Another Review: Explorer OTS, 11/6-11/13 -- A Mixed Bag

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#1
North Carolina
72 Posts
Joined Oct 2005
First off, let me state for the record that I did not choose RCL or Explorer; this was a wedding anniversary cruise for DH's parents and they wanted as many of the family as possible to join them -- given a choice of dates, DH's parents selected the ship and itinerary, so I had only minimal input on these things. As soon as I found out that this board existed I joined up and started researching what to expect, so please no "You should have known" comments, or "why'd you choose such a big ship if you know you don't like to be around a lot of people?"

We got back in a little after 11pm Sunday night; I still don't have my "land legs" back yet -- everything is still kind of wobbling and swaying, at least in my head.

The week sure went by fast... The first bit of the trip, getting to Miami, went without a hitch. No problems getting to the airport, once we got out of the massive traffic jam we were stuck in.

And when we landed in Miami last Saturday, our luggage was at The Baggage Claim At The End of the Universe, but I suppose the walking was good for us. No problem getting the free shuttle to the hotel -- the Hamption Inn Miami Airport South (recommended on this board), where we discovered that we were sharing our cruise with a group of psychics called the Sea Angels.

We shared a taxi ride to the port the next morning with two of them, one of whom kept trying to hit on DH, though she was old enough to be his mother.

We got to port on Sunday a little after noon, and spent the next almost two hours standing in line to get on the ship. There HAS to be a better way to do that. Met up with DH's parents and brother at the lunch buffet in the Windjammer once we were finally on board.

We had an inside stateroom on deck 8. At first glance it was disappointingly tiny (yes, I know, 132 square feet, but if you haven't seen it, it can be hard to visualize), but as we unpacked, we found lots of nooks and crannies to store things in, and it worked out OK after all. Except that the quality of the "bed" was very poor. It didn't so much matter to me, but DH really needs a firm, supportive bed, and this was really just a cot.

One of the best tips from this board was to take along an over-the-door shoe hanger; we fit all of our toiletries, brushes, my makeup, sunscreen, etc., into the slots and it worked out perfectly. Another tip, bringing a nightlight, wasn't so necessary, as we found out that if we just left the bathroom light on and the door shut, it provided enough light for us to get up at night and go pee, without having to turn on the overheads.

Overall, the food was plentiful and decent, if not outstanding -- again, I'd read the messages here and didn't expect gourmet fare. We did eat at Johnny Rockets one night, and that was the best burger I had all week.
There was a $3.95 cover charge, but it was worth it. I found out from DH's aunt and uncle that if you've cruised with RCL before, you get a coupon book in your stateroom and you can eat free at Johnny Rockets.

Each night in the dining room, DH and I were amused by the fact that there was a different pureed fruit disguised as "soup" on the menu. Sunday was watermelon gazpacho, Monday was strawberry bisque (those were my favorites), then they did pears, apples, peaches, and mixed berries.

Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, water, and lemonade were free. DH's brother got the "unlimited soda" option, but we didn't bother.

We ate all of our breakfasts and lunches at the Windjammer Cafe/Island Grill. Food was plentiful and usually hot, and the watermelon was almost always good. It was usually crowded, but a couple of days, with some careful searching, we did manage to find a table by the windows at the stern.

Starting Tuesday night, I think, our cabin steward would fold one of our towels in the shape of an animal. We had a dog, a monkey, a sting ray, a sea turtle... and the complimentary mint chocolates were nice.

The lifeboat drill Sunday afternoon was hot and annoying and not over soon enough. I understand that it's necessaray, though. We "unlucked" out and got to stand around on the sunny side of the ship for it, with the sun
right in our eyes. DH got a massive headache from the sun, and lack of caffeine, and like a dummy I'd suggested we check all of our bags at the port -- including the one that had all our drugs in it. D'oh!

So after the lifeboat drill we went back to the stateroom in the hopes that our bags had arrived (or at least the one with the drugs in it) and thus we missed the casting off, though while I was walking around later while DH was napping, I did see a Celebrity cruise ship leaving port.

Couldn't stay very long at the Meet & Mingle on Monday at Portofino's because DH's brother was in the ping-pong tourney that started at 11am and we wanted to get some pics of him playing. I think there might have been more "Meeting and Mingle"-ing going on if they hadn't had us all seated at small tables, which aren't very conducive to mingling, IMO. But it was nice of RCL to set it up and give us snacks and the neck wallet things.

Didn't see anyone else with a "cruise critic" sign on their stateroom door, so maybe those are passe now?

Monday was an "at sea" day and the beginning of our reign of terror in the trivia contests. DH and I also managed some time alone in one of the hot tubs in the Solarium (the "no kids" pool/hot tub area) -- if I'd realized how rare that would be, I would have treasured it even more. The rest of the week, there was always at least two or three other people around.

Monday was also when I discovered that people don't know what they're talking about when they say you can't feel the ship move. I call "bullsh*t" on that and have the empty dramamine package to show for it. Thankfully the medicine did what it was supposed to, and I only spent a couple of
hours being queasy.

DH's first three attempts to get a draft Murphy's from the English pub on board, The Crown & Kettle, were unsuccesful. The first night we were there, they told him "the tap was out." Don't remember what they said the other two times, but eventually they had it.

The Schooner Bar onboard was the scene of all of our trivia contest triumphs -- eventual haul between DH and myself was: six gen-you-wine pleather document holders, four pleather luggage tags, and two waterproof wallet-thingies. We joked about asking the people who ran the trivia contests what they'd give us if we'd pull a "Black Sox" and throw the next competition...

We even won one of the two "Name That Tune" contests, one of which yielded the belly-laugh of the night for me. We were trying to think of the title of a particular song from "Les Miserables," and DH's brother suggested, "Oh Crap -- There's a Guillotine!" (It's probably a "you had to be
there" moment but I enjoyed it.)

Tuesday was cave-tubing in Belize and another long wait in line -- this time for the tenders to get to the port. We booked the tour through RCL, so I'm not sure what the problem was with us getting off the boat in a reasonable manner.

The excursion consisted of a 45-minute walk through the jungle and mud, hauling your life preserver and inner tube, to get to the entry point for the river. We got to see (and bump our heads on ) a variety of stalagtites and such. There were a couple of small "rapids," and one of those is where I got my "Belize tattoo," aka a bruise on my butt.

I could have used more time in the caves to simply float around and look at the formations -- and a smaller tube for me would have helped my navigation attempts...

These inner tubes were a blast from the past, too -- no fancy bright-colored ones with handles, no sirree. These were actual, black tire tubes, big ones, like from trucks.

There was a lot of bumping around, and a few points where the guides wanted us to all turn off our headlamps so we could experience the darkness. Right at the beginning, DH and I had gotten separated, but every time someone bumped me in the dark, I called out his name and finally we
found each other again.

A couple of times, DH had to rescue both me and another woman in our group because we'd gotten out of the main current, and like I said, it was hard for me to paddle (short arms, big tube). He lost his wedding band at some point in the river.

They provided lunch for us; chicken breast, red beans and rice, and slaw, and drinks. Everything was good except the slaw; I'm not a fan of slaw in general.

We got back to the dock with just enough time to pee and catch the next-to-last tender back to the ship, so we can't really say we saw much of Belize. We'd have had more time if it hadn't taken us so long to get off the boat. I'd like to go back and visit some of the Mayan ruins.

Wednesday was Costa Maya, which is essentially a tourist area built along the Mexican coast, specifically for cruise ships. The pier can take three of the big ships now, but plans are to expand so they can handle up to six at a time. A lot of cruises that didn't originally stop there have substituted Costa Maya for Cozumel, but we were scheduled to go there anyway.

Originally we hadn't booked any shore excursions for Costa Maya; we were planning to use it as just a relaxing day. But at the last minute, they added a dolphin swim, so I signed up. Turns out that they are planning to open up a dolphin swim program at Uvero Beach/Costa Maya anyway, but they opened it a few months early because of Hurricane Wilma.

One of the other places up near Cozumel -- either Xcaret or Xel-Ha -- had to move their dolphins out of Wilma's path, so they took them in at Costa Maya and opened early. The group is called Via Delphi (http://www.viadelphi.com/), if you're interested. The Uvero Beach/Costa Maya one is so new it doesn't have its own website yet.

It was one of those experiences of a lifetime. Unforgettable. Wonderful. Fascinating. Worth every penny, even the overpriced photo I bought (because we couldn't take our own cameras). I did get stung by a jellyfish or something (stinging cells?) while on the dolphin swim, but it wasn't too bad. Benadryl cream and aloe really helped.

There were only 8 of us in our group, including the trainer, and five dolphins, so that was a great ratio that provided lots of interaction and lots of opportunity to touch, pet and just observe the dolphins as they swam
around. And unlike at the sting ray swim/snorkel, everyone in our group was good about letting everyone else take a turn with the dolphins.

When we first walked up, the trainer said, "Hi! Welcome to our 'swimming with sharks' program." Heh.

I had some time after my swim to hang out at Uvero Beach, at that point I just wanted to get back to the ship and put someting on my stings. Also, to get some lunch. After lunch, DH, his brother and I went back to the shopping area just off the pier and poked around for a bit.

Found some Dia de los Muertos figures for a friend of mine. Haggled at the Taxco silver place and finally walked away with a silver/blue opal dolphin pendant. It's supposed to be bad luck to wear opals if they're not your birthstone, but what the heck. Amethysts aren't my birthstone either and I wear them all the time.

Thursday should have been our day at Cozumel but was another "at sea" day instead; I admit I was disappointed that they didn't substitute another port. I still got to do a dolphin swim, though, and DH even still got to do a mini-tequila tasting. He'd signed up for one on Cozumel that obviously got canceled (due to Wilma completely flattening Cozumel),
but at Costa Maya one of the liquor stores was offering a few free samples of a couple different tequilas.

Neither of us really drink it straight -- Jose Cuervo, on the rocks, yeah, right. Bleah. In a daquiri, yes. But DH said the second one he tried was really smooth, so he bought a bottle. A nice, expensive bottle (cost about as much as a good single malt), that leaked in our baggage, so that when we landed at RDU and DH went to put on his sweatshirt, he smelled like he'd been on a five-day bender in Tijuana.

So Thursday we just relaxed and took it easy. Skipped dinner in the dining room in favor of a romantic evening just the two of us -- we went up on one of the upper decks to watch the sunset instead, then back to our stateroom for a bit, then dinner at Johnny Rockets, followed by dessert
at Ben and Jerry's (mint chocolate chunk ice cream, a favorite of ours).

Thursday evening DH started coming down with the sniffles and by Friday it was a full-blown cold.

Friday was Grand Cayman and our swim/snorkel with the sting rays. The tendering process was much smoother, as well as being a much shorter trip to shore. My prescription snorkel mask worked great. It was fun, if frustating at times. The ratio of people to sting rays was too high, and with so many people waving pieces of raw squid at them, sometimes it was hard to attract the sting rays' attention.

I finally did get one, but some @sshole literally grabbed her away from me before I could give her my piece of squid -- no kidding, he swooped right in front of me and grabbed her away! I was so angry at his rude behavior!

I have to admit I was skittish at first; I'd never been that up close and personal with a sting ray before, much less such large, well-fed ones -- in such big numbers, too. I jumped a little when the first one brushed up against me, but I got used to it.

Eventually I got one to come over to me and follow me around for a bit, and I was able to hold one (got a photo). DH and I both had disposable underwater cameras; we'll see how the pictures turn out. All in all it was a good time -- just overcrowded a bit. And the salt water helped DH's nasal passages drain, so that was good. I'd definitely recommend doing a swimming with sting rays excursion, but next time I'd look for a way to do it at a time when it was less crowded, if that's possible.

Lunch on Grand Cayman was ex-pen-sive! I know our dollar is worth less than theirs (it's about $.81 USD to $1.00 Cayman), but still. Two burgers/fries, a coke, and a strawberry daquiri, plus tip, cost around $40. That was a shock. FYI, this was at the Paradise, recommended by RCL.

They had one of those penny-flattening machines, but it was broken. You know, you put in two quarters and a penny, and the machine stretches out the penny into an oval and prints a different image on it -- like a lighthouse, or something else touristy. I kind of collect them, if we go somewhere that has one.

Friday was also our second formal dinner of the cruise, and DH's parents wanted to get a group photo of us. I think the formal nights are overrated; the food isn't really any better than it is on the other evenings, and I'm not one for much dressing up. But it makes the mother-in-law happy,
so...

Actually, in fact, there were times when the Windjammer had better quality stuff than the main dining room.

Saturday was our last at-sea day, so we went around cramming in as much vacation as we could: more swimming/hot tub sitting, played one last trivia contest -- actually our second "Name That Tune" competition, which we lost. Our great winning streak was finally broken. Ah well. Not like I needed another pleather travel wallet. Hit the shops
on board, etc.

Saturday night I felt the first twinges of a bladder infection, so we had to make use of the ship's medical facility. They were quick and courteous, though, and agreed with my self-diagnosis and gave me medicine and got me on my way in about 1/2 an hour. It cost about $250, though half of that was the drugs, but even so we found ourselves wishing that our healthcare back home worked so efficiently! I don't know how large the medical staff on board is, but both the doctor and the nurse who saw me were middle-aged Swedish women, and I have no reason to complain about the treatment they gave me.

We had to have our checked bags packed and outside our stateroom door by midnight, so that took up the rest of the evening. We got up around 6:15am on Sunday, finished up packing, grabbed breakfast and had to be out of our stateroom by 8am.

We headed up to the Promenade on deck 11 and hung out for bit, eventually playing a few rounds of ping-pong. The line to get off the ship was long, long, long. So we went back to one of the upper decks to wait.

Since we had a late fight out of Miami (8pm), we were in the last group off the boat, and it took us about three hours total to get off the ship, clear
customs and immigration, and get to the airport, where we
sat for the next seven hours.

We kept checking the departures board but didn't see our flight, and we were waiting at the gate that was printed on our tickets, D43. Around 7pm we finally found someone and asked, and turns out the gate had changed, to A14. If you've never been to Miami airport, let me just say that it's about a 1/2 hour walk, over a mile, from our original gate to the new one.

There were at least three shrieking babies on the flight, one in front of me, one behind me, and -- drumroll please -- one right beside me. Also, DH and I weren't able to get seats together. This made me angry, but it also enabled us to switch seats when the screaming toddler next to me was drowning out the drums, bagpipes and electric guitar on my iPod.

Just about the time we had to walk/run to the Departure Gate At The End Of The Universe, I snapped. "Cranky Laura" came out in full force. I'm an introvert's introvert, and a cruise is basically a vacation that you're taking
with 3,000 other people whether you like 'em or not -- and like I've said, I didn'ty choose this vacation, my mother-in-law did.

I was tired of the noise and the people. Wherever I went on the ship, someone else was there. Even in our stateroom, I could hear the ambient ship noise. We were on deck 8, at the butt-end ("aft" is the proper term) of the ship, over the propellers. Dinner was shared each night with 1500
other people, divided into three 500-person dining rooms, stacked one on top of the other, connected by a grand staircase.

DH's father is deaf in one ear, and had requested a table by a window to cut down on the ambient noise to make it easier for him to hear. Their travel agent kept assuring them that they indeed had one large table (we had 19 in our group) and that it was by a window. Wrong! What we ended up with was two round tables beside each other, smack in the middle of the lowest level of the dining room.

This is the same travel agent who booked DH's parents' cocktail party Sunday afternoon for the 19th Hole, even though it's just a "walk-through" bar and RCL doesn't book events into it -- we had to move to the 7 Hearts instead, which was fine, but DH's parents have fired that particular travel agent!

Anyway, I was definitely on people overload by the time the cruise ended. When we got home Sunday night I just wanted to curl into a fetal ball, and stretch one hand out to pet the cats. Tuesday night, I'm still wobbling a little, don't totally have my "land legs" still, and I think I'm getting DH's cold.

Would I cruise again? Maybe. It'd have to be a smaller ship, though. The Windjammer Barefoot cruises look small and appealing right now.

I will say that it's awfully convenient to have food taken care of, and to be able to visit different places without actually having to move yourself, pack your bags, find another hotel, etc. And now that we've done it once, I'll be more comfortable about booking shore excursions not through the ship, which will save money and perhaps give us more individualized attention.

RCL was slow to refund our SeaPass accounts for our canceled Cozumel excursions, and they have yet to refund our Cozumel port fees, which we shouldn't pay since we didn't go there. DH's brother had serious problems with getting his Cozumel excursion refunded, getting his ticket for the excursion he booked on Grand Cayman (they eventually printed him a duplicate), and getting his envelopes and vouchers for his tips.

Overall, despite some glitches, it was a good week and I'm glad we went, even if now I need some SERIOUS "alone" time. Like I said, it's probably not the cruise or ship I would have picked if left to my own devices, but it was a decent vacation.

best,
Laura
#2
Clifton Park, New York
1,129 Posts
Joined Jun 2005
First, thanks for the excellent review. Second, how did you hear about the dolphin swim in Costa Maya? We are scheduled to go on Jewel in Dec and were planning to do the dolphin encounter in Cozumel but now that is a no go. We are already scheduled to go to Costa Maya and as this was a surprise for DD for christmas, I would really love to be able to book it. Any help you can offer would be great. Thanks.
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Veronica(the other half of theBeachBears)

8/03 Voyager of the Seas Cabin 7591~1/04 Majesty of the Seas Cabin 4565~8/05 Sovereign of the Seas Cabin 1074~12/05 Jewel of the Seas Cabin 9586~3/07 Legend of the Seas Cabin 7126~1/08 Sovereign of the Seas Cabin 9536~5/9/08 Explorer of the Seas-Cabins 8306 and 8308~1/10/10 Freedom of the Seas-Cabin 1310~7/1/11 Monarch of the Seas Cabin 8070~1/13/13 Freedom of the Seas-Cabins 6305 and 6307-the Ben and Jerry's "Sweet"~ 9/20/14 Explorer of the Seas Cabin 1394 ~10/3/15-Jewel of the Seas-Cabin 7088
#3
North Carolina
72 Posts
Joined Oct 2005
Originally posted by VernRDH
First, thanks for the excellent review. Second, how did you hear about the dolphin swim in Costa Maya?
I didn't find out about it until we were actually on the ship; that's how last-minute an addition it was! When we got there that morning, our trainer told us that they'd only been open for about two weeks, and that was ahead of schedule. On the ship at the shore excursions desk (beside Guest Relations), they'd put up a simple one-page notice about it, so I was able to book it using the TV in our stateroom.

Hopefully it will become a regular offering for RCL instead of the surprise add-on it was for our trip. You might want to see if it's listed in the online shore excursions for Costa Maya now, and if not, call RCL to see if you can book it that way.

From what I could tell, the only thing that a "Royal Swim" at Chankanaab on Cozumel offered that the Uvero Beach/Costa Maya one didn't was the chance to hold onto one of the dolphins' fins so they could pull you through the water. On our trip we got to touch them, stroke them, ask them to perform for us, and also to get off the platform and swim with them -- we just couldn't grab hold of them. I highly, highly, recommend it.

best,
Laura
#4
Clifton Park, New York
1,129 Posts
Joined Jun 2005
Thanks so much. I emailed the company via the link you posted in your review. I am hoping they will have an answer for me and be able to help us out. Again, thanks so much.

I also have to agree with you about feeling the ship move. I do too and after our last cruise on Sovereign, it took me almost a week to get my land legs back.
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Veronica(the other half of theBeachBears)

8/03 Voyager of the Seas Cabin 7591~1/04 Majesty of the Seas Cabin 4565~8/05 Sovereign of the Seas Cabin 1074~12/05 Jewel of the Seas Cabin 9586~3/07 Legend of the Seas Cabin 7126~1/08 Sovereign of the Seas Cabin 9536~5/9/08 Explorer of the Seas-Cabins 8306 and 8308~1/10/10 Freedom of the Seas-Cabin 1310~7/1/11 Monarch of the Seas Cabin 8070~1/13/13 Freedom of the Seas-Cabins 6305 and 6307-the Ben and Jerry's "Sweet"~ 9/20/14 Explorer of the Seas Cabin 1394 ~10/3/15-Jewel of the Seas-Cabin 7088
#6
Cincinnati, OH
8,463 Posts
Joined Mar 2002
Did you purchase cruise insurance? If you did, it will cover your office visit to the doctors. On one of our cruises our friend's daughter had a reaction to shell fish and had to visit the dr's office. Insurance reimbursed us for the visit and medicine.
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#7
Manomet, MA
3,560 Posts
Joined Oct 2005
I am sailing on Explorer next October and was curious to hear about the ship. Did you enjoy the ice show and the interior promenade area? I can't wait to see how I like it.

I would recommend you trying one of Norwegian's newer ships if you prefer eating in smaller venues. We enjoyed the Norwegian Dawn last year because it had ten different types of restaurants. Many people enjoyed the elegant Venetian Dining Room on the Dawn, but I enjoyed the smaller more intimate settings in the other restaurants onboard.

I am pleased that RCCL has added alternative dining on their new ships. I find Portofinos and Chops more to my liking. I don't enjoy eating in the same room, same table, same waiter, same guests night after night. I ate at several different places on Jewel of the Seas last month, including my balcony--thanks to my collapsable table I bought for the cruise. I can't wait to see Explorer. Did you enjoy the adult hot tubs? I love the solariums on most RCCL ships, but don't think there is one on Explorer.

Hope to hear more about the ship.

Mary
#8
North Carolina
72 Posts
Joined Oct 2005
Originally posted by bplazo
Did you purchase cruise insurance? If you did, it will cover your office visit to the doctors.
No, and we probably should have. We're thinking that our insurance will reimburse us for at least some of the cost.

best,
Laura
#9
North Carolina
72 Posts
Joined Oct 2005
Originally posted by Leafpeeper
I am sailing on Explorer next October and was curious to hear about the ship. Did you enjoy the ice show and the interior promenade area? I can't wait to see how I like it.

... [snip]...

Did you enjoy the adult hot tubs? I love the solariums on most RCCL ships, but don't think there is one on Explorer.

Hope to hear more about the ship.
Hi Mary,

DH and I didn't go to the ice show, but other people in our group who went really enjoyed it. There was so much to do on board, we just couldn't cram it all in. I was usually ready to fall asleep by 11pm or so, which means I also missed both the midnight buffets, but DH went to them. He said the food at the first one was better, but he really enjoyed the ice carving demo at the second one.

The promenade area is certainly impressive -- you have no idea that you're on a ship in the middle of the ocean somewhere. On the first night of the cruise, around 10pm, the staff puts on a cute little parade down the Promenade.

You'll be pleased to know that Explorer does indeed have a Solarium, with one adult swimming pool and two adults-only hot tubs. They were glorious! The first night, DH and I totally lucked out and had one of the hot tubs to ourselves for a little while. It was SO NICE. Even on the last day of the cruise, when everyone was trying to cram in "just a little more vacation," I was able to find us a pair of loungers in the Solarium area.

Portofino's was a little rich for our blood, but it was nice to eat at Johnny Rockets one night and to have ice cream afterward at the Ben & Jerry's. If nothing else, it was good to have a little break from the standard ship's fare. I thought I'd read that there was a Starbuck's on board, but if so, it was extremely well-hidden.

best,
Laura