Well, this was our third cruise on this wonderful ship and, I'm sure, not the last. We live in the capital of the Steeler Nation, Pittsburgh, and decided to drive to Bayonne on sailing day, as is our norm. We got our usual early, read 5am, start and braved the wilds of I-80 over to the port. Since we were travelling in a caravan of sorts we got to the port about 1pm. Check-in was painless and since we were a little later than previous we were able to go right to our inside stateroom. As the Boss, not Springsteen but my dear wife, requires an accessible cabin we chose a familiar one on deck 9. We met our Cabin Steward who became a friend to both my wife and I over the 10 days we were together. Whenever he saw my wife "scoot" down the hall he would RUN to open the door for her. He always had a smile on his face, even when he was obviously quite tired. Our cabin was always neat and clean and we never wanted for anything. We did ask the mini-bar be emptied, and it was Friday morning, and to have the coffee table removed. No problems.
Thanks to a very active roll call we had a great group of fellow cruisers. A lot of activities were planned and they all went off without a hitch. We even made a few new friends along the way. We met up with some of our friends first thing and were not far away from each other the rest of the cruise.
We hit the Windjammer for our first, of many, meals and wound up with a spattering of food including the noted "Honey-stung Chicken". Then our usual exploring on Explorer until we met our friend Mark for dinner at Portofino's. To say we had a lot of good food was an understatement. I'm sorry we haven't done a specialty restaurant before this. Thanks again Mark. After dinner the cigar bar called my name. I am very sorry to report the experience here was not up to the standard provided in my past 2 Explorer cruises. The club was quite smokey and that aroma could be easily detected all the way to the elevator lobby. After a short while we figured out the problem. Not all of the filters were operating and the bar staff assigned to the Connoisseur Club didn't like smoke so he would open the door to the outer deck causing the door to the club to be "sucked" open by an air pressure difference. Why would you post an employee who doesn't tolerate smoke in a cigar bar? And why didn't he have all the air filters running? That led to our nightly "meetings" being rescheduled to the 19th hole in the Viking Crown Lounge. The only thing lacking at this venue is the ability to smoke cigars, oh well a small sacrifice for good friendship.
We had three sea days at the beginning so our CC group tried to fill them with some activities. This allowed us to fight the urge to vegetate, hey what's wrong with that. We had our Meet & Mingle on Friday (#1 sea day). Luke Aerosmith, the Cruise Director showed up and even admitted he is a CC "lurker". There were a plethora of "good" prizes including internet time, and some other certificates. I sure beat the heck out of the junk they gave away on Oasis earlier this year. We added a gift exchange and a combination cabin crawl/poker run afterwards. Quick thanks to Sue for her planning. Saturday we did a slot-pull. Not as productive as other pulls I've been to but ....
If this is Tuesday we must be in St. Maarten. This is a beautiful island. Debbie and I walked form the dock to town and along the beach. We stopped for a drink and some conch fritters along the beach. On our way back to the ship we came upon a small store for the boats in the marina and scored some fantastic coffee to take back home. St. Maarten replaces their license plated every year so some folks will donate the old ones to charity to sell to us tourists. I will be sporting mine on the front of the PT soon. A $3 donation to the local Humane Society scored a neat souvenir. Back to the ship to get out of the heat and prep for dinner with six of our good friends. We had MTD but wound up eating with Meg, Aunt Cookie, Mark, Carol, Wally and Terry at an 8 top every night. Now this dining thing even carried over to breakfast as we tended to grab the same table in the Windjammer every morning for our leisurely meal.
Our next port was St. Thomas. Deb and I hung around the dock area in St. Thomas. Havensight Mall (really a collection of shops) is right there at the dock. We ventured across the street to Al Cohen's and picked up some more libations and t-shirts. Again, it was hot, but I'm not complaining.
On to San Juan. As is our norm, we hit the area around the docks. We stopped at the Don Q rum store and, of course, bought a bottle. Then on to some high class shopping, CVS. Here we picked up a thank you gift for one of the Sr. Officers who was kind enough to take a few of us to dinner at Portofino's (again). Thanks again, we really enjoyed our time together.
Thursday was, in my opinion, the best of the trip. We landed in Labadee, Haiti. This is a private peninsula owned by Royal Caribbean and dedicated to sea, sun and fun. We were very fortunate to be invited to share a cabana in the "Suites Only" beach with our friends. I even went into the water although I wish I had some water shoes. Regis, our cabana attendant, made sure the cabana always had ice and water in the cooler and the sand was swept from the floor. He also got us mats to float in the sea. What a way to live. Since RCI owns Labadee lunch was included in our trek. But, since we were in the suite area, we feasted on shrimp, prime rib and other delicacies not available to the rest of those on shore. Sorry, but the Prime Rib was very good.
Captain Punctual (Captain Olav) pulled out promptly at 5 to speed back to Bayonne.
Friday saw the miniature golf tournament and lunch, I took 3rd (don't know how) the wind was a big factor as well as the "lie" changing with the gently rocking ship. Once lunch was over, we had to start thinking about getting ready for the second "formal" night. But this was lobster night. Need I say more, I had about 4 tails and a few shrimp to boot. There was a large group of Japanese on the ship and the women dressed in kimono for formal night. They were absolutely stunning.
We just "bummed around" Saturday with our friends and had a great time just being on the ship and sharing stories, jokes and puzzled glances not to mention a red face, or two.
As Saturday was uneventful, I'll go right onto Sunday. As we were sitting at "our table" for breakfast, the great journalist, Radio, said "I have to go out and get pictures of the bridge. So what did I do? Yep, I followed him out and got some nice shots myself. Disembarkation was a bit of a minor disaster. I'm not sure if it was the Japanese contingent and customs or the 300+ group and their busses, but we didn't get off until 11:30 (right about the time our friend who had #1 pulled into their driveway). Have to chalk this one up to "Ship Happens".
Well here I sit, safely at home, recounting our latest cruise. On a scale of 1 to 10 it has to be a 10. Mostly because of all the great people we shared our time with. If you live in the Northeast, or even if you don't, you HAVE to sail Explorer of the Seas. She may not be the youngest, or biggest, ship on the seas but she is the best. The crew is without a doubt the best I have ever sailed with. I NEVER passed a crew or staff member that didn't say hello from Capt. Olav who spotted my Steeler cap and had to comment (He lives in Baltimore) to the "blue boys" who fix everything on the ship. Please give our girl a try, you will not be disappointed.