Just returned from the Explorer and I wanted to try to capture my impressions. For reference, I am 40 years old. I was traveling with my wife and 5-½ year old son. This was our 14'Th cruise and our 12'Th with Royal Caribbean.
We arrived at the pier at 10:30. There were maybe 20 people in line ahead of us. There was a sign posted that Diamond members of the Crown and Anchor society or passengers in a suite were to go to the Commodore's club to check in. So we skipped the line and went right to a separate area where we were checked in. The process took about 10 minutes. We then proceeded directly to the ship.
I'm not sure if there is anything more I can say about the ship that hasn't been said already. It is incredible! The decor, the layout, and the facilities are unmatched by any ship at sea. I knew right away that this was going to be my ultimate cruise vacation.
We went right to our stateroom. We were in cabin 1568, a category B suite on deck 10. It was gorgeous. Almost400 square feet with a 100 square foot balcony. There was marble on the floor, granite countertops. The furniture was very nice and the bathroom was as nice as any hotel we have ever stayed in. The cabin had a 19in TV with a VCR, DVD player and a stereo system with Bose speakers. The bed area could be closed off with a curtain for privacy. The room was even better than I had expected.
After checking out the cabin, we went right to the pool deck, grabbed a cocktail and let my son swim. Since we were one of the first to board, it was so quiet. I, of course, went to the windjammer and got my first taste of the food. I knew the from prior cruises that the windjammer food was usually not on par with the dining room…..WRONG! The food was excellent. Great selection, great taste and it was hot and fresh. I ate lunch there 6 out of the 7 days and I was never disappointed. The Windjammer was perfect. The only time I didn't eat lunch there, I went to Johnny Rockets. It was good but not great.
While on the subject of food, the Dining room food was also much improved. On all of our prior cruises with RCI the menu's had pretty much stayed the same. This time there was a big change. Many more interesting selections. Our waiter William and Asst. Catalin were among the best we ever had. William was just returning from vacation so he was only given 1 table for six. So the service was remarkable. We were getting our dessert before many tables got their entree's. Also, the addition of soft serve ice cream around the ship was very welcome. Great for an afternoon snack or late evening treat.
I was amazed that every single crew member said hello to me as I walked the halls. They were friendly and helpful and I always got a smile. This is a vast improvement over our prior cruises. It was a very welcome change and I hope it's a RCI initiative not just on the Explorer.
The entertainment was also first rate. We missed the first show but I heard it was great. We caught the variety show and the singers and dancers were very good. We also got to see the Ice show. This was the most entertaining show I have ever seen on a ship. It is not to be missed!
Let me say a word about the kids program. They have 4 levels of kid programs. Aquanauts for the 3 to 5 year olds. Explorers for 6 to 8. Voyagers for the 9 to 12's and then the teen program. My son will be 6 in September so he was an Aquanaut. The staff was terrific. They kept my son very busy. He wanted to go to all their activities. It left us a lot of free time in the evenings to just be together with my wife. They even took him for 2 hours on Labadee so we could swim without worrying about him. They dressed them up as pirates and had them parade around the ship. They had a circus where each child was dressed as a circus animal or clown. They took them to dinner one night at Johnny Rockets. They had snacks, play time, computer games and pajama parties. My highest compliments go out to these staff members. Each had a nickname Giant Jeff, Cockroach, Trouper all 20 somethings with years of childcare training, and it showed. They all seemed to love their work and the kids attached to them immediately. As a sidebar, we did the Disney Magic last year, and their program was like daycare. Very little real activities. RCI blew Disney away in this regard. You think Disney would be the best, but if you are trying to decide which line to go on with kids, RCI is the best choice.
Another aspect was how nice my fellow passengers were. I had daily conversations with people I had just met. We would run into each other and chat or have a drink. I don't know what it was about this week, but every single one of them was as nice as they could be. One afternoon I was walking past the Royal Suite on deck 10. The occupant was just going in and I just said hello and asked how they liked being in that incredible cabin. They invited me in and offered me a drink and took me on a tour of the whole room. WOW, that's the way to travel. I told them my wife would be jealous that I got to go in there. They told me to stop by anytime and bring her in. Now that's class.
As you can see I don't have any bad things to say about our trip. You would think I worked for RCI. Well, I don't. All the cruises we took prior to this I had a complaint about something. This time, in my humble opinion, the trip was flawless. Will I go again, resoundingly, YES! Will I recommend this trip, I already have.
I know there is much more I have missed. Suffice it to say that if you are contemplating a cruise, take this one! You will not be disappointed. Of course, I am not naive enough to realize that if 3000 people were on the ship last week, there will be 3000 different opinions. But from my point of view, you could not do any better than this trip.
One final note. I was in contact with a group of people on cruiscritic.com before I left. We corresponded for a month or 2 before we left. We got together on the first day in the Viking Crown lounge. We all wore rubberbands on our wrists to identify ourselves. This was a diverse group from all over the country. After we met, we ran into each other all week. I wanted to thank each of them for making my cruise all that much better. They were a great group to spend a week with, and I hope to see them again on the high seas.
I'm not sure why we awoke so early that Saturday morning, but I'm sure glad that we did as we were able to experience the not to be forgotten site of the Explorer as she arrived at the Port of Miami that morning. She was a magnificent site all lit up in the pre dawn light and we watched as she headed straight in and made a complete turn around almost directly in front of our hotel to dock at the pier around 6 AM.
We arrived in Miami on Thursday afternoon and on Friday we were able to spend an enjoyable day visiting the Viscaya Museum and Gardens and then driving out to see the Key Biscayne lighthouse. We stayed at the Marriott Biscayne Bay Resort Hotel which overlooks Biscayne Bay and the Port of Miami. We had a bayview room and the view was fantastic and well worth the extra cost! Being able to see the Explorer as she pulled into port that morning was a wonderful way to begin our adventure!!
We do suggest that if you are planning on visiting the Bayside Market Place for dinner orshopping in the evening while in Miami, that you remain alert and aware of your surroundings, as there were some unsavory looking characters lurking about especially as we walked to the parking area. The Bayside Market Place is an open air mall and restaurant area overlooking Biscayne Bay.
After a quick breakfast, we checked out and headed over to the park area on the McArthur Causeway, which runs parallel to the Port of Miami, to get some terrific photos of the Explorer as she was docked at the pier. We arrived at the pier around 10:30 AM and by 11:00 AM we were actually on board and in our cabin!! Royal Caribbean made embarkation super smooth and easy!! Our cabin attendant Beverley was just finishing up our cabin as we arrived, so we left our carry-ons in the cabin and set out to explore the ship. Lunch was just about to be served as we made our way to the Windjammer Cafe on Deck 11. The Windjammer Cafe and Island Grill are both light and airy with their floor to ceiling windows and offer wonderful views of the seas to dine by. They both serve buffet style breakfast, lunch and casual dinner. In our opinion, the food was very good for a buffet and we had no real complaints. There were no problems finding a table, as the tables were constantly and quickly being cleaned.
We had late seating dinner in the DaGama Dining Room on Deck 4. Both the food and the service were very good to excellent. There are several entrees to choose from each evening and if nothing on the menu is to your liking, they will gladly prepare a grilled chicken breast or steak for you. Live music was provided during dinner which made for a very nice atmosphere.
There is only one gala midnight buffet which is served on Thursday night, but the Cafe Promenade on Deck 5 is open 24 hours a day for light snacks, sandwiches and desserts, so food is always available! We asked our cabin attendant to leave us breakfast room service order forms for each day and had a relaxing breakfast on our balcony each morning except the last morning, of course. What a great way to start each day!! In St. Thomas, we sat on our balcony and ate breakfast to the view of many sailboats bobbing up and down against the background of emerald green mountains!! We will never be able to sail without a balcony again!! You can also order room service from the TV in your cabin. Room service was always delivered promptly at the time we selected.
We upgraded to a Category B suite on Deck 10 and it was a great cabin!! For anyone interested in a suite, we will try to give a you a good idea of what to expect. There is a special "suite only" check-in area provided. You will need to look for this area. Cabin numbers that qualify for this check-in are posted on a board as soon as you reach the second floor in the terminal. You will need to walk all the way back to this special check-in area at the far end of the room. We were told the B suite was 381 sq. feet and the balcony was 95 sq. feet. There was a table and 2 chairs and a lounge chair on the balcony. The bathroom was all marble and mirror with 2 double sinks and a very large tub/shower combo. There was plenty of storage space with shelves behind the mirrors in the bathroom and at the lighted vanity table. There was a 3 section closet and plenty of drawers!! The luggage can be stored neatly under the bed. There was a bar area, sofa bed, 2 chairs, stereo, TV with some cable stations and VCR. The suite even had a marble entry way and its own door bell!! All the comforts of home and a far cry from the our small inside cabin on our first cruise! Each afternoon they delivered a different snack plate to our cabin. They also provided us with Royal Caribbean valour robes for use during the cruise. There is a Concierge lounge on Deck 9 and the Concierge's services are available for Cat. B and above passengers only. Movies and CD's are available for checkout at the lounge. At the end of the cruise, he can arrange for early debarkation by 7:30 AM. We took advantage of this and were actually out on I-95 heading home by 8:00 AM!!
Overall most of the entertainment was excellent. Don't miss the Planet Ice, Fast Forward and the History Repeating Shows! They were terrific!! Our headliner entertainer was Kenny James who was billed as a "13 Time Star Search Grand Champion Winner". He sang Motown hits of the 60's. There were two different comedians, jugglers and, of course, the ever popular "Krooze Komics" performing everywhere around the ship. The Cruise Director Ken Rush was friendly and kept the passengers informed about the current and upcoming events of the next day. There was a very funny "Not So" Newlywed Game Show, an Animal House Toga Party on deck, a Country Western Dance Party, theme parades down on the Royal Promenade, a Caribbean Street Fair and many more events each evening. Be sure to read your daily Compass which is delivered to your cabin each evening to be certain you do not miss out on any of your favorite activities of the next day!! The Explorer is a beautiful ship and very tastefully decorated. The soft blue and salmon color scheme is very restful and calming. No tacky glitz here!! Although huge, it is very easy to navigate your way around as ship directories are posted at each elevator. The elevators do become a little congested at dinner time and when a show is letting out, but overall there were few problems with them other than sometimes having to wait for them to arrive at your floor. Even though there were 3000 + passengers on board, it rarely seemed crowded!! Captain Olav Nyseter would make announcements twice daily informing passengers of the daily activities, weather forecast and other ship information. There was a radio/intercom system in our cabin which played wonderful, relaxing soft rock & pop of the 70's, 80's & 90's. We really enjoyed hearing all of our old favorites!! It can be turned on or off as you choose. Each elevator has a section of carpet which is replaced each day that shows the day of the week on it. It is easy to forget what day it is in paradise!!
In Nassau we took the Harbor Tour & Discover Atlantis tour. Atlantis is beautiful upscale resort and casino. It has an underwater tunnel tour through the Mythical Atlantis and a glass underwater tunnel in the Predator Lagoon. The tour was very entertaining and an enjoyable way to spend the day if you have been to Nassau before and are looking for something different to see. One small tour that seemed to be overlooked by most was the Paradise Point Tramway in St. Thomas. We rode the tramway up the mountain and sipped a frozen drink while looking down at the many beautiful Virgin Islands, the ships docked at the pier and the peaceful harbor below. Another million dollar view all for the price of the tramway ticket!! The Paradise Point Tramway is about a 5-10 minute walk from the ship and can be done at anytime during the day before or after your other tours. There is also a wonderful mall shopping area right there by the ship. No need to go all the way in to town to shop. In San Juan we took the Old San Juan Walking Tour. If you are interested in history or a photo buff, this is a great tour. The highlight of the tour is, of course, the visit to the old Spanish fort San Felipe El Morrow. This is the fort that the ship sails past on the way in and out of the harbor. There are some great views and wonderful photos to be taken from the fort. We rode a mini bus to the fort and had a guided walking tour winding back through the streets of Old San Juan visiting and passing many historic sights along the way. This is a walking tour so remember to wear comfortable shoes. Don't forget you can book your tours before you go directly from the Royal Caribbean web site and the tickets are delivered to your cabin on the evening that you sail.
Labadee is a wonderful beach day with plenty of swimming, snorkeling and other water sports. Unfortunately, the day we were there was heavily overcast with a few periods of light rain. We did manage to tender over for a look around the old ruins and to get some photos. Back on board, we were able to get a seat at Johnny Rockets without a long wait. They bring you a plate of fries and onion rings with your drinks to munch on while waiting for your food. The shakes are delicious and we thought they were well worth the extra charge! We will try to give you some of the highlights we found on board. Dizzy's Jazz Bar in the Crown Viking Lounge on Deck 14 became our favorite place for a before dinner drink while watching the sunset through the floor to ceiling windows. What a magnificent view of the sea and the pool deck below!! The Casino has 2 life size figures of Las Vegas Show Girls welcoming you in at one entrance and the most amazing floor with coins, and other treasures visible below. Another must see ....even if you don't gamble. You can send email messages back to your family and friends for .50 cents per minute at the Internet Cafe although out of the 3 messages we sent, only 1 was received. The Promenade Deck wraps completely around Deck 4. Great for that much needed walk after all the food!! Walk all the way forward on Deck 4 and take the stairs up to Deck 5 and go out to the very front of the bow. There are some benches and it is a great spot to watch pulling in or out of a port. The beautiful Spanish themed Solarium "adults only" pool and hot tub area was a great place to sit, read or nap away from all the noise and activity of the main pool area. Everyone seemed to abide by the "adults only" request as we never saw any children in this area. If you are interested in seeing the Bridge, there is a "Peek A Boo Bridge" forward on Deck 11 which allows you to see down into the Bridge "cockpit" area on Deck 10 below. The Royal Promenade at the center of the Explorer always seemed to have some type of activity going on. The Captain's Cocktail Party is held here, and there are parades, live music and other entertainment too.
We had dinner Thursday night at Portofino's Italian Restaurant. The cost is $20.00 per person and the dress is Smart Casual. Most men wore suits or jackets and ties and ladies wore dresses or nice pants suits to dine there even though dress was casual than evening on board. The food was very good, but a bit more gourmet than the average Italian restaurant. There is a menu posted outside the restaurant that you can check. It books up quickly, so make reservations as soon as possible if you plan to eat there. There are 4 Casual nights, including the first night on board. The two Formal nights were Sunday and Wednesday with Wednesday being a bit more dressy and formal. Most men wore a dark suit and tie or tuxedo and it was obvious, thank goodness, that many people still enjoy dressing up for dinner! Smart Casual dress was on Monday night. You may want to bring a change of clothes and shoes in your carry-on luggage for dinner that first evening. We saw several people coming to the dining room in shorts....perhaps because they had not received their luggage before dinner. Casual dinner dress was nice resort wear not shorts. Shorts were out of place in the dining room for dinner. During the day, dress was very casual and swim wear.
We don't want to forget to mention the welcoming smile and friendly hello we received from each Royal Caribbean crew or staff member we passed each day. This was a wonderful surprise in view of our experiences on past cruises.
The Explorer was our best cruise experience to date. Royal Caribbean certainly lived up to their slogan "Like No Vacation On Earth!". The Explorer herself was the main star of the cruise. The ports were okay, but even if we had not gotten off in any of the ports, we would had a wonderful vacation aboard the Explorer!! She in an incredible ship and now we are spoiled!! If you are looking for a great cruise vacation, in our opinion, this is it!!
Remember anytime you choose to spend your vacation with 3000+ other people, something may not be exactly the way you would like it to be or think it should be, but unless it is a major issue just go and have a great time!! Your cruise will be whatever you make of it!! We would definitely sail on the Explorer again and are already planning on going Royal Caribbean to Alaska!!!
Ship Upon arriving at the Port of Miami and the first sight of this 140,000 ton beauty, you almost have to blink your eyes. You just can't imagine the sight of this HUGE ship, it just towers over all the other ships in port. Once you are dropped off you enter the terminal building and get in (what looks like a long line), but actually moves very quick. We were instructed while still on the bus what papers you need to have in hand and filled out prior to getting off the bus. I noticed everyone had their papers filled out and passports in hand, makes a big difference in speeding up this process. This only took about 15 minutes and then you board the ship, after the first of many pictures taken.
The only time you enter on deck 4 is for embarking and disembarking, the rest of the time you use deck 1. Once on board you can get your first glimpse of the Royal Promenade, which is like a mini mall, amazing. You can find almost anything on this promenade, drinks, gift shops, you name it, itsthere. Then one deck up from here you will find the explorations deck and guest relations, casino, picture gallery, very centralized. We spent a lot of time on decks 11 and 12, where the main pool and the solarium pool are located. Also on deck 11 is the Windjammer cafe, island grill and Portofino's. There seemed to be some kind of food you could find almost at any time, eating was not a problem. During the peak periods for lunch the windjammer had 4 similar buffets going, along with salad bars and drink stations. I never had to wait in any long lines considering there were around 3500 passengers on this sailing and another 1100-1200 crew members. I never felt that there were so many people, no one area was overcrowded. Although we did have a few "sea" days and yes there is still some minor problems with the deck chair saving problem. I did notice on our daily "cruise compass" there is a note about the reserving of chairs is not permitted, but guess some people failed to see that?? I always found a chair, may-be not right by the pool, but close enough for me. Close to the pool on deck 11 is the Sea trek dive shop, where you could sign up for scuba lessons, buy t-shirts, etc. On decks 13 and 14 is the where you will find all the sports activities, such as basketball court, dunes golf, the golf simulator, in line skating, volleyball and of course the well heard of rock climbing wall. I was considering trying that out, but we had 2 days with very high winds and went up and had a look at the "wall" and decided against it. The wall is scary just to look at, let alone climb up, no thanks. May-be some day. Considering we had waves up to 18 feet for 2 days, the ship did move, but nothing like you'd experience on a smaller ship. It was so bad for one day they had to tie all the deck chairs down, never had to deal with those kind of winds, in fact we were scheduled to do the America's cup regatta in Nassau and that was cancelled due to the high winds. The dinning room takes up space on deck 3, 4 and 5, absolutely stunning. The library is on deck 7 with computers to use on deck 6 and 8 above and below the library. You can also have unlimited access to the internet in your cabin if you brought along your laptop. It's a bit pricey on the ship, so I just visited a few internet cafe's on the ports, much cheaper and they are always located close to the dock. Every night there is a show in the "palace" which is located on decks 3 and 4 and another lounge "Maharajas" where there were other shows during the week. Deck 3 is the home of Studio B and Planet Ice show, which is not to be missed, something you just don't expect to see while on board a cruise ship. Its just amazing the things they can do on a small rink, they really make use of the limited space, very enjoyable show! Now I was not able to visit every bar, lounge, but all in all there are 35 different bars on board, believe it or not:-) Another area to check out is the "Chamber", which is the late night disco, very gothic, just wasn't up late enough to see it in full swing, hopefully next time.
Cabin We had a balcony cabin on deck 7, pretty much in the middle. The lay-out of the cabin was the nicest cabin I've had yet. You walk in and one side is the closet (plenty of space), other side is the bathroom, with the neatest shower, glass doors that swing around you and a movable shower head that's neat. You then have your desk, TV and a nice sized table and regular size couch, before hitting the bed. Now the bed is curved at the bottom, so it's easy to get around. On the other side of the bed are the doors to the balcony. Balcony was adequate, held the normal 2 chairs and small table. Ever since having our first balcony, having one now is mandatory J On the real windy days, it was difficult to really feel it in the cabin. Other parts of the ship it was more defined, but not a real problem for us, had heard it was unusual to have that kind of weather at this time of year. The rest of the days made up for this, always warm and sunny, except for a few showers we experienced in St. Thomas. They really improved on the cabins when they designed these ships, very roomy. We were able to totally up-pack everything and still have room, also the luggage was stored under the bed, very easily too I might add. I was a little worried that the hairdryer, which is in the top drawer on the desk would not be strong enough like most travel dryers, but this one did the trick and quickly too.
Service With as many passengers that cruise on these mega ships we felt the service was very good. At least our every need was taken care of in a short amount of time. The dinning room service was very good along with the food. We found the food to be very good, never had a bad meal, the choices were varied and never had a problem finding something that it my mood. The last night out they served prime rib that was excellent along with the filet. All the desserts were delicious and I tried to pass on a few, but for some reason, no matter how full I was, I just had to have a taste. It was well worth it, haven't stepped on the scale yet, but I can just imagine?? Our room attendant was the best ever, always there to straighten up and refresh anything that we needed, Hyatt did an amazing job and his pillow art and towel art were a great surprise every evening. The captain on Explorer was Johnny Faevelen, who is off on vacation now and will return to Adventures of the Seas. Every intro for the Captain was proceeded by the theme song from the Johnny Carson show, you know "Here's Johnny", very personable and loved to talk and joke during his announcements, more so than any other captain I've encountered, a real down to earth kind of guy. We also enjoyed cruise director Ken Rush, very funny man and was able to keep the crowd pleased, had me laughing all the time. Would of liked to see him out and about more, but I think he's just a very busy man, he also works on the TV station they have on board. Could be too that the ship is just so big, you miss him walking around, what ever the case is, he does an outstanding job. The service as a whole on board Explorer I'd rate between 8 and 9, it's right up there.
Entertainment This area is where the ship really shines. We saw almost all the major shows including the ice show, which is not to be missed, truly amazing considering the small space they have to work in and they make use of it all. The music, lights, etc are amazing and if you miss anything by where you are sitting there are some TV monitors which you can see everything as well. The singers were truly remarkable along with the dancers. There was one evening when the seas were very rough and they considered canceling the show, but they choose to go on with the show and I don't know how they managed it, but you'd never guess the ship was rocking and rolling right along with them, they were super. A very good variety of comedy, song and dance were seen nightly. Heard from some of our tablemates that there was some good jazz entertainers going on in one of the lounges. What ever your fancy may be in the way of entertainment, you could find it somewhere on the ship. Of course sometime during the week you will run into the Krooze Komics, loved seeing them. There were 2-3 major parades in the Promenade which are something else to catch, very enjoyable! I think the entertainment on board Explorer far exceeds most ships today, they really go all out in this area!
Ports of Call In all honesty we did this cruise for the ship, so the ports were second in our reasons for cruising on Explorer of the Seas. First port of call is Nassau, which we haven't visited for over 10 years and were looking forward to see how it has changed. Really did not see many changes other than Atlantis on Paradise Island, how can you miss that! Our plan was to do the America's cup regatta while there, but due to the high winds, we received a call first thing in the morning (after getting an early wake-up call) that it would be cancelled, truly a big disappointment for us. So after a quick breakfast, tried room service and that was the way to go that morning, we rushed down to the exploration desk and signed up for the harbor tour and the trip over to Atlantis. This resort is totally amazing, took the tour around the grounds and were in awe of the whole project. The aquarium was like nothing I've seen in a hotel/resort. It turned out to be a very enjoyable tour and the way to spend some time in Nassau. If ever in Nassau, its worth the time to go over there. We also had some time to go into town and do some shopping, not the best in the Caribbean and we knew we would be in St. Thomas soon, so just browsed around and then went back to the ship. Next port of call was St. Thomas and we took a taxi over to Meagan's bay in between some showers. The beach there is beautiful, but we preferred Trunk Bay over in St. Johns, but figured we should check this one out too. Meagan's bay is very beautiful and a nice beach day. After spending a few hours there, the storm clouds came back again, so we got a taxi back and did some shopping at the mall by the pier, picked up our t-shirts, cologne, booze, etc. Since we're cruised in and out of San Juan a few times, just stepped off the ship for a quick stop at an internet cafe and my better half tried out the casino at the Wyndham Hotel at the pier. We were set to sail away from there at 2:00 so it really didn't give enough time to do a whole lot, so it was back to the ship again. Our last and favorite stop was Labadee, the private beach stop. This was the next best thing to paradise, you could do all or nothing and they provided a BBQ on the beach which was great, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, ribs, salads, fruits and desserts. We had signed up earlier for the waverunner tour, which was great fun. I actually drove the first half and I've never done that before. They like the more experienced drivers in the front because they can go faster and we ended up in the 2nd spot and believe it or not I was able to keep up, can't say that for the rest of our group. Just took a minute to get the feel of it and our tour leader said I did "awesome", almost wanted to do it again, which my better half actually did, got on again for the last tour and enjoyed it all over again. It's a nice way to see more of the peninsula. The rest of the day you could rent water mats, which I spent the major portion of the day on, find a quiet hammock, parasail, banana boat rides, kayaks, and tons of lounge chairs, no fights in this spot:-) Couldn't believe when it was time to catch the ferry and head back, could of stayed there for a few, that's for sure. Our last day was a "sea" day which are always nice and a great way to end the cruise, spent most of the day on deck 11 at the pool and did some last minute shopping on board. We did run into some couples that were on their first cruise and I don't think they have any idea how a cruise on Explorer of the Seas can possible compete with any other cruise. Of course they all agreed that they would cruise again, just hope the next ones can match the experience you get cruising on this ship. Royal Caribbean sure has a winner in these class of ships, it's a tough act to follow, but I will give my best shot at checking their future ships out.
Everyone who knows me well, knows I LOVE RCL and their beautiful ships. The staff on RCL ships have always been the greatest ~ happy and helpful ~ just fun to be with for a week. Explorer is every bit as beautiful and magnificent as advertised.....perhaps more so when you first see her sitting at the dock in Miami! Just an awesome sight that will forever stay with you. From the time we met RCL staff at the airport until we left the ship on our last day, they were the BEST. Our cabin steward was absolutely one of the nicest....Emanuel could not do enough for us 6 females. We always had ice in our ice buckets and cooler...he made fantastic animals out of towels for both cabins! No matter what time we left our cabins and no matter how soon we returned to them....they were made up! Our robes were always there and the beautiful big shells in each bathroom were always full of goodies for us! Needless to say, Emanuel received a great tip! We let him know just how much we appreciated him too ~ realize itis his job, but picking up for 6 females is no easy task! lol
Our first meal in Windjammer was good ~ muster drill went off without a problem. All our luggage arrived by 6PM (most before that) and we found that we had ample space for all our clothes and shoes. Having adjoining cabins is always a plus for the 6 of us....as is having the 2 balconies. Room service was delivered on time the first morning and we were able to get ready to visit downtown Nassau's straw market before we left on our scheduled tour ~swimming with the dolphins in Blue Lagoon. Danalyn, my adult daughter & my 2 nieces ~11 and 13, enjoyed this more than anything! Mom, my sister in law and I enjoyed watching them. It was an experience for all of us and the video of them is a happy remembrance of a perfect day. The boat ride to the dolphins was beautiful ~ Atlantis looks as grand as in all the magazines and as seen on TV.
Monday was our first day at sea. We had no problem finding 6 lounge chairs together and in a spot we wanted....of course 3 of us got up early to get them and the other 3 followed within 1/2 an hour. It was a very relaxing and fun day. RCL pools are salt water so always fresh and clean. We enjoyed them very much. We did notice that people are not dressing as formally as they used to - which is fine with us....to each their own as long as some codes are followed (ex:all men in at least suits). We are finding we enjoy the casual nights better ~ perhaps the novelty of wearing gowns and the time it takes to all get ready has worn off for us....whatever the reason, we like dressing more casual now....but on formal night did dress very formally.
Because we have cruised this itinerary so much, we decided not to take another excursion when we stopped inn St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. In St. Thomas we shopped in the AM and came back on the ship, ate and enjoyed the pool with a lot less people! In PR some went shopping while 3 of us stayed back to relax more around the pool. They were both fantastic days. The only reason my sister in law and nieces got off the ship in Labadee was to have the girls hair braided....we LOVE staying on the ship while others are off!
We had a blast in the pool that day! The pools were always clean as were the spas/hot tubs. Children seemed to be well controlled by their parents. Fun games around the pool were great as always....lots of fun people.
FOOD: Our first dinner did not impress any of us. Our waiter and assistant were very friendly but did not care for us as we had become accustomed to cruising on RCL ships. When the head waiter came over to introduce himself and ask what we thought, I told him. I also mentioned that I would be writing a review and posting it on the RCL board, AOL Cruise Critic board and also Cruisemates.com. The following evening our meat was cut, pepper was offered, never did they forget what drink to bring any of us!
The basket of rolls was always full ~ anything we wanted we got and in the friendliest way. Dinners were very enjoyable and we found that our food was better! (although not sure if that had anything to do with my saying I felt the steak was not up to RCL standards the first night). WINDJAMMMER~we found that they offered the same foods every day....in years past, they had more of a variety each day rather than the same ole' same ole'. Breakfast is breakfast ~ they offered just about anything and always good.
ROOM SERVICE: We had late seating ~ 8:30PM so found that about 4PM, when we got a little hungry ~ so we ordered room service and the food was very good. Usually would order a salad, some pizzas, cheese/fruit platter....by 8:30 we were ready for a good meal in the dining room.
SHOWS: RCL is known for it's fantastic shows and again they did not let us down. Do not miss the ice show! It is just fantastic. Bowzer (remember Sha-Na-Na?) came aboard in PR with his backup singers and dancers. His show was such fun, especially to those of us who were raised in the 50s or who love the 50s music. My niece (13) and I were selected to come on stage and we had a blast. My partner and I won the dance contest ~ he had me twirling upside down, on his hip, you name it and he had me swinging! My daughter was laughing so hard she was crying! Bowzer made sure I became an instant star and was noticed and applauded by so many during the rest of the cruise.....even I was embarrassed by the attention! ;o) It was fun....clean, good fun. Bowzer is one of the nicest and sincere people in show business. He made a point to come up to us at the pool as well as to our dinner table. He asked to autograph my shirt I won and posed while we took pictures. He made his way around others in the dining room, only to happy to give his autograph. It was a nice experience. We had met him on another RCL ship and walked with him on the deck ~he is a kind man.
Personally speaking: I have cruised most of the Mega RCL ships and have been on Voyager and now Explorer. I prefer the Mega size ships more. I will miss some of the extras on the Voyage size ships, but feel a few hundred less people is better. I have poor sense of direction, yet never got lost on Explorer....they lay out of these ships is wonderful. I won $90. in the casino ~ better than losing!
The CHAMBER (disco) is a MUST! An awesome disco. Ken Rush was his usual fun and friendly self ~ making the rounds and spending time with guest. The last evening he sat with Danalyn and Sandy for some time in the Chamber, just enjoying the evening and not talking cruise, etc.
INTERNET: We had the Internet connection in our cabin and found it more convenient than going to the library or computer room to e-mail. To do this, you have to make the arrangements ahead and take a laptop with you. The cost is $100. for unlimited for the week...and with 6 of us, that was a bargain!
One thing we found was that you must check your prices ~ a lot of new staff were on the ship and prices varied for the same product from place to place ~ ex: a drink.
If you have the opportunity to cruise on Explorer, do so....I can't see how anyone would have a bad experience.
Remember ~ this is my own personal opinion and experiences......Happy cruising! Hugs, Lindy
PS ~ this is dedicated to my Mother ~ NANNY ;o)
We had a group of 23 people sail on the Explorer of the Seas leaving Miami on January 20 and visiting Labadee, San Juan, St. Thomas (St. John) and Nassau. Our group was comprised of people from 14 to 78 years old. Business associates, family and friends comprised the group.
All of us flew to Miami the day before scheduled sailing. We always travel to the departure city a day early since we nearly missed a ship for flight delays several years ago. Most of us spent the night at a new LaQuinta Inn and Suites at the airport. This limited service hotel was great. It had a pool and a hot tub and provided a complimentary continental breakfast. Others in our group stayed in South Beach and at the Hyatt Regency Miami. We made arrangements for shuttle service from the hotel to the pier. Travel time was approximately 20 minutes from the airport hotel.
We arrived at the ship about 11:20 AM. Passengers were being boarded when we arrived. Most of our group got in line to check-in. My parents were with us and my dad required a wheel chairto get from the dock to their room. The distance was a bit too far for him to walk. When we requested a wheel chair, a Royal Caribbean (RCI) attendant took us to a separate waiting area. He took my parents cruise tickets and birth certificates and returned within five minutes with their cruise cards (room keys). In the meantime, we went to the suite check-in line (this is a separate line from the main check-in and not easy to see with the number of people in the terminal. If you are booked in a suite (CAT C or higher) be sure to ask an RCI employee where the suite check in line is. Our check-in was complete in about five minutes. Our entire group was checked in within 20 - 25 minutes. Overall, RCI handled embarkation very well.
The Explorer of the Seas is an unbelievably beautiful ship. First, you are awed by her sheer size. While she isn't really all that much longer than some of the other megaliners, she is very wide. You notice just how wide when you step onto the pool deck or look down the Royal Promenade.
The artwork on the ship (if you enjoy looking at art) is wonderful. There is a good mix of art created out of different media (paintings, sculptures, fabrics, metal, mosaics, etc.) and you are always coming across something new. I spent a couple of hours just walking around the ship and taking photos of "stuff" I liked.
I have to agree with other reviews I read. The ship never seemed that crowded even though they said the cruise was sold out. There are a lot of options and places for people to go and they never seemed to congregate in one place. Even the pool deck was comfortable and there were always plenty of deck chairs.
REALLY COOL STUFF ON BOARD
The stage drape in the Palace Theater (the prettiest I've seen on a ship)
Metal Angel sculpture aft hanging from deck 12 (I wanted to bring her home but she wouldn't fit in the overhead on the plane!)
Tiered pool deck
Glass overlook into the bridge (fun place to watch them "drive the ship")
Being able to walk to the VERY FRONT of the ship (probably my favorite thing) the way you could on the Titanic
Moving golf sculpture in the 19th hole (very strange but fun)
Paul McCartney's guitars (fore staircase, sorry but can't remember what deck)
The ice skating show
The sound in the main theater
Glass floor with artwork underneath at the Casino entrance (careful, it's pretty but easy to trip over)
Plenty of deck chairs
A promenade deck that you can walk all the way around
We were in a CAT C cabin at the rear of the ship. We've been in this type of room for the past several cruises and really like it. One word of warning however for those who have had these rooms on the Rhapsody or Vision. The balconies on the Explorer are not nearly as big back here as the Rhapsody or Vision. There is a huge space from the end of the balcony to the end of the ship so you are not really over the water like on the other ships. Of course you can see the water, but the feeling isn't the same. We'd probably pick a cabin on the side of the Explorer should we ever cruise her again.
Our cabin (7692) itself was wonderful. There was more storage space than any other cabin we've had in the past. We had empty drawers and shelves! One great thing about this cabin is that it is wider than those on the side of the ship or the Rhapsody/Vision. When the couch was pulled out for our daughter's bed, there was plenty of room to walk by her bed to get to the balcony. A very nice improvement. In additional to the pull out couch there were also two chairs and a coffee table in this part of the room. It was a great cabin!
Our past several cruises on Royal Caribbean had mediocre food. I'm happy to report that the food quality and choices on the Explorer were greatly improved. Every meal in the dining room was excellent and everyone in our group felt that way about what they ordered. The choices and the quality in the Windjammer also improved although you still have to remember that this is a buffet line.
The food at the Promenade Cafe (open 24 hours a day) was also very good. The pizza, while still not as good as Princess, was steps ahead of the cardboard pizza served on the Rhapsody and Vision. The pastries, cookies and sandwiches served here were also very good.
As I read before cruising, the food in Johnny Rockets was really good. We had late dinner seating so we went up to Johnny Rockets each afternoon (OK, not every afternoon) about 4:00 for a snack. It was never crowded at that time and we never had to wait for a seat. We also ate lunch here around 2:00 PM the day we were in Nassau and didn't have to wait. The only downside was the extremely slow service. For an area that they serve a lot of people and often have long lines, you would think they would put quicker servers in this area.
The production shows (done by the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers) in the theaters were terrific and far better than those offered on previous cruises. The sound is state-of-the-art and the voices of the four main stars of the show rivaled Broadway singers. The featured entertainers weren't the best but the talent of the production shows made up for it. The ice skating show is amazing and shouldn't be missed. Tickets were easy to get (and free). An important note, however; the ice show was only offered on two evenings on this cruise.
Lounge entertainment all over the ship was good. Nothing spectacular but consistently good.
THE ROYAL PROMENADE
The Royal Promenade area was very pretty and helped make the ship not seem so big. I always had my parents walk across the Royal Promenade to get to and from the back of the ship. It seemed much shorter than walking the long hallways of floors with cabins only. There was also plenty of space along the Promenade where dad could sit down and rest for a moment if he tired from walking.
I didn't think that there was all that much more "shopping" available on the Royal Promenade. It's just in a much bigger space than on other ships. They used this area for receptions and parades and I often felt it had somewhat of a Las Vegas feel to it. Do we really need Las Vegas at sea?
For anyone thinking about booking an inside cabin that overlooks the Royal Promenade, be aware that they do parades in this area at least four nights and some of them happen as late as 11:00 PM so it is very noisy.
CREW AND SERVICE
Dining Room We had two tables for ten in the dining room that accommodated our group. We had two different waiters (actually one was a waitress), but shared the same assistant waiter and assistant Maitre D (formerly called Head Waiters). Both of our wait staff were good but the server at our table was a bit abrupt and hurried all week long. Our assistant waiter, Sarkan, was fabulous. One night when someone said the iced tea didn't taste the same as the night before and she thought it was instant tea, he told our assistant Maitre D who went and brewed fresh tea for her. His comment was that he wanted to make her happy and if her tea didn't taste right, he wanted to fix that!
Our assistant Maitre D, Laurent, was also outstanding. He made our group feel important and nothing was ever too much trouble. We celebrated two anniversaries and a 50th birthday during the week and he took care of all the celebrations to make it a lot of fun.
Bar Service If you want good bar service on a Royal Caribbean ship, always go to the Champagne bar. You can buy wine and champagne by the bottle here and they will keep the wine for you if you do not finish the bottle. The serve hors d'ouvres and goodies here if you have a drink and they make a point to get to know your name and what you like. We've had similar service in lounges on smaller ships, but this was the only place on the Explorer that offered bar service like this.
One of the most astonishing things I've ever seen by a Bar Server occurred in the sports bar one afternoon when we sat down with a piece of pizza. She was standing at the end of the bar reading a book from the ship's library. She looked up at us when we came in (no one else was in the bar at the time) and looked back down to continue reading. After about four or five minutes, she walked to the table next to us to pick up a cup and napkins and walked back to the bar. Then she finally came to our table to ask if we wanted a drink. I was so shocked I didn't know what to say. After she brought drinks, she went right back to reading her book at the end of the bar. I guess it's getting difficult to get staff for cruise ships too!
One other note about the bars and bar service. An extremely high percentage of the ships crew could be found in ALL bars throughout the evening, to the point that some bars were filled to capacity without seats available for passengers. It's something we hadn't seen on any ship prior to this one. All bars, except the Champagne bar seemed short on servers.
Cruise Staff The Cruise Staff is made up of the Cruise Director and his staff that plans the social activities on board. If there was one major down fall on the Explorer it was Cruise Staff. There were not friendly or outgoing; when they were supposed to be greeting guests (at the Captain's Reception for example) they were talking to each other and ignoring passengers. On 50's and 60's evening, two of the cruise staff were busy fixing their hair in the theatre glass doors instead of greeting passengers. There was one cruise staff member (Erin) that never smiled (and I saw her frequently). Perhaps many of these staff members were on the ship for a while, were nearing the end of their contract and needed a vacation, but they rank at the bottom of all cruise staffs we've seen and this was my 13th cruise.
Housekeeping Our cabin attendant was terrific! Friendly, efficient and creative. Exactly what you want from your cabin attendant. All others on the housekeeping staff were friendly as well. They always greeted you as you walked down the hall, no matter what floor you were on. The Cruise staff should take a lesson or two from them.
Captain Johnny While the cruise staff was lousy, the captain was the BEST. He was out and around the ship more than any other captain we've had, talked to everyone, always joked in his broadcast messages, even danced in the disco one night!
There were plenty of activities to keep one busy on the Explorer. You're probably familiar with most of them…ice skating, rock climbing, roller blading, putt putt, great hot tubs, bingo, etc. But one thing that they didn't have were activities that got people together to meet others. Things like trivia or name that tune on previous ships were good activities that allowed you to meet fellow passengers. You won't find it on the Explorer. And in the evening, it seemed like they tried to pack too many things in … you'd get to one thing and all of a sudden it over and they are herding you to something else.
PORTS OF CALL/SHORE EXCURSIONS
We didn't do this cruise for the ports of call. We really did it for the ship. All the ports of call were fine although it was cool in Nassau and those who took the snorkeling excursion here froze in the water. Also, some people in our group did the Stingray excursion in Nassau and said it was terrible….five stingray that seemed poorly cared for in a pen with 70 people from the excursion. Sounds like if you want to do a Stingray excursion do it in Grand Cayman.
We took 20 people to St. John for the day when we docked in St. Thomas. This has become an annual event for us. We rent an open air taxi for the day, stop at Cruz Bay water sports so people can rent equipment, called a grocery store and ordered picnic lunches and spent the day at the beach! The views and beaches of St. John are marvelous and everyone had a good time here.
Labadee and San Juan were fine. Nothing exciting to report at either stop.
After a great week (other than some of the staff) we had a disappointment disembarkation. It was a MESS!!! Again, it was mostly staff attitudes that made this so unpleasant. Royal Caribbean staff were actually yelling (and I honestly mean yelling) at people for absolutely no reason. I wish I had my video camera along so I could have sent it to Royal Caribbean. Their personnel as we left the ship was so nasty (before we got to the luggage) that the entire situation could be enough to skip RCI in the future. There were times throughout the week that RCI staff should have been yelling at passengers, but this wasn't one of those!
All cruises are good and everyone in our group thoroughly enjoyed this cruise. Personally, the Explorer, as pretty as she is, is a bit too large for us and we prefer smaller ships (the Vision, Mercury or Ocean Princess are about as large as we'll normally go in the future). The bigger ships with all their activities make it harder to relax and they lack the activities that allow you to get to know other passengers and crew. I feel like I need another vacation now! We also have a serious concern about the higher percentage of poor staff. When we began cruising 11 years ago, a poor crew member was few and far between. They were very noticeable on the Explorer! Fortunately, there were also a lot of great crew members as well. One has to wonder how the cruise industry will be able to continue to staff the increasing amount of inventory that is coming on-line in the next several years. Hopefully, they'll manage.
Well, here it is. Better late than never, right? Instead of re-iterating what has been said before in other reviews, I hope to bring a new perspective to the Explorer of the Seas experience. I hope you enjoy.
This cruise was the fourth seven-day cruise for my husband and I (Majesty of the Seas, Monarch of the Seas, Royal Majesty), the second for my Mom (Song of America) and the first for my Dad. We both booked Category I guarantee cabins 7 months in advance, and were delighted to find out that we had been upgraded - we were assigned a category E family stateroom and my parents had a category F larger outside.
CABINS There have been many questions concerning these 2 stateroom categories on the various message boards, and I hope to shed some light. The Category F stateroom is 211 square feet, making it larger than a category D balcony cabin (DA-DB = 173 ft2; D1-D9 = 188 ft2). The room was very spacious, there was plenty of closet, drawer and storage space, as well as a fold out sofa bed. There was one very large round window, keepingthe room sunny during the days. As is found in all Explorer staterooms, there was a safe, hairdryer, 19" interactive television and mini-bar. The standard sized bathroom was very well designed, with even more storage space behind the side mirrors. The now famous clam-shell shower doors really were incredible compared to the old, invasive shower curtain.
Our category E family stateroom was 265 square feet, and is designed to sleep up to six people. The room itself has one king/queen sized bed, a fold-out sofa bed, and a side "room" with a bunkbed. There was also a curtain to separate the bed from the sofa which we left open. There was certainly no lack of storage space in this stateroom - there were 3 good sized closets, one with closet organizers, plenty of drawer space, additional storage behind a few mirrors, as well as wood cabinets. We kept on finding more storage space! There were also 2 sofa chairs with matching ottomans, which opened up for, you guessed it, additional storage. Our room was in the very front of the ship, overlooking the bow through two 2 large windows. It was great when pulling into port. With respect to motion, we felt no more movement than if we were standing in the center of the ship.
SOLARIUM / POOL / SHIPSHAPE CENTER
The Solarium was magnificent. You could see that RCI paid attention to detail here. The theme of Spanish Matadors was evident from the huge sculpture of a bull down to the exquisite tiling on the floor. Instead of just a ladder, the salt water pool had majestic steps to guide you in, and there were fountains of water spraying into the pool every 30 seconds or so. The lounge chairs were padded and very comfortable. This area is adults only, and the staff made sure that this rule was obeyed. We found the Solarium pool was a great place to relax, read a book, and take it easy. There were also 2 quite large whirlpools on either side of the pool.
The polar opposite of the peaceful serenity of the Solarium is found at the Main Pool area! There are 2 oversized pools, 4 or 5 whirlpools, a mist station that sprays cool mist on you at the press of a button, and plenty of deck chairs. As to be expected, there were many children in the pool area, and they all seemed to be having a wonderful time. Of course, what Caribbean cruise is complete without a reggae band, and the one on Explorer played all the classics. The cruise staff also conducted pool games here, including Mr Sexy Legs (which is hysterical - definitely NOT to be missed!), 70's line dancing and horse racing. We didn't mind if we did not find a lounge chair right next to the pool… it was pretty noisy, and we had a great view of the sea from one deck higher. Ultimately, we were happy wherever we settled.
For any fitness buffs out there, the Shipshape Center will not disappoint. At home, I work out at least 3 times a week so a good gym is a necessity for me. In addition to being esthetically pleasing, the gym on Explorer of the Seas was fully loaded, complete with dozens of cross trainers, stairmasters, treadmills and stationary bicycles. They also had a large variety of free weights, as well as traditional exercise weight machines. While on the cardio equipment, you have the choice of either looking out to the sea, or watching the overhead televisions. The machines are equipped with personal earphones jacks (you need to ask the staff for the earphones), so that only those who want to hear the television will actually hear it. Of course, they also offered aerobics, step, body sculpting, etc… classes in the large and airy aerobics room.
There was also a large thallasotherapy pool which was free to use. Apparently, one is to spend a few minutes in the pool before and after working out, in order to replenish the minerals in your skin. Who knows. It was very comfortable, with plenty of jets all around.
My husband and I were actually a bit ill on the cruise, so we didn't have the appetite we normally would. That said, in general I really do not cruise for the food and I have yet to go hungry. I have heard a lot of negative reviews about RCI food, and have decided it really is a matter of personal choice. For any given cruise, on any line, I have heard vastly different culinary experiences, and have decided not to pay attention. If there is something you do not like, send it back and get something else.
The dining room service was excellent, as usual. Both our waiter and assistant waitress were very competent. With respect to the meal choices, we found that there was enough of a variety to keep everyone happy. There were days when the fish wasn't as tasty as I would have liked, so I ordered something else. It really did not bother me.
We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at the Windjammer Cafe. I found that the selections were plentiful, and am surprised when I read reviews criticizing the choices, especially for breakfast. They offered around 8 types of cold cereal, oatmeal, porridge, bacon, sausage, hash browns, french fries, pancakes, waffles, toast (with jam, butter, peanut butter), muffins, danishes, english muffins, bagels/cream cheese/ and HUGE platters of smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, fresh sliced pineapple, honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, grapes, oranges, bananas… I think you catch my drift. There was also an omelet station in the Island Grill, which is the back part of the Windjammer, where a chef cooks up made-to-order omelets. Yes, they offered these choices every day so that the variety was not changing, but let's be realistic, what more could you possibly want??
The lunches in the Windjammer / Island Grill did vary daily, and there was a good variety of hot and cold food to choose from. I never had any complaints, except maybe finding a seat. The afternoon daily "snack" was more like lunch part 2, and again there was a huge variety of offerings to tempt any palate.
My parents chose to eat breakfast and lunch in the dining room when not in port. My Mom actually thought that some of the lunches were better than the dinners! She only had positive things to say about the food in the dining room. Breakfast and lunch was open seating, which suited my parents fine as the both liked meeting new and interesting people.
The Cafe Promenade was truly an oasis. We inevitably ended up here at least once a day, be it for a quick sandwich on our way out to port, a cup of herbal tea and cookies in the afternoon, or a late nite piece of pizza. The selection was always fresh and plentiful, and you usually did not need to wait long to be served, even when there were great crowds. The cafe itself was very tastefully decorated, with Capiello posters lining the walls, and a single red rose on each table.
Truth be told, I was disappointed in the food once - and that was at Johnny Rockets. When the waiter finally got around to serving us, he requested our SuperCharge card, even though the hamburger and chili fries we ordered were free or charge. He insisted that we turn it over to him, since that was part of their procedure. After over 10 minutes of waiting, he hadn't returned our card yet. The city girl in me became a bit paranoid, since the Supercharge card is also our room key, and room was now empty… We finally had to ask for it back, and even then he was slow returning it. Upon speaking with others, nobody else had to give in their card unless they were ordering an item with a supplemental charge, such as a milkshake. When our food finally arrived, we were very disappointed. The chili fries looked very unappealing and had a taste to match, and we found the burgers in the Island Grill to be way superior to Johnny Rockets'. That said, from an esthetic point of view, the 50's dinner theme was done very well, and was fun to look at. Also, the staff kept the area spotless.
Hanukkah The first night of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah happened to fall during our cruise. Royal Caribbean had arranged for a cantor to be onboard, and all those interested met in the Palace theater. The main floor of the theater was full, and we estimate around 500-600 people joined in the festivities. There was a large Menorah onstage, in front of which the cantor recited the Hebrew religious blessings. Everyone got involved, especially when he followed up with traditional folk songs. To celebrate, the chef prepared Hanukkah latkes, and the staff gave out dreidels to the kids. This was very done very classily, and hats off to Royal Caribbean for recognizing the occasion.
Repeater's Party There were actually 3 repeater's parties on our cruise, as over 50% of the guests were prior RCI passengers. We had the usual complimentary champagne or cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and delightful chocolate treats. The party was held at the Maharaja lounge, and was by invitation only (invites were checked at the door). The captain opened up the floor for questions, and which inevitably is an invitation for all the clods in the audience to speak up. Some gems included a man getting visibly upset saying he was disappointed there was no chandelier in the dining room as on Voyager, another man complained about open seating for breakfast and lunch (he must have repeated that he always treats his waiters VERY well about a dozen times), while someone else thought that open seating for dinner is the way RCI should go. Can't please everyone all the time, I guess.
Captain's Cocktail Party Interestingly, they held the Captain's welcome aboard cocktail party in the Royal Promenade. It was done very well, and the blue-tinged overhead lights gave the impression of being outside at dusk. It was all very elegant, albeit a bit crowded for some.
50's/60's/70's Night Instead of having these on 2 separate nights, there was one giant dance party where we passed though 3 decades in an hour and a half. The party was held in the Studio B ice rink, which was boarded over for the occasion. The 50's was my Dad's decade, and he was quite excited about the night. It turns out that the 50's portion of the night coincided with the late seating's entertainment, which happened to be Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees. By the time the show let out, the party was already into the 60's... and my Dad (and many others) were disappointed to have missed it. This should have been scheduled a bit better as there were many who would have enjoyed the entire experience, especially given the evening's retro theme. I found the party to be much duller and more 'rushed' than on previous cruises. The staff really was not into it, and appeared to be going through motions. More on the staff later.
Rather than go over every room in detail, I will highlight some key areas.
Bow of the Ship This was my favorite spot on the ship. The guests on Explorer of the Seas are allowed to go to the very front of the ship, located all the way forward on deck 5. To be exact, you need to exit on deck 4 and climb the outdoor steps to deck 5. There are benches to relax on, and enjoy the serenity of the seas. It is beautiful at night, and a romantic place to stargaze. However, it is unlit at night so be careful.
The Chamber Nightclub Very cool club atmosphere. It is 2 floor with a medieval goth theme. The party only started happening around 11:00-11:30 at night, and on my cruise the crowd was dominated mostly by 18-21 year olds. At 28, I felt old. I went to the Chamber on several occasions, and each time the DJ was playing hip-hop music - not my favorite to dance too. As a result, I ended up really not spending as much time as I would have liked in the club.
Sports Area Rock-climbing wall, basketball court, miniature golf, roller blading - what more is there to say? All activities were complimentary, although there was usually a line for the rock-climbing wall. The roller blade track was very small, so do not pack your blades unless you plan on using them in the islands.
Being Canadian, I was excited about ice skating in the middle of the Caribbean. However, the daily Compass stated that advanced skaters needed to supply their own skates (who packs ice skates on a cruise?), while beginners needed to sit through a half hour lesson, which I did not need. I never bothered to investigate it any further, and ended up missing the ice-skating.
Maharaja's Lounge Although I personally did not experience it, my parents loved the ballroom dancing in the evenings in the Maharaja's lounge. They were surprised that it wasn't better announced.
ENTERTAINMENT / STAFF
Headliner - Mickey Dolenz It's always a bit sad to see once famous entertainers years later… but that was not the case with Mickey Dolenz. I was actually surprised by how good he was, singing all the Monkees' old songs such as Daydream Believer and Last Train to Clarkesville. His sister joined him on stage, and together they put on a great show. In between songs he did a pseudo self-deprecating standup comedy act, griping about his old age, which elicited many laughs from the audience.
Headliner - Roger Behr Who is this guy? From the way cruise director Ken Rush was hyping his performance for days, you would have thought he was like Jim Carrey or some other top-notch comedian. Well, you could not get further from the truth then that. This guy embodied the phrase "washed up", telling jokes that were outdated in the 80's. I would honestly be surprised if he modified his act in over 20 years, if not ever. He even did the bit about how on a cruise, the shower curtain sticks to you while you are trying to shower. Well, we all know that there are no shower curtains on Explorer of the Seas… maybe he forgot to shower all week. Either way, he stunk.
Wave Revue Dancers / Ice Show Again, I do not want to re-iterate what has already been said. We thought the shows were fantastic, very well choreographed and with beautiful costumes. The ice show is not to be missed.
Cruise Director / Staff We heard a lot of great things about Ken Rush prior to boarding this cruise, and our expectations were very high. We found him to be not as ‘polished' as some of the other CD's out there (Kyle Dodson, for example), but that ended up being refreshing change. He seemed more human and personable, and not cut from the same game-show-host mold as some of the others.
His staff on the other hand, lacked any of the professionalism needed to perform their jobs. We usually become friendly with the cruise staff, but on this cruise, we could not understand how Royal Caribbean could hire such dull people. They were rude, snobbish, immature and gave the impression that they would rather be anywhere but on the ship. Compared to the excellent and outgoing cruise directing staff on my prior RCI cruises, these clowns were a real disappointment. I did however hear that the kids' staff was pretty good.
PORTS OF CALL
There is really nothing more I can add about Labadee that has not been said before. It's a great island for relaxing, really scenic. Snorkeling is very poor though.
This was our second time in San Juan. The last time we were there, we spent a few days on the island and we rented a car to go to the El Yunque rainforest. The rainforest is lush and beautiful, and was the highlight of our vacation. We definitely wanted to go back, especially to take my parents along. Given our tight schedule of 12:30 -8:00 p.m. in port, we were unsure of what to do. We did not want to take an organized tour, as they only give you a half hour to walk around, and do not take you to the out-of-the-way Mina falls. The only way to explore the Mina falls is to hike down, which the tours do not offer. The Mina falls are, in our opinion, the jewel of the rainforest and to miss it is like going to Rome and missing the Coliseum.
Before I left, I spoke with a Puerto Rican car rental agency and arranged with them to pick us up at the pier and shuttle us to their lot. The shuttle was complimentary, and it meant that we did not have to negotiate the hectic Old San Juan traffic. Also, their agency was just off the main highway, so it was easy to find them on the way back. As promised, we called them when we arrived in port and the shuttle bus came within 20 minutes. We arrived at the rainforest just as the Explorer of the Seas tour bus was pulling in! We were chatting with some friends while snapping photos in front of the pretty Coca falls. But while those on the tour had to leave soon after, we hiked down to the Mina falls where my husband swam under the refreshingly cool waterfall. It really is breathtaking, and it is a shame there are not any tours that explore this area of the forest. To be on the safe side, we left El Yunque by 5:00 p.m. The rental agency shuttled us back to the pier, and we were in Old San Juan by 6:30. We toured the city for a bit, bought a bit of booze, and boarded the ship at 7:30.
St Thomas / St John
Having been to St Thomas before, and being under whelmed by Magen's Bay, we decided to see what St John had to offer. Prior to leaving for the cruise, I researched the ferry schedules from Red Hook, St Thomas, to Cruz Bay, St John. They leave every hour on the hour SHARP, so if you are late you are stuck at the not so pretty ferry terminal. We almost did not make it as the 20-person cab by the pier did not want to make a run to Red Hook with only 4 people, but we spoke with the dispatcher who insisted. Also, the price of $5 per person that RCI quoted us as the going rate was upped to $8 pp by the taxi authority.
Due to ocean swells, the ferry ride to St John was quite bumpy and I was actually worried that we might capsize. It would certainly make for an interesting story, huh? Once in St John, we caught a cab to Cinnamon Bay. We chose Cinnamon Bay over the more popular Trunk Bay, as we heard that recently Trunk Bay was too crowded with cruisers and shore excursions. In fact, our thoughts were confirmed when we drove past Trunk Bay, which was absolutely packed. Cinnamon Bay is also part of the US National Parks, there were facilities on site, and the admission was free. We brought our own equipment so I am unsure of whether they rent snorkel gear. Not to sound cliched, but the beach was a little piece of paradise. The water was crystal clear, and the sand was like powder. Alongside Bermuda, this was probably the nicest beach I have been on. The snorkeling was fabulous - we saw schools of different kinds of colorful fish as well as a couple of stingrays. It did take a while to find the good snorkeling ‘spot', though, but once we found it we were in heaven. Also, the beach was relatively empty, with only a few other couples. I need to add that the strangest thing I think I ever saw on a beach was at Cinnamon Bay - out of nowhere, we saw a pair of wild donkeys galloping along the beach. They ended up settling under some trees, and did not appear dangerous, but certainly out of place! We caught the afternoon ferry back to downtown Charlotte Amalie, instead of Red Hook pier, and spent the rest of the day shopping.
Nassau / Paradise Island
We decided to take a water taxi across the bay to Paradise Island for the day. It was very overcast, and it looked like it would rain any minute. Sure enough, the downpour hit as we were crossing over to Paradise Island, and all those on the top deck of the boat ran down for cover… not very comfortable. The rain subsided soon after we arrived, and we decided to see the famous Atlantis resort. In order to gain access to the grounds, all guests must pay a $25.00 fee per person. This fee does not include use of any of the pools or waterslides, which only resort guests can use, and wristbands are checked diligently. We actually walked in the front door of the resort and no one stopped us to told us where to pay. We were able to tour the grounds, which are amazing. The casino is glitzy and expansive, with huge aquatic themed sculptures throughout. The aquarium had all kinds of sea animals, including manta rays, stingrays, lobster, shrimp, crabs, sand sharks… Outside, there are a few pools, a Mayan Temple with waterslides, and an inclosed lazy-river ride which takes guests through a sharks den. As I mentioned before, there were many guards by the pools and waterslides checking for wristbands, so we did not try to go on. When we got back to the ship, we met many people who were stopped by the guards and had to pay the $25 entrance fee. I don't know why we weren't stopped, but I am certainly not complaining!
We had people of all ages on our cruise. There were many families, seniors, and younger couples, and at no time did it ever feel ‘too big'. In fact, we were amazed at how uncrowded it felt. It was very easy to find our way around, and we never felt lost.
I would recommend this cruise for anyone who wants a classy but fun experience. Throughout the cruise we overheard people marveling at how this was the nicest ship they were on. We had a fantastic time, and I would sail Explorer's sister ships, Voyager and Adventure, in a heartbeat.
I hope you found this review to be helpful, and please feel free to email me with any questions or comments.
December 2000 My husband, my son and I started our cruise vacation a day early through the RCI day prior program. This made boarding a snap as we checked in and received our boarding passes at the hotel, Hyatt Regency of Miami the night before we boarded. At noon the day of embarking a bus picked us up at the hotel and took us to the pier where we simply walked aboard and started our cruise vacation on sailing # 6 of The Explorer of the Seas.
RCI's Explorer of the Seas is absolutely beautiful. The artwork throughout the ship is stunning. Everywhere you look there is something interesting and new to look at. Views overlooking the Promenade on Deck 5 are breath taking. We enjoyed the fish aquarium displays at the Aquarium Bar.
We took advantage of the tours of the Oceanography and Atmospheric labs. It is interesting to see what the scientists are doing on board. A science lesson worth taking in. "Hands on" science labs, including a miniature iceberg are set up on Deck 4 near the Aquarium Bar. We also enjoyed the window where we could see thebridge and the many instruments needed to navigate the ship.
We especially enjoyed the activities aboard. This included miniature golf, the rock climbing wall, full size basketball court, Ping-Pong tables, shuffleboard, in-line skating, ice skating, foos ball, and of course swimming and Jacuzzis. These were all free. The Adventure Arcade included air hockey and many other arcade type games, which you did have to pay for. We especially tip our hats to the staff of these activities. The Ship Shape staff and the Youth Staff were very friendly and helpful. We even learned to juggle at poolside one afternoon!
We found the food to be good as well. The gala buffet was indeed a sight to behold even though we were too full to take advantage of it. The Promenade Cafe was open 24 hours a day for sandwiches, pizza, or other snacks. Johnny Rockets Diner was a great place to have a sandwich, a bowl of delicious chili, and some fantastic onion rings at no cost, but drinks and malts were charged to your cruise card here. Our son used the Coke Card Program, which was handy. We purchased the program at one of the bars on board and they simply put a coke sticker on his card so he just showed it when he wanted a coke. After a day or two, the waiters knew he had the card and never even asked him to show it. I thought it was nice that if he joined us for a drink in Dizzy's Jazz Bar or any of the other bars they even fixed his Sprite up with oranges and cherries. A nice extra touch that wasn't necessary but it made him feel special.
The entertainment was outstanding. Ken Rush is the cruise director and did an excellent job. The shows were full of energy, color and passion. We were amazed at the ice show and what they could do on such a small area. The welcome and farewell shows, which featured the Royal Caribbean dancers, were especially enjoyable. Another added feature on the Explorer was the Krooz Komics. What a hoot! They appear all over the ship and always received laughs. The Promenade was a central hub for entertainment. Soft music in the Champagne Lounge, a guitar playing in the Crown and Kettle Pub or special musical appearances by Daniel and Stacy were exceptional. There was talent all over the ship.
Two special theme nights were Toga Night and Country and Western Night.
Our room was an inside stateroom. The three of us were comfortable. Our luggage fit under the bed. There was plenty of closet space and drawer space for us all. Our cabin had a hair dryer, mini-fridge and safe in it as well. The bathroom was nicer than those were on the Majesty and Enchantment. Nicer showers.
Some information that is interesting is that of the 3,120 passengers on board, 2,100 of them were repeat passengers of RCI. I guess that says a lot for RCI.
Disembarking was a snap with the new terminal. When our color was called we went to the correct carousal and waited as the luggage came to us. We then simply walked about 30 feet to the Airline Counter and checked in. All of this was under a roof so we never had to hurry to escape the burning sun or rain.
All in all we loved our cruise on the Explorer and will definitely cruise with RCI again!
Are there words to even describe this ship? Just getting home and in need of sleep... I thought you would like another version of the Explorer, as I am sure there are others on here with their impressions already.... I just can not believe the experience I just had on this ship! From first entering on the beauty hits you, this was the most elegant ship I have sailed on. The theme Explorers of our World was wonderful!
We started out dropping all of our "Stuff" off at our cabin- Lovely! A nice sized balcony, love the rounded corners now on their beds too! Interactive TV,fridge and safe, hair dryer in drawer and Internet right in your room for laptop owners! We were able to get online from our room and send our digital pictures home! you can have this service in your room for $100 a week, For some folks they will say that is too much, but for others that have businesses or family at home it is a way to keep in touch, we loved it....but I am NOT on vacation to be sitting at a computerall day, but when you have 3 or 4 folks in your family that use the 50 cent a minute thingy this is MUCH more economical!
The Bathroom was small but nicely appointed and no more shower curtains! They do have a shower massager now in the showers.
They had a Scavenger hunt type adventure they wanted us to do you needed to find out which explorer invented /used which item such as a compass, sextant,logbook etc, and you found this out by going to different parts of the ship... I will say it takes 3 hours to tour this entire ship.. Get in shape before sailing! It was fun to fill in the blanks and check the ship out!
PUBLIC AREAS: Below are my comments on some of the areas of the ship:
We started at the top with the skylight chapel- Highest place on the sea to be married! it was very nice although I liked the chapel on the Grand Princess a little more, there is a seat lift that makes it handicapped accessible, but you take the steps up to the chapel otherwise, it is off the Viking Crown lounge.
Viking Crown Lounge! WOW what a change! There is a Jazz band, and the walls are holographs of jazz greats! Great view as always, but many different nooks and crannies with different type of setups like the 19th hole, the seats are golf Tees! and what a clock up there! The design flows from section to section!
Down on 13- Yes there is a 13!~ is the Famous Rock Climbing wall- WOW it overlooks the full sized basketball court- I like how they have these sports thingies all together- there is the golf simulator and the inline skate track all together and the links which look very challenging!
Down on 12 you have the shipshape area- but after walking this ship I think you get a cardiovascular workout! they had the latest in equipment, a large aerobics floor and spa treatments here...
What I found to be unbelievable is Club Ocean! WOW I want to be a wittle kid again! the area is shaped like a ship and there is slides and water park squirtys here and there and everything that a little kid would want !!!! They had these little sunchairs that we thought were adorable! There was a little diner for the kids and a GREAT video area! WOW... and all these nooks and crannies for the kids to play in! a lot of Computers for the kids and a little rock climbing wall that had the alphabet where you climb onto! Just a marvelous area! I understand that the Explorers Kids areas is much better then the Voyager's ( I sail on that one in a few weeks so will let you know) Same floor is Johnny rockets! really cute and Really small, I now know why there is a line!
Down on 7 was the Library/computer room- Very nice and elegantly furnished!
Down on 5 was Maharajas a Nightclub/lounge area that has White and Pink elephants at the entrance, this is the beginning/end of the Promenade, general gathering/shopping area- We loved this area! the Promenade is a GREAT area! it was like walking down a street and bar hopping as you shopped!
The connoisseurs club for the cigar set was very nice, with rich woods and that dark rich feel to it, not a place I would be at, but for those whom indulge they will be happy with this layout I am sure! We stopped by the Cafe Promenade that was like a bakery and sandwich coffee shop- open 24 hours- they had a dessert case a sandwich case and they made pizza (Princess and Carnival still have better pizza) they had Veggie, salami and cheese pizza- there was a bar with Cappuccino, espresso, and regular coffee. Next to this was SPRINKLES for those Ice cream addicts! with topping machines! REALLY NEAT! there was the logo store and the general store where you can purchase your liquor,cigarettes ( $17.50per carton $31 for 2 cartons) This store was still stocking and had empty shelves. We loved the Crown and needle pub serving non American beer- Bass? and Guinness on tap! Lovely folks working in there and a great guy who sang and did requests looked like willy nelson.... we would yell out Jimmy buffett and he would instantly do a song! there is a nice fireplace in there (just what you need in the Caribbean) and it is small but had atmosphere! The Weekend Warrior is out there too and this is a sports bar, very Smokey and loud, was the place that many were in, since the yanks and mets were playing. They had hot pretzels and nachos and cheese in there and any type of drink you would want- Bar stools were soccer balls and baseballs etc... a small game room was next door... Guest relations is at the end right before entering the main dining room- Christopher Columbus on this floor, Da Gama is on floor 4, Magellan on floor 3, that is where we were- it is a lovely elegant dining room... dark and rich furnishings. I see that their updated menu seemed to be in place, but I do not see much difference in the menu, our food was fine, large shrimp cocktail, bland lobster bisque, delicious Filet Mignon, and Chocolate souffle for desert, just coming off the Monarch it was the same food and the agents did not get anything different then what we just had on the other ship other then they added Oxtail soup.
Down on 4 is the Palace theater 5 story theatre with surround 3d sound- The show- FAST FORWARD was marvelous! probably the best show I have seen on a RCI ship! the effects were great with the split screen and the voices were great! great choreography and upbeat! For the best view though sit in the center, the sides kind of take something away from the effects I thought. My hubby loves the schooner bar, I think I like the schooner bar that is on the other ships better for it is a bit more mellow but he loved this just the same!
CASINO: I like how they put a bar in the middle of casino, that is a added plus, and the floor with the treasure on it was great! All the men had their pictures taken with the dancing gal mannequins it seemed! Aquarium bar was beautiful, this was very tranquil and they had this section with the labs where there was a learning part about how the waters flow etc.. nice touch for those that like that kind of thing!
Now down to 3.... STUDIO B: Wow how impressive a ice rink on a ship! and the show was wonderful, especially given the size of the ice rink! It was maybe a quarter of what we know from the Olympics so this has to be much harder to do the jumps and twists that they did!Loved this guy who had this big ring that he got inside of and twist and turned all over the ice! and yes there is 2 bars in there too!
There are 35 bars overall on the ship, so you will never Die of thirst! This ice skating was a great touch! Now for one of my favorite areas! the CHAMBER! The Gothic/Medieval High tech disco! this was unreal! it is multi stories and you really feel like your in a castle! Knights in Armour, gargoyles, Torches ablaze with fire... and the seating here is unreal! you swear your back in days of yore! Stained glass windows too!~
CABINS: They have really changed their format here! No more shower curtain on your tushie, Silver and gold tone faucets.... Rounded corner beds.... and more room! plenty of closet and drawer space, a fridge, safe and hair dryer...hook-ups for the computer.... interactive TV..
The Family rooms were wonderful they have a Suite that sleeps 8 with 2 bathrooms and tons of storage and they have the Family Rooms that sleep 6 2 bedrooms 1 bath and soooo roomy! They are up front, have 3 windows, Mom and Dad have their privacy on one side and the kids have theirs on the other in between there is a VERY large area with chair table and sofa.... these are Forward on the ship.
Next to the Family Room is the Cat IF larger oceanview - I took this for my hubby, teenage daughter and myself. and am glad! it is Extremely roomy!
The Royal Suite with the shower with 3 shower heads and immense bathroom area with glass sea throw bowls as the sinks, a Jacuzzi on the deck, Piano in the entrance, dining room, butler area, living room, Bar is unreal! But to be honest a bit overkill, as you would feel you would need to be in there! We much preferred the Owners Suite to it, I liked the warmer feeling and the furnishings and the REAL wide screen TV in the Bedroom! Inside staterooms were very roomy and those whose pocketbooks take them this far will be very happy with their cabins!
The Atrium cabins were not bad at all! they sleep 2 and are very efficient for 2!
SUMMARY: WOW I think I am coming to the end here! Oh I have been told that this and the Voyager are very similar but that the Explorer has added features and I guess they leave the mistakes back on the 1st of a kind huh? And to answer many peoples questions they did come over here in rough Seas and YES a few windows broke and on the side of the ship it has pings in several different places that removed the paint from the stripe.... I was told it was from the storm... they said the crew were sick for 3 days...
In closing, Anyone who loves cruising needs to TRY this form of cruising ... It is so different then anything you have tried before, and it looks to me to be the new WAVE of cruising.... There are so many choices and so many intimate areas to please everyone... If you are bored it has to be you, because Royal Caribbean out did themselves when they came out with this concept! I thought at first a ice rink? Rock climbing wall? roller skating? How strange! but just because it is not "MY" particularly favorite thing to do in life, does not mean it is not what OTHERS may like to do.... they are marketing cruises for those other 75%+ that have NEVER cruised and choose landbased vacations so that they can SEE that Cruising is the way to go! Its amazing what you can do in a day, but I would MUCH prefer a week! I need now to get some sleep! SHHHH I took today off from work!
Check out the photos on our website of this marvelous ship! www.cruiseoutlets.com under Ship photos. Nothing like a Cruise!...