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Explorer OS review 2/27 western car. sailing

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Sorry! I had the wrong ship in the title so I am reposting this correctly!


Part 1:

I get so much info from these boards, I have to pay back with a review.


Travelers: Me (46), DH Rick (45) DS Stephen (18), DS Bobby (16 tomorrow) and 9 of their high school friends (mostly 18), Ivonne and Lydia were the other adults in the group. This was a HS pre-graduation trip for most of the kids).


11 of us flew down together Saturday for the Sunday departure, Ivonne, her 2 daughters and Lydia flew down Friday and met us on the ship.


We stayed at the BW port of Miami on 14th St. It was quite dumpy. I wouldn't recommend it, except for the cool Cuban diner attached to it. They did have a free shuttle to the pier, and for a group our size that was also a plus. The beds were the most uncomfortable I have ever slept in. The rooms stank of disinfectant. They gave two small towels per room, even if they knew 4 were staying. We called many times for more towels and one of our group was finally told there were no clean towels! We ended up taking them off the maids cart in the walkway. It wasn't just our group, everyone else who I talked to while waiting for an elevator or waiting for the shuttle said the same thing. But since we were all heading onto a cruise ship we all laughed about it and said, "never again will we stay here". There is a grocery store within walking distance, which I guess was another plus. We loaded up on soda, water, beer and flowers for Ivonne whose birthday it was the day we departed.


We took late shuttles to the ship, about 1 to 2pm and walked right on. I prefer getting there earlier. We barely had time to find our room and look around and they were closing up the windjammer and calling us to muster.


The ship was huge! And beautiful. The atrium was amazing. I loved the way they set up a boulevard of shops/bars/cafes. The thing I didn't like was when they pulled out all the sales tables in the middle of it every night and you couldn't get around it easily.


We all had inside cabins. For us it worked out great. The adults were in doubles and most of the kids in triples. I thought our cabin was the largest inside cabin I had been on in my 6 cruises. The bed made into a queen with two side tables with drawers, curtains to divide the room if you want, a love seat, the desk/dresser set up and closet were bigger than we needed. The kids in triples were a little tighter, but no one complained. I told them it was good preparation for the dorms they will be living in next year! The beds sagged a little, but I had no trouble sleeping. I expected to see more wear and tear on the ship, based on what I read here, but I didn't see it. One day DH and I went looking for it and found, one tear on the wall by my bed, a stain on a carpet near a stairwell, a broken chair in the Maharaja lounge, some hallway banisters needed revarnishing, the straps on some of the pool loungers were "rusty" but they were replacing them throughout the trip. All minor stuff. And they were here and there, nothing obvious throughout the ship.


The dining room was very nice, three stories. We were on the top level, so I think we had the least amount of noise. I would guess the lowest level would be noisiest, where the captains table is, but I don't know. Our waiter and assistant and head waiter were great! Yes, I said head waiter! He acually came around quite a bit. Helped pour wine, cut lobster out of the shell, asked how we liked our food, and was generally a funny, nice guy. First time I felt a head waiter deserved his tip! The chef came around to our table at one point too. He was very nice too. I didn't see him at every table, so I suspect our location just made it easy to come out and ask how we liked the food. Speaking of which, it was much better than the menu and food we had on the Radiance in Nov of 03. They have fewer selections, but seem to have taken more care with them, so I really enjoyed them. No ranch steak on the menu any more! The wine program changed too. Now you have your choice of 5, 7, or 10(? maybe 12) bottles at a discount, and 3 levels to choose from. The cheapest option ($125) got you 5 bottles from the most limited list (2 sparkling, 4 reds and 4 whites if I remember) the next level ($137) you get the same choices as the lowest level, but they add another 2 or 3 reds or whites to the list, and the highest level ($145) they add a few more. The price and the percent discount goes up with the more bottles you order, but the wine list is just the three levels I described. We bought the 5 bottle middle level, which worked out perfectly for us. We enjoyed the wines we chose and a few nights we had two bottles open, a sweeter white to have with our starters, and a red to have with our entree. Then they held them for us for the next night. We ate at the windjammer for breakfast and most lunches. Standard fare, not bad but not great. Fairly good variety so there was always something for everyone. The kids loved the burgers at Johnny Rockets and were more than happy to part with the $3 something to eat there. They also bought milk shakes till I told them of my free coffee milkshake treat: Go and get about 1/3 cup of hot coffee from the cafe or windjammers and then fill the cup with the free soft serve ice cream. Stir it well and yummy FREE frappacino! We did not go to the pay for resteraunt or order room service. The first midnight buffet was on the pool deck and I missed it completely. I was too stuffed from dinner to even consider it! The second one was the grand buffet. We took pics, then I left. Some of the kids hung out and I asked them to bring me a chocolate covered strawberry. Well, when I got to my cabin I found a covered plate with 10 strawberries: half white half dark and some other goodies. I had two that night and the rest for breakfast the next morning!


Common rooms were nicely themed, but none of them wowed me except the disco, which is done up as a mideavil castle. Very cool! DH and I liked to hang out at the 19th hole, because it wasn't used much and we could watch soccer on the tvs and listen to the jazz music from Dizzy's next door without being in a room with smokers. No offence to smokers, I just like relaxing without it. So it was the best of both for us. There was a neat perpetual motion golf ball machine in the 19th whole that a lot of kids liked. There is a bigger version of this in the Boston museum of Science, so our group of kids weren't too interested in it since they were so familiar with the concept, but a lot of other people came by and spent a lot of time watching it. The kids spent a lot of their time (and money) in the arcade, apparently they have a teen approved set of games in there!


Out of all of us, all of the shows were seen, but no one saw every show. Ivone and Lydia said the comedian the first night was very funny. They also enjoyed the first production show. The drifters were fun and the second production show was ok, but not anything more that I would have expected from a ship troupe. As usual the love and marriage show was hilarious! Clo, the CD, really knows how to get the crowd into it. She was one of the better CD's I've seen. The farewell show was a mix of comedian, song and dance and a juggling act along with a bit of the tape you could buy on the screen. Well put together, but again nothing new. The ice show was the not to miss show. We were awed. It was really good. Yes, they sometimes missed thier landings, but the music, lighting, choreography etc was excellent and the skaters were better than I expected. They did jumps, throws, lifts and all the stuff you see on professional shows on tv and live.


A few of the kids tried ice skating, rock climbing and mini golf. All were a hit. Our trip was quite overcast and windy, so not a lot of time was spent in/by the pool, but we all used the hot tubs at some point. I also enjoyed the sauna and steamroom in the gym. DH said the equipment in the weight room was in good shape and there was plenty of it. The kids also used the card and game rooms a bit, where there were alot of board games and deck of card available to play. Not once did any of the 11 kids say they were bored or that there was nothing to do. In fact, on the bus home, most of they were commiserating on what they didn't get to do.

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Just a few other quick things about the ship:


No laundry facilities, but we sent out clothes to be washed or ironed for a small fee. Definately worth it.


Our cabin steward was awsome! He didn't even mind cleaning the boys rooms!


The teens over 18 had a waiver to be signed if they could drink beer or wine. I asked all of the parents before we left (in front of the kids so there was no question about the answer) and one 18 yr old was not given permission, the rest said they trust their child's judgement. What happened when we boarded is my husband or I had to sign the permission slip for tehm to be allowed to drink on board. Those not allowed to drink had 2 holes punched in thier cards and those that could had one whole punched, letting the servers know at a glance if they could have alcohol and if so, if they were limited to beer/wine. The kids were happy to have the option, but for the most part stuck to an occasional wine with dinner. (Except my son who chose to "see what it was like to be drunk" one day). Off the ship, they could have whatever they wanted in Mexico.


Ports: In spite of the cloudy/windy weather we made it to port each day. Our first stop was Belize. We went cave tubing with Yhony (http://www.cave-tubing.com). It was $45 per person plus tip and we had a great time. We had a guide and van to ourselves, so after hiking to the first put in site and there was a line, we asked to try the next site up and got to go through an extra cave. Some other vendors were putting in there too. More than one kid said they were glad we did this private excursion when they saw the long lines of people hiking from the ships groups. Our guide, Sean, had us turn our headlights off in the first cave and we floated in the dark, which was very cool! We also walked into a small cave before starting to see some formations and bats. They were sleeping and were very small. I don't think I would have noticed them if it wasn't pointed out to me. The were the size of a small mouse. After the trip we stopped at a tshirt factory and a few of the kids bought shirts there. The cost was about $2 to $5 less than what you would pay by the port. There was a school festival in town, which slowed us down a bit getting to the port, so we had about half an hour to shop. The kids went right back on the ship, but Rick and I stayed outside the gated area and shopped at a little marketplace of vendors just outside the gate. I got a tshirt and a small painted wooden mask to use as a Christmas ornament. I was able to barter a little, so the shirt was $10 (originally marked $15, offered at $12 but I only had a $10 on me so he finally took it) and the wooden mask was $5. I didn't barter for that, but once inside the fence I saw they were just a dollar more. The bigger wooden items you could barter better deals outside, but the marked price was the same as inside the fence.


The second port was Costa Maya. After much discussion, we took a taxi to the town and spent a fairly windy day at the beach in front of Tapas Bar. We were a large group (14 went) and we got there after noon, but they managed to gather tables and chairs for us to sit at. We had a few beers/margaritas/sodas between us, chips and salsa (yummy, spicy) and guacamole (also yummy) so it was worth it for them to have done that. The kids loved the authenticity of the town and strolled from one end to the other without fear while checking out the stands and buying souveneers for themselves. They also enjoyed splashing around in the water. We seemed to head back in smaller groups on our own and it was very easy to get taxis. Rick bought himself two new Mexican League soccer jerseys while in port (at a store behind the stage where the shows are they have a good selection) and he and my son Bobby got a lot of comments when wearing them in Mexico and Grand Cayman.


The next day was Cozumel. Rick and I had our own plans, so the kids were on their own. Rick and I did the "discover scuba" excursion through the ship. A bit expensive at $99pp, but well worth it! We only learned to snorkle a few cruises ago, but this was even better. First we spent about 20 minutes in a classroom learning the do's and don'ts and hand signals. Then they took us into the ocean and we practiced breathing a bit. We both paniced a bit at the start, but in 4 feet of water, it wasn't too scarey! Then we went down to about 25 to 30 feet and it was wonderful! It was like swimming in a fish tank. Neither of us feels we want to get certified at this point in time, but we would gladly do an excursion like this again. The ship uses a company named sandollar divers, who were very good. After the dive, we headed back to the ship to shower and change and head into town for our massages. We had booked them through CozSally here on the boards and they were well worth it! She only does one at a time, so while Rick went first, I walked into town and did a little shopping. Rick did the same when it was my turn. Then we had a yummy, quick bite to eat at a little resteraunt Sally recommended. I'll have to try and remember the name for you. Rick loves chile rellanos, and he said this was the best he's had. I had some Mayan pork tacos, which the pork was slow cooked with some spices while wrapped in banana leaves. The pork was shredded and put into fresh taco shells. The fresh salsa and guacamole rounded out the meal. Heaven! In the meantime, the kids headed to Paradise beach and had a blast! They thought the bartender was awsome. They used the water toys until they were told they couldn't (they didn't pay the $5) and then they hung out and swam, which was fine with them.


Our last port was Grand Cayman. Again I booked off ship, with Nativeway. They gave us a boat to ourselves which the kids LOVED! The first stop was for a quick swim while the captain collected conch. The kids were jumping off the high deck into the water and having a great time. Then we went on to coral gardens to snorkle. Many of these kids had never snorkeled, so this was also great! There were tons of fish! There were also two rays that hung out with us, not very big, but the kids thought that was what "swimming with stingrays" was. Then we moved on to stingray city and that was a great way to end the excursion. Last time Rick and I did that in reverse order, so the best was first, but I loved having the kids build up to the rays! Everyone teased the girls that they would scream, but it was my son and another boy that got back on the boat the fastest! That was the best excursion experience. The kids got to pilot the boat, they had it to themselves and they loved every minute of it. They didn't want to go back to the ship. We go to eat fresh conch cevice, made while we were snorkling. Unfortunately, due to choppy waters, the all aboard was changed to 2:30pm, so we had 15 minutes after the excursion to run into a Tortuga rum shop and sample and buy rum cakes, which most of the kids did! Then we encountered the only line the whole cruise. Getting onto the last tender. Everyone made the most of their time and chose the last tender at 2:00. But the tenders are large and they loaded them up quickly. When we got to the ship, both gangways were being used. Before we were all off the tender, two more tenders were in line to unload. But everyone was in a good mood from a great time in GC so I heard no complaints about the lines!


part 3 soon.....

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