This was supposed to be a Western Caribbean itinerary, but Hurricane Emily changed it into an Eastern Caribbean itinerary (San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Bahamas).
Embarkation We arrived at the Port of Miami and entered the terminal. The embarkation process was botched up. You enter through a set of doors, have your Id's and papers checked, then on to security and screening, then on to the point where the cruise line is CROSS-FEEDING arriving passengers with checked in passengers and thus delaying the process. I know that they have to embark a lot of people, but you do not run your checked in passengers through the line of your arriving passengers and thus create a bottleneck in the process. We walked up to the line, had to wait for several minutes as they let checked in passengers cross in front of us to get their boarding pass pictures taken, then they let some of us through and then stopped to let more checked in passengers across, et cetera. We walked to the other end of the terminal and entered our check in line, (we were told that the itinerary had been changed at this point) we checked in and then had to walk all the way back to the other end of the terminal to enter the cross-feeding line game again. Then we took our boarding photos, and had to walk all the way to the other end of the terminal again to go up the escalator and then enter the boarding line and walk all the way across the terminal once again.
Then the two photographers have people going everywhere while they are trying to get the boarding photo done. People are walking in front of the photographers and delaying the process even more.
(Embarkation gets 1 star. This needs to be fixed.)
Day 1 Leaving Miami
Our rooms were 9257 and 9259.
Once we arrived onboard (approximately 12:45 p.m.), we swung by the room to drop off carryons. Since the itinerary changed, all of our dive trips were down the tubes. I went by the dive shop and tried to book dives at St. Thomas and St. Maarten. I was told that we would 95% get all of our dives. They were only taking names at this point and told me that the dives would be confirmed the next day. The ship was booking a lot of instructional dives, and it now appears that they were given priority over anyone else. The dive shop on the Explorer was well stocked for a vessel at sea.
We went to the Windjammer and ate lunch. Good spread and good food. We then began the task of walking the ship to investigate the locations of lounges, casinos, bars, food shops, theaters, dance areas, pools, etc. It did not take that long to get around and see where everything was located. We came across a few elevators that had the infamous "moron button pushers" get off just before we got on with every one of the floors pushed. There were 6 elevators forward and 8 elevators aft. You normally did not have to wait long for an elevator to arrive.
Our luggage began arriving before supper. We began putting away clothes and had plenty of room in the closets and drawers. The bathroom was small and the shower was, shall we say, close. At 6'4" tall, the shower nozzle would go up high enough to work out all right, but you met yourself turning around in the shower stall. There was little room to wash out your dive gear or to hang up wetsuits or BC's.
There is a couch in the room with a chair and dressing bureau. There is a small refrigerator and minibar in it in a cabinet by the bed.
We sat at table 506 on the 5th floor. Hakan, our table waiter, was excellent and had a great sense of humor. He was initially laid back and waited to see what our table's personality would be like. Once he saw we were outgoing and gregarious, he changed his personality to match ours. I believe that his outgoing style is his real personality and he was comfortable with us and "cutting up with us". He helped make our trip a better one. Great waiter. At his other table, he was more in line with their demeanor.
Our assistant waiter was a bit shy and reserved, but once he was told that some of us were ice tea drinkers, we never ran out. Both of them were really good at their jobs and we had no complaints about either of them.
The opening show was entertaining and the ship's singers showed talent with the lead singers and the backup pair was all right, but you could tell they were not as good as the lead pair. There were 10 dancers and they put out the energy that showed that they were there to entertain and enjoyed their work.
We were also entertained by a comedian on the first night (and later after 12:00 am). He was funny. We had not seen him before. He later hung out with two of the younger men in our group and partied until the wee hours of the morning. They said that he was personable and they had fun visiting and cutting up with him.
Day 2 at sea
I got up for breakfast in the main dining room. I ordered eggs Benedict. They were correctly cooked and were good. Yea, The staple breakfast meal was just right. The morning wait staff was courteous, professional, and did their work smoothly.
Various games were going on all day. We were involved in every trivia game; name that tune, and several others. Smooth day at sea. Lunch in the formal dining room was good. I hung around the promenade deck to watch people roaming around and listened to a book on tape.
Supper that night was very good. We took in the show, and it was also entertaining. The group that performed was impersonating the Temptations. They were a high energy and entertaining group. The show was definitely worth the time to watch them. We really enjoyed their musical style (OK, they were copying the Temptations, but they did it so well) and their stage presence.
We also went to the ICE SHOW, and it was very good. The stage props and music were very good. It was an Alice in wonderland theme, or so it seemed. The music was from the Doors.
The dive shop left me a message about picking up my dive tickets. I took my son and brother and went tot he dive shop. I was disappointed when I was told that I had only been successful in getting a dive in St. Thomas. I told the assistant dive shop manager that this would be my back up plan and that I was going to book my dives online at both St. Thomas and St. Maarten. When I got the dive information from the dive shop, it was near suppertime. That night I went online and began my search for dive operators in St. Thomas and St. Maarten.
Internet time in the ship's Internet "cafe" (no service), was 50 cents a minute. You could buy this down to 32 cents a minute by buying blocks of time. The connections are S>>>L>>>>O>>>>W>>>>>>.
I remembered Chris Sawyer's and had read about Coki beach in St. Thomas. I sent out inquiries to both right before the show. I then had to leave and came back later in the morning and went to Cruise Critic's boards and the Scuba and Snorkeling forum. I had found out that the ship used Dive Safari in St. Maarten, so they were out. I looked around and checked on a few others that were mentioned on the Cruise Critic Forum board. I then settled for: http://www.divilittlebay.com. They referred me to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is where I came across: Cleveland Bobb Surfbikers International NV Cell : +599-55-42502 or +599-55-27749 E-mail : email@example.com
I made arrangements with Mr. Bobb and we had our St. Maarten connection made the next day.
Knowing that I could walk into the water from the beach at Coki Beach, I went to the Dive shop desk on the Explorer first thing the next morning to cancel. This was well outside the "required" 24-hour cancellation policy. No one was at the shop. I came by later and no one was there again. I then went to the Customer Relations (aka Pursers Desk) and was told that it would be no trouble canceling the St. Thomas trip. I was sent to the excursion desk, but they were not open. I came back later and got into the line for the excursions desk, waited close to 35 minutes and was told that I had to go to the dive shop desk. They called the dive shop, and I was told that I could not cancel the dive. I then went back to the Customer Relations desk and reported the trouble. The Customer Relations manager came out, spoke to me, and then went into the office and came out. She had called the dive shop manager and the ship's dive trip in St. Thomas for me had been canceled at her request. Thank you.
The rest of the afternoon and night went smoothly. We had an enjoyable evening. The Promenade Cafe has 24-hour food and drink service. They have pizza, cookies, small croissant sandwiches, some other deserts, water, coffee, tea, cokes, etc. It was a hangout during breaks in the day.
Day 3 San Juan
I slept. The ship arrived right after lunch. We ate in the Windjammer and then looked around from the pool deck. I had been to San Juan three prior times and chose to stay on the ship. We played trivia, name that tune, shuffleboard, and just stayed lazy.
Supper that night was very good. The food in the main dining room at supper was good every night. I would only rate the food we had on the Celebrity Galaxy of the Seas in 1997 as better. The food we have eaten on Carnival and Princess was not as good. Some of the RCCL (RCI) vessels were just as good and some was a bit under the quality of the Explorer. There is not as much diversity and selection as there used to be five years ago on cruises. Caesar salads were available every night. The soups were quite tasty. The appetizers were also very good. I did not have to send anything back except one steak that was overcooked.
The one Black Angus steak I ate from the everyday feature menu was a bit tough... But it was Angus tough...LOL.
The prime rib was excellent. The tenderloin was great. The fish dishes were very good (I don't eat a lot of fish). Everything arrived on time, hot (or cold as required), and we always had plenty of time to visit. Suppertime was always a great experience for our table of 8. We were never hurried or rushed to do anything.
Day 4 St. Thomas
We got off of the ship within minutes of the gangway being opened. Coki Beach ended up being our St. Thomas dive operator. Laura picked us up at the gangway and took us to the boat and small dive trailer. We got our paperwork out of the way, paid them, and within minutes we were heading out on our dive. There were six divers and two people from Coki Bay. We started with a 75-foot dive and then moved to a 55-foot dive. The only complaint that I had about the Coki Bay operation was that they were a bit rough with our gear. They hooked up our equipment and changed tanks for us, but they did break the venturi selection knob on my brand new regulator. I was a bit miffed about this, but things happen. It did not effect the operation of my regulator, but I will have to have it fixed. After the morning dives, we returned to the ship. Be sure that you have plenty of time to return to the ship, as traffic can eat you up the closer it gets to departure time with three or four cruise ships in port.
We cleaned up, grabbed a bite to eat and hit the downtown-shopping trail. I now have an Olympus digital camera and housing. Woo Hooo....
We returned to the ship and got ready for supper. The ship was leaving port as we were in the dining room. This was another great day of cruising heading to completion. Our waiter was cutting up with us and he was funny. Our headwaiter came by and began making origami creatures for my daughter when he saw her making a frog. Supper went by splendidly.
We hit trivia and then headed to the show. We had a good time. We came back and hung around the Promenade deck and then hit the casino. A week of gambling and I ended up down just $20.00. A victory. If you are looking for $5.00 black jack, forget it on the Explorer and Voyager class ships. We were told that they were all going to $10.00 black jack on the bigger ships. You could still play $5.00 Caribbean Stud or Let it Ride.
Roulette was still $1.00 minimum.
We hung out until 1:00 a.m. and then went to bed awaiting arrival in St. Maarten and diving again.
Day 5 St. Maarten
We got up, grabbed a quick bite and headed to the Little Bay Beach Resort. I showed our email from the dive shop to the Taxi expediter and they sent us off with a taxi that was playing anti-establishment and anti-tourist songs on the radio. That was a bit odd. He took us to the wrong hotel. We ended up making ten minute walk over to the right hotel. The Big Bay Beach Resort and Casino was the home of the Little Bay dive shop. The shop is under a pool. It is a short walk to the beach.
We got our paperwork out of the way and then waited for two other divers from the Carnival Valor. They were about an hour late. We were starting to leave when they showed up. Our dive master was Dale and the boat captain was Austin Bobb. They were very professional and friendly. They had a 30 foot converted cabin cruiser. It was clean. We dove at Big Momma and French Reef. There were some really nice sponges, and corals. Visibility was about the same as St. Thomas (50-70 feet). At French Reef we came across a turtle and a lot of small creatures. Our dive guide did a good job of spotting critters for us, but I think that due to the two slob divers from the Carnival Valor, he was reserved in showing us anymore. They were breaking coral and pulling up sponges and throwing sea cucumbers and other sea creatures around. They also touched and handled the turtle. All no nos. After the dives and the boys from Florida were put ashore, we apologized, as American divers, for their sloppy and malicious behavior, even though we did not know who they were. If they were doing that in Bonaire, Cozumel, or the Caymans, they would have probably been fined and removed from the dives. Dale tried to get them to quit, but they just ignored him. Please, if you dive, don't do this or let your dive partners do this either.
We got back to town in a nice taxi van with a tourist friendly driver. He was funny.
Back to the ship, picked up my daughter and off for a brief flurry of tee shirt and souvenir shopping. Back aboard in time to get ready for supper. We had a Great meal and more fun with Hakan and our tablemates. Off to more trivia and shows. We played a bit and with the next day being one at sea, stayed up for a while and watched the people roam around the ship.
Day 6 Sea.
Slept in and missed breakfast. Got up and started playing games and roaming the ship again. Lunch was in the formal dining room. Same fare as before. Same menu. This was a bit disappointing to me.
Hung around the Promenade and listened to my book on tape. Watched people walking around. Played a few afternoon games and then cat napped for a while in the Schooner Bar.
Supper came and it was entertaining again. We enjoyed the evening mealtime everyday as it gave us all a fixed spot to converge and compare the day and our activities. The evening’s entertainer was a comedian and singing impersonator. We had seen him a year and a half ago and his act had not changed. I think his name was Roger Fehr or something like that. He did a good job, but not well enough for me to watch it twice.......... I stayed anyway as some of our group had not seen him and I did not want to walk out.
The evening was again games, music and listening to the activity on the ship. Shop selections seemed to be lacking all week. Definitely not enough quality branded items.
We stayed up late again as the Bahamas was not scheduled until close to 1:00 p.m. the next day. Checked out the disco lounge in the crown club. Hung around and talked to various crewmembers and cruise staff.
Day 7 Bahamas
The ship engaged in a rescue at sea and this put us behind on arriving in the Bahamas. Poor man had been swept away from the Bahamas on a jet ski and had been at sea for over two days. He was dehydrated and suffering from exposure. Crew did a good job of picking him up.
With the limited time in the Bahamas, we hit the shops, and some of the group went to Atlantis, while others stayed on the ship. We left the Bahamas while we were at supper. Being our last supper, so to speak, we all had a great time clowning with Hakan, our headwaiter and the assistant waiter. After supper, we went to the last show and it was fun. Spent part of the afternoon and evening packing and dumping suitcases into the hallway.
Stayed up until 2:30 a.m. visiting with our tablemates and some of the staff. All things given, we had a good time even though our itinerary was changed due to the hurricane.
It went smoothly. No complaints about getting off and getting gone.
There were a number of Cruise Staff members who helped make this a fun trip. The cruise director, Clodata O'Connor, was a bundle of energy and was probably the best MC on stage that I have seen on any cruise. She was funny, took aim at herself and did not tell the typical lame cruise jokes, but headed us to Ireland (her home country).
Other people who deserved to be noted were Adera (SP) from Vancouver B.C. Canada, who was in her second week as a member of any cruise staff. She started out shaky and by the end of the week her confidence was building. She was friendly, courteous, and personable. Mr. Fang, from China, also was fun to be around. Chris, another Canadian was to be commended. Hadar and Sammy in the Schooner Bar were fun. Hadar was a card and a character. He was funny to boot. Taner on the wait staff was fun and personable.
The customer service personnel were very good and prompt. They were personable and listened to you when you were speaking with them and helped in any way that they could. The Windjammer personnel were courteous and competent.
We are already beginning to look for our next cruise, and the odds are it will be with RCI or Celebrity.
Also, they have apparently been combining the Celebrity and RCI cruises for their frequent cruisers clubs.