This Review was mainly written for some cruise friends, but you might find a few helpful notes in it:
DAY ONE: KILLER SAUSAGES & FUH-GEDDA-BOUT-IT
From CNY we started by doing most of the 5 hour drive the day before, stayed about one hour from the port (much cheaper than a night in NYC). Our first day got off to a weird start. Eating breakfast at our hotel, I cut into a large breakfast sausage which decided to fight back. I plunged my knife into it, it sprayed back grease at me like it was a deranged octopus. I seriously had so many grease spots on my shirt and pants I couldn't cruise looking like a victim of the crazed octopus-sausage thing. Had to make a quick trip to Target (Only store open at 8AM) for new clothes -- everything was packed and apportioned per day for the cruise.
Bayonne Port: We've cruised out of numerous ports. Norfolk will always be a favorite because of the people. Bayonne, to me, is the ugly stepsister to other ports -- it basically resembles an old factory with pipes up above, blacktop floors. The luggage areas are outdoor tents (must be fun in winter). Parking: you drive a distance, finally see a sign that shows short term parking one way, long term for cruises the other direction. Only problem is the long term sign takes you back out to the road you came in on! Drove back in a giant circle, asked the same guy we asked for directions, told him about the sign. His reply (in typical NY fashion): "Fuh-gedda-bout-it, Don't pay any attention to the sign." Inside the terminal you're handed a number for a shuttle bus (even though the ship is within easy walking distance). Strange, couldn't start boarding until after 11:30AM.
Explorer: great shape and more to come about it. Cabin (6554, balcony), with exception of the old tv's, was in excellent shape; Allan the Room Steward was the typical overly efficient and friendly steward.
Food notes: Read a lot on CC about dinners being served cold. I had a scallops gratin app that was lukewarm first night, everything else all week was hot. We did My Time Dining -- we had the same table all 4 nights in the DR with the same wait staff. Last 2 nights we sat next to a guy who was a fellow alumnus of my college (King's, Wilkes-Barre, PA). MTD worked great for us. We had dinner in Bermuda one night (more on that later).
Entertainment: I believe I've stated before that a Cruise Director doesn't make much difference. WRONG!! This guy from Australia (Leigh X) and his assistant Frank the Tank were spectacular and really enhanced the cruise experience. RCI singers and dancers seem greatly improved since our last Royal cruise (Enchantment). The headliner show was what was advertised as an Elvis impersonator. The singer (Greg London) actually impersonated probably 25 or more singers and did such a great job (and was such a nice guy) that we bought his CD's & DVD's.
DAY 2: WHITE CAPS & SKI CAPS
The Ski Caps were actually last night -- Towel attendants wearing heavy coats and ski caps by the pool, nobody was swimming or using the hot tubs -- TOO DANG COLD!! Today we have thunderstorms and near hurricane force winds. Skating show was postponed until a later date, pools are closed, outside decks are inaccessible. Stood on my balcony and got a face full of salt water from the spray. Invigorating, but my idea of spending time on my balcony reading ain't gonna happen. I enjoyed seeing the large, white-capped waves, but a large number of cruisers were seasick, and it's the first cruise I've been on where they had to put barf bags throughout the ship for cruisers to use.
One advantage of our Deck 6 cabin was being just above the Promenade. Easy access to coffee, iced tea and lemonade, not to mention the paninis and snacks available. This was the worst weather day -- you couldn't go out on the decks, everything was closed off -- 65mph winds. We spent ten minutes in the Solarium hot tub -- it was our only pool or hot tub time the entire cruise. All the entertainment had to be shifted around; Ice shows postponed until the last day. However, the CD staff did an absolutely great job of doing whatever they could to keep people busy -- can't say enough about them. One thing I enjoyed was the little morning show the CD did each day. I even wrote them a joke (they'd read comment cards each show), and the CD actually read it on his show (Okay, he said it was a lame joke when he read it, but, hey, at least he read it!!).
One thing that never gets postponed is the Casino. It was very nice to us. We're big gamblers ($10 each per day). Overall we came out a few bucks ahead, which is much better than usual. Walked into the Casino one day with $2 in my pocket; played a slot and ran it up to $9; switched to poker and ran it up to $25. Of course, gave it all back a couple days later.
DAY 3: BERMUDA, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, UNREQUITED LOVE, AND, WHY WON'T ANYONE TALK TO ME??
Bermuda: Looks like Caribbean ports, big difference! DW likes to shop for jewelry. We took the Ferry ($15 for all-day use) to Hamilton, went to the one advertised jewelry store. She looked at one case for over 5 minutes before someone finally came and asked if she wanted to see something (store was almost empty, 5 or 6 salesgirls hanging around doing nothing). Showed her some rings, told her the price, that was it. No suggestions, no explanations -- nothing like Effy or Majesty or the usual Caribbean jewelry stores. Okay, maybe I'm just upset because I usually get offered a free beer or two while DW shops. Bought a Bermuda newspaper. "Does this paper have US sports? Of course, they said. Yeah, had a Golf article, line of scores, no other US articles. That's not a big deal, but that's what everything in Bermuda was like. Side note: bought the newspaper because Royal charges 75 cents per minute for Internet, 66 cents per if you spend $30, 50 cents per if you spend $200 (who the heck spends 4 hrs on the Net while cruising??).
Bermuda Excursion: Very pricey, but we did a 6hr tour that included dinner at a "5 Star" restaurant.
The Van touched down in the lot of this enchanted 5 Star place
With the government guy, and his young wife
The sales-talk man and his wife too
Kicker, and his beautiful wife Barb
The leader Ralph, the others who I can't recall
All here at Tom Moore's Restaurant
Not sure why but the Gilligan theme was stuck in my head that whole excursion. Thomas Moore (whom the restaurant was named after) was an Irish poet who spent time in Bermuda before he was famous and fell in love with a married woman. He was forced to leave because of his illicit affair (too bad he didn't live in today's world -- who would care?). The restaurant is named for him and it supposedly is the oldest continuing operating restaurant in Bermuda (although it was closed for 5 yrs but they don't bother to count that). I'm no gourmet, the food was good, but the ship's food was at least as good if not better. Dinners (I had Chicken breast, included in the price of the tour), supposedly start at $65 in that restaurant, and that's a pretty accurate read on restaurant prices. We met a couple on board who had lunch at the Frog & Onion Pub; 2 sandwiches and a drink cost them $80. I have say the Tour leader (Ralph) was so in love with his native Bermuda that he made the excursion worthwhile. He even sang and played the trumpet for us at the restaurant. Oh, as far as 5 Stars? The restaurant is owned by Ralph's b-in-law, so take that for what its worth. I wouldn't care to visit Bermuda again, unless its for a quick stop, not a two day thing. Beaches: looked nice, but 60 degrees and rained ruined any chance to find out. Souvenirs: they make glass there; Barb looked at a platter -- it was $300. No thanks. $30 for a small Rum Cake? No thanks, again. T-shirts were at least reasonable -- that's all we bought.
DAY 4: BERMUDA SHORTS & BERMUDA TOO LONG, PLUS CHICKENS
In 10 or so cruises it's the first time we stayed overnight in a port -- too bad it had to be Bermuda. I'm not totally knocking Bermuda -- it's a beautiful place and I've been told it's more beautiful in the summer when all the flowers bloom -- it just wasn't your typical cruise port. The one department store (Davison's?) carried the same brands we find at home, but at higher prices. Everything was priced high (homes supposedly start at $750,000). Hey, did you know Michael Douglas has a Bermuda home, and his Mom is a native Bermudian?
Bermuda shorts are acceptable as formal wear. Our tour guide Ralph had the shorts, kneesocks, along with his jacket & tie. The island, as a whole, is rather conservative.
We were in port the 2nd day until 4PM, but we'd already seen the whole island. We walked over to a nearby beach (Snorkel Park) -- might've been nice if it hadn't been only 60 degrees.
Chickens: when we did the tour it seemed I saw chickens everywhere, so I asked about it. Apparently when they had a hurricane a few years back lots of cages got turned over and chickens have been multiplying and running amok ever since. We saw chickens near the beaches, chickens on golf courses, chicken on my dinner plate (hey -- if that was a free chicken why'd it cost $65 for dinner??).
Back on the ship. Entertainment for the week was the singer I mentioned previously, one comedian, and the Royal singers & dancers, who seem to have greatly improved since our last Royal cruise 3 years ago. I can't even remember what I ate, only remember I enjoyed everything Barb would let me eat due to my recent diagnosis of Diabetes.
DAY 5: 5 IS GREATER THAN 4, BUT 7 IS A MUCH NICER NUMBER
A recent Disney cruise last December was 4 days. This was only one day more, but it seemed a better fit -- the 4 day seemed like we just got on and were getting off again. Of course, a 7 day or longer is preferred, but we have tight schedules these days, so this cruise fit best.
Day 5 of our cruise featured the Ice Show, originally scheduled for the first sea day. The finale show at night was surprisingly short: the Explorer Band, some remarks from the CD, one dance number, one song. As mentioned before, the singer and dancers and even the themes of the shows have improved in the last 3 years from what I saw. Choreography for the dancers was done by some of Dancing With the Stars people.
The Cd Leigh Xuereb and his top assistant Frank the Tank were hilarious and also very accessible. We've been on ships where CD's make themselves visible, but never as much as these guys, I loved the humor (sarcastic). Example: girl walks into the final show late. CD: Thank you for joining us! Could I get you something? Anything? Like maybe a watch so you'll be on time? They would tape their Daily Morning Show the evening before,, usually from the Promenade or another public spot, and make comments about cruisers passing by. Cruiser in a red/white striped shirt: We found Waldo! Formal night a guy walks by in a t-shirt and jeans: Nice formal outfit there buddy!
Closing thought: Back home people ask how the cruise was. I reply the weather was horrible, we didn't like Bermuda, and we had a GREAT TIME! That's what cruising is about for me. I just love being on the ocean and I can't wait for the next cruise. I figured I might be done for this year but DW mentioned a San Juan cruise, and once she gets me started......
Final Note on Disembarkation: With only 2 suitcases we chose to carry our luggage off. We were assigned a 9 to 9:30 time for departure. We were called on time, no lines, through customs within ten minutes.