Okay, I tried to post this before. I got all done, and the computer timed out. I lost two hours of work. :madd: So this time I'm going to post only two days at a time. At worst I'll only lose a few minutes of work. Explorer OTS repo from NJ to Port Canaveral â€“ Nov 1 to 15, 2014 Friday, October 31, 2014 â€“ Travel day Good morning everyone. It is 6:40am on October 31, 2014. I am through security at LAX and I am waiting for a 9:10 flight. If all goes well, in about 10 Â½ hours I should be landing in Newark. So, as I listen to muffled announcements (that I think are being made in English) regarding the boarding of flights, I thought I would tell you a little about myself. This is my 26[SUP]th[/SUP] cruise, eleventh on Royal Caribbean, fourth on a Voyager class ship (I have not been on the Adventure OTS) and first on the Explorer of the Seas. I will become Diamond Plus on this cruise. I am also Platinum on Carnival and I have taken two cruises each on Princess and NCL (and one other cruise on the Universe Explorer 1999). At the suggestion of someone who wanted more details, I have been writing my review while still on the ship, while things are still fresh in my mind. Then, when it became clear that people enjoyed seeing photographs with the review, I added photo editing software to the laptop, so hopefully, upon my return, the review will be ready to post. I am taking three cameras with me. One camera is waterproof to 33 feet (for those underwater shots), another camera is a Nikon D5200 (a DSLR) for those nice clear photos, and the third camera is a good point and shoot (P&S) camera that fits in my pocket for those shore excursions where I donâ€™t want to drag the heavy DSLR with me. I am flying first class, so I was put in the TSA pre-check line. This means that you donâ€™t have to remove your shoes, your belt (basically, you donâ€™t have to get undressed) or take the laptop out. However, I got stopped so that they could check my hands for explosive residue. All the people behind me were waved on. So I asked if I was the only one that looked suspicious. The TSA agent pointed out that the lady in front of me was also screened. Basically they take whoever is next after they finish wiping the hands of the last person. I wonder if the lady making the announcements for the flight to San Francisco understands that she should take the microphone out of her mouth before speaking. Iâ€™m at the next gate over and the person at my gate had to walk over to the other gate and tell a group of people that it was time to board. Then he made the same announcement in a nice clear voice. Yes, the lady at the other gate is that bad. I was going to take the Flyaway bus to LAX, but the day I made the arrangements the Flyaway bus website was not working, so I made arrangements with a limo. I asked to be picked up at 6am. At 5:40am when I called the driver to see how far out he was; he said he was here. So from my door until I cleared security was one hour (I had allowed for two hours). And so here I am, my review is current, Iâ€™ve already checked in with my roll call, and there is still about one hour until boarding. So most likely, the next time you hear from me, Iâ€™ll be in my hotel room in Newark. Well here I am in Newark. Iâ€™m at the Holliday Inn across the street from the Newark Airport. It is a nice sized room with a very good setup for a Holiday Inn. It has a very large screen TV and a work desk that rolls out from under the stationary desk. I would say this room earned the 3.5 star rating that Hotwire gave it. I got it for $78 per night plus tax. While the room is nice, the buffet dinner was only average. Not worth the$26.95 fee. However, I did meet someone from the roll call who I am sharing a van to the port with tomorrow. So that made the cost of dinner a little more palatable. The plane ride was nothing special. I did see three other jets going the other way while we were cruising at altitude and one jet alongside of us while we were landing in Atlanta. The first class seats in the Delta 767 are really nothing more than wider coach class seats with more legroom. Nothing like the first class seat I had on American Airlines. The American Airlines first class seats are something special. If you get a chance, try them out. As for Delta, save a little money and get their comfort class coach seats. The eggs for breakfast were good. The chicken dinner was okay. I also had a hot dog during the stopover in Atlanta. One other nice thing, while looking out the planeâ€™s window I saw my luggage being loaded, so at least I knew it and me were headed to the same airport (twice on the trip home that was not the case). Well, Iâ€™m tired now. Iâ€™ll catch up with you later on the ship. Good night. November 1 â€“ Embarkation day People on the roll call said two things about getting to the port. One, it could take an hour from Newark Airport because of the traffic and two; it would cost $65 dollars by taxi. It is only eight miles, taxis do not charge eight dollars per mile and how much traffic could there be on a Saturday? Nonetheless, when someone from the roll said he was at the same hotel as I was, I agreed to share a car service with him. So, here is how the morning went. The person who organized the car service found three more people also staying at the hotel to go with us. So the total cost with tip was $15 per person â€“ very reasonable. We were supposed to meet in the lobby at 10:45 for an 11:00 ride to the ship. The car service was thirty minutes late. Meanwhile two other drivers approached us and offered us a ride. Given the amount of luggage we had I donâ€™t know if anything short of a full sized van would have fit us all. At best one more person could have fit and this was a full sized twelve person van with plenty of room for luggage in the back. To avoid the traffic the van driver took us the â€œback wayâ€. We made it to the sign that said one mile to the terminal in thirty minutes. From this point on it is a two lane road to the terminal (one lane in each direction). That last mile took us close to an hour. The reason a car service is less expensive than a taxi is that a car service charges a fixed price while a taxiâ€™s meter would still be going all this time. Once inside the terminal the process was quick and easy. We dropped off our luggage, obtained our SeaPass and had our security picture taken. Then there were the photographers to take the embarkation photo. After starting out one hour later than I wanted to (had I been on my own I would have hired a taxi at 10:30). The person who hired the car service wanted a 10:00 pickup but the earliest the car service could get to us was 11:00 (and was still late). Then waiting over 45 minutes to cover the last mile I was in no mood for an embarkation photograph (I have plenty of those already and the pictures are overpriced). The bus ride to the ship from the terminal was quick and easy. The new terminal will eliminate the bus ride, but it will not ease the traffic issue during that last mile. They need to add a third lane. Then have two lanes out up until 11:30 and have two lanes in after 11:30. Until the traffic issues are resolved, I have no interest in returning to this port. This is not a closed loop cruise. I have both a passport and a passport card. I wanted to see if the passport card would be accepted. The person checking me in asked for my passport. I handed him my passport card and he said, oh, a passport card, that is just as good. I thought the passport card was only good for closed loop cruises. Of course the person checking me in is not the authority on what is or is not acceptable. However, he was the only one who really cared what it was. Sure, the person allowing us into the tent wanted to make sure the name on the Setsail and my ID matched, and that the picture on the ID kind of looked like me, but even a driverâ€™s license would have worked at that point. The person who gave me the key to the ship was in this case the final word on this. Finally I am on the ship. I head off to my cabin to drop off my carry-ons. Then I grab my camera and start taking pictures. It is raining outside so I take a few pictures outside and then head back to the cabin to change lenses. On the way I find my luggage and drag it back to the cabin. After taking pictures of the Royal Promenade I head over to the Windjammer for lunch. Then more picture taking. Then the announcement that the muster drill would take place in thirty minutes. I havenâ€™t finished my picture taking yet, and then I remember I boarded the ship about ninety minutes later than I normally do. However, in this case I am really not upset about it. It is raining and I know we have three days at sea before our first port. I figure Iâ€™ve got plenty of time for picture taking. I did notice that the looooong line of cars to get into the terminal was down to zero by 2:30. The muster drill was at 3:30. The captain is Captain Rick. He has a sense of humor. Apparently his officers are not used to going to St. Maarten directly. Normally the ship heads to St. Maarten after stopping at Bermuda. So Captain Rick is concerned that his officers will be able to navigate directly to St. Maarten without a stop at Bermuda. He then gives us a weather report. We can expect fifty knot winds and rough seas through tomorrow. The weather should improve sometime in the afternoon of the second sea day. We depart at 4:30. I have cruised out of all three New York area ports, and only those ships leaving from Manhattan cruise past the Statue of Liberty. At any rate, because of the weather, not many people were outside when we passed under the bridge, so there was not much cheering when we passed under the bridge and into the North Atlantic. I retire to my cabin, read the handouts, unpack and meet my cabin steward. I tell him I like ice (I use it to make cold water) and I decide to try something new. In the past I have assumed the cabin steward knew my dining schedule (I have late seating, which has been moved up to 8:00 for this cruise). Iâ€™m hoping that the cabin steward will stop attempting to turn down my bed before I leave for dinner. No such luck. My cabin steward comes in at 7:30 while I am still tying my shoes. It may be a big ship, but it doesnâ€™t take thirty minutes to get from my cabin to the restaurant. Royal Caribbean is doing something to reduce the crowding in the Concierge and Diamond Lounges by loading three free drinks on the SeaPass card of everyone who is Diamond and above. It says, â€œWe are excited to introduce an additional option for you during this cruise: a nightly happy hour from 4:30 â€“ 8::00 pm to be enjoyed at almost every venue throughout the ship with your friends!â€ It is not clear if being with your friends is a requirement to get the free drinks. At any rate, this is how it works: â€œDrink vouchers have been pre-loaded onto your SeaPass card to enable you to enjoy the flexibility of up to three complimentary beverages each night at almost every bar throughout the ship. You can still enjoy the exclusive experience of the Diamond Lounge and the Concierge Lounge (for Diamond Plus and Pinnacle Club members) plus all the other options available to you!â€ Iâ€™m still trying to figure out the meaning of â€œalmost every barâ€. I assume it means all the bars except the one I am at. The three drink vouchers per day will be applied to each eligible (C&A level Diamond and above) SeaPass card. The drink vouchers are not accumulative throughout the cruise. Drinks may not be redeemed in the dining room, specialty restaurants or Windjammer CafÃ© (I didnâ€™t know they served drinks in the Windjammer). There is a menu: Spirits (ghosts?) - Bacardi Rum, Baileyâ€™s Irish Cream, Tanqueray Gin, Finkandia Vodka, Dewarâ€™s White Label Scotch Whisky, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey, Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila, Couvoisier VS Cognac and Sanderman Port (but not starboard) Wine. Non-Alcoholic Drinks (does this include water?) Wines by the glass â€“ St. Martin Chardonnay, Zonin Pinot Grigio, Beringer White Zinfandel, St. Martin Cabernet Sauvignon and St. Martin Merlot (no word if the free St. Martin drinks continue after we leave St. Maarten). Beers â€“ Budweiser, Miller Lite, Amstel Light, Corona and Heineken. I enjoyed a Dewarâ€™s White Label Scotch Whisky and a Jameson Whiskey before dinner. I liked the Jameson Whiskey much better. It was smooth; the Dewarâ€™s White Label Scotch Whisky was not. I am sharing a table with seven other people, many of whom were part of the roll call. I was hungry as I did not have breakfast and I had a light lunch. I had a shrimp appetizer, a two sliders appetizer (three sliders is a main course dish) and the prime rib. Toward the end of dinner the weather kicked in. A tray full of utensils almost rolled into one of the people at the table. Walking back to the cabin most people were weaving back and forth, except the drunks, they were the ones walking straight. Once back to the cabin I am tired. I take a ginger tablet (to avoid the ill effects o the â€œmotion of the oceanâ€) and I am going to sleep.