Explorer of the Seas Cruise Review by Lablover6429: Explorer of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean
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Explorer of the Seas - Eastern Caribbean
My husband and I took advantage of Hurricane Season pricing and had a great cruise on Explorer of the Seas to the Eastern Caribbean in late September 2006. It was our third cruise and a spectacular trip; I will point out highlights, areas for improvement and try to incorporate some suggestions for future passengers. Firstly, highlights of the ship and the entertainment - despite the number of passengers it has served- the Explorer is in great shape. I am pretty picky about cleanliness and I had no complaints whatsoever about the ship. Our stateroom was clean and the public areas on the ship were also clean. This makes for a pleasant stay on a route that includes four full at sea days which is the case with the Eastern Caribbean route. The ship is also striking in its size and the scope of the activities offered. If you can't find something to do on this ship, I can't imagine how entertaining your non-vacation life must be! We participated in the Meet and Mingle, Name That Tune, went More
to nearly all the shows, and toured both the Ocean Lab and the Atmospheric Lab. Let me put in a commercial here for those labs. Be sure to go and tour them! The labs are not very well advertised on board ship (unlike Bingo!), but they are well worth your time and very interesting. In order to get on a lab tour, you need to go to the library on Deck 7 and sign up your name and stateroom number in a book located on the desk there. There is no charge; the sign-up is just to control the size of the group, as the labs are not very large. The tours are scheduled throughout the cruise, if you can go early in the cruise that is even better. My husband in particular was fascinated with the atmospheric lab and he kept looking for the special equipment throughout the ship after we had the tour. The shows in the theatre were for the most part average; we like to go because we don't see big production shows often in our neck of the woods, but the mainstream shows might not excite a city dweller that has access to that type of entertainment. I think the exception would be Majestic, an acrobatic duo who are simply stunning and well worth the time. The ice show, as many others have mentioned, was also first rate. Make sure to get your free tickets to the ice show as soon as they are advertised for pick-up, as it is very popular. The music in the bars and lounges was quite entertaining and it changed frequently which was nice. My husband and I even dared to dance at The Chamber a couple of nights, which is the more high-powered disco style club. Our twenty something daughters did not come with us on this cruise, they they would have loved The Chamber, it provides a good selection of more hip music and a lot of high energy. We had a balcony room on this cruise and really enjoyed the balcony. It is nice to have a balcony on a ship the size of the Explorer because you can escape the crowds in your own little world. We had towel animals starting about day three and they were very cute. Our stateroom attendant was not particularly personable, but he was polite and most importantly he kept our room spotless, replaced pool towels constantly and put the foam toppers on our beds immediately after we requested them. The Explorer is in the process of getting new bedding (mattresses) but ours had not arrived yet. The storage space in the D category balcony room was sufficient for two people and empty suitcases fit nicely under the bed. The only worn out item in the room was the numbers on the safe which were a little confusing (they were worn right off) but we coped. I like the bathroom on this ship with the door instead of the shower curtain. Second, highlights of the food service. At the Meet and Mingle, I won the door prize, which was dinner for two at Portofino! We hadn't planned on going there because of the cover charge but to go for free was a different story. It was certainly a memorable meal. My husband had the filet of beef and said it was the best he has had in years. The desserts were to die for. If you are a real foodie it may be worth it to you to spend the cover charge to eat here. At the other end of the spectrum, we really enjoyed Johnny Rockets. It only costs a few dollars to eat here ($3.95 cover charge) and it was un-crowded and entertaining. Dinner in the main dining room was very good and oddly it improved as the cruise went on. The first few dinners were ok, and then progressed to good and then to very good the last couple of nights. The service in the main dining room was top notch (we had Fico and Ulrich). One night there was an Indian appetizer and I mentioned to Fico that I loved Indian food, two subsequent nights he told me to forgo the menu dishes and he brought me a specially prepared dish by the Indian chef. Really exceptional service and attention to detail. The only item I would fault consistently was dessert, I didn't think the desserts were on par with the rest of the meal with only a couple of exceptions. And the chef should understand that you can't list parfait and serve a slice of ice cream cake and list baked Alaska and serve a slice of ice cream cake again. But these are minor quibbles as our dinners in the main dining room were often the highlight of our evening. For the second time on an RCI ship, we ordered the wine package (get it outside of the Windjammer the first day of your cruise). The wine package works great for us as we always enjoy wine for dinner and it simplifies the process greatly. I had our wine sent to our room instead of at dinner a couple of times and that also worked very smoothly. That brings up room service, which we also found to be quite good. The room service menu is limited but the food always arrived appropriately hot or cold and with breakfast we got a wake up call from room service about 5 minutes before the tray came which was very convenient. We had room service frequently as we didn't care for the Windjammer (more on that later). We had breakfast in the main dining room a couple of times (quite good and a lot more food than we really needed for breakfast!) and lunch twice (also very good and they have a made to order pasta station at lunch). Thirdly, highlights of the ports of call. This itinerary does arrive in St. Thomas quite late in the day (after 1:00 PM). Unfortunately this late arrival coming after two sea days really got people antsy to get off the ship and that was a bit of a push and shove contest. If you don't have an early shore excursions (we did) you might want to wait a half hour or so before trying to get off. We took the Eco-Tour and Snorkel RCI excursion and we were pleasantly surprised at how good it was. For one thing, it didn't seem to be very popular and there were only a dozen people on the excursion. When you are on a ship as large as the Explorer it is nice to have a break from the crowds. The tour goes on small rubber boats (not difficult at all) to Cas Cay, a small island just off of St. Thomas. A young naturalist and his assistant took us on a hiking tour of the island, stressing ecology and natural history of the area, we then snorkeled around the small island with the naturalist again stopping frequently to dive for and exhibit for us species of wildlife. It was a lovely, low key kind of day and very educational. The only sad point was the quite evident local resident abuse of the ecology of the area. I am sad to say that St. Thomas has real issues with garbage and disposal of trash and this even includes abandoned boats left to rot in the local waters. St. Thomas is not by any means a pristine island paradise. Our next port of call was St. Maarten. We arrived there early and immediately got on our shore Excursion for Pinel Island Snorkeling another RCI shore excursion. This one was really worth the money as Pinel Island (also called Isle Pinel as it is on the French side of the island) had one of the nicest beaches that we have seen in a long time. There is a bus ride of about half an hour to get to the small ferry to Pinel Island and the tour guide went over the history and highlights of the island on the bus ride and was most entertaining. I am embarrassed (as an American tourist) to say that they did have to stop the bus briefly at the very beginning and eject a passenger who had not paid for the excursion. Sometimes people can be very strange indeed. A small ferry took us on about a 5-minute ride to the island and then we had several hours to snorkel (with equipment and instruction provided) and lounge on the beautiful beach. We were back to the ship by 1:00 pm and showered and ate a quick lunch onboard (to save our money for shopping!) and then took the water taxi (located a few steps from the ship) to the shopping district. The shopping area is very attractive with a beach right in front. The street vendors are pretty darn aggressive, my husband got annoyed when one of them threw his arms around me and held me to make his sales pitch. I wasn't afraid but it was an invasion of personal space for sure. After that, we said no more firmly. We got some great deals on duty free perfume for our daughters in this port. The third port of call was San Juan. I had read some negative reviews about San Juan so I was a little anxious, but we really enjoyed our day there. We had gotten the Frommers guide with the walking tour and just set off on our own for this day. Again, coming off a big ship a day with just the two of us was very nice. The walking tour of old San Juan is very easy to do and we found it fascinating. One thing I would say about the walking tour in the Frommer guide is that some folks must be a lot faster walkers or a lot less of dawdlers than we are because we didn't get through the whole tour in our time and we spent several hours. It also would have been too hot to walk through both the forts (we just did El Morro) because it was very hot and there is not much shade in the forts. If you have your heart set on seeing both forts you might want to consider a cab to the second one, especially if it is very hot. There were uniformed police officers literally every couple of blocks in Old San Juan and I was not at all nervous about our safety. The police officers were friendly and helpful too and my husband got to practice his Spanish asking them for directions and information. We had lunch in a little hole in the wall cafe and bought some souvenir t-shirts, which were so cheap it, was laughable ($2.00 each). The ship left quite early (2:30 PM boarding) and we were sad to leave so soon as we would have enjoyed more time in Old San Juan. The fourth port of call was the RCI private island of Labadee. This was certainly a tropical paradise and after running around for three days in a row it was nice to just have a lounge chair on the beach for the day. I would advise departing the ship early and going out to Hideaway Beach at the end of the island if you like a little privacy and some shade. It was extremely hot in Labadee and not a cloud in the sky, but we were able to have our chairs put under some trees right next to the beach and have shade all day as we popped in and out of the water. There is a little free shuttle bus on the island if walking is an issue for you. A couple of concerns. These were not serious enough to in any way ruin our cruise but I know when I am looking at reviews I want the whole story, so here are my few negative points. My husband and I simply loathed the Windjammer on the Explorer of the Seas. We both agreed that it was more to do with the size and behavior of the crowd than it is the venue itself. The Windjammer is like a very large college cafeteria with a great view. The people who go there we found to be terribly pushy, messy, and to have poor table manners. We ate there a couple of times because it happened to be the most convenient option for our plans for a certain day but we just ate as quickly as we could and then left. Since the main dining room and the promenade cafe are other options it is not a problem, but we are wondering it might be better in the bigger ships to have two buffet areas in different parts of the ship instead of one mega cafeteria. The food itself was again, college cafeteria dining, nothing terrible but nothing exciting. Second problem point: the saving of pool chairs is an epidemic on this ship. There were always plenty of chairs to be had somewhere on the ship, but those in the preferred areas such as the solarium and near the pools were saved from morning until dusk. I would glance occasionally and see unoccupied saved (with towels and sometimes a book) chairs for hours on end. I never saw or heard ship personnel addressing it. If you want a chair in a preferred location you had better get there early. And last big negative is disembarkation. It isn't even the wait I minded so much as the fact that I did not feel safe with people sitting all over the stairways and lying all over the floor waiting. I kept thinking, how the heck will we ever get out of here if there is an emergency?. The staff made a big deal about where people should wait to disembark but then they didn't enforce it, or give any directions as things proceeded, with the exception of announcements over the loudspeaker. God forbid if there is ever a real emergency during this disembarkation process as there will be mass chaos. Finally a couple of extra tips. If you don't like large groups of people consider a smaller ship, if that is only a small concern for you, then by all means book this ship and save up your money for a balcony room for when you need some privacy. If you love large groups of people and the energy that creates, then just jump right in! Sign up for the Ocean Lab tour. If you want a quiet place to read, check out Deck 4 (port side for non-smokers and starboard side for smokers). Mark your luggage with something very unique and flashy for identification because when you disembark, you have to find your own luggage amongst hundreds of others. Use a porter at disembarkation because the porter takes your customs declaration (at least for US citizens, I am not sure about non-citizens) and zooms your luggage right through customs for you. Ask your TA if there is an RCI bus leaving from a city near your home, they take you straight to the ship for easy embarkation and you don't have to pay for parking which is pretty steep at Cape Liberty. Less
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