Saturday, December 7, 2013

Royal Caribbean Cruise vacation

From November 23 till December 2nd my family went on a cruise vacation (some photos can be found here). We all had great time and it is hard to say who loved it the most :-). This was our third cruise vacation - we went with Royal Caribbean on the Explorer of the Seas ship.

First time we went on a 2 day cruise vacation in 2001 from Ft Lauderdale to Bahamas. The ship was medium size, but we liked it, although the cruise was very short because the main part of that vacation was spent in Orlando visiting all the parks.

Our second cruise was in January 2011 and it was totally awesome - the main reason was that we went with our friends and this turned out to be the trip of a lifetime! Here are some photos from that trip. We were on the MS Nieuw Amsterdam ship of Holland America and visited 4 islands. The ship was great, food was amazing, islands were good, but the company of friends was the best part of the trip.

Logistics

We sailed from Cape Liberty Port in Bayonne NJ and it took us 7 hours to drive there from Pittsburgh (including 1 hour rest stop) - we departed Pittsburgh at 5am and were at the port at noon. Boarding process was super quick. Same with departure - perfectly organized and super quick. Parked car right there in the port about 100 yards from the boarding/immigration tent and paid $171 for 10 days. I did search for cheaper parking, but after reading feedback on 3 hour delays with departures decided to park right at the port.

Previous cruise was sailing from Ft Lauderdale and it was a hassle and too much cost to fly all 5 of us from Pittsburgh to Ft Lauderdale a day in advance, pay for the taxi to hotel, pay for hotel, pay for taxi from hotel to the port, on the way back pay for the taxi from port to airport, fly back, pay for parking of the car in Pittsburgh airport. Half of the cost of vacation is just spent on flying and driving to the ship. Not worth it. Better spend this time and money on the ship. The only disadvantage is that first two days are spent in sea and it is cold outside, but they ship offer plenty of things to do inside.




  • Day 1: Sailed from Cape Liberty Port
  • Day 2,3: At sea
  • Day 4: Labadee (Haiti)
  • Day 5: Samana (Dominican Republic)
  • Day 6: St Thomas (Virgin Islands)
  • Day 7: San Juan (Puerto Rico)
  • Day 8,9: At sea
  • Day 10: Arrival to Cape Liberty Port

Ship

The ship was built in 2000, but looks great, although you could see some very minor wear and tear in the cabin, but not in public spaces which are maintained in perfect order.





We had full ship of about 3100 passengers with about 680 kids on-board. The best part of the ship design is the central street at level 5 that servers as a alley where you can walk, visit shops, bars, cafes, etc.

There is a lot to do on the ship, including free ice skating (not huge, but big enough to have fun), rollerblading (very small area on 13 floor outside), rock climbing, basketball court, 3 table tennis tables (most of the time it is too windy to play though), foosball, small library, family game spaces with table games, arcade (for a fee), teen and kids rooms and clubs (free), cafes, bars, etc. Drinks are pretty expensive and there are plenty of drinkers, but I have only seen 1 drunk guy in 10 days. Each evening they run a show or two - ice show and/or evening event with dancers, comedians, etc. Comedians were mediocre at best (ok, they sucked), but dancers, singers and music was great.

Pools are fine for kids, but too small to do lap swimming. Here is complete info about all amenities on the ship. Note this is 3rd largest from the top. There are two classes of ships above this one and they offer even more facilities.

We did have some sea conditions and 7 days out of 10 you could feel the ship rolling side to side and rear to front. It was not too bad, but you could notice and I did not enjoy this part as I prefer solid footing. Some people felt a bit sick, but most folks were too drunk to notice :-).

There is WiFi on the ship, but at the cost of $0.50 per minute we only used minimum for kids to get homework from the school website.

Food

Food was great. It is all included, but you could go for dinner to extra-fine Italian Palomino restaurant for $20 extra per person (we didn't). We took 8:30pm dinner time, but it was a mistake to do it so late. It should have been 6pm.
I gained about 2 pounds during these 10 days as it was my designated recovery time from training and I did nothing in terms of running or biking - just a little bit of swimming in the sea. Misha went to gym every day (or so he said :-).

Labadee

We liked all of the islands. Labadee was one of the best among all of the islands on either cruise. They have gigantic zip line about a mile long, but we did not make it there due to timing. However we did go to the water park in the sea - climbing and sliding down large inflated icebergs, etc. We all had a blast. Food was free on this island.




Samana

In Samana we went onshore for 2 hours and paid $20 for 1 hour tour of the city on the motor taxi with short stops in a handful of scenic places. Did not go to the beach.


St Thomas

Here we took catamaran to sail to the island 4 miles away from the port to snorkel and watch sunken ship, corrals and large number of underwater sea life - all beautiful. Even my 7 year old son learned snorkeling right there on the spot and jumped flippers first from the 2 meter high catamaran into the sea! I was impresses how brave he is! Just like NAVY Seals jump down feet down into the sea. :-) He never did snorkeling, and was scared at first 9even though he can swim), so I taught him on the spot and we both enjoyed full hour looking down. Sasha explored sea floor on his own without my supervision and totally loved it. It was first time snorkeling for him and he did super well.


San Juan

Here Misha and I went on the horseback riding tour thru the rain forest for 4 hours (with about 90 min of riding). This was the longest and by far the most fun ride Misha or I had on the horse! This was amazing trip. Horses are beautiful and you can feel their power and will. Scenery was amazing and we saw wild monkey, wild iguana.

Life on the ship

My wife loved evening time as she could dress up and dress up the rest of us :-). I felt like 25% of people on the ship were Russian speaking (probably not true). Cruise director was very talented and funny guy from Australia and he said we had folks from about 60 countries on the ship (including crew members). We met few Russian speaking families - great folks. We also had waiter at dinner from Odessa - Russian speaking Ukrainian (hi Konstantin! if you are reading this). Turns out he is sailing for over 10 years and his family still lives in Ukraine. He is also a poet and we enjoyed his advice and company at our dinners.

Overall it was great family time, despite the fact that 90% of the time kids were busy with their new friends in kids or teen rooms or just running around the ship, bathing in pools and jacuzzies. Everyone was happy (99% of the time anyway) and we will remember this vacation for long time.