We just returned from the second annual Annie’s Escapes Group Cruise and it was a blast! Plans are already in place for next year’s group trip (a food/wine tour to Tuscany in October 2012) but you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for details and pricing.
For now, I can tell you all about our Bermuda Blast 2011! We sailed with 40 people on a 5-day Royal Caribbean cruise on the Explorer of the Seas, from Bayonne, NJ to Kings Wharf in Bermuda. The group included a core of Annie’s Escapes clients/friends as well as a destination wedding party for a client who was getting married on the island while we were there. The full photo album (about 75 pictures) can be found here. And my trip review is below.
Embarkation and Sailaway:
We drove from Rhode Island to Bayonne on Saturday morning (10/8) to board the ship, and it was a quick and easy trip marred only by some confusion over exactly where the entrance to the port should be (and we weren’t the only ones with a “confused” GPS – I think everyone in our group had an issue with finding their way into the port) It was SO nice to leave from a local port, rather than dealing with flights!
We were onboard by about 1:00 pm, with time to check out our cabin, enjoy a buffet lunch, and explore the ship before the lifeboat drill and the sailaway party. What an experience it is to sail out of New York harbor, with the skyline, the bridges, the Statue of Liberty and all the other sights! We were able to watch a handful of other ships sail out with us as well – from the NYC port on the west side of Manhattan and from Princess’s port in Brooklyn.
Explorer of the Seas, at just over 1,000 feet in length and accommodating about 3,100 passengers, is smaller than the last two Royal Caribbean ships that I’ve sailed on (the Freedom of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas), but I have to say that the size felt just right. Big enough to have all the “bells and whistles”, like an interior promenade, rock climbing wall, skating rink, etc., but small enough that we knew our way around by the end of the first day (VERY unusual for me!) Two of our favorite spots on the ship were the adults-only solarium pool and the Viking Crown Lounge, where we spent several cozy hours with our books and cocktails enjoying the view (we even saw a school of flying fish from up there!) Our cabin, a category E1 balcony, midship on deck 8, was plenty big for the two of us, although the balcony felt a little more compact than others we’ve enjoyed in the past, and the location was fantastic – convenient to everything.
We ate in the main dining room every night (8:30 pm seating, tables for ten, in the Magellan dining room) and the food was very good. Some of us thought the portions were small, but once everyone realized that they could order multiple appetizers or main courses if they wanted to sample different things, it was all good! The late seating works well for us, because it leaves plenty of time for an afternoon nap, cocktails, and even a show before dinner on some evenings. The Windjammer buffet had typical buffet food for breakfast and lunch; not the best I’ve ever had, but perfectly acceptable. We had one lunch at Johnny Rockets, which had a small surcharge but was totally worth it for the onion rings! All in all, the dining experience was exactly what I expected, and I have no complaints.
We saw several production shows, including music, dancing, a comedian and more, and all were very good. We did not make it to the ice show, although I heard it was fantastic. The “Love and Marriage” show was quite funny, and the cruise director did a great job. The only entertainment that disappointed us was the piano bar, which normally would be our regular late night hang out. We went the first night and the music was so disappointing (and the crowd so old and tame) that we never went back. We did, however, participate in a couple of the trivia contests later in the cruise, and we even won a Royal Caribbean hat!
This itinerary includes two full days at sea and two (almost) full days in port in Bermuda. Like most modern ships, the Explorer is too large to dock in Hamilton, so it ties up out at the tip of the island, in the Dockyard area. We bought two-day transportation passes (good for unlimited travel on the island’s ferries and buses) and spent the first day exploring St. George (Fort St Catherine, swimming at Tobacco Bay, shopping in town, etc.) On the second day we went shopping in Hamilton and then took a snorkeling excursion in the afternoon. Everyone agreed that one more day on the island would have been perfect, and I know that I would have loved to have time to show my husband the beaches along the south coast. This was the first time that I’ve docked out at King’s Wharf (Dockyard) and I was pleasantly surprised to see that you could just spend the day there if you wanted to — there are shops, restaurants, an historic fort, and even a lovely little snorkeling park.
When we returned to port on Thursday (10/13) some of the group elected to try self-disembarkation, where you hold onto your own bags and walk off the ship early in the morning in one of the first disembarkation groups. Those that did it, loved it. Since we did not have anywhere to rush off to, we decided to sleep in a little bit and have a sit-down breakfast in the main dining room before we disembarked. Very civilized!
Post-cruise visit to NYC:
Wanting to extend the vacation a little bit, we had planned to spend one post-cruise night in New York City. We were off the ship by about 9:45 am, hopped in the car, and drove a couple of miles down the road to Liberty State Park in Jersey City. There we boarded the ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The ferries run continuously, and you can explore both sites at your own pace. We enjoyed an audio tour of Ellis Island, and found the ship’s records for my husband’s great grandparents who emigrated from Italy! Afterwards, we climbed to the pedestal at the Statue of Liberty (tickets to go all the way up to the crown are severely limited, and must be reserved months and months in advance) and took in the view.
We drove ourselves into Manhattan and checked in at the Marriott Marquis, where we were lucky enough to get a 40th floor room with a direct view down into Times Square. The room was spacious and modern, and the hotel is absolutely huge! We enjoyed a delicious dinner down in Chelsea with my brother and sister and their spouses (they live in New York) and spent the next day sightseeing and shopping before driving back home to Rhode Island and the kids. It was a great way to extend the vacation and wind down after the cruise, and I enjoyed being able to catch up with my family too.
My overall thoughts and impressions about the trip? This was one of the most relaxing vacations I’ve ever taken, and we loved travelling with a group of friends. The only thing I’d do differently next time is to take a 7-day Bermuda cruise instead!