My brother and I sailed on board Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of The Seas. I refer to her as “Big E” in June 2010. It was the cruise of the millennium and was THE BEST cruise ever. I can’t stress it any further than I have with my friends, family, and colleagues. My brother and I sailed from Cape Liberty-Bayonne, NJ. It was a nine day trip to Bermuda, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Puerto Rico.
At first I wanted to pack my Amtrak duffel bag, but my mom told my brother and I to pack the two purple suitcases. I had no idea why she wanted us to pack them. I couldn’t believe I was taking Barney The Suitcase. I was getting worried that my colleagues at the cruise terminal, mainly the longshoremen, would laugh at me. Some of my friends used to joke with me saying, “Hey, Dave my man…did anyone tell you that you pack like a girl?” When traveling with a purple suitcase, I felt like I was on a crash course. Luckily no one joked with me. Phew!
Instead, an even more favorable matter had arisen. I was doing guest check-in that Thursday. I was going to at some point be checking in guests who might be at my dinner table during the cruise. Throughout the afternoon, I was checking my Sea Pass card amongst guests I embarked, just hoping to come across a party that was going to be at my table. None of the parties I checked in happened to be so.
At dinner later that night, I met this one family from Boston sitting at our table. The husband noticed me and said “Hey, weren’t you just in the terminal?” You were checking people in today. You were really moving. Nice work!” Life is more than just a fish bowl, huh folks?
Day 3 – Bermuda
Two days later, we tied up at King’s Wharf, Bermuda. My brother and I didn’t do all that much. We took the ferry from King’s Wharf across the way to Hamilton. We walked a few blocks in either direction. While doing so, we walked into all of the stores. We didn’t buy anything. Both of us took a boat load of pictures. It was a gorgeous day, with the temperature in the low eighties. After walking around, taking pictures, and browsing through the stores, we headed back to the ferry. Once back at King’s Wharf, we boarded the ship again. We had lunch at the Windjammer Café, and then hung out at the Solarium pool. Just as we were departing from King’s Wharf, I saw this huge squid swimming out from underneath the pier. At dinner, one of our appetizers was fried calamari. I asked the waiter, “Wendell, is this calamari from that squid we saw swimming near the pier?” He said, “No, I’m afraid not, but that’s a good guess.” Food for thought, I can’t imagine fast food in the dining room. Ha-Ha!
Day 4 – St. Maarten
Two days later, we arrived at St. Maarten. We tied up at the pier around noon. I was hoping we were going to spend some time of our own at Maho Bay or Orient Bay. We were presented with a surprise. Our travel agent had arranged for us to be on a complimentary island highlights tour. After eating lunch, we headed downstairs and we met our tour guide at the pier entrance. We boarded our motor coach, and we were off. We had visited St. Maarten before when we sailed on the Adventure of The Seas. We sort of knew the places the tour guide was taking us. We visited the town of Marigot, and nearly touched the Maho Bay area. We then drove by famous Orient Bay, where a majority of the cruise passengers hang out while in port. It’s most definitely on my to-do list when I cruise again. We were then given each a post card with stamps already attached. We all wrote to someone at home and handed them to our tour guide at the conclusion of the trip. Before we knew it, we were back on board. We hung out on our balcony, and did some people watching while we were at it. Late at night, we pulled out of port and we were off once again. St. Thomas, here we come!
Day 5 – St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.
Early the next morning, we arrived in St. Thomas, USVI. It was another beautiful day outside. The temperature was in the mid-eighties. My brother and I took the tram ride up to Paradise Point, to take pictures and guzzle down a few drinks. The Carnival Liberty was in port next to us. St. Thomas, with ships in port, is a gorgeous sight. Every time you look at postcards in St. Thomas, they all have ships in the picture. It’s truly a sight to behold. When we returned to the port area, we took a bus to the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef, right at the mouth of the harbor channel. We stayed there a few times when we were little. We had lunch by the pool. Right in front of us, a little more than two hundred yards away, was our ship, the Explorer. She looked like a gem, with the water sparkling all around her. Next, we took the boat from Frenchman’s Reef to downtown Charlotte Amalie.
Hanging around downtown Charlotte Amalie was a ton of fun. We shopped for booze, did some souvenir shopping, and then did the most adventurous thing of all. We walked all the way back to the Havensight pier. Half way there, we stopped at a coffee shop called “Bad Ass Coffee”. There we helped ourselves to some iced coffee and kept walking until we arrived back at the ship. By the time we arrived back at the pier, our calves were hard as a rock. As we were walking on the pier toward the ship, one of the USVI’s famous youth steel drum bands was performing. They were called “The Rising Stars”. If you have ever heard these kids play, you don’t know what you’re missing. They are absolutely superb, like real professionals. We listened to them for a good half an hour. Just as we arrived at door of the Explorer, one of the guest relations officers I knew was at the gangway. I introduced my brother to him, and they shook hands. After talking briefly, we got back on board. Our day in St. Thomas was over. Another visit to St. Thomas was in the books.
Day 6 – San Juan, Puerto Rico
The following morning, we arrived at our final port-of-call, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Just as we tied up, we headed downstairs to the gangway. We boarded our tour bus at the pier entrance. We visited the Bacardi Rum Factory. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but the rum was absolutely awesome. We were all given two tickets, for two free drinks. I thought, what the heck, and helped myself to two Screwdrivers. Yummy! First we watched a short film presentation on the history of the Bacardi company. We were then taken on a mock up tour of how Bacardi’s charcoal fired rum is made. Later we were then shown, step-by-step, how to make a Bacardi Mojito. Immediately afterward, we walked through the gift shop. My brother and I bought a package of mint seeds for our garden at home. We also bought a few other souvenirs, including a canister of rum chocolates. When we were done, we headed back to the bus to return to the ship. It was two o’clock. It was time to pull in the lines and head back out to sea, back to Bayonne. The cruise was unfortunately nearing its end, but the fun was just about to heat up.
Day 7 – At Sea
On our cruise on board the Explorer, I participated a lot of fun activities. I even took a class on how to play Bridge. That afternoon we departed San Juan, I participated in the event of all events…the “Men’s International Belly Flop Competition”. This event cannot be missed. This event, I swear it, looked like a meat market and a happy hour combined. Every last babe in a bikini on board was at pool side soaking up every last ray available. There were eight participants including myself signed up for the belly flop competition. Each contestant had to make two jumps off a wooden jumping platform. The first jump was judged on style and grace, and the second jump was judged on splash factor and PAIN. I wore my patriotic swim suit for good luck. I scored a 4.998 on the first jump…a near perfect score! Half way to heaven! The second jump was not too bad, a 4.534, but then I got eliminated. This one contestant decided to change the position of the jumping platform, from horizontal to vertical. No one stopped him from doing so. He scored a 5.12. NO FAIR!! Later on at dinner downstairs, one of the guests at the table nearby bought me a beer for being the unofficial 1st place winner of the competition. After the waiter poured the beer for me, I went over to this guest nearby and said, “Hey, thank you so much, I greatly appreciate it.” This other guest said, “Dave, you got screwed up there. That jump you made was a 6. Here’s to next time, ok my man?”. We clinked glasses, and I once again shared with the guy and everyone at his table my thank you’s. Even at my table, all of the adults including my brother were treating me to a bottle of beer. How moving of an evening! Agree?
Day 8 – At Sea
The next day was the charity event, “Walk of Wishes”. It was a six lap walk around the sun deck to benefit the Make A Wish Foundation. During the event, I’m was walking my laps around the sun deck with over two hundred guests. While we’re walking and making our way around the sun deck, I’m getting the hero’s welcome. This one guest points me out and shouts, “Hey, it’s the belly flopper! 4.998 baby!” Guests on both sides of the walking track were applauding me. People on the sun deck were buying me beer that whole afternoon. It must have been the black and blue marks on my chest, arms, and shoulders. Do you know how painful belly flopping is? It’s not too bad when jumping into chlorinated water, but with a salt water pool? Yikes! Belly flopping into salt water is like jumping off the roof of your house and landing on your backyard patio. One of the gentlemen I met on the sun deck gave me advice for the next belly flop competition. He told me to bring a crumby hat with me, a hat really worn out. He said that I should have someone toss it over the pool and I would grab it as I make my landing. He then gave me another hint of advice. He then suggested that I should toss the hat in the pool, land in the water, and let the hat land on my head as I come up to the surface. He then said “You’ll be scoring more than free beer next time!”.
Day 9 – At Sea
The final night on board, we went to the farewell show in the Palace Theater. To start the show, a sneak preview of the “Cruise In Review” DVD was shown on a screen on stage. At first, I saw myself at the “Dancing Under The Stars” party on pool deck. Minutes later, came the footage from the belly flop competition. The Royal Caribbean TV staff showed my jump not once, but four different times. When my big jump was done, it was rewound three different times. Half the theater was going crazy. I never thought I would become that popular so quickly. It must have been a blessing.
The following day during disembarkation, I ran into some of the guys I met on pool deck. Then, two young ladies just down the hallway from my cabin saw me on the pier. I overheard one of them asking the other, “He works here?”. With a smile on my face, I said, “Yes, I work here.” Unfortunately, I never spoke with them again. She was “the one that got away” as they say. When my brother came through customs, I introduced him to my supervisor. She asked my brother, “Did you guys have a good time?” My brother answered, “Oh definitely. David was hogging the camera the whole trip.” There is one thing that still wears on my mind. Will there be a cruise that will top that one? Not anytime soon, but the belly flop stakes can’t be any higher.