We just got back from the 9 nite Explorer Aug 25 sailing! My traveling party included my wife, DD (13) and my two in-laws. My in-laws were in cabin #7680 and we were in cabin #7688. Parking was $135 for the nine days at the dock and was well organized. We found the embarkation was quick and well organized. We arrived at the dock at 10:45 am and were aboard the ship by 11:30 am.
We were able to go to our room by 1 pm and our luggage arrived ~2 pm. We had packed a ton of stuff and we were able to find places to put everything away. The cabin itself was fine but the aft baloney was huge. We had read that this baloney was one of the largest on the ship and we were not disappointed. We were a little disappointed that our room had not received new bedding and after talking to fellow cruisers at the meet and mingle no one had the new bedding yet. New bedding was being loaded on the ship as we disembarked. 300 beds were to be replaced. Each time the Explorer returns home they will replace 300 beds until the entire ship receives new bedding. Our cabin attendant was aloof but did a very good job with the cabin. No complaints.
Our first problem of the trip arose when being seated for dinner in the main dining room the first evening. We had previously requested to be seated with another family we knew who were also traveling on this sailing. We had a total of nine in our group and we were shown a table for eight and were told we would have to squeeze together to make the table fit our party. The table #310 was also so close to another table that we could not have anybody at the end of one side of the table. We tried to find a Head waiter but they were not around the first night. The only one in the dining room had a line of at least 30 minutes. We gave up and were seated at the table. We tried after dinner and the next day to move to a more appropriately sized table but to no avail. Every night we were not very comfortable dining at this table but we made the best of it. The service in the dining by our waiter and asst. waiter was excellent and they truly made us feel like we were the only table they were waiting on. The food quality in the main dining room varied from good to excellent and we ate way too much. We were somewhat disappointed with the desserts but they were OK, just not over the top desserts you get at fine restaurants here in New Jersey. Several evenings the kitchen got backed up and we had to wait over an hour after our salad course for our entrée to arrive. We were told by some of the staff that Royal Caribbean had just made some staffing cut backs in the kitchen and they were having some problems keeping up. We did make a comment on our feedback card about this issue and hope that others who have this problem will let Royal Caribbean know that staffing cutbacks are not the way to make cruising more profitable. It only drives us to make other choices. We went to the windjammer for breakfast and lunch and all of us agreed that the food was adequate but the service was not great. Also the selections did not vary a great deal and after a week we were tried of the choices. They ran out of fresh fruit by the last three days. The salad bar was one of the bright spots and they had a good selection of items. We only went to a few shows. The Ice Show was very good. We saw the juggling show and it was OK but not really a headliner show. Two musical review shows we saw were not very good.
The activities were a mixed bag. We played in two dodgeball tournaments and had great fun. The longest drive contest was also fun but it was not well organized. Several people almost got hit by golf clubs. An observation here. Royal Caribbean has missed a great marketing opportunity here. The golf clubs in the room were very poor. Also, there were no women's or kids clubs available. I am sure that Royal Caribbean could go to Callaway or Nike and get state of the art clubs from them for free. Think of how much marketing they would receive. Activity Director Chris was fun but undermanned. If he was running any activities something else suffered. I think staffing cutbacks have impacted his abilities to keep everything running smoothly. Overall we think that Chris did an excellent job. The rock-climbing wall was well staffed and everyone had a great time.
Our biggest disappointment on this cruise was the children's activities. My DD and her friend would review the program guide each morning and looked forward to each day's activities. Most of the activities were cancelled or in her words were lame. For example, one evening they were to play in the arcade for free. Only one staff member was there and was totally overwhelmed. She had to swipe her card to let each kid play. The kids only got to play one game each before the staff member walked out. The arcade was very expensive. One game was $1.45 and took 45 seconds to play. Air Hockey was $1.75 and you got 6 pucks. Again I think Royal Caribbean is being very short sided on the pricing here. Another example was the teen dodgeball tournament. It was cancelled due to the court being wet from a brief rain shower. With the high demand for the sport court, I think Royal Caribbean should have staffing to squeegee and dry the court. No effort was made to reschedule the tournament and the kids never had another opportunity to play dodgeball again this cruise. My DD had looked forward to playing in this tournament the whole cruise and had carefully selected her teammates. Ice skating for teens-only was cancelled both evenings they were scheduled. The waterslide was another disappointment. Its use was limited to children under 48 inches and even for these kids the slide was very slow. Most kids had to push their way down the slide to make it to the end. Royal Caribbean had better upgrade this soon. Many other cruise lines have built large really cool water slides on their ships and this is a big attraction for the teen crowd. The Freedom of the Seas is probably a better choice for those with very active teenagers.
My Wife and DD are into scrapbooking and went to several sessions. Supplies were good but no one really led the sessions. Sort of just use the tools and work on your own.
We were dismayed by the older teenagers who were roaming the ship in large packs. We witnessed them being rude, crude, destructive and treating the staff very poorly. I used it as a life lesson for my DD and pointed out how stupid and childish they were behaving. We witnessed a game of true or dare one night that made us leave the room we were playing cards in. We saw several who were clearly drinking. I do not know where the parents of these kids where. OK, off my soapbox.
The gym was wonderful. There were many treadmills and stair climbers and we never had a problems getting onto a piece of equipment. One note, the gym is limited to 16 yrs and older. My DD plays alot of sports and runs a couple of miles each day. She was able to use the gym under strict adult supervision. The running track was hard for us to use because of people walking two and three abreast on the track. I was able to lift weights and found the weight machines to be in very good shape and they had a wide variety of machines. They had a good number of barbells and the muscle guys were happy.
Guest relations desk personnel were helpful and friendly, but the line could be over ½ hour. Again, cutbacks were evident.
Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle was held on Sunday in Portofino's at 1pm. We had a record crowd and everyone received a cruise critic gift. We also had a pre-meet and mingle on Saturday. Thanks to those who organized it.
The Ports: St. Thomas, St. Maarten, San Juan and Labadee.
In St. Thomas we rented the Treazzure for a daysail and had a wonderful time. Capt. Joe and Danielle treated us very well and Capt. Joe really knew a great deal about the islands and regaled us with some history of the islands. We sailed to St. John and went snorkeling in Hawks bay which was beautiful and we had the place to ourselves. Highlight of the trip! One note: getting in at 1 pm really messes the day in St. Thomas up. Many activities are very hard to book for the afternoon and the shops close at 5 pm. Really nothing to do after dinner in St. Thomas. In St. Maarten my DD and I went Scuba diving while my wife and in-laws burned up the credit cards jewelry shopping. They got some great deals. The scuba diving was good and well led by our dive master. We went to little bay and the water was very clear. We saw lots of fish and some coral. We got some cool underwater pictures. Before docking in San Juan we had to go through customs. The entire process took 15 minutes and was well organized. We did an excursion in San Juan, Old and New San Juan. Fairly disorganized getting on the tour bus but the tour was good and dropped you off for shopping a couple of blocks from the ship. The Tendering to and from Labadee was very well organized. On Labadee my DD had tickets for the water slide and the 11:30 am 1 hour Aqua Park. She used the water slide immediately after arrival before the lines built up and went about 20 times. Later the lines had built-up to a ten minute wait between slides. Go early and often to get your moneys worth. The Aqua Park was not in my DD opinion worth the money and she would not go again. We saw 10 to 15 people who were stung by jellyfish. The activities shacks all had vinegar and other treatments on hand to treat the stings. I take it that this is not an infrequent occurrence. I had my diving gear and attempted to go snorkeling. I walked to the snorkeling shack and asked where the best sites were. As I approached beach where the snorkeling was I was immediately told that I must have a snorkel vest in order to go snorkeling. I wish the guys at the shack had told me this before. Ok, back to the snorkel shack to rent a vest ($6). Finally I was able to swim out and the snorkeling site was good once you went pass the point towards the rocks. The barbeque lunch had hamburgers, boiled hotdogs, ribs, chicken, salads, vegetables, fruit punch, and ice tea and was fine. The last night heading back to New Jersey we hit the tail end of the remnants of the Hurricane which now was ahead of us. Lots of seasick people were spending time in their cabins. We got the dreaded beige luggage tags and knew that we would be one of the last called to leave the ship. Our color was called at 10:30 am and the disembarkation went smoothly and we were in our car headed home by 11:15 am. Overall we all totally enjoyed our time on the Explorer of the Seas. Royal Caribbean has made cutbacks to the staffing which in our opinion have made some visible impacts to the quality of the cruise. We believe that they must do better with the teen programs as many cruiselines understand that keeping the kids busy is the key to heading off problems with bored teenagers and will make the parents come back.