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Explorer of the Seas review - March 5-12, 2006


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Explorer of the Seas – March 5 – 12, 2005 (Eastern Caribbean)

To give a bit of background before I start my review, I’ve sailed on a number of different cruise lines in the past including NCL, Royal, HAL, Sun Line (which doesn’t exist anymore) and Carnival. My first 4 cruises were 15-20 years ago but my 2 Carnival cruises were in the past few years.

Day 1 – Boarding - Miami

We arrived at the pier in Miami around 11:00am, hoping to board early, only to find out that there had been an outbreak of the Norwalk virus the week before and that the health department was going to be on board for a while ensuring that it was safe for us to board. We were worried that it was going to be hours before we could get on the ship but we were allowed to board around 1:00pm. We were able to bring on 2 bottles on wine and a 6-pack of beer in our carry-on – no one said a word. We were able to go to our cabin (balcony cabin 7274) and drop off our carry on luggage. We were very impressed with the size of the cabin and the amount of storage/cupboard space. I didn’t even need my over the door show holder! After getting settled in, we immediately went to Portofino to make a reservation and to the spa to book appointments. We then went to the Windjammer for lunch and sat out in the sun for a while. At 3:00pm, we went back to our cabin and discovered that 2 of our suitcases had arrived, so we started unpacking. My husband tried to blow up our inflatable palm tree for the balcony and we quickly realized that we should have brought a pump. So much for that idea!

Soon it was time for muster. It was a bit of a pain, as always, but only took about 15 minutes so we really can’t complain. After that, it was time to set sail. We headed for the Viking Crown lounge and met up with about 20 other Cruise Critic members to watch the ship leaving Miami.

Around 6:00pm, we headed down to the cabin to shower and change for dinner. We had second seating, so we went to the early Welcome Aboard show, which was very good. Clo, the cruise director, was hilarious and we got to see a sampling of the entertainment.

Next, it was off to dinner. We were at table 360 in the Magellan dining room (level 3). It was a table for 8 – we were seated with the other couple we were traveling with and a group of 4 mid-20-something’s who were on their second cruise. We met our waiter, Richard, and assistant waiter, Sander, both of whom did an excellent job the entire week. They were both very personable and made all of our meals pleasurable. We also met our head waiter, Mehat, who stopped by most evenings to say hello but didn’t do a whole lot else. We had dinner in the dining room every night except for Wednesday, when we ate at Portofino (which I’ll describe on Day 4).

We were quite impressed with the food in the dining room. It was by no means 5-star dining, but we didn’t expect that it would be. Considering the number of passengers being served all at once, I thought the chefs did a great job of preparing tasty meals that were presented very well.

After dinner, we went back to the Viking Crown/Dizzy’s to try out our ballroom dancing skills, since we had been taking lessons for 2 months leading up to the cruise. We had a lot of fun, although we were a little disappointed that there really wasn’t much of a dance floor. It seemed a little odd to advertise ballroom dancing and then not have a place to dance, but we made the best of it and danced beside our table.

Day 2 – At Sea

We were up by 8:00am for breakfast in the Windjammer. The lineups were long but they moved pretty quickly. Finding a place to sit was a bit of a challenge but we eventually found a table. The food was quite good and there was a large selection. The omelettes were especially tasty!

After breakfast, we went out to the pool to find a deck chair which, at 8:30, wasn’t too hard. I felt sorry for the people who showed up an hour later though, only to find 90% of the chairs covered with towels and books and flipflops. We didn’t do a whole lot for the rest of the day – mostly just lay in the sun and order yummy drinks (Mango Tangos if I recall correctly). Our waiter was even nice enough to bring us a box for the souvenir glasses we were collecting!

We went to a Wine Tasting in the dining room in the afternoon and were disappointed. The guy leading the seminar (one of the cellar masters) was one of the most boring speakers I’ve ever listened to and the wines we tasted were mostly pretty bad. The cellar master talked more about expensive wines that we weren’t tasting than the ones we were tasting. Having said all of that, anyone who was a real beginner at wine tasting might have enjoyed it more.

Day 2 was our first formal night so at 6:00pm, I went to the spa to have my hair put up. The stylist did a great job, but I thought $80 for an updo that took 20 minutes was a little pricey. Once we were ready, my husband and I went to the Champagne bar and met up with our traveling companions. We had a glass or 2 of bubbly and then walked through the Promenade where they were handing out champagne. We didn’t go for pictures with the captain because we got frustrated with the crowds, so we went and had some photos taken instead. Dinner was fabulous! The white glove service was a really nice touch and made you feel like you were in a fancy restaurant. Everyone at our table was dressed appropriately and it appeared as though most people in the dining room abided by the suggested dress code. That was one big difference I noticed between this cruise and my last 2 (on Carnival).

After dinner, we had a few more formal portraits taken and then went to the casino. I won a few hundred dollars, which was a nice way to end the night. We stopped at the Promenade Café for a slice of pizza (not the best I’ve ever had, but not bad) and went to bed.

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Day 3 – San Juan, Puerto Rico

We got up around 9:00am this morning. I wasn’t concerned about being out early enough to get a deck chair because I knew they’d all open up as soon as we pulled into port, and I was planning to stay on the ship. We had breakfast in the dining room, which I highly recommend. The omelette and pancakes were both very good.

At noon, we pulled into port and our husbands left the ship to go check out Old San Juan. My girlfriend and I found some perfectly situated deck chairs and made ourselves at home. About 10 minutes later, the clouds rolled in and it started to rain. We sat out there for about an hour, hoping it would stop but finally gave up and went inside for a snack at the Promenade Café.

At 5:00, we had appointments at the spa for facials and massages. Very nice!!! The massage was relaxing and the facial was very much needed after being in the sun the day before. Because we were in port, we saved $20 each.

I met up with my husband around 7:00pm. He was somewhat underwhelmed with San Juan. We got ready for dinner and met for drinks with our traveling companions. It was Italian night in the dining room and everything was very good. We had purchased a Wine & Dine package the first night and ordered our second bottle with dinner that night – the only complaint I have about it is that it seemed to take forever for them to bring the bottle and open it for us. One night, we were halfway through our entrees before it arrived.

We went to the Aquarium Bar for a drink after dinner and then visited the Chamber lounge before going to bed.

Day 4 – St. Maarten

We had room service breakfast this morning – it was so nice sitting in the port in St. Maarten and eating pastries on our balcony.

We headed into town for some shopping in the morning. I had a birthday coming up so I was hoping to find some nice jewelry (and hoping to convince my husband to buy it for me). I succeeded in both and am now the proud owner of a beautiful tanzanite ring, pendant and earrings. We bought them at Majesty Jewelers, who were recommended to me by someone on the Cruise Critic boards. Their service was great and prices were very reasonable.

After that, my husband and my girlfriend went off to do the America’s Cup Racing shore excursion. Her husband and I wanted to go to Maho beach to watch the planes but a cab driver told us we wouldn’t have enough time since we had to be back on the ship quite early. Instead, we rented chairs and an umbrella and had drinks on the beach. The water was beautiful and we had a really fun afternoon.

We got back on the ship around 4:00pm. I wasn’t feeling well (probably from the drinks on the beach) so I lay down for a nap. We had tickets for the ice show that night but I ended up sleeping through it. I was feeling better by around 7:00pm though, so I got up, got ready for dinner, and we headed off to the Crown & Anchor Society party. It was quite nice – the cruise director, loyalty ambassador and captain spoke for a few minutes and we enjoyed the free drinks and appetizers.

We had reservations at Portofino this night. We were all blown away by the food there! We had an amazing meal and almost had to be rolled out of there. The only complaint I have is that I asked for my steak well done and it came medium rare. My husband’s was slightly more well done so we traded and I ate that, instead of sending it back. The desserts were truly amazing, especially the flourless chocolate cake!

Day 5 – St. Thomas

In the morning, we did some shopping at the shopping area near the dock. The shops were mostly the same as the ones in St. Maarten and considering how much money we spent in St. Maarten, we decided to just browse.

At noon, we headed back to the ship to join our shore excursion, the Buck Island Sail and Snorkel. It was a lot of fun. We went out on a sailboat with 2 other couples to Buck Island and had a guided snorkel tour. We saw some pretty fish, a stingray and a sea turtle. We then sailed back to the ship and enjoyed rum punch all the way back.

We went for a late lunch in the Windjammer when we got back – the lines were really long, because everyone seemed to have the same idea we did. They could have had a few more stations open, but we didn’t wait too long.

Dinner that night wasn’t great – I had a grilled pork chop which was ok, but not too impressive.

Thursday night we played “Quest” – what a blast!! My husband and I were “runners” for our team and it was great!! Everyone told me that Quest shouldn’t be missed and they were right. We hung around afterward and did some disco dancing and then headed to the Chamber for some dancing until really late. We got back to the room and I was starving so we ordered room service. It was a little slow (about 40 minutes) but worth the wait!

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Day 6 – At Sea

I didn’t wake up until almost 9:00am because of the late night in the Chamber so I was late arriving on deck. Boy, did I regret sleeping in. We were able to find 2 deck chairs on the very upper deck, 100 miles from the pools. Most of the chairs just had towels on them and there were at least 20 of them whose “owners” didn’t appear until well after noon. I should have just gone and moved someone’s stuff but I decided not to bother getting into it with someone.

The water was really rough, as it had been for the past few days. They closed the pools for a while and when they were open, they looked more like wave pools than regular swimming pools. It was a blast – body surfing in a 20 foot long pool with 30 other people. Probably not the safest thing to do, but fun!!!

We had lunch at Johnny Rockets, which was very good. There was only about a 10 minute wait for a table. It was well worth the $3.95 cover charge.

After lunch, my husband entered the “Sexy Legs” competition. He didn’t win any of the prizes but I have some great pictures of him parading around to the judges. After that, we went to the Solarium to take a nap for a couple of hours.

As tonight was our second formal night, I again had my hair put up in the spa. I had the same stylist as before and she did a nice job.

We all met in the champagne bar and had a bottle of Dom Perignon to celebrate my birthday. We had a few more formal portraits taken and then headed into dinner. Dinner was, again, very good. The attire for the evening seemed to be slightly more casual than the first formal night but most people still seemed to stick to the suggested dress codes.

After dinner, we went to the Maharajas lounge, where they were supposed to have ballroom dancing. Unfortunately, the band’s regular bassist/singer was downstairs playing with the Nelson brothers so they had a substitute who didn’t know most of the music so they were playing more basic things, most of which didn’t involve ballroom dancing. After that, we headed to the casino and then to the Promenade Café for late-night pizza.

Day 7 – Nassau

We got into Nassau at noon and left for our excursion – swimming with the dolphins on Blue Lagoon Island. This was one of the best excursions I’ve ever taken in my life. We were in the water with the dolphins for about half an hour and had a lot of interaction with them. The best part was when I was pushed across the lagoon at about 25 miles an hour by 2 of them.

Unfortunately, the rest of day wasn’t so great. It was our last day so we headed back to the ship and started packing. We had most of it done and our luggage outside before dinner so we could enjoy the rest of the evening. We had a nice dinner, said goodbye to our tablemates and waiters and then headed to the casino for a bit.

We then went out to the helipad and watched the waves and other ships for a while and took a walk around the deck. Then we went back to the room and sat on our balcony and enjoyed the view for a couple of hours before going to bed.

Day 8 – Back in Miami

Debarkation went pretty smoothly. We were off the ship right on schedule and through immigration quite quickly. I always hate debarkation day because of that feeling of being shoved off the ship. It was no different this time. If some cruise line could come up with a way of making the last morning more pleasant, they’d make millions.

Overall Review

As you can probably tell from my review, I was very impressed with our cruise. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical going into it, because I had heard so many people comparing RCI to Carnival and suggesting that the 2 lines are very similar. I’ve been on 2 Carnival cruises and while I had a good time, they weren’t up to my “standards” of what a cruise should be like with respect to food, service, amenities, etc. I was worried that RCI was going to leave me with the same opinion, despite how I remembered my last RCCL cruise (which was in 1991).

I was very pleasantly surprised – other than a very few (and minor) complaints, the Explorer of the Seas, the food and the staff were exceptional. The ship itself is beautiful. The Promenade is gorgeous and the décor on the entire ship is stunning. The solarium (adults-only pool area) was beautiful. The dining room décor was fantastic – we always felt like we were in a very formal atmosphere.

The food was also very good, especially at Portofino. As I said above, the food in the dining room certainly isn’t 5-star quality but it’s certainly better than the average restaurant and considering the fact that they’re feeding 3500 people, I thought they did a great job.

The service in the dining room was probably the best service I’ve ever had on a cruise. Both Richard and Sander were very attentive and friendly and knew how to keep everyone happy. Our cabin steward left us towel animals every night and kept our ice bucket filled. The pool and bar waiters were great – we found that a few dollar bills made them even more attentive and we were never without a drink. That also bought us a lot of extra rum in our drinks of the day!!

The one real complaint I had about the ship was the condition of the public washrooms, especially around the dining room. Most nights, at least one of the stalls was out of order, which resulted in huge lineups. The washrooms that were working tended to be out of tissue most of the time and the paper towel dispenser was often empty. I thought they could have had people servicing the washrooms more frequently.

The age range went from one end of the spectrum to the other, but I would say the average age was around 35. It was a good crowd – there was definitely a night life but it wasn’t a party ship.

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