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Copyright © 1995-2003 
Linda Coffman

January 17-24, 2004
Western Caribbean

by Glen & Ann Kilbourne

This was our first cruise and I did extensive research on the internet and talked with friends before deciding on Explorer of the Seas. We flew into Miami from Montreal, Canada, on Friday the 16th, to make sure that weather did not cause us any anxious moments on embarkation day. We left 42° below zero behind and arrived 3 hours later to 81°. My wife and I spent Friday wandering the beach, taking in a leisurely dinner and then walking around the shopping promenade in South Beach. The following day, we shopped a little more and then took a 15 minute ride over to the pier. I highly recommend this to anyone who can take the Friday, as it allows you to wake up on embarkation day already in Miami, virtually stress free.

We arrived at the pier around 2pm and, after dropping our bags off with a porter, went through the customs check and check-in, in about 15 minutes. During check-in, our credit card was scanned and sea pass account was open immediately for our use. We stopped for the customary embarkation photo, and recommend this for first time cruisers, because in years to come, whenever you look back at that particular photo, you will always remember what you were thinking at that moment.

Upon boarding we went to our stateroom with a carry-on bag containing among other things, our toiletries, medicines and bathing suits. This allowed us to begin our adventure while our bags were brought to our staterooms (around 6pm) without compromising any enjoyment.

For first time cruisers I suggest the following first stops as you tour the boat:

· If you are into the spa treatments, the Ship Shape Spa should be the first stop. A tour of the facilities and some of the individual treatments are explained, followed by a tour of the workout facilities and then on to the sign up sheets for the various treatments. If you have already decided what you would like, skip the tour, slip into the aerobics room and go straight to the sign up sheets, by 3pm on embarkation day, appointment times were already limited for the week!

· Next stop is the main dining room to locate your table. The sea pass cards have your table numbers on them. Although we requested a table for two, we were assigned to a table of 4. A quick visit to the Maitre D, and we were switched to a table for 2. Unless you are with a group, I recommend a table for 2. This way if you meet people on board, you may “trade up” to a larger table. If you request to be seated at a large table, you risk the chance that not all personalities at your table will mesh. (As we discovered, we made the right decision to change!!) One other tip, if you can, request a table in the mid 100’s, 200’s or 300’s (depending on the floor), these tables are located closest to the kitchen (without hearing the sounds from within) and are usually given to the better waiters (not that they are not all great). Your courses arrive more smoothly and the food stays hotter that little extra bit.

After those first two stops, kick it down about 4 notches and go with the flow. Explore the ship, stop off in either the Windjammer for some buffet snacks or else head to Johnny Rockets for some excellent burgers and a cherry coke.

The rest of the trip, sit back and take it as it comes. The food is good. Eat in the dining room as often as possible and try the different, sometimes exotic selections. You can have a steak anytime once you return back home.

Here are some other tips for the first time cruisers:

· Around the pool, they request that you do not “save” lounge chairs. The reality is that the good spots on sea days (near the pool and in full sun) are snatched up by 9am by “seat savers,” with towels claiming their territory, they do not return for another 3-4 hours. Hint: if it is a windy day, go aft (back) to the stern of the ship on deck 12, behind the kids slide, it is virtually wind-free and sunny, but they go fast

· If you are looking for some quiet time on board, take a walk on deck 4 around 7pm, depending where the sun is setting, you can have some great romantic moments as well as some great photo ops.

· Bring along a plastic shoe organizer (about 5$ at Wal-Mart) hang this on your inside bathroom door and store your toiletries in them. Keeps everything at hand and your bathroom tidy.

· Bring along a fleece hooded sweatshirt. You can encounter some windy and cool times while at sea, not to mention the morning when you return to port in Miami.

· If you need to hang something to dry, the hangars hook very nicely on to the wood that supports the curtain in your room, and is under the vent. 

· Unless you will be doing a lot of entertaining in your room, an inside cabin will do nicely. Besides being very quiet, it is also very dark with the lights off and is perfect for a deep sleep. In the Caribbean, an ocean view stateroom gets you a view of the ocean

· Bonine, like Dramamine is very effective in stopping sea sickness. Take one a day starting the Friday before the cruise. If you are not sure whether you get sea sickness, why take the chance, and there are no side effects.

· When doing lunch on board, slip past the line up when you first walk into the Windjammer, and head to the Island Grill at the back. Virtually the same as the Windjammer with a few extras and a lot less people.

· In Labadee, if you like Yoga, sign up for the Yoga on the Beach. For beginners or advanced, it is an incredible experience.

· In Jamaica, if you take the Brimmer Hall Plantation/Dunn’s Falls tour, keep some money with you and possibly bring along a snack. There is no lunch stop in a 6 hr tour, but there are some snack bars at the falls. (Editor's note: Before taking food ashore, make sure it is permissible. You could be fined for doing so in some ports of call.) 

· Cozumel, if you go into town to shop, wear comfortable shoes if you plan to save 6$ and walk back to the ship, it is about a 1 hr walk in a very hot sun. If you choose to swim with the dolphins, do it in Cozumel and make sure to bring money. The video is about 35$ and three really great photos of you and your dolphin are 34$.

· Overall, most of the excursions that Royal Caribbean has to offer can be done when you arrive on shore. There are plenty of tours offering the same services at a cheaper price than what you book for aboard the ship as well as plenty of cabs to take you to the same destinations.

Photo courtesy of Kvaerner Masa-Yards

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