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Explorer of the Seas Cruise Review by Tankminder: Fantastic FamilyCruise - 9 night - Bermuda and Easter Carib


Tankminder
1 Review
Member Since 2005
118 Posts

Member Rating

Cabin 5.0
Dining 3.0
Embarkation 4.0
Enrichment Activities 5.0
Entertainment 4.0
Family & Children 4.0
Fitness & Recreation 5.0
Public Rooms 5.0
Rates 4.0
Service 5.0
Shore Excursions 5.0
Value for Money 5.0

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Fantastic FamilyCruise - 9 night - Bermuda and Easter Carib

Sail Date: July 2010
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: Bayonne (Cape Liberty)

Hi all - I loved all the reviews I read here getting ready for our cruise, and picked up tons of great advice along the way. I thought I'd put one together in day-by-day style (with a few diversions and OT's along the way) - maybe it'll help somebody else. It'll be long and have some pictures too - hopefully you'll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed everyone else's. We were booked on the Explorer departing July 22nd, 9 nights, to Bermuda, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, San Juan and 4 wonderful sea days There's 4 of us - myself 48, my lovely bride 47, DD 17 and DS 14. Our last cruise was 5 years ago on Grandeur (where we hit the dock in Costa Maya and got to stay 3 extra days!). My wife and I have done a few cruises over the years, but this is only our kid's second and collectively our longest ever.

Embarkation We live outside of Philly so we'd be driving Cape Liberty, loving the fact that we don't have to fly. Our M&M thread the week before we left mentioned lots of nasty More construction delays on 78 East and as well as the usual backup on 440 making the left into the port. At a CC recommendation, we took the NJ turnpike from the south instead, hopped over on 278 to Staten Island, over the Bayonne bridge and picking up 440 from the south. What a great decision! Literally NO stops till we pulled into the port itself, and even then we pulled up to within 3 cars of the dropoff. We ended up being early - about 11:15 - and it was still busy with departures, but we were soon directed to a numbered space to park the car while we dropped the luggage. Once there, it took us a few more minutes to find a porter and hand over the luggage - then go park the car and meet up with the family.

Parking was very close, and we paid in advance (required), breezed through security and check-in with virtually no wait, and we were sitting in the boarding lounge with seapasses in hand, photo taken, and coffee and cookies eaten before noon. I've read a ton of posts criticizing Cape Liberty, and yes, maybe visually it's not the most visually appealing place as you're driving through the unused section or while you're outside, but overall I found it just fine, no problems. Maybe we were lucky. Boarding started a little after noon, and our number was called shortly thereafter. At that point it was only moments and we were on the ship! Zero hassles - a great approach. OnBoard Once aboard, we bypassed the line at the elevators took the steps to explore deck by deck since it was our first time on the ship. Starting with deck 4, the Schooner, Casino, then up to the promenade - which turned out to be another good idea as it was empty. We took a few pictures, bought our soda passes and wine package on the promenade with no lines. We practically had the place to ourselves to explore - highly recommended. Later, we stopped by the dining room to check out 2nd seating table. We were seated on the middle level - table 405 - a table for 10 which we really wanted, as we were hoping to have the kids connect with new friends (and the adults too!).

Then we kept wandering our way around and upward until we hit sports deck, where my son pretty much decided he'd be camped out all week (and was).

After checking out the sports areas, we continued upward to Dizzy's for a welcome aboard drink while waiting for the cabins to be ready at 1:30 (as announced).

By 1:45 we were hoping it'd be safe to hit the Windjammer for lunch. Turned out seating was still a little tough to come by but we managed. Overall plenty of choices and a great lunch, though I honestly didn't see what the big deal was about the honey stung chicken (sorry). Back down to deck 6 to check out our rooms, we unpacked some carry on and settled in a bit. We had booked side-by-side, non-adjoining D3 balcony cabins with an adult and a child in each. (Unfortunately I didn't know we didn't have to do it that way until after we booked, but I figured we'd change it once onboard).

Hung in the rooms for a bit, and killed time there and exploring until muster drill. Met our steward Derek who was great all week. Muster was fairly quick and painless, and in no time we were back at our rooms, where we found all of our luggage ready for unpacking. Once that was done, we headed back upstairs for sail away.

DS was off to the sports deck, so it was just me and my girls, watching the sail out, seeing NYC and Lady Liberty shrink, watched the NYFD fire boat salute us, we ducked our heads under the Verrazano, and then headed out to sea. With a beer in hand, the relaxation had officially begun!

After sailaway, we took another walk to find the promenade was in full swing with the liquor tasting, promos, etc. Headed to guest relations to see if we could swap rooms officially moving the adults together and the kids together, which the gal at guest services claimed they couldn't do. I found that a little odd, but they did offer to give us extra keys and that worked out OK for a while anyway (more later). Keys in hand, we headed to Studio B to get our ice show tix for our 4th day - a 3pm show on a sea day with a Portofinos reservation that evening for 6:30. Perfect. Then back to the rooms to get dressed for the going away show. Rooms: From what I'd heard on here, particularly early this year, I had some concerns about the state of the ship. For anyone worried (or complaining) about the state of repair of the ship, I can only say that's certainly not that we saw. The ship was gorgeous pretty much anywhere that counted. Yes, if you looked at the floor of a table in the windjammer, or along a hallway baseboard, you're going to see a paint chip, or fingerprints on a railing here and there. But seriously, relax. The public areas of the ship were, in my opinion, beautiful, well maintained and cleaner than most high-end hotels I've stayed at. As for the rooms, our 2 D3 cabins - 6546 and 6548 - were in amazing shape. Honestly, I really saw nothing. I had to look (hard) for issues inside and found only a bit of rust in the bathroom trim. Outside, yes the handrail needed varnish, and from the outside of the ship looking UP you could see rust UNDER the railings. But in our rooms anyway, no peeling paint, no furniture-so-soiled-I-had-to-put-a-towel-down, no broken drawers, no plumbing issues, no broken switches, no soiled rugs, nothing. Everything worked, everything was clean. The deck 6 balconies do have the solid wall at the bottom (rather than the glass of the upper decks), but that didn't phase me. From my point of view, as long as you can see the water from the chairs and the bed, which you could easily, I was happy.

Our kid's balcony had a smoked glass divider on one side, but our cabin had solid walls floor to ceiling on each side which made it very private! ;) The room's location was also fantastic. We were somewhat forward, portside, right behind the elevators, but never heard a noise. The location was also very near the staircase, which put the promenade just a flight down and a few steps away - very convenient for getting coffee or heading to the pub to pick up a glass of wine before dinner. It was also close to the Maharajah lounge for shows and had great access to the elevators for everywhere else. For anything aft, we simply walked the promenade. Highly recommended location. The evening's going away show was fine - mostly a commercial for RCL and an intro to Jimmy Rhodes the CD, followed by Comedian Gregg Otto. My son and daughter both liked him - probably because it was their first time seeing a live stand-up comedian. He made me laugh, even though he had some aged "what's the deal with airplane food?" style material. Still, I guess I'm pretty easy to please because I enjoyed it, and was looking forward to seeing him in the the adults-only show. And hey, we were on vacation! After the show it was time for our late seating dinner. We met our waiter Nahjer, assistant Michael, and table mates at our table for 10. We were seated with Mark and Jean, a family of 4 from California, as well as Alan and Norma, a lovely couple from Scotland. Great group and we hit it off right away. They had a son 14 that matched my son's age, and a daughter a fair bit younger than our daughter. After diner the four of them went to the teen club together and met up with other teens later in the evening. Now with a few new friends in tow, DD - who feared she'd never meet anyone - seemed to relax a bit (and so did we). I know folks talk about the awkwardness of that age on the ship, and it's true. The late-teen age (too young to drink, too old for kids programs) is a tough one to build a program around that age that the kids will think is "cool". Speaking of teens, it's summer, so yes, we did run into a few - but only a very few - older teens hanging in stairwells and crowding elevators, pressing buttons, etc. Overall it certainly wasn't horrible, and I found a laugh and an easy attitude will usually get you through better than scowls and head-shaking. Interestingly I also found the 1am curfew for the 18-and-under crowd seemed to be largely ignored by staff and teens alike. Back to dinner, first night was excellent. I had the Tortilla soup and prime rib. DW had the curry which she'd never had and we both loved it. Robert Mondavi Solaire Cabernet was pretty good and became our "goto" selection for the week. The 7-bottle wine package worked perfectly for us. I also splurged on the sugar free chocolate crème dessert -it was good- basically mousse, but hey, sugar free! In fact, I found the sugar-free desserts to be great all week. Following dinner we went to the promenade and staked out a place for the parade. Sure it was kind of hokey, but the energy was up and we were on vacation, so hey, it was fun!

Afterwards, DW and I went to the Schooner - usually one of our favorite places. This week's performer, Anselmo Boles, while talented, seemed to spend most of the night asking for requests, only to tell folks he didn't know them. And we're talking about Billy Joel stuff here, not obscure items. We tried him a few times during the week but he just didn't work for us. And while there were definitely others there, I can't say the bar was ever packed the way I've seen it other trips. Also it seemed every time we went by he was playing the same few songs. I was really hoping to spend time there, but no problem, there are lots of options on the Ex!

Friday - Day 1 - at Sea Our first night's sleep was fantastic, weather was cool and dry enough that leaving the door cracked wasn't a problem and we both loved listening to the sounds of the waves. For breakfast, the bride and I hit the windjammer - no problems finding seats, and lines even for omelets weren't bad. Food was great and a broad selection. My son loved the chicken-fried-rice for breakfast! After breakfast the family disappeared and I hit the gym. No problem getting a treadmill and my favorite part - staring over the ocean while running was a tremendous motivator. Appropriately the iPod selects "Perfect Day" and it couldn't be more accurate! I'm on Vacation!!

Later I met the bride upstairs on the pool deck in a nice shady spot away from the pool a bit on deck 12. First sea day was crowded as you'd expect, but like all of our sea days, we never had a huge problem finding a place to hang out - even in the shade - but it usually took some looking and maybe a bit of creative chair arrangement. A great book (now one of my favorites) and a trio of iced Corona's in a bucket made my afternoon, while alternately listening to the band and watching the beautiful blue ocean sail by.

The sea was amazingly flat those first few days, the sky cloudless, and we never did see a whitecap (that our ship wasn't making) anytime on the trip.

A few hours later we had a late lunch in the windjammer, plenty to choose from, and I had more Indian as did DW. We're certainly not experts, but I really enjoyed it. It was only at that point that we realized we'd completely forgotten about our Meet and Mingle, which was now long past. Sorry peeps! Hope you enjoyed it! Eventually we dressed for formal dinner night and went to the Captain's reception on the promenade. It was quite crowded, and tuxedos were noticeably few and far between. I would guess less than 1 in 20 men were in true formal attire, most in suits. But the bubbly was flowing, the captain was on hand taking photos (only time we saw him all week), and it was fun to stroll and people watch. Later, we stopped in Champagne bar and had a "good glass" of bubbles each before dinner.

Arriving at dinner we found our table-mates looking fabulous, and Alan from Scotland wore his full Scottish kilt and knee socks! He looked terrific!

Overall the formal dinner was nice. I found the bisque a little too fishy, but the filet was great and my son had it for an appetizer and entree! By this point we were certainly enjoying our table-mate's company, but this was also the night we began noticing our waiter's service and disposition starting to slide. Our head waiter, Sandeep stopped by for the first time and I must admit, nobody seemed to like him. He seemed like a bad used car salesman, not very genuine at all. Each evening thereafter he stopped by, mangled a bad joke and left - often without even asking about the food or service. Of course, we've all had mediocre waiters before, I wasn't going to let it ruin my meals. Later that night our assistant waiter Michal, who we loved, accidentally gave my seapass card to Alan and vice-versa, (my fault for not checking) but it resulted in 3 trips to guest services and my being blocked from leaving the ship for a while. It seemed odd that from that point on, we seemed to have seapass problems all week: keys just chronically not working in locks, spare keys not working. (and they weren't next to cell phones, other cards, or really anything). Over the course of the week I had at least 4 seapass cards, DW at least 5, the kids 2 or 3 each. And all working intermittently. For instance, in St. Maarten they worked for us to get back on the boat, but not in the room 5 minutes later. Needless to say it was a bit annoying.... but, hey, relax, it's vacation! Guest services was as helpful as they could be and very apologetic. But finally on day 5, after at least 5-6 trips there between us, we'd had so many problems that my wife, without getting angry or pushy, just said "Please, Royleston (at the desk), I REALLY need your to fix this for me." At that point they offered to do the room swap they told us they couldn't do before, moved all the adults together, kids together, reissued all new keys, and were wonderfully supportive and apologetic. Later in the day, they even sent us a bottle of wine and cheese plate with an apology!!! Sometimes a nice word and a smile and a request for help goes further than yelling and screaming. Either way, I certainly never got a free bottle from RCL before! Dinner that evening ended very late,and we talked and still hadn't ordered dessert or coffee as the other tables were gone and staff began the prep for next morning. This became a pattern as several evenings we were the last folks out of the room, and this evening we even witnessed a little "honesty" as 2 staffers, seeming unaware of any guests still remaining in the dining room, had a knock down fight over - apparently - a broom. A literal shoving match right around the wall from us that we walked into as we exited. Obviously they were mortified seeing us walking out but we just kind of smiled and chuckled. Hope they didn't get in trouble. After dinner we changed and went to karaoke - great fun, even the not-so-talented made us laugh. The gal who sang "alcohol" would have been my vote - she was hysterical. Heading back to the room, we watched the waves from the balcony, before calling it a night sailing to Bermuda.

Day 3 - Bermuda. I woke up just as we were sailing past St. George - and an hour later we were docked in the dockyard. Beautiful island! I'd been here before and my recollection wasn't that it was all that lovely, but this quick visit has me rethinking my opinion. We walked the dockyard a bit, took some pics, then bought tokens for the bus to Horseshoe Beach.

The had plenty of "special" buses specifically for passengers to go to Horseshoe, and the total cost for all 4 of us was $28 round trip. Very pretty ride. At Horseshoe, it was not yet crowded but got very busy as the morning wore on.

They were set up for a volleyball tournament and movies under the stars event which cut down beach space a little, but it's still a gorgeous beach and if you want to take a little walk up the beach there was plenty of elbow room and unspoiled space.

What a gorgeous beach! No wonder it's always at the top of lists! We rented an umbrella and 3 chairs for $40 (plus $20 deposit), and spent the day there relaxing and enjoying the beach. I walked up to the many coves on the left as well as climbed to the point on the right (I'm not a great sit-and-do-nothing type). Many, many pictures taken. We also did some snorkeling right around the rocks there that was kind of fun as well and gave me a chance to try out my new underwater camera. Later we finished up and walked the long hill back up to the bus. Honestly the walk was not nearly as bad as I expected, and I was glad we didn't pay $2 a person to take the shuttle. The ride back to the dockyard was just as pretty, and the girls wanted to go shopping, so I dropped DS back off on the ship to meet his friends, and then met the girls for lunch at the Frog and Onion. Love that place! Good meal, great beer, and hey, it's vacation!

The girls went shopping so I went back to the boat and stopped in the Crown and Kettle Pub where I met Magnai the bartender, from India. What a sweet gal! Only on the 2nd week of her contract, we chatted for about 20 minutes, and every time I walked by after that she remembered me by name, shouted out "hey Tom!" That's the first-class service that really makes cruises memorable. And of course, it was not my last visit to the pub either!

Later we watched the boat pull out from the pool deck. Daughter hit the computer lounge, so DW and I just relaxed to watch Bermuda fade into the sunset. Lovely. Before dinner we changed, had to visit guest services (again) to fix the ever present key issues and made a quick stop in the casino where the craps table was very kind to us and bought us a few bottles of wine. Then, we made a quick stop the Schooner bar where a guitar player was playing classical Spanish guitar and I really enjoyed that. Great background to a gorgeous sunset. Then on to dinner. Dinner this evening was Smart casual and it was fun meeting up with the table mates now and trading stories of our days. I had the beef shoulder and the beef/pork ravioli appetizer. Both were ok, perhaps a bit... bland, and DW agreed. Same with dessert. Service was still slow, and once again we were nearly the last folks to leave the room. An entree for our table-mate's son was brought out, but sat on a sideboard unserved for 15 minutes. We were nearly finished before he came around to check and we could remind him. Another time I was left with my menu in front of me (having not had my order taken) until apps were served. When I joked with him asking "What... did you forget me?", rather than acknowledge it, he simply said "I'm here now." Again, it's be nice to have a great server, but it's not the end of the world either. Dinners were still by and large, a highlight, and hey, it's vacation! After dinner we stopped by the 70's party on the Promenade. YMCA and a few other classics, though I was a little surprised how short it was. I thought it was going to be all night, but I don't think the whole thing lasted an hour.

After that we went to the late night comedy show featuring Greg Otto. Greg was definitely better in that format and venue. He made me laugh a more than a few times -plenty good enough for me.

Day 4 - Sea Day - another great sea day. I woke up and continued the daily habit of checking our position on the GPS - which I brought just for fun (and it wasn't on the stateroom tv). Looking forward to a great relaxing day.

Breakfast in the windjammer was good, then I hit the gym, pounded out a few miles and earned some "beer credits" on the treadmill, before heading back to the pool for a day of reading and Corona-sipping. At 3 we had the ice show, fantastic! What a great experience to be watching that kind of talent, on a moving ship! Later in the afternoon, the girls went to the spa, and I settled on my balcony with a glass of wine, some ice water and a good book. It was just wonderful! Dinner this evening was Portofinos and it certainly did not disappoint in the least. Just my son, my wife, and me. Excellent all around. We ordered a bottle of Italian red off the menu. The boys had filet, DS had the minestrone soup which he loved, I had the seafood risotto appetizer and the table shared the beef carpaccio. The bride had the tuna carpaccio which she also loved, and the breads were fantastic. Dessert was the tierra misou for the son, I had the chocolate trio and the son's bailey's liquor as a bonus. :) Service was truly top-notch, right down to the "crumber" which was the only one I saw all week (our MDR waiter didn't have one). It was in some ways a bit of a sad reminder of how the cruises used to be - the first time I ever saw a "crumber" or learned what a sommelier is/does was on a cruise ship! But that's life in the new era of cruising. Again, fantastic meal and the service outstanding! Highly recommend you try Portofinos. Following dinner, we had the late night Karoke again (watched, didn't participate) and spent time on our balcony enjoying the amazing full moon. Perfect end to the day.

Day 4- St. Maarten. Arrival in St. Maarten was not until noon, which we found we really liked. The late arrival let me get a run in so I decided to try an earlier morning jog on the running track on 12. It was a little tough getting through and around the many other walkers and joggers since the track isn't very wide, but I managed, and seeing Agilla and St. Maarten get larger as we did was a great distraction. Once in St. Maarten, we followed some great advice from a recent cruise review on here and went to Divi little bay resort (by land cab from the end of the dock - $4 each). What a great choice! Divi little bay's beach is beautiful and when we were there not at all crowded. We rented 4 loungers and 2 umbrellas for $20 and spent the afternoon swimming and relaxing on the beautiful beach. The water was amazingly calm and probably perfect for those with smaller kids, I'd highly recommend it. There's also food and a bar there as well.

Walking down the beach there was a nice, calm area for snorkeling that had plenty of fish and would again be a great place for novice snorkelers or youngsters to try it out. It's right at the beach and in fairly shallow water. The resort itself is a collection of timeshares that seemed huge, but oddly empty. Perhaps that's a reflection of the economy but it was a little strange to see a place this large and a beach this beautiful, yet not full of folks staying at the resort. Oh well, better for us!

Later in the afternoon we headed back to downtown Phillipsburg for shopping and a late lunch at the Barefoot bar. Jerk chicken sandwiches and a few beers right on the beach were perfect! The girls shopped and the boys grabbed a water taxi back to the ship. Evening dinner was back in the MDR, and I decided to try the chops fillet. It was an outstanding piece of meat, served with Bernaise at my request. Paired with the cabernet it was delicious! Everything else about that meal, though, was largely unmemorable. Don't get me wrong, all of the food was good, but honestly it seemed more like really good banquet or really good wedding food. About this point I also decided not to raise the issue of our slow waiter with the Maitre'D. Perhaps I should have, but candidly I'm not a complainer, didn't want to upset the table for our friends, and honestly felt that if I couldn't address the issue with him directly ("dude you give us nasty looks, are slow, and have a bad attitude") then going to his boss the car salesman probably wasn't going to help. In the end though, I felt he was like an average waiter anywhere. While slow, and uninteresting, he wasn't ruining our meal. We were on vacation! We still had lively conversation and laughs every night. This evening we attended the "Love and Marriage" game show hosted by Jimmy Rhodes and that was great. Jimmy was a bit campy - as all cruise directors are - and we definitely had fun. The 300 pound gentleman whose wife divulged to the entire ship that he still sucks his thumb had to be a highlight! People were on the floor!

Other shows were good too, like Battle of the Sexes, and most of those were held in Maharaja lounge. We really took advantage of the entertainment on this trip, and were never really disappointed. That evening also featured the "dancing under the stars" party and buffet. Lots of shaking and dancing under a full moon. Great evening to be on a cruise!

Day 5 - St. Thomas - beautiful arrival (and cell phone data coverage!)

We had an early breakfast in the Windjammer and headed out to meet our tour. Captain Nautica's snorkeling adventure. What a fantastic trip! Without a doubt the highlight of our trip! Ryan and PJ (Captain) met us right at the dock in St. Thomas and it turned out there were only 9 of us, on a boat that often holds 15-20. That made for plenty of room, and their speedy little boat got us to both locations well ahead of other boats - which gave us more time in the water and also let us move on before it got too crowded. We snorkeled Buck island first, over a shipwreck there, though little is recognizable of the old ship. It's in about 30 feet of water, and it's been blown onto and off of the beach several times due to hurricanes and covered with coral. Still neat to see though. The rocky areas of the cove left plenty to see with more fish than coral, and we had a great afternoon - including a visit from a resident barracuda that relaxes daily under their boat waiting for a few pieces of fruit. Next we went over to turtle cove, and OMG what a fantastic experience! We saw and swam with numerous sea turtles, getting nose-to-nose with many as they came up for air. No touching allowed of course, but they were perfectly calm and used to visitors, and would often stop and stare at you as well - or simply swim alongside you as you watched! Particularly if you didn't thrash or chase them. Just fantastic!

Sadly, my underwater video camera died here (figures, right?) but I did manage get a few short clips of the experience and a few great shots. Lousy luck but great pictures. Along the way, the boys on the ship offered us shrimp cocktail and sliced fruit snacks, and plenty of bottled water and soft drinks, and did so with great stories and smiles. It was the perfect excursion and I can't recommend it highly enough! The definite highlight of our trip. Back at the dock we nosed around Havensite where we hadn't been in almost 20 years, amazing to see the difference! At this point a very quick but heavy shower moved through, so we took refuge in the Fat Turtle and had lunch on their deck. Expensive, but actually pretty good. And you're on vacation, so what the heck.

Back on ship, we spent the afternoon hanging on the deck. We were greeted with an amazing 1/2 Rainbow right over the pool deck that was surely good luck.

Later I was hoping to hit the dice tables but they were never open until after 7pm each evening. Maybe it's just as well. :) Sunset and the departure was beautiful, as usual, just as beautiful as I remembered it. Evening entertainment was juggler/comedian David Dimuzio - who was a better juggler and singer than a comedian, but well worth attending.

We attended the early show as usual, followed by dinner. Not quite sure what we had to eat that evening. About this point in the evenings we found ourselves wanting a bit more late-night music. We heard Anselmo playing in the schooner but he just wasn't doing it for us, and we kept walking past. (and we kept forgetting that Dizzy's was an option!) Steve Christie in the Crown and Kettle pub was an acoustic guitar player and crooner playing to orchestrated backing and drum tracks. Definitely worth a listen. I might have preferred a leaner, more acoustic singer, but it was still a great way to grab a night-cap, sit and peoplewatch, and end the day.

Day 6 - San Juan - awoke to an early arrival and very short stay in San Juan as the ship was leaving at 1pm. Hot and oh-so-muggy! We'd never been there before and since there was only a few hours to stay, we decided to walk through town and up to El Morro Castle. Old San Juan was beautiful and quaint, much moreso than I expected, and it abounded with photo-ops. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but the largely uphill walk (I'd bet a mile or so) left us feeling like dishrags in no time. When we found the entrance (after a few missed turns) we got there just as a shower started blowing through, and we took refuge under a grove of trees just off the grounds. Except for worrying about my cameras, it made for a fun moment of good-natured schadenfreude with the family as we watched a class of school children flying kites ran for their lives. (Not to worry, all made it ok - no lightning). Once the storm passed, the kites returned, we toured the castle, taking all the requisite pictures, then walked back through town (down hill, much easier) nosing through a few shops before heading back to the ship for lunch. If I had it to do over again, I think it'd be really nice to grab a cab to the Castle entrance and just walk back to the ship from there. Back on board, the ship set sail and the crew put on a great poolside bbq - ribs, chicken, burgers, dogs and lots of trimmings and desserts.

Another great afternoon by the pool, just relaxing and reading - followed by a beautiful sunset from our balcony. We really did enjoy sitting there! That evening we caught the "Fast forward" production show which wasn't bad. Again, even if it's not your cup of tea, there's always something to do. It's a lot like what they say about pizza.. even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. :) Dinner brought (I think) Italian night and the requisite singing waiters. Tradition I guess. The meal was ok and we had the best desserts of the week. I do agree with so many other comments however, that the desserts seem to taste as though it'd be thickened by gelatin. It's not so bad on, say, the pancetta - but the cheese cake? I felt like nearly all the desserts had the consistency of flan. Following dinner was everyone's favorite - the Quest - which was billed as a "family event" and was attended by adults and kids alike. Pretty much identical to what I remembered on Grandeur 5 years ago, but still a LOT of fun! It really is a great event, you can't help but laugh. Followed up Quest with a stop in the pub for a nightcap and called it an evening.

Day 7 -the first of our last two back-to-back sea days. Bit of a sleep in this morning, then up for a light breakfast and at 10, attended the Executive chef vs cruise director cake decorating. This was actually quite funny and a highlight of the week in retrospect. The show featured the Executive Chef, an audience member, and CD Jimmy having a contest to decorate a Black Forest cake, which devolved into more brandy drinking than actual decorating. We laughed and enjoyed it - as we did virtually all the entertainment.

Later that morning, there was a "surprise" buffet on the Promenade - "Nations marketplace" with a bit of everything - most with an ethnic flare - German wurst and kraut, English Fish and chips, etc. And a massive Black Forest chocolate cake presented by the chef. Good stuff and a nice chance for the culinary team to show off their handiwork. .

That evening was our last formal evening, and it seemed even fewer wore tuxes on the second formal evening than the first. Dinner was great, a few at our table ordered the lobster and I heard no complaints.

Later we hit the casino for a bit of craps play since it was double-odds night, and once again the dice stayed hot enough to let us came away up even more, taking another nice nip out of our bar bill. This evening we were alongside many "seasoned" New York and AC craps players (we're amateurs next to these folks) so the action was fun and moving nicely when the staff could keep up. Considering most large craps tables have 4 workers, and these guys had only 3, they did an admirable job of running the game and moving the play along. If you've never played craps, be sure to try it some time - it's the only game where everyone basically plays against the house, where you get a chance to handle the gaming instruments and roll, and the $5 minimum won't make you feel like your breaking the bank. Lots of high-fives and glad-handing all around. Day 8 - last sea day - this was a great day to just relax and enjoy. Slept in a bit late, spent time by the pool. Staff hosted a few poolside games and the walk for wishes campaign as well, and I spent the day just wandering the ship doing the photo thing and trying to get to places I hadn't gotten yet like the heliport and JR's. While it was another sea day, it was still quite possible to find places in the shade. In fact, we had no real problem all week finding loungers. Sometimes we had to be a bit creative, and yes there were occasional chair hogs, but overall the ship has plenty of seating - particularly if you don't care to be right next to the pool (as we didn't). In fact, on our last sea day, I noticed several great areas that were virtually empty - including the promenade deck on 4, the kids water park area at the back of the ship, and the foward area of deck 12. There's always a place to sit and relax on this ship.

Later in the afternoon we packed and left our bags outside our rooms - the beginning of the inevitable end. Our final casual dinner was lovely, exchanging emails and promising to stay in touch with our table mates. Our son attended the teen dinner (as he did most nights) and had a blast with the teen group all week - though by the end I think the kids were getting a bit antsy to get home. We said farewell to Michal our wonderful, smiling assistant waiter, as well as the somewhat surley Nahjer. We left plenty of comments on our sheet - both good and constructive. Day 10 - departure. Not sure why, but departure was delayed repeatedly, and Jimmy Rhodes apologized continuously. My one gripe was that they had folks staged to the Magellen dining room where there clearly wasn't seating for half of the people they wanted to wait there. Needless to say, between the crowds and bags, peeps were getting a bit cranky. Once they finally called our number, it was a fairly quick trip down the steps and off the ship. A quick shuttle, picked up our bags, through customs/immigration and back to our car by 12:30 or so.

Final Observations. A few things came to mind over the week. Oddly, for most of the trip news was hard to come by. Long gone are the little daily newspapers that used to be printed with your compass. And the TV did not carry CNN but did have International CNN at certain times. Maybe a satellite issue? News junkies may just want to buy internet. Drydock work: Fortunately we saw/heard no construction during the trip except for a bit of banging on sea day 1, but I did see someone sanding on a Deck 6 cabin balcony when we were in Bermuda. When leaving the ship, however, we did see lots of carpet pulled up in the dumpsters so it seems they were doing something somewhere.

Other common CC subjects at a glance: Did no smuggling. Did not know anyone who did. Drank the water on board extensively and it was fine. Loved the flavored waters especially mango. No smoker problems on our balcony, smokers by the pool didn't bother me. Saw no shorts or t-shirts in MDR. Yes there were chair hogs, never saw kids in the solarium or hot tubs. No flat screen in the room, didn't care. We got plenty of towel animals and no chocolates. Liked Savory bites, didn't think Honey Stung chicken was a big deal. Didn't order room service.

What I didn't do: It's amazing how on a 9-night trip you still don't have time for it all. But we didn't. I never got to climb the rockwall, play mini-golf or did the inline skating. I never ice-skated but the kids did. I never had a Johnny Rockets milkshake, and my waistline probably appreciates it, but I did see them dance. Never made it to trivia or the learning sessions. Didn't do bingo. In fact there were dozens of things I'm sure I didn't do - but that just leaves more for next time.

Overall it was a wonderful, amazing vacation, and please don't think that because I pointed out a few things that I might have liked to see differently that I didn't enjoy it. I mention those because people tend to like to read them. But remember that for each of the petty things I pointed out, thousands of things went right that go unmentioned in these reviews. From clean silverware and sheets, to cultivated plants in rest rooms, polished hand rails, smooth sailing, hot wings, chilled beers and most of all warm smiles, this is a vacation that simply cant be beat. It's amazing the millions of things that RCL does right time and time again - and those make the minor things insignificant.

The Final Count: In the end, I hit the gym 5 times, ran 24 miles, and gained 5 pounds. My son went to the gym twice and lost 9 pounds. Getting old stinks :) Less


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Cabin review: Explorer of the Seas Superior Oceanview Stateroom Deck 6 6548

From what I'd heard on here, particularly early this year, I had some concerns about the state of the ship. For anyone worried (or complaining) about the state of repair of the ship, I can only say that's certainly not that we saw. The ship was gorgeous pretty much anywhere that counted. Yes, if you looked at the floor of a table in the windjammer, or along a hallway baseboard, you're going to see a paint chip, or fingerprints on a railing here and there. But seriously, relax. The public areas of the ship were, in my opinion, beautiful, well maintained and cleaner than most high-end hotels I've stayed at. As for the rooms, our 2 D3 cabins - 6546 and 6548 - were in amazing shape. Honestly, I really saw nothing. I had to look (hard) for issues inside and found only a bit of rust in the bathroom trim. Outside, yes the handrail needed varnish, and from the outside of the ship looking UP you could see rust UNDER the railings. But in our rooms anyway, no peeling paint, no furniture-so-soiled-I-had-to-put-a-towel-down, no broken drawers, no plumbing issues, no broken switches, no soiled rugs, nothing. Everything worked, everything was clean. The deck 6 balconies do have the solid wall at the bottom (rather than the glass of the upper decks), but that didn't phase me. From my point of view, as long as you can see the water from the chairs and the bed, which you could easily, I was happy. Our kid's balcony had a smoked glass divider on one side, but our cabin had solid walls floor to ceiling on each side which made it very private! ;) The room's location was also fantastic. We were somewhat forward, portside, right behind the elevators, but never heard a noise. The location was also very near the staircase, which put the promenade just a flight down and a few steps away - very convenient for getting coffee or heading to the pub to pick up a glass of wine before dinner. It was also close to the Maharajah lounge for shows and had great access to the elevators for everywhere else. For anything aft, we simply walked the promenade. Highly recommended location.

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