We heard a lot of people complain while on this 9-day Eastern Caribbean cruise -- and though I have some minor complaints, I wholeheartedly can say I had a great time!
A little background: This was my 27th cruise. I have traveled on Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian and, back in the day, the Bermuda Star Line. My 84-year-old mom (this is her 37th cruise) takes my family on at least 2 cruises a year. So, along with mom, I traveled with my husband (26 cruises), 18-year-old daughter (24 cruises) and 14-year-old daughter (23 cruises). You'll be glad to know that while on this cruise, my mom booked the New Year's Eve cruise on the Explorer.
We have all sailed on the Explorer before and really enjoy it. Being from Long Island, we find the Cape Liberty (Bayonne, NJ) port of embarkation very convenient. And, as usual, this time was no different -- everything went very, very smoothly. Disembarkation? Just as smoothly! Too bad we came home to a dead car battery, until one of the port's shuttle bus drivers gave us a boost.
The ship is "old" (relatively speaking), but the upkeep is so excellent you would never know it. Everything is clean and bright. I did notice, however, that the anti-slip strips painted onto the marble steps of the Solarium Pool were fading, and there were "dings" in the elevator door, but you really had to look hard to find the faults.
I know a lot of people complained about the 700 kids and teens onboard. My 2 teenagers stayed with the family the whole time, but the "packs" of teens I did see were not disruptive our loud. I saw worse on the Celebrity Silhouette and Solstice!
Activities: There was plenty to do, and I was always marking some event on my Cruise Compass program that I wanted to go to. I was a bit disappointed in the Cruise Critic get together; I thought there might be officers attending, as I had experienced on Celebrity. I was shocked that so few people came to the Captain's Club get-together because they put on a nice show for us. The parades they have in the Royal Promenade are fun. 70s Night and the Quest are terrific, but get to the Quest early. We made the mistake of coming on time and we could hardly see a thing. My daughters loved the ice skating. If you bring your own skates you can have your own "advanced skate" session before the rink opens up to everyone else. And don't miss the spectacular ice show.
The entertainment was very good. The cruise director, Richard Spacey, is funny and entertaining, but seems to have a big ego. It was a little annoying turning to channel 14 on the TV to watch movie parodies starring him. On this cruise, it seemed that most of the cruise director responsibilities were given to the activities manager Leigh, who was far more out and about than Richard. The only time Richard went out of his way to be visible was after the last show, when he posed for pictures with the passengers. Still, my mom and I wrote a song about him, which we sang to him and was broadcast over Leigh's morning show.
There were 3 excellent production shows, 3 comedy acts, an outstanding singer named Kenny James that brought the audience to its feet, and a brilliant magician named Martin Lewis who amazed us with old-time card, rope, scarf and ring tricks.
A special shout-out to James the singer, who was so warm, welcoming and friendly. All 4 of the production singers are very talented. The whole cast works so hard! We sat in the front row every night and watched the sweat drip.
The service was great. Everyone on board is friendly and welcoming, and very eager to please. On the last night, when all the luggage was already out, one of the front desk representatives had to repair both my sandals with scotch tape, and it worked!
Our ports were wonderful. In Bermuda, we took the bus near the ship to Horseshoe Bay and enjoyed the warm, clear water. In St. Maarten, we went to Airport Beach, which was awesome (the rest of the family hated it!)and I would definitely recommend it. It is truly scary when the planes come in just a few feet over your head and equally scary when the air from the jet engines sandblast your body as the planes depart down the runway. In San Juan, we had very little time, but we did what we always do in San Juan, which is shop for bargains at the Coach outlet store ($400 purse for $100, $99 flip flops for $28). And Labadee! I think Labadee is one of the most beautiful and relaxing ports in the Caribbean! Just don't go into the artisan's village to shop because they will not let you leave without a purchase; shop instead at the large store they have there.
Our stateroom, 6626, was comfortable. We had a nice flat screen TV and the bed was large and comfy. Our room steward made up the room like magic -- as soon as we left for breakfast or dinner, he'd magically appear.
No problem with dining. Our waiter Michael (Philippines) and Agnelo (Goa, India) were great. They always had a smile on their faces, and asked for and remembered our names during the entire cruise. The best dishes were the duck and the lobster (the best lobster I've had on 27 cruises, actually). If you have a chance to try the dessert made with the chocolate mousse and the rice krispie treats, get 2! As far as breakfast, the bacon is always crisp and the cream of wheat/grits is never lumpy! They even offer English and Chinese breakfasts in the Windjammer. There are some things you pay extra for, like filet mignon, lobster and freshly squeezed OJ.
As far as the children's club is concerned, my 14-year-old never used it. But then, this is her 23rd cruise and she is a bit jaded.
The gift shops could have more in stock. There was no big amber or Roman glass sale on this cruise. They ran the same sales 2 days in a row. By the way, Svetlana from the shops is helpful and lovely.
Before I forget, let me mention that the captain, Henrik Loy, is gorgeous. Ladies, you will enjoy looking at him. He is actually very outgoing and approachable.
Also, before I forget, here is my one big complaint. I wanted to use the gym, but am not a "gym person," and needed instructions on which piece of equipment was good for which part of the body, and how each should be used. Unfortunately, the desk at the gym was always unoccupied. In the meantime, kids were on the equipment and splashing in the gym's hot tub. When I finally found a personal trainer who worked there, she told me that in order to learn how to use the equipment, I would have to pay a fee of $55 for a half hour for a personal trainer. That was the only way! P.S. I never came back to the gym.
Oh, yes, and people -- if you have complaints, take them up privately with the proper party. We rolled our eyes enough listening to you. Like the man at the Captain Club event who told the captain during the Q&A that he didn't get his eggs the way he liked. Or the man at the regular Q&A with Captain Henrik who complained that his sleep for the rest of the cruise was "screwed up" because the captain made an emergency announcement regarding a missing passenger at 3:30 a.m. on the first night. (Answered the captain, "If another passenger went missing, I'd do it again!")
There is a shirt in the Logo Shop aboard the ship that says, " A bad day of cruising is better than a good day in the office." I couldn't have said it better. This was a wonderful cruise and I highly recommend it to everyone.
The sea is calling! Get out there!