Hello, all. Just got back from the 12/12/04 sailing to Eastern Caribbean on the Explorer. Great ship, great service. I'm sure it will take a day for my equilibrium to normalize. The last souvenir you have from a trip like this (the good kind, not the bad kind) is that your body still thinks it's on the ship for a day afterward.
There were three couples travelling between ages 29 and 52, and we had balcony cabins next to each other on Deck 6. None of us have children. One couple got engaged the first night so we spent the rest of the trip celebrating with them. We had an absolute blast. We each had a bottle of champagne from our travel agency waiting in our rooms when we arrived.
I have to say that reading past reviews helped me greatly in making good decisions while on the cruise. The experience exceeded most of our expectations. The amount of detail on past cruise reviews was excellent. I will add my own personal observations and tips.
Day 1 - We arrived to the cruise pier at about 3 p.m. and sailed onto the ship with no lines whatsoever. The downside was we missed lunch at the Windjammer and had to get sustenance in the Cafe Promenade until our 8:30 dinner. I would try to get on earlier and enjoy the amenities early on.
We got a $42 Soft Drink card but not until the next day. It was a little expensive but we used it a lot throughout the cruise. We had brought some of our own alcohol on the ship (Dasani water bottles) and were able to get all kinds of juices with the Coke card for mixers. None of us were big drinkers but we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks most nights. We also brought on covered-lid tumblers with straws so we always had something handy to carry our drinks in (alcoholic or otherwise).
FOOD -- OK, I've come to understand that on these mid-priced cruise lines, it's not really about the food anymore. Nonetheless, there were some things they did really, really well. Other things were mediocre but dressed up well enough. Seafood not as available; lobster/shrimp on last formal night always a hit and our table ordered two entrees. Steaks and lamb they do very, very well. Italian and Caribbean nights - probably the least impressive. TIP: The Windjammer Cafe does a casual dinner concurrent with dining room seating, and most of the offerings in the formal dining room can be found at the Windjammer as well. If you don't feel up to going to the formal dining room, you can go the Cafe and sample everything. Don't look for the top-drawer entrees there, though. I did enjoy some things I don't usually get, like fresh figs in the morning and smoked salmon. Be choosy. Some of the Indian dishes in the Windjammer got high marks from our travel partner who is Indian - the lamb curry, especially.
SERVICE -- I have to say Explorer did a GREAT JOB on this cruise with service. They thanked us a lot. Our dining room crew was great. Our room steward was nothing special, though, despite my husband's pre-tipping him. Our shower did not drain well, and we complained the first night. He said he would monitor but nothing happened. TIP: If you don't get results within 12-24 hours go straight to maintenance. We did not speak up and at the end of the cruise we informed our steward the problem was never fixed. The look on his face was the look of someone who just saw his gratuity evaporate (it didn't). The fault was also with us though for not speaking up enough.
ROOM -- Getting a balcony room was a perfect choice for us. My husband and I are 7 a.m. risers and we tended to grab coffee from the Promenade (in cups we brought from home - an indulgence but worth it for us) and sit out on our balcony and watch us pull into port or the sun rise. However, we didn't last past 12:30 most nights and missed out on some nighttime music and fun, including the buffets. Our other friends went and said great presentation, but nothing over the top in terms of offerings. Watching TV is interesting - 22 channels of Royal Caribbean Propaganda TV, West Wing, CNN International, retro '60s sitcoms, a black-and white era movie (shown 100 times), and my favorite, South Park in Spanish.
SHIP LIFE -- Many international travellers on our cruise. I brushed up on a lot of Spanish during my week. Explorer does a great job of not making any one place feel overwhelmed with people. We had the full 3100+ passengers on board but we never lacked for a deck chair or use of the amenities. Our favorite pastime was the six of using the hot tubs in the Solarium late at night (pools and tubs open 24 hours) - we had the place to ourselves. We also used the gym frequently and I took two spinning classes with Laszlo - intense. I ran into many people, ourselves included, who found lots of opportunity to try out something new, like rock climbing, ice-skating, etc. The Planet Ice show was terrific, esp. as we were rocking and rolling - I don't how they landed their jumps.
PORTS -- My last cruise was in 1998 and it's amazing how the cruise industry has homogenized the ports in the interim. With so many ships in port on any given day (between three and seven), we always disembarked amid chaos and the same jewelry shops. Our goal was to find our "moments" that defined the port experience.
In San Juan, it was my cafe con leche over lunch and the fort visit, interrupted by pouring rain, necessitating a mad yet amusing dash back to the taxi stand. In St. Maarten, it was our ill-fated trip to Marigot by local bus which took us 50 minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic (in rain) to get there. We were on the way to Grand Case for beach and snorkel time, but the trip there ate up our time and we had a creole shrimp and goat stew lunch in Marigot and boarded the bus back. Definitely ride the local bus once during your trip. It's like $1.50 compared to a $5 cab ride, and you get a local taste. Traffic there has really gotten bad.
In St. Thomas, we did the St. John/Trunk Bay Snorkel excursion. This was a highlight for us and our only snorkel experience the whole trip. Some of our party were new to cruising and some to snorkeling, so this definitely was something to remember!
In Nassau we were prepared to write off the port because of cloudy weather but it cleared, so we grabbed a cab to Cable Beach for beach time. We wandered to the back of the Wyndham and parked it on the beach chairs there for a few hours. This was one of the few times our friends said, "This is the first time I don't feel herded from point to point always looking at the clock." We rode back to the ship in a local bus for $1.
Disembarkation took forever. We got off 2 hours later than the posted time. We had booked a limo to take us around Miami. Once we got in, however, we were fine. We tooled around and ate lunch in South Beach at Mangoes. We had a sidewalk table and had Cuban sandwiches and shrimp every which way and a few mojitos. We walked the beach, did some more sightseeing on Star Island, and then headed to the airport for Michigan. We went from 80 degrees to 3 degrees in 12 hours. We are now back at work where the holiday treats provide us with (yet) another buffet.
OVERALL -- Enjoy the ship and the amenities, do your homework on ports so you know what you want to do, and try something new. When in port we always ran into others on other ships and we asked how they were enjoying their cruise ship. Many seemed disappointed with their choice and we secretly were happy we had chosen the Explorer.