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Tag: Southern Caribbean

Explorer of the Seas 2022 Review

Explorer of the Seas from St. Lucia

Explorer of the Seas from St. Lucia

This Southern Caribbean cruise on Explorer of the Seas was a trip full of firsts for me. This was my first time sailing the Southern Caribbean, my time sailing Royal Caribbean, my first time sailing with a balcony, my first time sailing with friends, and my first cruise with a port every day. A lot of new experiences, to be sure!

My first impression of the ship is that while it is one of the older ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet and it was due for an upgrade in 2020 that got put on the back burner, it is a beautiful ship. The decorations were more elegant than the two Norwegian ships I’ve been on, but not as over the top as Carnival. Everything was clean and they were committed to keeping the guests healthy.

With a port every day on this cruise, we barely had time to enjoy our balcony. This wasn’t that big of a deal to us because when we booked this cruise, an ocean view was actually more expensive than a balcony. I was really excited to finally cruise with a balcony but I was disappointed by how little we actually used it. Our next cruise has several sea days so I’m hoping to get more use out of the balcony. If you are looking at a cruise with a port every day, save your money and get an ocean view. There’s not that much time to actually utilize your balcony.

The activities and entertainment onboard are where Royal shines. Even though we had a port every day, there was still a lot to do on the ship. Where Norwegian would have trivia once a day, there were 3 or 4 trivia games every day. We played pickleball and mini-golf. We went ice skating. We even tried the Flow Rider. Tip for ladies, if you are wanting to try the Flow Rider (the onboard surfing/boogie boarding simulator) bring a one-piece swimsuit. The first time, I did well until I felt like was going to lose my bottoms and then I was just trying to figure out how to get off it. We probably wouldn’t have done so much if we weren’t traveling with friends who were first-time cruisers and wanted to try everything, but I was really glad we did.

The Explorer didn’t have any big Broadway-style shows during our trip, but all of the shows we saw were top-notch. The ice show was spectacular and how many people can say they saw an ice show or went ice skating on a cruise ship? The singers and dancers were great. They had a group of Argentinian Bolo Dancers on the ship called Impact! and it wasn’t something I had ever seen before.

The cruise director on the ship, Elvis, was one of the best cruise directors I have ever had. He was fun and engaging and was funnier than the comedian they had on board. If you’re ever lucky to sail on a Royal ship with Elvis, you are in for a treat!

Explorer of the Seas in San Juan

The only area where I can complain about the Explorer of the Seas is the dining. We had My Time Dining and I assumed it would work like Norwegian’s Freestyle Dining and I was very wrong about that. While you don’t have to make reservations for My Time Dining, it is recommended. Since this was my first Royal cruise, I didn’t realize you could reserve this before getting on the ship so we were left with late dining times every night because that was all that was available. I want to say it was on the second night of the cruise, even with a reservation we waited an hour in line for a table. After that, we learned to just get there earlier, but no one wants to spend their vacation waiting in line.

My other complaint is that they increased the capacity of the ship (our sailing was close to 100% full) but they were not staffed for that! Dining was the area where this was the most obvious. By the end of our cruise, the buffet was back to being self-serve so hopefully, that will allow additional staff to be serving in the dining room. But, the servers all seemed like they were stretched too thin. In the section we were seated the first two nights, our server came up and asked our table and the table next to us if anyone wanted drinks. Since someone at the other table said no, none of us got drinks. We ended up flagging down the assistant waiter and getting a drink, but we shouldn’t have had to do that. After the second time of this bad service, we asked the host if we could sit in a different section and the service was much better.

We ordered the complimentary continental breakfast room service for the first day before we headed to St. Thomas. We ordered it with an hour buffer and it did not arrive before we had to meet our group on the pier. So, we snorkeled on an empty stomach. Luckily our tour included snacks so we survived until lunch back on the ship but it was very disappointing. The following day we received chocolate-covered strawberries as an apology and that was nice, but it didn’t make up for the fact that we had to go to shore on an empty stomach. We just had breakfast at the buffet for the rest of the cruise.

Our ridiculous table of sushi at Izumi

Our ridiculous table of sushi at Izumi

We did try two of the specialty restaurants: Chops Grill and Izumi. Chops is Royal’s steakhouse. The steaks were great and the atmosphere was relaxed, but it was expensive. I would rather just pay the upcharge for the Chop’s Filet in the dining room and call it a day. Izumi on the other hand was fantastic! One of the friends we traveled with, Joe, was adamant that he doesn’t like sushi and after this experience, he told his wife that he wants to be included when she has sushi with her friends. We learned that you don’t have to book Izumi in advance and pay the $35 fee for this meal. Everything they serve is priced a la carte and we had a hard time reaching $35 per person. Look at all that sushi on that table (right)! Our server was so impressed he insisted on taking a picture!

All-in-all, I really enjoyed our first Royal Caribbean cruise and I think our friends enjoyed their first-ever cruise! We have another one coming up soon and I did consider changing to a set dining time, but then I heard that they are back to sitting you with strangers. I think I would rather wait in line to eat than sit with strangers, but you can make that decision for yourself.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Island a Day Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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One Day in St. Kitts

View from Brimstone Hill

As I stated last week, when I began to research the ports on this cruise, I knew right away what I wanted to do in St. Lucia, I had the exact opposite response to St. Kitts. I had no idea what I wanted to see or do on the island. I didn’t book anything for this port until we were on the ship! We ended up doing a half-day island tour called Essential St. Kitts. The tour visited Brimstone Hill Fortress, Romney Manor, and a stop at Timothy Hill.

St. Kitts from the Ship

St. Kitts from the Ship

The tour didn’t leave until the afternoon, so we enjoyed a relaxing morning on the ship, doing the Flow Rider, playing in the pickleball tournament, playing putt-putt, and winning at trivia. This was the rainiest day we had had on the trip and the pickleball tournament ended up being canceled because the court became too slippery to play, although if you ask the guys, they will tell you that they won. After a light lunch at the Windjammer, we headed to port for our tour.

I was glad we chose a sightseeing tour instead of a beach day because it rained most of the day and was pretty chilly. We boarded our bus and headed out to get to know the island. Our tour guide explained to us that before 2005, much of the island was covered in sugarcane. In 2005, the government decided to stop subsidizing sugarcane and instead put its money into tourism and this has paid off immensely for the island.

Gardens of Romney Manor

The first stop of our tour was Romney Manor. Romney Manor (above) is home to a popular gift shop in St. Kitts known as Caribelle Batik, which sells hand-dyed sea island cotton using an ancient Indonesian method. Since it was raining everyone on our tour crowded inside the gift shop. We decided to brave the elements and walk the grounds. The gardens are beautiful and I would’ve loved to see it on a sunny day!

Romney Manor has a fascinating history. The property was purchased in 1625 by Sam Jefferson II, Thomas Jefferson’s great, great, great grandfather. It has had only four other owners throughout the centuries and was the first estate on St. Kitts to free its slaves. The Saman Tree on the property is the largest living thing on St. Kitts. It is over 400 years old and covers half an acre.

Prince of Wales Bastion

Prince of Wales Bastion

From Romney Manor, we headed to Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (top). Canon were first mounted on Brimstone Hill in 1689 but it was 100 years before the fort as we know it today was completed. The fort changed hands between the British and the French several times but has been in British control since The Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution and gave control of St. Christopher (St. Kitts) and Nevis to the British.

Restoration of the Fort began in the 1900s. The Prince of Wales Bastion (above) was the first part of the fort to be completely restored and Prince Charles was there at the reopening in 1973. In 1985, Queen Elizabeth unveiled a plaque naming Brimstone Hill a National Park.

Looking toward Nevis

After touring the fortress, we headed to Timothy Hill, which is really just a photo stop. While Romney Manor and Brimstone Hill are on the western part of St. Kitts, Timothy Hill is on the southeastern part of the island and the sister island of Nevis can be seen from this spot. I am glad we booked a tour that stopped here, but I wouldn’t plan my whole trip around it.

Overall, I enjoyed my day on St. Kitts and would love a chance to return to the island! I would’ve loved more time to explore Brimstone Hill and maybe a beach day on the resort (southeast) side of the island!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Island a Day Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

One Day in St. Maarten

Marigot from Fort St. Louis

Marigot from Fort Louis

St. Maarten is the smallest island made up of two countries in the world. Half of the island is Dutch and half is French. Philipsburg, which is where most cruise ships dock is on the Dutch side of the island. The Dutch side of the island (known as Sint Maarten) is a lot like most other Caribbean islands but the French side (known as St. Martin) is like a taste of Europe in the Caribbean. We were very excited to spend time on the French side of the island, but I couldn’t find an excursion through Royal Caribbean that gave us the flexibility to do that, so I did a ton of research and we ended up renting a Jeep to explore the island on our own.

Fort St. Louis

We hopped in our Pink Jeep (I really wish I would’ve gotten a picture of it!) and headed from Phillipsburg to Marigot, the first town you get to on the French side of the island. We explored the popular Marigot market and headed up to Fort St. Louis. The fort was built in 1789 to protect the warehouses of Marigot from pirates. It’s an easy climb to the top and the fort provides a beautiful view of the Marigot Bay all the way to Anguilla on a clear day!

Rose on the beach as Nice SXM

After exploring the fort, we headed to Grand Case for lunch. Grand Case is the foodie mecca of St. Martin with little French Bistros and Caribbean barbecue shacks called “lolos” dotting the beautiful beach. We got stuck in terrible traffic between Marigot and Grand Case, so we did not get nearly as much time to spend there as I was hoping, but we did have a wonderful French Lunch with a gorgeous view at Nice SXM.

Jewel of the Seas coming in to St. MaartenInterestingly, this was the only port on this cruise where there were other ships in port with us. There were three other Royal Caribbean ships in Phillipsburg this day, the Jewel of the Seas (which my in-laws had just gotten off of), Harmony of the Seas, and Rhapsody of the Seas, although it didn’t look like there were any passengers on Rhapsody. Anyway, it was fun to watch them dock and check out the other Royal Caribbean ships, especially Harmony!

There was so much more I wanted to see (and eat) in St. Maarten. It has made its way to our (long) list of places we want to return to. If you are visiting St. Maarten on a cruise ship, don’t feel like you have to use one of the cruise line’s shore excursions. If you choose to explore on your own, I highly recommend renting from The Jeep Plug. They gave us a great map and tips for driving around the island.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Island a Day Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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An Island a Day Trip Report

Explorer of the Seas in St. Croix

Explorer of the Seas in St. Croix

We just got back from a busy cruise onboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas! The cruise was a southern Caribbean itinerary sailing out of San Juan, Puerto Rico with a port each day. This was a new cruise line for us and our first time cruising with COVID protocols in place. It was also the first time we had a balcony stateroom! Here is an outline of what is to come:

Day 1: Luquillo, Puerto Rico (Hiking El Yunque National Forest)

Day 2: San Juan, Puerto Rico (Board Explorer of the Seas)

Day 3: St. Thomas (Catamaran cruise to St. John and Virgin Islands National Park)

Day 4: St. Croix (Explore Fredriksted)

Day 5: St. Maarten (Jeep Rental and Exploring the Island)

Day 6: St. Lucia (Island Tour to the Pitons and Mourne Coubaril Estate)

Day 7: Barbados (Explored the port area)

Day 8: St. Kitts (Island Tour to Romney Manor, Brimstone Hill Fortress, and Timothy Hill)

Day 9: Old San Juan (San Juan National Historic Park)

Explorer of the Seas Review

The ports on this cruise were incredible and there are a few of them that I am looking forward to planning a return trip to! I am excited to share what I loved about each of these islands with you!

We took our friends with us on this trip who were first-time cruisers. It was fun introducing them to the cruising experience, but this cruise was intense for newbies. If you are looking to take your first cruise, I recommend that you start out with at least two sea days so you can get to know the ship.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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