We just got off of the Explorer yesterday morning and the depression has already set in that we are back to reality.
We traveled with a group of 6 adults - we were all trying to out run Hurricane Wilma, determined that we were going on this cruise no matter what.
We drove down to Miami on Saturday 10/22. We stayed at the Holiday Inn near the Miami Airport. We stayed there because of the free parking and the free shuttle to the airport. The hotel does not have much of a restaurant option (only at $20pp buffet for dinner) but we enjoyed sitting on the roof top lounge watching the planes take off and officially getting our cruise vacation started.
We woke up on Sunday 10/23 to find on the news ticker on the TV that the Port of Miami was closed. I immediately scrambled to call RCI to find out what was going on. Of course, both of the numbers that I had got me no where because RCI was closed. I called the port; the woman I spoke with told me to come over to the port ASAP. It was only open to people getting on the cruise ship and the ship MUST leave at 2pm that day. I worked to get our group informed, arranged for an earlier shuttle and we scrambled to the port.
The Set Sail Pass is so easy! We were checked in in record time. Because of all of the cancellations due to the hurricane, we asked about an upgrade. We were told that there were plenty of cabins available and to proceed to the Pier Coordinator to inquire. We were able to upgrade from an inside N category room to a Promenade room for $50. It was the category of room we really wanted and ended up paying $200 less than my parents did when they originally booked.
I must say, RCI did a wonderful job turning this ship over in such a short time. Of course the rooms were not ready when we boarded at 10:45am but we didn't care - we set about to explore the ship and find something to eat. My DH and I had been on Voyager for our honeymoon but the rest of our party had only been on Sovereign of the Seas so they were amazed at her massive size and were amazed that we were even on a ship. My father kept commenting that he couldn't believe that the Royal Promenade was in the middle of a ship. It was really great to see people react with so much excitement.
Rooms were ready at 1:00pm. We met our cabin steward, Herman, who was extremely busy but still very friendly. We tipped him and asked him if he could clean out our mini bar and bring us bathrobes when he had a chance. He said that he would get it done as soon as he could because he was still working to get everything taken care of. It was not a problem with us.
We went for a drink up at Dizzy's on Deck 14 and met what would be our favorite bartender of the cruise, Dindo, from the Philippines. He was great, made excellent drinks and was very friendly, remembered our names after the first day and showed us many bar tricks. We also had Rene and Richard at Dizzy's, but Dindo was BY FAR the best bartender on the ship. We spent quite a bit of time up there for before and after dinner drinks, Name that Tune with Alvin Castillo on sea days, it was quiet during the day and the views were incredible.
ROOMS: The Promenade Room is the way to go. We loved having the view of the Royal Promenade to people watch and any time we wanted privacy, we just closed the curtains. One of the other members of our party had a balcony stateroom, which was nice for the sail away, but we didn't spend too much time on their balcony. We've had a balcony room before and we agreed that we like the Promenade Room better. Our stateroom attendant, Herman, was wonderful. He always greeted us by name and our room was always impeccable and the ice bucket was always full. My parents had Neville for their stateroom attendant - another wonderful man who treated them like gold. He even arranged to have a cane shortened for one of our group members who was having trouble walking.
FOOD: The food in the dining room was wonderful! I've read a lot of reviews about people who say the food in the dining room is just okay. We don't frequent a lot of high end restaurants so we just don't have the "fancy" taste that others have, but we have no complaints about the food at all. Our waiter, Ferahat from Turkey and Dane, our Assistant Waiter were both incredible. They were friendly and attentive, they would bring us extra meals to taste, they remembered what we liked after the first couple days and they even tried to get to know us (asking each couple how we met). The food in the Windjammer and Island Grill were okay; I am not a huge buffet fan, but the food was just fine. I liked that I could get fried eggs from the omelet station. Johnny Rockets was great for it's burgers, chili cheese fries and onion rings. We used our Crown and Anchor coupons, so we didn't have to pay a cover charge. The 24 hour sandwiches and pizza at the Cafe Promenade became a nightly ritual before going to bed. The midnight buffets were great as well and the set up was beautiful. We didn't eat at Portofino's; I still can't think of a reason to pay $20pp when there are so many food options available without an extra charge. We didn't try room service this trip but have in the past - there seemed to be more of a limited availability of sandwiches this cruise.
ENTERTAINMENT: Carly Boileau was our Cruise Director. She and her staff were great and kept us entertained through out the cruise. We liked her when we sailed on Sovereign last year and thought she was excellent this time around as well. The ice show was great as always, the two production shows were great and the singers and dancers were very talented. Jimmy Carroll and Brad Upton were the comedians and we found them to be very funny. The Love and Marriage Game was funny as always, however I don't know why parents would bring their children to it. We finally went to The Quest after hearing so much about it. We had the most incredibly fun time and never laughed so hard in our lives! My father and I were trying to convince my mother and husband that we didn't want to participate but neither one would hear of it so we all participated and we're so glad we did. We also had a great time at Name that Tune with Alvin Castillo in Dizzy's; our group came in 3rd place the first time and 2nd place the second time. We even tried napkin folding, which we were very bad at, but still had a good time. We took a tour of the Ocean Lab, which we enjoyed since my sister graduated from the University of Miami's school of Marine Science.
PORTS OF CALL
San Juan - My husband is half Puerto Rican so he was very excited to visit PR for the first time in 20 years. We planned to take a walking tour of the island up to the fort, but it was too hot and we kept stopping along the way for free rum. So we just walked around and did some shopping and eventually wound up at Senor Frogs, which was great fun. We had a couple beers they gave us balloon hats for the whole bar to wear.
St. Maarten - We took the water taxi ($5 unlimited rides per person) over to the shops on the Dutch side on Front Street. We wound up at Great Bay Beach because it was convenient and we were hot. The water was not extremely clear because of the current in the water, but we had a wonderful time in the water, the beers were only $1 and we rented two chairs and an umbrella for only $10. There was also an internet cafe right there which we used because the internet was not working on the ship (due to the storm we assumed).
St. Thomas - We took a taxi over to Coki Beach ($8 per person) because we wanted to snorkel and had heard good things about this beach. We were not disappointed! The water was beautiful and clear, they rented snorkeling equipment for $10 for the day and they provided us with Milk bone dog biscuits to attract the fish. The fish surrounded us to feed on the biscuits and it was amazing! The chairs and the beer were more expensive on this beach but we were so pleased with our choice (and the good deals we got the day before) we didn't care. The chairs and umbrella were $25 and a bucket of beer was $10 for 7 beers. There are quite a few people who came up to us initially to offer us beer, drinks and food but they didn't push when we said no thank you. They were just trying to make a living and everyone was very friendly. We arranged to have the same taxi driver pick us up at a certain time and she was right on time. She took us on a mini tour to see Sapphire Beach (beautiful) and took us to a place where we could see St. John. She even dropped us off separately at Paradise Point Tramway and Havensight Mall. A group of us went up the Tramway while my husband bought souvenirs for us. The view from the top of the mountain was incredible! We had their famous Bushwacker drink and a bite to eat. It was well worth the $16 round trip.
Nassau - we didn't get off the ship at this port because we'd been there so many times. We did hear people say that the prices for shopping in Nassau are not as good as they used to be. We took advantage of the ship being empty, went to the spa and just relaxed that day.
WEATHER: The weather was wonderful considering we were escaping Wilma and there were two additional disturbances in the Caribbean (Alpha and Beta). The ship was pretty rocky the first night and the last night and it was EXTREMELY windy out on deck at times, but overall the weather was perfect.
OVERALL: We had a wonderful vacation once again with RCI. Sorry for all of the information but I wanted to share what we found out and all of the great people we met. Look for Dindo at either Dizzys or the Pool Bar and tell him that Rick and Kelly say hi. Don't miss the Quest - you won't regret it. Let me know if you have any questions.