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Tom Ewall

Age: 43

Occupation:Computer Programmer

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Explorer of the Seas

Sailing Date: August 31st, 2002

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

Day 1: This was a Saturday to Saturday cruise, so Day 1 was Saturday. The checkout process was not the best. However, given there were something like 3300 passengers, it wasn't so bad.

When I say it wasn't the best, what I mean was is there was a long line. Actually you got your pick from two equally long lines. By long I mean probably a couple of hundred people.

On the bright side, they had many people helping out in the processing and they were pretty quick in processing people, so the line moved along. I had a very pleasant conversation with a travel agent (who didn't bring along a business card -- tut tut!) so I didn't mind the wait. I also heard they used to check in people from outside (where it's hot and humid), so at least it was inside and air-conditioned.

The process was not as fast as other ships, but this is no doubt due to the sheer number of passengers. I wanted to see what this large ship was like, so this comes with the territory. I will say that RCI is very well organized, and this was one of the few times I had to wait in a long line, in spite of the large number of passengers.

The ship was a little late heading off, so we had to choose between staying on top to watch it sail off, or go eat. We chose to go eat. That was a good choice, as the meal was surprisingly good. The food in general was better than I expected. The food on cruise ships is never bad, but ranges from good to excellent. I was expecting a higher ratio of good to excellent rather than the greater percentage of excellent that I received. I'd say it was about 60 - 70% excellent, with excellent meaning I really wanted to get seconds (and sometimes did!)

The first day's show featured a number by the production show staff, a dance number by the adagio pair (ballet style dancing featuring lifts) and a comedy routine with a guy with a puppet. The show was entertaining, especially the dance number which was outstanding.

The theatre was wonderful. It's by far the largest theatre I've been in on a ship. A lot of times you have to leave supper very quickly to get a decent spot at the show, or you'll wind up off on the side or behind a post. This theatre was huge, with two floors, and hundreds of good spots. In general, you had plenty of time to enjoy your meal and not have to worry about getting a good spot. The only time you might worry a little was if the given show was only shown once instead of twice (once for each seating) which was generally the case.

Day 2: At sea. There were plenty of activities. Plenty of T.V. stations. This was different than most cruise ships where the T.V. choices were very limited. There was a movie station in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German I think. They used these stations (in the different languages) to communicate important messages (like safety messages).

The show was a disappointment (the only one -- all the other shows were good). It was a production show with a bunch of songs, almost none of which I had heard of. Also the staff was odd. The men were smallish while some of the women were huge. One of the women in particular was Opraish in size. I can imagine the men thinking "Oh no, not her!" when the number called for a lift. Usually one expects dancers to be slim, well built, and attractive. Some of them were, but others were not what one would expect.

We were told to get tickets to the ice show early on as there were a limited number of seats and they "sold out" early. (There's no cost of course, hence the quote marks). We got tickets as soon as we could on day 2. I'll comment on the ice show here, even though we saw it later. It was excellent. The first part was a little slow, but the second half could not have been better. And the ice skaters looked like I would have expected the production show people to look like. Athletic and attractive.

Day 3: The ship lines have their own islands or island-like places they take their passengers to. I'd rather go to a regular port, but that's not an option one has. RCI goes to Labadee, which was an attractive place. We stayed for a short time and got back on the ship for lunch.

If you like water sports, you can enjoy it, but it's expensive. Renting a wave-runner for an hour = $100. Para-sailing = $79.

A touch I appreciated a great deal was they have a piano the guests can use. (I'm a pianist and brought some music with me, hoping to have the opportunity to use a piano). While on the subject of pianos, the ship had three solo pianists, two of which played piano solely, the third singing as he played. I got to know the two that just played quite well. They were both very friendly and accommodating.

On a related subject, the dancing was adequate. As with most ships, there was in general very little dancing space (speaking of ballroom type dancing). However there was one area for dancing which had a decent sized dance area, which is better than most ships which don't have any. The different bands alternated getting that spot, so I actually only got to dance on that spot once.

One of the bands was dedicated to playing ballroom dance music, which was good. Very few people dance on the ships, so even the very small areas were adequate for the most part.

Day 4: Ocho Rios, Jamaica. I asked a news group what to do in Jamaica, and was recommended to do a tour. www.ocho-rios.com is the web site of a nice lady that took us on a tour. We went to Dunns River falls and had a very nice time. You're able to climb the falls. It's a good idea to bring water shoes, or water socks as they're sometimes called. Or you can rent them at the falls site.

The climb was more difficult than I expected. You have to be really careful or you can slip and fall. I almost slipped and fell, but was fortunate to make it with a fall.

After the falls we saw some pretty areas, went to a shopping area, and lunched at a restaurant with decent food and a wonderful view. The prices were in Jamaican dollars which was about 40-1, so 1600 would translate to about $40.00. We were prepared for this but a table next to us was really upset when their bill came. They were scarfing down lobster at 1500 thinking that was $15.00, when it was 2.5 times that.

The show was a one person vocal comedy show. I wasn't expecting much, but it was really good. The fellow was able to sing in various styles. The show was a combination of songs and jokes.

Day 5: Grand Cayman island. I was intending to do the swimming with stingrays thing, but for some reason my wife didn't wear a bathing suit, so that was out. So instead we went on a tour of the island. Our tour guide was a fifth or sixth generation native and knew pretty much everything about the island. The tour lasted a couple of hours, and included a stop at the turtle farm the government runs. It also included a stop in Hell. It was pretty hot, but it's hotter than Hell back home where I am now.

We lunched at a beach spot, which was nice but a bit on the expensive side. $8 for a sub and potato chips from a regular Subway. $8 for a drink.

For dinner the waiter was very accommodating and I had a pasta dish which wasn't on the menu. There was a delicious appetizer with a mushroom sauce, which I used for the pasta. It was delicious!

The entertainment was a type of Newlywed show, which was fun.

Day 6: Cozumel. The last time I had gone on a Western Caribbean cruise, Cozumel was my favorite spot, and it turned out to be the same this time too. I rented a scooter, even though they (the ship line) warn you not too. They're probably right, if you're not familiar with it. But I had done this a couple of times before, so was familiar with the process. A safer way of doing essentially the same thing is to rent a jeep. I traveled around the island which wasn't hard to do. It took maybe 2 hours. The scooters go about 40 mph.

After 2 hours, I had run out of gas, so refilled the tank for $1.

The last time I had gone, I went body surfing on the windy side of the island, but this time there wasn't enough wind, so I was disappointed (the waves were too small). So I considered going snorkeling instead. As I was returning from getting the gas tank refilled, it rained. I got completely soaked. At times, there was over foot of standing water, perhaps two, which was a bit scary, but the scooter made it through fine.

Since I was soaked anyway, I decided I might as well go snorkeling after all. I asked the fellow where to go snorkeling, and he sent me to Dzul Ha, which was just a couple of miles away. I'm glad I did! I had a wonderful time. There were lots of fish to see. I followed a beautiful parrot fish around for about 5 minutes, after which I guess it got tired of my and swam away (it swims better than I do).

The entertainment was a second production show, which was far superior to the first. I knew almost all the songs, which were mostly from well known movies of the last 20 or 30 years.

Day 7: At sea. I kept so busy in the cruise over all I didn't get to do two things I wanted to do. One was to climb the rock wall. The other was to ice skate. Oh well. Maybe next time.

One thing the cruise did not have which I would have expected was a movie theatre. It did have a pretty good library. It also had an internet cafe, but it was too expensive to use. (50cents/minute). Another ship I was on let you have unlimited use for $100, which is a good idea. However, I'm not sure being on the internet is such a good idea for a cruise anyway.

We took advantage of the Jacuzzi on our last day. They have a number of pools and hot tubs. The pools were more attractive than other pools I had seen from other ships.

The entertainment was a different comedian who was very funny. His humor was observational, which is a type a like.

The ship itself is a beautiful ship. It has an atrium which is very large (3 floors). The shopping area looks and feels like a mall, and you can easily forget you're on a ship. You can also forget because the trip is so smooth. (Because the ship is so large, it's virtually always standing on at least 3 waves, so it doesn't pitch at all).

Last day: I didn't do any of the ship excursions during the trip itself. There is more competition for services when you leave the ship, so in general you can do things much more cheaply that way. However, I decided to do a tour the last day for two reasons. One is, I thought the rate was very reasonable. The second is it got us off the ship early.

It's kind of ironic, but when the cruise is over, the only thing you want to do is get off the ship. Without a tour, you have to wait and wait and wait, especially if you don't have an early flight. With a tour, they whisk you right off.

One other thing I'll mention which might be of help to someone is there is a train which takes you from the Ft. Lauderdale airport to the Miami airport for (are you ready?) 4 bucks! (a taxi would cost a minimum of $55). Flying into Ft. Lauderdale is often cheaper than Miami. In our case we were able to save $200.

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