Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Explorer of the Seas
Sailing Date: November 21st, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
My boyfriend and I and our two daughters (ages 9 and 10) took our first cruise aboard the Explorer of the Seas. All in all we had a wonderful time, but we also probably would not do it again.
The ship, Explorer of the Seas, was absolutely beautiful. It was always extremely clean and the staff was exceptionally friendly and helpful. Our children thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful pools, hot tubs, and endless free ice cream. The hot tubs were very nice I took advantage of those! We also enjoyed the miniature golf, roller blading area, ping pong tables, 24 hour coffee, and beautiful views from the deck at sunrise and sunset. Our stateroom (an inside cabin with no windows) was acceptable, and the beds were surprisingly comfortable. We loved the ice show on the ship’s ice rink, and we enjoyed several of the ship’s other shows in the Palace. We enjoyed the tour of the science lab on board too (probably because we are both Biologists). I recommend everyone takes a tour of the science lab.
The ports of call were also nice. We had wonderful weather the entire trip which definitely helps! There was plenty of shopping to be done. We are not shoppers, but there was plenty available if you are into that. Our first stop in Belize was my least favorite. We went cave tubing with a hike through the jungle. It was a very pretty place, if you like the jungle, but I was not impressed. Next, was Costa Maya. Here we got our first taste of the beautiful turquoise waters that I was dying to see. We spent the day on the beach in the small port. The girls got to go horseback riding up and down the street next to the beach. The water and palm trees were beautiful. The beach was small with many plants. Dancers putting on a show in the main port area were fun to watch while we ate a Mexican lunch. We ate some fresh coconuts here too, fresh picked from the trees. Next was Cozumel. Again, there was beautiful water. Here was a larger “town” in port than Costa Maya, but still not very big. We did not explore port much here, instead we went on our first snorkeling shore excursion. I had a great time snorkeling, and saw a few fish, not very many. They took us to a safe place that had a smaller variety of life since we had young children with us. It was fun for me since it was my first time, but several people said they have seen nicer reefs. Last was Grand Cayman. The beach here was closed due to damage from recent hurricanes, but I have heard that the 7 mile beach there is usually really nice. We went snorkeling again at Grand Cayman. This island is bigger than it looks and we did only minimal exploring in town. I would have explored more if we had more time, but at the same time I do not think we missed much. The snorkeling here was even better than Cozumel. The reef was prettier and we saw more fish. We saw a school of blue tangs, a huge tarpon, and moray eel. Snorkeling was my favorite part of the whole trip. Finally, on the day we returned from the cruise, we spent the day in South Beach
Miami. South Beach Miami is really nice. The beach is beautiful, the art deco district is really pretty to walk around and see. We stayed in the Royal Palms hotel on South Beach which was also absolutely beautiful. It is also extremely expensive. The only reason we could stay there was due to the free points my boyfriend got from traveling. We got to stay there for free. Definitely worth checking out if you can.
The entire vacation was unexpectedly very expensive for us. We are what I would call a middle class working family. We are far from struggling, but not very well off either. I will be honest and let you know that we paid ~$2800.00 for the cruise tickets for 4 of us (again that was an inside stateroom, nothing fancy). I was ok with this. I am sure some people have gotten better deals, but this was reasonable to me when I thought that the rest of the vacation would not cost us much. We did not have to pay for plane tickets to and from Miami because my boyfriend had frequent flier miles. The biggest disappointment was the cost of everything on the ship and at the ports. Soda was $4.00 a drink or $20 per person for the week. Alcoholic drinks were ridiculously expensive at $4-$5 for a draft beer and $7-$9 for a fru-fru drink as I call them (pina colada, mango tango, etc). The average excursion for 4 people costs $200-$400. Nothing at the spa on the ship cost under $100. Dinner at Johnny Rockets cost us ~$20, and we didn’t even go to Portifino’s. That would have cost us ~$80 for dinner for the 4 of us. It cost $8.00 per minute to make a phone call from the ship and the cell phone did not work well (and we do have an international plan). The internet costs 0.50cents per minute, which adds up fast believe me. Lemonade, ice tea, coffee, and water were all you can drink on the ship, but anything else had a price tag. We were probably unprepared as first time cruisers, but I never found info on the Royal Caribbean website that detailed costs like these. Oh, and they are always taking your picture. Which is great, but they charge you ~$10-$20 per photo. We did not do much shopping at the ports, but even the food on shore was expensive. At Costa Maya, it cost us $55 for a simple Mexican taco lunch for the four of us. We tried to be very conservative on the trip since we did not have a lot of extra money, but we still wound up spending around and extra $800.00! This included 3 off shore excursions for the 4 of us and any extras on the ship. That was way more than I planned on spending. Then finally, we were requested to tip about 5 different service people on the ship ~$3-$4 per person (4 of us) per day. I am usually a good tipper, but at this point we were broke. If we had followed their guidelines it would have cost us another $400!! There was no way! We tipped our stateroom attendant who we felt did an ok job, and one server in the Windjammer café that we saw everyday.
We only went to the formal dining room once. We also were not prepared for that. We thought there was going to be one formal dinner night. We decided ahead of time that we were not going to participate in that; it’s just not our thing. But we were surprised to find out there were actually 2 formal dinner nights, several dress up theme nights, and even the normal dinner was much more formal than we were prepared for. We brought shorts and T shirts. Pants or skirts were required in the main dining rooms. I was disappointed that we were not better informed. I could have researched more, but I also think that Royal Caribbean should have been more informative. At the same time, we had fun anyway. We made friends with several of the servers in the Windjammer café and in general the food was the same in the Windjammer as in the main dining room.
The food was another disappointment. We were expecting fantastically fabulous food that we have heard about from our friends who took other cruises. There was plenty of food, but we thought the quality was pretty low. They were good at making fancy looking deserts and displays. Everything was very pretty looking. The midnight buffet looked fantastic. Taste on the other hand was not very good. Don’t misunderstand me, the food was not horrible or even bad necessarily, it was just not really great either. I may be spoiled because my boyfriend is an excellent cook, but when I bite into a luscious looking piece of prime rib or decadent chocolate cake I expect to be wowed wooed and standing in line for seconds. We did not find that to be true. Our kids didn’t seem to mind the food, but they were mostly happy as long as they had access to the endless free ice cream! Even the ice cream I will say was not very good. It was like soft serve ice milk instead of creamy normal soft serve. I was told it was 100% fat free. Well, I would have taken one cone of wonderful fat filled creamy ice cream over 20 cones of the fat free stuff. My boyfriend was disappointed in particular with the fresh fruit selection. He thought that being a Caribbean cruise we would get some good fresh tropical fruit. Not the case. They had a daily supply of apples, bananas, watermelon, cantaloupe, canned peaches, and canned pineapples. There was nothing tropical; no fresh coconut, papaya, mango or pineapple.
One more disappointment would be a lack of information about the excursion options. We received a book in the mail from Royal Caribbean outlining the excursion options through Royal Caribbean but the descriptions were brief and not very information filled. Of the three excursions we took, two of them were through Royal Caribbean. We had no complaints about them in particular. It seemed like most of the advertising was for shopping which we were not interested in. We were not given much information about things we could do onshore outside of shopping and expensive RC excursions. Wait, one more thing…the hot tubs were not open 24 hours a day like the signs say!
As you can see my negative comments are more numerous than the positive ones. As I said in the beginning, all in all we had a good time. We are adventurers at heart, and it was a good experience. We probably would not cruise like this again though. Someday I would like to visit the Caribbean again, but I think we would prefer to try to plan a cheaper vacation at one place in the Caribbean. $2800.00 alone is a lot of money to spend on a floating hotel if you are not going to utilize all of the possibilities. There was a lot of night life on the boat that we did not experience (with 2 young kids). Our kids did not want to participate in the Adventure Ocean program on board either. It looked interesting from my perspective, but they wanted nothing to do with it. So we paid for a lot of stuff that we did not use. It’s a learning experience. Many people loved it. These are my opinions.