Explorer of the Seas 9/22/06
First some information:

Travelers: Dean (53)
Karina (50)

Weather: It was perfect throughout. Hot, of course, St. Thomas had a lot of humidity and seemed hottest. Apparently, it did rain once or twice, but not for long and I missed it. That is until the last morning. At the very least, it was raining at 2a.m. and continued throughout the day. What fun.

Pictures: All taken with a Nikon L4 CoolPix. NOTE: The dates are all 2 days off. Subtract 2 to get the correct date.

On the port days, the port name (next to the Day) will be a link to the pictures taken there.

There are links to the pictures and scans throughout. If you just want to find them without reading, click here.

Here are a couple of links I realize I left off, but really have no specific place to go:

General useful information Miscellaneous Pictures (Note: I have no idea who that family is, but since I took it, it's here)

Day 1 (Sail Away Day) –
Cruise Compass | Specials | Aquanauts (3-5) | Explorers (6-8) | Voyagers (9-11) | Navigators (12-14) | Guests (15-17)

Arrived @11:30. The procedure if you are driving is that you drive to the baggage drop-off. If you have tags, you just dump your suitcases, if you don't, it takes them about a minute to print them out for you and attach them, then you drive over to the Long Term parking lot, pay your $15/day via cash or credit card and either walk or take the courtesy shuttle back to the terminal. You then check in, get your first picture taken, and head out for the busses that will take you to the ship. Note: Junior Suites do get Priority Check-in along with upper grade suites, Diamonds and D+s…they have a check off list at the entrance to the check-in area.

There are 4-5 stations in here. While this may not be as much help at the 11:30 when arrivals are still pretty sparse, I could see it being really helpful as the day wears on and the 2000 people who do not meet the qualifications arrive.

In Windjammer (after checking cabin readiness (not yet)) at 12:30 (this is when I realized that the hot dogs are boiled in Island Grill and cooked on the rolly thing in the Windjammer proper).

The butter is made in France for Denmark seved on a ship out of bayonne heading for the Caribbean. This made me insanely happy all week, for some reason.

Got soda card and 12-bottle wine package up by Windjammer. Got champagne card down in the Champagne Bar

Since we had done Voyager, getting re-acquainted with the layout on Explorer was a piece of cake

Wandered through the Promenade to see the pre-sail specials. They had free liqueur tastings…try the Amarulla..really different and very good. Had my first encounter with Scott (one of the best cruise staff people EVER) at the Bingo table. We would continue to bump into each other at various spots over the next few days and eventually became friends or, at least, as close to friends as you can become in the ephemeral world of the cruise ship.

Found out they had made the choice to have the Mystery Dinner in Portofino's the first night of the cruise…thus began our first activity disagreement. I really wanted to do this, Dean wanted to go to the table on the first night…I did kind of see the wisdom behind this and reluctantly agreed.

Unlike Voyager, while Windjammer and Island Grill are basically the same, there are some slight differences. Took a while to get used to how they had the islands in the Island Grill set up. Liked the addition of curries and other eastern flavors to the menu…these were only available back in the Island Grill (I believe)

Back to cabin at 1:05. Met Marvin, our delightful Cabin Attendant. Started to unpack. We were in 1340. Juniors have an amazing amount of space.

Explored up and about winding up in Dizzy's for our first drink on board. Saw people starting to collect for Roll Call get together over at the Sky Bar. Headed over. It was great meeting some of the people who I only knew the screen names for. I never made it to the second gathering after the sail away.

Headed to Guest Relations to replace Dean's lost Sea Pass Card (a record?). It took but a few seconds and we had the new one. (While there were often lines, I never had anything less than speedy, courteous service from the Pursers on duty the few times I had to deal with them)

4:30 – MUSTER!! We had an inside muster station!!! With chairs even…most painless muster ever.

More announcements about the Mystery Dinner. Lower lip went further out and trembly. We made reservations.

Went up on Deck 11 by the peek-a-boo bridge to watch the sail away. It was very very cool (actually in both senses of the word, it was also windy and everyone was wearing sweaters and jackets).

Back to the cabin to finish unpacking

Before heading up to Dizzy's for the beginning of the Mystery Dinner, I stopped at our table and introduced myself to our waiter, Leonardo, and let him know we wouldn't be there that night.

The Mystery Dinner:

  • Really cheesy, but lots of fun
  • Technical crap here:
    • Attendance: 25
    • 8 color changers
    • 16 fresnels
    • a couple of baby lekos
  • Start up in Dizzy's where the show starts. There they ply you with champagne and canapés during the whole first act. The performances were all over the top. Being in theatre, I started to take performance notes which could have been misconstrued by the actors had they seen them (it was at the very beginning before I got into the whole spirit of the show)…and, of course, one of them plopped himself down next to me as part of the act to ask me what I was writing…sigh…dodged the bullet though because the show had to continue. Dean was pulled up on stage to do his Chippendale imitation
  • Moved to Portofino's for the rest of the show and dinner and MORE ALCOHOL.
    • The dinner options were limited to either the fabulous filet or the tiger shrimp. I had the beef, and I understand the shrimp were excellent as well. After a while, they stopped asking me if I wanted more wine and just automatically filled up my glass
    • Tiramisu in a strange bowl constructed from nuts. Tiramisu was, as usual, yummy
  • At the end, I was one of the three who had guessed the correct murderer although my solution was way more complex than theirs…too much Josephine Tey growing up.
Day 2 (At Sea) -
Cruise Compass | Specials | Aquanauts (3-5) | Explorers (6-8) | Voyagers (9-11) | Navigators (12-14) | Guests (15-17)

Woke up at 8:45. had our only breakfast in the Dining Room. It was fine, but actually felt slightly more harried than breakfast in the WJ. Not to mention, I am just not awake enough in the mornings for chit-chat with tablemates who would change everyday. Note: You get two eggs benedict when you order Eggs Benedict.

As it turned out, Dean had an assignment he had to turn in by Thursday…this is for a class he needs for his PhD so he couldn't slough it off. He spent a lot of the first five days on the San Tropez deck with his textbook and laptop which he says is a wonderful working environment.

Headed for what would wind up being the first of several Bingo sessions with the terrific activities staff: Cole, Scott, Katie, Peter, Jorge and Debbie. I got the Bingo dog which will forever gain you an extra game card in any regular Bingo game on any ship.

Went to make a phone call to Portofino's to make reservations for a regular dinner on Monday night and found the phone not working. I resigned myself to a line at the Purser's Desk, but when I stepped out of the cabin, a nice man in a white uniform was walking by. He asked me how I was enjoyng the trip thus far and I told him fine until my phone stopped working and that I was heading down to see about getting it fixed. He told me to hang on a second, whipped out his intra-ship cellphone and said "This is the First Officer. I have a guest in 1340 whose phone is not working. Can you have someone look into it?" Now, I'm sure that my phone would have been fixed eventually, but I think it may have been fixed just a little faster in this instance.

Had lunch in the Windjammer.

Played Name That Tune in Dizzy's with Alvin Costello playing piano. It's not really the Name That Tune that I expected, but it was a ton of fun. They had this every Sea Day at two with better and better Royal Caribbean Blue Crap (as they call it) given as prizes.

Went to the Wine Tasting seminar (which I got free with my C&A book). They had some good munchies and nice wines. Told a tablemate about the Dinner Theatre and he was upset that, in their case, his girlfriend won the discussion of whether they would go..

Changed into formal wear and headed for the photo op with the Captain in Maharajah's…sadly my eyes closed right when the pic snapped, but aside from that the pic was fine. This moment also made it into the Cruise in Review DVD which was kind of startling when I saw it on the big screen.

Nice music, lots of champagne. Never did get out into the Promenade to see the actual Welcome Aboard speech.

Finally met out tablemates at Formal Night. Was slightly concerned at first because one couple were Montrealers whose first language was French (she spoke more English than he) and the other were mother/daughter Brooklyn Russians (the mom spoke little English, but the daughter was fine). However, by the end of the cruise we were all having a great time together. Sadly, probably because we missed first night, we never actually did learn their names, but it didn't even occur to me until today.

Everyone at Second Seating seemed to have dressed to varying degrees of dressiness for Formal Night. As a matter of fact, I never saw anyone who was dressed badly or violating the dress rules. The only time I saw anyone totally dressed down was one guy who had come in specifically to find someone, whisper something to them and then boogie out.

Went to see Fast Forward, the first production show. It was a lot of fun. Unlike the hideous (but well produced) Broadway show on Voyager, Fast Forward stayed true to the music they used. I was probably the only one of maybe five people who actually knew the title song and the movie it came from. It also incorporated music from Flashdance, Dirty Dancing, Saturday Night Live, what's it's title…the one with Kevin Bacon.

Got back to roo to find masses of paper on my bed. Aside from the Cruise Compass, there were invitations to the M&M and the Crown and Anchor party.

Day 3 (At Sea) –
Cruise Compass | Specials | Aquanauts (3-5) | Explorers (6-8) | Voyagers (9-11) | Navigators (12-14) | Guests (15-17)

Breakfast in Windjammer. Thus began the rice, sausage gravy, scrambled eggs w/shrimp in a bowl breakfast that Dean would eat for the rest of the week. I stuck with the more traditional, oatmeal, bacon and a roll.

More Bingo. Can I say again that I really grew very attached to the cruise staff. They were all, without exception, some of the nicest people I've met. Note: I never won any of the Bingo games I played, but I had a really good time playing them.

Lunch Windjammer. Y'all can take it for granted that from this point on we ate breakfast and lunch in Windjammer, so unless I remember something remarkable about one, they will no longer be mentioned. Having said that, though, we never had a problem finding a table…we always found a nice table for two by the windows after looking for only a moment or two, at most. It was also vastly entertaining the couple of days we ordered wine with lunch…I don't think that many people do that.

This was the day of the Meet & Mingle. It was mezza mezza. Many of us had met the previous day. Portofino's wasn't really the right venue for this, especially as we had a pretty darned good sized group. The canapés were fine…there was water, lemonade and ice tea for beverages. An RCCL rep had us all introduce ourselves, raffled off a couple of things and that was pretty much it. The layout of the space was not such as to allow good traffic flow, so probably 80% of us left.

Another round of Name That Tune. While lots of fun, it's amazing how really competitive some people can be.

Bingo again (another thing I won't bring up again…I think I played a total of 8 regular sessions, the Win A Cruise Bingo and the Final Jackpot game). This one, I got to be Bingo Commissioner for…this gets you a free Bingo t-shirt and a drink of the day. There were also raffles throughout the sessions and I won a bag of Royal Caribbean blue crappy stuff. Those were the total things I won during my time at Bingo. But, I have no regrets about it…I met some great people.

We originally had tickets for Planet Ice for tonight, but then found out about a conflict with the Crown & Anchor party so exchanged them for Wednesday after San Juan. This proved to be a good plan as will be discussed later.

This was the day of the C&A Welcome back party. I was a few minutes late getting there because of Bingo and Dean was nowhere to be seen. As I had the invitation, I was kind of wondering about this, but figured he was caught up in homework. Got chatting with a new cruise staff person (Chris from New Zealand whom I later found out was only on his second cruise). He volunteered to keep an eye out for Dean and let him in so I went ahead. Stopped by the light booth and got in to conversation with the Lounge manager Rodney about tech stuff and theatre. Snagged a complimentary rum punch as it went by…they also had Manhattans and Whiskey Sours. Trays of hot hors d'oeuvres went by which I did not partake of. Spotted Dean across the room..turns out he had gotten there before me and just showed his Sea Pass card to show he should be there.

This was the first day that we used our Champagne Card. I pretty much stuck with a Kir Royale for the week…Dean tried a few and settled on a San Moritz as a regular. When you get drinks in the Champagne Bar (well, at least champagne drinks), you also get a little plate of hot appetizers that included wings, shrimp, mini-spring rolls, quiches. Very nice way to spend pre-dinner.

The second seating show was before dinner tonight. It was Sal Richards, a New York comedian who many of you have probably seen on various TV shows throughout the 70s and 80s. He was a total hoot. People talked about bits of his routine for the next several days.

After dinner, I went to watch a couple of the Royal Caribbean Singers do some 70s stuff. Afterwards, I wandered around and found the Schooner Bar where the fabulous Don Alexander was playing. To say that this was a piano bar doesn't begin to cover it. Don has a mental repertoire of some 1500 songs most of which he can just play and sing. He also plays the sax and the piano simultaneously - it was totally amazing. His wife, Christine (a former London actress) was sailing on this cruise with him and she had a gorgeous voice which she used to sing along with him a few times. I was there til closing…as I was for the remaining nights of the cruise.

Day 4 (St. Thomas) –
Cruise Compass | Aquanauts (3-5) | Explorers (6-8) | Voyagers (9-11) | Navigators (12-14) | Guests (15-17)

Windjammer, Bingo, Windjammer, yadda yadda.

Docked at 1pm. Headed off to meet up with Blackbeard's Castle & Recommended Shopping tour group. All the tours meet off the gangway. This whole thing was chaos…semi-controlled chaos, but chaos nevertheless. However, we found the group just fine and found our way to the tour vehicle. The thing was pretty well filled…5 people in each of five rows. It seemed like a reasonably congenial bunch. There was a group of New Yorkers. The bunch of them seemed like really nice people….lot of chit-chatting while we waited. They discussed amongst themselves how rude it had been the previous night when someone came late to dinner and made them all wait…"didn't these people realize how inconsiderate this was?"

Tour bus took off. The island is very pretty. The tour guide's information was probably fascinating, but it could barely be heard past the second row and not at all in the last two (where the New Yorkers were (except for one older gentleman who was at the end of our row)). I was the lucky one who relayed to them that the shopping in Charlotte Amalie shut down at 5pm and at Havensight at 6…this was met with some consternation.

At the first photo stop (of three), we were given 10 minutes to take pix and look through the little gift shop. At the end of 10 minutes most of us were back at the bus….except the New Yorkers. Rather than stand around waiting for them, we slid into seats. Our guide kept going back to try to hurry them up. 10 more minutes later and they finally turned up and were IRATE that they did not have their original seats. Oh, dear heavens, the irony.

At the second photo stop, which only had t-shirts and some knick-knacks, they were back at the end of the 10 minutes and deliberately took seats that would separate couples because we had made them lose their seats. “The New Yorkers" became our catch phrase for anybody who was behaving obnoxiously on the cruise regardless of point of origin.

Third photo nothing untoward happened…we all wound up in the seats TNYs consigned us to at stop two. Sadly, their behavior did detract some from the pleasure of the views at the photo stops and they were beautiful.

Blackbeard's Castle began the walking portion of this tour. This is when it became obvious that the tour portion would not be over til 4:15-4:30 thus making a less than happy shopping time for those who were really interested in that part of the tour title. At one point I was speaking to Michael, our walking tour guide about this and they're not happy about it a whole lot either, but with the ship not docking til one there's not a lot of options.

Anyway, the Blackbeard Story was interesting. The tower which was never used by Blackbeard had a lovely view and there were bronze statues of various pirates and their histories scattered through the gardens. Ann Bonnie's flashed her left breast…that would probably be a wonderful distractive strategy.

We began the tour of historic homes and the famed 99 Steps of St. Thomas. At the first home, we were met by Ms. Schultzbrand the museum curator for the island and a wonderful advocate for the native population of the island. She was amazing and the house was gorgeous. In the basement, was where we got to have our rum punches. There was a huge cooler full of fruit punch with bottles of rum sitting next to it….we could make our own, as many as we want, to whatever strength we want. …At which point we were asked to walk down the 99 steps. Heh. It was amusing to watch. I was briefly sidetracked by a cat who was in desperate and extremely vocal need of petting. As I hadn't seen mine in 6 days, I was happy to oblige.

At the end of the tour, we all hot-footed it into Charlotte to see what we could get there. Dean and I got 4 liters of Cruzan rum (various flavors) at 6.95 per. Afterwards, he headed back to the ship and I went into Havensight for knick-knack souvenirs. Picked up a few things including a keychain with my name on it, something that has been hitherto unheard of (Karina is not, well was not anyway, a common enough name to warrant them).

Got back to the ship and a driver was wondering why everyone was coming back so early. Well, what did he expect with everything closed and all the warnings about Charlotte Amalie at night. St. Thomas, while very pretty, needs to vastly be re-thought as to tours or docking time or something.

Pretty much came back, did the Champagne Bar, dinner at Portofino's (where they remembered us from the Mystery Dinner, especially Dean's dancing...food was fabulous and the Tiramisu was served in it's proper chocolate cup), then listened to Don in the Schooner Bar. Totally missed Love & Marriage which, in retrospect and having seen the video bits, I now regret.

Day 5 (St. Martin) –
Cruise Compass | Specials | Aquanauts (3-5) | Explorers (6-8) | Voyagers (9-11) | Navigators (12-14) | Guests (15-17)

I LOVE this island. I would go back and live there and start a theatre company there if I won the lottery.

This was the first time we had to set an alarm. Bah, but oh well.

We had signed up for the Explorer Cruise Tour which started at 9:30. The ticket advised getting there 15 minutes early, so after a leisurely WJ breakfast, we headed down the gangway. There was still some chaos sorting out tours, but as at this port we had docked at 7 a.m., people were departing the ship at a much more staggered pace than in St. Thomas. We found Stephanie who would be our tour guide for the day.

Let me start out by saying that this was an absolutely fabulous time and the worst marketed tour I have ever seen. The two parts really didn't seem to be aimed for the same people. The first part was a tour of the island in an air-conditioned coach. The second part is (after shopping in Marigot), getting on a Party Boat (covered below decks and half opened topside) and sailing around Simpson Bay drinking rum punch, beer, soda, whatever and listening to a live singer. The two just don't seem to go together.

Sadly, it seems others thought so too. There were a total of 22 people signed up for this. The huge coach sat probably 50-60 people….everyone could have had their own window seat if they chose with room to spare. After the bus made it past the small herd of wild cows walking down the middle of the road, we had a beautiful informative drive around the island winding up in Marigot. Sadly, St. Martin is not as set up for photo stops as St. Thomas was, so there was only one of those above Orient Beach. There were a couple of places where the bus slowed down and we were able to see sights/take pictures through the windows.

They gave us an hour to shop in Marigot before we had to get to the marina and board the Explorer. The past few weeks have been so slow that even the ritzier shops had an air of “Please buy something" about them. The store I wound up shopping in was owned by a couple who have been through it all and did absolutely no pushing whatsoever. It was such a relief. I bought some postcards and another name keychain there and then I saw that I could buy Absinthe, so I did. I don't know when or if I will ever actually try it, but I have it now. We stopped at a bakery and picked up a baguette to munch on the cruise portion because I knew that while there would be alcohol on board, I also knew (because I had asked) that there would be no food. The Explorer had a maximum capacity of around 200 people, so our little group of 22 barely made a dent and most of them stayed on the lower deck. We spent an hour and a quarter cruising Simpson bay and it was absolutely gorgeous. Apparently, in season, it is filled with the mega-yachts of the rich and famous which would be a whole different experience.

Okay, so here's a weird thing. Between St. Thomas, St. Martin, Puerto Rico and the occasional visit to the pool deck I spent a reasonably good amount of time in the hot, strong Caribbean sun with no suntan stuff on and I never burned. I barely darkened. Other people burned. I didn't …I mean I've never been one to burn easily, but I have in the Caribbean before. It was odd, although gratifying.

The bus met us at a different marina on the other side of Simpson Bay and brought us back to Phillipsburg around 1:30. We did some shopping there and then headed back to the ship. Had a quick lunch. Dean headed for the cabin and I put on my suit and headed for the Solarium. Spent some time in the hot tub and then curled up in a lounge chair to read an promptly fell asleep, only waking up at 5:51 when the Capt. made the departure announcement.

Watched the sailaway and bid farewell to my favorite island and then headed back to the cabin to change out of my now-dry bathing suit. Tonight, there was an evening edition of Name That Tune in the Schooner Bar, played by Don and hosted by Katie from the cruise staff. It still wasn't Name That Tune, but it was much stricter and played more by the rules than the afternoon edition did. I teamed up with a couple of lovely ladies from Ireland and we scored third…sadly only first and second get prizes.

After dinner, we watched Michael James who is an action comedian who can do amazing things with unicycles and ladders all the while cracking jokes.

This was the night of the "Dance Under the Stars and Pool Party and Buffet" from 11:30 til one. I went up and peeked. The ice sculptures were very pretty but a) I'm not keen on crowds and b) late dinner does kind of dissuade you from wanting to eat again really soon, so I came back in.

Closed down the Schooner Bar again. FYI, if you don't mind wind (and I don't), the helipad is a great place to go late at night…the stars are gorgeous and the sea sounds are so relaxing. I would always walk around Deck 4 and make my way to the helipad after the Schooner Bar. It let me get grounded.

Day 6 (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
Immigration Info | Cruise Compass | Specials | Aquanauts (3-5) | Explorers (6-8) | Voyagers (9-11) | Navigators (12-14) | Guests (15-17)

Ah, Day 6. Immigration Day. Woo hoo. Actually, it wasn't so bad. Got up at 6:30 and got down to Deck 5 at 7:10. Oh, dear heavens, the line stretches from the Dining Room (where Immigration was) all the way down the Promenade and circling the far staircase. Got in line along with a couple thousand of my closest friends. Within 25 minutes, we had gotten all the way through the process and exited the dining room at 7:35….just to find NO LINE. But, who knew? After breakfast, Dean decided to stay onboard and I went into town. He tells me that there were a lot of announcements looking for missing people throughout he next hour because the cut off was 9. personally, I feel they should have stressed the $3300/person fine that they would have to pay if they didn't show up. I think that would have been remarkable incentive.

Anyway, I disembarked at 8ish. Here's the way not to be bothered by drivers and tour guides. Be a single woman. This kept most people uninterested in my business…the couple who asked me anyway were very accepting of my statement that I wanted to walk.

And, so I walked and walked along the wall road with El Morro as my destination. It was already really really hot. But, by the simple expediency of keeping to the shade, ducking into the air-conditioned art museum and buying the occasional bottle of cold water I had a wonderfully pleasant walk. I eventually got to the point where I had to leave the wall road and head up past the wall into town. Kept going up (people said it's smarter to take a cab up and walk down, but more on that theory later). Got to see some of the famed San Juan feral cats. Eventually made it to El Morro which is an amazing huge and beautiful place. There is a ton of walking throughout the place and up and around…well go look at the pictures if you didn't already and it was hot (did I say that already?). The good news is that there is an air-conditioned video room where you can watch the history of the fort in English and Spanish in comfy seats.

Here's the place where I disagree with the notion of taking a cab up and walking back. El Morro is big and if you spend the 1.5 to 2hours or better that it deserves, you are going to be wiped out and the idea of walking may not appeal to you so much. So, what I did was take the free trolley that stops at the foot of the El Morro road and rode it back into downtown Old Town. I wandered around the artisans tables a bit and then decided to head back onto the ship. Things were much more bustly in the pier area at 1pm than they had been at 8am, but I was too tired to take advantage of it.

But, when I walked into Pier 1, the Puerto Rican Rum Board had set up a table with free Rum Punches which I unwisely took one of. Even more unwisely, I decided to check out the Duty-free shop at the top of the near-by escalator where the people from Bacardi were giving out shots of something that was nominally punch but was really pink tinted rum and he dumped one in my rum punch. By the time I had bought 3 liters of Bacardi for $22, I was feeling decidedly light-headed and queasy…no food, lots of heat is not a good basis for drinking a couple of shots of rum in 10 minutes. However, here is the way to smuggle booze onto the ship…the Bacardi guy packed the stuff up in a sturdy black attractive Bacardi tote bag. I put it on through the x-ray scanner fully expecting it to be confiscated at the other side. But it wasn't and I had access to duty-free alcohol in my cabin for the remaining 3 and a half days of my trip which I didn't drink, but could have.

When I got to the cabin, I was definitely not right and Dean took me to get food in me which was a good thing. Then I went down to the pool for an hour or two before heading to Bingo. Bingo, however, was cancelled due to lack of attendance…I think it was scheduled too soon after people getting back from San Juan to want to go straight there.

So, we killed some time and then went down to Studio B to watch Planet Ice. This is a lovely show and, as usual, it's amazing what these skaters can do on a rink that's maybe 2/3s the size of a real rink. The aerialists that were incorporated into the act were fabulous and breathtaking as well. Okay, so remember how I said it wound up being a wise move to see this performance? Well, on Saturday, during the backstage tour, the ice show came up in conversation and there was a huge amount of confusion about the aerial component with most people swearing it wasn't there and a stalwart few of us who insisted it was. Turns out that the equipment had been malfunctioning for most of the week and ours was the only performance that sailing that got to see the full show.

This was our Montreal tablemates' first cruise and, over dinner, the Russian girl and I were trying to figure out why this cruise seemed so much more …calm?...less crowded even though it wasn't really? And, we came to the conclusion it was because there really were no kids or teens to speak of. Yeah, there were a very few, but most of the kids there were (and still there weren't a lot) were pre-school or younger. What it boiled down to is it was a really great first cruise experience and now they are hooked.

This was Win-a-Cruise Bingo night - came close, but didn't win. Oh well.

The Drifters performed that night and they were really good. Nice to hear some of the old tunes and they play with the audience while they performed…for some reason this really irked the people behind us that they were wasting time talking to each other and the audience instead of singing non-stop. I was kind of distracted through part of their show because I have a hinky knee which can only stay bent for so long before it starts to hurt and I had neglected to take into account the 45 minutes of sitting for Bingo on top of the Drifters show, so I had to scoot out and straighten my leg. As soon as I did that, it stopped hurting and I watched the rest of the show from the back. At the end, the Drifters invited anyone who wanted to to come up on stage with them. Which a large number of people did, including a large number of the Just People group who were sailing. Just People is an organization for developmentally challenged adults and they were a really nice bunch. When they came onstage, the Drifters were fabulous with them which was great to see. Unlike the other acts, they stayed on the ship for the duration and were always really friendly with anyone who came up to meet them.

Day 7 (Labadee) –
Cruise Compass | Specials | Aquanauts (3-5) | Explorers (6-8) | Voyagers (9-11) | Navigators (12-14) | Guests (15-17)

We had a leisurely breakfast and hit the tenders somewhere between 10:30 and 11...there was no line at all. I had been to Labadee before, but it was four years ago and a lot has been added to the place. Where before there were beautiful beaches, trails, someplace to eat and some waverunners, there is now all that plus a modest waterpark, and a play pirate ship with water features, and some other conveniences....not to mention the shopping area. All in all, I think the additions were put in reasonably discreetly without detracting from the beauty of the location.

I am unhappy with one thing though. There used to be a few nice (albeit rocky) trails. This past week, the one connecting Hideaway Beach with Barefoot Beach was noticeably more rocky, but not quite impassable and still a nice walk. If, however, you made the mistae of trying to approach it from the Barefoot Beach end, you find yourself on a path marked "private...massage center" or some such, which they have set up on a former overlook along the path. I guess they figured the rocks would dissuade people from using it at the Hideaway end and didn't bother to mark it. Let them set up there dang massage tables elsewhere and give us hikers back our trail.

We visited Dragon's Rock again. I am happy to report that the Dragon is still resting comfortably and that if you listen carefully at the right spot you can hear him breathe. (FYI, the right spot is in the dragon's rock lookout, slightly right of opposite of the entrance. This is the rock formation that you see when you can hear him.)

My comments on lunch from Voyager still apply: "Lunch is good. The pink liquid is better than the brown, this might be a good time to actually buy a can of soda or water to bring with you. " Dean and I split after having lunch. He walked along the North side and found a shady place to read and I went to Hideaway Beach. Some thoughts about crowds...not a surprise...the further away from the ship you are, the less people there are. This applies to beaches and to lunch. There are three places to have lunch, two are relatively near all the activity, the third is by Dragon's Rock and there was practically nobody there.

So, I swam and floated and generally had a wonderful time. (NOTE: While the beaches are sand, once you start going into the water, the bottom becomes really rocky. Either you need to have Hobbit feet or water shoes.)

Got a Labadoozie and headed back to the ship. Tendering was not an issue, but it was late enough that people were heading back to the ship, so the tender sat for 10-15 minutes until it was pretty much full. This was not a real hardship, however.

Checked my email, IMed with my kids and headed back to the cabin to change. Didn't win Fast Cash Bingo. Made the choice to go play the other evening edition of Name That Tune rather than see the headliner show...no particular reason, just felt like it.

Okay, so after dinner was The Quest. A lot has been said, or rather, not said about this event. And I am going to actually continue the tradition. It's not so much that it needs to be a deep dark secret, it's just that there is really, truly no way to describe it and begin to do it justice, especially in print. I was on Scott's team and it was one of the absolutely funniest things I have ever participated in, if not the funniest. And, Scott tells me that this one was fairly mild...I cannot wait to do this again...hopefully they have it on Rhapsody.

Sadness this day, though. It was our last Sail Away. Now we were on our way back to Jersey.

Day 8 (At Sea) -
Cruise Compass | Aquanauts (3-5) | Explorers (6-8) | Voyagers (9-11) | Navigators (12-14) | Guests (15-17)

Day 8 was pretty much like the earlier sea days for me: Bingo, pool, Name That Tune, Schooner Bar. This night was the deadline for being able to add your gratuities to your sea pass account. We chose to do this and then added in a little extra cash for Marvin, Leonardo, and Dorinda.

Because tonight was the second formal night, I had finally tired of the nightmare that had gradually become my hair, I made a last minute appointment to get my hair done. Sadly, once I had visited their this was the only spa service I availed myself of on the cruise. The second formal night was not quite as formal as the first, but it felt glitzier...more sexy formal than formal formal.

Then came Vibeology...the last production show. It was a lot of fun and nicely put together. A lot has been said about lip-syncing in these shows. Let's set the record straight. They are done live and they are sung live. HOWEVER, in this case, Boy Singer #1 had been off the ship the entire week and Kelly had been lip-syncing to EJ's vocal track...very convincingly. And, then Girl Singer #2 (this, by the way, is how they are officially refered to) had to leave ship mid-cruise due to a family situation and the dance captain, Colby, had to slide in. As dance captain, she knew all the choreography, but she is not a singer so she lip-synced to the regular girl's vocal track which had been recorded just before she left the ship.

Tonight was also the Gala Buffet in the Dining Room which was open for viewing at 11:30 and open for eating at 12:30...between its times and the earlier nighttime buffet, the old joke "What time does the midnight buffet start?" is no longer such a joke. Again, though, I peeked and ran for the same reasons as before.. In between the viewing and the eating was the Island Frenzy Parade. This was loud colorful noisy and fun. I watched a lot of it from the staging area on Deck 4 as I enjoyed seeing the prep work for it. It was a hoot watching the guys on stilts getting into the elevator to take them up to Deck 5.

Day 9 (At Sea) -
Cruise Compass | Specials | Aquanauts (3-5) | Explorers (6-8) | Voyagers (9-11) | Navigators (12-14) | Guests (15-17)

I'm already sniffling just remebering this day. It had been such a terrific week and I was going to have to say good-bye to people...bleh.

I inadvertently saw the "View From the Top" Q&A session which is where the Capt., Chief Engineer, Chief Environmental Officer, Hotel manager and Cruise Director answer questions from the audience. It was interesting, but 2 or 3 different people asked the Captain virtually the same question and by the time he had answered "29 feet" the final time, I thought his teeth were going to explode from being gritted so hard. Then I didn't win Bingo session that happened in the Palace Theatre between the View from Top and the Backstage Tour. They try to offer this tour every cruise. About 100 people turned up for it. They gave an overview and then sent half of us to go look at the sound board and the other to head backstage. Then we switched. It was nice to see the space and equipment that they had onboard and to dream that someday the theatre I work with might have similar stuff...hah! Over the whole cruise I talked with various people on the CD, activities, and theatre staffs about what it was like to work for RCCL because my daughter Diana wants to apply when she finishes college next year. They all said it's a great opportunity, especially for someone just getting going. She was happy to hear this.

Throughout the day, in between our usual At Sea activities we had begun the sad process of packing. It wasn't too bad because we had had the foresight to bring an empty suitcase with us. The really interesting time came when we contemplated our glass collection over the nine days, we had collected a dozen drink of the day hurricane glasses, two of the really cool specialty margarita glasses, and 14 shooter glasses from the after-dinner shooters that were always sold. Hunh....how to deal with this.... Went down and talked to our Champagne Bar bartender to see if he had any thoughts and then I started to head to the Liquor store to see what they might suggest. On the way, I saw the Hotel Manager, so I accosted him for ideas. He got on his little cellphone to someone and asked them to find something I could pack them in and bring it to my cabin. When we eventually made our way back to the room, there was a (big, darn) box that would hold 36 glasses. We filled it up pretty well, taped it up and stuck it in the hall with our luggage. When I saw the luggage guy picking up at 2am, he swore to me he could take it, but it was still there in the morning which made for interesting debarkation.

Anyway, I spent the day around my usual haunts, taking pictures of people and saying good-bye...except Scott. I got down to The Palace a half hour early for the Farewell Show and Dean turned up five minutes later. As he was beginning to tell me why he was late, he mentioned that Scott was by the door, so I went zinging up to talk to him and make sure I could say good-bye. So, we started yakking about a bunch of things and then heard the music start which made us realize I was supposed to be watching this show and he was supposed to be in Maharajah's so we said that we'd finish up and say "good-bye" later and then what with one thing and another I didn't get to see him to do that. I was saddened. I was also just all trembly and slightly weepy about the cruise ending, in general, so when I stopped back at my cabin later and found a note from him saying good-bye the sniffles really started happening. Finished out my day at the Schooner Bar where things were feeling a little melancholy. Those who were there were mostly regulars who were trying to stay awake and not think about this being the end. When Don finished, I had another teary farewell with him and Christine and said goodbye to the Irish ladies.

Went up to the deck at 2am for one more walk around and it was pouring which it continued to do through our arrival into Bayonne and throughout the rest of the day.


Had to be out of the cabin by 8 and as we had pretty much packed up everything the night before, we were ready by 7:40. We gathered our backpacks, the tote full of bacardi and the box of Cruzan and stepped into the hall.......................only to be faced with The Box. hunh. Well, this was a revolting development. But, it wasn't heavy, just big, so we picked it up and hauled it with us. Went to the WJ for a last breakfast and then decided that the Palace would have more room than Studio B given the addition of The Box (there were three places you could wait where they would guarantee you would hear the color calls...The palace, Studio B and the Solarium, what with the rain, I don't imagine there were many people in the latter place). So, we parked Dean there with the stuff at a few minutes after 8 and I headed for the Customs people in the Deck 5 dining room. Except for the officers, there was noone there. And, while I had brought all my I.D. and receipts as requested, they never asked to see any of it. I told them how many bottles the two of us had (7) and he wrote F2 on our customs form which we would just have to show at the customs desk after we got off the ship.

Headed back to the Palace...where we waited and waited for all the people to go through immigration. I really think that by 9, everyone on the ship hated Mrs. Parc. Finally, they could let us go and they started calling the colors at 9:05. I think that because they got started so late, they rushed calling the colors and since the big bottleneck is getting down the aft staircase, I don't think it helped. But, from the time they called our color (9:20, somehow we had gotten the third off color...Junior Suite, maybe?) and getting through everything we had to (up to Deck 5, across the promenade, down to deck 1, onto the busses (all the while carrying The Box), through customs (it was a pleasure to wave my little form at them and bypass all those people who had not gone to them on the ship), getting the luggage, getting the car (taking the car cover off by myself in the rain), picking up Dean and the luggage only 45 minutes had passed and we were on the highway heading South.

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