My family of 4 plus a brother and a cousin took a shuttle to the Cape Liberty Cruiseport in Bayonne, NJ from south Jersey.
Embarkation was a breeze. Even though we arrived at a prime time, everything flowed smoothly and we didn't feel like we had to wait in any line for long. Muster drill was quicker than on Celebrity but afterward my husband and I felt in a true emergency, we wouldn't be as prepared on RCCL. I think the main difference is this. On Celebrity, our muster station first met in a particular lounge and then we followed outside from there. On RCCL, we met outside and looked for the muster drill area number. RCCL also had placed my husband and I in a different station than our kids. We had to politely insist several times to different people that we were a family and in the case of any emergency, we needed to be together. Why they would separate a family--I don't know.
Dinner on the first night was a disaster! We had booked the cruise almost a year in advance and received a main seating dinner which we wanted. When we came down to the dining room at 5:45pm, we were told that my husband and I were on one floor, my cousin and youngest son on another and my brother and older son on another. Worse yet---they didn't see the problem!! They handled it poorly. We were led to one floor after another and made to stand and wait. We felt uncomfortable and embarrassed as people around us were starting to eat. We were hungry and tired. I was recovering from an Achilles tendon tear and my cousin had tripped and fallen on the way to the dining room. When they finally told us they had a table for all of us on the 5th floor, we were relieved. It was short-lived. Another family had our table already. We were then told that they were actually assigned the late seating but tonight they 'felt' like eating early because they were tired! They again tried to convince us to take separate tables! We were again told to stand and wait while they disappeared to figure this out. A sympathetic assistant waitress took pity on us and said if it was her she would sit at that empty table over there. It was an empty table for 6 people and it was now 7pm. We had been shuffled around for well over an hour! We sat down because we figured the people that had that table wouldn't show up so late. The waiter for that table rushed over and told us to get up. I told him no way--we were tired and hungry. He said to make sure we don't touch anything!! Finally the head waiter told him to serve us dinner. It was now 7:25pm. Of course, at this moment, the people who had this table showed up! They made a huge fuss but the head waiter stood firm on our behalf. He was the most helpful head waiter we've seen. He helped serve and clear and treated the other waiters kindly. His name was Ergan, I believe. He actually helped us keep this table for the rest of our cruise. The waiter, Emelito, turned out to be a nice guy who had just been worried he'd get into trouble. We wound up having wonderful meals and some great memories there.
My husband and I had a balcony room. Our room didn't seem as clean as on Celebrity. And the bedspreads could use replacing. The shower was tiny. But the bed was unbelievably comfortable. I had the best sleep while on that ship! The room steward, Donny, was such a pleasant guy. I didn't realize they allowed people to smoke in their rooms until our room filled with cigar smoke! I have asthma and my husband can't stand smoke so we called guest services and was told that we should just keep the balcony door shut! The cigar smoker turned out to be a decent guy who stopped smoking on his balcony to accommodate us. I'm sure not everyone would do this so we were lucky. I really wish the cruise lines would have a nonsmoking area of cabins. Smokers can go just about anywhere to have a smoke. But we couldn't go just anywhere to shower, sleep and change!
The comedians were superb on this this cruise. We could have watched them each night! Allen the cruise director was one of the funniest guys we've seen. He made the Love and Marriage show hilarious! My boys-13 & 16- didn't go to the show because it's "for adults" but the Explorer plays it constantly on the TV so they watched it anyway. They thought Allen was great. The Explorer has a real gem there. We weren't crazy about the ice show or the magician. The musical shows were quite good. The explorer has some fabulous musicians in the various lounges. The bar nearest the Cafe Promenade has an incredible guitarist with a wonderful singing voice.
Ahh--the Cafe Promenade....we loved it. A cozy spot to grab a late night cup of tea or an ice cold glass of water. My kids were addicted to their chocolate chip cookies. They had tasty sandwiches too.
We saw a lot of cleaning while we were there, especially of the banisters. A greeter at the entrance to the buffet cheerfully reminded each person every single day to sanitize their hands. The buffet area was spotless. And we thought the buffet food was of a better quality that what we had on our Celebrity cruise.
The pool area was nice and although I'd heard horror stories about chair saving--this was not a problem we encountered. Anytime we wanted to swim, we always found a couple of chairs near the pool. One time, we didn't see any right away and a woman called to us to take the 2 her kids weren't using.
We took only one ship tour and that was to Trunk Bay. It was well worth the money spent. Trunk Bay is gorgeous! At St Marten,we took a cab to Dawn Beach--recommended to us as a quiet beautiful beach. The taxi ride brought us through a rundown area and the beach itself was dirty, noisy with construction and full of pushy salesmen! My older son did have his entire head braided and the women there did a fabulous job. It was $1 per braid with a deal for an entire head.
Puerto Rico was hot but very interesting. We walked from the ship to El Morro Castle. It was beautiful!
And surprisingly, we loved Labadee, Haiti. It was hotter than Puerto Rico could imagine to be but absolutely breathtaking! Our favorite beach was Barefoot beach with its smooth sand. Lunch there was nothing special but we were hungry from hours of swimming so it filled our bellies. My younger son wanted his head braided like his brother. Here it is a lot pricier at $2.50 per braid and they don't do as good of a job. I got 4 braids and lost one the next day. My younger son was losing so many beads we had to take his out completely. My older son still has all of his in. At Labadee, they use rubber bands that rot quickly whereas at St. Maarten they used small pieces of aluminum foil.
The last night they closed all the pools and hot tubs early--one is supposed to be open 24 hours. We had packed early and planned to take a family swim one last time. It amazed us that a ship holding that many people never seemed too crowded. Well, with one exception--disembarkation. What a mess! Uncivilized and chaotic! We felt that the cruise ship had gotten our money and now treated us like cattle. When we disembarked from Celebrity, we had a comfortable wait with refreshments. On the Explorer most of the people around us sat on the floor. Announcements were muffled and difficult to hear. It was not a good way to end a otherwise nice cruise.