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Sam and Vickie Matheny

Age: 67 and 48

Occupation:Retired, schoolteacher

Number of Cruises: 7

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Explorer of the Seas

Sailing Date: June 21st, 2003

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

This vacation was number five with Royal Caribbean. It was our 5th visit to this part of the world so we knew what to expect. There were, however, a few changes. Boarding was much slower and the lines were longer. There appeared to be a significant reduction in the amount of personnel for the check-in process.

The Explorer of the Seas was beautiful. We had previously sailed happily on the Voyager, but our last cruise aboard the Sovereign was much to our dismay so we were somewhat apprehensive. No need to worry. The ship was clean and the employees were extremely friendly.

We did not book any of the advertised excursions. Our experience has told us they are over-rated and over-priced. We prefer to leisurely walk around and investigate for ourselves.

Sunday: Although the signs told us the ship was fully booked it did not appear crowded inside the ship. The pool area was busy but there were plenty of chairs for the sun lovers.

Monday: Labadee was beautiful as usual. There was plenty of room, sunshine and food for everyone.

TUESDAY: This was our big day and the main reason for writing this review. Normally, we would leave the ship and simply walk around Ocho Rios. Not being the athletic type, we had no real interest in climbing a falls or swimming with any type of fish. Frankly, Jamaica was not the highlight of our previous trips. We decided, however, that we might find a tour guide that would take us around the "real" Jamaica and avoid the tourist traps. After tearing ourselves away from some of the extremely aggressive natives, we discovered Phenomenal Phil. In a polite and relaxed way he introduced himself and offered his services as a tour guide. There was something about Phil that was different from the others. After much discussion among our group we decided to take a chance. What a treat! Phil showed us the best time we have ever had in Jamaica. We saw the tourist sites, true lifestyles, great photogenic areas, native foliage, the craft area and great little shopping places. Phil entertained us all the way. He would take us into certain areas, point out the highlights, and allow us to determine how long we wanted to stay. He was punctual when he returned to get us and did not get upset when we lost one member of our group. He actually volunteered to locate him for us. We do plan to return to Jamaica and when we do, we will book Phenomenal Phil's services again. If you would like to contact Phil his website is . His true name is Phillip Layfayette and his company is Exquisite Tours and Golf. Just tell him Sam and Vickie sent you.

Wednesday - Saturday: The rest of the trip was enjoyable as possible considering it rained in Grand Cayman and flooded in Cozumel.

The only negative I can pinpoint on this vacation was the evening show. The entertainers did their best, but the two variety shows were not up to the caliber as those on other RCCL ships. The cruise comics were very funny and the special acts brought in were excellent.

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