I have been on 28 cruises, dating back to the 1980s. This is the first time I ever got married on a cruise though, so that's where we will start this review.
My fiance and I decided to get married (after getting engaged on another cruise back in 2009) back in May of this year. We quickly settled on getting married on the Explorer (it was the ship we first sailed on as a couple in 2007) and contacted Royal Caribbean. The big reason for deciding on this ship was that it is within driving distance for any of our family or friends who would want to make the drive and witness our happy day. The Royal Romance department at RCCL handled all the details and delivered everything that was promised. It's hard to compare pricing compared to a shore wedding but the 2-hour luncheon buffet and open bar was about $70 a head. The ceremony and luncheon was in a lounge on Deck 14 with a great view of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. Our wedding coordinators, who are outside contractors, as is the person who performed the ceremony, couldn't have been better. All of our non-sailing guests had a good time and got to see some of the ship before getting off about 2:45 p.m. So, my grade for this unique event was an A.
Now, for the cruise itself. We have sailed out of Cape Liberty 3 times (2 on RCCL and 1 on Celebrity) over the past 5 years. The convenience of not having to deal with the stress of flying in our post-9/11 world is hard to measure. Drive to "beautiful" Bayonne, unload your bags, park the car and get on board. Just beware of directions in you use MapQuest. They have a wrong turn listed that a few people talked about taking. It's not Miami or Fort Lauderdale, but Cape Liberty gets the job done.
The crew on this ship is right up there with some of the best I have encountered on cruise ships. In 9 days, I didn't run into one who wasn't friendly and helpful. This goes for our room attendant, Carolyn who took care of a couple of newlyweds who suffered the first few days from colds.
My new wife went to the ship's doctor and she was great. The entertainment staff, headed by Richard and Leigh, made every event we attended a great time. Even though we did My Time Dining, we always found the waiters and assistant waiters were very professional. And this was our first time using anything but a regular 8:30 seating for dinner. We found we usually never had to wait more than 10 minutes to be seated.
Now, for the food itself. We ate breakfast each day in the Windjammer. Despite a few clunkers (pancakes sometimes left too long that resembled Frisbees, runny eggs) the food here was average. I guess we just don't expect too much from a buffet that serves a couple of thousand people. I left each time satisfied and full.
Afternoons usually meant getting something at the Promenade Cafe. Not a big selection but the pizza was usually hot and fresh and the small sandwiches kept us satisfied until dinner.
We ate most nights in the Main Dining Room. I would give the food there a grade of B. I don't eat beef or pork and it seemed the seafood selections were not what they have been in the past. But what I did order I found was usually cooked well and I never left the MDR with food still on my plate.
We did room service one night for dinner. The selection was so-so. It arrived at our room about 15 minutes after we ordered and we found the quality of the order was good.
We also ate one night in Portofinos. I found the service a little slow. I guess that is what they shoot for and I am used to the more frenzy-paced MDR. Food quality was good but the menu seemed skimpy.
The ports-of-call? There are probably thousands of reviews of Bermuda, St. Maarten and San Juan (which was more like a 6-hour pit stop) so I won't add one more on here of those 3 places. We did rent a cabana at Barefoot Beach on Labadee. It was $200 and it was worth every cent. I would do that again in a heartbeat. Our "private" lunch was not that private. We waited in line for about 20 minutes before we finally got our food. They should either add some extra staff to move things along or a second line. Food was excellent. Not many places to sit though. And some chairs that are good for relaxing but not well-suited for sitting at a table to eat lunch.
The headliner shows we attended on the ship were okay. The standard "Love and Marriage Game" and "The Quest" were fun to watch.
The one thing that bothered me the most was the amount of rust I noticed. I know this ship is a workhorse for RCCL and sails primarily in the North Atlantic, but she needs a good scraping and painting. It pained me to see this beautiful ship with so many rusty blotches.
So would I do this cruise again? I can answer that by saying we have already booked cruise on Explorer in August 2013.