We sailed on the 5 night, April 29th sailing on the Explorer of the Seas (EOS.) We had 2 days at sea, and port stops in Ocho Rios and Labadee. Just as an FYI, we are a married couple in our early 30's and have sailed on RCCL and Celebrity.
Sunday: Sail away from Miami
We arrived around 11:15. From what I had read on the message boards and based on my own past experiences, I thought we would be able to board quickly. However, there was a fairly long line to check in. We were told that boarding was delayed due to ships being randomly chosen for searches (perhaps by the Coast Guard). We finally made it on the ship around 12:30 or so. Cabins were not ready yet, so we made our way to the Windjammer. After a decent lunch, we headed to our Promenade stateroom (8597). The cabin was clean and in great shape. The new linens looked very nice, and the mattress was the most comfortable we have had at sea. We were quite happy with our cabin. Having the window made it not feel like an inside cabin. It was fun to people watch from the window and see the parades. For those concerned with noise, we never heard anything that woke us up. It was nice and quiet. Definitely make sure you get wake up calls because when your curtains are shut, it is so dark that you could possibly sleep right through the morning!
We took time to explore the entire ship. This trip was our first time on this class of ship. EOS seemed huge to us because the largest ship we had been on before was Celebrity's Galaxy at 78,000 tons. I was really impressed with the sculptures and art throughout the ship. As music lovers, we loved some of the music photos and memorabilia towards the front staircase of the ship. I was in awe with everything this ship offers. EOS was in great shape. No major signs of needed repair were evident to me. Enjoyed some jacuzzi time in the Solarium. Muster drill was smooth and went quickly. It was beautiful as we sailed out of Miami. It was nice to finally be one of those people that others are jealous of from land!
We had a great dinner table which was on the 2nd level of the dining room right by the rail next to the piano. Our waiters were from India and were quite attentive. For entertainment that night, we had the welcome show with the RCCL singers/dancers, a great juggler, and comedian, Dan Wilson. It was a nice way to get you excited about the trip ahead! However, we lost miserably at "Name that Tune" in the Schooner Bar.
Monday: At sea Started the day in the gym (we had good intentions at first!). I only wish there were more elliptical machines, as there was a short line for them. The gym was clean and very nice. We basically spent a lazy day by the Solarium pool. I really liked this pool area due to the cushioned lounge chairs and that there is more peace and quiet here than in the main pool area. The Solarium reminds me of the poolside experience on Celebrity. I went to a nice scrap booking class in Dizzy's lounge which was quite fun. This day was the sole formal night on our trip. For the most part, I saw most people in formal wear. There weren't as many tuxedos as you see on Celebrity. I was surprised to find out this wasn't "lobster night" as I have always had that on formal night. I was glad to hear lobsters were still going to be served later in the week though! No Baked Alaska though which is something I really like when on a cruise for it is the only time I ever get to have it! We thought we would go to some of the night activities, instead we spent a lazy night under the stars in the jacuzzi! The pool and jacuzzi are open 24 hours, and we could often find an unoccupied one at night.
Tuesday: Labadee Tendering off the ship was a cinch. RCCL does not use their life boats to tender. Instead, they have a few double-decker boats that take people to and fro. We went all the way to the furthest beach--Hideaway Beach (near Dragon's Breath, but facing the ship.) I highly recommend not stopping at the first beach you see. Follow the trail to the left and walk to the furthest beach. There was plenty of room there and far fewer people. I think we made the men who get the lounge chairs a bit upset because we set up the chairs ourselves. RCCL specifically asks you not to tip in written literature, but the men seemed to expect it. We forgot our money anyway, so did it ourselves.(You don't have to tip). The snorkeling was not that impressive. Just as I was about to get in, I heard some snorkelers coming out of the ocean say they saw a sea snake (not an eel). Of course that freaked me out a bit, but I went in anyway!! Only saw some small schools of fish and plenty of sea urchins by the rocky areas. Some people saw barracudas, but I did not. Snorkeling is way better on RCCL's Coco Cay. But not to complain, the beaches are gorgeous, and it still was a nice visit. The BBQ lunch was great. There was a live band playing some local music. As a pesco-vegetarian, I knew I would have a slight problem with eating at the BBQ. During dinner the night before, I asked the Head Waiter if there would be veggie burgers at the BBQ. He said they don't normally have them there, but he would ensure they were sent out for me. Sure enough, when I went to the BBQ, the Supervisor had them put aside and cooked one up for me. So if you want a veggie burger, just mention it to the waiter the night before your stop there. Easy breezy. (In the cruise survey, I did mention that they should just have them at the BBQ as a practice.)
Portofino----That night, we ate at Portofino. I always was a bit leery about paying extra to eat at a specialty restaurant. However, all the raves I read on the message boards convinced us to try it out. Well, THANK YOU CRUISE CRITICS!!! The food was absolutely amazing!! We made a reservation upon boarding the ship, and we were glad we did as we heard they booked up quickly for the week. Big, big, big thumbs up for the following: Appetizers: eggplant roulades (the best thing I ate!),and my husband loved the carpaccio. We also tried some of the Tuscan Bean soup. Yum!! For salad, we highly recommend the salad with Gorgonzola cheese, walnuts, and pears. Pasta course: You can request a small plate for this course so that you can have a bit of room for your entree. I really enjoyed the spaghetti di mare. Seafood was very fresh and cooked to perfection. My husband enjoyed the penne with ragu. When the main course came, we were too full!! So we had just a small bit of our very delicious meals. I had the halibut on seafood risotto, while my husband had the veal with prosciutto. When it came to dessert, we laughed for we had no more room! The very attentive waiters prepared some plates to go with chocolate dipped strawberries, tiramisu, and other little pastries. (We enjoyed it a bit later after some digestion.) Bottom line, if you are a lover of Italian food, EAT THERE! It was the highlight of our dining experience on the cruise.
That night, we headed to the 'Love and Marriage' game. It was fun to watch because we had participated in the same game while on our honeymoon cruise two years ago on Celebrity. So, we could feel for the newlyweds!! Super funny show as always that should not be missed!
Wednesday: Ocho Rios. We got off the ship a bit late (around 9:30 or so.) Not sure why it took a little longer than normal, but not too bad. We had booked a private excursion: Hooves horseback riding (http://www.hoovesjamaica.com) We did the beach ride. I highly recommend booking with Hooves. They met us right at the pier and took us on short ride to their stables which are located up on a hillside next to a historic home (museum). All of the riders were separated into small groups, so we had 2 guides and only two other riders with us. You ride on English saddles, not Western. The horses seem well taken care of (they are rescue horses). We started going down the trail, where the guides told us some history and stories. They also serenaded us with some reggae songs. We ended up on the sand, where we were served some local Jamaican fare. We then got back on our friendly horses and proceeded into the warm ocean! There, the horses picked up speed, and we went back and forth almost waist deep in the ocean. It was truly an experience that I will never forget. I just laughed like a little kid each lap we took. We then rode on the sand and headed back up the hill. The whole experience is about 2 hours. Well worth it!! If you have already done the Dunn river falls and a tour of the area, then this is the next best thing to do!
At 5pm, we attended the Planet Ice show. I think they offered it about 4 or 5 times on this cruise. Tickets were given out on the first night. However, I did note some extra tickets left out in front of guest relations from time to time. The show was wonderful. For the best view, I recommend sitting in the front section, versus the two side areas. It was so neat seeing an ice show at sea. This show seemed to be a guest favorite! After a great lobster dinner, we headed into the Palace theater to see "Rain," a Beatles tribute act. They were TERRIFIC!! During their costume changes, there was entertaining video to set you up for the next period of time in the Beatle's history. The band was very energetic and got the crowd moving. If you have them perform on your ship in the future, they are not to be missed. After the show, we then went to Quest. For those of you who have not been, I will spare details, but all adults should definitely go!! After that fun time, we took some photos of the Gala buffet, but were too full to eat.
Thursday: At sea Spent a nice day mostly in the Solarium. After swim time, we walked over to the bow of the ship. I have never been on a cruise that gave you access to this area. We were the only ones there. There was little wind, and it was remarkably quiet. Of course, I had a "I'm the king (well, queen) of the world" moment. Standing there, you feel like your are flying over the ocean. After a nice dinner, we enjoyed the farewell show. We then went to see a karaoke session where you perform with a live band. It was a neat concept I had not seen before.
Friday: Cruise is over! Disembarkation was a rather long process.. We stood in line for at least an hour before being able to leave. We were told there were only two customs people working so they could only take so many people at a time. When we got off the ship, they opened up some more customs counters, so it went quickly after that. And that marked the end of our cruise!
Alan Brooks: I was so happy to see that Alan Brooks was back as the Cruise Director. People on the RCCL message boards had raved about him so much that I was happy to hear he was on our cruise. He was fabulous. The best Cruise Director I have ever seen. Energetic, funny....a perfect combo.
Season: Late April/May is a great time of year to go on a Caribbean cruise. The weather was nearly perfect, and the seas were quite calm. The only time we felt a little motion was sailing out of Ocho Rios. There were very few kids on board as well.
Food: We felt it was rather good. Nice selection in the dining room. Bread baskets with lots of options. Had a great waiter who told me what to steer away from when choosing what to eat! Like I said, definitely try a night at Portofino. Windjammer was pretty good. I liked some of the Asian options in the Jade section. Good coffee and cookies at the Promenade Cafe. The only food we found poor was room service for breakfast. It was plain, tasteless, and boring.
Ship: Having never sailed on such a large cruise ship, I was a little worried that it would feel crowded. I have to say, never once did I feel like there was way too many people. There were plenty of places to go on the ship where you could be alone or with few people. For a quite and leisure experience, I recommend listening to jazz at Dizzy's. Most evenings, they also had discounts on Martinis as well. One quick note about Studio B (ice rink), if you have your own ice skates, bring them! There was a skate session for people who brought their own. I nearly had the rink to myself. It was a blast!
Comparing to Celebrity: While I had been on the Majesty a few years ago, I thought I would wait for this longer sailing on a newer ship to reserve a true comparison of the cruise lines. I have to say, I probably had more fun on this cruise. The entertainment was far better, and more to choose from. Perhaps, it also had to do with our own interests and age range. We felt the food is better on Celebrity, but it wasn't that far off on EOS!! We missed some of the standard perks on Celebrity such as robes in your room, chilled towel by the pool, chilled face towels and water when boarding the ship from a day at port, and champagne upon embarkation, but I knew it wasn't going to happen on RCCL. I also missed the fact that Celebrity only does one announcement per day. I really noticed it on this cruise. Sometimes it cut into the entertainment on the ship (i.e. the band having to stop abruptly.) While we had great service on the ship, we felt it was a bit better on Celebrity, but I think that also has to do with the higher ratio of staff to guests. Overall, I think if one is looking for a more refined and leisurely cruise (more white glove), Celebrity may be a better choice. If looking for a bit more fun and activity, RCCL is a good option. We like both lines and the familiarity that comes with them being owned by the same company. I guess our future choice will depend on what type of vacation we are in the mood for.
So over all, we had a WONDERFUL cruise. We will definitely sail RCCL again and really enjoyed this class of ship.