We caught a red eye from Sfo to Mia Friday and landed around 4:45am Saturday morning. The flight was pretty ordinary except for the cat meowing through the entire flight. Seriously. For a while, I thought I was hearing things and that OCD had finally cracked my brain. Once we landed in Miami, we went to pick up our bags. That was our first adventure. Finding the baggage claim area took a good 20 minutes or so. We asked for assistance from airport employees to find baggage claim area and we told to go in three different directions. So once we found our luggage we headed out to ground transportation and caught a taxi to the hotel. The taxi was our second adventure. Five minutes after leaving the airport, the taxi started making this grinding noise and smoking. The driver didn't seem to notice, but we were worried. We breathed a huge sigh of relief once we reached our hotel.
Hotel: We were staying at the Holiday Inn Port of Miami Downtown. The first thing I noticed was Bayside Marketplace. The second thing I noticed was the strong smell of urine. We noticed there were homeless people in the area and I felt that we are very fortunate to be able to take vacations like this when there are so many who do not have that ability. We arrived at the hotel @ 6:30 am and were able to check in early (normal check in is @ 3:00pm) with no extra charge. As there is no bellman service that early, they gave us a luggage cart and we took our luggage to our room. The hotel is very clean and neat once you get inside. The room was clean and spacious enough for two adults and three children (ages 13, 11, & 6 months) We ate breakfast at the hotel buffet, which was pretty good. They had a nice variety of items like the standard bacon, eggs, potatoes, Danish, toast. But they also had fruit salad, cereal and different juices. Checkout was pandemonium. It seemed as if everyone checking out Sunday morning was going on a cruise. It took 15 minutes to get an elevator. Every elevator was packed and sometimes with the same people. I saw one party at least four times. Because there were groups on every floor pushing buttons, they couldn't get down to the lobby. Once we got down to the lobby actual checkout was breeze. We paid in cash when we got there and didn't charge anything to the room. We got a taxi and we were off to the Explorer.
Bayside Marketplace: We went there twice on Saturday. We went early Saturday after breakfast to use the ATM. We walked around to see all the shops and show the kids the huge Banyan tree at the entrance. We went back later that after noon to do the Millionaire Row cruise tour and to meet some of the people from my roll call at Bubba Gump's. If you're going to Bubba Gump's, I would recommend the "Bucket of Boat Trash". This is delicious. It is fried Lobster, shrimp and Mahi Mahi with fries. Also the Mango colada is really good. After dinner we caught the Island Queen for our tour and were back @ bayside at 8:30pm. Unfortunately, they were having some huge rap event that night and the place was packed. Trying to cross from Bayside back to the hotel was scary. There were cars everywhere, bumper-to-bumper. By this time, the baby was really cranky and tired and wanted out of the stroller. So while her mom pushed the stroller, I carried her. We are crossing the street with the kids, and we have the green light, when cars start running the red light! We start yelling at them to stop, by this time we're in the middle of the crosswalk and can't get back on the curb. This one guy in a huge SUV is yelling at my friend, "Where is the baby?!" and when I yelled at him,"RIGHT HERE!" he finally stopped. I was so angry. We finally got back to the hotel and turned in.Embarkation Day- We arrived at the port around 12noon and was onboard by 1:30. There were four ships in port today, two of those belonging to Royal Caribbean, Freedom and Explorer. Outside the check in area, it was very hectic. There were many cars, taxi's and vans trying to drop of passengers along with baggage handlers with carts full of luggage already stacked on. Traveling with children does add to embarkation time. Once we got onboard, we went to guest relations to set up our seapass accounts and our rooms after that.
Windjammer- The food was delicious. So delicious in fact that we ate ALL of our meals there. They had a huge variety of food that you were never bored. They also have a Jade section, which I hear was very good from a lot of passengers. The windjammer staff was attentive when you came in and when you exit. We talked the Asst. Food Director at least once a day.
Stateroom- I splurged this cruise and booked a balcony room 8640. The room is very spacious and the new bedding is pretty and very comfortable. The balcony is roomy for one or two people, any more than that and it becomes cramped. Our room steward, Teddy, was great. He saw that all of the ice was gone by the next morning, I drink ice water constantly, so he bought me extra buckets of ice every day after that.
Day 2- At sea: I woke up around 6am and was able to get some nice shots of the sunrise. After breakfast in the windjammer, I took a walk around the ship. The ship is much more than my expectations…which were high. This ship looked brand new and I saw no visible signs of her age. From the public rooms to the elevator doors, I have never seen a ship with so much decorated detail. My favorite part of the ship,of which there are many, is the helipad area on the fifth deck. I sat here for at least 30 minutes and was so at peace. It was pretty much deserted except for another couple enjoying the view. Here, there are no crowds or anyone trying to sell you drinks. There is just peace, the sound of the ocean and the feel of the wind rushing past you. To get there you must go to Deck 5 forward, then down the stairs to deck 4 walk outside to the deck. Once outside, turn left and go up the stairs and walk straight. Trust me…it's worth walking the maze. The view is beautiful. Today was also formal night. Mostly everyone was dressed to the nines. I went to the Chamber where they were having a dance party. If you like clubs, this is the place to go. The music is great, the drinks are good and the atmosphere is PARTY. This place was great!!!
Day 3- Labadee- BEAUTIFUL! If there is a perfect beach, this is it. This is also the only excursion where you don't have to spend any money if you don't want to. You can catch a tender and lay on the beach all day. The barbecue is good, also for free because it's supplied by Royal Caribbean. I did not do any shopping this cruise, except on the cruise ship. We went to the Quest later that night and it was hilarious as always.
Day 4- Ocho Rios- If you've never done the Dunns River Falls Climb..this is a must do. You should wear water shoes because the rock are very slippery. The climb takes about an hour and a half. You do NOT have to be the most fit person on the planet to do this. I'm in the 260's and I did it in jeans. They have two trails, the easy trail, which I recommend, is a good workout. If you like more adventure, take trail two. From what I saw you do a lot more rock climbing on that trail than trail 1.
Day 5- At sea- This was the final day of the cruise so I really tried to do a lot of the activities. On the sports deck, there was the Crew vs Guests Dodgeball game which was fun to watch. The Cd Allan and Justin were really good. There were about 4 guest teams and they took turns playing the crew, who never really got a break. The crew was really good until the last couple games. You can tell they were really tired and it was about 87F degrees outside. I went to the farewell show tonight and it was really great. It started with a showing of the "Cruise In Review" video. Then Allan came out and went over " The Most Silliest Questions Ever Asked." That was hilarious. There was also a juggler and a comedian. They finished up with the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers and had a large number of staff come onstage. It was great. I had packed earlier in the day so when I got back to my stateroom, I put my luggage out and went to bed.
Disembarkation: NIGHTMARE! But this was not the fault of RCI. A group of 107 people were let off the ship but instead of going to customs, they congregated out on the deck and tried to go through immigration all at once and their computers froze up. We had a 12:00 flight to catch. Red was supposed to be called between 7:30 and 8:30. We didn't get off the ship until 9:30 and by the time we grabbed our luggage, caught the taxi and arrived @ the airport is was 11:00. Thankfully, there weren't any problems at the airport and we took off on time.
Cons: By the fourth day, the soda they served in the Windjammer was flat. We had to send back flat soda every time we ate there.
The Explorer is a GREAT ship and my favorite. The staff is great, the public rooms are beautiful. I'm glad I decided on a balcony room. Spending time on the balcony away from all the crowds added a little extra peace on a great vacation. If you haven't sailed a Voyager class ship, you should make that your next cruise