My husband and I sailed on the April 29-May 4 Explorer of the Seas trip to the Western Caribbean. WHAT A CRUISE! We have previously sailed Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Princess, and decided that Royal Caribbean has been our favorite so far so we would try her again. What can we say? From now on we'll be "Loyal to Royal"!
We booked a "Hot Deal" through RCCL's website approximately 6 weeks before the cruise, which no other agency or website could beat. We originally booked an Oceanview Guarantee stateroom, but within a few days we noticed that there was a Balcony Guarantee advertised on the RCCL site for just $20 more per person. I called RCCL to inquire about it (even though when I called the deal wasn't being advertised anymore) and was cheerfully informed by the representative that we were welcome to take advantage of it. So for $40 total we upgraded, and within 24 hours had our stateroom assigned. We were so thrilled when we realized that we had been placed in the category just below the suite level!
We flew from Denver to Fort Lauderdale the morning of our cruise (thank goodness there was no bad weather! it was a crapshoot but I had to work on Saturday so we couldn't leave early). Our flight got in at about 1:15 p.m., and we had pre-purchased the 2:00 transfer from the airport. All of the remaining passengers who booked the transportation were in by 1:30, so we boarded the bus and were off to the pier by 1:45. It took about 30 minutes from airport to pier. Since we only brought carry-on and had filled out the Sail and Sign paperwork we simply walked into the terminal, stood in a VERY short line, and within 15 minutes were on the ship. We went straight to the dining room to request a table for 2, and the next day were informed that we had gotten our table for 2 (how romantic!).
We made our way to our stateroom (8668) which was ready, met our stateroom attendant, dropped off our luggage, and headed for the buffet. Even though it was about 2:30 by this time, the Windjammer was still in fully operational mode, and we had a GREAT lunch with great views! I was so excited to be reunited with my favorite "restaurant" (aka buffet section) of any ship—Jade. I love flavorful, interesting and spicy food, so I was so psyched that they had Thai BBQ chicken and spicy Singapore noodles at the lunch buffet. Yum!
We went back to our cabin for a little while, to collect out life jackets for the muster drill. Our cabin was lovely, with a full-sized couch, and a great balcony. The bedding on Explorer is all new (from bed frames to mattresses to pillows to linens) and so comfortable! Our stateroom attendant Jose was funny, personable, interesting and so willing to help in any way possible! A really great guy! The muster drill started a little bit late since a few dopes didn't think it was mandatory despite all of the announcements. But once it started, it took no more than ten minutes, and we were all off to explore the Explorer. We opted to skip the dining room on the first night since we had boarded late and eaten a late lunch, and instead headed to the Solarium for a dip. We ate dinner again in the Windjammer, and all of the dining room items (plus hundreds of other great things) were on the buffet. The sunset from the back of the Windjammer was gorgeous, and even though we weren't in the dining room it was really romantic! After dinner we headed to the welcome show. Allan Brooks (Cruise Director) was funny and fun, the juggler was awesome, but the comedian was a bomb. After the show we wandered the Royal Promenade. We had been on the Mariner of the Seas before and didn't really notice any difference between the Promenades (although that was a good thing since we loved the Promenade on the Mariner so much!).
On Monday we had a wonderfully relaxing Day at Sea. We didn't do too much—read by the Solarium pool, ate too much at the Windjammer, lost a few bucks at the casino (but we did see someone win $2000!), had espressos on the Promenade, napped in the cabin, enjoyed the balcony. It was a perfectly relaxing and wonderful day. Oh, and we toured the Ocean and Atmospheric labs—it was a great and very scientific tour (kids might be bored), and I was really proud of Royal Caribbean for donating the space and a lot of the technology to make this happen. It was also formal night, but we skipped the dining room since we only brought carry-on and no formal clothing. We did go to the Captain's Welcome, though. It was great, with lots of free-flowing champagne and everyone dressed to the nines! We had another romantic sunset dinner in the Windjammer. Don't underestimate "the buffet" at night! It really is lovely and different than during the day. We skipped the show that night because "Vibeology" didn't sound very interesting to us.
Tuesday was Labadee. We had never been there before and all I can say is WOW! This place is sooooooooooo beautiful, and it's sad that the country of Haiti has such problems amid such beauty. We had read that Royal Caribbean lets Haitians come in to make a few dollars selling in the crafts market, setting up beach chairs, and working in the park (is it a park? I'm not sure). The Haitians were wonderful and really made the experience great for us. Take the time to interact with them! Also, the crafts market is interesting, but even more interesting are the stalls where Haitians are selling left-behind items that they've collected from the beach. I bought a pair of AquaSocks (selling for $20 on the ship) for $6. They say that bartering is encouraged, but I decided to pay $10 for the shoes since I know that this is the only source of income for most of the people working in the market. We parked it on beautiful Hideaway Beach (paid the guy $5 for bringing our 2 beach chairs to the water—entirely voluntary but when you have so much why not be as generous as you can?), and sunned and swam the day away. They serve a great ship's buffet with ribs, jerk chicken, burgers, dogs, fruit, salads, etc. We hope to be back to Labadee someday, or maybe visit other parts of Haiti and Hispaniola.
Tuesday p.m. we finally made it to the dining room, and loved our table for 2! It was actually a table for 4, so we had room to spread out. We had a great dinner (caprese salad, lamb, tiramisu) and headed to the ice show. Ugh, "Planet Ice" was terrible! Glad that hubby and I have a great sense of humor because that show might have been unbearable otherwise! Very cheesy, with a weird theme and no follow-through in the story, and terrible high-school music selections. Oh, and the skaters kept falling even though the seas were totally calm (I'm not dissing the skaters—it just made the audience so uncomfortable!) Yeesh! The circus-themed ice show on the Mariner was much better!
Wednesday was Ocho Rios, and we had a great day doing the White River Tubing trip through the ship. Getting off the ship was a bit of a challenge, and finding our excursion on the pier was difficult (pretty disorganized). But Jamaica was lovely, and the tubing was so fun! The waters were mostly calm, with a few rapids. There was also a Tarzan cliff where people could jump from a 20-foot high bank into the water. And it actually rained flowers every time a breeze came up! Gorgeous! We ended at Shaw Park Beach which was nice, but we had to leave early due to a storm. Our driver dropped us at the International Market near the pier and we did a little T-shirt shopping. We hope to get back to Jamaica sometime soon!
Back on board more napping, then dinner in the dining room. I had duck and my husband had lobster & shrimp. After dinner we skipped the show (Beatles tribute), and went to the casino. If we'd had any self-control then we would have walked out winners as we had a few hot nickel slots. But alas, no such luck or control. We hung out on the Promenade for a while, strolled the deck, went for a drink at Dizzy's, and then went to the late night poolside buffet. They had a whole roasted pig (among other things), and it was a wild time on deck!
Thursday was another great day at sea, with lots of relaxing, going to the Captain's Q&A, using up our Crown and Anchor coupons, sitting by the pool, napping, reading, eating (of course!), the farewell show (ooh, that comedian was awful, but the rest was good), and the Midnight Buffet (I guess that's eating, too). We were so shocked to come back to our room that night to find a bottle of champagne that we hadn't ordered. It turned out to be a gift from our stateroom attendant. I never knew that such things happened, that stateroom attendants gave gifts to passengers, but it was so great! We made sure that we tipped him well at the end of the trip!
Friday's disembarkation took a long time (I think that there might have been a problem, but I don't know what), but we didn't care since our flight left at 2 p.m. from Fort Lauderdale and that airport is terrible! So why not enjoy the ship in the meantime?
Overall, an AWESOME cruise! Highlights: all of the crew (I hope that you luck out and get Jose from Costa Rica as your stateroom attendant), the ports of call (throw in Belize and it would have been our 3 favorites of all time), the food (lots of interesting international choices, as well as the old stand-bys), the ship, great music in the lounges, the Oceanic and Atmospheric labs. Lowlights: Planet Ice, and the other onboard entertainment; disorganized disembarkation.