We planned this as a family cruise for our 4 grown children (ages 34 to 40), their spouses and our 5 grandchildren (ages 9 to 19). This was our 4th family cruise with the first in 1987 when our oldest daughter worked for a travel agency and was offered a familiarization cruise on a Carnival ship (Jubilee). We paid for the rest of our family to tag along. It took another 17 years before we sailed as a family again on the smoke-free Carnival ship Paradise. This was followed by the 3rd cruise on the Royal Caribbean ship Mariner of the Seas for a celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary.
This cruise was planned since it would probably be our last opportunity where everyone could be together. Our family is growing and it is obvious that scheduling would be impossible to repeat this in the future. Finally, my favorite grandson (because he is the only one - the rest are granddaughters) is scheduled to leave for basic training in the military (USAF) on January 5th, 2009. We are grateful for his desire to serve something greater than himself.
Additionally, we had 3 other couples traveling with us from our town. They are all good friends and we have sailed before with Ed and Bonnie (Platinum) and Frank and Marylou (Gold). The other couple was Jack and Connie and they have never cruised before. My reputation was at stake. If they loved the cruise I might be a hero, however if they got sea sick then I would become a villain (FYI: They loved it and are ready to go again).
FULL DISCLOSURE: We own stock in Royal Caribbean and we own more than the 100 shares required to receive shareholder benefits.
We also chose to sail on Royal Caribbean as it is our preferred cruise line. We love the Explorer of the Seas as she has almost become our "time share" at sea. We love her crew and staff too. Many have become good friends and we keep in touch thanks to email.
If you have read any other reviews I have submitted you will find similar comments. This is due to the consistency of services received.
This proved to be another great experience and it again was due to the dedication of the Captain, crew and staff. The Explorer continues to offer one of the best "rides" on the seas.
In life my position is that the cup is always half-full and if there is criticism it will be as a result of something serious. You will not find whining in this review. We will offer some suggestions for their consideration.
You will notice I use the term warm and friendly a lot. That is because it is common and represents a quality level of training to achieve their mission of delivering "GOLD ANCHOR SERVICE" by delivering "BEYOND NORMAL SERVICE".
Royal Caribbean's pleasure and number one priority is to make sure our cruise experience is unforgettable and more amazing than we could have ever imagined and by making all of us feel special.
The very few negative events of this cruise again were limited to the conduct of some of the passengers. We continue to be a self-absorbed society and some of us make unreasonable demands in an unfriendly manner. Some also will run you over (watch the scooters) and others will cut in line and they do it with an attitude. Onboard these experiences were survivable.
Another good example of this poor attitude involved some passengers not washing their hand after leaving the restroom facilities. We were warned about an outbreak of a Norwalk type virus. There were signs posted in the entrance to the dining areas and the staff was handing out disposable hand wipes for our use. Some passengers were witnessed refusing to take these wipes. Frank witnessed one man refusing the wipe and was confronted by another passenger who told him that it is because of people like him that others get sick. A verbal confrontation followed this exchange and the 70 year old man who refused to use the wipe even wanted to start a physical confrontation until his wife pulled him aside.
I have been taught in the military and in law enforcement that the best prevention to this type of infection was simply to wash the hands. With a 30 year law enforcement background I have witnessed the personal destruction that results when this attitude gets behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Finally, we must work at being more appreciative of the services and sacrifices provided by the crew and staff. A grateful heart is the father of all virtues. A wise man taught us to be content no matter what our circumstances are. This can be a tough test at times.
There is a specific section where I have provided individual compliments for those who provided "above and beyond" service.
TRAVEL TO THE PORT: We live in north-central Pennsylvania and the trip to the port at Cape Liberty is a 198 mile drive and usually takes a little under 4 hours considering the early morning commute traffic.
We left home with our four vehicle convoy at 0320 hours. This consisted of a 4 passenger pick-up with a cap which hauled almost all the checked luggage. The 3 other vehicles were two 7 passenger vans and an SUV with the carryon luggage.
We leave this early generally due to the need to beat the commute traffic jams on I-80 that can add another hour to the drive. Also, the weather was forecast for freezing rain with heavy icing in the higher elevations. One crash on the interstate could result in a 3 hour delay. I like to have "wiggle room" in my plan. It is a type-A personality flaw.
The weather cooperated and the temperature remained just above freezing with light rain. Traffic was light to moderate the entire route. The Garmin NUVI was a plus to have too.
We were blessed with better than expected driving conditions. A lot of prayer never hurts either.
We arrived at the Broadway Diner in Bayonne, NJ around 0700 hours. We had another great breakfast there as this is our usual stop. We fueled all the vehicles at the service station across from the diner and gas was the lowest we have paid in 4 years. Off to a good start. The terminal was less than 2 miles from the diner and is about a 5 to 10 minute drive depending on traffic.
TERMINAL - EMBARKATION: We arrived at the terminal area around 0830 hours and debarking passengers were just starting to congregate as they waited for their pick up. There were not many vehicles and traffic was very light. This was another reason why we like to arrive early.
We unloaded all the vehicles with the checked luggage. We tipped the handler $20.00 for our family bags then off to park our vehicles.
The parking area has changed from the last time we were there. It is now located across from the southeast corner of the terminal. We missed the entrance the first time as it is between two buildings. We failed to see the sigh the first time. Parking for the 9 days was still $16.00 per day or $144.00 for this 9 day cruise.
This parking area is ideal and an improvement from the other location. It is fenced in and gated. This should provide better security. We were able to park in the first row which is next to the terminal road and near the pedestrian gate and the exit gate. This was very convenient.
We unloaded our carry-on bags and off to the terminal. We waited just a couple of minutes and we were allowed to enter the terminal after showing our passports and On-line boarding passes. Our carry-on luggage was x-rayed and we were directed to the waiting area.
We were inside the terminal seating area at exactly 0900. "Mission 1 accomplished".
NOTE: As we entered the terminal area where you check in some were directed to go left and some right. We arrived in the seating area and regrouped. Those who went left were given numbers that ranged from 2 to 4. Theses are used to determine the order you board the buses. Those who entered right were not given numbers.
We then were approached by an employee and were told sternly that the reason we did not get boarding numbers is because we went the wrong way. She never bought the reason that we were director to go either way. Ouch!
What was also curious was the fact that there were only 5 or 6 other passengers ahead of us and they had a number 1. Remember I am a type-A. This is a blessing and a curse. Again we were sternly given a non-answer by the terminal employee.
We did not complain and our questioning was made with a humble spirit. We just sucked it up and realized how blessed to have arrived safely. Besides the cookies provided were great comfort food.
MAIN WAITING SECTION CHECK-IN SUGGESTION: Here is a suggestion for those initially entering the terminal, especially those arriving before the check-in process begins. Simply direct everyone the same way and have someone assigned to hand out the numbers (in order too). We have seen this work here in the past. It might have been just a slip up this time.
This was our 6th sailing out of Cape Liberty and we are pretty familiar with their process. Embarkation is usually pretty smooth if you arrive early. For us we would rather wait in the terminal for a couple of hours then wait in line in traffic on the interstate or wait in a long line in the terminal.
Linda and I are Diamond members and 3 of our family members are Platinum and one of the couples traveling with us are Platinum as well. This meant that when 1000 hours arrived and they opened the counters for the check-in to begin we would need to go to different locations for this process.
We were advised that we could keep our numbered bus boarding passes and after those who were Diamond and Platinum could return to the main seating area to board with the others in our group. If we decided to wait in the VIP area we would have to give up or passes and board through the VIP area.
Since our numbers were 2's we decided to give our 2's to those in the main seating area and take their 3's and 4's and turn them in. This would provide and opportunity for all of us to board around the same time.
Check-in started at 1000 hours right on schedule. We were among the first to get our SeaPass cards after producing the boarding passes, credit cards and passports. Photo ID's created.
We then regrouped for our family of 14 to get the group boarding photo. We always purchase these for the memory chest. We returned to the VIP area to wait for the busses.
The VIP area became crowded as it came closer to 1200 hours. We met some new folks while we waited. Carl and Jean have almost 50 cruises and were Diamond-Plus Members. They were a joy to listen to and we always learn what to do and what not to do from others more experienced.
Once the busses started arriving the expected occurred. First it is like bunch of cattle starring at a new gate. Then it is like a herd about to stampede. Not a pretty picture.
Although we were one of the first ones in the VIP section we were pushed to the back by those who just arrived and shoved their way to the front. What a shame! Sometimes some act honorably and some not so honorable.
We observed an elderly woman fall and strike her head hard on the pavement as she waited outside the door for her turn to board the bus. We do not know the exact cause of the fall so no blame is being assessed. She was immediately attended to and medical attention arrived quickly. Good job Royal Caribbean. We saw her later on during the cruise and she appeared to have suffered a broken ankle and her facial injuries seemed minimal. We were glad to see that she was able to make it onboard.
VIP SECTION CHECK-IN SUGGESTION: Here is a suggestion for the terminal bus boarding process for the VIP area. They could simply issue VIP Boarding Pass numbers. These could be similar to those in the main area only with a different color and the term VIP added.
With the large number of Platinum Members it might even become necessary to expand the waiting area. This is a good sign as Royal Caribbean as they have over 4 million repeat cruisers (Crown and Anchor Members). This is the largest loyalty program in the cruise industry.
We boarded the second VIP bus around 1200 hours and were on our way to the EOS.
NOTE: The Explorer in the past has been docked to the left (west) of the terminal and quite a ways up the pier. This time she was tied up to the right of the terminal near the east end of the pier and a lot closer to the terminal. This was really nice.
We stayed in touch with those in the main waiting area using our cell phones. They made it on the very next bus (#3). By this time we were onboard with cameras at the ready to capture more memories.
We waited at the station on deck 1 used to tag children with colored bands for their lifeboat stations. These became our rally point and within minutes we were all together, all 20 of us. "Mission 2 accomplished".
ONBOARD: We must compliment those who greeted us. Everyone was smiling and we were warmly greeted. Specifically those taking care of our 2 granddaughters whose ages were 8 and 10. They were carrying dolls and the staff even tagged their dolls with the bands for their own life guard stations. Cute touch and a great welcome aboard!
We knew our cabins would not be ready until around 1330 hours (1:30 PM for you civilians) so we headed to the dining room to check out our table assignment. We had table 477 on deck 4 which is the Dagama Dining room. We had no trouble locating it as we had table 476 on a previous cruise. Since we have sailed on the Explorer we knew where we would like to be seated if possible. On the Mariner they provided a table for 14 and when we sailed on the Explorer in April we had met with the Hotel Manager Jorge Lynch and initiated the process of seeing how we could duplicate this size table on the Explorer. He arranged a meeting with Dominique Claudel (Restaurant Operations Manager) and Marcelo Arias (Maitre'd / Head Waiter) to work out the details. We had been in contact with them again during our September Explorer cruise and by email. To their credit they made it happen. Our table was set up exactly as planned. It was located on deck 4, port side aft and the location was perfect.
Next if was off to the Windjammer on deck 11 for our first meal. It could be called "The Food Jammer" the way some people eat. I affectionately refer to her as the "Jammer".
As we entered we were greeted by a beautiful sight. Just inside on the Port side was a huge Gingerbread Village. My goodness how awesome! The work that went into this creation was a sight to behold. The talent necessary and required to build this display is a credit to the culinary department.
A special thanks to the crew for they had a lighted sign behind the display that said "Merry Christmas" not Happy Holidays. Good for them.
Next it was on to the food. Since we were one of those first onboard we had plenty of seating. For Linda and I this would be our 109th meal on the Explorer of the Seas. As expected the food was great. We ran into several familiar faces and many remembered us by name. I still do not know how they do it. Our last sailing on her was 09-11-2008.
CABINS READY: Shortly after 1300 hours the announcement was made that our rooms were ready. We headed to deck 8. Our family cabin numbers were 8369, 8371, 8373, 8375, 8377, 8379 and 8383. They were all inside cabins Cat. N and they were all next to one another and it was actually cheaper for us to book our grandchildren in their own rooms. Due to our total number of cabins we received $100.00 per cabin shipboard credit and a rebate for booking more than 7 cabins. The rest of our group was assigned 8378 (Balcony for Jack and Connie), 8381(Ed and Bonnie) and 8221 (Frank and Marylou). Our stateroom attendant was Robert Barnes from Trinidad and Tobago (refer to his commendation under staff comments). Robert provided us with a warm greeting and gave us the normal orientation. We asked Robert to split our beds as this gives us more walking room. We dropped off our carry-on luggage, stored our valuables and then off to explore the Explorer.
CHECKING HER (THE EXPLORER) OUT
Off to the Promenade for our free sample of a milkshake at the Johnny Rockets display. There we looked for past faces. Found out they some were onboard and some on vacation. We brought pictures with us and went looking for some of them. Once we find them we give them their picture.
Back to our cabin and our luggage was already there and the beds split. We unpacked and this only takes 15 minutes. We are on auto-pilot for this task. Car (vanilla) freshener hung, safe filled and locked.
LIFEBOAT DRILL We made our goodbye phone calls home and then off to the lifeboat drill. Drill done, showered, dressed for dinner and off to meal #110 (thru #135 by cruise end - snacks excluded) on the EOS.
MEALS While onboard we have never been disappointed by the meals. Just spend a couple of months in a tent in the desert in the middle-east in a MASH unit and you will never complain again. Or at least you shouldn't. We only gained 3 pounds each. Walking and using the stairs helps burn it off.
Worth mentioning were three events that we love.
#1. POOLSIDE BBQ This was a poolside BBQ with 2 very large charcoal (with real fire) grills with hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken and ribs and all the trimmings and salads. It was while we were in port at Samana. As luck would have it poured down rain just as they were getting ready to open the lines. This required a move of all the food into the Jammer. They did this under the leadership of Vijay Chipa and others. It was a well organized movement and we were soon having ribs that were "falling off the bone" good.
#2. SAIL-AWAY PARTY On the evening we were in San Juan they had a late evening food fare on the pool deck with great desserts like chocolate covered strawberries and other fine treats and food. Plus there was had-dipped ice cream for making sundaes. What a neat treat. Well done!
#3. JOHNNY ROCKETS We love this place but I have one suggestion and it is from lessons learned. We have found that we love going the first or second day which are sea days. It is usually not busy and we go early for lunch. Usually around 1150 hours. They usually open around noon and we like to have a booth. Also, you are still hungry and the food is great. If we wait until the end of the cruise we are running a bit on full and almost getting "food fatigue". Now this is not a bad thing (except for the weight gain). This is one place that you really can enjoy when you are hungry.
This is worth the small fee but for Crown and Anchor members your onboard coupons will pay for the meal. This includes a great burger or other choices like Nathan's hot dogs or other grilled sandwiches. Chili, fries and onion rings are included. They top this off with a great sundae or apple pie alamode. There is an additional charge for drinks like real cherry Cokes, floats or shakes. Extra tips are optional but this group of hard working folks truly earns it.
On this cruise we went on day 2 which was the first day at sea. We arrived a few minutes before noon and were immediately met by Elvis da Costa, Johnny Rocket's head waiter, and we were seated in the first 6 booths. We had all 20 from our group and it turned out to be another special time and another great memory builder for our family. The food was superior as always and the burgers were just as juicy as they always have been. The service and entertainment were well worth the little extra expense.
TIPPING HINTS We use the onboard voucher system at the end to pay the standard tips. For our family of 14 this totaled $1,228.50. We also spent another $350.00 for pre-tips and additional individual tipping. Many went to those normally receiving tips while others were given gratuities for personal services rendered. In the past I used $2.00 bills as an expression of appreciation for those providing above and beyond service.
The last several times we have used $50.00 worth of $1.00 gold coins. We also pre-tip those who get the vouchers provided they are delivering expected service. For this trip and due to the family size the pre-tip was about 25% of the normal tip and is in addition to the final tip. We provide them on day 2 of the cruise along with a small gift bag and thank you card. Linda and I both feel blessed and it is our personal mission to share our blessings. To those whom much is given, much is expected.
CREW AND STAFF COMMENDATIONS
Below are individual compliments about many of those who have met the mission:
CAPTAIN GUNNAR TODAL This was our fifth voyage on the EOS and the first with Capt. Todal at the helm. He proved to be a competent and skilled Master of the Vessel. Specifically noteworthy was his handling of a MEDI-VAC Evolution (Helicopter Evacuation). This reinforced the priority Royal Caribbean and her crew was readily and willingly to render to those who were in need. It is always good to know that should we ever need this type of care that we can be assured that it would be given the needed priority. Well done Captain.
DOMINIQUE CLAUDEL: RESTAURANT OPERATIONS MANAGER Dominique is a great leader as evidenced by the quality of service we received. We appreciate his attention to our special request.
MARCELO ARIAS: MAITRE'D / HEAD WAITER Marcelo has become a good friend and has personally provided us with some of the best service we have ever received. He has been with us on our last 3 Explorer sailings and he again would exceed expectations by going above and beyond. He arranged a couple special menu requests and provided our granddaughter Lexi with what will probably be the most memorable birthday ever. She turned 11 on December 17th and Marcelo and the staff went out of their way to make it special. Thanks Marcelo for the great memories.
NOEL MENDOZA (PHILIPPINES): WAITER Noel was just tremendous. We could not have asked for a better waiter. He was prompt, patient with us, friendly and went the extra mile to make our dining experience fun and memorable. He would take delight in serving the two youngest granddaughters going so far as to even cut their steaks and putting the first bite in their mouth. A nice touch. When we would see him in the dining room at breakfast or lunch he would always go of his way to see that we had good seating even if he was not going to be our waiter. We will remember him for a long time and we hope to have him as our waiter in the future.
NATASHA CHARLES (TRINIDAD TOBAGO): ASSISTANT WAIT STAFF Natasha provided us with excellent service and loved having her at our table. She was warm and friendly and never missed a beat. She took care of a couple of special requests like getting us extra horseradish for our pork steak and shrimp cocktail. We like it spicy. We explained to her that it was a German thing. She would also bring the two youngest granddaughters special drinks to go with their meals. She seemed to love what she was doing, too. If we saw her at breakfast or lunch she made sure she went out of her way to stop by our table to say hi. We certainly will miss her as there were some tears when it came time to say goodbye.
ROBERT BARNES (TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO): STATEROOM ATTENDANT He would prove to be a very friendly hard working, efficient and extremely patient attendant. We never wanted for anything. He had everything under control and whenever there was a request he was "Johnny on the spot". I am sure we created a little extra work for him but we never saw a sign of frustration. We deeply appreciated everything he did for us. Great job Robert.
ELVIS DA COSTA (INDIA): HEAD WAITER JOHNNY ROCKETS A special thanks to Elvis da Costa (India) the Head Waiter in Johnny Rockets who does a super job. We also appreciated the efforts of Julia too. Elvis even remembered our names from the last cruise and went out of his way to help us with this large group. He even got our 2 youngest granddaughters up to dance with the crew. More great memories were generated here. Thanks everyone.
RUDY SANGADA We first met Rudy on our last cruise when he greeted us in the Promenade Cafe. We have kept in contact thru email and he has also become another good friend. He even remembered our granddaughter's birthday and bought her a present. We spent time with him and he showed us his scrap book complete with family photos and even cards we have given him. Rudy is another Great Royal (Caribbean) Ambassador. Great job Rudy. Lexi will remember your kindness for a long time.
WITHOON ANUWATER (HEAD WAITER): THAILAND We spent some time talking with our head waiter from a previous cruise on the EOS. He has become another good friend and we always enjoy, what little time he has to spare, talking with him. He even took time to talk with our grandson and gave him words of encouragement and passed along some bits of wisdom concerning his recent enlistment in the USAF. We had a chance to observe him, unnoticed, as he knelt down to assist a small child in the Windjammer and also talk with the parents. He was compassionate and professional. We were always in good hands with Withoon was around.
VIJAY CHIPA (INDIA): HEAD WAITER / WINDJAMMER We have known Vijay from cruising before on the EOS. We were introduced by Marcelo and like others he remembered our names. He always greeted us warmly and with a smile. We watched his efforts successfully move the poolside cookout to inside the Windjammer. We like the Sushi that is served in the Jammer during the evening meal, however since we had early seating we would have to have it for dessert since we had early seating and the Jammer opened about the same time. He arranged to have it delivered to our room as a pre-dinner appetizer. He even refused to accept anything for his efforts. He was just glad to do it.
RICARDO UGALDE: (MEXICO) CONCIERGE What a pleasure it was to get to meet Ricardo. At first meeting he made sure he introduced himself and since we were rookie Diamond members he took time to explain the services available to us. The Concierge Lounge had been an off-limits area on past cruises but now we had our own key and the bragging rights that went along with it. Ricardo is a true gentleman and an absolute professional. I had the chance to observe him with others and they certainly have him in the right spot. He helped us with our skating show tickets and even arranged for our granddaughter's birthday cake. He also made a phone call to set up the time the birthday room decorations would be put in place. This way we could have Lexi out of the room and have others inside with their cameras ready.
The lounge was beautiful with a large screen TV (and they had FOX NEWS too), leather chairs, and open bar before dinner with excellent appetizers. It was not crowded either. This cruise did not have as many Diamond members as the previous cruise which we heard made it a little crowded. They also have a room on Deck 14 set up just for the drinks and appetizers from 1700 to 2000 too.
For those Platinum members keep cruising as this is a great benefit. It is also a good place to meet new folks like Carl and Kit, and Dennis and Becky.
Thanks again Ricardo and Carey for making this a great experience.
CAREY HARDIE: CONCIERGE WAIT STAFF Carey did a great job in the Concierge Club taking care of our needs whenever we visited. He was friendly and always had a smile. And just like many others he remembered our names. While on Labadee he was at the tender boarding area and went of his way to say hello. We appreciated his nice touch by serving us in such a warm and friendly manner.
GEORGE ALFRED (HAITI) George was a stateroom attendant down the passageway from our cabin. We enjoyed his friendly greetings as we passed in going to and from our cabins. He would stop what he was doing and always wish us a good day. He overheard us talking about a possible need and even though he was not our attendant he surprised us with getting us what we needed. We even talked about his home country and we gave him a pin that contained the Haiti flag and a Scripture reference that was given to us by Missionaries from Haiti when they visited our town recently.
CLINTON: ASSISTANT WAITER TABLE 476 Clinton was the assistant waiter where our other cruise mates were sitting. During a 70th birthday for Jack he took care of pouring the bottle of champagne we gave their table for his celebration. He did this with a professional flair that enhanced this special moment for Jack. It was a nice touch
RAJIV SEERUTTUM: GROUP COORDINATOR Rajiv was always in contact with us concerning the crediting of our shipboard credit and took good care of us in securing the debarkation tags for our entire group. We were the second color called after the Diamond and Platinum groups debarked. He provided warm and friendly service and was always quick to return my calls. We even had his onboard cell phone number to call if we needed anything. He was the right person for this job. We have talked with him on other cruises and he has become another familiar face. He was even on the zip line the same time my family was. We have pictures to give him in March when we return. Rajiv was also our gracious host at our meet and mingle.
RUNI BASYANAKE: LOYALTY AMBASSADOR Runi was very helpful in answering a couple of Crown and Anchor Society questions and she helped us obtain our Diamond Member lapel pins. She is definitely the right person for this job. She was always friendly and willing to help.
VENIS (Pronounced Yennis) We ran into Venis again. He had been our Assistant waiter from our 2006 cruise. He was working in the Jammer (Wind Jammer). We enjoy talking with him too. He always has this smile and friendly laugh.
MEDI-VAC On the evening of our second day at sea the Captain notified us that they had a medical emergency onboard and as a result they had to deviate from their course and head towards Grand Turk to be within range of a helicopter. Around 2230 hours the helicopter arrived and with military precision evacuated the patient.
The helo deck as you are probably aware is located on the bow. Security had set up a perimeter on the decks to ensure the safety of everyone.
Now here comes my crass personality. So many passengers were stuck on stupid. They thought that if they used their flash on their cameras that it would light up the action. A flash on the average camera is only effective for short distances (usually under 30 feet). Not only was this ineffective it was dangerous to the crew of the helo. This was a nighttime evolution (2200 hours is 10:00PM) and you guessed it and it was dark out. It is not rocket science to understand that night vision is affected by light and should the crew be using NVD (night vision device) goggles using a flash would not be a good thing either.
This scene brought back some old memories from 1991 while assigned to a Naval Field Hospital (MASH) assigned to the First Marines during the first Gulf War. A reminder how important it is to have others willing to risk their lives to save others and to be grateful for their service.
These evolutions always present the potential for danger. I performance of the Captain, the crew, the medical staff and the crewman of the helicopter is noteworthy and they are to be commended for a job well done.
FYI: The captain advised the following day that the patient had arrived safely and was receiving the needed medical attention and a full recovery was expected.
PORTS OF CALL I will not detail each port and will only provide a brief summary.
SAN JUAN This was our first port of call. We were to be docked around 1530 hours, however due to the MEDI-VAC event we arrived around 1730 hours. As a result all tours booked on the ship were cancelled. We did not mind since our little inconvenience was worth it. We had dinner and then off to a walk around town. We were there with the Independence of the Seas and two other Carnival ships. We enjoyed the Christmas scenes set up and it did seem strange to be this warm during Christmas. They did a great job. They even had a manger scene in the public square and many signs wished "Merry Christmas". Thank goodness political correctness has not contaminated the territories. This was a nice port visit and again we felt safe in Old San Juan.
ST. THOMAS This was our second port of call. We left the ship around 0900 and immediately worked out a deal with our van driver Fitz George. He is a US citizen who came to the island from Dominica. He offered to take the 14 of us to town to shop. He would return after 2 hours of shopping and pick us up for the ride to Coki Beach. There were 5 ships in port and it was busy. The driver called ahead and advised that he was tied up in traffic and ended up being about 35 minutes late.
We arrived at the beach about 30 minutes later. This is our favorite spot since we like to snorkel there and there are plenty of fish to feed. You can buy a dog biscuit to feed the fish and they work really neat. We were met at the van by the usual vendor who escorted us to an open spot on the beach. We tipped him and he was on his way. It was near high tide and the beach was crowded. Our usual spot was taken so we settled for another area.
The ocean was a bit rougher than usual and it was not as clear as it had been in the past. This was still another great day in spite of the waves. Our grandson has a new camera that is water-proof and he caught some good stills and AVI videos of the fish.
A warning about the culture. There were a half a dozen instances of open marihuana use by residents and vacationers.
We were scheduled to be picked up around 1530 hours however we were ready to return by 1415 hours. The individual who met us at the van was contacted and he called our van driver who picked us up in about 20 minutes. We paid the driver before we loaded up as this eliminates holding up traffic at the end. He was also given a $20.00 for his services.
It took us an hour to return to the ship and this was mainly due to the number of ships in town and the traffic was backed up going into the port.
Some continued shopping and most of us returned to the ship. We pulled out on schedule. The weather was perfect for our visit to St. Thomas.
SAMANA This was our third stop and we decided to remain onboard and enjoy the pool. This turned out to be a good decision as the day was pelted with heavy isolated downpours. The poolside BBQ was just about to begin serving when we were hit with another drencher. It put a real damper on the hot charcoals and the lunch had to be moved inside.
The crew worked really hard and you could see the disappointment. The poolside BBQ's are excellent and it makes for a summer time atmosphere. They did a good job in moving it back into the Jammer though and the ribs were still outstanding.
LABADEE This was our fourth and final stop and it is our favorite spot. The weather was perfect but the seas were a bit rougher than usual. There is a lot of construction taking place. They are expanding their facilities and building a pier that will eliminate tendering. You can read more about their expansion plans online. It will probably turn out to be one of the most popular and elaborate stops for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. They have pictures posted throughout concerning what to look forward too.
We spent most of the day on the beach. We set up on the beach that is around the rocks to the left of the pier. Water was just right here. We had another great lunch there and as always the ribs were still falling off the bone good.
We spent some time in the straw market and made our donations to the economy. We do not barter and we willing pay the asking price for handmade items. Their economy is struggling and we are willing to share our blessings with them.
My 60 year old wife and 2 adult sons did the zip line. They just had to do it and the family cameras were rolling. It was fun watching the three of them share the experience.
We headed back to the ship around 1530 hours and there was a short wait for the tender. It will be exciting to see what changes take place here during 2010. I hope we can come back some day to experience this new adventure.
Debark We were the 2nd group off after the Express group. We waited in the dining room on deck 5. We were called by 0830 and this proved to be another flawless debarkation in Bayonne.
The luggage for the first few groups is located near the entrance where we enter the terminal after the short bus drive. This can be a bit congested, however with a little patience it can easily be navigated. Our entire luggage was easily located and most of it was located together.
It was a short walk to the customs/immigration lines and we were through the check without delay.
Rain was heavy this morning and there was slush still on the roadways and parking area. The vehicles had to be cleaned off and half of our group carried their luggage to the vehicles and loaded them up. The rest waited in the sheltered area and we took the vehicles to their location to load their bags and load up the remaining passengers. WE were on the road by 0900 hours.
Thank you Bayonne Terminal staff and Explorer crews for a smooth debarkation and no lost luggage.
TRIP HOME New Jersey Roads were slush and wet. The rain was heavy at times and since the traffic was light it would prove to be relatively easy. Speeds to Exit 30 on I80 were kept under 45 MPH. Several weather crashes were passed as we headed west on the interstate. We stopped at Cracker Barrel for a break and driver change then it was back on the road.
Once in Pennsylvania I80 was clear and the farther west we traveled the roads and weather improved to the point that the roads were dry. Speed now could safely be maintained at 65 MPH. We arrived safely home by 1400 hours.
PCD Syndrome (Post-Cruise Depression Syndrome) It was now time for therapy and entry into a food withdrawal program. The physical struggle of weight gain always proves to be a challenge considering the next cruise would be less than 100 days away.
The psychological issues will not be as difficult since we will be back on our favorite ship, The Explorer of the Seas, for a 12 day cruise on March 15, 2009. This therapy can be expensive, but necessary and worth it.
I want to give a special thank you to all the members of my family for building great memories. They were a joy to spend time with and our pleasure was watching them enjoy the experience. Fellowship has new meaning anytime you put 14 family members together for 9 days and there are no major issues. Someone once told me that fellowship has its root term from fellows on a ship - getting along in tight quarters.
As always we want to give a final compliment to the crew and staff. Well done. May you have fair winds and following seas?
Linda and Gary