The cruise portion of our trip started with my waking up in our Miami hotel room to see the lead story on the local news - a big outbreak of Norwalk virus on Explorer and several other ships that had returned to port that morning. Not the best news for someone who tends to catch every bug that is going around. We figured that boarding would be delayed a bit, so didn't rush over the to port.
They did hold boarding until 1 pm (our stateroom attendant told us it was to allow more time for cleaning and disinfecting everything). This led to pretty long lines in the terminal once you got checked in (which took all of 2 minutes with pre-signed e-docs) and a lot of grumpy people, but I thought it was handled pretty smoothly and they were making sure to keep everyone informed that no one would be allowed on board until 1 and
that rooms wouldn't be ready for a while after that. We were on board by 1:30, so they did move things pretty quickly once they got moving. Staterooms were not ready, but we somehow managed to get to ours and dump our heavier carry on bag in the closet. We immediately made our spa and Portofino's reservations (good things to do since both were getting quite booked up by the next morning), checked our dining room table assignment, and were in line for the Windjammer by 2.
Apparently due to the outbreak, all food in the Windjammer was being served from behind the buffet lines, which I found slowed up the process sigficantly compared to the process when guests can serve themselves. That being said, however, I'd rather have gloved staff serving than to increase the risk of getting sick by having guests pawing over the food,
so no big issue here. I wasn't that impressed with the food in the Windjammer. My only other cruise experience was on Princess a few years back, so that is all I have to compare it to, but I found the food to be a bit bland and, unless I was lucky enough to get served from a pan that just came out of the kitchen, the food was a bit cold all the time.
After lunch, we made our way out to the pool deck for the afternoon - the sun was shining, deck chairs still were open, and all was right with the world. There's little better than warm sun and a cold frozen drink! For sailaway, several people from our Meet and Mingle thread met up in Dizzy's for drinks - the view from there over the crowded deck and over the harbor was great and this was a good chance to get to meet some of the people we'd been chatting with on here for a while. I'd highly recommend this spot for drinks any time.
We had dinner in the dining room every night except one (the night we ate in Portofino's). On the whole, I'd give the food 3 stars out of 5 - some dishes were quite good, others were typical banquet fare - but what can you expect when they are serving so many people at once. Highlights of the dinners in the dining room were the scallop risotto appetizer on Venetian night, the prime rib the first night, and the spinach salad one night. DH also was quite taken with the grilled chicken breast - he had one every single night along with his entree. Our waiter Richard and assistant waiter Sander were wonderful - good personalities and after
the first night they each knew what everyone at the table liked or preferred. Our dining room bartender Graham was DH's best friend when, on the second night, DH's manhattan was waiting for him at his seat when we arrived for dinner.
My one complaint about dinner in the dining room was our head waiter, Mehat, who was a bit annoying to everyone at our table (a few commented that it was obvious he was stopping in daily to make
sure he got a tip at the end of the trip) and, when we asked if the bottle of disinfecting spray that was left out on the sculpture near our table could be moved to a less public space, told us rather rudely "No - that is where it belongs." Since the dining room is supposed to be fine dining,
I really didn't think it was necessary to have an ugly spray bottle sitting out in full view all the time. This may seem like a reall small and silly point to some, but it is this sort of attention to detail that makes the difference between a first class operation and others.
Portofino's was worth every penny of the cover charge. The food was amazing, the service outstanding, and the atmosphere so relaxing. One warning, they actively discourage you from using your wine and dine package there, instead wanting you to order wine off their list since it "is tailored to the food" - but again, not a big issue since the wine we ordered off their list did really enhance our meal. We were in pretty rough seas the night we dined there, so there was a lot of vibration, but once we got eating we didn't notice it unless we looked at our glasses and the wine sloshing around in them. I honestly wish we could have eaten in there at least one more night.
In terms of ports, DH wasn't impressed with San Juan (I stayed on the ship, visited the spa and enjoyed the pool). I did the America's Cup adventure in St. Maarten and loved it - quite fun to race those big boats. We all also enjoyed shopping in St. Maarten and came home with some lovely jewelry to show for it. In St. Thomas, we booked the Buck Island Sailing and Snorkeling excursion - sailing on a 42 foot sailboat that
is limited to just 6 guests per boat - a trip that we all loved. In Nassau, a friend and I went swimming with the dolphins at Dolphin Encounters - it was well worth the extra $80 to do the swim instead of the encounter - DH says that that highlight of the trip for him was seeing me being pushed across the water by two dolphins. We wished we had more time in port in St. Thomas and Nassau - since in each by the time we did an excursion we had to get back on the ship.
On the sea days, the chair hogs were out in full force. If you weren't on deck by 8:30, you weren't getting two chairs next to each other in a prime location. Friends hit the pool at 9 am on our second sea day and
wound up only being able to get 2 chairs together up on the top deck. DH and I spent a fair amount of time later hunting for people who were leaving and taking their belongings with them so that we could sit together - we too only found spots on the top deck. On our second sea day, we had quite rough seas, so much so that there were 3-4 foot high waves in each of the pools! It was a blast riding the waves in the pools! The only drawback to the pools were the number of kids always playing in the hot tubs - usually with snorkeling equipment on. I'm still not sure why they allow kids in the hot tubs at all - they are for relaxation, not swimming!
The only shows we managed to catch were Quest (totally fun) and the adult comedy show one night (quite funny). We saw a few of the others on the TV in the mornings while we were getting ready for our day - they seemed OK. The cruise director's staff were great - very energetic and friendly and really got people involved in all the activities. We had about 20 people at our Meet and Mingle - apparently one of the larger turnouts on a Caribbean trip - and it was nice to put some faces with screen names.
All in all, we had a wonderful trip and I'd definitely cruise with RCCL and on Explorer, again.
RCI - Eastern Caribbean - March 2006
NCL - Western Caribbean - February 2008
X - Meditteranean - September 2009
X - Southern Caribbean - February 2011