After driving 13 hours to the port of Miami, I was delighted to find embarkation such a smooth and easy process. Porters took our baggage for loading onto the ship and then we went to park our car. Parking was $15 per day! We walked to the cruise ship terminal from the parking lot. It was a very short walk. Our documents, sent via mail by RC, stated that we probably would not be able to board until 2pm. We boarded at 12 noon. Thanks to experience we acquired from previous cruises, we immediately went for (what was meant to be) a relaxing lunch at the Windjammer. I'm happy to say that hand sanitizer stations are located at the entrance of both the Windjammer and the formal dining room. One guy actually complained to the attendant because he was asked to sanitize his hands. He said, "But I already washed my hands earlier today." I couldn't believe it! It obviously didn't occur to the dear heart that he had probably touched many things (elevator buttons, rails, etc.) since he had washed his hand "earlier." Our table was located next to a window and we enjoyed the view. However, our table was rather sticky and the service did not live up to expectation. I had to ask twice for a pina coloda. The waiter seemed annoyed that he was asked for it. The food offerings were not that impressive. Hamburgers and hotdogs were a fixture at the Windjammer. They were offered everyday it seems. Speaking of the Windjammer, we were really amazed at how rude other passengers can be in there! It was not uncommon to have people cut in front of you, reach past you, bump into you, etc. They behaved as though the food was going to disappear if they didn't grab their share of it right away! Anyway, once our tummies were full, we decided to tour the ship until our room was ready for us to place our belongings.
Our first stop while touring the ship was formal dining room. It is a very attractive 3-story affair! It was outfitted with gold columns, gold drapes, and rich colors. We liked the opulent atmosphere and looked forward to taking meals here. Our next stop took us to the Promenade. This is where the ship's shops are located. There is also a "pub" called the Crown & Kettle here as well as a cafe called the Promenade Cafe. Free sandwiches, cakes, cookies, coffee, tea, etc. are available at the cafe. There is a Ben & Jerry's and Seattle's Best coffee area connected with the cafe. You must pay for items such as specialty coffee drinks and ice cream there. I like the look of the Promenade Cafe because it really does look like a cafe. In fact, it rather reminds me of a little cafe I once frequented in San Diego. The Crown & Kettle was a bit of a let down. It had been talked up as being like a real English pub. They serve tropical drinks there. There is no English pub fare there. The people working there were all from the Caribbean. Okay, from the Promenade, we took elevators two floors down to Studio B. This is the ice skating rink. It was delightfully cold in there. The area for skating was smaller than expected. Our next stop was The Chamber. The Chamber is like a gothic(esque) type nightclub. It has several suits of armor, gargoyles, stained glass windows, etc. It's on floors 3 & 4. I loved it! Next came Maharajas. Two large elephants greet you at the entrance there. There are all sorts of Indian statues and wall paintings. I got a strong craving for paneer tikka masala just by being in there! There was a cigar lounge by Maharajas. I don't quite recall the name at the moment. Anyway, it had the feel of a gentleman's club of days gone by. It had rich dark tones and furnishings. From here, we decided to check our room. It was ready and we put our things away. The stateroom was as clean as to be expected. We decided to rest in the room until it was time for our muster drill. When the muster drill came about, our station was on the 3rd floor of the formal dining room. After the muster drill, we returned to our rooms to shower and get ready for our 6pm seating at dinner. Our waiter's name was Rupesh. He was quite pleasant. Our table mates were enjoyable but spoke very little English. After dinner, we explored the ship some more. We went to the Adventure Ocean's program, on the 12th floor, and told that there were 900 children aboard the ship for this sailing! Anyway, I felt there were not enough available people (adults) there and that more staff should have been available. We did not allow our child to participate because of the overwhelmed staff. They looked as though they really had their hands full. After that, we took our child to the arcade. We all had a blast there. There are a variety of games there. Each time we went, we saw adults as well as children having fun. Both new and older games are located there. It was clean and all but 1 of the games were in working order as far a I could tell. We decided to spend the remainder of the night in our stateroom. The next day was a sea day. We participated in various activities on ship. I was especially fond of the scrapbooking sessions. Katie, who lead the sessions, is a real asset to the ship. She was upbeat and very funny. We went swimming, toured the ship some more, played in the casino, etc. Most of all, we looked forward the next day because that was the day we were expected to pull into port in Belize. Well, we never made it to Belize! A fellow passenger was deathly ill. The ship had been turned around in order to get the medical attention for the ill passenger. It was VERY disappointing but my husband and I fully understood that someone's life was on the line and thus we accepted things as they were. MANY of the other passengers were downright angry about not going to Belize. Many took this cruise because that was one of the places they really wished to travel to. One woman even said, "Why didn't they just let him die," regarding the sick passenger. I felt that was cruel but fully understood everyone's disappointment. Another port which we all paid to go to but didn't was Costa Maya. We all told over the intercom that there was so difficulty or misunderstanding with the port officials in Costa Maya. So, that was the second major disappointment on this cruise! We were supposed to go to Belize, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and the Grand Cayman. Instead, we went to Montego Bay (Jamaica), Cozumel, and the Grand Cayman. Several passengers were outraged and snippets of conversation regarding the change of itinerary could be heard throughout the ship. My husband and I visited Jamaica a few years ago and stayed at an all-inclusive resort. After that visit, we swore we would never return to Jamaica again. We had really looked forward to exploring the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan...not getting cheated out of our money and fearing for our safety in Jamaica. The captain of the ship tried to make things better by offering free cocktails one evening in the pool area and along the Promenade. They only offered rum punch and screwdrivers. I had the rum punch and am happy to say that I liked it! In fact, I had more than one! When the day came for us to arrive in Cozumel, we had to take a tender. The line to take the tender was long and the process of standing in line and getting onto the tender took about an hour. It was hot and people were forced to stand quite close to one another as we all waited in the line to board the tender. It was a quick ride once we boarded though. In Cozumel, we went did the Playa Mia Beach Break. We took a taxi and the rate for 3 people to get to Playa Mia from the port was a total of $14 U.S. Once there, we had fun in the pool and also swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. We got hungry while we were there so we decided to get the buffet. The food was pretty good. There were a LOT of flies around and we had to constantly swat at them to keep them from landing on our food. It actually became very bothersome. The pina colada I had there was only passable. The service there was substandard...very substandard. Although the beach, pool, and good food were enjoyable, the rude wait staff would prevent me from going back. We'll do a different excursion should we ever return to Cozumel. We also had to take a tender in the Grand Cayman. The process was a lot more smooth and much faster. All of my friends who have visited the Grand Cayman have taken photographs with "Big Black Dick." He is a pirate statue that advertises Big Black Dick Rum. I made of point of getting my photo taken with him too. While there, I purchased several rum cakes (which were pretty tasty), linens, etc. Surrounding the port are several nice stores. I even shopped in the Lladro boutique. The prices were very reasonable. When we made it to Montego Bay, we docked at the pier. We took a cab (a van actually) along with several other passengers to different shopping areas. At City Center, I purchased a lovely purse, baskets, and fans from Susie. I also purchased from one of the shops a nice Jamaican cookbook. The shop employees and rather pushy in Montego Bay. They don't take the words, "no thank you" too easily. I detest hard selling and found myself rather stressed and with feelings of unease. Even the taxi drivers are pushy. One taxi driver actually followed us for a period of time trying to get us to get into his cab. He gave me the creeps and I did not feel safe. Susie, who owns a little shop across the street from City Center warned us not to take anyone up on an offer to give us private walking tour. She says it is not uncommon for tourist to be led off the beaten path and right into trouble. She also warned us to make sure that any taxi we got into had a red license plate. Only taxi cabs with red license plates are legitimate she says. We found a vegetarian restaurant at City Center and decided to see what Jamaican vegetarian food might be like. We felt like a culinary adventure. We ordered the pineapple tofu. It came with rice and peas, plantains, dumpling, and salad. We also ordered callaloo patties. The food was rather bland. We were disappointed. Additionally, we were cheated out of our money. They tried to pretend they didn't have U.S. dollars to give us back in change. We they opened their register, we saw plenty of U.S. dollar bills. They also just plain cheated us on the conversion amount. Beware of the vegetarian restaurant in City Center! The food is not only bland, they cheat you as well! There were a few Jamaican men standing about in there and we didn't want to make a scene...for fear of our safety. Once again we say, "We'll never go back to Jamaica." I just hope we're never again put in a situation that takes us there against our will! Jamaica was certainly not one of the original ports we were supposed to visit!
Overall, the cruise was fun because we made a choice to make it that way. Not going to Belize and Costa Maya were major let downs. Some of the crew aboard Explorer of the Seas are indifferent. Others, such as Katie, actually do their job as though they want to do it. Our stateroom attendant didn't even bother to fold our towels on the first night. Room service was slow. One evening I ordered a fruit plate (among other things) and the fruit they delivered was certainly past its prime. The eggs they delivered for breakfast were cold. The sofa in our stateroom needed to be replaced as it look rather worn on the arm rests. The latin band, which plays at the Aquarium Bar each evening was good and a favorite with many of the passengers. I wish the ship had a Bolero's nightclub like the Enchantment has. So many people wanted to hear latin music and dance that the dance floor could not hold us all. People were bumping into one another. It was so crowded that all of the seats were usually taken. The towel folding workshop was fun and we learned how to fold our towels into different shapes such as monkeys, elephants, puppies, etc. The napkin folding workshop was only okay. The library was a favorite public room of mine. There is a nice selection of reading material there. I found a good book by one of my favorite authors (P.G. Wodehouse) and ended up leaving $200 in Jamaican money, that I used as bookmarks, stuck inside of the book! A daily trivia challenge can be found in the library each morning by 9am. The questions are fun and I took a trivia sheet each day of the cruise. The spa services are heavenly. I highly suggest the frangipani scalp treatment. The late night buffet (midnight madness buffet) was spectacular. The chefs did amazing things with fruits, chickens, etc. The cakes and pastries were stunning. The Chamber has a family dance hour. My child enjoyed it as did the other children who were there. I have to say that we did our best to have a fun time but I don't think we will likely sail aboard the Explorer of the Seas again. Rude fellow passengers, missing out on two ports that we really wanted to go to, indifferent crew members, etc. make me feel this way.