Explorer of the Seas new years kicks off Jan 2 nine night background. We are a couple from Rhode Island with my two college kids (boy 21 girl 18) and my girlfriend's mom. We set off all packed up from the night before with only one glitch of the trip. The car would not start! A new SUV and we were dead in the driveway. Wow what a felling. It goes to show you need to plan the trip to NYC with some extra time built in for emergencies. Luck was on our side and we got a nearby mechanic to figure it out. We got going and were on the road by nine. Traffic was very light so we made up some time. I have cruised many times before and was the ring leader on the trip. I was a little nervous but I know RCCL does a great job and the gang was in for a good trip.
We arrived a little after noon and the line was pretty long. I am guessing it took about an hour to check in and head to the ship. I think they did OK but it still is the thing we wish they could improve on. We had a balcony and the kids had their own cabin and mom had her own inside cabin. After getting on board and seeing how impressed they were I knew we were in for an awesome nine nights. The cabin stewards were real nice guys and did a great job for the duration of the trip. The tips I have for you travelers who are new to this. Relax. It's a vacation. You can get away with a few things like sneaking a little vodka (or your booze of choice) in a suite case. You can send out a few things to be pressed or washed. They had a special for $20 a small bag of laundry could be done. Keep your sea pass account down by looking for bargains. Don't do bingo on the first day. See the shows and read the compass for events so you don't miss anything you may want to see. The best advice is to try and go it independent on your adventures on the islands. You will find plenty of taxis and tours off the ship and you can bargain for good deals.
The food was up to par with cruise food. The windjammer had the same everyday but it has such a variety you can always find a change of diet. Lots of fresh fruit and pastries. The dining was as always special. Some have complained that the menus have gotten a little smaller but to me there was plenty to choose from and each night was a surprise. We had no complaints at our table. Service was exceptional. We got the wine packages and it may not be a great deal but it is convenient to just pick off the list. My son ordered two or three entrees each night and he always ate the plates clean! We all used the gym to work off the food and the girls did the spinning and raved about the staff. They would have used the spa more but the prices are almost double from the normal costs for hair cuts and massages. The shows were very good almost every night. The best were the comedians like Marty Allen and his wife who did a great job. A note about formal nights. I had a modified tux. I believe if you are invited to a black tie you should wear appropriate attire. While I never felt overdressed there were some guys who did not show up with even a tie. The majority had dressed up and the girls were happy with the evening gowns they wore. So I say go for it and look the best you can and enjoy the luxury the cruise experience should be. My kids are now into the adult ages (18 and 21) and it was fun to watch them get into being on a vacation from college and need to relax just like Dad does. My son was so different from the past cruises, he hung out with me and we did some real "bonding". My daughter found herself doing a little gambling in the casino and while she was up for a while a lesson was learned in the end.
Like I said about the islands we just consider this an adventure and we were not disappointed. Labadee was what it is, a tourist island. The kids got jet skies and we had floating mats! The thing about this stop is that it can be expensive. They serve you a great lunch but all the activities are pricey. Samana was great for us. We got off the tender (which was a little too long of a wait) and found a taxi and driver for the day at $125. We went over to Playa Rincon for a fantastic beach day. The trip was a little over an hour but we got a nice tour of the main land on our way. The restaurant huts on the beach serve great food but it takes a while so pack a windjammer snack to avoid taking time away from the beach. Also they try to rent you stuff which you may or may not need. Chairs were $5 and we could have used our towels to save but we gave a little to their economy. The next stop was St Thomas and we did the same. We taxied to Red Hook and took the ferry over to St John and then grabbed a taxi to Trunk Bay for a great day of snorkeling and beaching. They have a great snack bar and rental shop. The cover charge for the beach ($4) keeps the crowd down a little. Back in St Thomas we tried to shop a little and lost track of time. We had a 5:30 on board time and so we grabbed a bus at about 5:00. Big mistake with the traffic. It is only about a mile to the ship but it takes a long time by bus. If you do stay late in town then plan on walking back on the busy days. We also found out the ship leaves about a half hour after your onboard time to give us stragglers a chance. San Juan was a half day so we split up, the girls shopped and we checked out the town.
The two sea days coming and going were relatively calm and three out of the four were sunny. Folks were hogging the chairs and it seemed like everyone was outside. We were very lucky with the weather on this trip! When our departure day came we had too much to carry for express so we took the tags and did the cattle call. Same as past cruises but with a little more speed. They have a big crew working at the terminal to turn around the trips. I hope they maintain this if they have cutbacks this is not the place to start. Speaking of cutbacks, they had a few I noticed. No mints, no shipshape tee shirts, really bad prizes for contests and bar prices a little higher. But nothing made me too concerned about not coming back yet. We are non smokers and had to avoid several places at night to stay away. We were lucky our balcony neighbors were quiet and non smokers. This was the only complaint I had from my travelers and that was reflected on the surveys we filled out. The vacation was a huge wow factor for us and we thank all the hard working staff at RCCL for their jobs well done! Bob
Check out our vacation video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9St1h_1i-sU