Explorer of the Seas 4/11- 4/20/08 Eastern Caribbean
Part I- Introduction, Roll Call and Food
We recently returned from a wonderful adventure aboard the Explorer of the Seas! Although I had high hopes for this trip, my actual experiences managed to greatly surpass my pre-trip daydreams!
Our group at the time of our vacation- Me (a 42 year old tour guide and museum educator), DH (a 42 year old CTO who was on his longest vacation EVER!), my brave SIL (an executive secretary who will turn 40 next month), DS (17 who loves to run and will be heading off to college next year) and DD (almost 15, a freshman in high school who just loves to socialize!).
Bayonne Port Parking and Check In- We arrived at the port at about 11:00 a.m. There was no problem with dropping off our luggage and DH quickly parking the car. We walked into the terminal and through security and then waited for about 5 minutes for DH to join us. Parking was $144 for the week. We paid by charge card. Check-in was very organized, friendly and simple. Buses started going to the ship at about 11:30. Once on board we split into two groups- DH and DS went to TRY and obtain a cybercabin and the girls went off to make our Savor Luncheon and Portofino reservation. We had to search for someone to make our reservations because they hadn't even started taking them yet. Our quick ascent to the 11th floor was our first of many step workouts! Needless to say, we were successful in getting everything we asked for. DH wasn't so lucky. He arrived with a deflated look on his face. ¡QuE Horror! He was told that ALL of the cybercabins were broken and wouldn't be available for the entire nine day trip! Yikes, this might mean that he'd have to spend more time relaxing! In reality it did cause him some stress since there was something that he needed to take care of for work before he could start to relax. More on the cybercabin later.
Our staterooms- We had two connecting balconies in rooms 7606 and 7608. SIL and the two kids shared one room (see why I called SIL brave?!). The rooms were pretty tight but adequate. I had called shortly before the trip to check that they had on file that one room would have the beds together and the other the beds apart. When we arrived, both beds were together so I had to put in a request right away to have one set moved apart. There is only so much sacrifice that we could expect from my SIL! Our stateroom attendant was Nadine. It seemed she was having a bit of a rough week. We had to leave three notes and a couple requests before we finally had the refrigerators emptied. It also took a few days before my kids started to receive their Teen Compasses. We had asked for a third chair for the kids' balcony and she kept telling us over and over how she was getting it for us without us even bringing it up, but as far as I know, it's still not there! There were a few other things that either weren't done or took a bit of prompting to have done. Actually though, none of these things were really a big deal and Nadine was so friendly and personable that it was impossible to get upset over these little things. Besides a few hours of sleep, there were never three people in the kids' room to use the three chairs anyway, my kids were too busy out and about having a great time!
Cruise Critic and Roll Call- I received so much helpful information from these boards prior to our trip. There is no way that our trip would have been as successful without all the tips and insight that I received here. There were many options and activities that I would have missed. Thank you all so much! I was also very lucky to have an active Roll Call with a great group of enthusiastic, kind and fun loving people! It was so much fun to have a whole group of people to anticipate and plan with, my vacation was off to a great start before I even stepped foot on the ship! We participated in the following activities on board: 1. Sailaway Party strlboo had arranged for us to have a Sailaway Party in Dizzy's lounge. It was pretty cold and rainy outside so it was nice to be inside. It was great to meet lots of folks on the first day. What would prove to be even more important, my kids met other teens right away. This gave them motivation to later attend the Teen Meet and set them on the course for a fabulous, fun-filled vacation! 2. Meet and Mingle It's great that Royal Caribbean helps to organize this activity! They provided us with some hors d'oeuvres (I never had a chance to see what they were). There were a few officers there but I can't remember who they were. They gave out 2 or 3 raffle prizes. Each CC member also received a nice seapass holder that had a pen and pad with it. We had organized a grab bag. Each participant was asked to provide a grab bag valued at $10-15 that contained something representative of their state or town. I received a wonderful grab bag with Heinz Ketchup items, syrup and lots of other goodies from the state of PA. I'm still wondering who ended up with our stuff. The grab bags were real imaginative and fun. We also played a mingle game. Sometimes at these things people show up (or don't show up) and after all of the on-line conversation don't say two words to each other. The mingle game was an easy way to converse with each other. It was set up on a sheet of paper for each participant as a 6x6 box grid with things in each box such as Swam with a Dolphin or Stingray, Forgot to Pack Something, Plays an Instrument, etc. The object was to go around the room to find someone who fit one of the boxes and then write in their name. We also had some categories that pertained to things that were discussed on our roll call. At the end the person with the most filled boxes won a prize. It was an insulated backpack with a variety of items inside. 3. Cabin Crawl/Poker Run This was a lot of fun! Five people generously volunteered to share their home away from home with the rest of us. Although no one had an inside or promenade cabin, we did see a balcony handicap cabin, an E2, a jr. suite, a grand suite and an owner's suite (I think I have that straight). It was quite interesting to see what clean cabins look like! With two teenagers there was no way that I would have been brave enough to volunteer our cabins, it would have taken me most of vacation to get them in order! While we toured, strlboo was nice enough to read the statistics for each category of stateroom that we were visiting. It was also great to have time to chat along the way. For the poker run, each group chipped in $5 at the start. srlboo's wife handed out one playing card to each group as we exited each room. At the end we had our full hand of cards! I'm happy to say that my fellow roll call members helped to pay off my sea pass account! My SIL and I won with a pair of Aces! 4. CC Luncheon This was held following the cabin crawl on the second to last sea day. SunnyAZGirl was nice enough to run all over the whole ship dropping off reminder notices (she had made a list of our staterooms ahead of time). We met at the dining room and they kindly set up tables for a group of about 30 of us. It was great to have a chance to discuss our vacations together. Besides the organized activities, it was wonderful to see so many familiar smiling faces all over the ship and in port. I truly enjoyed the many conversations and laughs with my new CC friends throughout the cruise!
Food I would say that the food was generally good to very good throughout the cruise.
Windjammer I had lunch in the Windjammer twice. Both times I thought the selection was great. The hot food was hot and the cold food was cold. There were also choices to appease finicky eaters and choices for those who are a bit more adventurous. We did not have any trouble finding a seat. Don't forget to take your silverware at the beginning of the buffet line. Also, if you're going to need a spoon, they are not in the rolled up napkin so make sure you take one of those too (and make sure you have a big mouth, the spoons are LARGE!). Most mornings my SIL and I hit the Windjammer for breakfast after walking the track. I basically just had some fruit with a ½ bagel or yogurt. I tried the free "orange juice" and it is pretty terrible. We took our food back to the cabin to eat on the balcony. I did have the French Toast on the last day and it was good. The one thing that I missed that I enjoyed on my other cruises was grapefruit. The kids said that they had this in the dining room. I never made it there for breakfast. I would have liked to have tried the buffet at dinner, but we enjoyed the company of our tablemates so much, I wasn't willing to give that up! Promenade Cafe YUM!!!! This was one of my favorite places on the ship. They had great ice cold water here. The coconut ranger cookies were one of my favorite foods on the ship. The little sandwiches that they had there were also very fresh and tasty. The pizza was pretty good, not great. I didn't realize until the second to last day that there was a sign with a specialty pizza on it. It was supposed to be pepper pizza. It wasn't ready when I ordered it and after I waited for it, the girl apologized saying it wasn't what was on the sign. I don't remember what it ended up being but it contained my arch enemy-the onion! The next day it was something strange like chicken and potato so I never did taste any of the specialty pizza. Keep an eye out for the sign sitting on the counter or you probably won't realize there is a third choice (they always had cheese and pepperoni). DH also bought a few Ben and Jerry Ice Creams here. Dining Room We had Aran for our server and Rebecca as his assistant. Aran was very conscientious and professional. He seemed to sincerely want to make our dining experience as pleasant as possible. Rebecca was very quiet but made sure our bread plates and glasses were always full. DH loves bread and she picked up on this right away and just kept it coming! We asked to be seated at a large table. They only seated one other couple with us. When I first saw them approaching I was a bit apprehensive. They were grandparents and the husband was retired. I was worried that they would be unhappy to have to sit with my bunch. Well, I hope I'm accurate in saying that it worked out great. We really enjoyed their company and it was fun to compare notes from the day. I really do wonder how RCCL decides on tablemates though. If they were looking for other couples to hang around with during the cruise, surely a family of five including two teenagers wouldn't be the best match for them! The food itself ranged from good to very good with a couple of misses thrown in. The shrimp cocktail was a bit watery but ok. The menus ended up getting switched around even from what was shown on the compass. Because of this, we missed Italian Night with the singing waiters since we were in Portofino that night (our waiter did have the warm chocolate cake made for us for the last night though). There was a "new" menu one night. I think the only difference was a change in the fish. DS and I had it and it wasn't very good. It had no flavor at all and tasted like a bunch of bread crumbs had just been thrown on it. We were told there would be another "new" menu the next week too but I think the only change will be the fish again. The other thing that was pretty awful was the wild mushroom and goat cheese pizza. I had been assured by the waiter that it didn't contain onions. It had tons of onions! Also, the crust tasted like a microwaved Boboli, yuck! The spinach dip was pretty watery and not very tasty too. Thanks to advice here, I did order an entree as my appetizer a couple of times. Some of the things that I did enjoy were the eggplant tower, the crabcakes, the tilapia, the lobster tails (the "butter" seemed a little strange though) and the mahi mahi tempura. Honestly, I could have had grilled cheese and been happy every night; it was just so great to have my whole family together for dinner for nine nights in a row. Actually, my daughter could honestly say she would be happy to have had chicken Caesar salad every night because I'm horrified to say that this is exactly what she ate EVERY SINGLE NIGHT including the night we ate at Portofino! Of course, one night they made the critical error of actually putting dressing on her salad, hence making the salad actual Caesar salad, so she wouldn't eat it (I wish I was making this up!). Sometimes she ordered chicken strips with it and a couple of times a chicken dish (which she then wouldn't eat). DS had fruit for dessert every night since he now tries to avoid sugar (the boy weighs about as much as a duck) and DD didn't eat dessert at all since she was too anxious to get back to her friends. Johnny Rockets We ate here on our first sea day and it was a lot of fun! DH and SIL had coupons from their C&A books. We also paid for a couple of milkshakes. Plan on rolling out of here-the fries and onion rings just keep coming and coming. It's easy to convince yourself that you haven't eaten much since the plate is always full. The burgers were very good but very messy! It was so much fun to have the waiters sing and dance every so often while you eat. We got there when it first opened and it was quite busy. Portofino The food here was excellent! I must add though that DS, who is the most adventurous eater of the bunch, said that he liked the dining room better. I think DD found her Caesar salad pretty comparable in both venues (good grief!). I had the shrimp risotto-yummy! We also shared a fried calamari which was crisp and delicious. I ordered the penne alla caminetto to share at the table and this was great too. SIL had the salad with pears and walnuts and she said that it was delicious. I had the seafood skewer and everything was cooked perfectly. DD did order the chicken which she took one bite out of and wouldn't eat because it had flavor, or something to that effect . The other three had the tenderloin and really liked it. I'm not much of a beef eater, but I tried it and found it quite tasty! I also somehow forgot to mention the bread basket. There were a variety of breads as well as some spreads and a dipping oil. We finished off our meals with the dessert sampler. The waiter instructed us on the order to eat it, lightest to heaviest. The desserts were marvelous! Although the service in here was good, I wouldn't say that it was any better than the service that we received in the dining room. This is probably because we received such great service in the dining room. It was nice to eat in a more intimate setting for one night. Our dining room table was right near a serving station so it was pretty loud in there! Savor Luncheon I'm so glad that this was offered during our cruise. As mentioned, my SIL signed up for this upon boarding the ship. It was limited to 30 people. What they didn't tell us when we signed up and we didn't find out until the day before is that "elegant dress and closed shoes" are required. Well, by this time most of my clothes were shoved in a suitcase with a ton of DS's dirty smelly running clothes! It was too late to even send something out to be laundered. I ended up wearing a pair of DD's white capris (which I didn't tell her about until after) and a decent top. Many people had sneakers on as these were their only closed shoes. Some also looked more "elegant" than others so I wouldn't worry too much about the dress code, the staff didn't seem to. The tour was great! They broke us down into two groups and we toured the galley. It is a bit slippery in there and very busy so be cautious. At times it was hard to hear our guide (I believe he was the head chef) since there was so much activity going on around us and the space was limited. He had a lot of great information and it was wonderful to hear about what goes on behind the scenes. The meal itself was fabulous too!!!! As we entered the room we were each given a Margarita- there was lots of alcohol to follow. The tables were set up in a giant rectangle with a lovely ice sculpture in the center. Each place was set with our very own chef hat and place card (they did seat parties together). About every fifth seat there was an empty chair. These were filled with staff from the ship. What a great idea! It was wonderful to have a chance to ask questions about RCCL, the ship, the staff and their families throughout the meal. We sat with Otto Lock who is the Marketing and Revenue Manager. He was so hospitable and interesting. He talked about a few upcoming features on the new ships. He also talked about what it is like to live on the ship, some of the challenges of satisfying guests of different cultures, and considerations in the timing of planning a variety of activities, among other things. Throughout the meal, one of the other staff members would stand to discuss the wine, food, etc. It was like being on a wonderful tour while being able to sit and stuff our faces at the same time! We started out with breads, then sushi, followed by white wine and a scallop and lobster appetizer, then red wine and beef tenderloin with potatoes and crisp sweet potato chips made to look like rabbit ears (at least I think this was the intention, the whole dish looked like a rabbit to us) and finally finished with milk and white chocolate covered strawberries, chocolates, vanilla roasted sweet pineapple, white chocolate parfait and a glass of champagne!!!! Did I make you hungry??!!! The food was fantastic. With the exception of the sushi, all of the recipes are in the cookbook that we were given. Everyone signed the book for us at the end. We later had our waitstaff and stateroom attendant (she gave us chocolates so I guess she fits in here) sign it too. Try not to miss this special event!!!!!! It was indicated that if it's successful, it may be brought to other ships. Room Service- I can't believe there was another food venue that I forgot! As you can see, there was no way to go hungry on this cruise! We never did order breakfast room service. We had planned to on our San Juan day. We were docked there from 7-2 and had an 8:00 a.m. excursion planned. Unfortunately, the earliest that room service could be ordered was a 7-7:30 block of time. This was kind of strange considering the early exit time. Since we were getting off the ship at 7:30 and you don't know when in the block of time your food would come, this didn't work for us. Our tablemates ordered breakfast a couple of times and did say at least once it was a little late. We ordered off the regular menu a few times. All of the food was very good. We had the chili and chips (yummy!), the cheese platter, fruit platter, and DS had a turkey sandwich. When my son ordered about one hour before first seating, it took a lot longer than they had said it would. Usually it took about 20 minutes. All of the other times, it came when indicated. We tipped a couple of dollars each time. There is a menu in the book in the stateroom and I think it was on the tv also. As far as night time buffets, there was only one that I know of. That night the adults in our group were exhausted and we decided to go to bed early. The kids went and said the food was pretty good and the dancing and music were fun.
Part II- Teen Program
Teen Program- Since I finally pinned my kids down for some information about Teen Program, I thought I'd write about that next while it's fresh. As I mentioned, the best thing for my kids was meeting other teens right away at the Sailaway. One of the girls asked them if they were going to the teen club that night and they all made plans to meet there. My kids really liked the teen counselors. They said that the counselors did a great job of trying to get the kids involved and they interacted a lot with the kids. They said there were 0-25 kids at the clubs at different times depending on what activities were taking place. The teen program gave out a bunch of prizes and the kids were able to make a picture frame too.
DD was 14 years old and technically was supposed to be in the 12-14 year old group. She was very concerned about this before the cruise since she did not want to have to be in the group with middle school kids now that she is in high school . Besides this, she has always been very tall for her age and I know she would have felt even more self conscious in a group with the younger kids. Anyway, the first day she asked if she could be in the 15-17 year old group (which is where her big brother of course was ) and they told her that she could move up since her birthday was in June. I don't know exactly how her brother felt about it, but I was glad that she would have him to watch out for her. I'm not sure if this is always allowed, but I just wanted to share the outcome that she had. Also on this cruise was a lovely young lady who was eighteen. She wanted to participate in the teen club. She was told that as long as she had her card marked revoking her eighteen year old privileges (i.e. casino, adult dance clubs) she could participate in the club. Again, I don't know if this would always be the case, but this is what happened on our cruise.
Here are some of the activities that they mentioned: Dodge Ball- this was one of their favorite activities and they played about 5 times, Assasins and Scavenger Hunts- they had a lot of fun with these activities too. Unfortunately, these were some of the activities that were probably causing some of the guests grief since they kids would have to race around the ship to play. My kids said that they didn't see anyone being disrespectful or bumping into anyone while playing the games. I think a lot of the trouble came from kids who weren't participating in organized activities and were simply running around the ship out of control. One night they had a Movie Night in the conference room. Other activities were: Glo Night- they were given loads of glow necklaces, Golf Simulator- they were allowed to use this for about an hour, Dances- there were 2 or 3 dances. The kids were very excited because one of their dances was supposed to take place in the Chamber. Unfortunately, while we were at the show that night an announcement was made that due to the fact that it was sprinkling outside, the adult party was being moved to the Chamber. I guess a bunch of the adults at the venue asked that the kids be allowed to stay there too. The kids were still kicked out though and sent to another location. For those of you who have teens, you might want to warn them that this can happen. Arcade Day- there was one free arcade day where the kids could play for free in the arcade for about an hour. My kids never asked to play there any other time so I don't know how much the games were. Actually, I can't believe my husband never made it in there to play! There was always so much to do; you just couldn't fit everything in! Labadee- On Labadee there were a few activities too. Since we still weren't receiving the teen compass at this point, it was lucky that the kids found some of their friends after our excursion. They played volleyball, swam and all had lunch together at the buffet.
The kids could go to the teen room at any time although there weren't activities scheduled for all times. It was supposed to end at 1:00, but sometimes they extended it. My kids were supposed to be back by 1:00 and they had to call us when they returned each night. Of course, my SIL was in bed already each night when they came barging into the room. Although I think they thought they were being quiet, I don't think that teens can be truly successful at quiet! One night my DD still hadn't returned by 1:30 and DH had to go out looking for her. She was at the Promenade Cafe as expected. Her new rule became that she had to return to the cabin with her brother each night by one or earlier if that's what he wanted to do. She also lost ½ hour of time the night after her late return. Besides this, the kids were very good about following the rules and getting back to get ready for dinner each night. We also had a wipe board in the room so that we could leave each other notes.
Although they had dinner with us each night, most days they had breakfast with their new friends. They also had lunch with their friends on a couple of sea days. Happily, they met a very nice group of teenagers while on board. Most of them were children of Cruise Critic members. Most of the problems that I observed with loitering on the stairs or kids running into people were with kids who looked to be about 11-13 years old. My kids said that there weren't any problems at the teen club. I think meeting such nice friends really made the trip for my kids. It was nice that we were able to spend some great family time together and they were also able to spend some time with their peers having wholesome fun!
Part III- The Very Boring Technical Part of the Report on Cyber Cabin and Wi-Fi Wireless Access and also Guest Services. Feel Free to Skip this Section!
Computer Use on Board/Guest Services- As previously mentioned, my DH had the disturbing news that Cyber Cabin would not be available on board our trip since they were ALL broken. On Saturday he took his laptop to the library to use the wireless service. The library is directly below the I-cafe and one of eight hot spots on board. It would not work in our stateroom which was very close to the library. Internet is charged at a rate of $.55 per minute. You can also buy packages of 60 minutes for $28, 90 minutes for $38, or 150 minutes for $55. He signed up for the 150 minute package. He was able to do this right on his laptop after opening up his browser. It is VERY slow. DH estimates that he spent about 20 minutes on line. The next day there were two charges on our bill for internet- the $55 and an additional charge of $17.60. Although he may have lost track of time a little, even my computer obsessed DH would notice the difference between 20 minutes on line and two hours. We never did find out what the additional $17.60 was for.
Sunday evening we headed to Guest Services to try and find out what the charge was for. For the most part, each time we had to interact with Guest Services, we found the people there to be pleasant. However, there did seem to be a noticeable language barrier. Having been a Spanish minor who was never able to fully grasp the language and a Literacy Volunteer, I have nothing but respect for those who try and succeed at learning other languages. Although I feel that total mastery of English is not necessary for many positions throughout the ship, Guest Service positions should be reserved for those who have an advanced knowledge of the use of the language and vocabulary. By phone and in person it was sometimes difficult to get an answer to the question we were asking without a lot of repetition and rephrasing. It was frustrating on our end and I'm sure on their end too since the GS personnel usually seemed as though they wanted to be of assistance.
Anyway...we asked about our internet charges. After a fashion, we were told that the $17.60 would be removed from our bill. My DH also stated that he didn't think it was fair that we couldn't receive unlimited internet for $125.00 since the Cyber Cabin wasn't available. She came back and said that there was a notice that they had fixed the Cyber Cabins and they were now available. DH had been on a waiting list but no one had notified him, maybe they had been very recently fixed though. She also told us that the wireless charges would be removed and we would receive a prorated price on the Cyber Cabin since it wasn't available from the start of the trip. Well, you would think that DH had won the lottery! He started grinning from ear to ear as he enthusiastically swaddled his Cyber Cabin all the way back to our room. It was so funny, he was actually giddy! I think not only was he excited that he would be able to use the laptop in the room, but he also had a new toy to try out. Unfortunately, things were about to go awry with the Cyber Cabin once again. In order to set up the Cyber Cabin you have to plug into the modem port not the ethernet port on your laptop. You also have to unplug the other phone in the room. The Cyber Cabin phone will set up on the vanity with a short white cable. This is a pain since you no longer have use of the phone next to the bed (especially a pain when you're waiting for those 1:00 a.m. phone calls from the kids!). The Cyber Cabin phone also does not have all the buttons marked (i.e. wake up call, room service) like the regular room phone. All of your messages must be cleared from your phone before you start the set up process. To see if it is working you have to pick up the handset and hit #60, if you don't hear fax or modem tones, it's not working. Well, try as he might, DH just couldn't summon those annoying little sounds! It was time to leave his hopes of key clacking behind and head off to the evening's show. When we returned he called Guest Services and after a fashion they said that they would send someone to our cabin to try and resolve the problem. It was about 10:30 at night!!! In walked an IT guy and he spent about a ½ hour trying to revive our poor little Cyber Cabin. Unfortunately, he achieved as much (or more accurately, as little) success as DH previously had. He told us to call again in the morning! We were headed to Labadee in the morning so everything would have to wait until we returned!
The next afternoon TWO more IT guys came to our room. The neighbors must have been wondering what the heck was going on in our stateroom! At last they said they were changing the CPU and finally our little Cyber Cabin was revived! The speed was just as slow as it was using the wireless in the library. I was going to send a couple of e-mails and tried to look at the Cruise Critic site but I just didn't have enough patience to use it. DH said it wasn't too bad for low content sites.
Also, we weren't able to use Skype to make ship to shore calls and DH couldn't connect to his work VPN. He doesn't know if the reason for these things was a port or bandwidth problem.
I'm happy to report that DH did not get carried away with doing work on vacation. It was a stress relief for him to be able to check on things every now and again. He made a few calls with his cell phone (Verizon) and reception was generally good. He also used the laptop to download pictures from our camera.
Part IV- The Wonderful Explorer and the Many On Board Activities!
Condition and DEcor of the Ship/Promenade/Shopping I've read reports of the ship being somewhat run down in places but with the exception of the mini golf course, I really did not witness this. I did notice a little bit of rust on our balcony but before the middle of the trip it had been painted over. There was a constant presence of painters on the ship so it seems that there is a very good maintenance routine in place. As far as the dEcor, I wasn't overly impressed, but it was adequate. I love interior design and I must say that nothing really stood out for me. The rooms themselves were fairly bland, none of the imaginative touches that you see on the Disney ships.
I did love the concept of the Promenade though; it really created a fun atmosphere and made it hard to believe that you were moving through the ocean while standing in what looked somewhat like a local shopping mall! The parades were nice and colorful but pretty short. I'm not sure if I would bother to go see them on another cruise but it was pretty cool to see a parade down the center of a cruise ship! The Promenade is also where the Captain's Welcome Aboard Reception was. It was nice that they handed out champagne when we entered the roped off area. I saw the captain speaking up on the platform but I never could understand what anyone was saying when they were up there. For that matter, I never could understand any of the announcements that they made around the ship. I figured if anything really important was ever said I was in big trouble. Anyway, until I saw some of the photos in the lab, I thought that the Captain photos meant you could take his picture while he was up there. I of course later realized that there was an opportunity to have our picture taken with him. Oh well!
Speaking of a shopping mall, I was not too impressed by the shopping options or selection. The clothes that they offered weren't too great. My son did buy a t-shirt that he liked. I wear a ladies' small for tops and the smalls that they had on board were more like men's smalls. I did find a nice Christmas ornament and a necklace and earrings. Since unfortunately I'm not an expert in the least when it comes to jewelry, I don't know if the jewelry prices were good or not. My pieces were not very expensive but I liked them. I didn't see any other items for sale that were very unique or interesting. As far as shopping for photos, the photos were set up much the same as you see them on all cruise ships and were unreasonably expensive, as on all cruise ships. There were at least two kiosks available where you could swipe your card and your pictures would be available. You could crop your pictures here before ordering them. The guy in the photo lab said in the next year or so this would be the only way that pictures would be available; they will no longer be printing them out. This is kind of too bad since the printed photos were much nicer than the pictures seemed on the screen so you might pass up some nice photos (of course, this isn't necessarily bad). As far as the photographers, they weren't so great. We had a whole series of pictures were my DH's head was tilted way back. In other pictures suit jackets were unbuttoned, etc. Really good photographers will pick up on these things and correct them before the picture is taken. I guess we can't expect too much without a sitting fee. Unfortunately our only really good group picture was our embarkation photo. I wanted one nice family picture too to replace our old one. The only one that came out great had my SIL in it (which is probably why it looked great, she always takes a perfect picture). In order to have a nice family picture, we used that one and cropped her out! They did take lifestyle pictures which had families wearing casual clothes. You might want to plan coordinating casual outfits for these. Although we never got around to having these taken, the ones we saw were great!
Smoking I am very sensitive to smoke and must say that I did not notice a big problem with smoke on the ship. We did have to walk through the casino a couple of times and it was very smoky in there. I believe they had smoke free nights in there on both of the formal nights. One night the Maharajas Lounge was quite smoky where we were sitting but we simply moved our seat and it wasn't so bad. Also, probably do to the solid divider walls we did not have a problem with the smell of smoke near our balcony. A couple of times I caught a slight drift of smoke but nothing terrible. We were able to leave our door open at night (love this!) without any smells lurking in too. One cruise that we took I wasn't able to use the balcony at all since the smell was always so bad out there so this was a pleasure for me! The Champagne Bar, Deck 5 (includes Royal Promenade), the Aquarium Bar, Deck 4 (including Schooner Bar) were all non-smoking!
On-Board Activities Our cruise director was Mike Hunnerup. He wasn't hilarious but he was pretty funny and entertaining. There were so many on board activities available, there was no way that we would have been able to participate in them all. Actually one activity that I thought I would be doing more often-Relaxing- hardly took place! Here is a list of some of the things we participated in:
Crown and Anchor Reception- DH and my SIL were both invited to this. Traveling mates are not allowed to attend with them. They both enjoyed it. They said that they were offered drinks and there were some finger foods available. Our stateroom attendant gave all of us a RCCL cap as the C&A gift.
Exercise- Stair climbing was a frequent on board form of exercise and the first thing we did when we arrived on board! The elevators were busy and slow and this was a great way to help work off all that food!
My DH and kids are runners. DS had a strict running schedule that he wanted to stick to on board. The kids did a little running on the top deck. Five laps= one mile. If you got up there before 8:30 it wasn't too crowded. After that it was pretty hard to run. Not only were there too many people on the track, but by this time people would also start to push some of the lounge chairs onto the track although this wasn't necessary. My SIL and I walked up there each morning around 8:45 for the walk-a-mile (we did at least two miles but you get a coin for the mile). The first morning was the most fun! It was so windy one part of the track was extreme resistance walking. On another turn of the track we had to run and the wind totally propelled us forward like some kind of ride. We were laughing our heads off. Be careful about wearing a hat when it's windy, there is no possible way that you will be able to keep it on your head! We received our coins for doing the walk-a-mile but never tried to redeem them. Since this was the only Vitality Reward activity that we did we probably wouldn't have had enough to redeem for anything anyway.
DH and the kids used the Fitness Center. Here's where I'll probably get into trouble even though it wasn't my doing. Anyway, DD is only 14 and she followed DS into the fitness area on the first sea day after they had been running on the track and a couple of times after that. I had told her that it was for age sixteen and older, but I guess in her mind if her brother could go, she was going too. I am 5'6" and she has been taller than me since the end of 5th grade so that is probably why she wasn't questioned at all. They used some of the workout equipment that they use as part of their training routine at school. DS and DH also used the treadmills quite a few times and were very happy with them. They said that there were always some available and it was nice to look out over the water while they were running. The kids never used the hot tub in the fitness center but my SIL and I did. It was nice (except for the band aid that was floating in it when we entered ) but it seemed strange that there was nowhere to sit inside it. I'm about as much of a hot tub expert as I am a jewelry expert, but I've never been in one without a seat.
Swimming Pools I never did go in the swimming pools. DD went in for a short time but she says all that she can remember is that her eyes hurt when she opened them.??? They didn't look too over crowded and I didn't notice any babies in them (of course I also didn't notice a lot of the things that people were saying were going on so who knows??). As can be expected there was a definite problem with people saving lounge chairs that they weren't using. It was nearly impossible to find chairs to sit together on sea days. Even when we would walk before 9:00, we could look at the pool areas and see all the chairs covered with stuff but few bodies. Since I'm really not supposed to be out in the sun, it was particularly distressing to me to see a long line of loungers in the shade with stuff on them and no one in them for at least the 45 minutes that I was checking them. I didn't notice any staff removing things from unbodied chairs. It wasn't much better on the higher decks and of course, the higher you went the windier it got. We did try to sit on the top deck the first sea day but it was so windy that you couldn't even talk without hair flying in your face. Maybe the wind was trying to tell me that I shouldn't be up there in the sun! There did seem to be quite a few regular sitting chairs on the side of the pool area if you wanted to use one of those. The live band near the pool was good and created a fun atmosphere. I also tried the frozen yogurt near the pool once and it was pretty good!
At one point at the beginning of the trip we walked by the Solarium pool and it was roped over. Earlier in the day I had seen a man by the pool who was covered in what looked like open sores and frankly it was a bit discomforting. From what I was told, this man later went in the pool and as he did, a slimy residue coated the top of the water. Someone reported this and the pool was drained. I have no idea if he was asked not to enter the water again throughout the trip. With so many reports of MRSA lately and no idea as to what caused the man's condition, I can understand why people would not want to be swimming in the same water.
With all the stress of trying to find a pool chaise, I much preferred to steal a few moments on my balcony. It was much less windy there and I don't relax well anyway! There were too many fun things to do on board to spend a lot of time lying around!
Wine Tasting- This took place on the second sea day. I used DH's C&A coupon with no questions asked and my SIL used her. I would guess that there were at least 200 people there but I could be wrong. We were able to try two white wines, one blush, two reds and one sparkling wine. There was also cheese, crackers and fruit on the table to accompany the wines. The presentation started at 3:10 and ended at 4:15 (close to its 3-4 scheduled time). Although the presentation was fairly dry and I prefer mine light and a bit fruity , for free (and perhaps even for the $9.95 fee, even though free is better ?) it was still worth the time. We also enjoyed chatting with the other folks at the table before it started. It was really nice having my SIL along on the trip to do things with that DH doesn't really like to do. On my last cruise, I went to the wine tasting by myself and just met up with people in the room.
Rock Climbing Wall- This was fun but after doing it once, I didn't feel compelled to do it again during the cruise. Maybe it will be like having a baby and after some time passes, I might want to do it again. The kids never did get around to trying it, only us old people who should know better! We went pretty early on the second sea day and the wait wasn't very long. You do have to sign your life away and wear socks. There really isn't much instruction involved but it is somewhat self intuitive. You are given a helmet and a harness. It required a lot of body strength or at least that is my Betty Spaghetti impression. The leg part isn't so bad because you are given special shoes to wear that grip well. I had a really hard time with the hand part though. The small grips that you hold onto as you climb up the wall are very smooth and hard to grasp. Between being nervous and it being hot out, my hands were pretty sweaty which of course did not help. I made it to the second bell and it took all the courage I could muster to let go and ring that bell but I was determined to do it! I'm not sure if anyone actually could hear the bell ring because I couldn't wait to get my hand back on that smooth protrusion! After that, I signaled that I was ready to come down and the guy on the ground let me down while I hung from the air. My legs were jiggling like Jello when I reached the ground. This was in part from the physical use of them and in part from my mental semi-terror! SIL had pretty much the same experience as I did. DH on the other hand put us both to shame by quickly ascending to the top bell and ringing it out for all to hear!
Mini Golf- We tried this on a sea day returning home. As was the case most of the time we were on the ship, the kids weren't with us but they had played earlier in the trip. The carpet was in bad shape but we still had a lot fun. A lot of other folks were there having fun too. When we arrived the course was full and there weren't any clubs left. We didn't have long to wait and by the time we started the last group finished and we had their clubs. Everything is outside including the balls, scoring paper and pencils so that you can play at any time. Even with a full course, everyone moved right along. Since the course was a bit lumpy and it was extremely windy, sometimes it was hard to get your ball to stay where you wanted it to, this just added a bit of challenge and a lot of laughs though. I'd love to know if anyone ever got a hole in one because it seems like it would be really difficult!
Ice Skating Rink- DD was the only one who did this. She said that although the rink looked really crowded, once she was on it there was plenty of room and she enjoyed it. She also said the skates were comfortable. We did love the ice show here! Tickets were available the first night on a table in the Promenade. When we first went to pick them up the line was really long so we decided to come back later. Well, the pick up ended at 10:00 and we remembered at 10:15. We went to guest relations and they were laid out there. There were still tickets available for 2 of the 4 time slots. The ice show was very colorful and imaginative. It incorporated many different styles and skills and it was a lot of fun. We arrived at 8:45 for a 9:00 show and it was already pretty packed, so be sure to arrive early if you want good seats! The ice skating rink was also where Quest was held. I know we're not supposed to give much away, but just be careful what you throw out, you may not get it back. I threw something out that didn't land quite right and even with two trips to guest relations, it was never to be found again!
Trivia- We went to a couple of these and they were a lot of fun. You work in teams and have a piece of paper for each group to fill in their answers. This is great since this way everyone can participate! At the end you switch papers with another group to correct the answers. What made it so much fun was the guy running it was hilarious! After going a couple of times and having a blast, we convinced our tablemates to go with us. Unfortunately we quickly found out how wonderful the guy running it really was (sadly I don't remember his name). This time there was a lady running it who apparently thought trivia should be very serious business. She was obviously channeling a very strict schoolmarm. If it had been our first time going, I would have never gone back. It was somewhat amusing since it was so bad, but it was also embarrassing since we had told our tablemates how much fun it was. Oh well, at least we had their company!
Love and Marriage Game Show- Having traveled on four different cruise lines now, it is amazing to me that practically the exact same questions are asked each time. I'm sure these cruise directors are pretty creative guys and gals and could come up with some other questions, but anyway... The typical newlywed, longest married couple and somewhere in between couple were chosen. The longest married couple was very sweet and adorably funny. The newlyweds, especially the bride, hardly spoke English. The bride was a good sport about the whole thing but since she didn't understand the questions she had a hard time answering. If I were her I would have left the stage in tears, so I give her a lot of credit. The middle couple guy was a bit of a show off. Anyway, it wasn't the best Love and Marriage Show I've ever seen but there were still some funny moments.
Scrapbook Class- This was for adults only. My daughter is the one in my family who likes to scrapbook. I haven't even put pictures in an album from our last cruise three years ago. Nor have I ordered the pictures yet from my last two vacations. I went thinking maybe I could make something for DD. It's kind of hard when I didn't even have any pictures with me. None of the handouts were specific to Royal Caribbean but there were some cute ocean themed cut outs. I just ended up bringing the pieces back to the cabin for DD to work with later.
Palace Theater Shows- I'm going to start by stating that besides my regular job I am a tour guide and a Front of House volunteer for a beautiful performing arts center in Hartford, CT. As such, I see a great variety of wonderful shows. However, I am also very easily amused so it doesn't take much to entertain me. With this being said, I'm sorry to say that the production shows didn't do much for me. I did like the band a lot but the singers and dancers just didn't seem very good. There was one dancer from Russia, who I believe had recently joined the others, who seemed like a marionette on speed! He was both amusing and uncomfortable to watch! The little bit they did the first night was ok, but the first full show "Wild, Cool & Swingin" was the first show I have ever fallen asleep at in my life. My DH will never let me live this down since I'm always giving him a hard time about falling asleep during nearly every show we see. The next show they did, "Fast Forward" was a little better but not great. They were also a big part of the "Invitation to Dance" show which wasn't too wonderful either. I also thought it was pretty cheesy that both cruise guest competitors didn't win a prize. I did enjoy the other headliners though for the most part.
The other entertainers included Max Docelli who did both the Welcome Aboard Show and the late night (12:00) comedy show. He was pretty funny. His late night show included jokes about The Christmas Tree Shop, which is pretty near and dear to my heart, so he easily scored points with me. The late show only lasted a ½ hour. On Day 3 it was Judy Kolba. She was very funny and a great entertainer. She did a wonderful job of getting the audience involved. Day 6 was comedian and composer Billy Fellows. He wasn't a favorite for me or DH (we both thought a lot of his material was quite dated) but my SIL and DS thought he was very funny. I thought his impersonation of Redd Foxx and some of his other humor would be lost on DS but he said he knew all that stuff and liked it. Go figure!? Day 8 was singer Kenny James who had been a Star Search winner. Honestly I didn't expect much from this show and thought it might be a little boring just to watch a Star Search winner stand there singing for about an hour. I was quite mistaken. I really enjoyed his performance especially since he was quite the performer. He seemed to through his whole heart into it and put on a great show! Day 9 was juggler and comedian Chuck Gunter. The kids had breakfast with him earlier in the cruise and really enjoyed his company (the man eats a lot of hard boiled eggs and was spending the day in the Dominican Republic with the Ice Show guest performer from Canada, in case inquiring minds want to know ? ). Although he had a few misses while juggling, he was pretty fun and put on a fun show. They also played part of the cruise in review video the last night and of course the Royal Caribbean Singers & Dancers had to take the stage one more time. Many of the cruise ship staff from all different jobs also took the stage. This was bittersweet since we knew this signaled that our wonderful vacation would soon be coming to a close. There was also a not as late as the first late night comedian who performed at 11:00 for a ½ hour. He was pretty good. Of course, these are only my impressions. I'm sure some really enjoyed shows that I didn't and were as impressed with some of the shows that I liked.
Live Music and Dancing- We heard a bit of the live music as we made our way around the ship and it seemed pretty good. We also went to the Chamber a couple of times and they were playing music that suited our 40 something sensibilities. We were so tired at night that I must admit we were usually back at the cabin by around 11:00!
Television- I have to list this here because DH spent a bit of time watching TV. Many of the same things were played over and over including the movies and tv shows. DH watched parts of Wild Hogs at least 6 times, including twice en Español. As you can see, the movies weren't too current and DH will watch just about anything 6 times! You could also check your seapass account on the tv, check the ships location, watch some of the activities that had taken place on the ship and view the day's menu among other things.
With all that we did, we still missed quite a bit. We never played BINGO, attended an art auction, gambled, attended the dance parties, went to a movie, tried the in-line skating, took any dance classes, went to the spa and lots and lots of other activities. If someone complains that there is nothing to do on the ship, it's their own fault for sure!
Part V- Labadee: Zipline, Snorkeling, Swimming and a BBQ
Our first port day was scheduled in Labadee. The tenders were to run from 8-3:30. DD, DS, my SIL and I had booked the zipline excursion well in advance of our trip. DH's intention was to relax reading his Microsoft.NET Framework 2.0-Application Development Foundation book (sounds like a real page turner, doesn't it?). Our excursion tickets stated that we should be on the tender by 9:00. Our plan was to arrive earlier.
We left our room by 8:10 and headed off to the Promenade to grab a Danish (except for sugarless DS of course, I don't know how he does it!) and some fruit. We went down to wait to the tender (make sure you have your seapass card and cash for tips and souvenirs). It is a very organized process, just be certain you go down on the right part of the ship (for this, the gangways were located on Deck 1 midship and forward). Although it didn't take too long to get on the tender, we did have to wait until it was filled to capacity before we could take off. Luckily we were on the lower covered level out of the hot sun waiting. It is hot here and the sun is intense- Don't forget to keep applying that sunscreen!!! Well, so much for our plan of heading over early, our tender departed at 8:58! Keep this in mind if you have an excursion scheduled! Getting from point A to point B can be a lengthy process!
Labadee was so beautiful! We had a brief but pretty ride over to the dock. There are lots of signs pointing to the different beaches. There was a gentleman on a tram that we asked directions to Dragon's Breath Beach. He told us to hop aboard and he would take us. After a short ride, we hopped off and tipped him a couple of dollars. We had decided on Dragon's Breath so that DH could relax here until we went down the zipline and then he could take our pictures (that was the plan anyway). This beach was basically deserted. Probably due to the fact that it was a little out of the way and although still lovely, there were many other beaches that were even more beautiful. And of course, this beach now has a view of a giant cable suspended through the sky, which naturally takes away from that Robinson Crusoe feeling. After reading a lot about tipping people who get chairs for you, we did not see anyone in sight. Fortunately, there were quite a few chairs set up under some nice shady trees. There is a restroom nearby as well as one of the BBQ locations and the Dragon's Rock Cafe. SIL and I took a walk first to the restroom (which was very clean by the way), then over to Hideaway Beach. This was absolutely breathtaking. There are hammocks here and some shade umbrellas. Even though it wasn't quite 9:30, all the shady areas were full and it was pretty crowded here. You get a wonderful view of the Explorer anchored off in the distance from here.
Around 9:30 we headed over to the Dragon's Rock Cafe where, for the second time during the trip, I signed my life away and then did the same with my children's. There is a nice cool stone building where you can wait inside and where the training takes place. We had a wonderful, energetic instructor. She clearly and humorously described the plight we were about to undertake. She also encouraged us to bring a camera so DS ran back to grab a camera Of course the boy who loves to run complained about having to run for me). Since DH was supposed to be taking our picture and I was a little leery of bringing our digital camera, I had him grab a water camera. She also told us that sunglasses were ok and no one had lost theirs yet. We were all suited up with our harnesses. There is a clip on the harness that you can attach you cap to. I had a sunhat, so I shoved it in my shirt which made me puffy but worked out fine. Now we were off to the practice zipline. make sure that you were comfortable walking shoes (it wasn't a far walk though but a little bit rocky). Once again the instructor gave us nice clear instructions. The practice run caused me some trouble, mostly of my own making. I had the water camera strapped around my wrist which I suspected would be a problem. Well, as I smacked into the end of the course, it smacked into my head. I didn't end up with a bump, but it hurt for a while. Also, we went down three at a time. Well the other two participants were given little step ladders to walk down off of. The guy helping me told me I had to do a pull up. Huh? Did he take a look at my spindly, practically muscle free arms? I've already told you the trouble I had climbing the rock wall and that was with the use of my not so spindly legs, I wasn't sure I had a pull up in me. I tried and thought I had succeeded but he told me I had to pull harder. Good grief, this was probably the least pleasant part of the whole excursion for me. The guy wasn't terrible friendly to put it nicely (actually besides the guy who drove our bus back to the terminal at the end of our vacation, the guys here were the only unfriendly staff people we encountered the whole trip) and my arms hurt by the end of this short ordeal. From here we were loaded up into three jeeps. My kids filled the last seats in the first one and headed off without me, yikes! As we went to get into ours, I guess I wasn't paying too much attention and whacked my head into the bar that I didn't see at the top of the jeep (you've been warned, even though I suspect most people are a little less clutzy than I am). Things weren't off to a great start but everything would improve from here on out.
Although the kids had taken off in front of us, once everyone finished the practice ride, all three jeeps formed a line to head up the mountain. This was a lot of fun. We raced through the chain linked fence with the many warnings telling us NOT to exit through the chain link fence and proceeded to bounce up the mountain. If you are prone to motion sickness, you might want to avoid doing this. I am, but the ride was pretty short and I made out ok (maybe banging my head twice helped somehow ). It was great to get a close up view of the mountainside as we traveled up. At the top of the mountain were five or six armed guards (one not exactly guarding since he was fast asleep) at the base of the zipline platform. All of us ascended the platform, some with more trepidation than others. The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking and worth the $80 (or in our case, the $240). After the head clunking camera incident, I had already decided that I wouldn't take any pictures on my ride down. However, I did take quite a few from the platform. Since it was only a disposable water camera, I hope they come out. It's definitely worth lugging your camera to get these shots. Our guide provided a little more instruction and then divided us into groups by weight. She did try to keep parties together the best that she could. Our party was split into two groups. The wind conditions, the line you're assigned to, and your weight determines the body position you are to travel down the line in. Some were instructed to change their position when they reached the halfway point. Since I had read ahead of time that the heavier you are, the faster you go. I was afraid that I wouldn't go fast enough to make it fun. I weigh about 125 lbs. (a little less before the cruise, a little more after ). Although the pull up was the most trying part of the excursion for me, walking out onto a tiny little plank and entrusting my life to another decidedly unfriendly gentleman was the scariest part for me. I figured if this man determined that he didn't like me for some reason or if he had something else on his mind at the moment, my harness might not get secured properly and that would be the end. Honestly, this was the only time that I felt truly frightened and I'm pretty wimpy. Anyway, I hoisted my camera strap to the top of my shoulder and away I went. The ride was fun but actually it seemed to go by so quickly that I can hardly remember it. I do remember the impact at the end though. I was coming in pretty fast and of course after all that great instruction forgot that "doing the starfish" a little earlier to slow me down would have lessened my blow. I crashed into the end of the course and my legs flew up over my head. Although my DS was kind enough to tell me that I looked ridiculous, it didn't hurt at all and luckily I didn't spring back over the water far enough to have to get pulled back in! Also luckily, DH didn't manage to get a picture of this! I guess I didn't have to worry about whether I would go fast enough. All four of us really enjoyed our ride. Over many months of anticipation, I must say that I had built the danger and excitement factor up in my head. Although I was glad that I didn't experience the drop stomach feeling of a roller coaster, I was a bit let down by the fact that it wasn't a bit more exhilarating (just a bit mind you ). Although were supposedly going 40 to 50 miles an hour for about 2600 feet, 500 feet above the ocean, it was a steady enjoyable ride (honest!).
Unfortunately, DH didn't have as much fun as we did. He said he was so busy watching for us to come down, he said he couldn't really relax. He even said that he wished he had joined us. I do too, even though I know he wouldn't have liked the jeep ride. He hates the jeep part of the Animal Kingdom ride at WDW. After all of his watching and not reading, he still managed to miss getting a shot of his sister as she plunged down over the ocean. Oh well!
Since we hadn't received the teen compass, the kids had no idea what was going on for them in Labadee. Luckily, one of their friends was on our excursion and she had the schedule. This of course meant that we would hardly see them for the rest of the day. The volleyball court was right near Dragon's Breath Beach and they had a game scheduled there. Oddly, someone took my daughter's flip flops while she was playing. I guess his or her feet must have been really hot.
While they went to play, we enjoyed the barbeque. It wasn't the best food ever, but it was pretty decent. There were hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, chicken (actually I'm not sure about this), salads, fruit and desserts (including the coveted coconut ranger cookies!). There was free ice tea and punch (it was pretty awful) but no lemonade available. I didn't see it, but DH found out that you could also ask for water that they had in big jugs. It was nice and cold.
After this we walked around a little and swam and played a bit at the different beaches. Of all our stops, the water here was the warmest. After we located the kids again, we told them that we were going snorkeling. They spent the rest of the day with their friends and tendered back on their own (if you think this was irresponsible parenting, wait until you hear about St. Thomas . I think it's possible to have a bit of brain freeze on vacation not only for teenagers but for adults too, and this from a parent whose children constantly assure me is the most overprotective parent on the face of this earth ).
Anyway, we went over to Barefoot Beach to snorkel. There was a nice couple there who watched our stuff for us while we were all in the water. We had fun snorkeling since the water was so nice but we didn't see a lot of fish. There were some by the rocks and we were happy just to see anything. I read something about a submarine or something like that in the water where you can see a lot of fish, but we missed that.
After grabbing a Labadoozie, SIL and I headed off to the market. I really didn't like the sales tactics at all. If I hadn't been so harassed I probably would have found something to buy, but it was impossible to browse with people constantly pushing things in your face. SIL did buy a couple of things but it was an annoying ordeal which included them shoving a bracelet on her arm and then telling her to pay for it. For all their harassment, I had to feel a bit sorry for them because they had to deal with DD !!!! She had us in stitches as she was telling us how she kept bargaining until she got them to agree to the prices she wanted to pay. She thought it was great fun; and here I was worried about her when she asked for shopping money!
We lined up for the tender I think around 2:30 or so. It was a long line but there was a band playing (for tips, which I donated to) and lots of people to watch so the wait wasn't too bad. Although I was apprehensive about leaving without knowing if the kids were still out and about in Haiti, my worries were without merit, they were already back in the stateroom when we arrived!
One important thing that I didn't mention is that our zipline excursion was scheduled for 10:00, in case anyone is trying to figure out how to time their excursion. It lasted about an hour and a half I think. DH said it seemed like four hours while he was waiting for us!
Also, I want to make clear that unlike on NCL, you do not have to pick up a timed tender ticket of ahead of time. You just go down whenever you are ready to and get in line. I liked this system much better!
As far as snorkeling, we brought our own stuff. DH and I purchased our own gear a few years ago from Sam's Club. It's Body Glove and I love it. This is the first mask that I've had that fits my big round head properly! We bought the kids' gear from Sam's also for this trip. Also, when I heard that RCCL charges to rent vests (DCL and NCL didn't at least the last time we traveled with them) I decided it would be worth it to buy our own since we'd also be snorkeling in other ports. We bought these- http://www.snorkel-mart.com/detail.c...dProductID=127 . It was a good deal for DH and I but not so much for DS and DD. The vests worked great and were easy to inflate and deflate. DD decided she didn't want to snorkel at all because she didn't want any fish near her and DS, who loves to snorkel, decided not to snorkel at all during vacation because... well who knows why ! It worked out for my SIL because she always had a vest to use this way and didn't have to rent one!
We all loved our day in Labadee!!!!!
Part VI- Dominican Republic: Pink Flamingos, Wavy Snorkling, and Chocolate Covered Bananas
Casa de Campo Dominican Republic After reviewing the excursion choices for Casa de Campo many times, we had pretty much decided that we would spend our day in the Dominican Republic on board the Explorer. My DD wasn't old enough for some of the excursions we wanted to do and I knew that some of the other choices wouldn't have been too appealing to my teenagers. It was very hard to get any information on this port. Fortunately crusingbooboo and DPurcell posted about the wonderful time that they had at the Iberostar resort. I had e-mailed Britta at the Iberostar prior to leaving and preregistered (it did take a couple of tries to get a response back from her but after the initial contact she was always quick in responding to my questions). We were instructed to bring our passports and a print out of her e-mail confirmation. Here is her contact information: Britta Feldmeier, Guest Services Manager Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus Tel.:1(809)688-3600 Fax: 1(809)686-8585 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org We had made plans with a group of people from our roll call to meet at the Cafe Promenade at 10:45 and then share a van over to the resort. Here is the review I posted in the Dominican Republic forum:
We were able to depart the ship at 11:00. When we exited the ship we walked out a bit and were directed off to the left to wait in a line for a taxi. The line moved quickly. There was a group of nine of us going to the Iberostar. At first we were told that it would be $15 per person. When we stated that we wanted to be picked up at 4:00 we were told that the cost would be $20 each including the tip. This was a little strange since our driver wasn't going to be waiting for us while we were at the resort but there was no room for negotiation. When cruisingbooboo posted, her group, who had gone not long before us, was charged $120 for a group of 10. We made sure that payment would be due when we were returned to the ship. Next they tried to fit us in a ten person van that already had four adults in it. We did not have any small children in our party. We refused to squeeze into the van with the other people in it who were going to a different destination. Finally they made the other people get out and put us in. Even with just the nine of us it was a tight squeeze so I don't know how they expected that they would have fit everyone in. I would NOT recommend renting a car here on your own. The driving is totally crazy. Our ride to the resort took about 20 minutes but I suspect it is really a forty minute drive. Cars, vans, and trucks use the third lane (a.k.a. the center divider line) to continuously and randomly pass each other. This was much scarier than the zipline! Our driver was courteous although not very talkative. I think that this was because he spoke limited English, although his English was much better than our Spanish!It was interesting to get a glimpse of some of the country on our way to the resort. There is a great deal of poverty but also some beauty along the way.
When we arrived at the resort, the guard did not ask to see any of our confirmation papers. The check in process was SLOW. There were only two parties in front of us but it took at least fifteen minutes to check in each party. When it was our turn, they couldn't find our registration so we had to fill it out again. The $45.00 (children up to age 12 are ½ price) did include all taxes and fees. We paid in cash since I've read that there has been a great deal of credit card fraud in the Dominican Republic lately (of course we had our card # lifted right here in the US last year). We also brought our beach towels from the ship. They did have a service where you could put down a $10. per towel deposit and check out one of their towels. After we checked in they finally had some other staff come out who seemed to do a much faster job of checking people in. I only had to show them one passport for our party.
The inside buffet didn't start until 1:00 so we decided to head down to the beach. It was absolutely beautiful. Along the way on the walk we saw many gorgeous trees, flowers and also a pool of bright flamingos. There were lots of chairs but most of the palapas (palm leaf umbrellas) were taken. We were able to find one though and this is where for some unknown reason my teenagers spent most of their day. It was probably for the best since with all their late nights, I'm sure they needed some rest. While they lazed about, we went down into the refreshing water to enjoy the waves.
Around 1:00 we headed back to the inside buffet (it's a bit of a walk back to the check in building). The tables were elegantly set and a waiter took our drink orders. The buffet was quite extensive. There were carving stations, a made to order pasta station, paella, pizza, salad bar, fresh fish prep station, and a large variety of other foods available. There was also a fruit and desert bar with delicious chocolate covered bananas and tasty gelato with shaved coconut for a topping!
After filling our faces and our bellies, we headed back to the beach. We tried to snorkel here. It was pretty wavy so it wasn't so easy. After swallowing quite a bit of water while trying to get my snorkel gear on in the waves, I did manage to see a few fish by the man made wall. It was fun but exhausting. DH and I took a short rest on the lounge chairs while my SIL took the kids over to the little vendor area on the beach. DD harassed the hawkers once again and scored a couple of necklaces at a good price for her and DS. After this we headed over to the pool. The pool was beautiful too and very large. There is a walk in section that is great for young children. There were plenty of seats here too. We swam up to the pool bar and did order one drink with no alcohol and were promptly booed by everyone around the bar. There was a group at the bar that had obviously spent maybe a bit too much time there! The drink was supposed to be a Strawberry Daiquiri but it was the worst thing I've ever tasted. After a couple of sips we left them there. After a short swim it was already approaching 3:30. The time went by so quickly, I could have stayed an extra couple of days! I wouldn't recommend a 3:00 pick up because it would seem you're leaving just after arriving! We never did have time to try out the free water craft or check out the rest of the resort. On the way back to our van, there were a few more vendors trying to sell things and although they were a bit pushy, compared to the ones in Haiti, they didn't seem too bad. Our driver was waiting for us right in front where he told us he would be. He also had left us a couple of his business cards when he dropped us off in case we needed him. After another wild ride back, we were on the ship by 4:30.
Although the kids really didn't do anything here, they said they enjoyed their day. It seems we could have left them on the ship or even taken one of the excursions that I didn't pick in order to appease them. At least we all enjoyed a nice lunch together and I'm glad they came along. We were able to not only experience a beautiful resort but also had the chance to view a little bit of the Dominican Republic! Hopefully over time the Casa de Campo stop will earn a better reputation and there will be more information posted on the boards and more excursions offered.
Part VII St. Thomas- Creeping Lizards, Sunny Liston, Teenage Meltdown and Flying Flippers
The first excursion that we scheduled while planning our vacation was a tour with Sunny Liston after reading mostly positive reviews here on CC. It was $25.00 each payable in advance with paypal. For $25.00 the tour is a great value, it would have cost us at least this much just to take a cab to the beach and back, but we also had a tour of the island, lively music while we rode along, and a chance to do a little shopping.
Sunny was wonderful about responding quickly, kindly and patiently to all of my e-mails. I even ordered his CD in advance so we could get excited for the tour ahead of time. Since we planned this tour a year in advance, I had plenty of time to build it all up in my head. Through no fault of Sunny it didn't turn out exactly the way that I had hoped.
Upon arrival in St. Thomas, everyone was required to clear customs before departing the ship. There were suggested times for each floor but the compass stated the times were optional. Our tour was scheduled to begin at 10:00 so I was anxious to have the customs process completed. When my SIL and I went to walk early in the morning there was already a line forming but the ship hadn't even docked yet so the process had not begun. After our walk we decided to get into the VERY long line. I think it was about 8:15. Anyway, the line still didn't seem to be moving so we went upstairs to get showered and get ready. I'm glad that we had decided not to wait, when we went back down the line was moving at lightning speed. We were in and out the door within five minutes. This is a very organized process with lots of staff involved. Unfortunately DD was not so organized. During the cruise she ended up being issued a total of three seapass cards since she kept "loosing" hers (they kept turning up later). When she went through customs she had two cards in her possession since she didn't know which was the most recent. It turns out the one they marked wasn't the valid one. It was a good thing she had both since she had to show the one marked as going through customs and present the valid one for the machine in order to get off the ship.
Once we exited the ship, Sunny and his wife both had their buses outside waiting for us. They were extremely pleasant and Sunny was kind enough to let me have a few pictures taken with him. He said we could wait on the bus until it was time to go, he was to be our guide for the day. He also had us store anything that we wouldn't need until we reached the beach in trunk of the bus. When it was close to 10:00 he instructed us to get on his wife's bus since she would be driving the first group to Charlotte Amalie for shopping. There were quite a few Cruise Critic members along on the tour, many of whom we enjoyed meeting with and talking to throughout our cruise. There were also a few who are probably generally wonderful too, but that transformed my basically cheerful son into a not so cheerful raging maniac! Once we arrived at the shopping area, Sunny's wife told us when and where to meet for the tour (I believe the time was 11:45 but I could be mistaken). There was an open market, lots of shops (mostly jewelry shops) and a few restaurants in the area. There were about six other cruise ships docked in St. Thomas that day we were there so needless to say the area was a bit crowded!
When it was time to get back on Sunny's bus, my starry-eyed vision of our day in St. Thomas was crushed. I had pictured my whole family riding along together singing the songs we had heard so many times before our trip, laughing and having fun! Unfortunately we were not able to sit together. Each row of the bus holds five people. There was a large group of eight who were seated in such a way that my SIL and DH had to sit by themselves at the end of each of the group's rows of four. It would have been nice if they had moved so that my two family members could have at least sat together but this is not what happened. On the way up the hill, Sunny was blasting his wonderful tropical music and encouraging the group to sing along. I was trying to but I was surrounded by my two- at this stage slightly grouchy already- teenagers, they both just kept telling me to be quiet and that I was embarrassing. The large group in the back was singing along and having fun, which of course was the objective, but they were pretty over the top with lots of ear piercing laughter (if you're reading this, you know who you are! ). Sunny made about five stops during the tour and would share lots of information about the sights we were seeing. This was interesting but sometimes it was a little hard to hear him since there was such a large group. Sunny seemed very proud of his island and very well informed.
One of the stops was Mountain Top. The views were incredible up here! There were also some little shops inside and the famous Banana Daiquiris. If you like bananas, these will be a treat! I asked my family if we could switch seats around because I thought it would be better if I was not sandwiched between my two sullen teens. This was a huge mistake on my part. I'm guessing the Daiquiris helped make the rowdy group even rowdier. Once we changed seats DD, my SIL and I were seated together and DS and DH were each seated by themselves on the end of the large group. This was a recipe for disaster. The ladies of the group were grabbing my DH's leg as we swirled around corners and his arm to try to get him to sing along. They were also poking the people in front of them, perhaps accidentally. But worst of all, they were also trying to prod DS along with them and he was not amused. I'm sure they were well intentioned, but it created big problems for us later on. As I said the tour is advertised as a "fun tour" so I can't totally fault them, but maybe they could have been a little more considerate of those around them since I know my family members weren't the only ones who were agitated. Anyway by the time we reached beautiful Sapphire Beach my son was beside himself. Now this is a boy who is fairly even tempered and laid back. When we exited the van he was so agitated he took the water bottle he was holding and smashed it to the ground (luckily it was made of plastic!). Sunny was asking if the group wanted a 3:30 or a 4:00 pick up. The large group kept shouting that they wanted a 4:30 pick up. It was decided that we would have a 4:00 pick up. Sunny also asked who would like to return to the ship instead of staying at the beach and those people were instructed to return to the van in 15 minutes.
The beach was pretty crowded but still breathtaking. If you wanted a chaise, it was an $8 rental fee. We walked along to find a spot. DS was in a VERY bad mood. After we walked most of the way down the beach he said that he wanted to go back to the ship and his sister stated that she wanted to join him. I could tell DS's temperament wouldn't change any time soon. In what was definitely not our finest parenting moment (easily surpassing our not so responsible decision to let them make their own way back from Labadee), we told them they could go back to the bus and return to the ship. It wouldn't have been so bad if they had decided this in advance since we could have asked the very nice couple from our roll call, who were also returning to the ship, to keep an eye on them and make sure they ended up where they were supposed to. Sunny was an extremely nice man but still a virtual stranger to us and here we were casually entrusting the most precious things in our life to him! Not only that, but as they ran off we had no way of knowing if the bus had already left or if they had been successful in getting on it. Despite my nagging concerns, we went on to enjoy our day at the beach (pretty bad, I know).
Dragging five sets of snorkel gear, since we didn't think to have the kids take theirs, we headed over to the full service restaurant that is right there on the beach. On the way over we passed a giant lizard creeping along the sand. He seemed to enjoy having his picture taken! We were promptly seated outside on a covered patio (I think there may have been seats inside too) and presented with a menu full of wonderful choices including a large selection of wraps and sandwiches. Our waitress was very pleasant and efficient. It was wonderful to have lunch while looking out over the spectacular beach and the overhead covering provided welcome relief from the sun. The food was very fresh and very good! There are clean public restrooms near this area which are available to the public.
After this we rented a chair for DH so he could relax and watch all of our stuff while SIL and I snorkeled. SIL and I made our way down to the beach. The sand was pretty uneven in the water so we had a hard time putting our flippers on. Once we got them on I realized I had forgotten the water camera but decided to just skip it. Then SIL and I looked at each other and we both realized that we had forgotten our life vests. We started laughing like idiots, turned ourselves around, backed out of the water and headed back up to get the life vests. At this point we caught DH on his cell phone with work- so much for relaxing! Of course once we both got all the way up to the chairs we also realized that it only would have taken one of us to go up to get the vests, not both. Oh well! We did remember to grab the camera too at least! Back to step one again- it wasn't any easier trying to get the flippers on the second time. This time through my own lack of grace I even managed to get knocked over by a small wave and cut my knuckle. Anyway, all the effort was worth it. Of the three places that we snorkeled during our vacation, Sapphire Beach had the most fish and the greatest variety. We were out by the coral to the right of the beach. After I had taken a turn for a while, DH and I switched positions and he enjoyed the snorkeling while I watched our stuff. Before long, it was time to head back to meet up with Sunny. He was there waiting just as he said he would be. At this point there were a few different people on our bus. Sunny assured us that the two kids had made it back to the ship area safely. When we were finally ready to go there was one group missing. Can you guess which one? They finally came sauntering over to the bus at about 4:20. They didn't even make an attempt to apologize for holding everyone up but just made an announcement that they were eating and drinking. Of course there just happened to be two empty seats left next to DH! And of course the two giggly women ended up sitting next to him and harassing him all the way back to the ship. Again, I don't hold a grudge against them because they paid for the tour too, it was just sad to me that things didn't turn out quite how I had hoped. It just shows you should be careful what you wish for. I had really hoped that Sunny would be our driver, perhaps if we had ended up on his wife's bus my whole family would have ended up having a great time at the beach. Who knows? Even so, I would consider this another wonderful day all in all! We enjoyed meeting Sunny and his wife, loved seeing and learning about different parts of the island, and had a relaxing and fun time at Sapphire Beach accompanied by a delicious lunch. We were back on the ship by five and DS and DD were in their room waiting for us (it seems that they were the responsible ones in the group). They said that they really enjoyed their peaceful ride back to the ship and that Sunny shared a lot of information with those that were on the bus.
Part VIII- San Juan- Lots of Riding, Shopping, Eating and Running!
I had read about a Segway tour that was offered in San Juan here on Cruise Critic. When we contacted Jose about the tour initially he said that he was all booked up. He later e-mailed back that he could fit us in for a one hour tour at 8:30. Although I was disappointed that the two hour tour wasn’t available, we were happy just to get anything. I e-mailed him back that if it was better for him, we could even make an 8:00 a.m. tour since our ship docked at 7:00. This is what we settled on. Jose, just like Sunny and Brita, was very quick to respond to my e-mails and answer any questions that I had. I did confirm our reservation the day before leaving too since I had read that there had been some problems with people showing up and not having their reservations honored.
The day we docked in San Juan, we walked off the ship and headed to the Segway office which is on the pier next to where the ship docks. It is about a five minute walk at most. You do have to get through all of the people trying to get you to take a tour with them. When we entered the office we were greeted by Jose and his coworker Natalie. Fort the third time during my cruise, I had to sign my life away and then for the second time my children’s lives too. DH and SIL took care of signing away their own lives. We were told that Natalie would be our guide for the day and she instructed us to put on some sunscreen which they provided. We had already applied some before we left the ship, but the sun was fierce so we put on some more. They stored all of our belongings in a locked cabinet and we were ready to begin. It was so cool that we were going to be having our own private tour! Even better, we were told that we would now be able to have a two hour tour due to a cancellation!!!!! Although this was wonderful news for us, I can’t help but to wonder if this caused trouble for others. We had a couple of people from our cruise scheduled for an 11:00 tour and when they arrived, no one was at the office. I don’t know if the whole schedule got mixed up somehow, but I think it would be wise to reconfirm your reservation a few times if you’re booking this tour. Especially since, as I mentioned, they weren’t the only ones that I have heard of that had this problem and you don’t want to miss this WONDERFUL tour!!!! The one hour tour would have been $35.00 and the two hour tour was $70.00.
Now we were ready to begin! Natalie demonstrated the Segway and DD was chosen to be the first to try it out. It took her a little bit to get used to it and then she was rolling on her way. First you practice inside the little office and then they bring you to the courtyard area outside. Once you seem pretty confident, you go up and down a windy ramp. SIL and DS each quickly became comfortable on the Segways. DH and I had done a Segway tour in San Francisco. Since we were the “experts” of our group, we were given the two newer model Segways to use. The older models are steered by turning the end of the handle, the newer models are steered by shifting your body. It took a little bit of time to get used to the newer models but we actually liked these better. The training for all five of us took about twenty minutes. I liked this much better than the training in SF. That training took almost an hour (there was a much larger group) and we had to train, watch a training film, then train some more. We also had to wear safety vests and helmets in SF which we didn’t have to wear here. Since a car almost hit DD on our tour, these things might be a good idea! Luckily Natalie stopped the car in time (then reamed out the driver !).
Anyway, once Natalie determined that we were ready to go, she assigned us an order to ride in throughout the tour. DD was number one, I was number two, etc., etc. It was pretty funny because these numbers became out names throughout the tour! When DH didn’t bend his knees enough going over the speed bumps, Natalie would yell, “Number 5 bend those knees!” Natalie was an amazing tour guide. First of all, she had a wealth of knowledge about the history, architecture, current events, and people of Puerto Rico. Second of all, she was easily sharing this information in what is not her first language. Third of all, she had to make sure the five of us where not crashing into something or something was not crashing into us throughout the tour! I’m a tour guide myself and I was in awe of her! Not only did she share wonderful San Juan with us, she did it with humor, passion and the ability to hold the interest of two teenagers for two entire hours! This was our favorite excursion of the cruise.
During our two hour tour we covered all of the sites that you will see listed in the different guide book and on line walking tours. It was so cool to be doing it on a Segway instead of trying to walk all over in the blazing sun. Actually, even with all that sunscreen, SIL and I could feel the sun burning the back of our knees not long after we started, caution is needed. I would recommend bringing sunscreen with you if you do the tour; ours was back in the locked cabinet! Natalie collected our cameras before the tour began. I’m sure part of the reason for this is so that people don’t crash while trying to take pictures. This was great for us! She would have us line up at different sights and take group pictures with our camera and SIL’s camera. We got some of our best vacation photos this way! It was so nice to have everyone in the picture for a change! At a few of the sights Natalie would have us park our Segways and she would do a walking tour. We noticed many cats around the area. She told us that they were brought in for pest control and that it’s been working very well. I have a terrible phobia of mice so this freaked me out a bit but at least she said the program was successful. The cats were a little scary looking too and I love cats! As we watched many people struggling up the hill, we zipped past them to the entrance of El Morro. Natalie took some great pictures of us up here in this lovely location and then made a run for the ticket booth! There were about 100 students approaching to purchase tickets! The admission fee was included in our tour price. We had planned to tour the fort on our own when we thought we were going to be doing the one hour Segway tour. Instead, we had our amazing tour guide Natalie to lead us through the fort. Honestly, I can’t imagine how she can retain so much information. She led us down a dark stairway that we would have never found on our own and all around the immense fort. Even without a Segway, it would be worth the climb up the hill to visit this sight! The Seway website says that you visit El Morro and San Cristobal but we only visited the one fort. Since we were on the tour for the full two hours (and this did not include our training time), I don’t know how they could fit both forts in. If this is important to you, you might want to confirm what you’ll be visiting ahead of time. I would rather spend the extra time exploring one fort than rushing through two myself.
We all loved Natalie and loved this tour. At the end she quizzed Number One and Number Four (DD and DS) and I was impressed by how much information they had remembered! This really was the ultimate tour! It was so much fun riding around on the Segways while people took our picture and waved as we went by! We learned so much about beautiful San Juan and saw more things then my family ever would have had the patience to see if we were doing it on foot. We were able to have lots of great group pictures taken. And best of all, we had the most amazing tour guide who really was responsible for making it the perfect experience that it was!
Jose came to pick up Natalie’s Segway as we returning to the office so she walked the rest of the way back. By the time we arrived, he was already training the next group! Since there seemed to be only six Segways in total, I’m guessing that they only take groups of up to five. I can’t imagine they’d have a tour where the guide walks the whole time; I don’t think this would work out very well anyway.
At the end of the tour we thanked and tipped Natalie and then collected our things. While SIL went next door to get what she described as a delicious cup of coffee (they even made a little heart out of the cream on top of it for her), we asked for directions for the rest of our day. SIL, DD and I were headed off for some food and shopping. DS and DH were headed off to what my son had been looking most forward to the whole trip-running in San Juan (go figure.?.). My son’s coach gave him a pretty intensive training schedule to follow while we were on vacation. DS was very excited to find a track in San Juan close to where our ship was docked on Google Maps before we left. Finding it on Google Maps would prove easier than finding it in reality though. The boys set off on their quest and we set off on a less physically intensive quest of our own.
Our first stop was La Bombonera on Calle San Francisco since we were pretty hungry at this point. It was a short walk from the cruise ship terminal. Although the staff is Spanish speaking, we were able to communicate enough to get by with our limited Spanish and their more extensive English. I ordered a plain Majorca and SIL ordered one with ham and cheese. The pastries were covered with powdered sugar and therefore pretty messy but they were delicious! I tried some of SIL’s and I must say I preferred hers. I think the salty ham and sweet Majorca made for a delicious contrast. DD decided she just wanted a frozen fruit drink (???). She didn’t really like it but I thought it was pretty good. It seemed to have mango and other citrus fruits in it. It was fun to eat in a little restaurant with a lot of local flair! Our bill came to less than $10.00. It case you go and are confused like we were, you do pay up at the cash register after the waiter brings your bill. Now that two out of three of our bellies were full, we were ready for a little shopping.
There was a pretty good variety of shops and lots of them. DD and SIL bought some musical instruments in one shop. And DD bought a marionette puppet from a street vendor. My guess is she’ll never touch these things again but she had fun with them that day. We also bought DS a shirt at the Hard Rock Café. Even though none of us ate there it’s a nice souvenir since it had a great picture of El Morro, which we did actually go to, on the back. Our favorite shop of all was Puerto Rican Arts and Crafts located at 204 Fortaleza Street. As you can probably guess by the name, everything in the store is made by Puerto Rican craftsmen (and women!). All of us bought some unique jewelry here. Mine was made out of ripened and unripened coconut which I thought was really interesting. SIL also bought a wild looking thing which she now has hanging on her wall to remind her of our great vacation! After a wonderful time in Old San Juan, we decided to head back to the ship. I was hoping that DS and DH would be back in the stateroom but they were nowhere to be found. On board was at 1:30 and it was 12:30 so I tried not to let myself start panicking yet. DH had promised that they would be back by 1:00. As the time ticked closer and closer, the worrying grew more and more intense. Finally at 1:00 exactly DS came walking through the door. He came in and said, “Dad didn’t make it.” Considering that it was sweltering hot outside and DH is a lot older than DS and the two of them were out running around in this weather while we had a hard time just Segwaying and walking around in the heat, this would have been easy to believe if not for the fact that DS didn’t seem overly concerned that DH had expired! Shortly after DS’s announcement, DH came stooping through the door drenched in sweat. They then both shared their adventure with us.
After leaving the Segway office, DH and DS went to the taxi line in front of the cruise terminal. DH and DS told the taxi driver that approached them the name of the park that they wanted to go to. The taxi driver didn’t speak English at all but there was a person who helps translate at the taxi line at the end of the cruise pier who told the driver how to get to the track. Make sure that you get into the first cab in the line. DH and DS didn’t do this and entered in to a cable further back in the line since they didn’t know any better. I guess this caused an argument amongst the drivers. Once they were on their way, after driving and driving and driving, the cab driver made a phone call because he was lost and couldn’t figure out where the track was. When DH asked him how much further (using his limited high school Spanish), the driver told him it would be about TWENTY MINUTES. Since DS had Google Mapped the track ahead of time, he knew it only should have been a short drive from the cruise ship and Jose had also verified this. DH told the cab driver to just head back for the ship since they were so far away from the ship at that point and it seemed the taxi driver was not headed to their track anyway. On the way back, they saw a sign for Parque Central and told the cab driver to stop so that they could run there. The driver said he would wait there while they ran. DH asked what the fare would be; the driver told him it would be $60.00. DH told him he would pay $30.00 since the taxi driver had driven them around lost for such a long period of time. They finally settled on $40.00 if the driver waited ½ hour for them (this is all the $ DH had with him, Jose had told him it should cost $20 round trip before they left on their wild ride). After running for about two minutes, they spotted a track in the park. He returned to the driver and told him that he could leave because they were going to run on the track and then back to the ship. The driver still wanted to charge $40 but they settled on $30 and DH added in a $5.00 tip. They ran the track for about a ½ hour in the glaring hot sun and then decided to try to run back to the ship. They embarked on a steamy run back to the ship stopping along the way at a gas station for water and directions. They could see a very tiny ship off in the distance. After mapping the route when they returned to the ship, it turned out it was a 3 ½ mile run back to the ship. Most of the route did have sidewalks at least! DS was very happy to have gotten his running and training in and I was glad that they made it back to the ship on time!
Part IX- Final Thoughts (finally!)
As far as packing goes, even though we had tons of luggage, I didn’t feel we packed too much. We used most of the clothes and other things that we brought. Of course, if we were flying we would have been in big trouble with the luggage restrictions and fees. Happily we never had to touch the rain gear but I’m still glad I had it. A couple of things that I wish I had brought were capris for changing into after dinner and binoculars. I only had shorts and dresses. The dining room and theater were FREEZING and it would have been nice to change out of my dinner clothes after we ate. Be sure to bring a sweater for your evening activities. Our binoculars are broken and I didn’t bother to replace them, but it would have been nice to have them while sitting on the balcony, especially while we were pulling into the various ports.
I loved the fact that the Explorer had so many activities available on board. The only thing I really missed, that all of our other cruise ships had, was a laundry room. I’m sure some of you might think I’m crazy but with four of us, it would have meant bringing a lot less clothes. And we wouldn’t have had to bring home all those smelly running clothes! Sending them out was just too expensive for an entire family even though for a couple I think this would be a good option. I especially missed the iron that the other laundry rooms provided. I didn’t like the pressing service because since we had first seating, the clothes wouldn’t come back until right before you had to leave for dinner. Because there wasn’t an iron available, I was careful about what I packed and therefore didn’t bring too many button down cotton shirts, etc. I did bring Downy Wrinkle Release but I never have very good luck with this and I also brought a steamer which worked to an extent.
This was an amazing vacation!!!! Most of the staff were outstanding and would wave and smile whenever they saw you. There was a good variety of food that was generally very tasty. Each day brought a variety of new experiences and fun adventures. We all were able to meet so many wonderful people both on board and at the ports that we visited. It was great to have my sister in law along; I had someone to do things with that DH doesn’t really like to do and my children had a wonderful roommate! The best part about the whole vacation was being able to make so many special memories together as a family, especially in light of the fact that DS will be off to college in the fall!