THINGS WE LIKED ABOUT THE CRUISE
This ship has the BEST children's program and facilities of any we have been on so far. The counselors do a lot of interactive activities and really engage the children. The children's program is also now FREE IN PORT!! This was nice for us on San Juan, when the kids realized it wasn't a beach port and prefered to go into the children's room rather than walk around with us. Mike and I had a great day there. Children also can eat with the counselors on 3 of the 7 nights at Johnny Rockets, including both formal nights. We forced our kids to dress up one night and eat with us, but the other two nights they were more than happy to eat at Johnny Rockets and enjoy company of the same age.
The dining staff were very accomodating. Children's meals were brought early on nights when Johnny Rockets was unavailable, so that the children wouldn't be antsy, and then could leave at 7 for the evening children's program.
Food and service from both the dining staff and cabin attendant were very nice. Our waiter/waitress was Barbara from Poland, assistant waiter Kristoff from Poland as well and our cabin attendant was Amanda. Each were very friendly and accomodating and seemed to genuinely enjoy their work.
The ship has many excellent facilities, most of which we had no time to use. The miniature golf course was large and beautiful. The inline skating rink looked like so much fun. The thought of going skating was very tempting, but unfortunately we didn't pack long pants necessary to skate. Our afternoons were spent primarily at the kiddie pool/waterslide area. The children LOVED it. When they were in the program, Mike and I mainly just explored the ship and enjoyed the rare moments of time to ourselves.
Another nice perk was the availability of soft serve ice cream in chocolate, strawbery and vanilla as well as strawberry/vanilla and chocolate/vanilla swirls throughout the ship. There was also a toppings bar on the Royal Promenade which made it extra nice.
A shampoo dispenser is in the shower, so that you don't need to bring your own shampoo unless you want to. Feminine products are supplied free in all the public restrooms in case they are needed.
The food on board was excellent and the midnight buffet was super. We missed that on the Grand last year, not so much the availability of the food which was NOT an issue, but the terrific presentation and food artistry.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER One of the main things that we both agree on that we missed was a self service laundry that we've used on other ships. The price of the ship's laundry was quite high and adds up fast, even if it is used sparingly. Our advise to anyone traveling on the Eagle class ships is to pack more than you think you will need, so that you can minimize use of the ship's laundry service.
Second thing that really bothered me was the extent of drink pushing. I know drinks are a major income source of the cruiselines, but people on the Grand Princess still bought MANY drinks going up to the bars themselves. On the Grand nobody had the in your face drink sales technique. On the Explorer, eager bar attendants seemed desperate for a sale and reluctant to take no for an answer.
The MOST annoying thing however was the LINES during embarkation and debarkation in Miami. Princess' embarkation process went very smoothly, RCI's was rough with the kids, but tolerable with the anticipation of getting on the ship. We did not expect huge lines at debarkation though, and with only going home to colder weather to look forward to, it left a sour taste in our mouths, that and cruise ship happy hour at the airport. Many cruises return on Sat, so long lines at security and baggage check in are to be expected at Miami and Ft Lauderdale airports. This is not the cruiseline's fault, but the airports should realize this and have twice the available staff that day to help it run smoother. We also heard from other passengers that had been on Carnival and Princess ships that their debarkation went smoothly, which made us feel worse about it. This was our first post Sept 11, cruise, so we did expect more hassles to begin with, but hearing the hassles on other cruise lines wasn't as bad leads us to believe that RCI can make things smoother and hopefully will.
Our trip to Nassau Nassau was our first stop, and the least enjoyed. We slept in, and did not feel we had time to do a beach or go to Atlantis, so we opted to look around the town. The peddlers here are without doubt the pushiest. One even put bracelets on our wrists saying they were free and then requesting a $5 "donation" each. We took off the bracelets since we didn't even like them and didn't appreciate being approached like that. We weren't impressed by the city of Nassau. The kids were hot and cranky. I did agree to get a few braids. We were quoted $1 per braid, charged $1.50 per braid, no big deal except PRINCIPAL, had my hair braided near the horse drawn carriages, and had the odor of horse to breath while getting it done. The braiding also exposed my scalp causing me to get a sunburn there. Overall, my advise to anyone doing Nassau on a cruise, go through the ship and take a "tour" to Atlantis. Unless you do this, it is not a great stop to take the kids.
Our experiences on St Thomas This was our second stop on the cruise, and a port we've been looking forward to going back to for a long time. We knew ahead of time that there would be a party on Megan's Bay. The first taxi driver that we talked to told us that Megan's was packed and they were not allowing any more people in. We stupidly believed him and were taken to Morning Star beach. This beach was not as nice and had a very strong surf. After about 20 min or less, we left Morning Star, went back to the ship for more money, got another taxi to Megan's bay, which was NOT all that "packed." There were a decent number of people there, a band playing and a navy patrol, but the lake beaches where we live on any given Saturday are more crowded. The beach was well worth the trip back. The water is calm and gorgeous. We all had a wonderful time swimming here and playing in the water. Everyone had a great time here as expected.
On a side note, there was an aircraft carrier stationed just outside the harbor. We also had to go through immigration the morning we docked in St Thomas on the ship. There was a long line for this, but it moved fairly quickly considering. This is now mandatory entering a US port after having been in one outside the US. Everybody on board had to present birth certificates and id or passports to the immigration officers, or could not get off the ship on St Thomas or San Juan.
San Juan When the children found out that this was not going to be a beach stop, they wanted to go play in the children's room. Mike and I quickly said ok, took them up there after breakfast and watched them run in with barely a look back at us even.
We got a chance to walk around on our own. We walked up to El Morro. It is really nice to look around. It is a very well preserved fort and gives a glimpse into the past. The views are incredible too and we took a lot of pictures here. This was a very enjoyable excursion, and it was amazing to be able to do anything alone with Mike.
The people we met were all very friendly and helpful. Of all the ports we've ever been too, Puerto Ricans seem the most welcoming and friendly to tourists. Great people and a great island.
All about Labadee, RCI's private port Of all the islands, this one was our favorite. The beaches on this island are phenomenal, and scenery is out of this world. Look up and see beautiful green mountains, look out to the sea and see the ship docked off shore.
There is also a rock formation called the Dragon's Breath. The way the waves hit against it it sounds like heavy breathing hence the name. The kids had a great time with this. We told them there was a dragon sleeping under the rocks. Tommy my oldest looked afraid at first. Mikey immediately went to stick his head down toward the hole to see the dragon. Tommy didn't stay scared long seeing everybody looking down the hole. In no time at all we were yelling at him to stop climbing on the surrounding rocks.
There is also ruins of an old house called Nellie's Place, rumored to be the oldest whorehouse in the new world. That was pretty neat, beautiful flowers and bushes all around.
The island also has a lookout point for pictures, and a children's waterplay area with a trampoline out in the water and some things to climb on. Unfortunately we didn't check that out. The kids were having so much fun at the beach we didn't feel like rushing everywhere, just felt like enjoying every minute. The ship and island had so much to do it felt like there was no way possible to do it all.
For those not spending every minute on the island with young children, there were a LOT of watersports: Kayaks, jet skis, parasailing, banana boats, etc.
There were also plenty of bars, and a nice barbecue style lunch at this port which was relaxing. There is also a nice shop selling local crafts and such. The only annoying thing was one bar tender screaming out "Labadoozie!! Get your Labadoozie!" Not a big deal and didn't spoil our time. I'd just prefer going to the bar if I want a drink instead of being hounded.
Labadee is WELL worth taking Royal Carribean to visit.
Children's Program on the EOS The children's program on this ship was by far the best one we've seen yet. Counselors have many interactive activities with the children. If anyone thinks it is just a group of young adults watching the children play they are so wrong. The counselors interact with all of the children, have science related activities that are age appropriate, and give out terrific prizes like medals that make each child feel special.
For anyone traveling with children ages 3 and up that are potty trained, this is the ship, or class of ships to travel on. As for younger children or children not yet potty trained, they CAN NOT participate in the group activities. Night time in cabin babysitting is available though. For younger children, I'm glad we traveled on Carnival and Princess. Both of those lines take children in at age 2 and Carnival changes diapers. Princess will page if a child needs a change. On the other hand, I don't think Carnival offers private babysitting in the cabin, but personally I PREFER a group setting.
The ship was packed full of families, with children ranging from small infants through teenagers. Each age group was well represented and we did not travel on a school holiday. There were also a lot of people traveling pregnant too. I traveled pregnant on the Ecstasy and felt like the only one.
On the other end of the scale, there is a lot to do for teenagers. They have their own disco. There's also the inline rink, ice rink, rock climbing wall, pools, basketball court, miniature golf course, etc. Kids in all age groups should have a blast on this ship.