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Gina Hooker

Age: 40

Occupation:Self Employed

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Explorer of the Seas

Sailing Date: December 21st,2002

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

We are from the UK and so decided to get some sun this xmas. We booked about 5 weeks in advance off teletext and think we got a fairly good deal. We had cabin D9620 which was right in the centre of the ship and very near the lifts. We actually found this to be an advantage and were never disturbed by any noise.

Our itinerary was day at sea, Grand Cayman Island, Jamaica, day at sea, Cozumel and then another day at sea and back to Miami.

>From a Brit point of view there are a couple of things I would have done slightly differently. I would probably try and get out to the States about 3 days in advance to get used to the time difference. The first night on board we fell asleep in the cabin and completely missed the welcome etc.

Also we had one night in Miami before boarding the ship the next morning. The travel agent had, as part of the package, booked us into the Holiday Inn at the Airport. I asked to be upgraded and put somewhere in Miami where things were happening as we were arriving at midday. He advised us that the hotel was very nice and the transfers very good so we stayed put. Big mistake. We had to catch a cab down to Bayside anyway for the afternoon and evening and it was very pleasant down there with the restaurants, boutiques and watching the boats. There are hundreds of hotels and you are obviously nearer the ship. So don't be fobbed off with anywhere near the airport there is nothing going on there at all!

Embarkation was really quick and easy. We arrived at the dock at about 11am and were sent straight through - so it is true that you can get straight on board early. Our luggage came in dribs and drabs throughout the day up until about 6.30pm.

The ship is huge and very impressive. We rarely felt any motion. The ice show as everyone has said is excellent and so were the shows staged by the ship's crew. We had one of the Monkees - Mick Dallance or something and he really was past his sell by date. The casino was great fun and not too painful. The drink cards worked very well and would recommend this system. Although it does not include premium brands like Jack Daniels you could have Jim Beam instead - what a hardship. Our two girls had soda cards and that worked well as they could get drinks whenever they wanted.

The children went to the kids clubs once and decided that they really didn't like them - Drat. I think they found the activities rather boring or not old enough. Eg my 12 year old went to a bandana graffiti session only to find that it was a scarf which had the RCI blurb on it and it was coloring in with fat felt tips. This also was an activity for my 9 year old.

The food overall was pretty good. There was just about everything you could want at breakfast in the Windjammer and you could get eggs etc cooked how you liked through in the Island Grill. Lunch was a massive buffet - watch the plates they are enormous and it is very easy to pile them up. We liked to eat in the restaurant in the evening. Unfortunately the other people on our table were also "foreigners" and so some nights they wouldn't make it and others we didn't so we only got together a couple of times. Our waiting staff were absolutely fantastic Oliver from the Philippines and Albert from India. Very friendly, helpful - couldn't fault them.

Our stateroom attendant Henrick was also fantastic. The room was always immaculate when we came back with towels made into a variety of different animals from scorpions, teddy bears with shades on, monkeys hanging from the ceiling on hangers etc. Our ice buckets was always full to the brim morning and evening. Couldn't fault him either. We had a lovely balcony and I would recommend this to anyone thinking of cruising. If you have the option and can pay just that little bit more then go for it. It is just so nice to be able to sit outside, have a drink, watch the sun and also to get some fresh sea air into the cabin.

As mentioned we traveled with our two children and we found the cabin to be perfectly OK for the 4 of us. Our bed was surprisingly comfortable bearing in mind we both suffer with our backs and the girls sofa bed was large as well. The bathroom was obviously compact but perfectly adequate.

We were told that the middle of the ship half way up or higher is best as you get the least action. This proved to be true as we were on Deck 9 just where the ship bulges out at the side.

Oh another thing the muster drill was just so easy and quick. Very well organized.

Our shore excursions were swimming with the stingrays in Grand Cayman. Lovely creatures but god there were a lot of people there and the sandbar is probably 4'6" deep so when the sea starts to swell any children and most adults go under - be warned.

Jamaica we were slightly worried about having heard about all the hassling that goes on. We found that if you actually spoke to the people and explained that you had already got an excursion planned they just chatted with you. OK yes they did offer us ganja but this is Jamaica. We chose to do the river tubing excursion and I would recommend it. Tubes/tires just like at Disney but on a real river with a few tiny rapids. Not too commercialized as yet - the guys in charge were very entertaining and looked after everyone very well. At the end of the tubing you were set down at a shack selling jerk chicken - like I said not commercial. Also it was nice to get out of the town and up into the hills and see a bit of the real Jamaica.

In Cozumel we swam with the dolphins which was a wonderful experience. Definitely the swim was better than the petting experience or whatever it was called. with the swim they pull you through the water, push you up and out of the water by your feet like superman, jump and just swim etc.

If you are thinking of purchasing any jewelry etc then listen to the guy on the ship for some good tips. Cozumel seemed to be pretty good for nice little trinkets and the guy in one of the shops said watches were the things to buy in Jamaica.

Another thing from a UK point of view was that you have to get off the ship early in the morning so try to get an early afternoon flight home. Ours was meant to be at 10.00pm but having checked the tickets proved to be a 11.45pm so we paid extra to catch the 8.00pm flight home. However, this meant many boring hours at Miami airport. We flew with American Airlines and found them to be very good with excellent legroom compared to BA.

Well I think I have burbled on enough now. We would definitely cruise again and with RCI. However, I think we would like to go with some friends and then you could have a real blast.

Oh just one more thing. I read one review when someone was moaning about the carpets - well two weeks after we got off the ship it was due to go into dry dock and was going to be completely recarpeted and sanitized because of the nasty bugs going around - none of which were on The Explorer as far as we knew. So the next set of cruisers will have her as good as new I am sure.

Having got back to England and it pouring with rain and then snow I would jump at the chance to get straight back on.

Have a great holiday anyone going on The Explorer.

Gina

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