Pre Cruise -- This was the first cruise for my husband, myself (both 49) and our 18 year old son. I tried hard to find a ship which would cater to all of us and feel immensely satisfied with our choice. The ship was definitely everything I had hoped for and more. Explorer of the Seas has been reviewed many times, this is more a review of our cruise than of the ship. We flew into Fort Lauderdale a day and a half early. We figured if we didn't have weather delays it would give us some extra time in Florida. The new car rental center in the airport is handy and very nice. We rented a car, which, for three of us was cheaper than a shuttle and gave us some independence. Our hotel was the Fairfield Inn and Suites Miami Beach. It was an easy hotel to get to. It is an older redo, very well kept and I would recommend it. Miami Beach was a nice area, not much night life, but we didn't mind that. South Beach was close and an easy drive. I loved getting up the next morning, and walking on the beach. My vacation had officially begun! We spent our extra day in the Everglades and had a really wonderful sunset sail on Florida Bay.
Embarkation, Day One, room, ship etc. -- We drove to the airport car rental and had Alamo shuttle us to the pier. That was a hassle, I'm not sure we would do it that way again. We arrived about noon, there were no lines, and before we knew it we were walking across the gangway onto the ship. It was a wonderful moment for me. I had agonized so much over the choices and decisions I had, learned so much about what a cruise was and now, here I was, on board the Explorer of the Seas. It was real, not just a plan anymore. We entered on deck 4 and decided to check out our room first, so went up to deck eight on the elevator. On the floor of the elevator was a reminder, it was "Sunday". This was changed everyday to reflect our current date and was very helpful,,,it was also a sad reminder of the passage of our week.
Our room was at the very front of the ship, the first port room. It was open and clean and we looked around. The window we had was larger than I expected and was actually very nice. I was glad to have it. The bathroom was big enough for one at a time. Our room steward was Rene. He introduced himself and explained what he did. He was nice and very good. Every night we had a little animal to greet us on our beds. Our room was always clean, towels replaced, and a smile on his face every time we saw him. There was room for all of our clothes and luggage. I put up a little shoe bag over the door which helped a lot with all the odds and ends. That was the one thing I had learned about on Cruise Critic that I actually used. Our son slept on the sofa pull out. It was plenty big, though when it was out there was less room to move. I had heard that the front of the ship rocks more than the back, but I couldn't tell any difference and was not bothered by it.
Then it was off to explore the rest of the ship. Having nothing else to compare it to all I can say is that it was amazing. The Royal Promenade was the heart of the action. I took a tour of the spa and ended up with a wonderful Hot Stone massage later in the week. The people in the spa seemed very accommodating. We had lunch at the Windjammer and then headed to the activity deck where we decided to try out the mini golf. It was not a challenging course, and I was winning with three holes to go when we got the call to go to lifeboat drill. It was at the lifeboat drill that we met the first of our Cruise Critic friends. It just seemed to start the whole week off well. We went to the observation deck for sail away. It was warm, a little cloudy, and a beautiful sunset over Miami, the ropes were taken off, the ship blasted its horn a few times (and we got the full effect there on the bow), and we made a sharp turn around the Radiance, waved to the people on her waving to us, and we were off down the channel on our way to open sea. We watched as South Beach came into view and slid away. It was awesome.
Well, after that it was down to the dining room for dinner. Our table of six was on the top level by the window. Our waiter was Lucito and assistant waitress was Elizabeth and head waiter Leslie. All three were very professional, personable, helpful, efficient, and made our meals so pleasurable. Eating in the dining room became very fun. The food was great, and if it wasn't great they would bring you something else. I did not expect my son to continue coming, however he came every night, dressed up willingly on formal nights and seemed to enjoy the experience.
After dinner was the opening parade and the opening show. Our cruise director, Clodagh O'Conner from Ireland was a delight, and very personable and funny. Our opening act was a comedian who definitely won me over, he was very funny, Rick Starr. Later in the week we also enjoyed the singer, Mark Preston. The "Planet Ice" show was every bit as good as I had read it would be. The creativity and imagination of the choreographer and set designer and costumer more than made up for the limited space. I was very impressed and wonderfully entertained. The skaters were talented, cute, energized and able to reach out to the audience and bring us in. It was fun, and thoroughly enjoyable. I did not enjoy the RC singers and dancers and did not go back to see their second show. We also had a ventriloquist. The musicians in the various bars and lounges seemed to be all excellent. I especially enjoyed the piano man at Schooners and "Latin Elusian" in the Aquarium.
I enjoyed the art on the ship, one night I took the time to go up and down each stairwell and look at the artwork and read the descriptions. There was some everywhere you turned. The casino was out of the way, I forgot there was one.
There had been some flu/virus outbreaks on a couple of other ships, so they were reminding us to wash our hands, to use the antibacterial wash that they had conspicuously provided in several places. I made sure I did so, I did not want to spend my days in quarantine.
That first night it was a little hard for me to get to sleep. At one point I opened the curtains over our window and the full moon was shining brightly over the sea right in to where I lay down. It was so beautiful and it seemed like it was there just for me.
Day Two first sea day -- This was our chance to explore the ship and see what there was to do. At 10:30 we had our Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle in the Portofino dining room. It was outstanding to meet everyone we had heard from online. Everyone who had posted anything at all on our board showed up. That part was nice. We also had a few others. Thank you to RCCL and to my fellow CCers for giving us that opportunity to meet, thereby giving us friends to greet the rest of the week. We tried out the swimming pools, had no trouble finding a chair, took a tour of the scientific labs on board, worked out in the fitness center, went ice skating, checked out the internet room, and library, and just relaxed. We found our way to the peek-a-boo-bridge where we could look in on the officers and the guidance system of the ship. They steered this 1000 ft long ship with a joy stick from a chair. On the peek-a-boo bridge was a map showing where we were and how fast we were going. DH and I played shuffleboard. That was good for a laugh. That was on deck 4 and was kind of a quiet place to go. The observation deck was the best place to go star-gazing, it was wonderful to look at the winter sky without freezing. I enjoyed having a sea day first. This was our first formal night, so we all dressed up and went to dinner. I had balked at this idea initially, we are not fancy people, but it turned out well. I enjoyed the fact that afterwards the entire ship was dressed up, what a fun thing to be a part of. After dinner was the Captain's reception. All of it was very exciting, upbeat and enjoyable. Day Three- Belize I had booked us on an ship excursion (38 of us, so not too big) to the Lamanai ruins and New River jungle boat ride. It was a combination cultural enlightenment, wildlife sanctuary and ancient Mayan history tour. This turned out to be the best day of the trip for me. It was everything I wanted and more and better than I had dreamed. I cannot say enough good things about it. Both hubby and son enjoyed it as well. I loved being in Belize, I loved the jungle and wildlife. I love the beautiful wooden bowls I bought. I loved the ruins and the Belizean lunch. I loved the treatment we had from our guide, drivers and other staff. It was a great day!
Day 4 Costa Maya -- No need to wake up too early. We could just walk off the ship here. We saw a Cruise Critic friend at breakfast and made arrangements to take school supplies in together. We had a leisurely morning, went out to the pier and took a look around the tourist village. It was a little nicer than I expected. I don't think I would have minded a little time on the "beach" there, listening to the the waves against the rocks. I didn't really look in the stores there since I wanted to shop in town. We spent the early afternoon in the town of Mahujual. We enjoyed some chips and salsa, did some shopping and then it was back to the ship for my Hot Stone massage. I'm glad I did that, it was expensive, but it was just what I needed that day. This was Caribbean night. I took a nap so I could be up to enjoy the late night buffet, and fun at the pool party. The buffet was great, the party at the pool was too crowded to really get involved, so I took my plate and went out to an outside chair to eat and watch the sea go by. It was so relaxing to listen to the wind and waves, to watch the clouds rush by, and smell the fresh ocean breeze. It was like there could never be a care in the world out there in that wide open sea. Because I had taken a nap I wasn't very tired. I wandered around the ship for awhile, sat and listened to the "Latin Elusion" band in the Aquarium bar. I read a book and listened to the music till 2am. I was amazed at how busy the place still was then when I wandered back to the room.
Day Five Cozumel -- Well, today we had a snorkel tour with a company recommended on Cruise Critic. We'd had so many people telling us not to use the ship's excursions, because they are too big and too expensive. Well, maybe I would have appreciated this company better if I had experienced those big and expensive tours first. The snorkeling was fun and enjoyable, we were able to see a fishing eagle at the marina, some wonderful parrot fish and all the cute little sergeant majors. My son was less than enthusiastic and so that spoiled it a little for me. After our morning excursion the men went back to the ship and I shopped. I wanted a chess board and some vanilla. I ended up with two chess sets but I hadn't really considered how heavy they were and when I went to take them back to the ship it was really a little funny trying to carry two onyx chess sets, as well as a bag full of other breakables. A nice gentleman also in the line to go through security was kind enough to carry one and I appreciated it, fellow cruisers are great. Once onboard I joined DH on deck four to watch sail away. I was a little surprised how many people waited till the last minute to come back. We had a good time watching the stragglers come in. We had bets on whether the man who went off in search of his wife would make it back...they did, just barely. It was nice to watch the shore move away, to get a better look at the coast and to see from a new perspective where we had been. We noticed a little tugboat chugging along side of us. When it got closer I could see some people in front. It was a couple who had cut it too close and missed the ship. The pilot boat brought them out, a rope ladder was let down and they had to climb the four or five steps up while the boat bobbed in the current. It was all very entertaining.
Day Six Grand Cayman -- It was hard to believe but we were at our last port. I had booked a tour with Captain Bryan on the Buccaneer to Stingray City and two snorkel stops. We wanted to be on the first tender. There were no tender tickets given out, it was first come first tendered. About 9:15am we went to deck 3 aft where there was a short line. By 9:30 it was longer, but they started loading and all who were in line at 9:30 made it on the first independent tender. The ship excursions tender pulled away first and so docked first, we had to wait for them to unload before we could dock. Though the tender ride was only five minutes, the loading, waiting and unloading took 45. There was only one other ship in port. Our tour to the Sting Rays was wonderful, the snorkeling at the reef and aquarium better than that in Cozumel the day before. The island is continuing to recover from the hurricane but our excursion was not affected at all. I stayed after and wandered around the pier area, looking and shopping. I guess you can't really get a good feel for a place from the shops around the pier, but it seemed like an all right place. Back on the ship it was time to get ready for our last formal night. We even had a beautiful and wonderful sunset and the whole dining room watched to see if the "green flash" would happen. They say it did but it was too quick for me. The Gala Buffet later that night was marvelous. There were large and magnificent ice sculptures, wonderfully fashioned food and decorated plates and cakes. They had really gone all out and it was a great hit.
Day Seven Last Sea Day -- Well, it was sleep in and enjoy this last day of the cruise. Unfortunately it was extremely windy, and cloudy. It was not too chilly, but no one was hogging chairs by the pool. We took it easy, the men went to the fitness center and worked out a little, sat in the mineral water, enjoyed the sauna. I tried to find all the little nooks and crannies that had escaped me thus far. We met at 11 at the golf course and attempted to have a tournament with fellow Cruise Critics. I think the wind won. I liked the activity deck, we watched the volleyball tournament, and "x" games, climbed the rock wall, tried the in-line skating, played volleyball and ping pong. I got our gratuity envelopes ready, packed a little bit and we got ready for our last dinner. Everything was our "last". It had been such a good week, it was hard to say it was over. We went to the farewell show and were able to see the ship video, listen to a leprechaun and watch him dance a jig, we enjoyed the top 10 crazy things people say and played beachball. It was a wonderful send off.
Day Eight disembarkation -- When we woke up we were already docked. Our cruise was over. We put all of our stuff in our carryons, went down to eat breakfast, and while we were finishing up they called our color. That was a little earlier than I expected but it worked out well. The only real lines we had to wait in all week were now. First to go through customs and reentry and then to wait for our luggage, which took for ever, and then to wait for the Alamo shuttle to the car rental which was a joke. The only thing there was no wait for was a cab- I'm using that next time. I had been a reluctant cruiser. It was not my idea, I was worried about all the choices there were, was I making the right ones? It turned out so well. I don't think I could have picked a better ship. The Explorer had everything we wanted and so much more. The atmosphere and fellow cruisers were upbeat and comfortable. There was room on the ship for all kinds of cruisers. We didn't ever feel out of place. I never felt hurried or like I had to "do everything". I liked the activity deck, it was the happening place, the pool deck had the music, and there was the game room for the quieter pursuits. The kids had a great program, the teens were invisible, the food was so good, the entertainment wonderful. I would definitely cruise again. And if the Explorer is not the best out there it is hard for me to imagine what that might be.