Just got back from the Explorer 9 night cruise. We had a great time however there are some serious problems with this particular ship that really need addressed. Sadly with this particular cruise ship being almost sold out continuously I doubt anyone will do anything. Why should they when people seem to continuously make excuses for the management of this ship. This cruise left on August 2nd with over 3600 people (600 plus were kids...ugh). Sounds bad until I heard from the cruise director that the next cruise had over 1000 kids. Good luck with that. The teenagers are like packs of wild animals. They are in certain places doing nothing but causing trouble which is what teenagers these days do when left alone.Despite the faults of management we did not let the issues raised below take away from our vacation. We just noted them and moved on.
Captain = C Nice guy, good looking, visible, approachable and funny but he is not on top of things. This ship supposedly has 100 people dedicated to maintenance. I'm sorry but I don't think using duct tape to hold up lights and placed over elevator buttons which are missing plus the tape appeared in our state room at various places is acceptable. Nor do I think windows that have blown gaskets that cause the window to be completely clouded should be left in that state. The stains on our sofa in our room on deck 7 (balcony) were so bad nobody would sit on it. If I stayed at a hotel and saw such things I wouldn't be very happy and I don't think it should be acceptable for a ship. I don't want to hear "but she is 10 years old". Last time I checked RCCL doesn't lower the prices based on the age of the ship so why do so many people find this acceptable based on the ships age? Ultimately the captain is responsible. If these kinds of things are acceptable to him what else are they not keeping up on? In my experience it's not one or the other it's all things that are dealt with the same way whether its maintenance or safety or food. RCCL is just trying to save money by not fixing these things or the captain doesn't care. This ship isn't supposed to be dry docked for 2 more years. Are they going to wait that long?
Ports = A The only thing that should be addressed somehow is the amount of time spent in Puerto Rico. Lot's to see for history buffs but not enough time to do much. Bermuda is great. One piece of advice..take a cab to any beach you want to go to. Any other way takes too long. A cab ride to Elbow or Horseshoe beach is about $30 and takes about 20 to 30 mins. The ferry at the terminal where the ship docks only goes every 30 minutes so if you miss one it takes too much of the limited time you have on the island. We usually go to elbow beach to avoid the crowds at horseshoe. Rental for lounge chairs and umbrellas are available for $10 for each item. There is a beach restaurant with a shower, bathrooms and a bar nearby. Great beach. Don't wear anything shiny into the water or risk the fish going after it. Nothing dangerous but unnerving for some. St. Marrten was very nice. Got off the ship and instead of taking a cab to orient beach which is very nice and interesting since it's clothing optional we opted for going to great bay beach which is in front of the town where the shopping is. We rented four lounge chairs and two umbrellas for $15. Yes $15 total. Get a massage from the women on the beach instead of the ship. You can get a full massage for $50 right on the beach. Just as good as the ship and over $100 less. Labadee was nice but be careful. If you decide to go to the market to do some shopping and help out the starving Haitian's be ready to be mobbed. They are very aggressive. My advice is push back hard and you will be fine. I don't know why RCCL allows them to be so aggressive. We didn't really want anything but when you have these poor people begging for money to eat we just bought stuff so they could have the money. We rented a cabana which was worth it but skip the "upgraded buffet" as we waited at least 40 minutes for food and the "upgraded" food which was shrimp and steak was all gone. Ridiculous set up by RCCL. No management to be seen anywhere to fix the bottleneck which was only two cooks, two grills and they only cooked two diff things at a time. Poorly executed. For those of you not in a suite or renting a cabana the regular buffet was fine. No lines.
Food = D- All I can say is it was pretty awful at times. Other times it was average to better than average but I wouldn't call it good or anywhere near great. I'm not counting my thoughts about requesting a private table for four since our family hasn't been on vacation for years together and we are diamond members but we were not given what we requested. It was later resolved so when I tell you about the food I'm not counting that whole episode as part of the evaluation. We read all the reviews and took all of the really bad ones as well as the really good ones with a grain of salt but I must say we are not picky eaters and we found ourselves playing a game we called "guess what this food is supposed to be". You could actually see people with multiple plates of food on their table continuously leaving the plates full in search of something they could eat. You want specifics? Okay this is what we found with no exaggeration. Keep in mind some days it was fine for the same food I'm about to call out and other days not so good. We found...pancakes so hard a fork would not penetrate them, crust on the French toast that was so hard it could break your teeth, eggs benedict with the egg yolks solid, steak that was grisly and not tasty, green stuff coming out of chicken that was neither tasty or identifiable, chocolate cake (we think) served on Caribbean night that I'm not sure was cake, sherbet that was without a doubt freezer burned, spaghetti sauce that we think was actually a cross between tomato sauce and salsa, the Danish were not fresh, desserts not thawed properly, no vegetables in windjammer except broccoli the entire time and they should just stop making the non-sugar desserts and leave it at that. Someone please explain why they have to put corn in just about everything. Portofino's was disappointing as well. The selection sucked quite frankly and it wasn't up to par with past visits to this restaurant. I don't know what the story is but the management of this ship and the cruise line should be ashamed. What was good/acceptable food wise? The so called Asian night was a good dinner with the rice, ravioli in the MDR, breads (rolls in MDR and raisin bread in windjammer), mashed potatoes in MDR, turkey, ribs, surprisingly the pizza (even the make your own at the windjammer) and lobster night was okay. Forget about the sushi at Jade in the windjammer unless you want salmon and nothing but salmon. No tuna...ever or anything else unless you call California type rolls sushi. And don't tell me "well they are making food for 3,000 people". There are no excuses for what we experienced except using cheap ingredients and/or using bad chefs or they just don't care. If they really cared about the quality of the food or had proper procedures in place that food would not have made it to the passengers.
Johnny Rockets was great. Nothing bad about it. A great shout out to Mr. Rick Frampton. Always smiling and eager to please. You gotta go see them dance. Nice bunch of people.
The service in the MDR was great except for one thing. The wait for iced tea or a soda or anything other than water was at times way too long. My advice if you want anything other than water, order it before anything else and ask for two. For those soda lovers out there the Coke machines were installed and tested by the passengers on this cruise. It was free during the testing but will only be part of the soda packages going forward.
Crew = A+ I found no fault with the crew even though their leadership is questionable at best. They were always eager to please, trying to help and doing their jobs with a smile. Special shout out to "No Wasi, No foody, No happy". You'll have to go on the cruise to figure that out. Also, Raphael in the Windjammer and Nicklas our room steward. I'd hire all of you in a minute.
Cruise Director Richard Spacey. A+++ Easily the best one I've seen in my limited number of 8 cruises. Always smiling, friendly, very approachable and quite visible during the cruise. If they have a better director than him I'd be surprised.
Entertainment = B+ Didn't go to all the shows but the onboard staff are good singers. I think they pay them extra for every song they use the words New York cause you'll hear it quite a few times. I thought the magician was a good twist on an old trade. Didn't see the comedians show at midnight but he was okay in the main show one night. The game shows are worth the price of admission. You have to go to the quest game show if you don't go to any others. Just leave the little kiddies with the baby sitter. Other cruise lines have top entertainment coming onto the ships like the blue man group or Cirque du Soleil but RCCL is lagging here.
Pools = B. The bingo crowd was very efficient at saving chairs in the adult only area. By 9am forget about getting a spot. There are only limited sun areas there anyway. We found it much less stuffy and not as loud next to the pools by going to the level above the pool on the sides and getting lounges. Plenty of them and the view of the ocean is unmatched. The pool water several days into the cruise was getting ugly. They should change it more often. We did love the fact that they leave some of the pools and hot tubs open 24/7.
If you're a people watcher there is plenty to see. Watching the terribly morbid obese people on scooters run over people to get to a table only to get up and walk to the buffet is especially interesting oh and the ridiculously fat kids with two plates of food running over people to get to the Jell-O is quite a site. Watching the vultures at the 75% off on watches sale is an experience. People five or six deep buying two, three even four watches at a time for junk was a study in human behavior. By the way, the watches were on sale again the last two days. Someone has to explain to me how the shopping guy gets away with telling everyone that the reason the Caribbean is so cheap for diamonds is because they have very little mark up and then offering a 65% off coupons to everyone. I'm convinced that the company gets a kickback from the stores they so heavily push everyone to go to. I wouldn't trust any of them.
Someone please tell management to keep an attendant in the gym area at all times. I don't think they would like seeing children climbing on all the machines or towels and god knows what thrown everywhere but we did witness this. Older people needed help with the operation of the machines and were left guessing.
The silent dance parties are strange to me but people seemed to like it. The chamber was great for dancing unless you have an issue with smokers. There are plenty there. Not sure if it's allowed but nobody did anything about it so I assume it was okay to smoke. Watch your mixed drink orders. Unless you're getting a martini or something on the rocks make sure they don't use the best stuff. As an example a red bull with top of the shelf vodka....$11.
The casino people are fantastic even when they are taking your money. For those lottery fans the jackpot is up to over $535,000 and climbing. Numbers pulled every night at 11pm in the casino. Lots of slot, blackjack and Texas holdem tournaments. The only downer was that most of the slot machines are ancient.
For those who want to access the web...Good luck. Fifty cents a minute if you buy a package and for that you get dial up speeds. They are using satellite technology which is all they have for the time being and as usual it's very slow. It's good for checking emails but don't expect to do any big time surfing. Bandwidth is really limited for now. My beef is simply that if it's this slow then don't charge. One of the cruise lines is going to figure it out first and offer it for free to gain share. With today's intensive web/cell phone connected generation they will get more customers.
Some news we found interesting was regarding the new sunshine class ship coming in a couple of years. Apparently RCCL wants to put it in Bayonne but there may be trouble on the horizon as the port authority is threatening to make it a cargo only port. I'm guessing that's just a negotiating ploy but getting that new ship there would be very nice as long as they address the food situation and build a real cruise terminal instead of a warehouse that is not set up for such an operation. Taking busses to the ship is not very efficient for anyone. It works but I'm sure it's not what they want for a new ship.
Getting on and off the ship is easy and well-orchestrated. If you want a cab there are plenty upon arrival. No need for a car service. Watch the van guys as they will wait and wait till the van is full before leaving. If I ever did this port again I would arrive around 2pm as you won't wait at all.
As I said at the beginning we had a great time as a family despite several misses by RCCL. Would we go on that ship again? Probably not.