Explorer of the Seas B2B: 13 December to 23 December 2012 & 23 December to 30 December 2012: 10 Day Pre Holiday Eastern Caribbean & 7 Day Holiday Florida / Bahamas
Me & DW
Cabins: 8392 Cat. D2 & 8385 Cat. M
Having been on 8 cruises all on Royal Caribbean, this B2B was booked with the LA (loyalty ambassador) on the Explorer last year. With the OBC (on board credit) from Royal and our famous unnamed online TA, it was a slam dunk on OBC. With the state of flying these days, we took the 3 hour train ride, saving on airfare, renting a car and petro. Also there is no parking, so the only transportation expense is the train and the taxi to the port / train station. After 17 days at seas, we are 1 point short of being a Diamond member, but we have Elite status on Celebrity or X.
To The Port:
We took the 6:49am Amtrak from Berlin, CT to Newark Penn Station on Thursday morning, December 13th. Sure, we were gambling on leaving on the day of the cruise, but if you do fly, arrive a day before in case there is any delay. I did check the weather forecast and would have book a room at EWR in case of weather delays. We arrived in Newark on time and made a short walk to the Newark Hilton Penn Station located on Raymond Blvd, which is connected via skywalk from the historical train station. Since I am a Silver Hilton Honor's member (a word of warning, the bellstaff will ask if you are a guest of the hotel), we got a local cab via the bellman for $47.00 to Bayonne at 10:25 am. We arrived at the port around 11:00 am.
After handing our suitcase to the porter with a friendly tip, we proceeded to the Platinum + check-in line with boarding card number #3. After a quick check-in with our Seapass in hand, the boarding lounge was there with water, coffee and orange juice. We did notice that the waiting area was bare due to the Hurricane Sandy, anyway, they announced boarding card# 1 around 11:45am.When they announced card 3 via the much improved PA system, we made our way via the 4 minute bus ride to the ship around 12:00 pm. You board the ship on deck one forward starboard side. Since others were waiting to board, we made a beeline to deck 11 aft for the Windjammer Cafe where we were greeted by the famous Washy-Washy (Nestor). The entree of choice on the 1st day of the cruise on any Royal Caribbean ship is the honey stung chicken, which was good. Staterooms on this ship open at 1:30pm. After unpacking our carryon, there was a little tap on the door, our only suitcase arrived in record time. Must be the Emerald status on the tags. During the muster drill, our boat captain was the lead male RC singer named James, one of the most interesting muster drills I ever encountered, like reminding the PAX to wash the hands before and after meal time. This was our first introduction and we would bump into each other throughout the cruise. The sail away was on our aft balcony under the Narrows Bridge. After that, only one seating was printed in the compass for 7:45pm, the welcome aboard show in the Palace Theatre where the CD (cruise director) Leigh from Australia introduced a comedian.
Sea Days Part I:
Over 200 Cruise Critic members signed up for the M&M, which was day 2 at 9:30am in the Maharajas Lounge on deck 5. The meeting was with Frank the assistant CD and a hotel manager officer with a raffle. It was nice to meet some of the fellow cruisers from cruise critic. It was cold outside, so the hot tubs were in action. Our breakfast and lunch were sometimes in the MDR, and dinner in the Windjammer with some staff officers throughout our cruise vacation. The in house morning show "The Morning Show" with CD Leigh and Frank the Tank was good, and the questions from the PAX were humorous throughout the voyages. The C&A Welcome Back Party (Gold and above) was in the Palace Theatre, which was well attended with music from the RC singers Anna and our boat captain; James. Sea time was a relaxing 3 days to our first stop, St Martin. There was also a formal night, but I forgot which night.
After mooring up on a sunny morning, we just took the $7.00 water taxi to Phillipsburg and just walked around the boardwalk. There is a Hard Rock Cafe and many shopping /dining options along the boardwalk. The ride back to the pier was short, as the pilot house was playing Caribbean Christmas tunes. There is a mini-outdoor mall near the security entrance to the pier with outdoor bars, various local t-shirts shops, and jewelry shops. Big thanks to Little Switzerland for handing out free bags with coupons that carried our stuff back onboard. After lunch onboard, we just stayed onboard for the rest of the day. The PAX was happy with the additional half hour all aboard time by the master. Sail away was from our balcony. I did bring a Sony Walkman radio and tuned in to 95.1 FM with the night dance party with the short distance to St. Thomas. The love and marriage game show was at 10:30pm.
Captain Loy announced that the Royal monster The Oasis of the Seas was in Crown Bay, not Havensight, when the Explorer docked at 8:00am. With over 22,000 passengers plus crews the roads were going to be a mess. The captain gave the PAX an extra half hour of all aboard time of 5:00pm. We did stock up on 2 gallons of water at a supermarket at Havensight. After walking around, we checked out the local supermarket Pueblo just outside the mall area. After all that walking, Senor Frogs was just in sight before our security gate on the pier. We did see some of the crewmembers enjoying the Wi-Fi services. Senor Frogs does have a pool in case you need to cool down or get dunked by the MC. With our shopping done, we headed back onboard and had a nice lunch in the crowd free Windjammer. The harbor was busy for another scenic sail away in the twilight.
With an arrival time of 7:00am and an all aboard time of 12:30pm, there is not a lot to do with a limited time schedule, even with thunderstorms. There is a CVS across the pier, bring your extra care card for more savings. The sun popped out with a fast departure out of San Juan harbor, heading to the last port on our first cruise, Lababee, Haiti.
The passengers knew well in advance that a Royal Freedom class, The Independence of the Seas was arriving 2 hours ahead of the Explorer of the Seas. When we were leaving the MDR after breakfast, one father said to his kids, "they get an extra two hours in the afternoon". After 50 minutes after mooring up, we walked to Adrenaline Beach, stopped at the Schooner Bar, visited the town square and watched the long zip line. We headed back on board and watched the Independence tie up. They did secure the gangway during the mooring. Before the mooring lines were on deck, Captain Loy did say that the boat was going full steam ahead to Bayonne in 2 days' time, with warning that seas were to be rough around 4:00pm the next day, and a video was shot with nautical maps and wave heights on the navigation bridge (This was looped on Channel 14). Looking back on our balcony a half hour after sail away, the Independence was getting hit with rain showers.
Sea Days Part II:
The Explorer hit some rough seas on our journey home, as the sickness bags were well advertised on the stairwells. The Platinum + ice show called a top-tier event in studio B was good. Trivia games were held in the Schooner Bar on deck 4.The 70's night, the quest, captain's corner and another formal night were scheduled on this leg. As we were off the Norfolk area on our last day with gale force winds and heavy seas, Swiss time was running out on the majority of the passengers. A good tip is to head up to Dizzy's on deck 14 for good views. Captain Loy did announce that the Explorer would be tied up in Bayonne at 9:00am, two hours later than scheduled.
Disembarkation Part I:
Our assigned meeting place for the B2B was the Champagne bar aka Boleros on deck 4 at 9:45am December 23, but we met 30 other passengers at 11:45am due to the late arrival. Your luggage will be moved by a stateroom attendant if you book a different cabin on a B2B, but we moved our own. A letter will be delivered to your stateroom 2 days before disembarkation with a customs declaration. We boarded the bus to the terminal, went thru customs, and boarded the same bus back to the ship. Your new seapass will be handed to you before you go thru customs. Your seapass photo will be taken onboard. We just entered uncharted waters with our first B2B and the feeling was great not to go home before Christmas.
Sea Days Part III:
With over 800 kids on board, we were on our first Christmas cruise since the 2010 Freedom Christmas cruise The 2nd meet and mingle was not well attended, but Frank the Tank gave us a $50.00 internet credit and a photo of the Explorer for being B2B cruisers since we did not win anything in the raffle. Thank you Frank. Oddly enough, we were on our way to the home of the Freedom of the Seas...Port Canaveral ...aka Cocoa Beach, FL with a 1400 arrival time on Christmas Day. The weather was not bad during our 2 day sailing time. The staff did serve egg nog on Christmas morning (spiked and non-spiked) and also the midnight mass and a 0800 Christmas Mass in the Palace theatre. Be sure to use your stateroom television to book a tour to avoid the lines at the excursion desk on deck 5, our only excursion on our B2B was a $12.00? Ron Jon surf shop shuttle. Weather was Florida sunny when the Explorer entered the channel.
Cocoa Beach...aka Port Canaveral:
Having been to Orlando a few times including the "Holiday" season, we stayed well clear of the "Attractions". Thank goodness we booked the Ron Jon shuttle. The taxi queue line outside terminal 10 was nuts. We stopped at Walgreen's Seven 11 and CVS to stock up on cabin supplies, our first real shopping experience since San Juan. I do recommend the Shark Bar at the Sheraton Four Points which is attached to the Cocoa Beach Surf Company. The special was an $11.00 large cheese pizza / Bud Light pitcher deal. Yea, no Cafe Promenade pizza! Also the Surf Company was priced below the Ron Jon surf shop. We got back onboard and left the Cocoa area around 11:30 pm. A nice sail away on a great night.
It was nice to see our "other Royal Caribbean friend, The Monarch of the Seas" moored up. Since the Monarch is leaving RC, it was memories to look at deck 8 aft where we would hang out on our only sea day which was on a Thursday on a 4 day cruise. Arrival time was at 1400. We walked to the British Colonial Hilton and back to the ship. There is a McDonald's and a Dunkin Donuts across from the hotel. We did see a few floats from the Junkanoo parade.
A sunny day was to be had for the passenger's on board, a great day to hit the beach. Having been here on the Sovereign of the Seas, Monarch of the Seas and the Freedom of the Seas, we did not tender and spend our time on board with almost an empty ship, just for a few hours. The anchor was raised, and we were finally heading back to the cold, freezing port of Bayonne. For good.
Sea Days, Part IV:
After 15 days on being onboard, we used our Emerald coupons that we saved during our B2B. Coupons like BOGO drinks, 10% off drinks and the lucky casino pulls. We also ran into our 1st boat captain, James during the Platinum+ ice show. Don't miss the ice show.
Disembarkation Part II:
We used express disembarkation with card letter A. You can sign up at the Guest Services on deck 5. Just do it ASAP. Our meeting time was 7:30am at Maharajas Lounge on deck 5. A friendly staff member had an express down to deck 1 and we were finally off the Explorer of the Seas. CBP was painless as we caught a cab to Newark Penn Station. Our Amtrak train back to Berlin, CT was a few minutes late.
Shout Outs and Final Thoughts:
First the shout outs, Calli from South Africa in the fitness centre was outstanding. My DW got some great fitness tips from her fitness classes. Camilla from Brazil in the Windjammer was outgoing and kind. And the assistant CD, Frank the Tank from Orlando was humble throughout our 17 days onboard. The staff in Johnny Rocket's and the Weekend Warrior sports bar on the Promenade deserves a pay raise. Oh, almost forgot Mr. Washy-Washy. Captain Hedrick Loy did a Bravo-Zulu job with communications about the weather and the sea conditions during the end of the first cruise. Sure, we arrived 2 hours late, but it's always safety first for the passenger's and the crew.
Kudos on RCCL on the brand new Coca-Cola freestyle machines that was installed onboard weeks before our cruises. There are 5 onboard...2 near the Cafe Promenade on deck 5, 2 machines on the starboard and port sides in the Windjammer on deck 11 and 1 machine in the teen area on deck 12 near Johnny Rocket's, port side. If you do work out with a sport drink, these machines will distribute PowerAde and PowerAde Zero.
Labadee vs. Coco Cay...If you do like the beach, there is more beach in Labadee with the zip line and the coaster. But Labadee is on a spit of land in northern Haiti and Coco Cay is one of the thousand Bahamas islands with tender services with just the beach with a sunken airplane just offshore. If you are into jet skis you will get a better experience in Coco Cay.
It's time for Royal Caribbean to end smoking in the casino on every cruise night. Only 3 nights on our B2B in Casino Royale was smoke free. Yes keep the smoke it up starboard side / smoke free port side on the pool deck. Speaking of Casino Royale, let's help make RCCL a few more dollars in revenue...Sports Betting.
As for the terminal, the Port Authority and RC to step up and build a new terminal in Bayonne like Port Everglades terminal 18. With the Quantum of the Seas now laying steel, there is time to build a new terminal. Only the corporate beach staff in Miami knows what is going on. If you are into military history, it's on an old military ocean terminal base, but it's better than going into Manhattan.