My husband, six year old son and I just returned from a 9 night cruise on board the Explorer of the Seas. Having cruised on Carnival, Norwegian and Disney we thought we knew the routine. We were wrong! I have also worked on cruise ships. I worked as a production singer for 5 years for Celebrity Cruises and Costa Cruises (yes Captain Schettino was my safety officer on board the Costa Atlantica.)
Royal Caribbean was by far the best cruise line we have sailed. From the moment we boarded the ship to the time we disembarked the staff and crew made us feel like we were the only and most important guests on the ship.
To follow are some details of our voyage.
Embarkation: The whole process took about two hours. The reason it was so long was because we arrived rather early (10:30am). Next time (and believe me we will be back!) we will aim for a later arrival time but being that we have never embarked from Bayonne we thought it best to arrive early. The previous cruisers are not off the ship until about 11:30am so you must wait until about 12:00-12:30pm to embark and then you have to wait until 1:30pm to go to your cabin. Advice: bring few carry-on items and make sure they have wheels as you will be lugging them around the ship for a few hours. The waiting process is not painful by any means and they begin feeding you in the terminal as you wait. They had refreshments and cookies for all the waiting guests. It was a comfortable area to sit and really not too bad. It was difficult to hear the boarding announcements. All the guests board shuttles to the ship and you wait to hear your number called. The poor ladies calling the numbers had a horrible amplification system to work with and it was very difficult to hear them. Once we were on board there was the welcome lunch at the Windjammer Buffet on Deck 11. The food was not very good this day. This was the only meal I didn't love. I believe it was because they were preparing food for too many people at once. It was incredibly crowded and they kept making announcements to move people along. I found that part a bit strange and pushy. However, looking back I think they were just trying to make sure everyone was fed. A noble cause!
Cabin: Our cabin was way up in the front on deck 8 (cabin 8214; large ocean view stateroom). We were pleasantly surprised with the size. It was much larger than our Disney Cabin with a balcony (on the Disney Magic they have a horrible split bathroom that takes up half the cabin space). The room was a bit worn; stains on the carpet, worn looking fixtures in the bathroom, broken curtain. Our Cabin attendant, Pedro was very attentive to our needs. They did fix the curtain right away without me even asking which was great. Pedro filled our water bottles every night and made sure our cabin was spotless. So, I can forgive the age of the cabin. It was very clean! That's more important in my opinion. There was quite a bit of movement in this area of the ship but being an old sea hag I came prepared with our sea bands, ginger pills and ginger gum. We were very comfortable even though we had pretty rough seas coming back. The beds are a bit hard but we did adjust within 2 days and then slept like rocks. The cabin area was very quiet with the bridge above. The window was lovely. It was big and tilted inward so it was an even better view outside than having a balcony cabin. I don't think I'll waste money on a balcony cabin again (unless it's a suite) since 3-4 of the 9 days this time of year are spent inside due to cold and wind. We loved the shower with shower doors and the water pressure was strong. Advice: bring a can of lysol as the toilets do emit an odor even when not in use. You could not smell the odor outside the bathroom. The space inside the cabin was sufficient for all our clothes and luggage.
Entertainment: We LOVED the entertainment. The cruise director, Richard Spacey was unbelievable! In all my years cruising I have never worked with or seen such an amazing cruise director. He should seriously have his own TV show on land he's that good. The headliners were fantastic. Jeff Tracta was incredible. He played "Thorn" on the Bold and The Beautiful. His act was impressions and he totally brought down the house! It was a very creative show. So very talented and a very nice man. I spoke with him for a few minutes at lunch the day after his show and he was just so very humble and nice. The comedians were great and we really enjoyed the act dedicated to Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons. The Production shows were not as strong but I'm biased being an ex-production show singer. The performers were extremely talented but all the shows seemed the same in intensity and content. It felt very pushed; not the performers' fault. The ice show was excellent, excellent, excellent! I was in tears it was so good. The Cruise Director's daily "Morning Show" on channel 14 is not to be missed. I was in tears from laughing so hard! 70's night was a blast! The activities were very good and the contests by the pool were hilarious (belly flop etc.). The Kids Program was good. The facilities were not as large or extensive as Disney but my son had a good time. They also had some family activities. My husband is the new Gaga Ball champ from that cruise! I felt like a kid again playing the games with my son on family night. It was a lot of fun.
Food: The food was great. We also had a tremendous wait staff. Desi our waitress and Elias her assistant were phenomenal. Not only did they do a fantastic job making dinner suggestions, but they also entertained our 6 year old every night with magic tricks and lots of attention. We felt so special under their care. The head waiter was also excellent; attending to any special requests. We miss them so much!!!!! The food always arrived hot and was delicious. The choices were varied. The desserts were to die for! My husband and I must of gained about 10 pounds on this cruise! The buffets for breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer Restaurant were also excellent; always a great variety and wonderfully prepared. The desserts in the Promenade Cafe were delicious as well. Room service always arrived on time and was a nice option when having to disembark early for an excursion in port. Can you tell we did a lot of eating?! We did not eat in any of the "pay" restaurants because the included food was so good.
Ports: This cruise docked/tendered in 4 ports: San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Samana, Dominican Republic and Labadee Haiti. All 4 ports provided for a great time for us a family. We shopped and went to Senor Frogs in San Juan (my son loved that part). I spent a few hours hunting down all the free giveaways and raffles from the port shopping lectures. That was a lot of fun. I did end up buying a beautiful but affordable sterling sliver citrine ring from Effie Jewelers. They were very attentive to my shopping needs. In St. Thomas we took the Sapphire Beach and drive excursion from the ship. What a beautiful tour! The beach was not very crowded and the views were spectacular. The drive back and forth was just as breathtaking. I highly recommend this tour. We also took a ship excursion in Samana. This was a tendering port. We went to Cayo Levatado for another beach day. We spent the day lounging and eating locally caught fish and tried the local beer "Presidente". It was another winner. What a beautiful place! Labadee was amazing as well and yet another beach day. The beaches were beautiful and there were lots of great wooden crafts to buy from the locals at rock bottom prices. We had amazing weather for all of our port days.
Misc: My son had a very bad sunburn under his eyelids and we took him to the medical doctor on board. The care he received was excellent and the bedside manner of the staff made him feel at ease.
One of our suitcases sustained some handle damage during embarkation. I went to guest services to inquire about a claim. They were very professional and guest minded when dealing with our situation and quickly sent someone to our cabin to handle our issue.
The Captain was always visible and participating in events and lectures with the guests. I have never seen this in all my years of cruising. Very impressive!
In conclusion, what made this the best cruise for us so far was the service. Yes, the ship is beautiful and the food was great but the staff on board this ship is special. It's very difficult to pinpoint what it is that they are doing that makes it such a special experience but I believe they have cracked the code to customer satisfaction. We did not want to leave and we can't wait to book another cruise on board the Explorer of the Seas!