Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Explorer of the Seas
Sailing Date: May 9th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Just got back from 8 glorious days on the Explorer of the Seas, with unforgettable excursions to Belize, Costa Maya, Cozumel and Grand Cayman. Turned out that this past week was unsurpassed for weather, with all 8 days providing a majority of sunshine, with a hint of tropical rain for no more than a half hour on day 6, prior to anchoring in GC.
This was our second cruise experience, and our first as a couple. We had a great family crusie on the RCCL Soverign of the Seas last year out of Port Canaveral, and that experience convinced us to take a cruise with our friends this year. 5 couples, mid-40's, with a great deal of fun and good natured personalities to share the week. It was truly a great trip.
The Explorer of the Seas - Magnificent, beautiful, massive, spectacular, all appropriate adjectives for this boat and the amenities/activities and entertainment. We were so happy to be together, we did not sweat any of the small stuff, we just "went with the flow" when it came to boarding (about an hour wait), to the sheer size and distance to get anywhere (the ship is the length of 3 1/2 football fields), to the food lines at the buffet (varies by time) and finally the pools (hard to get 10 deck chairs together anywhere in the world).
The staff were always polite and available to assist. I was particularly impressed with the commitment to keep the ship "clean". I was very pleased to walk around after a full day and see virtually no trash, dirty tables, etc. Only on rare occasions did we see a table available that was dirty, but within seconds someone would arrive to straighten up and wipe off.
The rooms - We had inside cabins at the extreme aft, just in front of the aft suites. Since we are the crowd that spends as much time as possible doing things, we would rather spend $$ on activities and a bar tab vs. a room with a view or a suite. We were simply amazed by the space. The bed was at least a queen, with enough access on each side, but we always just hopped on from the foot of the bed (fun). Plenty of lights, storage, room to stretch out, etc. The bathroom was well designed, but only allows one person to work at a time.
The public areas - I am partial to this ship because it was large enough to have several experiences on multiple decks, but not feel at any time that we were onboard with over 3000 guests and over 1000 crew. There were times when my wife and I were the only ones out on the bow of the ship, doing the Titanic movie couples thing, without a person in sight! There were also times where we could be strolling along the promenade with just a few, and wondering where everyone was hiding! Busiest places were always the main pool area and the elevator lobbies. We made a point to never use the elevators so that we could burn calories as fast as we put them on, since there is something to eat or drink almost everywhere you roam on the ship. We enjoyed the Seattle's Best Bakery shop on the promonade, which always had sanwiches and assorted pastries at any time of the day or night.
The dining - There were several reviews that commented on the lack of great food experiences furing the evening sittings. I really tried hard to be positive about the food. I have to admit that this was the only disappointment I experienced on almost a nightly basis. Nothing about the menu, or the service, which were fine and appreciated. The problem was that the taste of the entrees never lived up to their billing on the menu. By the fourth evening, we almost expected it, so the salt and pepper were passed around even before we began to eat! Same story with the desserts (although the Baked Alaska was a guest favorite) My suggestion is to try to go to the alternative upscale Portofino's restaurant as much as you can afford to ($20 per person extra per evening) I took my wife there on the evening of Mother's Day, and we had a incredible italian meal, fantastic wine, wonderful service, and a dinner we will never forget.
Entertainment - Great shows, comedians, and music. All of us commented on how "hip" Royal Caribbean is becasue they make the shows very palatable for all ages, especially 18-24 year olds. There was literally something for everyone, and the Planet Ice show is not to be missed. Our Cruise director James Andrews, was probably about 30 and extremely engaging and fun to be around. This was his last cruise on the Explorer (he was moving over to the Voyager to be with his fiance) and you could tell that he would be missed by the crew. His energy and commitment to all onboard having a great time was infectious. We may take a Voyager of the Seas cruise just to enjoy him again.
Besides the incredible time on the ship itself, which will be my favorite for some time, I will relay two distinct experiences that this cruise gave me that I will never forget.
Travelling with our party of 10 good friends, we booked an online Belize cave tubing tour. Our guide was a young Belizian who appeared to have Mayan descent, who grew up in the area and knew the cave/river system by heart. He could have easily taken the group through the forest blindfolded, but he took the time to point out several flora and fauna that one could "survive" on during in a pinch. At one point, he walked over to a tree that had a huge termite nest encased on the trunk. After a small punch on the nest with the back of his small fist, he reached in and grabbed a handful of termites, and began to eat! "Great protein, and the finish tastes like peppermint" he said, and invited us to try, which we were wild enough to oblige. They were truly a delight, and yes, they do have a minty fresh taste! Follow this with a spectacular river float trip through the limestone caves, and we were convinced that this was a one of a kind event that you will not have at any other port of call.
The other fantastic voyage was to stingray city in Grand Cayman. After a rainy morning, we were again blessed with a gorgeous day for us to take a charter out of Grand Cayman Yacht club, and then out to the area just before the reef where there is a sandbar that the fisherman used to dump their bait before heading in to port. The stingrays, varying in size from 2 to 4 feet in width, would glide up to you and almost beg for food, which consisted of a small squid held in your fist. They would literally suck te food from your hand. You can hold them and even "kiss" them if you wish. My wife even wanted to take one home as a pet. I highly recommend this excursion, no matter the cost.
To have a awesome time, have a attitude that appreciates being tremendously blessed to be on a luxurious cruise to tropical destinations.
Use the stairs whenever you can. They burn calories.
Eat at least once in the Portofino restaurant. You will not be disappointed.
Kids are well taken care of and have wonderful Adventure Club programs.
If you are an adult, enjoy the Adults only Solarium pool and hot tubs.
Book your excursions with local operators at the port to save time and money.
Go cave tubing in Belize with Action Belize tours.
GO to the Chacchoben Ruins in Costa Maya. Don't be afraid to deal with the vendors at the pier.
Rent a Jeep in Cozumel and drive to the Southeast side, the windward side of the island. Go to Chen Rio beach Palapa. You will never forget it. The most perfect beach beer spot in the western Caribbean.
Do not miss Stingray city in Grand Cayman.