My husband and I went on the 9/11/05 sailing to the Western Caribbean. This was my 5th cruise though I hadn't been on a cruise in 12 years (the first 4 were with my parents when I was a child) and this was my husband's 1st.
We flew into Miami one day before sailing so the day of embarkation would be relatively stress free. We did the pre-cruise stay at the Doubletree. It was very nice hotel with a great balcony view of the bay and the RCI cruise terminal. We awoke Sunday morning to see a great view of the Explorer. I highly recommend the Doubletree. There were a few restaurants to choose from (we had dinner at the sushi bar and breakfast at the South American steakhouse) and a great convenient store for extras like bottled water, desserts, and anything you forgot.
We had transportation lined up with Royal Caribbean that I had confirmed Saturday evening with the RCI office. They told us that the bus would be there at 12:00 Pm to take us to the port. We went down to the lobby area and were told by the concierge that the bus is usually there at 12:30 PM. 12:30 passes and the concierge tells us that there has been a history that if there are only a few RCI customers staying at a particular hotel, transportation never shows up. We were the only people sailing RCI. By 1:30 PM, the concierge arranged a taxi to take us.
Embarkation was long even though I did the check-in process online, but that's just part of cruising, so it wasn't a big deal. We decided to have a late lunch in the Windjammer. Lunch was okay. They had a large selection of items but it tended to be quite chaotic with everyone scrambling to find a table to sit at.
I highly recommend a balcony stateroom. We spent lots of time on the balcony watching the ocean go by and it was so enjoyable to sit out there whenever you were leaving a port.
The public areas of the ship were great. The areas were clean, the decor was stylish, and overall I found the offerings very innovative. There seemed to be something for everybody.
Though we enjoyed the ports, we found the days at sea to be highlight. We are so busy at home that it wonderful to have activities to choose from or you could do nothing at all. I spent some time just reading on our balcony, but we also spent time exploring the ship. We purchased some liquor at a great discount and purchased some perfume that is $10.00 cheaper than I would find at home in addition to being duty free.
We played some miniature golf at sea. The course wasn't that great, but it's just a novelty to play golf on a ship. Bingo was expensive, but fun. The bingo caller was absolutely hilarious. Another day we played Name that Tune in Dizzy's jazz bar and had martinis which was entertaining. We also frequented the dance club quite a bit, which doesn't really get going until after 11 PM.
We attended one show with the RCI singers and dancers. I thought the production was excellent though it wasn't really my husband's cup of tea. The ice show was fantastic as well.
Overall, the food was good. Some nights were better than others. I thought that it was great that they offered healthier options that were quite tasty. We had very enjoyable dinner companions that we dined with each night in the dining room. We usually ate breakfast in the Windjammer, but did order room services twice. One morning, the room service attendant called to say that breakfast would be a little later than we had requested. This wasn't a major issue, but when we came back from our excursion the attendant left an apologetic note and a plate of caviar and other hors d'oeuvres. We tried Johnny Rockets once for lunch which was just to avoid the craziness of the Windjammer and it was a nice change of pace. We had lunch in the dining room twice which was terrific.
Our stateroom attendant, Maria, was great. She had an upbeat personality, very helpful and dedicated. No fault of Maria's, but the only complaint I have is that on the last 2 days of the cruise, the hallway had a very foul odor of sewage. I'm not sure what was going on there.
Port days: We booked the Lamanai excursion when we were in Belize. The tender rides were long and it is a pain to wait in line, but no big deal. I'm very happy we booked an excursion because people who didn't were very unhappy with just staying in the Belize City. The tour was pretty much all day and very tiring, though we enjoyed it. We took a one hour bus ride to board a boat for a 90 minute wildlife tour. Then we had a Belizean style lunch and toured the ruins. Great trip, but I don't think I sweated some much in life. Having to be covered in 100% deet bug spray doesn't help cool you off either, but it is a necessity or you'll be eaten alive by the mosquitos. If you want to see impressive ruins, but don't want to be gone from the ship all day, go on the Chacchoben ruin tour in Costa Maya. This was a great tour, less strenuous then Lamanai, but very interesting. My only complaint is that the tour left quite early, 7:45 AM, which can be tough if you're dancing in The Chamber till the wee hours. We were back from the tour to have lunch on the ship. We decided against exploring the shops and restaurants in Costa Maya because there were massive amounts of people everywhere. We decided to do Cozumel on our own and hired a cab to tour the island though this seemed to be an odd concept to him. Eventually, we ended up at Paradise Beach to relax and swim. We slept in a little the next day and did Grand Cayman on our own as well. We explored the shops and had a drink at a bar and then later decided to take a driving tour of the island, including a visit to Hell.
Disembarkation was less than desirable, but who could blame us. We didn't want to leave the ship, wishing our vacation would last another week, and had to be out of the stateroom by 8:00 AM.
Overall, we had an excellent vacation and are looking forward to our next cruise.