CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Explorer of the Seas Eastern Caribbean September 15, 2001

Diary and Review for RCI Explorer of the Seas

Friday We departed St Augustine fittingly in the rain on a National Day of Mourning. Tropical Storm Gabrielle was just coming ashore below St Petersburg bringing 70 MPH winds and torrential rains to Florida. The trip down was rather uneventful with strong winds and occasional heavy rains as we traveled through the feeder bands. Once below Jupiter, Fl. the weather cleared considerably and was just your typical Florida weather. Arriving in Miami around 4PM we checked into the Best Western Bayfront. The hotel was actually quite pleasant. We had decided to stay at this hotel because of the widely differing reviews that we have seen. Checking was quick and efficient and we were shortly in our room on the tenth floor overlooking the Bayfront Market. A crowd was gathering at the Spirit of Freedom Park to honor those brave rescue personnel in NYC that lost their lives attempting to help others.

It really was quite a sight to see all these people come together waving the American Flag while the Mayor of Miami, the Miami Chief of Police and others all made statements of gratitude and promises that life will go on for us Americans and that we are all united and determined to rid our world of these cowardly terrorist. There was quite a bit of media around and I was cornered by a reported from the LA Times for an interview. Mrs Robo ended up being the focus point of the television cameras when she assisted a homeless man who was in tears and so shaken he could not light his own candle. Needless to say it turned into a very moving moment. As the ceremony ended the skies opens up and torrential rains fell for almost an hour afterwards as if to indicate Gods sorrow and tears.

Off to Lombardi's to hopefully meet other fellow cruisers who were able to negotiate the skies delays. Shortly after 8:30pm we found Nikki and Brian from Minn. After drinks had been ordered Angela and her lovely daughter located us as did Susan and her husband Manny also stopped by. They told us that they had met at least four other couples in the group but nobody else seemed to locate us. Much discussion was had and many of the worlds problems solved as we got to know each other. Great folks and we will all hook up later for resume our fellowship. As our Cruisemates Cruise Director Kuki was unable to find any way out of the North Country Sylvia and I took over and tried to be good hosts and extend a Cruisemates Welcome to them all.

Saturday, Embarkation Day.. On to the Port Of Miami ships terminal! The Port was heavily patrolled by Police, US Customs, and Immigration as well as others I can only guess as to which Agency they represented. The Port almost seemed deserted compared to the traffic that usually was around. We went to the check-in area at 11AM and were led to seats where the paperwork for the Bahamas was passed out and instructions were given for everyone to please fill out all documents that were needed for embarkation. A quick check through the metal detectors, (yes I set them off again as usual, they don't call me Robocop for nothing), and on to check-in. We were quickly taken from the regular line and escorted into the Chairman's Club and quickly checked in. We did try and tell them we were Mo and Geela Blitt and wanted our Owners suite but the passports gave us away. Check-in was really very pleasant and the staff of RCI was doing everything in their power to make everyone happy. Boarding the ship itself is still on delay at 1PM where we sit in the lounge waiting for the ship to clear. RCI is checking the passengers departing very closely and I am sure that they have uploaded new software in their systems to check the names of those of us embarking today.

Well, embarkation has taken place and the RCI rep just came and escorted those of us in the Chairman's Club right onto the ship! What so many of us did to be treated this well I don't know but never look a gift horse in the mouth! We have been told that she ship will not be sailing until around 8PM, most likely in order to allow more passengers to make connections as the ship is pretty empty. This was the first time that I saw the passengers so quite and uncomplaining during the lifeboat drill! Attendance was taken and I have no doubt that the cabins were checked and everyone took part this time.

Our cabin is on deck 7 directly overlooking the Royal Promenade and we are quite happy with it. With the ship this empty many people were jamming the pursers desk asking for free upgrades and in many cases they were successful. If offered we would have most likely accepted but we are happy with our Atrium cabin so went to explore the hotel...I mean ship. It is a natural mistake because unless you are on one of the outer decks you will have no idea that you are on a ship instead of at the local mall or a land resort. The ship really is beautiful but doesn't have a ship 'feel' about her. The "Explorer" is quite an apt name as Mrs Robo and I spent hours 'exploring' this huge vessel and still had not seen it all. We stopped at the Pub and were joined by a number of our cyberfriends that managed to find their way onboard. The Royal Promenade is really the heart of this ship with everyone wandering the street, and it really is a street! We finally went off to our dining assignment to sample the wares of the "Explorer of the Seas"!

The dining room is spectacular, three levels of shining wood and steel and glass. We had requested, and received a large table for eight. After even waiting for an extra half hour for more diners to show we finally realized that nobody else from our table were coming. Not only that, but of the five tables immediately around u,s only one other has two people sitting there. Service was incredible because our waiter and busboy had only us to serve. Both remained with us during almost the entire meal and we actually felt like they were fellow guests with wonderful conversation. It was very sad though to look over the dining area and realize that maybe only one quarter of the guests were present. Rumor was that they would either be closing one or more of the dining rooms, or having just one seating, we shall see. The evenings entertainment was actually very good and we were treated to a preview of what was to come from the staff and our CD Kirk Detweiler. A talented and sociable young man he has actually been a Cruise Director for RCI since 1989 and will shortly be leaving the "Explorer" to 'take out' the brand new "Adventure of the Seas". The stand up comedian was an exceptionally talented and funny Rodney Johnson. If you ever have the chance to view this mans material, do so, it is great. We survived the opening show, I say that because the CD spied Mrs Robo and choose her to talk to while he was getting to know the crowd. Unbelievably she retained a few brain cells when the microphone was placed in front of her! Did my heart proud until I found out she closed her eyes and pretended she did not know there was a mike in front of her. Fortunately people just thought she was light sensitive and not really crazy, they will find that out later I guess. The Parade down the Royal Promenade was delightful and the crowd seemed to get into it forgetting all the tragedy that has befallen us this last week. Anyway, I'm tired and going to bed. Hope Mrs Robo doesn't snore tonight.

Sunday, Day Two, Nassau It's really 8 o'clock? Prove it! I was still tired and was sleeping wonderfully when Mrs Robo woke me. There is nothing like sleeping on a ship. I love the gentle rocking. In this case it was a side to side shaking but what the heck, I'm at sea again. We are in Nassau and even though I really don't care much for this port I had to walk into town and view what was left of the famous "StrawMarket". They are not delaying the reconstruction of this landmark and demolition was well on it's way, even this Sunday morning. It was a very sad to witness this terrible destruction and all that was lost. It struck me that this landmark was as important to the Bahamian people as the Trade Towers were to New Yorkers. Both were destroyed because of sick revenge. Fortunately there was no loss of life at the StrawMarket and physical building can be rebuilt easily. I did take note of a local lady standing off to one corner across the street who was staring at the workers demolishing the ruins. There was a far-away look in her eyes that combined with a terrible sadness and look of firm determination all at the same time. Was she imagining the remains of the World Trade Center? Probably had I not been so pre-occupied with the tragic happening this last week I would not have noticed. I m glad I did as it further reminded me that people all over have to face tragic happenings and we should be aware of their feelings as much as our own. It really is one world.

Back to the ship by 11AM as I want to hit the gym and spa, my most favorite place! The equipment is first rate and widely varied so both Mrs Robo and I burned off calories. Unfortunately the men's steam room was not working so I had to settle for the sauna. Ironically the ladies sauna was not working but their steam room was! I wanted to share but the staff didn't think much of the idea. Afterwards time in the sun and visiting with Angela and Amy and Tommy from Savannah, Ga., and then a little lunch it was back to sea enroute to St Thomas.

After returning to our cabin we discovered that we had indeed had our dining assignment changed to a different dining room. We won't be there tonight as we had received an invitation to dine with the Captain! What an unexpected honor! It is also the Captains formal night so we will definitely but the K-Mart clothes away and break out the good stuff Now if I can just remember which fork............see you after dinner.

What a wonderful dinner and dining with Captain Gronhaug was indeed an honor and a pleasure!Also seated with us were a couple from Akron, Ohio who are both surgical assistants at a major hospital and they are scheduled to be married Tuesday in St Thomas. Also seated were a three other ladies, one a RN who used to work for a cruiseline, the mother of a crewmember, and a young lady who has spent the last three weeks onboard the Explorer! Apparently she has become SERIOUSLY addicted! Actually I believe she the guest of the Chief Purser Randy Johnstone who was the final guest at the table. Captain Gronhaug was a most delightful host and enthralled us with some stories of his career. I have suspicions that the Captain went to sea before he walked. This man looks 40 years old at the most and has two small boys age 3 and 7 living in the New England area with his wife. He first went to sea on his family fishing boat in 1959 and then on to the Norwegian Merchant Fleet in 1964 and by 1971 had graduated from both the Norwegian Merchant Marine Academy AND the .Royal Norwegian Naval Academy earning a degree in Business Administration. The Captain also served his time in the Royal Norwegian Navy and Naval Reserve after which he returned to the Merchant Marine Academy and received his Captains degree in 1975. A member of RCI since 1976 he first served as a Navigation Officer promoted to Chief Officer in 1979 and then again to Staff Captain in 1981. He was appointed and began serving as a Master in 1990 with his first ship being Royal Caribbean's former flagship, the Song of Norway. The Captain really was a wonderful host and the dinner and entire evening were really wonderful.

We arrived at the show a little late but I can say that RCI's entertainment has greatly improved over our last cruise. The show was "History Repeating Itself" and the production was well put together and the performers did a wonderful job of presentation. One of the female lead singers can really belt out some serious vocals! A most enjoyable evening and we were ready to turn in and get some much needed rest as tomorrow looks to be a very busy 'day at sea'.

Monday, At Sea Up and at em and off to the spa early to try and burn off some of this high living. Mrs Robo and I found that the spa facilities to be quite extensive and modern. Trust me on this one folks, no matter what your routine for daily workouts are, this place has the equivalent or better equipment. Mrs Robo walked and rode a bicycle while pretending she was powering across the sea and I did the weight machines. Then getting a great steam and sauna finishing off with the therapy pool to massage the muscles and then the whirlpool to relax everything. A day at sea is supposed to be one of total relaxation's and self-indulgence and we definitely did our part to uphold that tradition. We did meet up with Tommy and Amy at the adults only Solarium and enjoyed each others company for the day. I might add at this time that RCI apparently has a pretty strong enforcement policy about children in this area and in the pools. Twice I saw children attempt to enter the whirlpools in this area and both times they were stopped before they got wet including the one who was there with his parents. I must confess that this day I really did nothing but relax and enjoy the company of many great people.

Dinnertime found us again at a different assigned table but Tommy and Amy invited us to their table and it was quickly arranged through the Matre D'. The table was directly beside the fullwall window and the view was spectacular. As some of you know, last time I was on a RCI ship even though I thought the service was great I didn't care for the food. RCI got it right on this ship as the food is excellent and the service still remains the best I have had. We finished a great dining experience quickly as this was to be a busy entertainment night. We found some great seats and shortly began to watch a very nice and entertaining dish spinning act by Flash and Fever. Nothing much to write home about so I won't The headliner was a singer named Brandi Chapman and my immediate response was "Who?". Seems that this lady has been in Branson, Mo for a dozen years and is a top act there. Okay, lets see who this lady is........Surprise! It was the very same lady that Mrs Robo and I had spied a number of times around deck and thought she was a model or Beauty Queen that somehow found herself taking a break after not winning the latest Miss Whatever. A beautiful woman with that flashing Beauty Queen smile she came onstage and began to wow the passengers with her tremendous vocal ability and a personality that was the best. Let me tell you people, this lady could belt out a tune from Classic to Rock to Country and even yodeling! We were impressed to say the least! I will have more on this lovely lady later BTW as if you couldn't guess. We then drifted on down to the Studio B Ice Center to watch the Ice Show. Let me tell you that RCI's entertainment certainly has changed! I thought the shows on the Splendour of the Seas was rather like a High School class play. The entertainment onboard this ship is anything but amateur! This show was spectacular and the production itself was deserving of an award. I can't spoil it for those of you who are looking to sail this vessel and see these Ice Shows but believe me that this will be one of the finest shows you will ever see onboard a ship. At the ending note of the show I was on my feet, (and that is saying something), clapping and yelling my appreciation for a wonderful job well done. After the Ice Show we were back in the Palace Theater which is the large main showroom on the Explorer of the Seas, to attend the late night adult show of Rodney Johnson the comedian onboard the vessel. Rodney is a very talented man who uses everyday events and real life to point out the comedic side of life and he does it very well. Mrs Robo purchased one of his CD's to enjoy later. When leaving the theater I ran into Kirk the Cruise Director who introduced me to Brandi Chapman the feature entertainer and we had a very nice conversation with the promise of meeting later in the week for photos and an interview. She really is a very nice young lady that is highly talented. Additionally I was introduced to one of the males skaters from Canada that appears in the Ice Show. He and his partner are Canadian and the other two couples are both Russian. They all came from the "Holiday on Ice" company and are very much the professionals.

It's very late and well past my bedtime and I have been stopped and talked to by at least a half dozen people just on my way back to my stateroom and all wanted to talk about the Cruisemates website. We must be doing something right as a number actually already know of the website and many others are expressing a strong interest in what we do here.

Tuesday, St. Thomas Lovely St Thomas, what else can you say about the Caribbean's shopping mecca. A perfectly beautiful day and a great leisurely breakfast overlooking Charlotte Amelia. The Carnival Triumph is also in port directly in front of us. Security is still very tight and because we have visited a foreign port as in Nassau, ALL passengers are required to pass through immigrations showing Passports or other proof of ID before disembarking. Additionally I found out that no crewmembers are being allowed off the ship. I have never seen St Thomas as quite as we did during this stop. With the two largest ships in the Caribbean in port at the same time the town should have been full of tourists but we constantly saw shopkeepers sitting idle with no customers. I spoke with a merchant at the Straw Market who confirmed that the last week has been devastating for the local economy with very little spending. Mrs Robo did her part by purchasing a dress and I found a great little Rum in a wonderfully unique decanter. Unfortunately my ankles are still in bad shape so it was back to the ship early for relaxation around the ship and meeting up with other Cruisemates.

I must admit to being very lazy today and this evening other than the party on the Royal Promenade called Caribbean Street Fair we did very little.

Some of us did manage to attend the mandatory "Not So Newlywed Game" which did it usual cheering up for those of us that have been watching the news and need some comic relief. The Toga Deck Party was this evening but I found myself drawn to the bed for a somewhat early evening.

Wednesday, San Juan, Puerto Rico It is always a delight to sail into San Juan past Ft Morro. I really think this is one of the nicest sights, even more so when it is dark outside and the lights of Old San Juan are glowing in the background. Mrs Robo and I took care of some needed 'housecleaning' and rearranging of our belongings to make the cabin somewhat more comfortable before we disembarked. Security is still tight but it was not necessary to pass through immigration even though we did carry both our ship ID and passports and had to show them three times before getting out of the terminal and three times when we embarked. The Explorer does not spend much time in San Juan and I really do think that RCI needs to reconsider and find some way to stay a little longer. I know of a few people that would have taken the rainforest tour had there been a little more time. Instead most just wandered around town. Mrs Robo and I walked to the other side of the terminal to meet up with our best friend Tracey who works aboard the Carnival Paradise. We had a great reunion and as the crewmembers were allowed to disembark form not only the Explorer, but also the Paradise for the first time since the attacks in NYC and Washington, we also got to meet her boyfriend and some other crewmembers, some who we have met in the past, and some new friends as well. We did manage to have a wonderful lunch at one of the many sidewalk cafes and catch up on the news. I was able to find out a few things about our upcoming cruise on the Carnival Legend, trans-Atlantic, that we will be doing next September. It does indeed seem that John Heald will be the Cruise Director for that cruise and Tracy said that she may also be onboard! She will find out more info this weekend so I will await her next e-mail. She said if she finds out anything really interesting about this cruise she will tell John and ask him to pass the info on to us when we are onboard the Triumph next week. Sadly, as I said the Explorer does not stay in port but until 2pm so we had to return quickly and prepare for departure.

It was again formal night and immediately after dinner we all gathered around Studio B and everyone took photos of everyone. We as a group cornered a very nice young man and the women made him take photos of this crazy group. This poor guy must have had almost a dozen cameras he was operating! There were some many people arriving and leaving that we all decided to gather for lunch on Friday and take a large group photo. Anyway, it's now showtime in the Palace Theater for RCI's production of "Fast Forward". Again, RCI has found itself in the entertainment field and this show was very good and professionally done.

Next was the Karaoke finale and we had heard some stories about this particular cruise that indicated this may be a very entertaining show. Oh yes, it didn't take long for the social host to loose complete control of this group! We had a very large group from Indiana that were wonderful and exceptionally funny. One lady was supposed to sing and before you know it there were two dozen onstage and belting out a great song! Many of these folks were in the hometown church choir and they were tremendous! Needless to say we were all treated to a number of Motown hits that will never be the same! What a wonderful group!

Thursday, Labadee Haiti Labadee really is a beautiful part of Haiti that has been leased by Royal Caribbean since 1991 or 92. This 'Private Island' took a terrible beating last year during hurricane season and was closed down for repairs for a short time as well. RCI has completed renovations and the 'island' is back better than it was before IMHO. The land itself is truly beautiful and breathtaking with jagged rocks, cliffs, and foliage that is very comforting and relaxing. RCI has added the modern conviences and one can often find free hammocks to while away hours just forgetting everyday troubles and soothing and recharging the soul. You may swim in any of four designated beaches with one facing the ocean and three in the bay. Waverunners and Kayaks are available for tours and floating mats and snorkeling equipment are readily available. Snorkeling is not a highlight of this place though as the water is usually rather murky and there just isn't really much marine life to be found.

The "Cat and the Curse". Okay, now this gets a little weird right here but what else is new for me. Mrs Robo and I first watched some native dancing directly across from the StrawMarket and then decided that we didn't have enough junk this time so we ventured into the den of the Haitian huckster. Now I had given Mrs Robo very specific instructions prior to entering as last time we brought back enough wood to start our own lumberyard. First thing out of this woman's mouth when we walked in was, "Isn't that pretty, I like that".

Not only did she disobey and open her mouth, she even pointed! Immediately we were surrounded by locals that were trying to hand her items and drape them over her. I dragged her out screaming"no mas, no mas!" This was a better reminder to her than my fussing so I figured she had learned her lesson and would behave, wrong. She thought it was okay to whisper. No, she immediately had more items thrust in her directions. Fortunately she had the foresight to tell them that I had all the money. When approached my verbal statements were "Vos is louse?" and "No Spreken ze Anglas". Now what I would have done if one of them spoke German I didn't know but figured it had a good shot anyway. It worked and the left me alone. Now Mrs Robo loves cats and there was a nicely carved cat for sale for originally $50. Of course this is the price for really stupid people and I told Mrs Robo no, I would not give her $50. The price did finally come down to $12 but I loudly and pointedly handed Mrs Robo a $5 bill and told her that is all she was getting and if she really wanted it, deal with it and walked away. I made it past four whole stalls before one snatched the $5 from her and handed her the cat she wanted. Hey folks, it works, I'm really not that bad a guy. That is the cat part of this story, the Curse followed. As Mrs Robo caught up to me suddenly one of the local pointed to my tattoo that I got in Tahiti of a Manta Ray on my shoulder and started yelling "Sea Monster!". No, that is a Manta-Ray and is sometimes called a "devil-ray". Wrong choice of words. Suddenly there were a half dozen local pointing and shouting "Devil-man, Devil-man!" with one standing frozen in place with his eyes looking like he had seen Lucifer himself! I saw one reaching for those voodoo dolls and I grabbed Mrs Robo and we ran out of there before the Curse could take hold! This really did happen people, I cannot make up stuff that funny. We took our cat and went back to the ship.

This was another formal night so we again broke out the Sunday Go-to-meeting duds before meeting others for dinner. I might mention at this time that our dining table consisted not only of Amy and Tommy Blackwelder from Savannah, Ga, who turned out to be our dinner mates but also the couple we 'hung out' with for much of the cruise, and Mark and Betty from Key West, Fl who were really a delightful couple that we hope to see on Cruisemates in the future. After another fine meal we all gathered near Studio B for photos of all of the group that had met up and gotten to know each other. Again a great entertaining show performed by the ships company led by the CD Kirk Dietwielder. I have really been impressed by how much RCI has improved all of their entertainment areas. In addition to improving the professionalism, they have made sure to target something for all ages groups which means everyone has a great time.

Friday, At Sea. Lazy day! Of course we intended to try and find all the areas that we didn't have time for earlier. First things first however and I wanted to climb that rock wall at the smokestack. Unfortunately when I get there I discovered that they were holding a competition that morning for wall climbing. Not one to allow common sense to ever stop me from doing what I want, which was try climbing that wall, I just signed up with a dozen others.

First all contestants had to qualify by climbing up just a short ways and then crossing from one side of the wall to the other. Not that big a problem until that one area where the handholds were placed a wide distance apart. I didn't quite get this 'wide body' across and slipped and fell a few feet. Now understand please that I have very few appendages that are fully functional as it is and this short fall caused my left knee to make a very strange sound. The left knee is also one of the few good parts I still have left. Didn't really bother me very much at the time and on to the next phase of the competition we went. Tommy was smart enough not to sign up as he tried the wall once already and Mrs Robo just laughed and told me I was drinking too much when I asked her to sign up but Amy did so we spotted for each other anyway. Speed climb was next! I now discovered that these wonderful looking handholds really aren't all that great or large. I was nearing the top with really just one more panel to go and doing fairly well when another sound caught my attention. Shoulders are not supposed to make noises. Unfortunately try as I might I just could not get my right arm to go above my head so I had to back off and come off the wall and call it a day. I wasn't nearly the best, but at least I was in the later part of the competition which a number of others didn't even make. Okay now, remember the funny noises my 'good' knee made earlier? Well after a very nice lunch I tried to stand up and guess what don't work anymore? You got it, I have sprained my left ACL. No dancing for this guy and no climbing of steps either as it just don't work anymore. I will not let it stop me from having fun but is does look like it will slow me down for the next week or so. I'll have it checked in a couple weeks when I get back.

This is our last day full day so we all arranged to meet for lunch. This was a very nice group of people that we were privileged to sail with. Even thought this was not a Cruisemates Cruise I really feel like we did all become Cruisemates during the cruise and look forward to seeing many of these folks in the future. My knee really was bothering me so I didn't do much of anything the last day except for watching the various final shows and doing lots of sitting. We all did go to the show called "Quest" which is basically where teams sit together and bring various items that were called for with the team scoring the most points winning. Points are won by not only having the items but getting them to the front the fastest. Our teams did exceptionally well I thought always obtaining the items needed one way of the other, often by means of the 'other'. Fortunately a number of the items needed we body parts scars, and tattoos which are right up my alley. The only real scary moments occurred when they finally asked for a couple of bras. Amy was right there and ready and very fast but surprise of surprises Mrs Robo "let the dogs out" so fast she knocked down three people and two tables without ever getting out of her seat! I plainly remember the CD exclaiming "Oh my God" when the items were shoved in his face! Unfortunately the game had to be rigged as we really figured we had won but it wasn't to be. We ended this cruise with a great feeling knowing that we have made many new and wonderful friends.

Saturday, disembarkation Miami. Disembarkation was fast and very easy, especially since all the new security procedures. When our tag color was called we left the ship and gathered ourselves behind the long line passing through security and immigration. Now listen closely everyone, with the new security measures imposed upon US Immigrations is checking every document closely and taking their time. When we lined up an official was walking down the line asking everyone if they had their documents ready we said yes and displayed out passports, we were then immediately directed to walk past others and proceed directly to the front of the line! All we had to do was walk past all these folks and on the way out flash our passports and we were out the door! This is just another very good reason to make sure you get your US Passport!

Well, end of cruise, end of story and we are now driving down the pier to board the Carnival Triumph.

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