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Scott Smetana

Age: 30


Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Explorer of the Seas

Sailing Date: March 7th, 2003

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

Hopefully you are as excited as I was when waiting for your cruise. Here are some helpful hints for the Explorer of the Seas. Maybe you’ll like my review so much that you’ll print it and take it with you on the cruise.

About us: We were with a group of 10 ranging in age from 17 to 87. My wife and I, both 30, love to see all that there is to see and will do many side trips without using the boat’s assigned tour groups. We also enjoy shopping for about 15 minutes We also hate long lines.

Overall Experience: Outstanding!! 9 stars out of 10!! We thought the Explorer was spectacular – and we had high expectations! It had very clean, classy, beautiful areas! We were always so proud in ports parked next to all the smaller, older boats.

Boarding in Miami: They say 2 o’clock on your instructions, but they started boarding at 11:15 am!! Our rooms were ready for us as soon as we were onboard, and we had a nice lunch in an uncrowded café at noon. It was then very fun to explore a relatively empty boat over the next couple of hours. The only bummer was that most of the shops and bars didn’t open until later in the day. A side note: at the security check in – the security agents told us that we could bring ANY alcohol onboard that we could fit into our carry-on luggage without a problem. My father had a bottle of rum and a 12 pack of beer! Royal Caribbean ‘discourages’ this, but you’re breaking no laws.

Staterooms: We saved a lot of money staying in interior staterooms that were very clean and nice. I liked the very quiet, dark room to sleep in, but some in our group later said they may have enjoyed a balcony. A side note: They offered us a balcony room for only $300 (for both of us) for the week after boarding (on a ‘sold’ out cruise). If you’re not sure which to book, why not reserve an interior room then upgrade if you don’t like your room after getting onboard. This will save you $$$ vs. booking a balcony before the cruise for about $800 more. ALSO – don’t pay hundreds more for a better ‘letter’ of stateroom in the same category of rooms. This is pretty much a ploy to get you to pay hundreds more for a room 10 feet closer to the elevator (sometimes farther!)

Food: The Windjammer Café (main buffet diner) is outstanding – 10 out of 10 stars!
Main dining room food – Excellent service and presentation. The food was VERY GOOD, but not outstanding. Just order wisely and you will be very happy. I loved all the fish and the Escargot! Small Promenade café – Very Yummy snacks and Pizza! A favorite of our whole group.

Early vs. Late Dinner: We chose the late seating because we don’t liked to be rushed on port days getting back to get dressed for dinner. This also allowed us to gather around 7pm for the sunset and drinks. (dinner was at 8:30). We knew this would probably compromise our ability to attend some of the main shows. HOWEVER – we were wrong! ALL of the shows had 2 showings, sometimes before the late dinner seating (7pm) and some after (10:30pm). I highly recommend the second seating!!

Soft Drink Stickers: They sell a soft-drink sticker to place on your main cruise card for $35 (less for kids). You also get a refillable mug, but do not need this to get a free drink from any bar. **All you need is ONE PERSON in your party to get the sticker on your cruise card. At any bar, just have your friend order you a coke. Or you can just borrow your friend’s card (they don’t even glance at the card). I know this may seem cheap of me, but I think it’s a rip-off they charge you this much for soft-drinks on an ‘all-inclusive’ boat. My last Carnival cruise had free soft-drinks.

Alcohol Card: They sell a paper ‘alcohol’ card for about $40 that get you 12 drinks. Thanks to a friendly bartender, I learned this is a good deal for all drinks except beer. This card can get you Pina Coladas, mixed drinks, and wine. Buy your beer on your main cruise card for $2.75. I thought this card was a pretty good deal, but don’t lose the card! (luckily I had only 1 left when I lost mine).

The Shows: I’m 30 year old guy and not into ‘singing and dancing’ and really didn’t think I would attend many of the shows on the Explorer. I was absolutely shocked at the quality of the shows that I attended and how much I enjoyed them! The ship dancers have 2 main shows – the first YOU MUST NOT MISS! It is called “Back in History.” Their second show I thought was fair. Of course you also MUST NOT MISS the ice show. It is only on 2 days – I recommend getting tickets (free) for the day you are at sea and not at port. We went to the 7:30pm show and easily made our 8:30pm dinner. Other HIGHLY recommended shows: The impressionist and the Beatles (you’ll know what I mean). All of these shows were a huge surprise!! Most of the other shows were ok, but a little ho-hum.

The Lounges: Hands down the best location on the Explorer was Dizzy’s Lounge. It was very cozy with an awesome view of he sunset and entire boat. It was also surprisingly uncrowded. We met here every night at sunset for drinks – our best memories were here.

Eastern Caribbean Route: I was a very surprised at the amount of WIND while we were headed east in the ocean. Several of the crews said the Eastern Caribbean route was usually this way. It was MUCH better heading back west after St. Thomas. I loved our route, but it is NOT for scuba divers (see below).

San Juan, Puerto Rico – We didn’t stop here until 2 pm, getting off was VERY CROWDED for about 30 minutes. I recommend finding room on an elevator and taking this down to level 1 vs. standing in line on all of the stairs. If you’re planning on seeing the ‘old city’ as we did, here’s what to do: Immediately upon getting off the crowded pier, find a cab that will take you to the top of the very steep hill to the large fort – El Morro. Do not take a cab that wants to give you a $15/person ‘tour’ of the city (as most of them do). This will get you away from the crowds and let you walk back to the Explorer downhill! Make sure you find the park with all of the pigeons (ask anyone) and the bar that invented the Pina Colada (a little tough to find but worth the effort!). I thought El Morro was great and the old city was ‘ok’. We will definitely do something besides the old city on our next visit to San Juan. Many on the ship told us that the Rainforest side excursion was the best alternative to the old city.

Philipsburg, St. Martin – Very nice island, fairly clean (for the Caribbean). I was surprised to see such DRY landscape (guess I was expecting Maui). Some of our group took the “glass bottom” boat excursion and were quite happy. I went with 3 others to go scuba diving – It was horrible!! VERY rough waters (they said it was calm today) and cloudy water. There was not nearly the sea life that we saw in Cozumel or Grand Cayman. If you want to scuba a lot – I recommend the Western Caribbean routes. After diving we rented a car ($40) for the half day and drove around the entire island in about 2 hours (and did not feel rushed). We had time to stop at Orient Beach – An awesome beach!! Marigot is a large town with lots of shopping and traffic. Some of the best shopping areas (clean, not too much traffic) are next to the cruise boat docks in Philipsburg. If I was in St. Maartin again, I would try scuba off another (downwind) side of the island or go to Orient Beach.

St. Thomas – St. John: After doing my research before the cruise, I knew I must see the beaches of St. John and go snorkeling. I was right! This was one of our best days on the trip! When getting off the boat, take a cab (3$) to the short drive downtown to take the City Ferry ($7) to St. John’s. It leaves promptly at 9 am and I strongly recommend taking this boat or your day will be very cramped on St. John. When getting to Cruz Bay on St. John, there will be 25 ‘taxi’s’, or pickups built with benches in the back to go on beach/’jungle’ tours. We really wanted to be on our own, so we splurged and rented 2 new scooters for the day. They were a blast!! Some of our other group took the “jungle” pick-ups. On the scooter, I was able to inspect over 15 beaches on the island. HANDS DOWN, the best is TRUNK BAY (although there are a few nice ones that were very secluded and private). Some guide books told me that Trunk Bay would be crowded – VERY UNTRUE!! If you like snorkeling or would like to try – this is the place for you! It is the most beautiful beach that I could imagine. The “national forest” part of the island was surprising very dull with not much to see. However, we enjoyed the drive on our mopeds. You must catch the 3pm boat from Cruz bay back to Red Hook to make it back to the Explorer in time for departure. Non-stop, it’s probably a 45-minute drive around the entire island. I do NOT recommend the ship’s excursion package to St. John’s as they only spent about an hour at Trunk Bay before the group leader blew an air-horn and said it was time go. Another couple from our group rented a jeep on St. Thomas and found a great beach – MEGAN’S BAY. Apparently a favorite of Ex-prez Clinton and Al Gore.

Nassau, Bahamas: I can only say 1 thing – GO TO ATLANTIS!!! It was well worth the $25 admission and you still have plenty of time to shop at the crowded, dirty, junky “straw-market.” I’ve been to many great aquariums, but “the dig” was amazing! The $25 lets you into all of the aquariums and able to walk ALL over the amazing resort (including the pool areas). I don’t think they want you swimming in the pools as a day guest, though. That’s ok, because we just wanted to look around, have a drink, and get back to downtown. You can take a cab ($3/person) or boat ($2/person) each way to the close-by Atlantis, or take the boat’s excursion package for $38. The shopping district of Nassau again was very unimpressive. I recommend heading to Senor Frogs for drinks.

Back at Miami: You get colored tags for your luggage the night before departure. I recommend getting in one of the earlier groups as this process was VERY SLOW because of the lack of enough immigration officers at the port. You can exchange colored tags at the front desk the day before – just say you have an early flight.

Cabs to airports: They cost $18 to MIA and $60 to FLL. Not bad I guess.

Have a great trip – We loved Explorer of the Seas!!!

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