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Cruise review - Explorer of the Seas March 12-19 2006

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Cruise Review – Explorer of the Seas, March 12-19 2006


Day 1 – Boarding ship and departure

Despite my flight leaving Toronto late, we landed almost 45 minutes early in Ft. Lauderdale. Customs and baggage claim were uneventful. Next I needed to find the Air Transat Officials to figure out how, when and where I could meet up with my sister who was flying in from Montreal so that we could take the shuttle to Miami together. The Air Transat people weren’t particularly helpful with this. Three different persons had three different answers. Finally I made my own choice and took matters into my own hands and headed the direction of the Montreal arrival. According to the monitors the flight had landed, but of the passengers there was no sign! More than an hour later the passengers were finally deplaning. It turns out that flight had arrived on time, but Ft. Lauderdale airport had no gates for the plane to “park” at. Because of the delay Air Transat decided to take our baggage and send it on to the ship. After more than an hour my sister finally had claimed her baggage and sent it off to the ship. Next we had to wait on a group have enough to fill the shuttle bus. After another wait, we finally boarded the bus. As the Air Transat officials were delivering their spiel about the length of time to travel to Miami and what we should do upon arrival one of the passengers became ill and threw up on the bus. I didn’t see it (Thank God) but it was messy enough that we needed to get another bus. We drove for about 5 minutes to the apparent terminal where the buses were kept. The new bus was hot, as it had been sitting in the sun, older and smaller. We departed the terminal. We went only a few blocks when stopped at a stop sign the bus stalled. We drove a bit further and then ended up back at the terminal where the buses were again. Our driver got off, spoke to some people and then another “driver” got on the bus and drove us several metres to the back of the station where a posse gathered deciding what to do. Finally they decided the bus would be ok and were finally on our way to the Miami pier. A quick trip it was not to be. Traffic was very busy and we crawled the last 20 km or so. Eventually we got to the pier and had our first glimpse of the Explorer of the Seas. It was 2:00pm.

Upon exiting the bus we discovered a rather lengthy line waiting to board the ship. Due to the Norovirus the Explorer crew were doing an intensive cleaning of the ship and were apparently not letting anyone on the ship before 2:00pm. At least that is what the sign said. We never did find out if anyone did board earlier. It didn’t much matter anyway.

Check in went fairly smoothly although it took considerable time due to the number of people in line. Our only difficulty was trying to explain the need for changed on our Sea Pass cards. Traditionally in our family all girls are given the same first name; Marie, followed by two middle names. Since this is our legal name both Sea Passes had the same name on them. The person checking us in had considerable difficulty understanding why that would be a problem. Finally we convinced him to issue new Sea Pass cards with our middle initials on them so we could tell them apart. The entire check in process took about an hour and a half. We were scheduled to meet the Cruisecritic folks at 3:30pm. We managed to make it at about 4:00.

Next order of business was to get some food. Breakfast on the plane was a long time ago. The first thing we noticed at the entrance to the Windjammer was two hand sanitation stations. We were told that we should sanitize our hand each and every time we entered the buffet. After sanitizing our hands (we noticed that nearly everyone did this as requested) we proceeded to the buffet. The next thing we noticed was that the buffet was no longer self-serve. The crew serving were pleasant and generous with the amounts of food. A fine first meal on the ship.

A quick tour to re-familiarize ourselves with the ship was next. We made our way around quite easily. There were already a great number of people on deck sunning themselves.

Next it was back to the room in search of our luggage and pick up our lifejackets for the muster drill. We found our station and joined our group with out incident. Back to our cabin – still no luggage.

Dinner is up next. We are forced to wear our traveling clothes, as bags had still not arrived.

We are seated on the second deck of the dinning room – deck 4. Our table is a table for eight but we are the only ones there. Ten minutes later two of our tablemates arrived. Debbie and her daughter Katie who was cruising for a college graduation present joined us. Debbie was on her sixth cruise but Katie was cruising for the first time. Another twenty minutes passed before three others joined us. Karen, Steven and 15 yr old daughter Jamie from Toronto joined us.

Antonio from the Philippines was our waiter. Anastasia from Russia was our assistant waiter. Both were attentive and always concerned that we were enjoying our dinners and ourselves.

After dinner we went out on deck to view and take pictures of the disappearing Miami skyline. Next was the first of daily tours of the Casino and my $10 donation to Casino Royale.

We opted not to go to the Welcome Aboard Parade as we both had been up since 3:00 am. The long day of travel made for two very tired women so we retired early. Despite having a promenade view we did not hear a sound from the parade.


Day 2 – Day at sea

Monday morning began warm and sunny. A busy sea day where we each did what interested us. After the long travel day, we spent a long morning in bed catching up on sleep. When we finally got up we headed to the Windjammer for breakfast. A bit of wandering and picture taking followed until about 11:00 am when we had our official meet and mingle in Portofinos where I won the dinner for two at Portofinos. Last time we never took the opportunity to eat lunch in the dining room so we decided to give it a shot. We quite enjoyed ourselves at a more formal dinner than the Windjammer.

In the afternoon I chose to participate in the adult dodge ball. Unbeknownst to me I was taped for the cruise in review video. I can be seen being beaned by the ball. Ah, my fifteen seconds of fame!

After a shower to freshen up we dressed in our finest for the first formal dinner of the cruise. We headed downstairs for the formal pictures and waited in line for our turn. While waiting we saw someone wearing almost exactly the same blouse I had so carefully chose for me. As luck would have it, not only was she on the same dining room level as me, but she was sitting at the next table to me! What are the chances!

Dinner finished we wandered around in the promenade before going down to the nickel slot machines to donate my $10.00. The show was next followed by bedtime.




Day 3 – Belize City, Belize

Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny in Belize. We hurried down to deck 3 to try to secure a tender ticket for the first tender as we had an independent excursion booked. The tender secured we got ourselves some breakfast and then gathered our belongings for cave tubing with X-Stream.

The tender ride was about 20 minutes and we quickly found our group and headed off to the van. After a short wait for the van to be refuelled we were off. Our guide was great however the van left something to be desired. The driver’s seat seemed to be in a permanent recline and the person sitting behind him had little legroom. The van squeaked and groaned all the drive, especially on the gravel road that was the last 20 minutes of the hour drive. The fitting of tubes and headlamps took some time and we finally set off on the walk up the trail. The trail was an easy walk, but the stones did cut into ones feet. My feet must be soft though, as our guide walked bare feet! The hike took about 50 minutes to an hour and after carrying our tubes for that length of time we were good and ready to hit the river. About half of our group opted to take the easy route into the river and the other half, myself included chose to jump off the cliff into the water. One word of warning: If you jump in make sure you go feet first. The water is only about 8 feet deep and I hit my back on the bottom. The ride down the river was really neat. Sometimes the water was a bit shallow and it was easy to get hooked up on the rocks occasionally. This was no fun because you had to get off your tube and walk to deeper water and get back on the tube before continuing. The rapids were fun, but again you had be careful not to get hooked up on the rocks.

When we got down to the bottom of the river we carried our tubes back to the “depot” and we gathered back at the van were there was fruit (very little) and water (not terribly cold). By this time it was around 2:00 pm and I was getting a headache from not eating. We still had an hour’s drive back to the pier followed by a twenty minute tender.

We got back to the ship around 3:30pm and after dropping off our stuff headed to the Windjammer for some grub. We had little time to rest. Shower; dress for dinner and then down to the dining room.

We rushed to the ice-show following dinner, then our daily trip to the casino and walk around the ship and then we were off to bed exhausted and setting the alarm for 6:30 the next morning.


Day 4. – Costa Maya, Mexico

The alarm woke us before the sun was up, so cameras in hand we set out to get some pictures of the sunrise before breakfast. Windjammer’s buffet breakfast followed. We then headed off the ship and tool the opportunity to get some pictures of the Explorer of the Seas docked all by herself. Later a Carnival ship would block the view of our ship and later still a Disney ship would also dock there.

On shore we found a taxi dispatcher to take us to Majahaul village where we were to meet with David and Ivan for our tour of the Chacchoben Ruins. We were asked to wait for a taxi. As it turned out we were waiting for a full van. We were then told that we had to pay $5.00 U.S. instead of the posted $3.00. Argue as we might, they told us that we had to pay $5.00 because it included our return fare. They refused to give us any sort of receipt proving we had paid this amount. We were told to speak to David and Ivan.

We reached the Cat’s Meow only a few minutes later and were dropped off. Soon a gentleman who seemed to be checking off arrivals met us. We waited for nearly an hour before we were organized into groups for the tours. Sadly we did not have either David or Ivan as our guide. However, Veronica was excellent. Her English was very good and she was very knowledgeable about the ruins. All in all the tour was excellent and we returned to the Cat’s Meow to shop a bit.

When we were ready to return to the pier, as we suspected, we had to the pay the $2.00. After paying our driver we went to argue with the dispatchers. They denied that we had paid them. When we finally convinced them that we had indeed paid, they told us that it was because we booked with David and Ivan we had to pay that much. If we had any complaints we were to talk to David and Ivan. Yeah right! Like we were going to get ripped off again and go back to Majuhaul village.

With a bad taste in our mouths about Costa Maya, we left the pier and walked back to the ship without buying a thing and went to the Windjammer to have a late lunch.

After lunch we rested for a while, and then wandered about the ship until it was time for dinner. Showered and changed for dinner we headed to the dining room.

Regular routines followed and then off to bed.


Day 5 – Cozumel, Mexico

Up early again for our excursions. Today we have booked through the cruise ship so should have no problems getting tenders. We head out together after breakfast at Windjammers. At the pier we find our respective meeting spots. We have booked two different excursions. I am doing the “Reef snorkelling and Deluxe beach” tour while my sister does the discover scuba. I meet a very nice couple from Pennsylvania who end looking out for me. The first reef is somewhat of a disappointment to me as we are snorkelling in water that is 35 to 40 feet deep. It is not what I had expected. As I jump in the water I forget that I am wearing a snorkel and not a regulator and end up with a mouthful of seawater. That one mouthful does not sit well with me and leaves me a bit seasick – no pun intended. The view of the reef is lovely and we do see three Eagle rays – a nice sighting indeed. The second snorkelling reef we stop at is much shallower at about 20 feet, but still deeper than what I am used to for snorkelling. I am not feeling very well, but decide to go in the water anyway. The feeling of seasickness does not improve, but does not get worse so I stick it out. After the two reefs, the drinks are flowing freely on the boat. Our guides bring us to Playa del Mia for the second half of our excursion. We have a huge Mexican buffet which is included as well as an open bar. Unfortunately I still am not feeling well and eat very little. Although there are lots of things I can do on the beach, I choose to just lay on the beach and rest and get some sun. I managed to snag myself one of the molded plastic chairs. They are more comfortable than they look. I didn’t apply more sunscreen because I had applied SPF 15 earlier. It had proven to be waterproof so I didn’t worry about it. Oops…. Mistake. I lay in the sun for an hour or so, getting up from my “chair” to swim a few times. By the time I gathered up my stuff to head back to the boat, I was feeling a bit prickly on my chest. I thought I had caught it on time, but it would seem the sunscreen had pretty much worn off and I had me a sunburn on my chest, shoulders, upper thighs and tops of my feet. More than a week later the top of my feet still hurt. I sought shelter from the sun in the large “tent” after showering off the salt water in the bathroom. I stayed there until the boat returned to bring us back to the pier. I now felt much better. I spotted my friends from Pennsylvania who inquired about how I was feeling and commented that I looked a lot better. The ride back was fun. The open bar continued and a group of us stood on the bow enjoying the breeze and sea spray. I got quite wet and added to my sunburn by crisping the top of my head.

When we were dropped off at the pier I wanted to do nothing but take a shower and get some rest. I headed to the tender line up.

Back on the ship I showered and rested and then met up with my sister and we swapped stories. We had plenty of time to relax as we had dinner reservations at Portofinos for 9:00pm. We took the opportunity to get some sunset pictures as our regular dinner was being served while the sun was setting.

We arrived at Portofinos about ten minutes early. There was no one (wait staff) around and we had to wait for several minutes before we were attended to. To make a long story short, the food was good but the service was only mediocre. The dinner was no charge because I had won tickets, but given the choice, I wouldn’t pay to go to Portofinos again. I missed our tablemates and our own wait staff who, in my humble opinion, were much more attentive than the Portofinos wait staff.

It was almost 11:00pm by the time we finished dinner and we were both exhausted so we hit the hay.


Day 6 – Grand Cayman

Friday morning we were both booked on a snorkelling excursion, which did not start until noon. However, we wanted to do some shopping before the excursion, as the schedule did not appear to leave much time for shopping afterwards. We each found a few things to buy and then headed off to our meeting place for the snorkelling.

This snorkelling turned out much better than the last as we actually could touch bottom by swimming down. We viewed a wreck and our guides explained how it came to be there. The second spot we stopped at offered some beautiful views of the reef and fish. Again our guides did a good job of explaining the fish we’d see.

We returned to the pier in time to do a bit more shopping and we went looking for a few places we had missed on our first trip.

We returned to the ship for a late lunch and showered and got ready for dinner.

After dinner, my sister was very tired and so rested while I walked around the ship. Tonight was the Midnight buffet and I wanted to go. I went to the show and the comedian was quite good. After the show I wandered around the ship some more snapping pictures including one of my favourite the moon reflection on the water beside the ship. At 11:30 the dining room opened for viewing and picture taking. The food and decorations were incredible. Midnight was a parade, which helped kill some time until the time that we could eat the buffet. I stuffed myself silly and brought some chocolate covered strawberries back for my sister who had slept through the buffet.


Day 7 – Day at Sea

As I had gone to bed around 1:00am I slept in until nearly 9:00am. My sister had been up for a couple hours and had breakfast at the windjammer already. I dressed and went up for breakfast. After breakfast and some shopping in the promenade I decided it was high time I tried swimming in one of the pools. We played bingo again and I volunteered to be the ball inspector. I won a t-shirt and drink of the day for my troubles. I got a second 15 seconds of fame. We didn’t win any prizes in bingo though. Oh well, at least we had fun. The bingo ran overtime and we missed the towel folding demonstration that we had planned to go to. After the bingo, we decided to use our Crown and Anchor coupon to have our lunch at Johnny Rockets. We were not the only ones who had this idea and we had to wait for more than 30 minutes in line. My sister tried to teach them how to make poutine and was not quite successful. She ended up with chilli fries and cheese.

After lunch we headed back to the room to begin the sad task of packing. Strange how there always seems to be more to be packed and less room in the luggage on the return trip. We had decided to try the “express checkout” so were in no rush to make sure everything was packed.

Dinner followed where we handed out the tip envelopes and say goodbye to our tablemates and wait staff. After dinner we made our last trip to the casino and I actually left ahead for a change. We went to the farewell show, which was very good and headed to bed fairly early, as we had to get off the ship early. The Windjammer was to open at 6:00 am and we intended to be there.


Day 8 – Disembarkation.

The alarm went off at 5:45 am. We finished off our packing with all the last minute stuff and got dressed and headed out for breakfast. After breakfast we headed back to the cabin for the last time, grabbed our stuff and went to deck 4 where we were to get off the ship. We had all our luggage with us and the whole process took about 10 minutes including going through customs. We met with our shuttle team at 6:50 am. We were the first ones there. Unfortunately we seemed to be the only ones who had planned well and we ended up having to wait until 8:30 before leaving for Ft. Lauderdale. We both had early flights and wanted to get there ASAP but we were forced to wait. I think next time I may arrange my own transport. Sitting on a bus waiting is not much fun. However, I must say that the express checkout is definitely worthwhile. First you don’t have to leave your luggage in the hall the night before and there is no worries about making sure you have enough clothes etc for the next day. Second you don’t have to claim your luggage on the pier saving one step. And third because of the early hour, the line-ups are a lot shorter and we didn’t end up having to wait much.

The trip to the airport (when we finally headed there) was uneventful and we arrived in plenty of time for our flights, both of which ended up being delayed because some people were stuck in the security check-in line-ups.

My flight ended up being about half an hour late overall. Line-ups for customs into Canada were fairly long but the customs officials were well prepared and we moved along swiftly. After about an hour’s wait I picked up my luggage and my friends met me and I headed home to face reality!


All in all the cruise was great. The crew worked really hard to ensure a clean environment and I heard of no one getting ill. We were very careful and washed our hands a lot. We always used the hand sanitizers and stayed healthy. By Saturday the Windjammer had returned to a self-serve. Either the health crisis was over or they weren’t too concerned about our getting sick since we were getting off the ship soon anyways! LOL. I had a great trip and am still adjusting to having to make my own meals, clean up after myself and being cold.

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Do you miss the ship as much as I do? We were on the same sailing and had a wonderful time. We slept throught he Meet & Mingle (those darn inside cabins) so we didn't get a chance to meet any of you. I wanna go back!!!

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Sure, I'd love to go back... just take me a few minutes to re-pack my suitcases... (I still haven't put them away, but finally unpacked yesterday). Do you think the people on Sunday's sailing would mind sharing? LOL:) :D

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Sure, I'd love to go back... just take me a few minutes to re-pack my suitcases... (I still haven't put them away, but finally unpacked yesterday). Do you think the people on Sunday's sailing would mind sharing? LOL:) :D


I was there the week you returned. We did the eastern Caribbean. If you could find you way in through all the security, I would have welcomed you in our to bunks!

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How do you get to do Express Checkout?


I wasn't aware there was an express check out. What I did do was request the 'white #1' tag for early departure. This way when I made it down at 8pm my luggage was there.


Had we travelled light we would have taken advantage of the self departure where we lugged all our bags. Definitely worth the effort if you don't mind waking up early as this is only possible if you disembarked at 6:45am.

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Express check-out is the same as self departure. We simply did not leave any luggage in the hall, got up at 5:45am and we had an early breakfast at Windjammer. We then carted all our luggage to deck four and got off the ship. Simple as that. No wasted time searching for and reclaiming our luggage after we got off the ship. The line up at Windjammer was longer than the line up to get off via the Express check-out.

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