This was our second cruise on the Explorer, the first being 11 years prior. I have to say that I was very impressed that the ship was still in immaculate condition after all of these years.
For this cruise, since we have not been in the area before, we thought we'd drive through Niagara Falls and see those, as well as go through Cooperstown, NY and visit the Baseball National Hall of Fame. Then, we would spend a couple of days visiting New York City before departing on the cruise.
Tuesday 18 September:
We got to Niagara about noon, walked around awhile, took some photos, and it rained. We then got tickets for Maid of the Mist, which is the boat that goes right up to the falls. Of course, this is a wet ride (and they give you raincoats), so rain or not – it was no big deal.
After the ride, we purchased tickets for the Trolley, and went over to Goat Island and looked a the Horeshoe Falls. And it rained.
We left about 3pm and checked into the hotel for the evening. At around 7pm that evening, the rain quit.
Wednesday 19 September:
Since it was a nice morning with blue skies, we decided to go back to Niagara and at least get some better photos. We parked this time at Goat Island, and took some photos of the rapids at Three Sisters Islands, and looked at both the Canadian and American falls again. We left Niagara about 10am, and since I ran out of deodorant and also out of Vitamin C, we stopped at a Target store to buy some. Man, it is very expensive in this area.
We arrived in Cooperstown about 3pm, after paying another $10 in tolls. Cooperstown, NY is virtually in the middle of nowhere in upstate NY farmland. Why a national attraction was built here is very puzzling to me.
Thursday, 20 September:
Spent the morning in Cooperstown, NY and visited the Baseball Hall of Fame. Legend has it that a baseball with Abner Doubleday's name on it was found in a barn, and that was taken that baseball started in Cooperstown.
Whether the legend is true or not is probably lost in time, but the facility, while nice, it not worth a special trip. If you are nearby, OK, it is a nice day trip diversion. But to travel 500 miles to see it – it's not worth it in my mind. Also it is rather expensive for both parking ($10) and entrance into the museum ($15 ea with our AAA card).
We did see a few mementos of Tiger greats, and that was kind of neat. All and all, a nice day trip.
When we got to the hotel in Secaucus, NJ, we booked a 2 day excursion into New York City. The hotel was hard to get into and out of – it was a really dumb location – and since I was tired from 3 days of driving, we bought frozen dinners at the hotel.
Friday, 21 September:
There was no complementary breakfast at the Hotel; the Continental breakfast was $9, and with eggs/bacon, it was $11 each. Welcome to NYC I guess.
The tour bus picked us up a half-hour late, and by the time we got through morning traffic to the tour bus location in Manhattan, it was 9am. The tour bus we took was a double decker, with an open top, which was great for sightseeing. The bus was a “hop-on/Hop-off” kind so you could get off at select stops if you saw something of interest.
There were 3 routes you could take; Uptown, Downtown, and Brooklyn (which was not hop-on/hop-off), and also a night tour (but you had to find your own way back to the hotel at 9pm if you took that one).
We booked a two day tour, and it ended up being kind of expensive – around $95 each. But we were in NYC so that was the easiest way to see everything. Each tour was supposed to take about 2 hours, so we started on the Downtown loop. We went through Times Square, past the Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Greenwich Village, Noho (north of Houston St), Soho (south of Houston St), Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal St), and several other areas. We saw the almost completed World Trade Center One building as well as the others that were being built. Finally the bus stopped at Battery Park where everyone had to get off. From there, you could take another bus back up to the starting point, or the tour bus to Brooklyn.
Since we were in Battery Park, we walked the three blocks to Ground Zero. Unfortunately, we did not have tickets (you have to get them on-line) to visit the Ground Zero Memorial, but we at least got close to the area.
One thing that hit me was the enormity of the tragedy of 911, and when I tried to visualize the events that took place that day, it was impossible for me to imagine the huge scale of everything that happened.
After the Ground Zero visit, we returned to Battery Park where we boarded the bus back uptown. We went by the Brooklyn Bridge, China Town, Rockefeller Square, and Central Park, back to Times Square.
We had lunch at Time's Square, and had to make a decision to basically hang out at Times Square until it was time for the shuttle bus to take us back to the hotel.
This was a very unorganized operation. The tour operator told me to be back at 4:00pm, 4:30pm or 5:00pm, depending on who I talked to. Also, since the morning tour took significantly longer than they advertised, I didn't think we had enough time to go on the Uptown tour and be back to the tour bus station for our shuttle back to the hotel.
So we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Times Square.
We got back to the tour bus station about 4:00pm, and 4:30pm, 5:00pm, then 5:30pm came and went with no ride back to the hotel. Finally, after talking several times to the station operator, they came to realize there was the famous “miscommunication with the driver” (which seems plausible as half of them didn't know English), and at 6:00pm, they found a bus to take us back to the hotel. We finally arrived back at the hotel by 6:45pm.
Saturday, 22 September:
We decided not to take the tour the second day, after the goat-rope of the previous day. We did not get a refund for the day, but I did not want to end up having to figure out how to return to our hotel by ourselves. Besides, I was pretty pooped out from all of the driving, sightseeing, and walking, so we decided on a day-of-rest.
Sunday, 23 September:
Cruise day. We left the hotel about 10AM for the cruise port.
Tip 26: GPS systems are only semi-accurate.
Tip 27: New Jersey does not spend any money on highway signs (like CRUISE PORT AHEAD). Oh, there were a couple of tiny signs here and there, but the way was not well marked. The GPS got us close, but we ended up taking several wrong turns, and had to make up our way back to get on course. And the lack of signs didn't help.
After several detours, we finally arrived a the cruise terminal. The cruise terminals in some of the 3rd world Caribbean countries we have been to was better than the Port Liberty terminal; which essentially was a converted warehouse, and a big tent. OK, so to get to the terminal to drop off your luggage, you have to do a round-a-bout around the parking area; and wait for parking lot cross traffic to clear.
Then after the luggage drop off, you have to go around again, to the parking entrance. After paying for parking, you then become the parking lot cross-traffic that you met when first arriving.
I think we made 6 consecutive left hand turns by the time we got to our parking spot. And of course, being barked at all the while by traffic attendants.
After assembling our carry-on luggage, we went into “the tent”, and finally made it to the security area (x-ray machine and magnetometer, etc). After check-in, we went to the Diamond and above priority boarding area.
When our number was called, we had to board a shuttle bus (holding on to our carry on luggage) for the 1,000ft trip to the ship. Why they did not just let us walk the short distance was kind of strange to me. Consequently, the embarkation process was the most odd I have undertaken from any of the cruise ports as of yet.
The departure from the pier occurred at 4pm or so (muster was at 3pm), which was the earliest we have ever left port. Going under the Verizanno Narrows bridge was a pretty nice treat, as the view of the NYC skyline from the ship. Once we got out into the ocean, the seas were very calm, and the temperature was very pleasant.
Monday, 24 September:
A very nice day at sea. It would have been perfect except that the pool temperature was pretty cold. In fact, as we were sailing south, the sea temperature reached the high 70s, but the pool temperature was less than the sea temperature. The air temperature was in the mid-70s as well, which for being out in the North Atlantic, I was pleasantly surprised. A Norwegian Cruise Ship was with us, also headed to Bermuda, and shadowed us for the whole day. They are berthing at the same pier, and have to berth first, so they went ahead of us. I suppose 600 miles out in the Atlantic, it is comforting to see another ship all day.
After breakfast, we walked a mile to work it off. So that extra donut is now guilt-free. We stayed at the pool for the afternoon, until we needed to get ready for formal night.
Tuesday, 25 September:
The waves and wind has kicked up a bit. Not too bad, as the waves are still only about 4~6ft (they were more or less calm yesterday). And we seem to have sped up a bit (yesterday we were only doing around 10kts). The wind though was about 25kts, and the Captain said he believed they would die down by evening. But so far, we have been lucky as often it can be rough on the Bermuda route.
We did not do a lot today; eat, relax, eat, relax, etc.
We did trivia in the morning, and did not go to the pool. We also did the Make a Wish Foundation walk, so we walked another mile today.
In the afternoon, we had an appointment with the loyalty ambassador, and booked our cruise for 2013 (on the Oasis).
Wednesday 26 September:
We saw Bermuda beginning at about 6am, but it took until around 9am to dock. There are reefs around Bermuda (one reason it is a good dive area), and you have to approach from the north east of the island, which means the ship had to “overshoot” the island and come back around to the east.
Then the ships have to follow a channel leading to the southern tip of the island.
Before going on tour, we ate breakfast at the Windjammer, which is what we did every morning. One of Windjammer attendants – the guy that welcomes you, always greeted everyone every morning with “No wassie, no foodie”. “No foodie, no happy”. But with his accent, it was hillarious.
We took an excursion this morning; an island tour via bus which lasted 6 hours, and we saw most of the highlights of the island;
When we got back from the tour, we went aboard for a late lunch, then explored King's Warf a bit. There are a few restaurants, shops, a museum, beach (Snorkel Park beach), and even a Cinema right at the cruise terminal.
Thursday 27 September:
Due to the relaxed atmosphere of the day, we got to finally sleep in a bit. When we went out, we visited the National Museum of Bermuda, which is a must-see in my mind.
Friday 28 September:
We leave today, so it is a short time in port. For that reason, we just kind of hanged around the pools and relaxed.
Saturday 29 September:
Day at Sea.
Sunday 30 September:
The cruise ship arrived later to port than the ones we were used to, perhaps timed to see the NYC skyline as the morning sun broke. At any rate, it was a breathtaking view.
As we were Diamond, we were given priority disembarkation, and I have to say, that after all of the seemingly disorder in embarking, this was probably the fastest and easiest we have ever left the ship. We were through the entire process, from leaving the ship to getting through our car in less than 20 minutes.