she works for the Dutch government and St. Maarten is Dutch). Then we visited the tiny courthouse.
There is a hotel called Holland House in Philipsburg, where they sell a traditional Dutch dish called Bitterballen. We had some of those, and they were very good. By now the time was right for an old hobby of the female part of the family: Shopping!
First we bought about EVERYTHING in the Tommy
Hilfiger store. I bought a digital photo camera here as well. It was about 150
dollars cheaper here than in Holland, so that was a good deal. After having
bought several postcards and having lunch with a colleague of my dad, we headed
back to our home away from home, the beautiful Explorer. It was a great day.
Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas: We had been here last year as well. We did a 3 hour bus tour around the island then. When we saw Magen’s Bay, my mother said that if she ever came back, she would go to this beach, which is supposed to be one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world.
So, 1 year later, here we are. We took a taxi, and
headed for the beach, which was beautiful. Everything was ridiculously
expensive, since the Explorer, Disney Magic and Radisson Diamond were in.
Nassau, Bahamas: We had been to Nassau before, on a land-based vacation.
We arrived at noon. Carnival Fantasy, Sovereign of the seas and Disney Wonder were already in by then. When we got off the ship, we started looking for a regular bus that would take us to the hotel were we stayed then. This is a lot cheaper than using a taxi. We paid 1 dollar per person for a half an hour ride. After having drinks in this hotel, we proceeded to Paradise Island to see the Atlantis resort. If you like a small, intimate hotel, this place would drive you crazy. It was huge and there were people everywhere. The aquarium was spectacular though.
We all decided we didn’t like this hotel.
We felt that the Atlantis resort made Paradise Island loose most of its old charm.
The last time we shopped was now 2 days ago, so it
was time to catch up. There used to be a straw-market in Nassau, but the place
burned down, so they moved it. There were about a 100 shops, all selling the
same stuff. After having visited the 5 star Hilton hotel, we went back onboard.
Century had joined us by now, so there were now 5 ships. What a beautiful sight.
Miami, Florida: Arriving in Miami meant the end of the vacation for most people, but we would stay on board for another week. It was necessary for us to go through U.S. Immigration, even though we didn’t want to get off. We had to wait for over 2 hours before everyone finally got off the ship, wasting those “quiet hours at the pool” we had been looking forward to during the first week. We sailed at 5.15 pm.
Labadee, Haiti: Labadee is RCCL’s private peninsula of Haiti. It is a beautiful place, the ship is anchored in a bay, and there are tenders to get you to the beach. The problem is that this place is CROWDED. There are 3700 people trying to find a spot on the beaches. We did manage to find some beach chairs. My parents booked two floating beach mats, for 10 bucks each. They were great, except for the fact that there was very little space for swimming, because even in the sea it was full of people.
At 1 pm, my mother and I decided to go back to the
ship, since there would be no one there. We waited for hours in the tender
before it finally was full, and after a quick swim we headed straight to Johnny
Rockets for a delicious, low calorie lunch (sure).
Ocho Rios, Jamaica: Ja Mon, today’s Jamaica day. The ship docks in Ocho Rios, where basically, there is nothing to do. My sister and I did a tour in a 4x4 vehicle, with zebra striping. It was nice, even though we didn’t see many sights. But thank god there was complimentary rum punch. It was a fun day, and Jamaica is a beautiful island with a very friendly population.
My parents went on a tour to some sort of
plantation. It sounded a bit boring, but they really enjoyed themselves. I would
love to go back to Jamaica some time.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands: Grand Cayman is a real shoppers paradise. There are thousands of diamonds, rings and Rolex watches to be found here. We bought some t-shirts, and drank coffee while overlooking the port. Carnival’s Sensation was our neighbor today.
We went back onboard at about 1.30 pm, to spend another relaxing day at the pool.
Grand Cayman is not a very interesting port if you
are not into stingray’s. If you are, it’s supposed to be fabulous.
Cozumel, Mexico: Cozumel was one of the ports of call we had been looking forward to the most. We booked the Tulum Express tour, a 6.5 hour tour that takes you to the old Maya Ruins on the continent.
First we boarded a very comfortable air-conditioned ship that took us to playa del Carmen. Then there was a bus waiting for us that took us to Tulum. When we finally arrived, there were some lines waiting for us. Then our guide said that in order to film the ruins, you had to pay 8 dollars. We thought this was absolutely ridiculous. We paid 4 times 75 dollars for this excursion, and then they ask you to pay for your video!
It was well over 90 degrees that day, and there was
hardly any shade in Tulum. So after having walked around a little bit, we
decided we had seen it and visited the local Subway.
After the inevitable souvenirs, we went back to the bus, which would take us back to playa del Carmen. They served something they called lunch on the way back, but compared to the food on the ship, it was simply inedible.
In Playa del Carmen there was a very small, open boat waiting for us. There was quite a lot of wind, and the sea was pretty rough as well, so the ride was rather bumpy. Like this wasn’t enough, the rain started pouring down, so we were all soaking wet as well. This tiny boat dropped us off in the center of Cozumel. Result: We had to pay another five bucks for a taxi- ride back to the explorer. There were three other ships as well: Carnival’s Jubilee, Inspiration and Sensation. That night our cruise director said: “we were like a rose in between thorns”.
We were all very, very disappointed with this day. We had been traveling for over 4 hours, in order to see some ruins for 2 hours. It was definitely NOT worth the money. The ruins are great when you’re on vacation in Playa del Carmen. From Cozumel it is just not worth the effort.
When we finally went on board again (for the last
time), we quickly showered to prepare for dinner.
In general, I thought the food was very good on the Explorer. We had dinner in the Main Dining room every night. The dining room was very pretty. We requested a table for four and the main seating. However, we were assigned to a table for six on both cruises. Our tablemates were all very nice though, so we didn’t really mind.
Our Waiter and his assistant were fantastic. We had Rajesh Ballah from India and Nicholas from South-Africa. We liked them so much that we wanted them again the second week. Our Maitre d’ (Harry Simons from Jamaica, great guy) arranged this for us. We thoroughly enjoyed dinner every night.
The food was very good, however, the food on Millennium was slightly better. The service was great though. My sister loved the Insalata Caprese, so after asking our Head Waiter, she had this salad every day.
I liked having breakfast in the dining room the
most. It is a very relaxed way to start your day. We also tried the Windjammer,
which had a breakfast buffet. This was very good as well.
Explorer vs. Millennium
Both ships are pretty large, but somehow, the Millennium is a totally different ship. The ship’s interior is a less stunning than the Explorer’s, but is a little more elegant. Celebrity seemed to attract different people as well. We had very, very many children on the Explorer.
Millennium’s service is better and so is its food. Also, you won’t find yourself dancing the Macarena during dinner on the Millennium.
On the other hand, the Explorer’s entertainment is a lot better. There is a lot more to do, and the promenade is fantastic. From the outside as well as the inside, I think the Explorer is prettier than Millie. My parents disagreed with me, though.
However, you’re sure to have a good time on both
· Royal Caribbean’s ships can be easily recognized by their Viking Crown lounge. On most ships, this lounge is used for observation during the day, while at night it is transformed into a disco. On Explorer, there are a sports bar, a jazz club, a card-playing room and something I didn’t manage to find out what it was for. Most of the time, including the evenings, there was almost no-one here. The whole lounge was redundant. I would advise the cruise-line to move the disco to the Viking Crown Lounge again in the future.
· The pool towel service is not as good as on the Millennium. You find two towels in your stateroom that you can change at poolside. There are no towels provided at the pool. This way, it was impossible to get a second towel. Also, the towels didn’t excel in cleanliness.
· Does a ship sailing the Caribbean year round need
an ice skating rink?
We had a fantastic time, and would love to cruise again on Royal Caribbean. The Explorer of the seas is a beauty, and doesn’t look that much larger than other ships on the outside. I never felt crowded, but I thought it was pretty difficult to find a spot for yourself.
I didn’t describe all the public areas. For a very
detailed description of these areas, please visit Passenger ship parade, at
http://psp.club.tip.nl . It’s a fantastic site by another Dutch person, that
features some ship tours of new ships as well.
This review was quite extensive, but I hope I provided you a lot of useful information.
If you have any further questions, or you disagree with me on some point, please let me know. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org