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Explorer Review: July 3 VERY LONG - PART 1

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The “Cindy & Dennis Cruise”



Who: My DW, DS (14), DD (13) and myself – Third time cruising with RCCL.




When: July 3-10, 2005




Where: Scheduled for Western Caribbean ports of call Belize, Costa Maya, Cozumel and Grand Cayman. Actual ports of call due to tropical storm and hurricane: Belize Costa Maya and Nassau, Bahamas. Departed and returned to Miami.







We flew to Ft. Lauderdale two days early. We hooked-up with a limo service curbside and paid $75 for the four of us and luggage to be transported to the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne. While not inexpensive, this property and the service provided are both superb. It is our second time at this Ritz and we thoroughly enjoyed it again. Oceanfront room cost approximately $300 per night. Iguanas visit poolside and, with the music, poolside bar and grill, etc. make for a nice, relaxing tropical experience. The hotel itself is magnificent and boasts an incredible art collection at every turn. Highly recommended if money is not an issue.




Sunday morning at 11 a.m. we cabbed to the port. It took about 20 minutes and cost us about $25. Our tickets directed us to board at 2 p.m. that day. We arrived at 11:30 and nearly walked on board. The line was very short and the staff efficiently checked us in, issued our Sea Passes and ushered us on board after taking our welcome aboard photograph.




Our stateroom was 9320. 9320 is a balcony room almost right in the middle of the “hum” on deck 9. From these boards we had heard about the convenience and desirability of this room. The advice was correct in every respect. The location was perfect and gave you excellent access without long walks to the pool, dining, the Windjammer, the Promenade, etc. In addition, the hump room seemed to add extra room space. As we are four (nearly) adult-sized bodies, a single room is a challenge. However, this room worked well for us with limited squeezing. We had plenty of room for our clothes, accessories, etc. The balcony was great and we could see the entire length of the ship fore and aft.




Once we checked-out our room, we headed to the Promenade for a refreshment. Then, on to the pool deck for views of the Miami skyline. At 4:30 we attended the mandatory muster drill. It took about 25 minutes and, as our muster station was outside and fairly small, it got quite warm. It didn’t bother us much but other guests were moaning a bit.




Once we passed muster it was back to the room for a change of clothes before dinner. Our table was on the 3rd level (for those who don’t know, the dining room is on decks 3, 4 and 5). It was almost directly at the bottom of the staircase, next to the captain’s table. However, this would be the only night we would eat at this table. Our assigned table mates were not a great match for us. So, the next morning my wife requested a reassignment. She ended up having us assigned to a table (reportedly) with a family with two children – same dining level but at a window table.




Sunday evening we attended the opening show, met Clo (our cruise director) and generally enjoyed ourselves. Monday morning was sunny and smooth but that was not to last. Tropical storm Cindy made herself known Monday mid-day. For the rest of that day and into the following morning we rocked and rolled. My DW and DD didn’t agree with Cindy so we all skipped the first formal night dinner (and meeting our expected new tablemates). My DS and I played bingo late that evening in the bowels of the ship. It was a bit unsettling to say the least but he hung in there (we didn’t win but we came close). Tuesday we arrived in Belize. I had scheduled the cave tubing thru cave-tubing.com prior to leaving. We had no trouble meeting Yhony and his mates. We joined two other families and 12 of us set out for the caves. Tim was our guide but we had three other staff members along. Before I go any further, I suspect I am going to be more critical of certain aspects of this cruise that I thought I’d be. So you know, we’re pretty much go with flow folks and not know as whiners or complainers. I hope I’m giving a fairly objective account of the proceedings.




Tim and gang took us in an old rental car van (Holiday Inn) that they’d somehow acquired from Los Angeles. En route it stalled and there was some question as to whether it would get us to the caves and back. Tim asked us how we’d like to proceed and I said let’s go for it. Luckily it did make it to the caves and back to port. Tim and crew were very nice. Tim talked up a storm (probably too much) the entire way to the caves. Some of it was informative while some was just cutting-up. Belize is not what you would call a developed port (which we knew and expected). So, if you’re going think rural, undeveloped, etc. However, that being said, the folks could not have been friendlier and we always felt safe. Once you leave the paved road you have an incredibly bumpy ride on dirt and rock to the caves themselves. Be prepared to get a thorough “massage” of your behind if you go. There is a staging area with some bathroom and shower facilities (not what you would call luxury – again, you’re in the islands so expect rustic charm). Once you prep, you are given headlights and tubes and off you go. A short walk to the river and you cross to the path which will lead to the top of the cave entrance. It is warm (Central America tends to be that way) and the walk took about 35/40 minutes. Unfortunately, a large tour from the ship was just ahead of us. Since over 100 folks were entering the river ahead we were given a choice of waiting or of cutting off the corner and entering just south of the “normal” entry point. We chose to do so. Tim had suggested that mosquitoes were not a part of this excursion but, unfortunately, they tagged along. We had prepared for this and were not affected. However, a couple of folks from our party gotten eaten pretty nicely.




We entered the water to become acclimated and to cool off. It was cool and refreshing. We locked tubes (using our legs) in groups of 4 and we were off. I was last of the 4 in my family with my daughter leading the way. Without getting into too much detail, I would give the cave/tubing experience about a 5 out of 10. Twice we hit rocks, fairly significantly that tore one or more of us from the others. I ended up sideways much of the time and was constantly pushing off the walls to avoid crashing into them. In other words, I spent more time trying to stay with my family and avoid getting smashed than enjoying the water and caves. My daughter said she was pulled about by the guide and couldn’t really enjoy herself either. The caves themselves were nice but not particularly impressive (maybe we’re jaded by other caves in the U.S. and Caribbean that we’ve seen). Once we left the river it was only a short walk back to the staging area where we could change, etc. We choose to take Tim up on his offer of a lunch and beverage. We stopped at a restaurant/house where we could get a lunch of rice and bean with coconut sauce, chicken and a beverage ($5 for lunch, $2 for a beer). I choose the beer/s while the rest of my gang enjoyed the lunch. We were back at the dock for making payment and return to the ship with plenty of time to spare. Would we do it again? Probably not. Total out-of-pocket for the excursion came to about $300 with tip. That evening we made our first stop at the Crown and Kettle (a pub on the Promenade). The main bartender there is an Indian gentleman by the name of Fernando (go figure). He and his mates were one of the highlights of the cruise. They made us feel like we had been regulars there for years (I should add that I tipped very generously on this first night). Most nights following we found our way to the C&K for sing-alongs, general fun, etc. There seemed to be a regular group that found there way to the pub as well and everyone came back night after night to enjoy the festivities. At 10:30 each evening a one-man band would play and provide for fun entertainment. Yes, my children are only 13 and 14 so they drank Cokes or Sprites (ginger ale when the ship rocked) but they were treated like kings and queens and totally looked forward to stopping in at some point during the evening. We all HIGHLY recommend making a visit. If you go, tell him Mark, Kathy, Casey and Michael sent you and said to say hello.




Next: Costa Maya and Dennis.

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