Embarkation was excellent and very fast even mid afternoon. We choose a Window View cabin that was excellent and isolated from the main cabin corridors that turned out to be a bonus if not just a little close to water level. First night was very rough due to Beta but during the rest of the cruise it was fine although you do need sea legs to avoid bumping into people.
Staff is the best each and everyone did their best to be polite, friendly and helpful kudos -- to RCI staff relations.
Food was fine overall. Although the buffet was well stocked it lacked the elegance I expected due to the pushy way you were directed to different areas of the Windjammer. But I suppose this is required to feed this many seemingly insatiable appetites. Get your table prior to picking up the food or you may finish up with cold food. Again courteous staff is quick to clear tables to keep things moving along.
Watch when booking excursions since many of the places are easily reached by a short cab ride. The average cab fare is US$4-6 at all ports.
St. Thomas was our favorite due to the little alleys that had high quality stores and little bars we stopped at Cafe Amici and it was great.
Megan's Bay was fun for 2 hours. They say it is rated one of the top 10 beaches in the world, this may be a little optimistic compared to beaches in Cuba, CA, SC that I have visited.
St. Martin (Maarten) has a nice beach and some cool little stores but too many jewelry places. We took a cab ride to the French side that was somewhat disappointing it had a new Shopping Mall but it had only about 6 stores. The anticipated fine food places turned out to be a group of restaurants in a pod all serving similar food none of which was very appealing. The people did not know where the Mall was even though it was only a block away and yes it was called the Shopping Mall right on the front!
Explorer: There cannot be a ship much better since it had everything your heart desires and you never feel it is crowded. Typically the lounges have 4-10 people in them at off peak times. Beware smokers are very prevalent and seem to be allocated the best areas.
Carly (Welsh Gal) the cruise entertainment director was terrific always a laugh and up for a good time. Try the Rock Wall it is fun and not too touch even for a first timer like me.
Tipping is a little overwhelming they charge you 15 % for drinks and unless you frequent the same bar with the same server there is no need to give extra. However, every bill you sign has a spot for additional tips. In the end we just did not bother. All other staff have a gratuity expectation and while we threw a few extra dollars into the Waiter and Suite attendants envelope then then I would ask why since your leaving the ship anyhow? I think the staff excel anyhow so RCI have mastered the service issue very well.
We will definitely cruise again and suspect RCI and the Explorer will be hard to beat.