The purpose of this review is two fold. One to give a review of our trip on the Explorer of the Seas and two to do another comparison of Princess versus RC as we are seasoned Princess Cruisers and this is our second RC the first on the Enchantment. Our party was a party of 8 in four cabins celebrating my son's high school graduation.
Embarkation: We utilized a car service and were dropped curbside and quickly deposited our entire luggage with a handler. We then proceeded inside where we were immediately checked in and then moved to a waiting area for the shuttle to the ship. Since this was our first time in Bayonne we were unaware of the shuttle and while it added an extra step to the process it was fairly organized. We were on the ship by about 11:30 AM and proceeded right to the Windjammer for lunch. Given our early arrival the tables were not yet an issue but, as is usually the case, this was an issue during the week. Our rooms were available as advertised at 1:30 PM. Note there was a departure delay of almost 2 hours due to a shortage of baggage handlers on the dock explained as due to the Holiday week. It did not though impact our itinerary although some did not receive bags till later that night. Also we checked in four cases of bottled water, one per cabin, which were all reinforced with packing tape and had a luggage tag applied. Three arrived intact and one arrived minus 5 bottles so maybe the workers got thirsty.
Ship: This was our second RC ship and found the Explorer to be a very nice ship especially compared to the Enchantment. We had inside cabins deck 6 aft and did not experience any of the dreaded sewer smells and the AC worked great. The ship had many more amenities than the Enchantment and although 9+ years old is in very good shape. Despite the 800+ kids on the sailing deck chairs were never an issue and we attended almost every 9:00 PM show and seats could be had up till 8:50 PM. One major negative to the ship is the location and configuration of the walking/ jogging track right through a major deck chair area on deck 12. Whoever came up with that design should be shot.
Service: We found most of the crew very friendly, courteous, and helpful. Our cabin steward Orwin was probably one of the best ever had on any line. Some of the crew exhibited some arrogance but it was rare. Night time room service (by my sons) was often much delayed but morning service was always prompt and we really appreciated the phone call prior to arrival.
Dining: We had My Time Dining and were able to make all of our reservations on line prior to the cruise. We had a 6:00 PM reservation every evening except the late port stop in St. Marteen. We were able to get the same table and our waiter and assistant Vincent and Victor were both tremendous probably some of the best e have ever had. We again though found the food to be a disappointment compared to princess. While the Explorer was better than the Enchantment, we were again often disappointed with the selection on the menu. In addition Princess has many more options on the menu that are always available for each course something that RC lacks. And of course nobody compares to the fettuccini on Princess in the cheese bowl! RC did not have escargot on any night. We found the Windjammer selection also limited and the hot food was never hot. On Princess whatever was on the dining room menu would always be in their Horizon Court but not so on RC. The lunch in the dining room was a high point with the salad bar which is awesome. Don't get me wrong we did not go hungry, or lose weight, but again I found the food on RC compared to Princess lacking. Go ahead and start flaming and I know food is subjective but that is the opinion of all 8 of us.
Entertainment: Have to give another thumbs up to Princess on this one. I am not fond of the production shows to start with and RC's was not very good. The comedians were OK. The ice show was fantastic and Roxy in the Schooners Bar piano was awesome.
Bermuda: Having done the Horseshoe Bay thing in the past we opted this time for a day pass at the Coco Reef resort. It is a very nice small resort about 5 minutes past Horseshoe Bay. They have a very nice small uncrowded beach and a beautiful pool. For $49.00 you get the use of the facilities and a 2 course lunch with wine. We had a great time there.
San Juan: Never really found a whole lot to do here, other than shop, having been there on multiple occasions. As this trip was for my son he opted for the ATV excursion. I usually book independently and waited last minute on this one. The first one I wanted was booked as to was the ships. We found Tropical Trail Rides which are on a 1200 acre ranch. We had four of us on 4 ATV's and 4 opted for a 4 seat Rhino. Everyone, even the ladies, had a blast but I will warn you you do get very muddy. We all prepared ahead and had a change of clothes. Saw many Iguanas, a couple almost under the front tires of the ATV, but managed to miss them.
St. Marteen: Very simple here took a taxi to Orient Beach for some beach time and then hit the downtown for some shopping. Water was nice but the beach got crowded so would probably opt next time for a different beach.
Labadee: Made the trek back to Columbus Beach and were one of the first ones there. Many had said that we would prefer Labadee to CoCo Cay but I would have to say just the opposite. While Labadee had more to do I think CoCo Cay has better beaches. There are a couple of beaches on Labadee that are very rocky so people tend to concentrate on the ones that are sandy. Columbus Beach ended up like Coney Island on and August weekend unlike barefoot beach which we had to ourselves in CoCo Cay. Also found the local merchants very annoying in Labadee compared to CoCo Cay where they are isolated to the small area when you first get on the island.
All in all we did have a wonderful time and the negatives would not discourage me from sailing RC again. I would never opt for one of their mega ships and if Princess had a local option I would choose them first. The weather could not have been any better with no rain in the ports and only a few showers on the sea days.