This was our first time leaving out of New Jersey. The port is not near where the ports are in Miami and arriving there it looks like a deserted dump, with vacant boarded up buildings. There were no porters in sight and we were told to just leave our bags sitting there under the tent and get in line to check in. After checking in and getting Sea Pass pictures taken, you have to board a bus to the ship. Once on the ship it didn't matter how you got there, the ship was beautiful as expected. Leaving from Jersey has some good points. You can see the Statue of Liberty from the ship and when leaving you pass under a bridge that is definately worth braving the cold weather in order to see.
The first day at sea, as well as the last, it was rather rough and a bit cool. On the last day it was very rough seas and the outside decks were closed due to the gale force winds. This just added to the experience and was cool to watch from the window in our room.
We had an Owners' Suite (1300) which was a first for us, since we brought our 13 and 15 year olds. The cabin was very nice, roomy and had a huge bathroom with a jacuzzi tub and separate shower and the shampoo, conditioner, and lotion provided were of good quality. The couch was pretty worn and the stateroom attendant put a board under the pull-out couch bed at night for the kids. The bed for us was very comfortable as usual.
We have been to Labadee before and didn't book any excursions this time. We just spent the day at the beach, and it was a great beach day. Just remember that the sun is very strong there and use sunscreen. Water shoes are also highly recommended as the water has a very rocky bottom.
The second port was Samana DR. I was a bit worried about this stop because of what I had read on the threads. We booked an excursion to go to Cayo Levantado Beach and this was the most beautiful beach we had ever been to. It was a short tender ride and you can see the ship from the beach. White sand beach, crystal clear water and palm trees everywhere, it was paradise. There is also a barbecue on the beach and the food was reasonably priced and very good. The vendors there are very nice too, not too pushy (unlike Labadee where they harrass you so much it scared a lot of people away). They sell the usual souvenirs, but check out the Larimar jewelry, a light blue stone found only in the DR. It is very nice and a necklace and earrings only cost me $20.
I had been to St. Thomas before, so we decided to take an excursion to St. Johns which is a very nice island about a half hour ferry ride away. Went snorkeling at Trunk Bay. It's a nice place, but not the best snorkeling we have had and we only had an hour and a half there. I wish it would have been longer. Next time we will just stay in St. Thomas and find a beach on our own to spend the day. The port is nice and there is usually more than one ship there. There are a lot of huge yachts there too, which were quite a site to see. Shopping is right off the ship, within walking distance or you can take a taxi to the downtown area to shop.
We left St. Thomas and went right to San Juan, arriving there that night. Originally we were scheduled to be in San Juan from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., but this was changed to 10:30 p.m. after being in St. Thomas all day, and leaving the next morning at 11:30.
We had a letter in our room the first day stating that the ship is traveling at reduced speeds and that the times in port had been reduced by an hour each except for San Juan. Weird hours and because we aren't late night people, we didn't go out to see San Juan until the morning. We left the kids on the ship to sleep in and walked around and did some shopping. We wanted to tour the old forts but didn't have much time to venture too far from the ship.
We had been on the Voyager class ships before and really like the set up. The Explorer only has Portofinos and it is a definite do not miss. The food is excellent and worth the cover charge. Johnny Rockets is worth a try also if you have never been. We did eat at the Windjammer for dinner a lot more on this cruise and the food was very good, with create your own pizza bar, noodle bar, create your own pasta bar and a mongolian stir fry. Very good food and we wanted a change from the dining room. The Windjammer is very quiet for dinner and only the back is open and the lights are dimmed. The breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer is okay, but the menu doesn't change much and it gets a bit repetitive eating the same things for nine days straight.
Overall this was an incredible cruise, with great ports and plenty to do. We didn't go to many of the shows, but the ice show was great. Do not miss it. We also saw a hilarious ventiloquist act (Ronn Lucas). It was nice to have the extra two days compared to the usual 7 night cruises we have been on, and this was the perfect length of time.