Background Information: My mother and I took this vacation for celebration of graduating from middle school with high honor roll throughout the 3 years (of hell). I (15 years old) have previously sailed on HAL, Celebrity and Carnival coming to a total of 7 cruises. My mom has sailed on Costa, Celebrity, Carnival, Norwegian and HAL 12 times. This was our first RCCL cruise.
Embarkation: We live in upstate New York, so we were happy we didn't have to fly or travel too far to Bayonne, NJ. We took Yankee Trails World Travel to and from the dockyard. Only about 5 other people were on the bus on the way down, so it was very quiet and easy to take a nap. We arrived very early. It was quick and easy, less than 15 minutes. No line. Unfortunately we had to wait for about an hour before they allowed passengers to begin boarding.
Ship/Cabin Info: The ship is HUGE! 138,000 tons was by the the largest ship I have ever sailed on. It took a good 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other. I really liked the layout of the ship. Everything was relatively easy to get to, once you figured it out. Our cabin was in the very front of the ship, which was kind of a pain. We had an inside stateroom, which was plenty for two people. We were never in the cabin except for showers (sometimes we would shower in the gym/spa) and sleeping. Don't listen to people who say that the Explorer is worn out. It is a beautiful ship and is still in really good shape for its age. The crew is always cleaning and maintaining the ship. If you are having a good time, you aren't going to notice is the carpet has a small stain on it. It has no effect on your vacation either. The Royal Promenade was gorgeous and always nice to look at from any of the above decks.
Activities: Royal Caribbean really needs to add more entertainment and activities for all ages. At some times I would actually feel a little bored! We did not have enough pool games or really anything going on during the day at sea. You could go ice skating, (only on certain days) rock climbing, or play sports/mini golf, but if none of that was really your thing you ultimately sat by the pool or in the Solarium. Oh by the way the Solarium is not really adults only. If your teen/child is quiet and respects the adults, no one has a problem with you enjoying the larger hot tubs or pool. It is nice to nap or read in the Solarium compared to in the main pool area with music and children running around. We did not go to any shows but everyone says "Don't miss the ice show!" We got our tickets in the MDR but never went.
Service/Dining: The Explorer is not as "friendly" as everyone talks it up to. The crew rarely smiled or greeted you. Our cabin steward was AWFUL. She left us only two animal towels over the course of the 9 night vacation. We had difficulties receiving an extra towel. She was very rude and usually only cleaned our room once at night between 5 and 9pm. When we were leaving we did not tip her since she was a lousy steward. She cursed and yelled at us as we were walking away. The other steward whom we would occasionally would pass in the hall would always smile and quickly chat with us. We never had a problem in the MDR or Windjammer. Our waiters in the MDR were absolutely incredible. The Maitre D cut my duck up off the bone into little bite sized pieces for me. On the first night we did not like the people we sat with (everyone was rude, silent and seemed stuck up). There was no problem moving our seats where we sat with another mother and daughter who were hilarious. Our waiter and asst. waiter were phenomenal. They were so sweet and funny and always made our dinner a pleasurable time. The food in the windjammer was fine. Nothing too special. Same food everyday. The MDR was better. I suggest going to breakfast in the MDR at least once! Soft serve ice cream machine was very convenient. We did not try any specialty restaurants. Leigh was a very funny cruise director and everyone had a lot of laughs with him. When they were filming for the daily morning show my friends and I were able to jump in and give a shout out. I also got a picture with Leigh and his asst, whose name I can't remember right now. :/
Optix: This was the teen (12-17) room. We were separated by (12-14) and (15-17). During the cruise I was 14, but made friends with all of the older teens. I got permission from my mother to switch groups so I could join my friends in the activities. They were basically the same activities, but the 15-17 group would do it an hour later. We had dance parties every night in Optix. Each night would have a different theme. The dance floor was very small, but it usually wasn't an issue. Two nights we used the adult nightclub. One night for the "Silent Party" where everyone got headphones and could choose between 2 different djs music. It was an interesting experience which you should not miss! The next party in the nightclub was so much better than the parties in Optix.
BERMUDA: Purchased bus day tickets. Took bus to Warwick Long Bay Beach/Jobson's cove. We have previously visit this spot. It's so much less populated compared to horseshoe. No one really jumps off the rocks like you can at horseshoe maybe because no one really knows if it is safe. But you can climb up the rocks to the top and you can an amazing view of the beach. The rock formations are incredible and so fascinating. The water was pretty cold compared to Caribbean water, but it was still swimmable.
ST MAARTEN: We took a taxi to Orient Beach, on the French side of St. Martin. The beach was absolutely gorgeous and one of my favorite places. I definitely suggest trying a Guavaberry drink!
PUERTO RICO: We took a ferry to the other side of the San Juan bay. We took a taxi to the Bacardi Factory. We thought it was going to be a quick 15 minute tour, but we misheard them and it was a 50 minute tour. We only had a couple hours in Puerto Rico, so by the time we got back to San Juan we had very little time left for shopping. We were given free samples and the tour was very informal.
LABADEE: Labadee is a small peninsula owned by RCCL. You could easily walk the entire island several times. You have many beaches to choose from, but they are all pretty crowded. The water is like bath water. You have many attractions to choose from. The zip line is the longest zip line over water in the world. I stayed at adrenaline beach, which is the cove right below the zip line. Labadee has a cute little market where many Haitian vendors are all trying to sell you their handcrafts. Make sure you bargain them down A LOT if you want a reasonable price. Some vendors traded some of their items for a passengers food. If a Haitian was found at the barbecue they were escorted away and their food was throw in the trash.
Disembarkation: It was very quick and easy, no problems. Our Yankee trails bus was late, so we were the last ones left. The bus was packed with people. It was definitely a much different experience compared to on the way down. We made a stop about halfway through, which let off a large number of people. The driver was very nice. I would definitely use Yankee Trails again in the future.
Overall I had a very nice, long vacation. 9 days is a perfect length for a cruise. I made so many friends, which I still try and keep in touch with today. I met so many wonderful people that I hope to see again one day. I would definitely cruise with RCCL and the Explorer again. The itinerary was okay, nothing special. It is nice if you want a relaxing vacation without having to worry so much about the ports and using a lot of energy lol.
Thank you for reading! Sorry it was so long. If you have any questions please message me!