Explorer of the Seas Review Cape Liberty April 17th, 2009 9 day Eastern Caribbean Itinerary -- San Juan, St Thomas, Sanama Dominican Republic, Labadee Haiti
This was our first time out of Cape Liberty. We are not a real fan of NYC and then seeing the port as you approach, it does look like a dump. The nicest thing you see is the monument that is located by the ship. The boarding processes seemed very confused. Even with us having priority boarding because of a wedding, we still did not get on before noon. We had 55 of us. And WHY do you have to take a bus about 100 yards to board the ship? You got me.
On the ship -- FOOD, LOTS OF IT in the Windjammer, and it was very good. The food sculptures were amazing. I took pictures of just about every one we could find. It was very hectic to try to get to see all of the ship in the time before she pulled out so you could stand on deck for sailaway.
Elevators are slow when that many people are trying to use them, soUSE THE STAIRS!
The sail away party is fun, but why does it have to be at the same time as you are leaving and want to stay on deck?
Get your tickets for the first ice show; because you'll want to go back and see the second day's show. It was amazing.
The Welcome Aboard show was good, and then the parade was cool.
ROUGH SEAS at night, with gale force winds of 35+ mph and 7-9 foot seas, and the ship going 26 mph. That made for many sick people. Someone I know had to go to the doctor for a shot and it cost them $160. BRING your own Dramamine and start to take it the day before so it gets into your system.
Day 2 Rock wall is open. RECOMMENDATION: Wear long pants as the wall is worn and made of fiberglas and we got many little baby splinters in our knees.
The skating rink was open. Still very cold out as we have not passed S.C. yet.
I had two 17 year olds with us and there really isn't much to do for them if they are not into the sports deck. Can't go into casinos, can't go into clubs.
Many tournaments during the day to sign up for. It can keep you busy if you don't want to just lie out. We saw many people already burned, but also many were cold on decks.
Vibeology was a good show.
Day 3 Again, many tournaments for you to enter into. The ice show was AWESOME!
We did not go to the headliner show.
Bingo cards are expensive, but I guess if you win it's okay.
Entered the slot tournament for $25 pp, but did not have enough to make it to the final night.
Day 4 -- San Juan We got an extra hour because the ship arrived early. We had a 6:30 Segway tour, so we then had 2.5 hours to visit shops and we walked them all, got all the freebees from the book you can buy at the meeting they have the day before.
The SEGWAYS were awesome. It was too bad that it got dark while we were on them and we couldn't see all of San Juan. A movie was being filmed on the grounds of the fort in the grassy area. I forget which male star was there.
We missed our dinner time, so we went to the Windjammer, and the food was very good.
By this day we were partying with the crew in the Chamber every night. Remember we had 55 people and it was great to hang out with the dancers, skaters, and singers. They are changing at the end of this next cruise.
Day 5 -- St. Thomas Part of our group did the St John beach and snorkel tour, and were not happy with it. Only had about 1 hour in the cold water. The seas were rough going over and it took an hour. Many people got sick on the boat.
I had five of us do the SNUBA and it was cool. For me, as a fireman it was hard for me to learn to breathe through a mouthpiece rather than my nose as I have been taught in order to control my breathing. MANY, MANY fish in the water and that was really cool.
The Fast Forward show was good.
Did not make it to the midnight buffet, since I was too tired from being in the sun all day.
The toilets were not working in the forward section of deck 3 because someone put something in there. Made a call to front desk.
Day 6 -- Dominican Republic I ended up being sick and did not go on the excursion. But several people in our group did and they went to Cayo Beach. It was just like the Jersey Shore as I was told, but the beach was rocks.
The headliner comedian with Chucky and he was so funny I couldn't stop laughing.
The toilets AGAIN not working on deck 3 in the forward section. Called maintenance, same thing.
Day 7 -- Labadee It was VERY HOT today! We did the zipline and it was cool, but it went by SO FAST.
I wish they had another piece that went through the woods.
The kids had fun in the aqua park climbing on all of the blow up things. It was worth the $15 to cool off. Everyone wears a life vest because you cannot reach bottom.
The show was good. It was The Quest -- well, let's just say I'm glad I wore clean undies. And everyone else got to laugh at us and they said they couldn't stop.
We partied all night with the crew in the Chamber.
Day 8 -- At Sea I had to enter the sexy legs contest since I already embarrassed myself in front of 1300 people last night, and I almost won.
By now my 12 year old and the two 17 year olds have spent about $150 in the arcade. But he did win 2 iPODs on Stacker game.
I found out that someone else in our group who had a room on the 3rd floor got a bottle of champagne and a plate of chocolate covered strawberries for the toilet issue. So we went to guest relations and asked where our compensation was. I had 3 rooms full of crap for 2 days. I was told that I didn't make any complaints to the front desk or maintenance, but we did. I talked with three supervisors and got the standard 101 response of sorry. Told them we weren't happy with this. In turn they gave us one bottle and three trays of cookies.
By tonight the 17 year olds are getting angry. The Compass said there was a midnight teen dodgeball game. There had to be 25 kids there to play and no one from the ship showed up. So we went to Guest Relations and were told not to follow the Compass and that all teens should be in their cabins. It was only midnight and curfew is for 1:00 a.m. We made a complaint card out and got the public relations 101 standard response again of sorry.
Day 9 -- At Sea I played the Bingo games, $48 bucks for cards at the 11am show and then again at the 4pm show. One woman won $9150 in the final jackpot.
The 17 year olds were not allowed to play in the adult Nintendo Wii challenge.
There was another 18+ Dodgeball Tournament at 3pm today. We had played earlier in the week and my 12 year old and the two 17 year olds all played in it. BUT this time it was run by an African American woman and my 17 year olds were not allowed to play, but she did allow a 14 year old African American boy to play in it. How we know he was 14 was because he was in the Optic Club when the 12-15 year olds were in there and security checks all ID's at the door. So the boys felt there were some racial overtones to this and they made a complaint to guest relations. But all they got was the "it's at the discretion of the person running the sport" line.
By this time we are ready to be done with this cruise!
The farewell show was very good.
The ride home was smooth.
Departure Man, this always seems to be a headache. There was not enough tables to sit and eat at because everyone was sitting up there instead of in the areas they were assigned. Got off at 10am. Why do we have to get bags PRIOR to going thru customs? So many people trying to drag suitcases thru cattle chutes, running over your feet, cutting in line, getting in line before they have all the bags. It's a mess!
We had a private bus waiting and we headed home at 11am. It's finally over!
Drinks were very expensive. Dinner -- there was not much variety for the kids to eat. Ice Cream -- No free stuff after 9pm.
In closing, the ship is beautiful (A). Guest Relations were very insensitive and rude (F). Meals were so so, even though we got it when we asked for seconds(C). Singers, Dancers, Skaters were awesome(A+). Room Attendant was good (B). Activities for Adults (B+). Activities for 15-17 year olds (D). Activities for 12-14 year olds (C). Cruise Director (A). Activity People (F). Ports of Call (B). Timing of events throughout the day (D). Drink Prices (C). Waiter (F). Asst Waiter (A+) -- Mehmet from Turkey was awesome and funny, and he worked a lot. OVERALL RATING of this cruise -- C.
This was our first time leaving out of New Jersey. The port is not near where the ports are in Miami and arriving there it looks like a deserted dump, with vacant boarded up buildings. There were no porters in sight and we were told to just leave our bags sitting there under the tent and get in line to check in. After checking in and getting Sea Pass pictures taken, you have to board a bus to the ship. Once on the ship it didn't matter how you got there, the ship was beautiful as expected. Leaving from Jersey has some good points. You can see the Statue of Liberty from the ship and when leaving you pass under a bridge that is definately worth braving the cold weather in order to see.
The first day at sea, as well as the last, it was rather rough and a bit cool. On the last day it was very rough seas and the outside decks were closed due to the gale force winds. This just added to the experience and was cool to watch from the window in our room.
Wehad an Owners' Suite (1300) which was a first for us, since we brought our 13 and 15 year olds. The cabin was very nice, roomy and had a huge bathroom with a jacuzzi tub and separate shower and the shampoo, conditioner, and lotion provided were of good quality. The couch was pretty worn and the stateroom attendant put a board under the pull-out couch bed at night for the kids. The bed for us was very comfortable as usual.
We have been to Labadee before and didn't book any excursions this time. We just spent the day at the beach, and it was a great beach day. Just remember that the sun is very strong there and use sunscreen. Water shoes are also highly recommended as the water has a very rocky bottom.
The second port was Samana DR. I was a bit worried about this stop because of what I had read on the threads. We booked an excursion to go to Cayo Levantado Beach and this was the most beautiful beach we had ever been to. It was a short tender ride and you can see the ship from the beach. White sand beach, crystal clear water and palm trees everywhere, it was paradise. There is also a barbecue on the beach and the food was reasonably priced and very good. The vendors there are very nice too, not too pushy (unlike Labadee where they harrass you so much it scared a lot of people away). They sell the usual souvenirs, but check out the Larimar jewelry, a light blue stone found only in the DR. It is very nice and a necklace and earrings only cost me $20.
I had been to St. Thomas before, so we decided to take an excursion to St. Johns which is a very nice island about a half hour ferry ride away. Went snorkeling at Trunk Bay. It's a nice place, but not the best snorkeling we have had and we only had an hour and a half there. I wish it would have been longer. Next time we will just stay in St. Thomas and find a beach on our own to spend the day. The port is nice and there is usually more than one ship there. There are a lot of huge yachts there too, which were quite a site to see. Shopping is right off the ship, within walking distance or you can take a taxi to the downtown area to shop.
We left St. Thomas and went right to San Juan, arriving there that night. Originally we were scheduled to be in San Juan from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., but this was changed to 10:30 p.m. after being in St. Thomas all day, and leaving the next morning at 11:30.
We had a letter in our room the first day stating that the ship is traveling at reduced speeds and that the times in port had been reduced by an hour each except for San Juan. Weird hours and because we aren't late night people, we didn't go out to see San Juan until the morning. We left the kids on the ship to sleep in and walked around and did some shopping. We wanted to tour the old forts but didn't have much time to venture too far from the ship.
We had been on the Voyager class ships before and really like the set up. The Explorer only has Portofinos and it is a definite do not miss. The food is excellent and worth the cover charge. Johnny Rockets is worth a try also if you have never been. We did eat at the Windjammer for dinner a lot more on this cruise and the food was very good, with create your own pizza bar, noodle bar, create your own pasta bar and a mongolian stir fry. Very good food and we wanted a change from the dining room. The Windjammer is very quiet for dinner and only the back is open and the lights are dimmed. The breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer is okay, but the menu doesn't change much and it gets a bit repetitive eating the same things for nine days straight.
Overall this was an incredible cruise, with great ports and plenty to do. We didn't go to many of the shows, but the ice show was great. Do not miss it. We also saw a hilarious ventiloquist act (Ronn Lucas). It was nice to have the extra two days compared to the usual 7 night cruises we have been on, and this was the perfect length of time.
This review will be quite lengthy. Therefore, significant sections will be highlighted for those not wishing to read the entire review. This was our second time on the Explorer, again as a guest of my wife's niece. Our first Explorer cruise was in June of 2006 on the same basic itinerary, the only difference being the substitution of Bermuda for Labadee (a laudable deviation). RCI has also adjusted the departure date for cruises leaving from Cape Liberty and including Bermuda so as to now leave on Thursday, thus arriving at Kings Wharf on Saturday. Previously, the ship arrived in Bermuda on Sunday when most everything was closed.
As are all reviews, this is only an opinion, but I believe for a number of reasons, an informed one.
The Set Up My wife Fran and I departed our home in East Tennessee and drove to Staten Island from whence hails my wife. We stayed, as we did for our last cruise, at the lovely Nicotra's Hilton Garden Inn. Although certainly not "inexpensive," at a little over $200 a night including tax, it is most reasonable for the New York City area. Within thehotel is Lorenzo's, a restaurant of excellent quality. Speaking of restaurants and for those who love traditional pizza and happen to even be near Staten Island, they must drop into Brothers Pizza at the corner of Forest Avenue and Watchogue Road. Additionally for those whose affinity toward Italian cuisine expands beyond pizza, there's yet another restaurant one has to visit if on Staten Island. Although Italian restaurants can be found on virtually every block in all of the city's Boroughs, the Chicken a la Gino as well as the fried calamari found at Gino's, a little Italian restaurant in the Forest Plaza on Forest Avenue, is to die for and quite reasonably priced. One certainly doesn't have to go into Manhattan for a true Italian dining experience.
The morning we embarked, we again gathered at the home of Fran's niece. From there, five members of a total party of eight crossed the Outerbridge to Bayonne and Cape Liberty (formerly known as the Army's, Military Ocean Terminal). Arriving a little after 12:00 Noon, we were quickly processed and aboard within twenty minutes. One couldn't ask for an easier or more efficient embarkation experience.
The Ship For those who are not familiar with the Explorer of the Seas, she is what is known as a "destination ship," meaning there are so many various attractions aboard that she could, to put it succinctly, be considered her own port of call. Details surrounding the design and building of all of the Voyager Class ships (including literally thousands of photographs) can be found at Voyager-Class.com. One thousand twenty-one feet in length, 127 feet in the beam, fourteen passenger decks high (210 feet from the water line to the top of the ship) and weighing almost 138,000 tons, the vessel is enormous. The second of five "Eagle" or Voyager class ships, she was christened in 2000 (the other four being: Voyager of the Seas (2000), Adventure of the Seas (2002), Mariner of the Seas (2003) and Navigator of the Seas (2004)). The ship's highlights include The Royal Promenade, a veritable "street" patterned after an actual street in Milan, Italy that stretches over 300 feet and is four decks high. On the first level are duty free shops, bars, the Promenade Café, etc. and above "street level" there are three decks of staterooms overlooking the Royal Promenade. While indeed "inside" cabins, these staterooms nevertheless have a window overlooking the "street," thereby creating the effect of hotel rooms or apartments looking down over the Promenade. At each end of the Royal Promenade are two soaring atriums. The ship has a three deck high main dining room in the aft section, each level of which has it's own kitchen. Deck three is called the Magellan Dining Room, deck four the DeGama, with deck five being the Columbus; an elegant and impressive dining venue indeed.
Another and one of the most impressive features of this ship is it's ice rink, where stunning ice shows are performed by extremely talented skaters from all over the world. Passengers may also ice skate at certain periods throughout the week (and yes, it's real ice, 18 tons worth in fact). If you wish to see the ice show (it's classified as a "must"), you need to get your tickets the day you board from the Purser's desk (now known as the Guest Relations desk -- I'm sorry but I'm a purist). While free, if you wait to get them until the next morning, they'll probably be gone as the show really is that popular. Understanding that the ice arena in Studio B only seats around 350 people, there are not that many shows and factoring in that there are a total of anywhere from 3,100 to 3,800 passengers and well, you figure the odds of getting a ticket if you tarry.
Considering the fact that the ship is eight years old and has had probably well over one and a half million passengers sail upon her during that time, the Explorer is immaculate. Should you really want to find some wear and tear, I'm certain you can, but you'll usually have to hunt. One of the few things I found was that the stateroom furniture, if ours was any indication, now shows some stains. I shouldn't be surprised to learn there is some reupholstering or replacement to be scheduled in the not too distant future. Remember that probably in the neighborhood of 6,000 people on average, have occupied each stateroom since the ship was christened.
In case you're wondering, on this nine night Eastern Caribbean run, the Explorer of the Seas traveled approximately 3,956 miles and burned over 400,000 gallons of diesel fuel and with the price of diesel being around five bucks a gallon, at today's price of diesel, that's a total approximating $2,000,000.00!
The Food and Dining Facilities We were assigned table 411 in the DeGama Dining Room on 4 deck. Our dining room wait staff; Waiter Eduardo Batac of the Philippines most ably assisted by Asst. Waiter Kanyisa Palma were professional, prompt, courteous, friendly and most efficient. It is obvious that the two have worked together as a team for quite some time. Head Waitress Lilla Kuzma who calls Hungary home, was quite warm and friendly and ensured that all bases were covered. Bar waiter Desmond Goodluck had my bourbon highball awaiting me every night. Food is a very subjective issue. One man's favorite dish is poison to another. Nonetheless, after reading literally thousands of reviews, I long ago concluded that there is a significant number of people out there who couldn't tell you the difference between butter and margarine. Is the food in the main dining rooms on the Explorer five star? Of course not. Is it excellent? Most certainly. When someone equates the Explorer's dining room cuisine with "standard" wedding fare, my instant reaction is, "You have got to be kidding!" No, I don't like certain dishes nor do I like what others may feel are outstanding seasonings. For example, I ordered a shrimp ceviche (marinated in citrus and cilantro) one evening only to find out that my taste buds equate that combination with Palmolive liquid. Is that the fault of the chef? No. I'll know better than to order ceviche in the future. The breads (of which there are more than several) are outstanding as are the pastries, especially the Napoleons. The beef is prepared, in my experience at least, as requested and the pasta is served al dente. Every fish dish that those at our table ordered met all expectations.
Now about the Windjammer buffet. I often read of people comparing the food at the Windjammer with your typical buffet found on land. Comparable to your "typical" buffet (Ryan's, Family Buffet, Golden Corral, etc.)? Preposterous. I have also recently read remarks along the lines of the menu offerings often being rather pedestrian, and with such remarks I am inclined to agree. Such is, sadly, probably a result of the ever exploding costs of operating cruise ships in today's environment. That being said, I had the southern style fried chicken and being a southern boy, was rather surprised to find it remarkably good. Another thing that it is difficult to find in restaurants, even better ones, is pork that isn't completely cooked to death and dried out. On the Explorer, every pork dish I tasted was juicy and delicious. An acquaintance of mine had a bad experience with white wine on an RCI cruise and asked me to find out if the white wine was served chilled. A member of our party ordered white wine one night and it was indeed served chilled -- all of which brings me to table service in general. Decent restaurants (not just the fine dining ones) are supposed to routinely remove all used silverware following each course and replace it as necessary. Knowing this, do you know how long it's been since I've last experienced such a level of service? Removal of the used silverware was de rigeur on the Explorer and suffice to say, was representative of the outstanding table service we enjoyed.
We dined our first evening in Portofino's, an extra charge ($20.00 per person) restaurant of Italian Cuisine. With Portofino's, we're really talking in the neighborhood of five star quality. As the restaurant seats only a little over 80, you'd do well to make your reservations by mid-afternoon the day you board. Although most of our party (in fact all but yours truly) are Italian, I too concur with their accolades and highly recommend this fantastic dining experience.
There are an additional couple of extra cost eating options, such as Ben and Jerry's ice cream located adjacent to the Promenade Café, where one scoop of ice cream will set you back three dollars!, and a Johnny Rockets that sports a $4.95 per person cover charge. In addition to the Johnny Rocket's cover charge, your beverages such as malts and shakes are extra. The hamburgers are good as are the onion rings, and the wait staff entertain their guests with singing and dancing just as at the Johnny Rocket's hamburger chain on land. The best time to hit this venue is during a port day as it generally is always crowded while at sea.
Our Cabin Fran and I enjoyed our second Category F Large Stateroom. This voyage we were booked into stateroom 9502, the mirror image of 9202, the cabin we had in 2006. Located just beneath the bridge, at 211 square feet, the cabin is quite spacious. What makes this cabin rather uncommon is the fact that it is one of a relatively few number on cruise ships that actually faces forward over the bow. A look at other cruise ships will confirm that sparsity. I explain my choice by telling people, "I want to actually see the iceberg before we plow into it."
The new duvet bedding is nothing less than sublime. You'll sleep like the proverbial log. There is indeed ample storage for just about everything and that includes those such as my adored wife who grossly over-packs. I think why some people think storage space is lacking is because they often overlook what is there. The clothes closet is wide and spacious with six wire shelves located on one side. The desk has a large mirror adjoining which on either side is a large fluorescent make up light, and continuing past those is a narrow mirror extension. The two narrow mirrors are actually doors that close over four small glass shelves on each side, providing more than enough space for all the perfumes and assorted jars of emollients and lotions, etc. that most women absolutely cannot do without. In the bathroom there is also another narrow door covered by a mirror alongside of the large mirror over the sink, providing more than enough space for toiletries, shaving gear, etc. In addition to the large make up mirror, there is a tall floor to ceiling mirror strategically placed at an angle on a wall across from the make up mirror, affording the ability for one to view their appearance from all angles, something of which my wife made grand use. There are six standard sized drawers on either side of the desk. Additionally there is a restricted size drawer above the standard ones on the left side which is good for those small "pocket items." It's twin on the right side contains the hair dryer that is permanently wired from behind the desk and, as a result, that drawer is pretty non functional for any other purpose. Above the TV are two doors, the lower one of which covers the safe door. The safe is operated by inputting a four digit code of your own via the touch pad. Above that is a generously sized cabinet with double doors. On the left side of the desk are two 120 volt outlets (the only two with the exception of a special outlet for an electric shaver in the bathroom, so if you have a lot of electronics, etc., bring a power strip). On the opposite side is a 230 volt outlet for guests from outside of the U.S.
On either side of the bed are bed tables with one drawer and a large space underneath for additional storage. Below the TV is a door that covers the refrigerator door. Inside the fridge are all sorts of goodies and beverages but understand, especially if you have children, they certainly are not free! There is a price list inside and in case you're wondering, they're set up in a specific order and the contents are counted each day. Anything found missing will be charged to your Sea Pass account. For those who have children who drink a lot of soft drinks or for like-minded adults, a soft drink card is available with the price for adults being around $60 for a nine night cruise with the cost for children being somewhat less. Keep in mind that with a few minor and occasional exceptions, the only free beverages on board are coffee, unsweetened tea and lemonade and, of course, juices at breakfast.
A dispenser in the shower contains a combination of shampoo and conditioner and bars of toilet soap are provided as well. I actually preferred the soap to that which I brought from home. We brought our own shampoo as well but evidently RCI has upgraded their shampoo-conditioner to such a level that we ended up using theirs rather than ours. In reply to a review I read around a year ago, neither mine nor my wife's hair came out like straw. Many passengers find it inconvenient that the bathroom lacks a waste basket. Actually it has one but because of the small size of cruise ship bathrooms, on the Explorer it's a plastic rectangular shallow pan located underneath the bathroom sink. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.
Officers, Staff and Crew To differentiate, the Officers are in charge of the ship. The "staff' generally include the medical professionals (while yes, the Doctor wears a uniform, he is not an officer), entertainers and those who work in the shops, spas, etc. (many of whom are employed by concessions (including the "art" auctioneers) and are not actually cruise line employees). By and large, the crew consists of the wait staff, bar tenders, maintenance people and those whom you never see (such as the galley staff, laundry crew, engine room crew, etc). The staff and crew number 1,180.
It came as no surprise that every single employee with whom I talked (whether staff or crew) were unfailingly polite, helpful to a fault and wonder of all wonders and contrary to what you may read elsewhere, actually enjoy their jobs! Now isn't that novel? The RCI wait staff are now under six month contracts which makes for good continuity for all concerned. I even ran across a waiter who so ingratiated himself to all of us who patronized the Promenade Café during our last cruise on the Explorer during '06. Now however, Gabrial Fernandez works the Deck 3 (Magellan) dining room and the Windjammer. For those so interested, he works about ten hours a day (sometimes a tad more) broken up as five hours usually in the morning at the Windjammer, then a break, and then five hours for supper in the evening ("dinner" for those above the Mason-Dixon line). Gabrial got married last Fall and his bride remains home in Bombay. He does not get a full day off but, as he puts it, that doesn't bother him because he enjoys the people plus his many duties help pass the time. He states when asked, that the ship provides marvelous recreation. Gabrial has now worked five back to back contracts with a two month break in between each contract. Of course he misses his wife as do all married seamen/women, but as I've written elsewhere on this site, he readily admits that his job affords his new family a standard of living he would have never ordinarily achieved in his own country. I believe in recognizing those who go "over and beyond" so, as I do in my newspaper column and in keeping with that tradition, that list includes in addition to those mentioned above, Delroy Keene (Cabin Attendant) and Desmond Goodluck (Bar Wait staff). Additionally, our group adopted another waiter whom we met at breakfast. Mehmet Bakirci. Mehmet hails from Turkey and is on his first contract. He is indeed an entertaining and charming young man who was adopted as a surrogate son or brother by the six females in our group. He kept our entire crowd in good spirits, especially during the interminable wait for disembarkation (a sore point -- more about that later). It shan't be long before RCI will really appreciate their wise decision to hire Mehmet.
To an individual, the staff and crew admirably maintained the long-time traditions of exceptional service provided those cruising aboard passenger liners. I am so sick and tired of hearing people complain about having to tip. By and large for the overwhelming majority of passengers on cruise ships, the level of service the passenger receives will never be paralleled in any other hotel or restaurant they will ever visit. My thing is, if you cannot afford even the basic tipping guidelines set by the cruise lines or if you are so unbelievably cheap as to not adhere to such minimalist guidelines, then stay home.
Entertainment Replete with everything from a casino with over 300 slot machines plus gaming tables and rock climbing walls and an ice arena, Explorer of the Seas offers something for everyone.
One thing that I think needs more promotion is the quality of the shows and the musicians. If those on the Explorer of the Seas are any indication, they are truly top shelf. While yes, some of the headliners might be considered "second stringers" and people complain that cruise lines should offer more "name" entertainment," that, however, should in no way diminish the fact that the overwhelming number of cruise ship entertainers are consummate and very talented professionals. I am not by any stretch an expert in the entertainment field but I do know this for a fact. Fame can be fickle and while it shines on one person, there are always others who have even greater talent who never achieve a similar pinnacle. I love, understand and appreciate good music, and I appreciate such talent whether it be the classical pianist, southern gospel, rock 'n roll or big band. I have always favored the piano and electric base and I cannot remember the last time I listened to a better pianist, regardless of the type of music, than the two I enjoyed on this cruise. Although I don't recall his name, the head of what I call the "house band" on the Explorer is exemplary. For that matter, so are the eight or nine accompanying musicians. I'll put the Explorer's electric base player up against anyone out there. And when it comes to lounge piano, they don't get any better than Alvin.
Good entertainment affects emotions at all levels and ages. That being the case, the emotion evinced by the entertainment on the Explorer of the Seas (as I'm sure it does on most other cruise ships), proves my point.
There was one item that many passengers felt improper for a couple of reasons. That was a late evening dance performance in the main (Palace) theater. What was left out of the information in the Cruise Compass (RCI's daily activities newsletter) was that the performance was what amounted to a dance recital by obvious members of a dancing school or schools. While the children were adorable, there were a whole lot of upset passengers making justified comments along the lines of, "Good grief, I love kids but while I HAVE to attend my own daughter's dance recitals, I don't expect to pay over seven thousand dollars for our family's cruise and then find something similar on stage, especially after ten o'clock at night!" Thankfully for the children's sake, most in the audience had the good graces not to walk out on the kids' performance. But that didn't mean they were happy campers. Bad call, RCI.
Shopping Aboard Ship This might throw you, but in several different instances we found deals on merchandise that were as good as, if not better, than some found ashore. That being said, it always helps if you're familiar with the quality of the article you're considering.
Ports of Call The Ports of Call were: King's Wharf, Bermuda; Philipsburg, St. Maarten (Netherlands Antilles); Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas (USVI) and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Though not that much of a "port" couple, especially since we've previously visited all but Bermuda; we nevertheless got off the ship at each one. I did notice a marked undercurrent of hostility toward the passengers at both Philipsburg and Charlotte Amalie. Nothing overt or anything one could put a finger on, nevertheless the formerly omnipresent Caribbean smile and greeting we last experienced was noticeably and frequently absent.
Following disembarking in Bermuda, we took a water taxi ($4.00 per person each way) over to Hamilton. We strolled along the bay and walked up to the Princess Hotel where a member of our party spent their honeymoon forty years ago. An elegant hotel, the Princess sports beautiful landscaped lawns and gardens and offers every amenity. As such, it certainly isn't for the budget minded. The girls made their obligatory purchases at several shops of what seems to most husbands as the hundreds we visited. Prices, as has been noted in earlier reviews, are in many instances rather high.
Philipsburg, which markets itself as the "Friendly Island" or something similar, didn't live up to it's motto. The clerks at virtually all of the shops my wife and I visited could often be described as almost sullen. As a matter of fact, the friendliest people we met were a couple of European kiosk operators.
The reception in St. Thomas was basically the same.
Inasmuch as the entry onto US territory for this itinerary occurs at St. Thomas, the United States INS does it's passport check the morning of your arrival commencing at 8:00am. It is over before you know it (truly a breeze) but if one doesn't want to be embarrassed by having their name repeatedly announced over the PA system, I'd strongly suggest you be where you are assigned to be at the appointed time.
As the stop at San Juan is so brief (and Fran and I always disembark later and re-embark earlier to avoid the crowd), we just took a leisurely stroll over to the casino in the Sheraton Hotel just across the street from the ship. My wife is loathe to pass up a casino.
Since you don't know me, please believe me when I tell you that I'm outgoing almost to a fault (Fran is forever telling people that I'll stop and talk to a rock). I go out of my way to be cheerful and pleasant, especially when visiting a strange town, much less a foreign country, for I feel we're all, in a way, ambassadors and should conduct ourselves as such. I'm even the type who smiles and casts pleasantries to toll collectors! Yet my cheerfulness was rarely reflected by many of the citizens of St Maarten and St Thomas, behavior I found troubling. To be fair, the people you are most apt to meet are undoubtedly "touristed out," especially if the tourists are generally American inasmuch as we tend (and let's be honest now) to be pushy. Still and for whatever reason, this isn't good.
Clientele Group I stuck this category in only because I have to tell you about the most precious couple my wife and I have ever met. While awaiting entry into the dining room one evening, my wife and I struck up a conversation with a senior couple who mentioned that they had cruised numerous times. When I stated that my love of ships goes back to the hey day of the trans oceanic greyhounds such as the Bremen and Europa, I was truly taken aback when the lady mentioned she had sailed on the Europa -- in 1930! The couple then formally introduced themselves as Abe and Julie Smith, formerly of New York City and now residing in Pennsylvania. Abe and Julie have been married almost seventy years! Abe is 92 and Julie is 90 and they are in very good health; so good in fact, that they cruise alone, just the two of them. Abe and Julie took the entire vessel by storm when they absolutely aced the Love and Marriage game show. This couple remembered exactly what they did on their first date in 1934! And boy what love and support they have for one another! Talk about charming. When the wives were escorted back on stage, who was the only husband to stand when the women entered into his presence? Yep, it was Abe. These two wonderful people are truly treasures and I urge everyone to be on the lookout for them when next you cruise.
Disembarkation Disembarking was the exact opposite of embarking. As usual, it left a whole lot to be desired. At least this time we were allowed to remain in the Promenade Café. I don't understand why Royal Caribbean doesn't have it's passengers wait in their cabins until their color is called. If Carnival can do that and still get all of the staterooms cleaned prior to the boarding of new passengers, then I'm sure RCI could as well.
Summary Royal Caribbean produces a great product and it shows. That does not mean, however, there can't be improvements. Aside from the debarking, while we had the greatest cabin attendant possible, the cabin attendant maintaining my wife's niece's stateroom on deck seven, could at best be described as barely adequate. Additionally, when she and another member of our party needed to ask a question relative to the Crown and Anchor program, of which they're members, they were referred to the Crown and Anchor desk on deck six only to discover no one there. Someone told them they had to make an appointment in a register at the desk even to ask why they didn't receive the amenities for their level that the rest of us received. That is not an example of excellent public relations. While I truly appreciate RCI, from a lot of what I read of late and now hear personally, I myself am even beginning to get the impression that RCI might be considering itself so grand that they need not pay attention to the details. To my way of thinking, that's a perfect way in which to downsize, regardless of intentions.
Everything being equal, however, one still receives a huge bang for the buck with RCI and after all, isn't that what we are all looking for? If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me on the message boards as ToddDH.
This was our first cruise -- to celebrate our 25th Anniversary. We went with another couple. We stayed in Superior Balcony Cabin #9292. We were on the ship and eating lunch in the Windjammer by noon. We were allowed to our cabin at 2:00. Our room was quite spacious and the balcony was of a good size. It was immaculate and was kept that way by our room steward. The bathroom was very efficient. We wished we could take the vacume toilet home with us!!
There was plenty of storage and closet space. We had brought 8 suitcases total and we fit everything from all the suitcases in the closet, shelves, drawers and cabinets, and still had room left over. We stored the suitcases under the bed.
The air conditioning worked great in our room and kept us nice and comfortable even on days it was in the high 90's. The refrigerator is not very cool at all, but we had also brought a collapsible cooler that we set up and our steward kept it full of ice everyday for us. We kept our water bottles and sodas in that. Our roomlocation was fairly quiet at night except for drunk people going back to their rooms at night who were loud. We felt no engine vibrations or noises where we were. In fact, it was very calm at our location compared to the front and back of the ship.
We were so impressed with how efficient the ship runs. Nothing was ever out of place and everything always worked. It is also extremely clean. The staff are all extremely professional and personable. They know their jobs inside and out and are pleased to help you out. We were very impressed with what a friendly ship it is! Everyone is so happy all the time!!
The entertainment was excellent and varied. The ice show is not to be missed!! We ate at Johnny Rockets one night and had an excellent dinner with great tableside entertainment. We ate at Portafino's one night and while the food and service were very good, we didn't find it any better than the dining room. We wouldn't pay to eat there again, but glad we gave it a try. We had 3 breakfasts, 1 lunch, and 7 dinners in the DaGama Dining Room. We were very pleased with the food and the service. You always had several choices of food so I find it hard to believe that someone could fault the food. We had no complaints at any of our meals. The service was beyond anything we had ever experienced and we felt very pampered and special.
I spent a lot of time in the Casino and did quite well on the slots. My only complaint here would be I wish they had more than two non-smoking nights. The smoke smell would drive me out of there some nights.
The parades were spectacular, and the deck party a lot of fun. We didn't make it to the 2nd midnight buffet. We found the drink prices to be more reasonable than we had expected, with the exception of wine which was ridiculously high. We were not that impressed with the stores on the Promenade. Very pricey and not much choice. You will do much better shopping in ports.
My husband loved getting up before dawn each morning to watch the sun rise and walk the ship for a couple of hours before breakfast. He would have the ship to himself that early. He loved their coffee at the Cafe on the Promenade!
All in all it was a great vacation and a great value for all we did and saw. We would definitely sail Explorer of the Seas again and would highly recommend her!! In fact, we can't imagine sailing anything less than the Explorer now. They set the bar pretty high as far as we are concerned. She may be 8 years old, but she is one classy lady.
We just returned from a 9 day cruise on the Explorer of the Seas. The review follows.
Embarkation Ease of embarkation depends on the time one arrives. I was told later by some passengers that the lineup going to the dock at Port Liberty was a mob scene around noon time. We arrived at 1:30PM, drove straight to the baggage check in, parked the car ($16 a day), proceeded to the passenger check in and were on board in 15 minutes.
Stateroom We usually opt for an interior room and this one (7129) was on the small side but well designed. Despite a seeming lack of space, there was more than ample storage areas and a well designed, albeit small bathroom. The shower is particularly nice with a fully enclosed circular shower door.
Food All of our dinners were taken in the main dining room which proved to be a beautiful venue. We were seated at a table for eight (beside a window overlooking the ocean) with an extended family consisting of three generations. Our table waiter Eduardo and his assistant Yvonne provided excellent service. The food was generally good to very good,with the only exception being the fish dishes which were not to my liking. Up at the buffet in the Windjammer, the food was quite good although some dishes were overly salty. Some of the more interesting cuisine was found in the center specialty island during lunch with Pan Asian dishes and during the evening with a sushi buffet. One morning while selecting breakfast I found congee with all the fixings, something I got hooked on while in Thailand. One thing I found rather unusual was the fact that of all the cruise lines I have been on, this is the first one I have seen that had no hand sanitizing stations in the buffet area or the main dining room. There is only one specialty restaurant aboard, Portofino, but we didn't dine there.
Entertainment This was pretty much standard shipboard fare with a resident song and dance group and a decent 9 piece pit orchestra. Four other entertainers did one man shows, but there was one standout comedian, Max Docelli, who went on the first night and was a real hoot. The rest of the shipboard staff were always available and helpful including cruise director Mike Hunnerup.
Ports of Call The ports of call were Labadee, Haiti; Casa De Campo, Dominican Republic; St. Thomas and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Having been to all of them except Labadee, my only comment on the last three is that Puerto Rico is always worth the trip despite the peculiar fact that most cruise lines only port there for 6-7 hours. Hardly enough time to do the place justice. Although I had mixed feelings about going to Haiti, Labadee turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I've seen in Caribbean. It was vaguely reminiscent of Bora-Bora.
Disembarkation The ship had been sold out (3616 pax) due to spring break and it showed getting off the ship. Even at that, we cleared our room at 8AM and were off by 10:45. The ship started boarding passengers at 11:30.
All in all a very good cruise with one of the main advantages being that if you live within driving distance of Port Liberty, you can get to the ship with a minimum of hassle without having to deal with the madness of airline travel. Also, you have a choice of several itineraries going round trip out of Port Liberty. We'll probably do Canada next.
Our room rattled like someone was knocking on our door. When we called down to the desk, we were offered ear plugs that were never sent to our room. We spent 2 nights in that room because no others were available.
The food was very bland and unimaginative. I'm not an exotic cook, and most of the meals were things I could make at home with MORE FLAVOR!
The last night of our journey, alcohol was delivered to our room that wasn't ours. It was placed outside our door. We could have easily kept it for all our housekeeper cared.
So I wrote a note which was followed by a phone call. They sent me two $100 gift certificates that I have to use within the next year. Yeah, right. In this economy? By the way, no compensation was offered when we were in the middle of this "mess."
This was our fourth cruise, second with RCI. It is our last with RCI. Embarkation was a disaster as guests were disembarking as we were arriving. We left from Port Liberty, NJ which was convenient for us.
The second day at sea a water pipe broke on the deck above us. Our room had water damage; in fact, our carpet was soaked. We spent two days out of our room walking around the ship as they first tried to dry the carpet and then replaced it. We were allowed to sleep in there at night.
The food was fair.
It was impossible to get a chair at the pool as people put their towels on the chairs early AM and left them there for hours.
Our cabin steward was very helpful. We were offered an inside cabin because of the water damage, but refused because we had a balcony cabin and they couldn't give us one. We thought of leaving in San Juan when we arrived there and fly home. We were given $150 onboard credit for our "trouble." We feel that didn't come close to what we put up with.
We wroteto RCI afterwards but they never responded to our complaints.
About Us We are in our mid 50's and are veterans of 16 cruises prior to this one. Our 25 year old son and one of his old college friends accompanied us, and stayed in a cabin across the hall from ours. Upon completing this cruise, my wife, son and I have reached Diamond Crown & Anchor status with Royal Caribbean.
Getting There and Embarkation Living in Staten Island, NY departing from Cape Liberty NJ is very convenient, about a 30 minute drive from our home. This was the fifth cruise we have taken from Cape Liberty since it opened in 2004. We arrived at the terminal around 11:45AM, which is about the time we arrived for most of the previous cruises from Cape Liberty. I will divide the embarkation process into two categories – luggage handling and check-in.
Unlike the previous cruises from Cape Liberty, the luggage handling was awful, almost nonexistent. In the past, the porters took the bags from the car and immediately loaded them into the bins to be brought on the ship. Not this time! We unloaded the bags from the cars and could not find anyoneto take them from us. It seemed that most of the porters were still assisting passengers getting off the previous cruise. I stood there waving a $20 bill and couldn't even find anyone to tip for handling the bags. My son and I left my wife and his friend with our luggage while we went to park the cars. Upon returning to the terminal, the bags were still sitting where we left them, with a collection of other passengers' luggage to be delivered to the ship. There were quite a few passengers standing around wondering what to do with their luggage. After waiting about a half hour, there were at least 200 pieces of luggage just sitting there. A security person eventually told everyone to just leave the luggage as long as it had the ship tags on it. So, we just left it there and hoped it would make it on to the ship. It was finally delivered to our cabin at about 8:00 PM. I wore jeans to dinner that night, as did a lot of other people.
The actual check-in process was very smooth. As Platinum Crown & Anchor members, we had a priority line for check-in. We had previously completed the on-line check in forms on the Royal Caribbean web site and check-in at the pier was a breeze.
As soon as we got on board we headed straight for the Windjammer buffet, where lunch was being served.
Our Cabin(s) My wife and I were in a category E2 cabin with a balcony on Deck 6, midship, and my son and his friend were in a Promenade cabin across the hall. The E2 cabin is one of the smaller ones we have been in, but it was more than adequate for just the two of us. Our cabin steward was absolutely superb! He seemed to make up the room within minutes of when we left it, and he always left us extra towels without us having to ask for them. He also left us towel animals almost every night, and even after all of our previous cruises we always get a charge from them.
The Promenade cabin was about the same size as ours, except without the balcony. The window which overlooks the Royal Promenade provided a great spot to view the parades without jostling with the crowds on the Promenade.
The Ship The ship itself is showing some age in spots, but is still in very good shape. There are more than enough activities and lounges to satisfy everyone, and despite approximately 3,400 passengers on board it rarely felt crowded.
The adults-only solarium pool provided a nice respite for those who wanted to get away from the kids on board for some peace and quiet.
Dining Room Food and Service Food is a very subjective thing, but I thought the dining room food was generally very good and I especially enjoyed the cold soups. However, the selection of entrees could have been better. I always found something that appealed to me, but it was never a matter of deciding between two entrees.
Our waitress was excellent and she always had a smile and tried very hard to please everyone. The assistant waiter was also exceptional and was on top of everything. After the first night, he knew what we each liked to drink and we never had to ask again. Our glasses were also kept filled. The head waiter came by often enough to make sure we were satisfied with everything.
A hint – if you don't care for any of the appetizers on the menu, my son discovered that you can always order chicken fingers and/or mozzarella sticks from the children's menu.
Lido Deck Food and Service The Windjammer buffet was good and there was enough variety that we always found something appealing. We had breakfast there almost every morning. For lunch or a snack the burgers and pizza were always very good.
The Promenade Cafe is a great place to stop for a cup of coffee or a snack, or just to sit and people watch. There is always fresh coffee, and little pastries, Danish, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, and other goodies. Best of all, it is open 24/7.
Bar Service Bar service was exceptional. We never had to look very far for a bar waiter and they were all very friendly. I was on a first name basis with Devon ("Double D" as he called himself) and he frequently stopped by to chat with us at poolside; even when we were already drinking and not ready to order anything from him. I actually looked forward to seeing him every day.
It all started the day we were to board the Explorer of the seas, Sunday July 1st 2007. We were a group of over 60 people as my Godson was getting married on board that day. There was such confusion and turmoil just getting on the ship. It started with the break down of the machine that takes your picture for your on board identification. The groom's parents were held there (in the heat) over 25 minutes waiting for someone to fix the machine. Not to mention all the other hundreds of other passengers that had to wait in line, in the heat as well. Our party was then allowed to board the ship earlier then the other passengers because of the wedding. When we got to our floor (7th) there was a staff member there at the elevators. She appeared shocked at our presence and didn't want to let us go to our rooms. She said, in a condescending manner, that it was "TOO EARLY" and that the "rooms werent ready yet". I had informed her that we were there for the wedding and we needed to get dressed.She then rolled her eyes at me, let out a loud sigh and replied "what do I care" She then proceeded to open the door that allows us access to the hallway that took us to our rooms. Once dressed we wandered around because now there was no one available to direct us to where we needed to go or tell us how to get there. This was even more frustrating as the groom's mother was in a wheelchair and very upset because of the lack of coordination. Because of the size of the ship, our not being familiar with the layout and no staff to guide us, the groom's mother (and several other family members) were late to the wedding. Fortunately, once all the late guests did arrive, the wedding went off without a hitch. So we celebrated to new union of two beautiful young people and enjoyed the reception. We figured that it was a crazy time for the ship's staff dealing with the passengers that were leaving and those that were arriving and let it go at that. Hoping that it was just an isolated incident, little did we know that was just the start of a very, very bad experience.
Without going into all the details of each day and the disappointment that came with it, I will merely point out the “Low" lights of our family vacation.
The food was awful. EVERY entree, EVERY night was at best, warm. Not one single entrée was hot enough to eat when it was served. My wife ordered a lamb shank that wasn't even warm! It was cold and had to be sent back. There were several seafood dishes that tasted so fishy that we ordered an entirely different entrée all together. On the 2nd day of the cruise we were informed that they "ran out of" soy milk and my stepmother, who is lactose intolerant, had no milk for her breakfast, dinner or even coffee. The buffet in the Windjammer was like cafeteria food. It was poorly displayed (serving tongs were broken and melted), poorly stocked and tasted poorly as well. There was hardly any staff to clear off the tables from prior passengers use. I had to clear off a table myself so my wife and I could sit down and have lunch. I then watched, as a couple finished their lunch and left, to see how long it would take before a staff member cleared off the table. I never found out because my wife and I left after 20 minutes and it still had not been cleared.
The "Grand Buffet" was LAUGHABLE! In fact I heard an older gentleman say "I stayed up for this?!?" What I saw was so disappointing and hardly even worth mentioning. The tables were sparsely covered with finger foods and there was nothing impressive about it. Not the food itself or the presentation. As if that wasn't enough, the Grand Buffet was supposed to be from 12:30 to 1:30 but all the food was gone by 1:05 and there was nothing left to see or eat.
There was a seating problem in the dining room 4 out of the 5 nights that we were there. The maitre d' failed to correct the problem the first night which lead to a confrontation on the 4th night that almost became physical.
The common (public) bathrooms were filthy and unsanitary. The most heavily used bathrooms next to the swimming pools were the worst. In the men's room there was urine all over the floors and it smelt it a Port-a-john on a construction site. My wife informed me that there were unused sanitary napkins thrown all over the woman's bathroom. There was not 1 bathroom attendant in any public bathroom with the exception of the woman's bathroom in the gym. There they had 2 bathroom attendants for a bathroom that had only 1 stall!
The bar at the Solarium had only 1 bartender and he had only 1 speed, SLOW. There were people there lined up 3 deep just to get a drink. It personally took me over 15 minutes to get something as simple as a beer. I was afraid to order a mixed drink as it would have made my wait even longer. Not until the 3rd day did we see any wait staff at the Solarium taking drink orders and then it still took 15 minutes to get our drinks!
The key to my room had to be reprogrammed on 5 separate occasions! For some reason it continually failed to unlock my door or allow me to use it to buy items on the ship. While the staff at the customer service desk was cordial and rectified the problem quickly, it was a MAJOR hassle to keep running from the 7th floor to the 5th floor to get my key reprogrammed.
Had I paid a nominal amount of money for this cruise, I wouldn't have minded as much but to spend over $3000 to be treated insignificantly and to eat food that was inedible is laughable. Unfortunately the laugh was at mine and my family's expense.
As a veteran traveler of the seas I know full well that food and service are the life's blood of a cruise ship. In the case of Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, I suggest a major transfusion.
Usually I read reviews but never write them. I give the Explorer a thumbs up on service and especially food.
Did everything go perfect? No! But that is the way it is onboard a ship this size.
But we, a family of four, were totally impressed with our dining experiences every night.
I would not hesitate to recommend this ship, and this was our 8th cruise on many lines.
Great job Explorer and staff!