I'm not sure why we awoke so early that Saturday morning, but I'm sure glad that we did as we were able to experience the not to be forgotten site of the Explorer as she arrived at the Port of Miami that morning. She was a magnificent site all lit up in the pre dawn light and we watched as she headed straight in and made a complete turn around almost directly in front of our hotel to dock at the pier around 6 AM.
We arrived in Miami on Thursday afternoon and on Friday we were able to spend an enjoyable day visiting the Viscaya Museum and Gardens and then driving out to see the Key Biscayne lighthouse. We stayed at the Marriott Biscayne Bay Resort Hotel which overlooks Biscayne Bay and the Port of Miami. We had a bayview room and the view was fantastic and well worth the extra cost! Being able to see the Explorer as she pulled into port that morning was a wonderful way to begin our adventure!!
We do suggest that if you are planning on visiting the Bayside Market Place for dinner or shopping in the evening while in Miami, that you remain alert and aware of your surroundings, as there were some unsavory looking characters lurking about especially as we walked to the parking area. The Bayside Market Place is an open air mall and restaurant area overlooking Biscayne Bay.
After a quick breakfast, we checked out and headed over to the park area on the McArthur Causeway, which runs parallel to the Port of Miami, to get some terrific photos of the Explorer as she was docked at the pier. We arrived at the pier around 10:30 AM and by 11:00 AM we were actually on board and in our cabin!! Royal Caribbean made embarkation super smooth and easy!! Our cabin attendant Beverley was just finishing up our cabin as we arrived, so we left our carry-ons in the cabin and set out to explore the ship. Lunch was just about to be served as we made our way to the Windjammer Cafe on Deck 11. The Windjammer Cafe and Island Grill are both light and airy with their floor to ceiling windows and offer wonderful views of the seas to dine by. They both serve buffet style breakfast, lunch and casual dinner. In our opinion, the food was very good for a buffet and we had no real complaints. There were no problems finding a table, as the tables were constantly and quickly being cleaned.
We had late seating dinner in the DaGama Dining Room on Deck 4. Both the food and the service were very good to excellent. There are several entrees to choose from each evening and if nothing on the menu is to your liking, they will gladly prepare a grilled chicken breast or steak for you. Live music was provided during dinner which made for a very nice atmosphere.
There is only one gala midnight buffet which is served on Thursday night, but the Cafe Promenade on Deck 5 is open 24 hours a day for light snacks, sandwiches and desserts, so food is always available! We asked our cabin attendant to leave us breakfast room service order forms for each day and had a relaxing breakfast on our balcony each morning except the last morning, of course. What a great way to start each day!! In St. Thomas, we sat on our balcony and ate breakfast to the view of many sailboats bobbing up and down against the background of emerald green mountains!! We will never be able to sail without a balcony again!! You can also order room service from the TV in your cabin. Room service was always delivered promptly at the time we selected.
We upgraded to a Category B suite on Deck 10 and it was a great cabin!! For anyone interested in a suite, we will try to give a you a good idea of what to expect. There is a special "suite only" check-in area provided. You will need to look for this area. Cabin numbers that qualify for this check-in are posted on a board as soon as you reach the second floor in the terminal. You will need to walk all the way back to this special check-in area at the far end of the room. We were told the B suite was 381 sq. feet and the balcony was 95 sq. feet. There was a table and 2 chairs and a lounge chair on the balcony. The bathroom was all marble and mirror with 2 double sinks and a very large tub/shower combo. There was plenty of storage space with shelves behind the mirrors in the bathroom and at the lighted vanity table. There was a 3 section closet and plenty of drawers!! The luggage can be stored neatly under the bed. There was a bar area, sofa bed, 2 chairs, stereo, TV with some cable stations and VCR. The suite even had a marble entry way and its own door bell!! All the comforts of home and a far cry from the our small inside cabin on our first cruise! Each afternoon they delivered a different snack plate to our cabin. They also provided us with Royal Caribbean valour robes for use during the cruise. There is a Concierge lounge on Deck 9 and the Concierge's services are available for Cat. B and above passengers only. Movies and CD's are available for checkout at the lounge. At the end of the cruise, he can arrange for early debarkation by 7:30 AM. We took advantage of this and were actually out on I-95 heading home by 8:00 AM!!
Overall most of the entertainment was excellent. Don't miss the Planet Ice, Fast Forward and the History Repeating Shows! They were terrific!! Our headliner entertainer was Kenny James who was billed as a "13 Time Star Search Grand Champion Winner". He sang Motown hits of the 60's. There were two different comedians, jugglers and, of course, the ever popular "Krooze Komics" performing everywhere around the ship. The Cruise Director Ken Rush was friendly and kept the passengers informed about the current and upcoming events of the next day. There was a very funny "Not So" Newlywed Game Show, an Animal House Toga Party on deck, a Country Western Dance Party, theme parades down on the Royal Promenade, a Caribbean Street Fair and many more events each evening. Be sure to read your daily Compass which is delivered to your cabin each evening to be certain you do not miss out on any of your favorite activities of the next day!! The Explorer is a beautiful ship and very tastefully decorated. The soft blue and salmon color scheme is very restful and calming. No tacky glitz here!! Although huge, it is very easy to navigate your way around as ship directories are posted at each elevator. The elevators do become a little congested at dinner time and when a show is letting out, but overall there were few problems with them other than sometimes having to wait for them to arrive at your floor. Even though there were 3000 + passengers on board, it rarely seemed crowded!! Captain Olav Nyseter would make announcements twice daily informing passengers of the daily activities, weather forecast and other ship information. There was a radio/intercom system in our cabin which played wonderful, relaxing soft rock & pop of the 70's, 80's & 90's. We really enjoyed hearing all of our old favorites!! It can be turned on or off as you choose. Each elevator has a section of carpet which is replaced each day that shows the day of the week on it. It is easy to forget what day it is in paradise!!
In Nassau we took the Harbor Tour & Discover Atlantis tour. Atlantis is beautiful upscale resort and casino. It has an underwater tunnel tour through the Mythical Atlantis and a glass underwater tunnel in the Predator Lagoon. The tour was very entertaining and an enjoyable way to spend the day if you have been to Nassau before and are looking for something different to see. One small tour that seemed to be overlooked by most was the Paradise Point Tramway in St. Thomas. We rode the tramway up the mountain and sipped a frozen drink while looking down at the many beautiful Virgin Islands, the ships docked at the pier and the peaceful harbor below. Another million dollar view all for the price of the tramway ticket!! The Paradise Point Tramway is about a 5-10 minute walk from the ship and can be done at anytime during the day before or after your other tours. There is also a wonderful mall shopping area right there by the ship. No need to go all the way in to town to shop. In San Juan we took the Old San Juan Walking Tour. If you are interested in history or a photo buff, this is a great tour. The highlight of the tour is, of course, the visit to the old Spanish fort San Felipe El Morrow. This is the fort that the ship sails past on the way in and out of the harbor. There are some great views and wonderful photos to be taken from the fort. We rode a mini bus to the fort and had a guided walking tour winding back through the streets of Old San Juan visiting and passing many historic sights along the way. This is a walking tour so remember to wear comfortable shoes. Don't forget you can book your tours before you go directly from the Royal Caribbean web site and the tickets are delivered to your cabin on the evening that you sail.
Labadee is a wonderful beach day with plenty of swimming, snorkeling and other water sports. Unfortunately, the day we were there was heavily overcast with a few periods of light rain. We did manage to tender over for a look around the old ruins and to get some photos. Back on board, we were able to get a seat at Johnny Rockets without a long wait. They bring you a plate of fries and onion rings with your drinks to munch on while waiting for your food. The shakes are delicious and we thought they were well worth the extra charge! We will try to give you some of the highlights we found on board. Dizzy's Jazz Bar in the Crown Viking Lounge on Deck 14 became our favorite place for a before dinner drink while watching the sunset through the floor to ceiling windows. What a magnificent view of the sea and the pool deck below!! The Casino has 2 life size figures of Las Vegas Show Girls welcoming you in at one entrance and the most amazing floor with coins, and other treasures visible below. Another must see ....even if you don't gamble. You can send email messages back to your family and friends for .50 cents per minute at the Internet Cafe although out of the 3 messages we sent, only 1 was received. The Promenade Deck wraps completely around Deck 4. Great for that much needed walk after all the food!! Walk all the way forward on Deck 4 and take the stairs up to Deck 5 and go out to the very front of the bow. There are some benches and it is a great spot to watch pulling in or out of a port. The beautiful Spanish themed Solarium "adults only" pool and hot tub area was a great place to sit, read or nap away from all the noise and activity of the main pool area. Everyone seemed to abide by the "adults only" request as we never saw any children in this area. If you are interested in seeing the Bridge, there is a "Peek A Boo Bridge" forward on Deck 11 which allows you to see down into the Bridge "cockpit" area on Deck 10 below. The Royal Promenade at the center of the Explorer always seemed to have some type of activity going on. The Captain's Cocktail Party is held here, and there are parades, live music and other entertainment too.
We had dinner Thursday night at Portofino's Italian Restaurant. The cost is $20.00 per person and the dress is Smart Casual. Most men wore suits or jackets and ties and ladies wore dresses or nice pants suits to dine there even though dress was casual than evening on board. The food was very good, but a bit more gourmet than the average Italian restaurant. There is a menu posted outside the restaurant that you can check. It books up quickly, so make reservations as soon as possible if you plan to eat there. There are 4 Casual nights, including the first night on board. The two Formal nights were Sunday and Wednesday with Wednesday being a bit more dressy and formal. Most men wore a dark suit and tie or tuxedo and it was obvious, thank goodness, that many people still enjoy dressing up for dinner! Smart Casual dress was on Monday night. You may want to bring a change of clothes and shoes in your carry-on luggage for dinner that first evening. We saw several people coming to the dining room in shorts....perhaps because they had not received their luggage before dinner. Casual dinner dress was nice resort wear not shorts. Shorts were out of place in the dining room for dinner. During the day, dress was very casual and swim wear.
We don't want to forget to mention the welcoming smile and friendly hello we received from each Royal Caribbean crew or staff member we passed each day. This was a wonderful surprise in view of our experiences on past cruises.
The Explorer was our best cruise experience to date. Royal Caribbean certainly lived up to their slogan "Like No Vacation On Earth!". The Explorer herself was the main star of the cruise. The ports were okay, but even if we had not gotten off in any of the ports, we would had a wonderful vacation aboard the Explorer!! She in an incredible ship and now we are spoiled!! If you are looking for a great cruise vacation, in our opinion, this is it!!
Remember anytime you choose to spend your vacation with 3000+ other people, something may not be exactly the way you would like it to be or think it should be, but unless it is a major issue just go and have a great time!! Your cruise will be whatever you make of it!! We would definitely sail on the Explorer again and are already planning on going Royal Caribbean to Alaska!!!