Embarkation: We were anxious to try the Bayonne port as we could drive to Port Liberty and not have to worry about flying during the winter. We were surprised that there was no connection between the port and the ship and that we had to take a bus to get to the ship. This caused delays in getting passengers on board in a timely manner. RCCL now distributes only paper luggage tags. The flimsy tag must have torn off because one of our suitcases got lost. By 8:00 p.m., long after the ship had left port, we still did not have our bag. After numerous calls to Guest Services, we finally went up to the desk and located our suitcase just sitting there with about 25 other pieces of other luggage without tags. The moral: download luggage tags, reinforce them and use sturdy ties to attach them to your suitcases.
The storm that affected this sailing caused a very rocky start to the trip. The crew did a stellar job of handling the Explorer during 26 foot waves. We were lucky that it didn't have much effect on us. Unfortunately, the dining room on the first formal night was pretty empty.
Cabin: We were in a balcony cabin #7278; the decor was about what we expected for a ship of this age. Carpets and draperies were a little dirty, there was rust along the balcony and the mattress was soft. What we didn't expect was the number of items that broke during our voyage. The refrigerator broke, the toilet broke and the closet door broke, causing us to have to call for maintenance over and over. Worst of all, the cabin door lock broke. After returning to our cabin late one night, neither of our door keys worked. Without going into too much detail about wasted time and several trips to Guest Services, we were finally told that security would have to let us into our cabin. It appears that the battery in the lock had died. The staff wanted us to stay in our cabin the following day so that the carpenter could change the battery. There was a heated discussion when we told them that we had an excursion reserved for that day.
Amenities: Some of the facilities on the ship do need updating. Some of the gym equipment was not operational. The TVs in the gym did not work. The internet did not work much of the time. One disappointment was that there is no covered solarium pool. On long sea days in the colder climates, it would have been nice to have a closed-in heated pool similar to the other ships in this class.
Food: We changed to My Time Dining which we really enjoyed. Most of the nights we had the same six or eight people at our table which worked out very well. Our waiter, Steven Rodriquez, helped us with a special dietary requirement by providing the next day's menu each night so that we could select an entree to be prepared without extra sodium. The dining room food at dinner is plentiful with sufficient choices, but the quality did not seem to be as good as it used to be. We did enjoy the lunches that were served in the main dining room. On days that we spent at the pool, we took salads from the Windjammer outdoors onto the pool deck. We ate one night in Portofino and found the food and service to be really excellent.
Ports: We had been to all the ports in the past. We missed Labadee due to the storm. On the stop at St. Thomas, we chose an excursion from the ship that took us by boat to St. John. There we hiked with an environmentalist through the desert terrain, seeing iguanas, birds and interesting vegetation. Afterwards, we were taken to beautiful Honeymoon Beach and then through the Caneel Bay Plantation resort and the ruins of an old sugar mill. It was a wonderful day on a beautiful island.
Entertainment: One of the ice shows was spectacular. There were no problem getting seats even though the shows were cancelled on the days of rough seas. The production shows were very original and enjoyable. There's a lot of talent there. All the other shows were entertaining including the introductions by the Cruise Director, Richard ("I love you") Spacey. Richard and Chris (Activities Director) helped to make this cruise special. The trivia, majority rules game, Quest and other evening events kept us hopping and laughing. It still left us time to play bridge on the sea days and do some dancing after the shows.
Disembarkation: We opted to walk off the ship and carry our own luggage. We were a little concerned that it would be hard to lift all our suitcases onto the bus, but that was not a problem. We were off the ship by 9:30 a.m.
One final note: We wish there were more ships leaving from Cape Liberty (Bayonne, NJ).