Every wonderful thing that you have read about this ship and it's beauty must be multiplied by at least 10. To say it is simply gorgeous is actually an understatment. Words just don't seem to do it justice.
We arrived at the pier at 12:10 after having driven from the west coast of Florida. We dropped our luggage with the porter, waited while my husband parked the car ($70 in advance) and proceded to the check in counter. Before we went into the check in room, someone checked to make sure we had all our paperwork filled out, they have seats and plenty of extra copies of all required paperwork in case you did not have it all. We went through the security line to the check in. This was a very fast process and we were on board by 12:30.
We proceded to our cabin #1274. A beautiful Category B suite. We had booked a C cabin but were upgraded months ago to a B. We loved this cabin, it was just far enough off the centrum, just about in the middle of them both, to make going to either end of the ship very convenient.
We then proceded up to the Windjammer for some lunch. For future cruises, don't eat in the Windjammer, proceed back to the Island Grill. They have the same buffet but the view out the back of the ship is better than the side seating in the Windjammer. Most people see the first sign of food and feel they need to grab a plate, the Island Grill side was quiet since not too many people had discovered it yet and we had some great service back there. Later in the week, after others had discovered this seating area, it did get more crowded but we never were unable to get seating.
Back down to our cabin to start unpacking from the luggage that had already arrived. We had four bags, two came before 2, one by 4 and the other about 6. We had late seating but I did hear that there were many people at first seating in the dining room in shorts because their luggage did not arrive till after 6. No one was denied service because of this.
We met our cabin steward, Desmond and the concierge, Mary. Both were delightful. There were 14 in our group all together with 6 of them being children 6-14. We had a dvd player in our room and the concierge lounge had dvd's so when it was time for the kids to just chill, Mary was there to get them a great movie. (Note, on the second day, Sunday, one of the children sprained his ankle playing in the basketball tournament and on the third day one of them broke her toe on the water playground in Labadee so the dvd player came in very handy).
We went to the sail away party on the pool deck, met up with the rest of our crew, learned a new dance and had our customary drinks with umbrellas in them. Returned to our cabin for more unpacking.
Muster drill went off right on time at 4:15. My daughter was given a wrist band with her muster station information on it in case she was not with us during a real emergency. All children 11 and under were give the same thing. Anyone who wanted one, could also receive one. Ship did not set sail until about 6 due to some late flights.
We had late seating for dinner. We were on deck 3, Magellen Dining Room. The first night dinner was not until 9:00 but all other evenings it was 8:30. We had the absolute best waitress ever! Monika was just back for her second week after her vacation. Seems that they slowly break them back in so she only had our group which was a table for the six children and the table for the eight adults. The first night I got up and asked my 14 year old son to please help the six year old to cut his food. Monika came right over, told me I was not to worry about this, to stay in my seat and enjoy my meal, she and the assistant waiter Fari would take care of the children. And take care of the children they did. Monika saw that they had their dinner right away, (which was great because most nights they had "children plans"), she cut, tossed, and seasoned everything for them to perfection! She made wonder suggestions to us, told us why she did and did not like particular dishes. We loved her!
As others have stated before me, the food was tremendous. Every night the food was wonderful. None of the 14 of us could find a complaint even if we tried. It was just that good. We ate in the dining room all but one night when we had dinner in the Windjammer. We had a wonderful meal there. They had a pasta station, a steak station and the regular buffet. One family in our group did not bring formal clothes so they ate here those nights and also said it was wonderful.
Our itinerary was a unique one. The normal Eastern Caribbean tour goes to Nassau, Sea, St. Thomas, San Juan, Labadee, Sea. We did this in reverse which the crew told us was better. We were in Nassau from 11 till 6 which gave us plenty of time to do a snorkel excursion and in San Juan from 11:30 till 8. Normally the ship leaves both ports by 2 we were told.
Having the first day at sea was great because it gave every one a chance to check out the ship. Some of the group went to the pool, some participated in organized activities and some just walked around in amazement. RCCL now puts your pool/beach towels in your room the first day and they charge you $20 for missing towels. This is supposed to help with the saving of pool chairs. We still saw plenty of un used chairs that has personal items on them but we did not have a problem finding a chair although we did have to search for one at 2 in the afternoon. This being spring break/easter week I am sure there were many more people on board then other weeks but we truly did not find 3500+ people too much.
We had been given a notice from the captain about behavior and how we were all expected to behave. He also made an announcement about this. He told us two families had been put off the week before for not abiding by these rules. Our concierge told us one family's 15 year old daughter had gotten drunk and stripped on the pool deck, the other had two boys 16 & 17 drunk and disorderly. Both were put off in San Juan. On our cruise, one family was put off in Nassau. Their 15 year old son had gotten vodka in St. Thomas and brought it on board in a water bottle. He and a friend proceded to get very drunk and took all the ornamental mulch they put around the plants and dropped them all over the stairway by Portofinos. This mulch is like marbles therefore creating a very dangerous situation. They then proceded to throw the plants outside Portofino down the centrum. Luckily they were stopped but got very ugly with the hotel manager as did their parents with the captain. They were secured to their cabins and put off in Nassau. With as many people on board and almost 900 children that we had, we really had not problems with crowds or much rudeness. Some children ran in the hallways and played with the elevators we were told but luckily we did not see this. As for our own children, on Friday I was approached by a gentleman who said he was sitting next to our childrens' table and he wanted to let us know they were the most polite and well behaved children he had ever seen and that when they had first seen them sitting there on Saturday night they feared the worst but received the best. Good thing, all six kids (two mine) would have been toast if we had seen anything but their best behavior! LOL
Ports - Labadee
We did the Artic Playground and had a great time. My daughter did get her toe caught on one of the rope stairs on the iceberg and break it but she did not tell us for fear we would take her back to the ship. We love Labadee, it was our third time back and we can't wait to go again. We had some of the island drinks that used to be called Cocolocos but now are something to the effect of Labadoozas. They changed the souvenior cups this year so of course I had to have extra drinks to get one in each color! LOL The snorkeling was pretty bad we heard, we did not do it as we had heard it had been bad previous times we were there. The marketplace was just as pushy but we did get some great items at what we felt was a fair price.
San Juan - We did our own walking tour. My son's spanish teacher is from Puerto Rico and gave us some sites we should see. We visited the oldest chapel, the fort, the park where you feed the pigeons and the Barachina Restaurant. They say they invented the pina colada. We all had one, they were great along with some appetizers that the waiter suggested we try as being authenic puerto rican delicacies. They were very good also. We then went back to the ship as the port was very crowded. Since we changed our route, we were an extra ship putting an additional 3500+ people on the streets. You can imagine the streets if you've ever been there before, they are very narrow and with extra people, well you get the picture.
St. Thomas - We did an excursion with the Coki Dive Club that I had read about on one of the boards. They picked us up at the pier at 9:30 and drove us over to their offices where the five that were diving took a class. They had never dived before but Coki offers a program for non divers for $55. The other nine of us then went on to Coki Beach for some snorkeling at $16. This was the best deal we have ever gotten. The ship charged $99 for the diving and $39 for the snorkeling. All 14 of us had the best time, got great pictures and saw some awesome fish, coral, star fish, sea urchins, etc. I highly recommend these people. Pete and Laura are the best!
Nassau - Since it was Good Friday, we were told everything was closed so we booked the Blackbeards Cay tour with the ship. It was $21 which included a drink, your boat ride to and from the island and a lounge chair. Since it was the last day of our cruise, we were all a bit tired so only the kids snorkeled at $8, another bargain or so we thought. There was just about nothing to see and there was a strong current and wind. My son found some "friendly urchins" brought them to shore for everyone to see and then put them back, they were actually kind of cute. This was a nice island and we did enjoy just lounging. When we boated back to Nassau, we noticed some shops were open along the water front. a t-shirt shop, one liquor store and a jewelry store. There were at least 6 ships in port so you can imagine how crowded they were! We did not even bother. We tried to get my daughters hair braided. She just wanted four braids on the side, no one was interested in earning $8, they kept trying to talk us into the $50 half head which she did not want so we just went back to the ship.
We did use the Fitness Center, the rock climbing wall, the in-line skating rink, and the kids slide. All were wonderful. The Spa was also used by two of us. A pedicure that should have been $55 was $220 after purchasing the products and the facial at $89 cost one of us $170 after the product purchase. They are very pushy with the products. I did want two of the pedicure products having used them before but the other I could have done without. I got away with purchasing no facial products using the excuse that my husband had gone crazy in St. Thomas (we did not even shop) and I would have to check with him of how much I could spend. I did not go back but if I had, the products she wanted me to buy were $529, not including the facial! My mom had her hair done twice for $35. It looked beautiful, it really did, Lottie did a fantastic job but she did manage to talk by mom into getting some Vitamin C for her hair! My mom just can't say no.
We did not get to all the shows as they were at 10:45 after dinner and we were just too tired. The four we went to were excellent and we truly enjoyed them.
Disembarking was a nightmare. We went to the dining room for breakfast and left about 8:45. Our color had already been called so we assumed we could just get off. Unfortunately this was not the case. They only let so many off and then they closed the doors. We waited about 15 minutes and then they let the next group off. We thought we would go right for our luggage but we had to go through the first set of custom agents. This was a 30 minute wait. They checked our passports/birth certificates, asked our children how old they were and then let us go. We got our luggage and proceded to the next customs agent. We turned in our form and got pulled aside. My husband was wearing his Rolex and they questioned him about how old it was, (five years), where he got it (an award from work), how much we paid for it (hello, nothing, it was a gift! cheapest rolex there is), what purchases did we make to get to our $500 (the t-shirts we were wearing, the $90 watch I was wearing, one piece of crystal and other little items) I guess he liked our answers (they were truthful) so he let us go. We were in our car about 10:30 and waved a sad goodbye to the Explorer.
Good news though, we booked the Navigator for the same time next year while we were on the ship. We got a great deal and $200 on board credit!
Any questions and or comments, please feel free to e mail, just put explorer in the subject line. I'm sure I have left out many things so do ask and I will answer if I can.