Explorer OTS repo from NJ to Port Canaveral – Nov 1 to 15, 2014
Friday, October 31, 2014 – Travel day
Good morning everyone. It is 6:40am on October 31, 2014. I am through security at LAX and I am waiting for a 9:10 flight. If all goes well, in about 10 ½ hours I should be landing in Newark. So, as I listen to muffled announcements (that I think are being made in English) regarding the boarding of flights, I thought I would tell you a little about myself.
This is my 26th cruise, eleventh on Royal Caribbean, fourth on a Voyager class ship (I have not been on the Adventure OTS) and first on the Explorer of the Seas. I will become Diamond Plus on this cruise. I am also Platinum on Carnival and I have taken two cruises each on Princess and NCL (and one other cruise on the Universe Explorer 1999). At the suggestion of someone who wanted more details, I have been writing my review while still on the ship, while things are still fresh in my mind. Then, when it became clear that people enjoyed seeing photographs with the review, I added photo editing software to the laptop, so hopefully, upon my return, the review will be ready to post.
I am taking three cameras with me. One camera is waterproof to 33 feet (for those underwater shots), another camera is a Nikon D5200 (a DSLR) for those nice clear photos, and the third camera is a good point and shoot (P&S) camera that fits in my pocket for those shore excursions where I don’t want to drag the heavy DSLR with me.
I am flying first class, so I was put in the TSA pre-check line. This means that you don’t have to remove your shoes, your belt (basically, you don’t have to get undressed) or take the laptop out. However, I got stopped so that they could check my hands for explosive residue. All the people behind me were waved on. So I asked if I was the only one that looked suspicious. The TSA agent pointed out that the lady in front of me was also screened. Basically they take whoever is next after they finish wiping the hands of the last person.
I wonder if the lady making the announcements for the flight to San Francisco understands that she should take the microphone out of her mouth before speaking. I’m at the next gate over and the person at my gate had to walk over to the other gate and tell a group of people that it was time to board. Then he made the same announcement in a nice clear voice. Yes, the lady at the other gate is that bad.
I was going to take the Flyaway bus to LAX, but the day I made the arrangements the Flyaway bus website was not working, so I made arrangements with a limo. I asked to be picked up at 6am. At 5:40am when I called the driver to see how far out he was; he said he was here. So from my door until I cleared security was one hour (I had allowed for two hours). And so here I am, my review is current, I’ve already checked in with my roll call, and there is still about one hour until boarding. So most likely, the next time you hear from me, I’ll be in my hotel room in Newark.
Well here I am in Newark. I’m at the Holliday Inn across the street from the Newark Airport. It is a nice sized room with a very good setup for a Holiday Inn. It has a very large screen TV and a work desk that rolls out from under the stationary desk. I would say this room earned the 3.5 star rating that Hotwire gave it. I got it for $78 per night plus tax.
While the room is nice, the buffet dinner was only average. Not worth the $26.95 fee. However, I did meet someone from the roll call who I am sharing a van to the port with tomorrow. So that made the cost of dinner a little more palatable.
The plane ride was nothing special. I did see three other jets going the other way while we were cruising at altitude and one jet alongside of us while we were landing in Atlanta. The first class seats in the Delta 767 are really nothing more than wider coach class seats with more legroom. Nothing like the first class seat I had on American Airlines. The American Airlines first class seats are something special. If you get a chance, try them out. As for Delta, save a little money and get their comfort class coach seats. The eggs for breakfast were good. The chicken dinner was okay. I also had a hot dog during the stopover in Atlanta. One other nice thing, while looking out the plane’s window I saw my luggage being loaded, so at least I knew it and me were headed to the same airport (twice on the trip home that was not the case).
Well, I’m tired now. I’ll catch up with you later on the ship. Good night.
November 1 – Embarkation day
People on the roll call said two things about getting to the port. One, it could take an hour from Newark Airport because of the traffic and two; it would cost $65 dollars by taxi. It is only eight miles, taxis do not charge eight dollars per mile and how much traffic could there be on a Saturday? Nonetheless, when someone from the roll said he was at the same hotel as I was, I agreed to share a car service with him.
So, here is how the morning went. The person who organized the car service found three more people also staying at the hotel to go with us. So the total cost with tip was $15 per person – very reasonable. We were supposed to meet in the lobby at 10:45 for an 11:00 ride to the ship. The car service was thirty minutes late. Meanwhile two other drivers approached us and offered us a ride. Given the amount of luggage we had I don’t know if anything short of a full sized van would have fit us all. At best one more person could have fit and this was a full sized twelve person van with plenty of room for luggage in the back. To avoid the traffic the van driver took us the “back way”. We made it to the sign that said one mile to the terminal in thirty minutes. From this point on it is a two lane road to the terminal (one lane in each direction). That last mile took us close to an hour. The reason a car service is less expensive than a taxi is that a car service charges a fixed price while a taxi’s meter would still be going all this time. Once inside the terminal the process was quick and easy. We dropped off our luggage, obtained our SeaPass and had our security picture taken.
Then there were the photographers to take the embarkation photo. After starting out one hour later than I wanted to (had I been on my own I would have hired a taxi at 10:30). The person who hired the car service wanted a 10:00 pickup but the earliest the car service could get to us was 11:00 (and was still late). Then waiting over 45 minutes to cover the last mile I was in no mood for an embarkation photograph (I have plenty of those already and the pictures are overpriced). The bus ride to the ship from the terminal was quick and easy. The new terminal will eliminate the bus ride, but it will not ease the traffic issue during that last mile. They need to add a third lane. Then have two lanes out up until 11:30 and have two lanes in after 11:30. Until the traffic issues are resolved, I have no interest in returning to this port.
This is not a closed loop cruise. I have both a passport and a passport card. I wanted to see if the passport card would be accepted. The person checking me in asked for my passport. I handed him my passport card and he said, oh, a passport card, that is just as good. I thought the passport card was only good for closed loop cruises. Of course the person checking me in is not the authority on what is or is not acceptable. However, he was the only one who really cared what it was. Sure, the person allowing us into the tent wanted to make sure the name on the Setsail and my ID matched, and that the picture on the ID kind of looked like me, but even a driver’s license would have worked at that point. The person who gave me the key to the ship was in this case the final word on this.
Finally I am on the ship. I head off to my cabin to drop off my carry-ons. Then I grab my camera and start taking pictures. It is raining outside so I take a few pictures outside and then head back to the cabin to change lenses. On the way I find my luggage and drag it back to the cabin. After taking pictures of the Royal Promenade I head over to the Windjammer for lunch. Then more picture taking. Then the announcement that the muster drill would take place in thirty minutes. I haven’t finished my picture taking yet, and then I remember I boarded the ship about ninety minutes later than I normally do. However, in this case I am really not upset about it. It is raining and I know we have three days at sea before our first port. I figure I’ve got plenty of time for picture taking.
I did notice that the looooong line of cars to get into the terminal was down to zero by 2:30. The muster drill was at 3:30. The captain is Captain Rick. He has a sense of humor. Apparently his officers are not used to going to St. Maarten directly. Normally the ship heads to St. Maarten after stopping at Bermuda. So Captain Rick is concerned that his officers will be able to navigate directly to St. Maarten without a stop at Bermuda. He then gives us a weather report. We can expect fifty knot winds and rough seas through tomorrow. The weather should improve sometime in the afternoon of the second sea day.
We depart at 4:30. I have cruised out of all three New York area ports, and only those ships leaving from Manhattan cruise past the Statue of Liberty. At any rate, because of the weather, not many people were outside when we passed under the bridge, so there was not much cheering when we passed under the bridge and into the North Atlantic.
I retire to my cabin, read the handouts, unpack and meet my cabin steward. I tell him I like ice (I use it to make cold water) and I decide to try something new. In the past I have assumed the cabin steward knew my dining schedule (I have late seating, which has been moved up to 8:00 for this cruise). I’m hoping that the cabin steward will stop attempting to turn down my bed before I leave for dinner.
No such luck. My cabin steward comes in at 7:30 while I am still tying my shoes. It may be a big ship, but it doesn’t take thirty minutes to get from my cabin to the restaurant.
Royal Caribbean is doing something to reduce the crowding in the Concierge and Diamond Lounges by loading three free drinks on the SeaPass card of everyone who is Diamond and above. It says, “We are excited to introduce an additional option for you during this cruise: a nightly happy hour from 4:30 – 8::00 pm to be enjoyed at almost every venue throughout the ship with your friends!” It is not clear if being with your friends is a requirement to get the free drinks. At any rate, this is how it works:
“Drink vouchers have been pre-loaded onto your SeaPass card to enable you to enjoy the flexibility of up to three complimentary beverages each night at almost every bar throughout the ship. You can still enjoy the exclusive experience of the Diamond Lounge and the Concierge Lounge (for Diamond Plus and Pinnacle Club members) plus all the other options available to you!” I’m still trying to figure out the meaning of “almost every bar”. I assume it means all the bars except the one I am at.
The three drink vouchers per day will be applied to each eligible (C&A level Diamond and above) SeaPass card. The drink vouchers are not accumulative throughout the cruise. Drinks may not be redeemed in the dining room, specialty restaurants or Windjammer Café (I didn’t know they served drinks in the Windjammer).
There is a menu:
Spirits (ghosts?) - Bacardi Rum, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Tanqueray Gin, Finkandia Vodka, Dewar’s White Label Scotch Whisky, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey, Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila, Couvoisier VS Cognac and Sanderman Port (but not starboard) Wine.
Non-Alcoholic Drinks (does this include water?)
Wines by the glass – St. Martin Chardonnay, Zonin Pinot Grigio, Beringer White Zinfandel, St. Martin Cabernet Sauvignon and St. Martin Merlot (no word if the free St. Martin drinks continue after we leave St. Maarten).
Beers – Budweiser, Miller Lite, Amstel Light, Corona and Heineken.
I enjoyed a Dewar’s White Label Scotch Whisky and a Jameson Whiskey before dinner. I liked the Jameson Whiskey much better. It was smooth; the Dewar’s White Label Scotch Whisky was not.
I am sharing a table with seven other people, many of whom were part of the roll call. I was hungry as I did not have breakfast and I had a light lunch. I had a shrimp appetizer, a two sliders appetizer (three sliders is a main course dish) and the prime rib. Toward the end of dinner the weather kicked in. A tray full of utensils almost rolled into one of the people at the table.
Walking back to the cabin most people were weaving back and forth, except the drunks, they were the ones walking straight.
Once back to the cabin I am tired. I take a ginger tablet (to avoid the ill effects of the “motion of the ocean”) and I am going to sleep.
November 2, 2014 – Day at sea
Well, I got a lot of exercise last night trying to stay in bed. The ship was definitely rolling last night. The Meet & Mingle began at 8:30am today. A lot of people on the roll call were complaining about the early hour. However, from what I could see, there was a very good turnout. Over 350 signed up and I would guess that at least seventy percent of them showed up. Royal Caribbean was prepared for a large turnout with lots of door prizes (none of which were doors). There were thirty movies, twenty bags, a dozen bottles of wine and one Royal Caribbean key ring.
The Group Coordinator and the Activities Director (aka the Assistant Cruise Director) were the Royal Caribbean representatives at the Meet & Mingle. The Activities Director was from Turkey. He left Turkey because he liked chicken more than turkey (his joke – not mine). He after a couple of people in the far end of the Maharaja’s Lounge won prizes he decided to try and combine prizes so he wouldn’t have to run around as much. We all booed, so he went back to one prize per drawing. He tried to combine the prizes a second time and we all booed again. Judging by the constant smile on the Group Coordinator face, she had a great time. The Activities Director kept calling out all six numbers on the tickets. I got to draw one of the tickets (I didn’t draw my own ticket) and when I handed it to the Activities Director I told him to just call out the last three numbers as the first three numbers were the same on all the tickets.
During the Meet & Mingle the Captain made an announcement. Last night the waves were four to six meters (that is about 13 to 20 feet) with an occasional seven meter wave (that is about 23 feet). However around 5:00am the ship was hit by a rogue wave that was ten meters (about 33 feet) high. It lifted lifeboat twenty high enough to not only damage it, but also to release the front end from its hook. The lifeboat hit deck four. It has now been secured; however, that portion of deck four is off limits. Hopefully those passengers assigned to lifeboat twenty are all good swimmers. Actually the Captain said that if something should happen we still have enough lifeboat capacity for all the passengers. The ship is certified to 3840 passengers. There are 3039 passengers on this sailing, so there is plenty of lifeboat capacity for all the passengers.
However, the lifeboat was not the only victim of the rogue wave. The water came into the ship on deck four and got into the aft elevator shafts. So, the aft elevators would remain out of service until the electricians certify the elevators to be in working condition. And finally, due to the weather, all outside exposed decks (four and eleven up) are off limits.
One of the people on the roll call made door signs for all of those that posted on the roll call. I know at least 110 people posted, so that is a lot of door signs. They are very nice and professional looking. Also, they have magnets so the door signs stick to the doors. Now there are a lot of people with door signs, at least on deck seven, including me.
On the way back to the cabin I noticed a lot of vacuum cleaners capable of sucking up water (okay, any vacuum can suck up water, but these can do that and keep working property) were being used near my cabin. I could not understand why. I’m on deck seven, which is a lot higher than deck four and my cabin is dry. Later in the day I walked passed the cabin and while I did not hear much, what I did notice were to very unhappy passengers speaking to someone from the hotel department (I assume) complaining about the room being flooded. I don’t know how it got flooded, but it wasn’t from the rogue wave. I assume some sort of a plumbing problem.
At any rate, since going outside was not much of an option, and since today was Sunday, I decided to grab a late breakfast, work on this and then watch football.
Eventually it was time for dinner. Tonight is formal night. I wanted to have my picture taken with the Captain. After the picture I asked the Captain a question about the muster drill announcement that every mile we traveled it would get warmer. I asked, was that statute miles or nautical miles? He said nautical miles of course. So then I said, then that will take fifteen percent longer. He got the joke.
After the picture I went to the combination Connoisseur Club and Diamond Lounge, which is the Maharaja’s Lounge (just above The Palace Theatre, which is the main show lounge). This time I had the Jack Daniels Tennessee Whisky and the Jameson Irish Whiskey. I like the Jack Daniels Tennessee Whisky better than the Dewar’s White Label Scotch Whisky, but I think that the Jameson Irish Whisky is the best of the three.
Four people at our table went to Portofino for dinner tonight. The restaurant is on the starboard side of the ship, so it should be called Starofino. At any rate, our tablemates told us their plans last night, so we knew not to wait up for them. So tonight the head waiter shows up and asks about the four empty chairs. We told him where the four people were. Then I asked him, if he was a head waiter, how come he didn’t have on a red jacket. He wears a black jacket because he is a senior head waiter.
I then headed to The Palace Theatre for the first production show. However, since the ship was rocking too much the product show was changed to tomorrow and one of the headliners took the stage.
Though the guy was funny, it was not what I wanted to see and I was tired. So I sneaked out and returned to my cabin. Back at the cabin I caught the Sunday Night Football game and then went to sleep.
November 3, 2014 – Day at sea
Today we wake up to a mostly clear sky. The sun is shining and last night I didn’t spend half the night trying to keep myself from rolling out of bed. Life is good. So I get up to catch the sunrise, which I knew would be a bust. There are no clouds overhead, but there are plenty of clouds on the horizon. The exact opposite of what is needed for a picture perfect sunrise. The clouds on the horizon means the sun has to rise higher before making an appearance. The higher the sun, the more light there is which causes any colors to wash out. Of course there is no color because there are no clouds overhead. We are heading south south east and my cabin is on the port side, so I have a clear view of the sunrise. Since I knew it would not be a good one, I did not go up on deck. I did take a few photographs from my balcony just to prove I was up that early.
There is a welcome back party for C&A levels Diamond and up at 11:00am today. So I decide to sleep in and then get up in time to attend. The reason the group was broken up into two is that there are more Crown & Anchor members on this cruise than can fit in The Palace Theatre, which is the biggest lounge on board this ship. There are over two thousand C&A members on this ship. The Gold and Emerald members will have their welcome back party tomorrow. We were told that there are 667 Diamond members, 379 Diamond Plus members and a new record for this ship, 45 Pinnacle members. The person with the most points on this ship has over three thousand points. Even at two points per night that works out to fifteen hundred days at sea or more than two hundred weeks at sea. Wow! I understand the person with the most C&A points has over five thousand points. He is known as Super Mario and he travels solo, so I believe he is currently earning three points per night. I met him on the Allure in September 2013 when he had around 4200 points. So he has gained eight hundred points in about 390 days. That means he spent over 265 days at sea or over 35 weeks at sea. Even the captains don’t spend that much time at sea (the captains work half the year, or about 26 weeks per year).
After that it was time for lunch and then some picture taking. But first it was time for the Captain’s noon time status report. We are more than halfway to St. Maarten, our first port of call. This is good, because we are at the half way point time wise, so we are on schedule. The Captain mentions that the closest land is 479 miles away and there is over 16,000 feet (over 4850 meters) of water beneath the ship.
After the Captain’s status report I go get some good pictures of people actually enjoying the sun while at sea. Then it was back to the cabin to work on this and to catch up on the sleep I lost the first night.
Soon it was time for the production show that I wanted to see last night. Only this time it was at 6:45 instead of 10:15. Nonetheless, they did not change the Cruise Compass, which states that Brad Cummings, the guy from last night, would be on tonight. The production show is Fast Forward, featuring a VCR running at high speed. Oops, my bad, it features many of the dancing movie musicals that made it to Broadway, such as Dirty Dancing, Footloose, Flashdance and Saturday Night Fever. The show had lots of energy and I enjoyed it. They don’t allow flash photography or recording, but still pictures without a flash are allowed, and I took many pictures (as did someone sitting one row in front of me).
After the show it was almost time for dinner, so I headed over to the Aquarium Bar for some Bailey’s Irish Cream. The Captain walked by (and apparently recognized me) and said hello to me. Not wanting to pass up a golden opportunity, I mention that at his noon time status report he said that we were 479 miles from the nearest land. He nodded. I then said that we are only three miles from land (while pointing straight down). The Captain replied that he was not sure that was land. I said it is dirt, isn’t it? He said he didn’t know, as he had never been there. I figured saying that he wasn’t planning to visit during this cruise would have been in bad taste, given what had happened with the rogue wave, so I just said goodbye.
At dinner tonight the headwaiter showed up again and introduced himself to the four people who were not at the table last night. Soon we got to talking about things we missed. One person asked for the fake sugar that comes in the yellow wrapping (I don’t remember the name of it) and the head waiter went and got some for her himself. Someone else mentioned something else and the head waiter called some to find out if the requested item was available. So I decided to ask about Baked Alaska parades. The head waiter pointed out that there have been no Baked Alaska parades for eight or nine years. He even told us why. I thought it was because some drapes caught fire. He said no, that it was actually Cherries Jubilee and one of the waiters not only caught himself on fire when the stopper came out of the bottle, but the liquid (which is very flammable) also splashed on some of the ladies who were in formal evening wear and they received some burns to their exposed skin. This was quickly followed by an e-mail stating that there will be no more cooking (open flames) in the dining room.
So, after a dinner and the post dinner conversation it was off to the cabin for me so I could catch the Monday Night Football game.
November 4, 2014 – Day at sea
I woke up to skyless cloud. The Cruise Compass said it would be partly cloudy with chances of rain. Well, the only part that is not cloudy is the ocean. Yuck! However, I did open my balcony door and it is noticeably warmer. So the ship did not make a “U” turn during the night and head back to New York.
Nothing much happening today, so I head up to the Windjammer for breakfast. No reason to bring breakfast back down to my balcony, so I eat in the Windjammer and then try to get some good video of the thing (I don’t know what to call it) in the Viking Crown Lounge. The “thing” is one of those motorized things that brings balls up to the top and drops the balls down a track. The golf balls come to gates and go in whichever direction the gate directs the golf balls. From there the balls either ring bells, do loop-de-loops, bounce into a basket, or gather until the weight of the balls causes the bucket to spill. It is kind of mesmerizing, but very difficult to record on video.
Given the weather conditions, I decide to take a few more pictures of the Royal Promenade and then head back to my cabin to upload the pictures and bring this up-to-date.
At the Captain’s noon time status report he apologized for the weather, then blamed it on the National Weather Service. He assured us that we are heading in the right direction as the weather we are having today is basically the same as we had in New Jersey, except that it is warmer. It is about 72 degrees and it is expected to get up to 84 degrees tomorrow. We should also expect partly cloudy skies with scattered rain showers. The Captain reminded us that partly cloudy means mostly sunny (which is true – it actually does mean that). Hopefully it doesn’t rain, as I have a helmet dive scheduled and I don’t want to get wet.
Having brought this up-to-date and having backed up my pictures, I decide to relax for a while. Later in the afternoon I head up on deck to take some outside pictures. Nothing doing, it is raining too hard. Oh well, it has been a tough year for me and now that things are back to normal, a new normal, but normal nonetheless, I’ve been looking forward to this cruise for about three weeks (yes, things finally fell into place for me about three weeks ago) and I have two goals for this cruise. One is to get away and leave the bad memories of the prior six and one half months behind and two, to relax. So, with no other choice but to remain inside I go back to the cabin and relax.
Prior to dinner I head to the Aquarium Bar to try out the Bacardi Rum. Then I decide to use my Diamond free picture to purchase the picture with the Captain. When I do I am told there is a special for Diamond members, five pictures for fifty dollars. I posed in front of five different backdrops on formal night, so I choose one of each plus and album, which includes a picture of the ship) and head off to dinner. The album and free picture cost as much as an 8 x 10 photo, $22.95. I hide the album and pictures under my napkin during dinner. But once we are done, I take it out to look at it. One of my tablemates asks me if I am getting good reception. What??? She thinks I am looking at an iPad. I state the reception is good, but the picture never changes. Actually I am looking at a map of the cruise. From a distance I guess it could look like a leather covered iPad with a map of the Caribbean being viewed.
After that I head back to the cabin and check the TV for the results of the election. However, we are one hour ahead of the Eastern Time Zone (we did not move out clocks back when the rest of the US, except Arizona, changed from Daylight Saving to Standard Time) and only the results from the Eastern and Central Time Zones are available.
Finally I am tired and tomorrow we will be at our first port and my first shore excursion since January, so until tomorrow morning, good night.
November 5, 2014 – Saint Maarten
I wake up to good weather. It is 5:30 and the Cruise Compass says sunrise is at 6:15. Well, it is already light outside. The sun is arriving early and my camera is still inside the cabin. I keep my cabin as cold as possible. Even so, I still have to throw the comforter off the bed or I will over heat at night. The problem is that the camera is cold. When the camera is taken outside, the moist warm air quickly condenses on the glass surfaces, like the lens. Attempting to take a picture in this condition is like trying to take a picture in dense fog. It takes about forty-five minutes for the camera to warm up enough that the lens stays clear, meaning that the camera can focus properly and a good quality picture will be the result. So, a sunrise picture is not going to happen this morning.
After the failed sunrise photograph opportunity I went back to sleep, as my shore excursion is scheduled for 1:00. The Caption told us told us earlier that we would be meeting the pilot around 8:00am. At 7:30 I figure I have plenty of time until I remember that in Saint Maarten the pilot meets the ship just outside the harbor. Sure enough I look outside and realize we are cruising past the island. I quickly get dressed and got some pictures of the three ships already here (the NCL Epic, the Celebrity Reflection and the HAL Westerndam. The Oasis of the Seas arrives soon after us. There must be over 15,000 passengers here today.
I decide to take it easy (cool down) for a while in the cabin, then I go for brunch around 11:00. After brunch I head into town for a couple of shot glasses for a friend that collects them. Because of where we are docked, I must have walked close to a mile round trip for these shot glasses. He better like the two shot glasses I picked out for him.
Today I am doing the helmet dive. The helmet weighs seventy-five pounds on land and fifteen pounds in the water. The helmet is filled with air, and the wearer simply walks along the bottom, or at least that is the idea. However, in actual practice one cannot lean to far forward or the water level will rise inside the helmet. If one leans too far back (such as trying to look at the surface) large bubbles come out from under the helmet. Part of the mask is flat, and looking through the flat portion of the mask is normal. However, by looking left or right one is looking through the curved portion of the mask and the view is distorted. Finally the water is about twenty feet deep and it is not stationary. There is a current under the water and standing still to take a picture is not easy.
The ticket said to bring some money, which I did. But after everyone has made it to the staging point on the pier, and signed the waivers, we are told the pictures are thirty-five dollars. I’m not bringing that much, nor am I bringing a credit card. So I will not be buying any pictures. As it turns out, the three selfies I took match the quality of the pictures that were for sale.
One little hiccup did occur. The group was split in two. I was in the second group. While waiting we were allowed to snorkel. I was concentrating so much on getting my snorkel gear set properly that I forgot to keep track of my camera, which was now lying on the ocean floor, twenty feel below me. Perhaps in freshwater I could dive that deep, but not in saltwater without a weight belt. Fortunately one of the divers was able to retrieve my camera for me.
Upon my return to the ship I take a nice freshwater shower and then head up to deck eleven for a snack, some nice cold ice cream, which is free on the pool deck (or one can pay extra and get ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s on deck five). I grab a bowl and spoon from the Windjammer and go outside to get my ice cream. The machine is down for cleaning. Back inside the windjammer I settle for two cholate chip cookies and some watermelon and pineapple slices and a nice tall plastic cup of ice water.
After my snack I head back to my cabin to upload and view the photographs. I find that there is a mixture of good and not so good underwater photographs. But, since electronic photographs are free, I don’t mind the photographs that didn’t work as long as I get a few keepers, and I did. After viewing the photographs I update this. I check tomorrow’s schedule and realize I am doing another water activity. So I recharge the battery for the underwater camera. I only have one battery for the underwater camera, two batteries for the DSLR and three sets of two AA batteries for the point & shoot camera.
Then I decide to relax until dinner time. At dinner the topic of conversation is what each of did during the day. I had gourmet meatballs as an appetizer and New York steak for the main course. The steak was so good I considered ordering a second steak. However, I got caught up in the conversation and ended up with only one steak.
After dinner I return to my cabin. My early morning shore excursion was changed to an early afternoon shore excursion, so I get to sleep in. I stayed up until past midnight. So until later this morning, goodnight.
November 6, 2014 – Antigua
This time I put my camera outside before I went to sleep, so that there would be no fogging issues in the morning. However, with heavy clouds on the horizon and almost no clouds overhead, there is nothing worth photographing. I notice we are going really slow and figure that must mean we are getting close to our port. However, I quick look around reveals that we are not near land. Then I remember that Saint Maarten and Antigua are only about 85 nautical miles apart. A speed of seven knots will get us there. Sure enough, about an hour later I can see the island. Unfortunately we are headed directly toward the sun, so there is no reason to get the camera out. Looking at the island is like looking into a spot light. I’ll get some pictures after the sun is higher in the sky.
The next time I look out from my balcony I see many of the crew headed ashore with their lifejackets on. Are they afraid the island is going to sink? Is there something the Captain told the crew that he has not shared with the passengers? Apparently today is crew safety training day. While walking the deck to take some photographs I notice one of the life rafts (not a lifeboat) is in the pool and some of the crew getting instructions on how to enter the life raft from the water. The lifeboats are for the passengers (except for those in lifeboat twenty) and a few of the crew. The life rafts are for the rest of the crew, and if they are good tippers, the passengers assigned to lifeboat twenty.
Then I go outside to get some good pictures of the ship and lifeboat twenty, and a shot glass for my friend. First I found a Caribbean shirt for myself. Then would you believe it, I had to actually search for a store that sold shot glasses. I thought there was a law that at least fifty percent of the stores in the dock area had to sell shot glasses. Even the ship sells shot glasses.
With the administrative duties out of the way, I returned to my cabin to change into swim wear for my feed the stingrays shore excursion. This one is almost as good as Stingray City in Grand Cayman, and they provide more food. The water was a little cloudy but I got some good pictures and bought a couple from the Antigua Stingray City photographer. All in all a very good day, since I still have all my fingers. This is the fourth time I have done this shore excursion (plus three times in Grand Cayman) but it is the first time without some kids on the excursion (there are only about thirty kids on the ship). The combination of the strange shape and the name can scare the kids. Young kids do not do well on this excursion or the one in Grand Cayman. Don’t even consider the one on Pearl Island in Nassau, that one is a waste of money in my opinion.
Back on the ship it was time for a fresh water shower and just before leaving Antigua, an announcement from the Captain. Seems lifeboat twenty, with its bow on deck four and a crushed safety rail below it is not going unnoticed. The shore based safety inspectors have been inspecting the ship and have been satisfied with the steps that have been taken. So far the ship has been allowed to continue its cruise.
Just before leaving New Jersey the Captain said that this was a historic voyage for the Explorer, as it has been based in New Jersey for about fourteen years. Given what happened the first morning, I have a feeling that Captain Rick will remember this cruise for a very long time.
Like sunrises, sunsets can also be ruined by clouds on the horizon. The problem is the sun ends up setting while still fairly high in the sky which washes out any color in the clouds that are overhead. Sunset was a bust, so I went inside and uploaded my pictures, updated this, started the process of picking out the pictures I want to post with my review and then headed off to dinner.
Again the topic of conversation among my tablemates was what we did for today. As to the food, for dinner tonight I decided to try the Chops’ steak. The menu lists the price as $16.95, but it is actually $19.49 because they add in a $2.54 tip. It was good, but the free steak (more correctly, the included steak) I had earlier was just as good.
Since I have an early morning tour tomorrow, I decide to go back to my cabin and go to sleep. So, until tomorrow morning, goodnight.
November 7, 2014 – Saint Lucia
When I wake up I look at the window and there are heavy clouds on the horizon. However, since I went to bed early, I decide to get up, sit outside and hope for the best. The first thing I notice is that it is warm (and the sun is not even up yet). Sunrise was a bust again. I took a few pictures, but that was at the time the sun was supposed to rise. I wasn’t going to wait for it to make it over the clouds. Instead I came inside where it was nice and cool and worked on this. I also filled the laundry bag I got from my room steward yesterday (I had to ask for it) with enough clothing to make it thought the rest of the cruise (I only packed for ten days). The wash and fold (no pressing) fill the bag cost thirty dollars and Diamond members get a $10 discount.
Then I watch as we cruise into the harbor, and again, right into the sun. So I’ll take the area pictures later. It looks like it rained here last night. The Captain is spinning the ship to face out, which is what the Captain did the last time I was here (on the Serenade in 2008). After we arrive I shave, shower and dress for the shore excursion.
Today’s shore excursion was interesting to say the least. When I checked my ticket it said to bring a swim suit. I know I purchased this shore excursion for its photographic opportunities. As a result I didn’t bring anything to carry a wet bathing suit and towel in. Oh well, I’ll just skip the bathing in the warm mineral pools. However, when I get back I see I have purchased the Saint Lucia’s Historic Diamond Estate tour and the tour I am on is the Breathtaking Soufriere & Warm Mineral Bath tour. Did Royal Caribbean change my tour? No, a little research reveals that the two different names are for the same tour.
To be honest, I would have preferred more photographic opportunities. However, I am glad I didn’t take my DSLR, as we did some hiking (and the DSLR is heavy and not fun to hike with). Instead I took my much smaller point and shoot camera. The camera and the hat were the only two things I brought with me, so I was traveling light. On the tour I found a shot glass for my friend, which I stuck in the same pocket as the camera.
While the tour was not all I had hoped it would be, the tour guide (his name is Jay) was much more than I expected. He was great! Also on the tour was Veronica, who is from the shore excursion department. She was evaluating this tour, as it is the Explorer’s first stop at this island.
At any rate, Jay was my equal wise guy wise. So while driving along (and there was a lot of driving) our van of twelve passengers had a great time. The first stop I was expecting, as it was an opportunity to take a picture of the ship from a vantage point. I have a similar picture of the Serenade of the Seas when I was here before in 2008.
Our next stop was overlooking a bay where the yacht owners tie up their yachts during hurricanes, as the bay is very well protected by tall mountains.
The tour guide then purchased some local bananas for all the passengers. He asked us to save the skin to feed to his kids. At first I thought he was kidding. However, he assured us that his kids love the banana peels. So I figured, okay, I can see a young child (say three or four years old) enjoying some rather strange food. However, soon we stopped at a house with four or five young goats (aka kids). As most people know, goats will eat almost anything, and these goats were expecting to be fed as we exited the van. Okay, he got us with that one, but now I am wise to him. Game on.
Next we stopped where we could get good photographs of the Pitons (two tall mountain peaks). I took one picture through the window. Then someone asked if our guide could open the door, which he did. My second picture is of the side of the door. A photograph I knew I could have some fun with. As it was I quickly announced that I now had a beautiful picture of the side of the door. I then took several more pictures of the Pitons though the open door.
We then stopped at the Diamond Botanical Gardens. After short walk we came to a waterfall where the guide used our cameras to take our picture with the waterfall in the background. He took several of me, some from some interesting angles. Still, it would have helped if he understood photography a little better. In this case it would have been better to step back and zoom in a bit. The background then looks a little more to scale. Using the wide setting from close make me look as big as the forty foot waterfall.
Then we stopped where most took a dip in the warm mineral pools. I bought a shot glass for my friend and some water for myself. Then I found the picture of the side of the van door and showed it to Jay, saying, “Would you like to see what the side of your door looks like?” He was quite concerned, as it was he who opened the door, until I showed him that I had some good pictures of the Pitons. Okay, I can be a wise guy too.
On the hike back Jay look behind him to see that everyone had stopped. I told him that everyone was looking at the hummingbird. With just the two of us standing there, I asked Jay if he knew why the hummingbirds hummed. He didn’t. So I told him it was because they didn’t know the words. Old joke, I know. However, Jay thought it was funny and shared it with the group. They all laughed. Perhaps the joke is so old that the younger set (anyone under forty years old) or those from other countries (we had a couple from England and a couple from Germany) had not heard it before.
On the drive back he asked everyone in the van how many turns we had taken. Most guessed between fifty and one hundred. I guessed one, figuring that this was all one long turn. Others guessed as I thought about this some more. There was no way Jay could have been counting the turns. Then it hit me, the answer is two. We had taken some right turns and some left turns. Jay gave me a high five.
Since I was traveling light, upon my return to the ship I went directly to the Windjammer for lunch (I had not eaten breakfast) and brought it down to my balcony to eat. Then I laid down to rest. The next thing I knew it was 6:00pm. I uploaded my photographs and updated this.
Then it was time for dinner. At dinner I had the cream of mushroom soup and Chicken Cordon Blue. The soup was fine, but the Chicken Cordon Blue was a little different than I expected. The cook had not removed the bone. It was kind of like Chicken Cordon Blue on a stick. Starting from the bone free end, it was possible to eat eighty percent of it with a knife and fork. The remaining twenty percent was more like eating a chicken leg. It was good, but it was the first time I had Chicken Cordon Blue on the bone.
Once again the topic of conversation at dinner was what we did on the island. I told my story that you just read above. Seems feeding the goats banana peels is fairly common among most of the tours. Someone made the comment that most of the tours seem very similar. I pointed out that on Saint Lucia everyone wants to see the Pitons and that in Acapulco everyone wants to see the Clift Divers. Thus, all the different tours end up making a stop at these popular places, even if the rest of the tour goes to someplace unique.
I am not a heat and humidity person, so after dinner I went back to the cabin and went to sleep. So until tomorrow morning, goodnight.
November 8, 2014 – Barbados
I guess I am more tired than I thought. When I wake up it is light outside, even though the sun has not officially risen yet. Still I can see there are clouds on the horizon and I don’t even bother getting out of bed. However, soon I see land so I go out to see how close we are. It feels a little cooler this morning compared to yesterday morning. I can see what looks like a cruise ship in the harbor. I looks a little like a Princess ship, so I am guessing P&O. Sure enough it is the P&O Ventura.
I decide to quickly dress and go up to the helicopter pad to take some pictures. Once again we are headed directly into the sun, so I grin and bear it and do the best I can, given we are only going to approach this harbor once. Since this is a commercial dock, there is nothing worth wasting free film on once we are inside the harbor. The Ventura has the best location. We are directly across from the Ventura; however, it looks to be about a half mile walk to get to the town side of the dock (we are on the ocean side of the harbor). According to the Captain’s announcement, which I cannot hear inside the cabin with the door closed, there is a shuttle bus to take us to the edge of town.
Well, I have a 9:00 tour scheduled, so it is time to shave, shower and dress. I’ll see you later this afternoon.
There are shuttle buses to take the passengers to the passenger terminal. From there I’m on a large tour bus with 27 other passengers plus a tour guide and driver. It turns out to be a lot of driving along roads in need of some maintenance. We make three stops and I grab a few pictures at each stop. However, because of the weather, which is completely overcast, the scenic photographs don’t look so good. Also, the tour guide is more or less average. Good, but not nearly as good as Jay was yesterday.
The first stop is at a church. I’m not sure why every island likes to include a church on its tours, but I’ve been on a lot of tours hoping for good scenic photographic opportunities (according to the description of the tour) and I have ended up seeing a lot of island based churches.
I found the profile of a rock formation that might have been carved, since it looked like there was a nose sticking out. I took a picture of the rock and showed it to the guide. She agreed it did look like a nose, but was unaware of any faces carved into a rock formation.
Next we stop at a scenic beach, which would have been a lot nicer if some sunlight had been included. There is someone with a green monkey who expects a tip if you take photographs of him and the monkey. I took two pictures and was going to give him a couple of dollars; however, he wanted five dollars. Okay, lesson learned. However, I did get to pet the monkey, which mouthed my finger, but did not try to bite me.
The final stop was at another scenic point, which once again would have benefited from a little sunlight. We received a free drink. There were several options. I choose the run punch. I also bought a shot glass for my friend, so now I am all set. Then we head back to the ship. I decide to walk back to the ship so that I can take a few pictures of the two ships in port as I walk back.
Again, traveling light, I am able to head directly up to the Windjammer to get lunch and head back to my cabin to enjoy lunch on the balcony. Though with nothing happening around the ship, there is really nothing special about eating lunch on the balcony.
After lunch it is nap time again. However, I get up in time to watch the sail-away from my balcony and then listen to the Captain’s announcements. He provides the time for sunrise tomorrow and then refers to sunset tonight. Then says we cannot see the sun and doesn’t give a sunset time. We have a little over five hundred nautical miles to go to our next port, so tomorrow will be a day at sea. However, he is predicting better weather for our day at sea. After that I upload my photographs, update this and back everything up. Then at 6:30 I head down to The Palace Theatre to take in the second production show. So I’ll be back at you after dinner.
The production show tonight was Wild, Cool & Swingin. It was good, but did not have as much energy as the prior show, so I did like it as much. Though I got some good pictures, when they put the spot light on the singers, they wash out because the rest of the scene is much darker. They end up looking like glowing ghosts in the photograph.
After the show I had stopped at the Aquarium Bar for a double of Baileys’ Irish Cream. Then for dinner I had the shrimp cocktail and the always available (meaning every night) free steak, which once again was very good (it is better tasting at the Chops’ steak, but not as tender). Tonight’s conversation began with the usual, what did you do today. However, the post dinner conversation was about the changes Royal Caribbean has been making on the ships. In general most of the changes have not been well received, at least by my tablemates. I have more of a wait and see attitude, but from what I know about the changes, I don’t view them as “upgrades”.
After dinner I returned to my cabin to check out tomorrow’s Cruise Compass. My day of rest has turned into a busier schedule than I had hoped for. I’ll see what I can do given that there are some schedule conflicts and plan my day tomorrow morning. So until tomorrow morning, goodnight.
November 9, 2014 – Day at sea
When I wake up we are traveling west, so the sun is rising behind us. I can also see that I forgot to put my camera outside. No, wait, I didn’t forget, I purposely did not because it had rained during dinner and I didn’t want to take a chance on my DSLR getting wet. No matter, with the camera inside and the cabin as cold as the air conditioning can make it, there is no way I can heat the camera up in time for a sunrise photograph, assuming that there might be one worth photographing. I can see there are clouds on the horizon, of course that is to the south, I don’t know what kind of cloud cover is behind me and I see no reason to get up to find out what there is.
Now it is almost 10:00 and I have shaved, showered and dressed. At 10:30am there is an “Exclusive Top Tier Event” (exclusive being all the tiers except the lowest tier). Until then, I am updating this and uploading my photographs from last night. As I look outside I see lots of clouds but it is still only partly cloudy, nice and warm and best of all, nice and bright. I wish it was like this yesterday, it would have made my scenic photographs look a lot more scenic. Nonetheless, it appears we are going to have a good calm day at sea. So until later, it is time to go out and take advantage of what Mother Nature has given us.
There are four things I am interested in today: the Exclusive Top Tier Event, the ice skating show and two lectures. The first one is Digital Living, Discovery the Possibilities – Imagine a world where digital devices are not only compatible with each other, but are compatible with your lifestyle. The second one is Aviation – How does the pilot get you safely from point A to point B?).
First was the Top Tier Event. It was nothing special. Then I went to the technology lecture. The guy starts off explaining how you can charge several USB devices at once. I already know how to do that, so I left to take some pictures around the ship. There I saw the family that was part of the roll call who has six kids on the cruise. Back down to the cabin to change lenses and grab the bag of cookies Royal Caribbean give me. Then back to deck twelve to give Mom the cookies I received on the first day. I am sure the kids will enjoy the cookies more than I would.
The Captain gave his status report at noon today. We are 274 nautical miles from our next port, which means we have to average about 15.25 knots to make it on time. Also, the Captain announces what everyone has already figured out, the weather is beautiful. A quick look at the full decks and pools will confirm that.
Next is the aviation lecture, which was interesting. Afterwards I asked the pilot if he had heard the story about the pilot on a continuing flight who offered to give the blind passenger’s dog a little exercise. The passengers see the pilot of the plane disembarking the plane with a Seeing Eye dog, which scares the passengers. The pilot laughed. In Mythbuster terms, he rated the story plausible. Finally was the ice show. It was good, but in my opinion, nothing special.
Back in the cabin I caught the end of the San Francisco verse New Orleans football game. My friend is a big 49ers fan. I can only imagine the range of emotions my friend went through at the end of the game.
Tonight is our second formal night, as I thought it would be. I could not believe it when some on the roll call argued with me and claimed the second formal night would be after we left one of the islands. Today being a sea day was a natural choice for the second formal night. At any rate, I bought a Caribbean shirt in Antigua that I am going to wear tonight. So I’ll catch up with you after dinner.
I posed for several pictures and then headed to dinner. The topic of conversation stated with the various comedians, but soon switched to funny lines from older TV shows and movies, such as my favorite line from Planes, Trains & Automobiles, “Those aren’t pillows!”
After dinner I returned to my cabin to find out my favorite team, the Green Bay Packers were playing. A few minutes into the second quarter I started to feel bad for Chicago (it was 28 to nothing in Green Bay’s favor). At any rate it is now 10:30 and I have a 9:15am shore excursion tomorrow morning. So for now, goodnight all.
Oops, now it is 35 to nothing. I think I’ll turn off the TV at halftime and go to sleep.
November 10, 2014 – Curacao
Good morning everyone. Sunrise today is supposed to be at 6:30. Yesterday we were headed west (our heading was 267). At 6:00am when I woke up I decided to check on the status of the sunrise. I turned on the TV to the ship’s information channel (channel forty) and discovered that our heading was now 308. This meant that the sun would rise directly behind the ship. If I wanted a sunrise photograph I would have to leave my cabin, something I have done before to get good sunrise photographs. I went out on the balcony and looked back; there were clouds on the horizon. Then I looked straight up and there were no clouds. I decide to go back to bed. Winter time is not the best time for sunrise pictures. However, if one is going to enjoy a two week repo cruise, one does not get to choose the time of year.
Around 7:00 I notice we are next to land. The ship is turning to approach the pier with the port side toward the pier, just like the last time I was here (in 2011 aboard the Carnival Miracle, which departed from Fort Lauderdale the day after the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl). The captain made it a little hard for the people responsible for handling the forward lines. The first throw was short. At least three times a gun was used to shoot the line to the pier, all three fell short. Finally the pilot boat had to come out, get the lines and drag the lines over to the pier.
It is 8:30am now and all aboard is twelve hours from now. Our next port may be closer than the pier was when docking. So we have all day to visit this very colorful port. I’ve got a submarine to catch at 9:00am so I’ll catch up with you later.
Oops, it is not a submarine, it is a semisubmersible. However, one advantage of this is that the guide can go to the top deck and feed the fish. In fact, the fish were following the boat waiting for breakfast. So we did see more fish than I did from the submarine in Saint Thomas. Nonetheless, I liked the real submarine in Saint Thomas better.
Back at the dock I bought a couple of shot glasses for my friend and another Caribbean shirt for me. Then back on the ship to have brunch, cool down and get a different lens for my walking tour of Willemstad.
Last time I was here I did not cross over the river to the other side. This time I did. The Vision of the Seas must have arrived after I left on my tour. It was docked on the other side of the movable bridge. On the other side I stopped at a shore side restaurant to take in the sites, rest and have some ice cream to help me cool down. During this time the moveable bridge was opened and closed. The woman from the shore excursion staff that was on the tour in Saint Lucia was at the same restaurant I was at. I took a picture of her. But when I paid my bill she disappeared.
Once the bridge was closed I headed back to the ship. I changed into my bathing suit and took a dip in the nice cool salt water pool. Then back to the cabin to take a fresh water shower, upload the photographs, update this and get some rest.
At 5:00pm I went down to the shore excursion desk to show Veronica the picture I took of her and to verify some information about my shore excursion to Port Canaveral before my flight home. Seems we have to self-disembark at 7:30am. There was nothing about this on the Internet when I signed up for this tour. Veronica said that a letter would be given to us later. This is a two week cruise and not everyone has managed to pack everything into one suitcase (though there are those who claim to be able to pack for two weeks using only a carry-on). Fortunately I can easily handle my entire luggage (one suit case, one laptop backpack and one smaller camera backpack). So this is no problem for me, but it is still important information that should have been provided to me earlier, instead of my having to find out from someone complaining about it at the dinner table.
Well, it is after 6:00pm. I am waiting for it to get dark so that I can take some nighttime photographs of the ship. Then it will be time for dinner. So I’ll be back after dinner.
I got some good nighttime photographs of the ship, dropped off my camera in the cabin and headed off to dinner. I like the free steak, so I order that and some chicken for dinner. Tonight’s conversation started to get into politics. I hate politics. As far as I am concerned, all the politicians are in it for either their own self-interest (money, power or to help out their friends) or they are incompetent. We started to talk about inflation and what actions the government can take to control it. I said a few things, but didn’t want to get into any arguments. Eventually the discussion turned toward phone, television, the Internet, the providers of these services and the various ways of providing the service (wireless, cable and fiber optics).
After dinner I returned to my cabin. Even though tomorrow is a day of rest for me, I just wanted to go to sleep. So until tomorrow, good night.
November 11, 2014 – Bonaire
Once again the crew could have rowed and we would have arrived on time. This is the first time I’ve been to Bonaire. I looked at the various shore excursion offerings three times and I could not find anything interesting. Tomorrow we will be in Aruba and will be leaving Aruba early. I wish we could have gone to Aruba today and left Bonaire early tomorrow. I’m not the only one that feels this way.
I woke up at 5:00 and put my camera out on the balcony to heat up. But then when I checked the TV I found that our heading was 28 degrees. That meant that sunrise was on the other side of the ship. I looked outside and just and just did not feel like getting dressed. I left the camera out so I could use it coming into port.
When I notice the pilot boat speed up and cut in front of the ship after dropping off the pilot I realized I was going to have to get dressed anyway and head over to the helipad to get the coming into port pictures. Well, it turned out the port was on the left side of the ship after all. It looks like Bonaire is building up the port area. Lots of new shops are visible. I know the shops are new, because they look new and there is nothing in the shops yet. None of the vendors have set up shop yet.
So, with nothing planned, I figured I would go over some odds and ends:
1) Early in the cruise my room steward saw me leave the cabin. However, he didn’t see me come back. He walked in on me while I was getting ready to leave again. It was no big deal to me, as I am using the dead bolt to control when the room steward can come in. But it apparently got to the room steward. The next time he saw me he apologized and said for now on he would only come in when the blue make up the room card was out. I have been using the make up the room card, and this has worked out well with two minor hiccups. The first was one morning when I was out of the cabin for a while, but he had not made up the room. Then I came back, dropped off some things and went out again for a short time. I should have removed the room card because I knew I was coming back soon and I had to change for my shore excursion. Sure enough, when I returned the room steward was cleaning my room. The second time was yesterday morning when I forgot to put the card out. But the day was young and I put it out before exploring Willemstad and when I returned, the room was clean.
2) Why is the bathroom light switch next to the hinge side of the door, outside the bathroom? Most people have the bathroom light switch inside the bathroom. So once you walk in and realize the switch is outside of the cabin, you cannot just reach around. You have to exit the bathroom to turn on the light. Why can’t they put the light switch on the latch side of the door, where it would be easy to reach?
3) The Explorer is the second of the five Voyage class ships. The first three have the balconies inside the structure of the ship. Thus the balcony is inside a steel box. It does not have the open air feeling that the Navigator and Mariner (the last two of the Voyager class ships) have. The balconies on the Navigator and Mariner are outside the structure of the ship. The Navigator and Mariner are my two favorite Royal Caribbean ships. I have been on the Freedom and if you have young kids I would recommend the three Freedom class ships over the Voyager class, as the three Freedom class ships have the H2O Zone. I have also been on the Allure, but it is just too big. My favorite Carnival ships are the four Spirit class ships. The Spirit class ships are about the same size as the Radiance class ships; however, I do not like the layout of the Radiance class ships.
4) I must have pulled a muscle the first night trying to stay in bed. The right side of my hip hurts me when I am standing, trying to stand from a sitting position, trying to sit from a standing position and when lying on my back in bed. However, it does not hurt when I am walking or sitting, so it has had very little negative effect on the cruise experience (but I would be happier if it didn’t hurt).
5) Every evening at dinner I have two pieces of bread. One with cheese and one with pumpkin seeds. And every evening the assistant waiter gets the cheese bread right and then tries to give me the sesame seed bread.
6) Carnival has pool side food and drink stations. That way if you are wet and wearing a bathing suit you don’t have to dry off just to eat. And since a waiter (or assistant waiter) prepares the drinks on Royal Caribbean, it is hard to get ice. Carnival has ice at all the drink stations. However, I have heard that you can get ice from the Freestyle Coke machines on Royal Caribbean even if you didn’t purchase the soft drink package.
7) When the people on the pier are too far way for someone to throw the rope, they use a gun to shoot the rope over. The Explorer of the Seas needs a new gun. The weighted ball that was supposed to land on the pier fell short and went swimming every time.
Well, that is it for now. I’m going to relax some more, then have brunch and then go explore the area around the port. So I’ll see you later.
So, here is how my day went. A little before noon I left the cabin and boarded the elevator for a ride up to deck twelve where Johnny Rockets is located. I boarded on deck seven. Someone on the elevator wants an express ride to deck eleven, where the Windjammer is located. I guess he is really hungry. So he holds the number eleven button in hoping the elevator will skip all the other decks. The elevator stops at deck eight to allow someone else on. The person holding the number eleven button is visibly disappointed. I’m left wondering how someone so naive about the operation of an elevator can earn enough money to afford to cruise. Finally I make it to deck twelve, only to discover that Johnny Rockets is not open.
Since Johnny Rockets was closed, I headed down to deck eleven for brunch. While looking for something yummy I spot the first officer having lunch. I say hello. After I gather a plate full of food, I find a seat near the windows overlooking the ocean. The weather looks good. Done with lunch I catch an elevator heading to deck one, where the gangplank is located. Once on the dock it starts raining. At first it is light, but very quickly builds to a major down pour. I quickly duck under the tent where security is located. I know this is one of those famous ten minute tropical downpours.
Once the rain stops I head to town to get shot glasses for my friend. Then head back to the ship. I debate exploring more, however, one look at the sky and I realize it could rain again. Unfortunately there is a line to re-board the ship and sure enough it begins to rain. I don’t charge my friend for the shot glasses I buy him, but he better appreciate what I have gone through to get the shot glasses for him.
Back in the cabin I take off my wet clothing and put my wet shirt outside to dry. It is nice and sunny now. Okay, I get the message. I’m not leaving the cabin. I lie down and take a nice long nap. I wake up about the time everyone is due back on board. Of course since it is humid outside the shirt has only gone from soaked to damp. So I dry it enough to put on with the hair dryer. Then I head down to the photo gallery to find the photographs from the last formal night (the photo gallery was closed all day yesterday). I pick out five pictures and again take advantage of the Diamond five for fifty dollars deal and I bought another photo album (I don’t know why I did that). The normal ten picture photo package is $175. I have eleven (one free and two five for fifty) for only $100.
Then I head back to the cabin to upload my few photographs (the ones in my camera, not the ones I just bought) and update this. Dinner is in about one hour, so I’ll back everything up, and get ready for tomorrow’s shore excursion. I hope it doesn’t rain, as I am taking my DSLR. It is the same shore excursion I took in 2011 when I was here, except this time I’m taking a better camera with me. We are only in Aruba for a short time, so we can make it back to Port Canaveral on time (or at least that is what the Captain said as we left Bonaire). I think it is because the way back is up hill (take a look at a globe). At any rate, my shore excursion meets at 8:30. So, I’ll catch up with you after dinner.
I had the shrimp cocktail, the sliders and free steak for dinner. Then, because of the early shore excursion, I head back to my cabin and hit the bed.
November 12, 2014 – Aruba
It is amazing what a half day’s sleep plus a full night’s sleep can do for you. I’m up a 6:00 and feeling pretty good (except for the right side of my hip). I watch the pilot boat speed away after dropping off the pilot. Then I head to the helipad to get some pictures (which look dull with no sun) and some sunrise photographs (which are just that, the sun rising, as there are no clouds overhead and plenty of clouds on the horizon.
We are cleared to go shortly after 7:00am. However, there are no vendors out and about that early. My tour ends at 11:45am and the back on board time is 12:30pm. We leave at 1:00 for the two and a half day trip back to Port Canaveral. There is a message on the TV (for those that actually read the messages) telling the Port Canaveral shore excursion guests that they will have to carry their own luggage off the ship. I can’t wait for the problems that is going to create.
At any rate with nothing better to do, I decide to get breakfast and then head down for my tour. I’m a little early so I decide to sit and wait, until someone else shows and gets shown the bus to get on. So I follow and find out I’m actually one of the last to show up.
Our first stop is the butterfly farm, which is the reason I brought my good camera. Those butterflies are not the most cooperative photographic subjects I’ve tried to photograph, but I did get some good photographs nonetheless. However, I am drenched in sweat chasing (walking) after the butterflies in the shade. It is hot and humid. I find a shot glass for my friend at the butterfly farm, so life would be good except I also want to get a Caribbean shirt, as Aruba has the best prices for these shirts and we are docked a long walk from the street vendors (and the bus cannot let us off outside the gate).
The next stop is the natural bridge. Back around 2005 or 2006 the big natural bridge collapsed. All that is left is a pile of rocks and the smaller bridge. I take a few photographs and then head back to the bus.
Our last stop is bunch of boulders. There is some debate about how the boulders ended up where they are. One theory is they were blown out of a volcano and a second theory is that the boulders were pushed up out of the sea by some geological force. The weather conditions have etched some of the boulders into unusual shapes. But from my point of view, these are still just boulders - yippee! The place is called Ayo Rock Formations (in case you develop a boulder fetish and feel like traveling to Aruba to satisfy it).
Upon our return to the ship at 11:35am I headed over to the street vendors (dodging all that did not have Caribbean shirts) and found what I was looking for. The price was $15 which is at least five dollars less than any place else on the other islands that sell the Caribbean shirts.
I made it back to the line to get onto the ship by noon. And what a line it was. EVERYBODY was coming back at the same time. They even had two security stations for boarding the ship and the line was still moving at a snail’s pace. Fortunately it was hot and muggy, so that besides the joy of a slow moving line, everyone had the chance to feel hot and muggy (in the shade, in the sun - it really didn’t matter much).
At any rate, back on board I had lunch and went back to the cabin to change out of my sweat drenched clothing and took a shower. Then I watched an overpriced movie, (thirteen dollars via pay per view) on the TV in the cabin, where at least it was nice and cool.
After that I uploaded my photographs and updated this. It should be sunset soon and since we are traveling north (actually NNW) and since I am on the port side of the ship, I can watch the sunset from my balcony. Unfortunately there are no clouds overhead and plenty of clouds on the horizon, so I will not waste any free film on the sunset. Then I’m just going to relax until dinner. So I’ll be back at you after dinner.
I had the shrimp cocktail, the included steak and tempura for dinner. Actually everybody at the table ordered the tempura. Tonight’s discussion centered on future cruises. One person booked a repositioning cruise from Boston to Tampa Bay for next October on either the Radiance or the Brilliance (I forget which one). That is a thirteen night cruise with a similar, but better itinerary than this one, mostly because they get to spend a full day in Aruba. If I recall the itinerary correctly, the ship spends three days to get to Saint Kitts, then Saint Lucia and Barbados, another day at sea, Curacao, Aruba and three days at sea back up to Tampa Bay.
And even though tomorrow is a day at sea, I decide to just get a good night’s sleep. So until tomorrow morning, goodnight.
November 13, 2014 – Day at sea
I wake up at 6:00 and look outside. We are heading northwest which means sunrise is on the other side of the ship. I decide to skip getting dressed and going out to the rear of the ship for a possible sunrise photo. Per the ship’s information channel we are approaching Haiti. The ship will have to turn to the northeast to make it between Cuba and Haiti. Then it will turn northwest again as it heads toward Port Canaveral. We are traveling at about eighteen and a half knots. Yesterday we were going just below twenty knots.
As I set up my computer this morning I realize my cabin is turning into quite a zoo. I have a rabbit on the night stand, a monkey hanging from the lampshade, an elephant on the table and a dinosaur standing on top of the TV.
The Captain’s Corner is at 10:00am and I am looking forward to that. After I finish updating this and backing everything up, I figuring I’ll grab a quick breakfast and then head over to The Palace for the Captain’s Corner. Then after the Captain’s Corner I check out the stores to see if there is anything interesting that is worth buying. That should give the room steward enough time to clean the cabin.
After the Captain’s Corner I come back here and update anything of interest from the Captain’s Corner and then continue picking out pictures to post with my review. So far I have only sorted through day one (embarkation day). I have taken 2615 photographs and videos which are taking up 23.7GB of disk space. I can back up a total of eighty gigabytes. By that I mean that I copy everything from the computer to a flash drive so that if the computer’s hard drive fails I have not lost everything. I have 128GB of storage on the memory cards that I use in my DSLR alone (the other cameras have their own separate memory cards) however, after I back everything up, I erase the memory cards so I don’t get different day’s photos mixed up. I store each day’s photos in a separate folder on the computer. And in case anyone is wondering, the review is currently twenty three single spaced type written pages and over fourteen thousand words.
Basically I have everything a need for my computer and camera. I have an extension cord for the cool (dry) evenings when I like to update things on the balcony. I have extra batters for all the cameras except the underwater camera (which does not get used as much) and of course I have chargers for each. I also have surge protectors and multi-outlet plugs (they are smaller than a power strip but serve the same porpoise). And I have plenty of memory cards to story the pictures on.
Well, it is about two hours before the Captain’s Corner. So I’m going to stop here, back everything up, get dressed and head out for breakfast.
Well, there was a change in plans. The weather is nice, so I took my breakfast back to the cabin.
Then it was off to the Captain’s Corner. I asked why the one lifeboat had not been hooked up and moved back into its normal position. First there were a few jokes about liking the look and doing the same with all the other lifeboats. But actually there are apparently some mechanical issues. None of the ports we visited had the equipment necessary to fix it, so it will be fixed in Port Canaveral. Also, not one, but two lifeboats were damaged. Lifeboat twenty two was forced up and has damage on the top.
One lifeboat will be replaced by a spare lifeboat that is available when we dock on November 15. One of the lifeboats will be repaired and a will then rejoin the ship when it returns to Port Canaveral on November 24. At that point the ship will then have its full complement of lifeboats. The Captain explained that SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) requires the same number of lifeboats on both sides of the ship. So, even without four of the lifeboats, based on lifeboat capacity and the number of passengers and crew, the ship is still within the SOLAS requirements.
Someone mentioned the propulsion issued this ship had a month ago. It seems the center fixpod (it does not move) has something wrong with it that requires the ship be taken out of water to fix. So, they have removed the screw (the propellers on a ship are called screws) and the ship is running on just the two azipods. I was wondering why I only saw two wakes coming off the back of the ship. Nonetheless, this has not created any changes in our itinerary (the half day in Aruba was in the schedule long before the propulsion issues became known).
The ship will go into dry dock in Spain in March. The fixpod will be repaired; three new specialty restaurants will be added as well as four additional tender boats (as Europe requires a lot of tendering). This ship will then spend time in Europe, Asia and Australia. A Flowrider will be added and other changes will take place. The dry dock is scheduled to last five weeks and cost about sixty five million dollars.
Someone asked about fresh water. The ship can make its own water, but it has to be moving forward at at least six knots to do so. As a result, the ship cannot make its own water in port and thus will sometimes buy it locally.
Someone asked if any security camera footage of the rogue wave would be included in the Cruise in Review DVD. The cruise director is in charge of what goes on the DVD and his answer to this question was NOOOOO!
One person asked if we crossed the equator. Really? Again, how do some of these people earn enough to afford to cruise?
After the Captain’s Corner I returned to the cabin to update this, upload my photographs and as I look out at the ocean I can see we are having beautiful weather and very smooth seas, something which was confirmed by the Captain at his noon time announcement. The Captain says we can see Haiti off our starboard side and Cuba off our port side. So I am going to take a break from this and head up to deck twelve to see what I can see.
It does look nice outside. However, while Haiti was visible off the starboard side, the land we saw off the port side was not Cuba, but rather some little island about 74 nautical miles east of Jamaica. In fact, even now, two and one half hours later, we are still about sixty nautical miles from Cuba, which puts Cuba beyond the horizon.
I attended another aviation lecture entitled How Does an Aircraft Fly? This is the second of three lectures on aviation that I have attended (I missed the first one) and there has been audio visual issues all three times. The most interesting part of these lectures, to me at least, is the cause of accidents. Pilots running through a check list but didn’t actually confirm the settings; they just said what the setting should have been. Another time the pilots didn’t realize they had the nose of the plane pointed too far up, causing a stall.
At any rate, I’m back in the cabin and I am going to review my photographs to see which ones I want to add to my review. Then as dinner approaches I shave, shower and dress for the last formal night. Tonight I have soup, pasta and the free steak.
Back at the cabin I decide to check out the football game, which was not really competitive, so at halftime I go to sleep.
November 14, 2014 – Day at sea
Well today is our last day – boo! I am up in time for sunrise. To catch it I have to leave the cabin. It doesn’t look like there are many clouds overhead, but it also doesn’t look like there are many clouds on the horizon, so I dress and leave the cabin.
It wasn’t a great sunrise, but it wasn’t a bust either. It would have helped if the clouds overhead were not so thick. Instead of showing the color of sunrise, it was just black. In fact, soon after the sun rose, it rained for a short time. Since I was near the Windjammer I decided to have breakfast. I secured the basic ingredients for an Egg McMuffin and made a couple for myself.
At 10:30am there was a sale I wanted to check out. However, there were too many other people buying things, and since I had already eaten breakfast, I decided to find a chair in the shade on the pool deck and relax for a while. I needed to give the room steward time to clear the cabin.
I noticed that they were setting up grills around the pool deck and decided to just wait until lunch was served. There was watermelon, pineapple, salads and BBQ chicken and ribs. Then back to the cabin for BBQ sauce removal and a quick rest before attending the last aviation lecture. This time all the equipment worked properly.
The lecturer mentioned the economics of the aviation business. So at the end of the lecturer I asked him if he knew how to makes a small fortune in aviation. He asked how, and I said, start with a large one. He laughed and then said yes, he has heard that one.
After that it was back to the cabin to rest and prepare for departure. I am being forced to self-disembark in order to attend the shore excursion which will take me to the Kennedy Space Center, and then to the airport where I have a 6:50pm nonstop flight back home. I’ve decided I don’t want to carry my DSLR around the Kennedy Space Center, so I use my point & shoot camera.
The sun is setting just outside my balcony. Again there are no clouds on the horizon, which is good, and no clouds overhead, which is bad. So all I am getting is a big bright orange ball on the horizon. Still, that is better than nothing, so I take a few photographs of my last sunset at sea.
I checked my account and it is almost $290 (after the $150 onboard booking credit). That seems rather high given that I didn’t buy that much. However, about half of that amount is gratuities, and $150 over gratuities for two weeks is not bad. So now that I have everything organized for tomorrow, I’ll back everything up, shave, shower and dress for my last supper. So I’ll catch up with you after dinner.
I had shrimp cocktail, pasta and the included steak for my last supper. Our after dinner conversation centered around Port Canaveral, Alaskan cruises and airline miles. Then we all said our good-byes and I headed back to my cabin to update this. We are setting out clocks back one hour tonight to match the time in Port Canaveral. So I am using the extra time to update this. Then I’m going to watch the rest of Rambo: First Blood and then go to sleep. I have to be ready to leave at 7:30 tomorrow. So, until the jet is at ten thousand feet, good night.
November 15, 2014 – Travel day
Well the Captain said that we would meet the pilot boat at 6:15 and sure enough I saw the pilot boat pull up next to the ship at 6:15. However, both of the damaged lifeboats were still on the ship as we docked. There were three other ships in Port Canaveral today; the Disney Fantasy, the Carnival Liberty and the Carnival Sunshine (formally the Carnival Destiny which was the first cruise ship in the water to exceed one hundred thousand gross registered tons, which is a volume measurement, not a weight rating).
I got dressed and went down to the helipad to watch us come in. Then over to the Windjammer to grab a quick breakfast and back to the cabin to eat it. Then it was time to go to the casino to debark. Someone asked if I had all my luggage – yes. Then she tried to direct me to one of the lounges. I said that is not my meeting place. She asked where I was supposed to meet. I said the casino. She asked how I knew that. However, before I could pull out my shore excursion letter directing me to the casino, someone else asked if I was on a tour – yes, and into the casino I went.
Soon after arriving at the Aquarium Bar, which is just outside the Casino and where my tour (there are two) was meeting, an announcement was made that the ship had not been cleared yet. This was quickly followed by a request for everyone in the tour to line up. Standing for a long time hurts my back and it was clear we would be standing for a long time. I have no idea why everyone was asked to stand (for about thirty minutes before we were cleared) but I stayed seated.
Once inside the terminal there are two lines, one for the elevator and one for the escalator. If you don’t have one hand free, you are directed to the elevator. The elevator is small and the line is long. I had a free hand (the other one cost a lot of money – HA HA) and went down the escalator. The customs officer wanted to know if had any alcohol (no), tobacco (no) food (I pointed to my stomach – the customs office said I could keep that food). Then he asked me if I was traveling alone (yes) and when I bought my ticket (September 29 of last year – the day I boarded the Allure of the Seas). At which point I was reluctantly allowed back into the United States (or at least Florida). This time again I was able to use my passport card (though I did have my passport handy just in case).
Once outside the terminal I was then directed to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) bus. I was amazed to see people there to board the ship. Who wants to wait in line for over three hours? Even I only try to arrive about thirty minutes early. The bus driver asked everyone except me which airline they were on. After he put my luggage under the bus, I asked him if he was sure he put it in the right place. He assumed wrong and had to take my luggage out and place it in the correct place.
I saw the workers working on the two damaged lifeboats and I saw the cranes arrive. However, we left on our tour before the damaged lifeboats were removed from the ship. As we left the port area we passed by the spare lifeboat that would be put on the Explorer for the next voyage.
We had a super tour guide who was very enthusiastic. Turns out that this is a fully guided tour. I didn’t realize that, as I was hoping to go on my own. However, this tour guide was so good that I really didn’t mind. Besides, I am booked on the Freedom next April, and all I have to do is either come a day early or book another late return flight and take the tour, go out on my own and just make sure I am back to the bus on time. This tour includes the upgraded tour of the launch pad, where the tour bus gets real close to the launch paid. One of the new facts I learned from our tour guide is that all of the astronauts have to be five foot eleven inches or shorter. There is not a lot of room inside those space capsules.
For souvenirs I bought and ID tag for myself, a shot glass for my friend and two ice cream sandwiches for my two nephews. I hope they don’t melt (they shouldn’t, they are both freeze dried).
After the tour we were taken to the airport. I had not eaten since 7:30am and it was now 3:30pm. All I wanted was a quick snack, since I only had three hours until I board. Since I am in first class, I’ll get a meal on the plane. It will be airline food, but at least it is food. So I grabbed a Big Mac meal.
Yesterday I almost bought a second bag since I was concerned that I might be overweight. I decided to chance it. Well, I was overweight at 52 pounds. However, Delta allows first class passengers seventy pounds. Saved!
No special security line for me, just an express line to get into the security line. So I have to remove my shoes, belt and laptop. Also, I had to take everything out of my pockets. Well, there is a reason I was wearing a belt. I have no idea how many people I mooned (at least I was not going commando). Also, I was concentrating so much on getting everything out of my pockets I forgot that I was wearing a backpack. However, I was reminded of that fact when I approached the scanner with, “SIR, YOU HAVE TO REMOVE YOUR BACKPACK!” Oops! Ever try removing a backpack while trying to hold up your pants? That is when the people behind me got mooned. Sometimes I wonder how people earn enough to afford to fly.
After clearing security (and turning down a few marriage proposals) I decided to update this. The Orlando Airport needs more electrical plugs. I found an open one behind an empty seat. I must have had to lean forward more than a dozen times because others were plugging in, or unplugging, from the outlets behind me. I have not flown out of Orlando in eight years. The airport has been upgraded since I was here. The upgrades are rather impressive in my opinion.
Unless something unusual happens during flight and/or ride home, I have come to the end of the review [which is now 27 single spaced type written pages long (almost two pages per day) and just under seventeen thousand words].
So what were my impressions?
1) The Captain (Captain Rick) was fantastic.
2) This was my second fourteen night cruise (my first cruise was also fourteen nights).
3) I have no plans to return to New Jersey to cruise unless there are some improvements made to traffic flow (I have cruised out of Manhattan and Brooklyn and I would not mind returning to either of those two terminals.
4) Given the lousy year I have had (which is finally looking up) this cruise was just what I needed.
5) It was nice that after the typical one week I was only half done. Nonetheless, even two weeks now seems too short.
6) The crew was great.
7) The cruise director was also very good. Very few cruise directors have impressed me. This one did. Nonetheless, I don’t depend on the cruise director to have a good time.
8) There were not very many children on the cruise. I heard the number thirty mentioned. I have noticed the cruises with a small number of children seem to have less energy. I know I certainly did.
9) I had a great time.
I arrived safely at LAX without incident. I then found the Prime Time Shuttle representative and waited, and waited and waited. Fifty minutes later I was finally in a van and headed home. For half the price I could have taken the FlyAway bus to Van Nuys and a taxi home in the same amount of time. When I told the Prime Time representative at the curb this, he just shrugged his shoulders. Next time I'll either take the FlyAway/taxi route home, give Super Shuttle another try (Super Shuttle was great the one time I used Super Shuttle) or for only about thirty dollars more, use a limo service that is prompt and actually cares.
For those that care, I have a total of 2951 photographs taking up 26.5GB of space. That is almost 9MB per photograph. And this ended up at 28 pages and 17,360 words.
Well, hopefully you found something interesting and/or entertaining in the review. The Explorer of the Seas will only be in Port Canaveral for about four months. So until April (my Freedom of the Seas cruise), good-by.
I am going to add a PS here. Before the Explorer cruise the GS cabin I wanted for an April 2016 cruise was advertised by Royal Caribbean, on Royal Caribbean's website, for $3,810 before taxes. After the Explorer cruise the same cabin was advertised by Royal Caribbean for $3,893.88 after taxes. The "best" price Royal Caribbean could give me when I purchased the cabin onboard the Explorer was $4,937.98. I e-mailed the information to my agent on Sunday evening. Before I returned home from work on Monday I had a new invoice showing the total to be $3,893.98. So the "best" price I could get while booking onboard the ship was more than $1,000 more than Royal Caribbean's advertised price. This is just one of the reasons I prefer using an agent over booking directly with Royal Caribbean. I should add that I lost the $200 onboard booking bonus in the process. It was a hard choice between getting $200 OBC or saving $1,000 (for a net savings of $800), so I flipped a coin and saving $1,000 won.
You can see 264 of the pictures I took in a slide show by following the following link ...