Explorer of the Seas, 11 to 20 June 2009 Eastern Caribbean Itinerary: Bayonne, Bermuda, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, San Juan, Bayonne
As always, I'll preface my review by stating that a lot of things found in a review of this nature are subjective and therefore can't meet everyone's expectations. I also warn you it is both long and detailed. I write what I consider to be a totally honest review yet I do not nit-pick. All three of our voyages have been on the same ship and the same itinerary. Obviously we enjoy both. While after reading this review you might assume we may be "Royal Champions," your assumption would be wrong. If I find something which I didn't like or with which I disagree, it will be in this review. Many I'm sure will feel because we have not sailed other than the same ship and itinerary, we have nothing with which to compare and therefore this review should be discounted to the point of meaningless. While I don't see it that way, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As the writer of a weekly column appearing in our small town newspaper for the past twelve years, and having been an elected office holder as well as a retired law enforcement officer and police instructor, I have a thick skin.
I'll also here state that a lot of what has been written about both disappearing perks or new ones adversely affecting more often non suite guests on RCI ships, were in no way evident on this voyage of the Explorer. To wit: There was indeed a welcome back party held the fourth day out and attended by the Captain. The event was held in the Maharaja's lounge where cocktails were served. Secondly there was no reserved seating for suite guests at either the pool, the main theater or in Studio "B" at the ice show. Additionally, many staff and crew made it a point that RCI was proud of the significant percentage of repeat cruisers it enjoys (a greater percentage than say, Carnival). Finally, as did all Crown and Anchor members, one of the gifts that we discovered in our stateroom one evening were truly nice and functional large canvas tote bags sporting of course, the RCI logo; thankfully no more ball caps as I'm sure many long time Crown and Anchor members possess a significant inventory of the item.
The ship also sailed its original nine night scheduled itinerary, meaning that there were no abbreviated stops nor were there any early dockings and/or departures. This was the first cruise without variance since the incident involving the bent prop that occurred in January; therefore the problem must have been permanently repaired during a one day stop at some point just prior to this cruise.
Also, while I'll get into more detail later, the staff and crew I found, without exception mind you, "over the top" when it came to courtesy, graciousness, helpfulness, honesty, etc. Not only I, but everyone in our party of six concurred with this observation.
The passengers were also with but a very few exceptions, themselves good humored and courteous in both language and behavior. There were of course a very minimal sprinkling of foul mouthed boors, such individuals often being referred to as, "Trash," but they were few and far between.
As we did for our two previous cruises, we drove to Staten Island and went straight to the Hilton Garden Inn for our pre-cruise night's stay. We also returned for an eight day stay following the cruise. Although certainly not by design, we happened to be greeted upon arrival by the Hotel's owners, Richard and Lois Nicotra who also own the adjoining Hampton Inn and Suites. A noted Staten Island entrepreneur, Richard and Lois certainly do things the right way. The Hilton is absolutely gorgeous. While certainly not inexpensive at around two hundred dollars a night, tax included; it assuredly is superior to many Manhattan hotels charging far more than that amount. When it comes to the relativity of hotel prices within the City of New York keeping in mind "bang for the buck," both the Hilton Garden Inn and the adjoining Hampton Inns and Suites (which was rated as second of all Hampton Inns in the entire nation in cleanliness) are quite affordable gems. The hotel also offers a very significant perk. Although we didn't avail ourselves of the service, free transportation to and from Cape Liberty is provided hotel guests as is also shuttle service to the Staten Island Ferry for those guests wishing to go to Manhattan or, as New Yorker's refer to it as, "The city."
Contained in the hotel is Lorenzo's. Named after the Nicotras' adorable little Maltese, Lorenzo's is an outstanding bistro style restaurant. Ensconced just on the opposite side of a strategically placed wall separating it from the lobby, is a most attractive cocktail lounge behind which is an excellent restaurant. Both interesting and varied, the restaurant menu manages to satisfy the most varied of tastes.
After meeting my wife's niece Adelaide, who again hosted us on our cruise, we together made our traditional initial New York supper stop at Brother's Pizza on Watchogue Road, just off Forest Avenue in Staten Island. Everyone has their favorite pizza parlor and Brother's is ours (along with probably five or six hundred thousand other folks). If you ever try it, I think you'll probably be in complete agreement. Likewise as we did last year, we went to Gino's Restaurant on Forest Avenue and had Gino's famous Chicken Gino. It must be something to write about as aside from southern fried, I'm not a chicken afficionado yet we visited this restaurant twice so I could enjoy this delectable dish.
Day One We awoke Thursday morning to a leaden sky that dropped on and off showers before that continued throughout our sail away. This pretty much presaged the weather for a good part of the voyage. We loaded our overnight luggage back into the car and drove over to Fran's niece's where the three of us loaded up her neighbor's large van with our shipboard luggage.
Following last year's cruise, we had decided that we took far too much luggage. Consequently. My wife Fran made significant changes in that department. We ended up taking half again more. It never ceases to boggle my mind, but I fear I'm certainly not alone as far as most husbands go. Not only that, but to insure I had "sufficient" changes, Fran packed for me alone (just for the cruise mind you as we had separate New York bags for our post cruise stay): 23 casual shirts, nine dress shirts, about eight pair of dress slacks, nine pair of casual slacks, one suit, two sport jackets, eight ties, a new pair of deck shoes plus two pair of dress shoes. Included was even one decent sized case containing just toiletries not to mention enough of our various prescriptions to trigger DEA alerts along the entire eastern seaboard. I won't even begin to tell you how much Fran packed for herself! Suffice it to say, I don't think we would ever have had to return home had we so decided. I wouldn't have been a bit surprised that were we to have elected to fly to New York instead of driving, our excess baggage charges may have exceeded the price of the cruise!
I think we have our estimated time of arrival at Cape Liberty down to that brief but perfect interval wherein we drive up to find no embarkation line and we drop our luggage and proceed to embarkation processing immediately after all departing passengers have left. That magical time was around 12:15 pm, or at least so it was this year. We took around fifteen minutes to clear the check-in process (the greatest amount of time being spent changing the credit card to one Fran wanted to use for the "Sign and Sail" purposes. She'd discovered one from which we could obtain much better perks at no cost whatsoever to us as she pays the entire bill at the end of every month. In essence, she figured it high time we "used" the system to our benefit as for all too long, the banks have used theirs to our detriment. I do believe were she (or millions of like minded homemakers) to be in charge of our country's finances, we certainly wouldn't be in the shape our nation currently finds itself.
One thing I've finally learned, is to just go ahead and check even what used to be our carry-ons, only physically carrying my lap top and camera. We proceeded straight to the Windjammer Café on Deck 11 as the staterooms of course would be unavailable until almost 1:30pm.
We found the Windjammer offerings tasty enough. I had the honey stung fried chicken, mashed potatoes (known as whipped potatoes if like me, you're from the South), sliced roast beef and gravy and a salad. Unlike our previous cruises I declined to purchase the Coke card inasmuch as last time I didn't even begin to drink enough soda to get any value from the purchase. I opted for iced tea (the closest thing I could get to the South's obligatory beverage, sweet tea). I had never during our previous two cruises had the iced tea after reading so many dour reports as regards it's quality, was hesitant. As so many other things, I found I greatly preferred it to unsweetened iced tea served at the average restaurant ashore.
I also ran into the only person that I've seen on all three of our cruises, an assistant waiter on our first cruise who absolutely spoiled us rotten in the Promenade Café, Gabrial Fernandez, a native of India. Whenever we were in the Windjammer where Gabrial was assigned this cruise, we were treated as visting Royalty. A little more on that later.
Sail away was pretty much a ho-hum affair inasmuch as an extremely dense fog and that combined with the on and off showers found few passengers up on deck barely able to make out the Verrazzano Bridge as we sailed beneath it into lower New York bay. Interestingly enough, all scheduled passengers had obviously effected very early embarkations, as we cast off a full twenty minutes prior to our scheduled departure. We continued through the ‘pea soup," sounding the fog horn as required. The fog extended far out into the Atlantic until late that evening.
All of our luggage arrived in lesser time than during our two previous cruises. Our stateroom, 9502, was the same one we enjoyed last year and is an oversized Category F outside and is a generous 211 square feet. The room sports an extremely large circular "picture porthole" window looking out over the bow. The cabin is located just below the Bridge, the second one in from the port side. Entry reveals a large wardrobe with wire shelving on one side on your right with the shower/bath on your left. While of course small, the circular shower has solid double sliding doors and the shower is of sufficient size (and I'm 6'4" and 280 lbs.). Closet and places for folded items is more than ample we were able to unload all the bags and easily place everything in its proper place. I think so many people don't realize that one side of the large make up mirror at the desk opens up for things such as cologne and women's make-up.
Excepting to see a bit more wear and tear from last year within the room (the eight year old Explorer is scheduled for it's second dry dock January upcoming, probably at RCI's drydock in Bermuda), I was very surprised to find out that either the love seat had recently been re-upholstered or more probably, had been replaced. I found it hard to imagine that over one hundred fifty people had occupied that room since our previous cruise in June of last year. There were absolutely no stains on the stateroom carpet. A very close inspection of the public areas revealed that it was extremely difficult if not virtually impossible for me to accept the fact that this vessel has been sailing almost continually (with only a couple of very short breaks), for over eight years.
Our stateroom attendant, Lucy Thomas from the island of St. Vincent, warmly greeted us upon our arrival to our room. Lucy turned out to be the best Stateroom Attendant we've yet had...and all of them have been excellent. There was no request, regardless of how small, that was not immediately met. She truly spoiled us. I am always amazed at the apparent sincerity of so many of the staff and crew. Lucy certainly is an outstanding representative for RCI.
Assigned early seating at table 543 in the Columbus dining room on deck five, we were pleased to discover that the table was set for our party of six, so there were no issues whatsoever in that department. Under the direction of Head Waiter Wises Phathidee from Thailand, our waiter from Peru, Javier proved most friendly, solicitous and efficient and accompanied by his Asst Waiter, Ms. Fernandez (I just couldn't remember either Javier' first or Ms. Fernanadez's last names), a Chilean native, provided excellent service. It's obvious this duo has been a team for some time which makes for a more pleasurable dining experience.
Prior to our initial entry, who did we run into but the absolutely marvelous couple we met last year and who captured the affection of the entire ship during the "Love and Marriage Show," Abe and Julie Smith! Abe who is 93 and Julie at 91, were celebrating their 70th Anniversary. Though usually traveling alone, this year they were accompanied by a daughter and son in law and a niece and her husband. We enjoyed a marvelous reunion!
The menu, from what I could remember, appeared to be a duplicate from last June. As the menus usually last for two years, I wasn't surprised. Following an appetizer of the Vidalia Onion Tart, chilled Mexican tomato soup, and spinach salad with oil and Balsamic Vinegar, the entree` of Prime Rib was delectable. This was my first foray into the world of chilled soups and I'm certainly glad I made the journey. My wife also had prime rib but her's was a bit too well done only because she had inadvertently ordered it medium as opposed to her usual medium rare. Inasmuch as we were also splitting an entree of the perfectly broiled Cod, she was certainly satisfied. As usual, everyone's desserts were excellent.
Following dinner, we attended the welcome aboard show at the Palace Theater. We were most pleasantly surprised to find on stage our Cruise Director from last year, that highly talented and energetic Australian, Dave Chapman. I had expected someone by the name of Mike Hunnerup but Dave told me he left the ship at the end of the preceeding voyage. Dave continued that he generally prefers a two month stint on the Explorer before switching over to the Mariner and then back again to the Explorer.
The evening entertainment was provided by the introductory performance of the very talented Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers backed up by what I called last year, the best house band I personally have ever enjoyed. The band has been led for several years now by a true magician on the keyboards, Filmer Flores who is a native of the Philippines.
Opening night's headliner was comedian Jim Colliton who originally hailed from Pennsylvania. A very funny man, the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy his performance. We certainly did.
Prior to turning in and following my wife's obligatory nightly donation to those sinister one handled mechanical devices located in the Neon Temple of Weird Sounds and The Almighty Dollar, our group of six proceeded to our traditional end of the evening stop at the Promenade Cafe`. This year it was a native of Jamaica, Millicent Camran, who spoiled us to the extreme in that venue by catering to our every whim. Isn't it frightening that as we begin to pass from middle age to senior status, we tend to turn into creatures of habit to the extent we take on the aspects of a flock of sheep following a herder? I prefer, however, to refer to the process as did Tevia in Fiddler On The Roof by calling it, "Tradition!"
Day Two Friday was a "Sea Day" wherein we got our bearings, finished unpacking and just enjoyed the ship. That evening was the first of two formal nights. I was really hoping that people were again returning to at least some level of formality on Formal Nights and as has been recently noted in other reviews, such was true this voyage. I only saw one unattractive couple attired in old shorts and literally dirty T-shirts awaiting entry into the dining room. Evidently the unattractiveness extended beyond just the visual as they were standing alone in a rather large circle surrounded by properly attired cruisers with disgusted looks on their faces. Needless to say, they didn't make it past the entrance. Matter of fact, would you believe these idiots tried it twice?!
My entre of Filet Mignon was excellent as was my wife's and the other members of our party thoroughly enjoyed their meal as well.
The evening's entertainment was the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers performing Fast Forward. This energetic show which we had seen last year, we again enjoyed this one as well. Although we didn't recognize most of the dancers from last year, the performance was nevertheless just as outstanding.
Day Three Saturday found us entering Bermuda which for me is probably the most beautiful place in the Caribbean; which is the reason that it is so very expensive. I even overheard someone in the elevator remark that it was the second most expensive place in the world in which to live. I must point out that I was surprised to find in a brochure a remark written in a humorous vein as to how expensive Bermuda. Can't for the life of me however, figure out why it's so extremely more expensive than some other destinations in the Caribbean basin. While yes Bermuda imports most everything, so does virtually every other island in the Caribbean. Although I love "Fish and Chips" it will be a frigid day in July when I pay over thirty dollars for such a meal.
Instead of hitting the shops, I, my wife and my wife's niece toured the museum at King's Wharf. Being a big time history buff, most notably the era surrounding WW II, I thoroughly enjoyed the museum, especially that room devoted to the U.S. Navy's assistance during the war. Highlighted is an incident that occurred in1944 wherein Adm. Daniel Gallery directed the capture of a Type IX D German Submarine, U-505, that was the the first enemy man of war boarded and seized by the United States during combat since 1815. The captured U-Boat was towed to Bermuda to help insure it's capture remained secret from the Germans. (Note: That U-Boat is now on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago).
We also wandered by "Dolphin Quest" that is maintained behind the walls of the old fort as well and wherein those so wishing, may swim (for a substantial fee of course) with the dolphins. They certainly looked cute enough and we halted long enough to take some photos. Thankfully, during the first couple of minutes of what we had intended as a brief respite, a young lady by the name of Kelly Adamonis approached us as we were seated and asked if we had any questions about the dolphins. Kelly turned out to be a veritable fountain of facts about the beautiful creatures. A student from Penn State, she is engaged in a summer internship with the organization. The conversation that transpired from that question truly made our visit interesting, worthwhile and educational beyond every expectation. Kelly not only related little known and very interesting things about bottle nosed dolphins, but she also dispelled a lot of conjecture that I had heard over the years concerning the care and proper treatment of these animals in captivity. For instance, the bottle nosed dolphins in captivity are from coastal waters and inlets where they are constantly confronted by predators as well as man's destructive nature and are much smaller than their cousins you see further out to sea. Not only do they enjoy far longer lives in captivity, but unlike many other animals and because of their extremely high level of intelligence, happier ones as well. If you visit Bermuda and haven't gone to Dolphin Quest, I certainly recommend you do so. You shan't be disappointed.
On the way out we stopped by the bookstore. Being a huge afficianado of the golden age of Ocean liners, I purchased a gorgeous book devoted to the extremely interesting history of the 22,000 ton Queen of Bermuda.
We then took the ferry across to Hamilton and enjoyed a brief sojourn down the dockside where a significant number of "Tall Ships" were docked, including the training ship belonging to the U.S. Coast Guard.
That evening following another memorable dining experience in the Columbus Dining Room, we went to the theater where the head liner was the vocalist, Hal Frazier. I am fully cognizant that many are always intimating that if one finds cruise ship entertainment outstanding, they are at the very least, lacking in their tastes regarding "good entertainment." To those folks, I'll only say that I, along with everyone in that theater must certainly have been so lacking because I participated with 1,300 fellow attendees in giving Frazier the longest standing ovation that I have ever seen on any of our three cruises. With one of the more wide ranging voices I've ever heard, Hal Frazier, who some years past crossed that sixty year line, sang selections made famous from everyone from Nat King Cole through to John Denver. A former guest on the late Johnny Carson's, "Tonight Show," Frazier was in addition to his marvelous vocal performance, one of the more "fun" people, not to mention among the funniest, by whom most of us had ever been entertained. Oh, and in case you're wondering, there were a large number of young adults in that audience as well; so much, therefore, for the "old people" remarks.
Day Four Sunday was a sea day and to those I do so look forward. It is my time to relax, read, etc. The group gathered per usual at breakfast in the dining room. We generally enjoy the table service and setting of the dining room. Nonetheless, we had breakfast several times in the Windjammer, one of which was the most memorable of all of those on three voyages.
Sunday evening, Adelaide, Fran and your intrepid reporter enjoyed dining at Portofino's. Gosh, how the three of us love that restaurant. It is truly five star dining and the service is both formal and impeccable. The food, as expected, is on par with the service. A leisurely dining experience, your meal will take in the neighborhood of two hours. If you are the type who wishes not to "dress for dinner," or doesn't enjoy fine dining, then I have to tell you this venue is certainly not for you. As regards the $20 per person service charge, we believe the experience is worth far more.
We did not attend that evening's performance in the Palace Theater but those in our party who did, said the impressionist, Scott Record, put on a very entertaining performance.
Day Five We docked Monday afternoon at 12:30 in Phillipsburg St. Maarten. Having been to all of the ports scheduled on our itinerary twice previously, I elected to stay aboard to work on this review, get my weekly newspaper column out of the way and in general just enjoy a virtually empty ship. The rest of our party including my wife, disembarked in their continuing attempt to hit every shop in the Caribbean. To refrain from being an anchor to their excursions, I of course expect some form of tribute. I two years ago, informed my wife that a large bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry and a bottle of a fine men's cologne usually will suffice to dispel my expressions of (feigned) grumpiness for their leaving me behind by myself.
While the group was off shopping, I gloried in having the ship to myself; taking photographs while wandering around the ship followed by thumbing through my new literary find.
Dinner in the Columbus Dining Room was again an excellent dining event.
The evening's headlining entertainment in the Palace Theater was the magic and comedy of Peter Gross. While Peter was quite entertaining, the most memorable moment will be one that could have resulted in a true tragedy.
During his act, Peter asked for two young children from the audience to assist him. One girl of six bounded up on stage while another of four, obviously didn't want any part of the presentation. Her mother nevertheless coaxed the little tyke t climb the steps to the stage. Before proceeding and for those who've never been on a large theater stage, I'll point out that those on the stage find it difficult, because of the spotlights, to see beyond the first row. The little girl, who obviously didn't want to be there, decided to head back to "Mommy." Although unable to see where her mother was sitting but knowing the approximate direction and while Peter's attention was diverted to the other child, she started walking. Everyone thought she would of course stop at the stage's edge but she didn't.
Sitting in the front row was a couple whom we had met that morning at breakfast, Phil and Rosetta Jobe who hailed from Pennsylvania. Phil, a retired coal mine safety expert, actually launched himself from his seat and in a diving basket catch reminiscent of one of those spectacular outfielder performances in baseball, caught the little girl literally just before she hit the deck face first. Only those in the first couple of rows actually saw the entire incident and know just how dramatic the event really was.
Day Six Tuesday morning found us docked in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. Both Fran and I elected to remain aboard and spent a relaxing day reading.
Dinner that evening was as usual, simply wonderful.
RCI does one thing however, that is a true and totally unnecessary pain in the neck. At virtually every evening meal in the main dining rooms, it's bad enough that there is a photo set up blocking half the entrance but on formal nights both avenues are mostly blocked. It is therefore extremely difficult for everyone to get into the dining room as they are being funneled through an extremely narrow corridor at of all places, the narrowest point of the dining room entrance lobby. Described to me wryly by one ship's officer as a "revenue opportunity," if RCI were aware of the number of extremely negative comments from disgruntled passengers that I alone heard, I believe they'd do well to review this policy. Additionally, this year, in one evening, we had not one, not two, but three photographers approach us wanting to take the inordinately overpriced "formal night photographs." And people talk about the incessant "hawkers" on the islands?
The Palace theater was once again packed for the evening's performance by the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers of , "Wild, Cool and Swingin`." I shall repeat still yet again that this troupe is the equal, in my opinion, to those I've seen on Broadway. I'm sure there are superior ones. It's just that I've yet to find them.
Day Seven Wednesday's sunrise greeted the Explorer as she was docking at San Juan. While the rest of the group went shopping (of course), Fran and I stayed aboard. Here I have with me four books yet still I managed to find one from the ship's library. I won't finish all four but one of the few that I do, will be the one from the ship's library.
I make it a point to go out of my way to be nice to all staff and crew. I have yet to find in my three cruises, any crew or staff member who has been unkind, disagreeable or even out of sorts. I have observed other folks having problems with staff and crew but while the problem itself may well not have been the fault of the passenger, they're reaction to the crew member or staff member who was attempting to solve their problem was sometimes so bad as to be inexcusable.
This became classically evident when, while on my way to the elevator, I overheard a passenger state to a woman accompanying her about a problem so trivial as to be unbelievable. The issue concerned a smudge on the stateroom window that the woman wanted cleaned. Her complaint? The stateroom attendant told the woman she would do so as soon as she finished cleaning the bathroom. The woman told her friend that the stateroom attendant had a smile on her face when she replied to her request. Yes and.....? This woman had such a twisted sense of values that she felt the smile to be insulting and and sarcastic and wanted to ".....slap her (the attendant's) face!" To further prove my point, that very evening the same woman who was morbidly obese, wanted to get on a crowded elevator that I happened to be on and was indignant to find there wasn't enough room for her to fit whereas there was room for a very slender young woman in her stead. She immediately launched into a tirade that the elevators didn't hold enough people. Another female passenger who seemed to exude maturity and grace and who along with her husbad evidently had a stateroom near the offensive passenger remarked upon pressing the door close button causing the elevator doors to close in the offensive woman's face, "Closing this door makes me feel so good. That is without a doubt, one of the more offensive people I've ever run across and I'm 68 years old!"
As I once wrote in an article on this site, if you want to solve a problem, you'll get far better results with honey than you will with vinegar. We all know those with "friends in high places." I, on the other hand, take pride in knowing the "working class" crew members and have found that merely being kind and solicitous brings about it's own satisfying, "Loyalty rewards."
We departed San Juan as scheduled and once leaving the harbor we increased speed to "full bore" of around 22 knots in order to make it back to New York on Saturday morning, the distance between the two cities being over 1,600 miles.
Day Eight I was up early to try and resolve computer internet problems I'd experienced throughout the cruise. The problem lay in the fact that although I was signed up for the $55 package that provides 150 minutes of service, I kept being billed at the higher 55 cent single minute price. The folks at the Purser's Desk (Guest Relations) were great and kept removing the excess charges. One Guest Services Officer, Suzette Sobers from Trinidad, even took the time to escort me up to the Internet room on deck eight to help me re-swipe my card and change my passwords as I had expressed the possibly the problem may have been a result of something I was doing. The process, especially for one so inept at computers as am I, can prove confusing. She graciously assured me that the problem was not a result of my actions or my laptop's. True or not, we hopefully had the problem solved.
Such proved not to be the case. Early Thursday morning around 4:00 am, I again went to the Purser's Desk where I was greeted by Esteban Pinnock who had the "graveyard" shift. He once again rectified the problem as regards the charges and asked me to return a little after eight as possibly someone from IT would be available to help solve this continuing and increasingly frustrating problem. I did return and was once again taken under Suzette's wing who after a lot of juggling, found a permanent and quite equitable solution. I cannot but highly complement the Purser's Desk staff for their understanding and diligence in solving this increasingly frustrating problem. They are indeed wonderful folks.
I shall say that due to increase in usage, the speed of internet service has measurably declined. To help obtain a fast connection, I advise those using internet service to do so either late at night or early in the morning.
Although as previously stated, we on most mornings had breakfast in the dining room, on Thursday I, Fran and her niece decided to go up to the Windjammer. When entering the line I felt a little tug on my sleeve. I turned and there stood Gabrial. He said he had a special table for us and then escorted the three of us to a special reserved area that provided an absolutely beautiful view. There we were once again spoiled rotten by Gabrial and those working with him. It was indeed, the most memorable breakfast in all of our three cruises.
That evening, I was privileged to meet and have a brief conversation with the Captain of the Explorer of the Seas and a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, Olav Gunnar Nyseter. A man with around forty-eight years of experience at sea, Captain Nyseter's association with RCI goes back to 1971 when he commanded the Nordic Prince. He is by far, RCI's most senior Captain. The previous day I had observed him conducting an inspection in the lobby area of the Windjammer with one of his officers. To I'm sure the junior officer's embarrassment, I observed Captain Nysetter spot numerous really small areas of chipped paint, scuff marks, etc., that missed even the other officer's practiced eye.
Although just turning sixty-five, Captain Nysetter nevertheless cut a dashing figure in his formal attire that evening as he stood outside the Columbus Dining Room. What I found most noteworthy is that he was there not for the professional pictures by RCI staff, but stood unobtrusively to the side for anyone wanting to get a private shot with their own camera of a family member standing alongside the ship's captain. That in and of itself bespeaks volumes as to the man's professionalism.
The show that evening we had also previously seen, "Invitation To Dance," by the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers and the band. This too is an extremely energetic show and one we thoroughly enjoyed.
Day Nine Our last sunrise aboard found us off the East Coast of South Carolina. After breakfast in the main dining room, everyone but yours truly adjourned to the pool deck while I went back to my beloved books. I also took frequent breaks to take still more photographs of one of the most beautiful vessels in the world.
One new addition we noted in this cruise was the generously appointed salad bar in the dining room at lunch. Including even shrimp, the diner obtains a large bowl which they then hand to the next available chef, who in turn fills it with the diner's choice (and amount) of items he/she desires including the type of dressing. It is nutritious, delicious and filling. Even I, one who normally delights in a heart clogging cholesterol filled diet, looked forward to this meal. As a result it must be considered, "extremely delicious."
As opposed to last year when lobster was served on the last formal night, on this voyage lobster night fell on the final night. As was last year, the lobster was delicious. The good bye by the galley crew was again memorable.
The final show in the Palace Theater didn't vary from previous ones to any notable extent but we did enjoy it.
Disembarkation I'm finally to the point that I personally have no problems with disembarkation. It appears they've got out all the kinks save one. One waiting area is on Deck Three in Studio B. Because of a circular island, it can become conjested in that area, however, on the circular island were padded seats where some people were sitting. These individuals because the staff member stating that they were blocking the aisles, were made to move into the Studio whereas the items really blocking traffic were the absurdly over priced "auction' paintings. These could easily have been moved out of the way for the disembarking process from that area and had one been damaged, just because of their location would have indicated it would have been no great loss. I heard one cruiser even remark that obviously the paintings were more important than the passengers. The young girl in charge replied that they weren't, but the fact they remained illustrated the untruth to that statement, at least in that area during disembarkation.
When we got throught customs (being processed by not only a very courteous customs inspector but one with a grand sense of humor as well) and outside to the pick-up area, we only then recognized that a porter had inadvertently picked up not our bag but an adjoining one that was the same make and color of one that wasn't ours. I immediately returned it to a security officer to be taken back inside. I asked one of our party if the bag was "in place of" one of our own and was told no, that it was extra. Ten minutes later I was informed that indeed, we were missing a bag from our groups' luggage. I now had to go back in and search for our bag. I was told by security "No can do" and that I would have to wait until 11:00am to be escorted back in by customs. Here it was about ten-thirty and our ride was due any minute. I happened to spot a customs agent and while approaching learned through his overheard conversation, he too was a retired New York law enforcement officer and presented my problem to him explaining that I too was retired from "the job." I showed him my shield and he immediately said to follow him, escorted me back inside where I retrieved the missing bag from a luggage cart that was being pushed to a storage area and got back to the waiting area just as our ride pulled up. The timing couldn't have been better.
While disembarkation was efficient, the limited traffic approaches insures unbelieveable congestion and a possible wait of an almost unconscionable duration for a "pick-up" vehicle. I do so hope RCI addresses this issue.
Hopefully one of these days, RCI will also have Cape Liberty looking other than an extremely depressed port area. To give credit where credit is due, they're working on it.
Synopsis I have never experienced a bad cruise. Was it perfect? Excellent yes, perfect no. There are always any number of ways that any cruise can be enhanced. That being said, the only negative issues I either experienced or witnessed this cruise that had anything directly to do with Royal Caribbean, were the previously mentioned congestion around Studio B during disembarkation, the traffic congestion and one issue about which more and more passengers are complaining.
I'd like to see replaced that dubious of all ship board "revenue opportunities," the ubiquitous cruise ship art "auction." The proocess provides few if indeed any of the consumer protection afforded on land by law (for obvious reasons of course) and to me at least, reeks of small town county fair hucksterism. I guess though that in keeping with our free market beliefs, two truisms remain, "Caveat Emptor" and P.T. Barnum's quote, "There's a sucker born every minute." I choose to be aware of the former and whenever possible, avoid the latter. As "Dirty Harry Callahan" would say, "You gots to know your limitations." Hopefully I know mine.
Those so wishing are asked to contact me by private message through this web site.
Recommendation for this ship and itinerary: Excellent.