This cruise to Bermuda was my 3rd one, my BF's second time to the island. We made these plans at the last minute as we were trying to find a vacation which wasn't lasting a full week for various personal reasons and which would fit our budget. When this cruise showed up with a discount for NJ residents and there was still superior balconies left 3 weeks before departure, we grabbed it.
Having never sailed on RCI before, we depended on the many reviews on Cruise Critic and my travel agents advice (who happens to be my sister) as to whether or not the Explorer would suit us. Overall, it seemed to be ok although perhaps we had a few concerns based on what we'd read. We just got back this morning so everything is very fresh in my head and I'll go through each point to comment on everything one by one.
Getting on the boat/through customs went rather smoothly. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, having learned a lesson the last time we sailed when we misread the documents and had to rush to the pier (my fault!). We live rather close to Cape Liberty, it only took about 1/2 an hour taxi ride over and check-in took less than 45 minutes before we were on the boat and in our cabin. Everyone involved were pleasant and professional. The lines looked long but moved quite fast. Some people have complained about the facility but honestly, who cares what the port building looks like? It's not bad at all and you're only there a short while before shuttle buses whisk you to the boat. I have no complaints about this process at all.
The ship, as others have said, is quite lovely even though it's older. It's kept in good repair overall. I didn't notice anything that stood out anywhere that made it look worn or tired in the public areas - nor did it look particularly dated either. The ship is very easy to navigate; much better than the last NCL boat we were on. Loved the fact there was an outside promenade to walk around! We missed this on NCL's "Epic" incredibly.
We were in a superior ocean view balcony stateroom, #7378 starboard, very far aft but not an aft room. While not the most up-to-date in appearance by modern standards, it was well kept, had adequate storage, the bathroom was fine (other than the ring around the toilet bowl which certainly was from years of scrubbing - that toilet could use being replaced). The bed was comfortable - which was a big concern of mine. We requested extra pillows, including a specialty pillow because I have neck problems. Our room attendant; "Dewey" (Dui?) was fantastic! He went over and beyond the call of duty to the point of even returning our pool towels for us. I swear he was the only person on that boat who knew what he was doing ALL the time (we tipped him extra - as we had pre-paid our tips due to my time dining). The refrigerator was abysmal as many had mentioned. We had Dewey empty it for us, and we even at some point unplugged it because it wasn't keeping anything cold at all and was making odd noises. Anyway, we were very pleased with the room - it was close enough to the elevator but far enough not to be a problem, and we liked that we were at a part of the ship near the restaurants so we didn't have to walk all the way forward for meals. For sure, one of our favorite cabins of all the times we've cruised.
We only used the mini-golf, which was actually a lot of fun. We're not sports/fitness oriented so it was a nice diversion to have on the boat. We would have used the ping pong tables but it was pretty windy to be chasing little balls around the deck lol.
I suppose them mean lectures and such? This seemed lacking to us. Towel folding, wine tastings and the same exact art auctions on every other boat aren't exactly what I have in mind for this category. I think they could do better in this regard.
Typical of all other cruises I've been on for drinks, etc. However, I did feel ripped off by the money I spent on my juice package since I was unable to keep said juice cold in my refrigerator. Those juice bottles are large. I never drink an entire one in one sitting; I was using them to take my medications in the evening/morning. By not being able to keep them chilled I had to toss out half a bottle each time. What a waste of money. Next time I'll suck it up and take the walk to get the free ice tea instead.
Awful. This is where RCI needs to really do some serious work. I have SO many complaints about the food and food service. Let me preface this by saying that I am a serious home cook. I know food very well. I am offended when restaurants try and pass of inferior quality product to their patrons or do "bait and switches" on you. Or when they just don't even try. Or when the service isn't checking plates before they go out to the floor. I don't like being lied to by wait staff. And I especially dislike being told I'm wrong about something when it's obvious that I'm right. I, am their worst nightmare and I am vocal about it.
Two examples. Fisherman's Platter night. First, the lobster and shrimp is under cooked - practically raw in fact. On my plate, is an empty headed shrimp, and only 3 or them for that matter. There is no broccoli as mentioned on the menu, carrots instead; which I dislike. Additionally, I had ordered an order of an Indian dish as a side for my BF and I to share, a chickpea curry which came with a crisp peppery crack-like accompaniment called a "Papadam" to scoop up the curry. Instead, they give me a piece of pita bread. First I call over the head waiter, who tells me they are a) The broccoli was of poor quality, so they are substituting carrots and oh didn't my waiter tell me this? and b) sorry for the headless shrimp, he'll get me more and c) he'll get the papadam. He comes back with new shrimp, still under cooked. So, I called over the maitre d' (who, had already gotten to known us a prior evening due to a terribly cooked pasta dish that was literally like glue and an over cooked fish dish which was like shoe leather). He tells us a) there WAS broccoli, just not a lot of it and the waiter should have given me the choice of that OR carrots b) he's very sorry about the seafood being undercooked and thanked me for telling him as he needs to know these things and c) he rolled his eyes basically insinuating that many of the wait staff don't know the difference between a papadam and a pita bread. I had a long conversation with him, impressing on him that every meal we'd had in the main dining room was problematic, had to be returned and re-done. This continued for the whole trip. "Risotto" that wasn't risotto (you can not call a dish made from regular rice risotto!) for instance. Even dinner in Portofino had problems; with them not understanding that we wanted a pasta course NOT a pasta side dish (which they expected us to eat from the middle of the table with just forks and no dishes, like we're doing a rendition of "Lady and The Tramp" or something) and then taking away our main dish and promising we would get a fresh one but sending back the original lamb chop and steak that they had sitting under heat lamps for 15 minutes drying out and getting cold (the plates were hot, the food, cold). We told them such and the damn waiter kept insisting we, were wrong which utterly infuriated us.
BTW, I also do not need every waiter/waitress to tell me where they are from and then proceed to read me the menu. I could spend paragraphs complaining and moaning about this and all else but I'll stop now. You get the drift. How anyone can think the food is acceptable is beyond me.
One more thing. I really disliked the way they handle their My Time Dining. On NCL, you could always be assured that no matter what time you got to the dining room, you could get a table if you are a couple looking for a table for two. There are very few of those and there are NONE near windows; which you would think most couples out for a romantic dinner would like. We had a 7:45pm set time but never wanted to go that late. Every time we tried to change it, we were told there wasn't anything available and it was only under us really pressing the issue that we were ever able to get it slightly earlier. One evening I had a headache, and really couldn't wait that late and explained this to them and they just kept on saying to me "oh you can sit with a larger group and we can seat you now" and I don't know how many times I had to say to them "No, I'm not well, I can't be with people at all now" before they finally got it through their heads that I honestly wasn't in the frame of mind to be social.
They need more of this on board. Portofino, food is good but services spotty. Loved having Johnny Rockets as an option since the MDR was so awful. Starbucks was well appreciated but it isn't exactly a full service store; can't get iced Tazo teas for instance as an example. The new expanded beer menu was great - this was a wonderful upgrade on the part of RCI but I don't understand why they don't serve some nuts/pretzels or something when sitting at the bars. Drinking, without putting something in your stomach really isn't such a good idea.
We only went to the ice show which was spectacular and really should not be missed. Most types of entertainment aren't really our cup of tea and others we were either in the middle of dinners or were at other inopportune times for us. A couple we met during one of the shore tours mentioned a jazz ensemble that we wanted to see but for the life of us we could not remember where they were playing and it was not written in the Cruise Compass. We noticed that the Compass frequently had errors in it, which I brought to their attention.
Overall, service is good. Even where I had problems it wasn't so much that the service was poor, it was that they were somehow "over-trying" to the point where it was too much and therefore came off as cheesy. I don't want waiters being overly friendly, don't want them touching me or sounding like they are reading from a script. I want them to actually listen to what I'm saying and if they don't understand me, to please let me know they don't understand so that they will not bring me the wrong thing and have to waste food for instance which just aggravates me and causes delayed service as well. I want honesty from them. If I ask if something is fresh or ripe I expect them to tell me the truth, not to smile and say "yes" so I don't have to get pissy if I receive stale bagels and under-ripe melon (which happened frequently - where on earth is the ripe fruit on this ship?).
Started out fine. Went to Deck 5, the Main Dining Room and only had to wait a few minutes before they called our number to be able to leave the ship. But from there? What, a nightmare. Getting to Deck 1 you were suddenly squashed by the elevators as more packs of people were coming out of the elevators. The new people getting out tried to cut in line (line? what line?) from the people who were already waiting to move out for many minutes. Patience was wearing very thin down there. We easily were in that small space between elevators for 15 minutes with more and more people being allowed down there. It was insane. Apparently they were only moving out people in groups through the gangway in amounts that could fit into 1 shuttle bus at a time over to immigration. Once out of the ship, it moved quickly at least but they really need to find a way to get that other part working more efficiently. If there was some kind of emergency, it would be a disaster down there - or I could even see a fight breaking out with patience wearing thin between people. There are some who do not tolerate line cutters very well. Anyway, getting our luggage was very quick, and customs just as fast. Got a cab pronto and in half and hour we were home. Not too bad.
Sort of the usual found everywhere. We took a scenic tour of the island which was quite nice. I'd seen everything on it before but my BF had not but I was fine with that. The tour guide was somewhat boring unfortunately but since I already knew everything it was a moot point for me. The 2nd day we went to Horseshoe Bay for a few hours by shuttle bus. The weather was gorgeous albeit a bit cool for swimming (BF went anyway). The beach is full service and I highly recommend it.
VALUE FOR MONEY:
Pretty good considering what we spent. I would have felt better about it if the food had been better. We didn't eat in the MDR but 2 nights, lunch only once and walked out on it, and breakfast was just a sad affair every morning (pre-made scrambled eggs anyone?).
I might try RCI again but would do research next time. I think we need a more full service ship than The Explorer, one with a lot more dining options on it. We don't mind paying extra for meals if it assures better food.