Explorer of the Seas Cruise Review by 9K35: Foodie-centered review
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Day 1: The Bayonne pier is a very poor first impression. The entrance streets are overgrown with weeds, the adjacent buildings reflect its Army depot history. The "terminal" entrance is a knot of cars and vans angling for only 2 lanes total for entrance and exit.
If it weren't for the fact that we have a few cruises under our belt, the luggage drop-off would have been very stressful. There were no baggage handlers in sight to take luggage. The passengers were left to load them on the luggage carts ourselves, head for registration, and hope for the best. If a passenger didn't pre-print their luggage tags, they were out of luck, I guess.
Security seemed to be adequate, with our identification and SetSail documents checked no less than 3 times before we got to the metal detectors. The lines to registration moved fairly quickly after the security checkpoint, with our identification and SetSail documents checked twice more. The first RCCL employee we encountered More wasn't until registration: all of the previous people seemed to be subcontractors. It was also the first time that we got anything close to a welcome, and not barked orders. Registration was quick, and we didn't have to wait much more than 5 minutes for the shuttle bus to take us to the ship.
Unlike other locations, there is no grand entrance onto the ship on the main deck; you enter at the waterline, like any other port-of-call. After the interior security check, we were on our own again: no RCCL employees to give directions, etc. I had to learn from other passengers that the cabins wouldn't be available until 1:30 PM. We headed to the Windjammer for some lunch, and it was as busy as could be expected. The food was well prepared, and the staff was keeping up with the crowds. Half of the hand sanitizers at the entrance were empty. The interior of the ship appears in good shape and well maintained. Wood and Brass rails were shiny. Some of the carpet looks worn, but we saw workers discarding old carpet while in port. The exterior of the ship bears some of the expected wear that comes from Atlantic cruising, and it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be from other reviews.
The D1 cabin (9638) was in good repair, clean and had no obvious issues, other than some stains on the couch. Everything functioned correctly. It still has a tube TV. The cabin attendant (Bagas) introduced himself, and quickly responded to our request for an ice bucket and wine glasses. The first suitcase arrived by 4:00 PM and the second at 5:30 PM.
We elected to have My Time Dining on this cruise. The first night MTD was at 6:00 PM. We had to wait in line about 5 minutes before we ever got to the counter, but seating was quick. My DW had Prime Rib. While it was prepared correctly as to doneness, she remarked that it didn't have a lot of flavor. Another adjacent passenger remarked the same. I had the pork chop, and it was mushy. Salads were fresh and good. DW had carrot cake, and she said it was average at best.
Day 2 (at sea):
The Windjammer omelette line was 12-15 people long on both sides at 8:45 AM. I gave up and snagged a pre-made one which was still good. Not a wait for anything else.
The Cruise Critic Meet and Greet was at 9:15 AM. This was probably pretty early for people on vacation, as evidenced by probably only 30-40 people there out of the 110 that had signed up. We received the same note pad and pen as a gift as the last cruise. Erkey from Turkey (the Activities Director) and Rodrigo were the representatives. No representation of the ship's Executive Staff. Generally, the impression was that there wasn't a lot of effort to make this group feel special. Norwegian and Celebrity do it better.
First formal night. DW had sliced tenderloin: it was good, prepared correctly and better than previous night's prime rib. My strip steak was prepared correctly as to donness, but had fat and gristle. DW's lemon sherbet was good.
The Captain's reception was on the Promenade and featured free champagne: woo-hoo! The evening show, "Invitation to Dance", is based upon the "Dancing With the Stars" TV show. It was well done, with good choreography, and the singers were probably the best I've heard on a ship. Leigh, the CD made a joke about the NCL ship that will follow us into Bermuda, opining that the ship looks like a clown barfed on the bow; why slam the completion? It seems a little petty.
Time change, so I thought the morning omelette bar wouldn't be so busy--wrong!!!! Dinner reservations for MTD were made at 1:00 PM for 6:30 (for a table with their choice of other passengers). We showed up at 6:30, and were told the tables were all full, and we should have known that! They only guarantee tables at 6:00 or 7:30 according to the person at the podium. We waited, and to their credit, we were seated within 10 minutes at a table for 2. We both had a overdone salmon, but DW enjoyed her ice cream and fruit. We went to the headliner show with Ventriloquist Brad Cummings. He was very talented, and had the audience laughing when he got one of the good-natured audience members up on his knee.
Port arrival was scheduled for 9:00, with debarkation at 9:30. It was about 15 min late, presumably because the port personnel were delayed by the Norwegian Breakaway, which arrived just ahead of us. Went to Hamilton on a self-guided tour, returning about 4:00. We went to MTD to make reservations for dinner, and nobody was there; they close at 4:00--what sense does that make on a port day when most people are gone until about that time? At 5:30, they were supposed to open back up, but they would never answer the telephone. We walked down about 6:30, waited a few minutes in line, and were seated immediately. DW had a pasta, which was undercooked, and the sauce was bland. I had the chicken cordon bleu, and it was tasty, but not hot. DW had the Banana Creme Brûlée, and it was good.
Decided to avoid the crowds in the Windjammer, and had breakfast in the MDR. Seated at a table for 4, had a pleasant conversation with a couple from Ottawa, Ontario. Was served quickly, had an omelette to order, DW had Eggs Benedict. They were both good and served quickly. Off the ship all day. When we returned, Bagas notified us that there was wet carpeting outside our door, and that Maintenance might need access to our cabin. Walked to MTD at 6:45, and got right in. I had a good Ceviche for an appetizer, and salmon for dinner. Both good. DW had spinach and artichoke dip and Veal Scallopini, both good. DW had the warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, and was good. The headliner show was Marcus Terell and the Serenades; Marcus was a previous contestant on American Idol, America's Got Talent, and others. He's a very good R&B singer. The CD, Leigh took another shot at the NCL ship in port with us, alluding to a number of RCCL "cast-offs" that worked there; it doesn't sound very professional when he does this, sort of like a car salesman knocking another brand. When we returned to the cabin, the carpet was dry, and Bagas said Maintenance believed it wasn't coming from our bathroom, rather a pipe in the floor.
The carpet was wet in front of our cabin, again. Maintenance wanted into our cabin, again. Breakfast in the MDR, seated at a table of 10. Was quickly reminded why dining with strangers on a ship is a crap-shoot: One younger couple who didn't utter a sentence, another couple who were friendly and recounting some of their experiences on the cruise, and two other couples, especially one guy, who wanted to talk incessantly about money and politics. The carpet was now wet in our cabin close to the door, and the floor of our bathroom. A last shot at feeding the local economy, and back on the ship for lunch. The Windjammer was 2/3rds closed at 12:30 PM, but was keeping up with the crowd. After lunch, there was a fan running in the hallway pointed toward our cabin. We were now making sure nothing of ours that could be water damaged was left on the floor. We had 8:00 PM reservations at Portofinos, and at about 6:00, we wanted a light snack to tide us over: we found the Windjammer closed until 6:30! In the early evening, we received a call from the Maintenance supervisor, stating the problem had been fixed (a faulty toilet ball valve). The carpet was dry. Portofinos was an excellent meal. DW had the Seafood Kabob, and I had the Ossobucco, both were excellent, as was the service, including taking care of my special request for a dessert.
Breakfast in the Windjammer, with few lines. The carpet was wet outside the cabin, again (I guess that it wasn't fixed!). We had requested an early departure to accommodate our flight times, and were pleased to see we were assigned some of the first spots off the ship for the non-suite and non-top tier C&A passengers. The ice show was one of the highlights of the cruise; very talented artists, and a professional production. It is definitely an activity that shouldn't be missed. Dinner in the MDR. DW had to send her overdone steak back, and the second one was full of fat and gristle, but was the correct donness. Between the poor Prime Rib earlier, and the steaks earluier and this evening, the general impression is that RCCL is serving a lower grade of beef. My chicken breasts were prepared correctly. The farewell show was headlined by a comedian, James Collinton, and he set the right mood for a farewell in good spirits.
Breakfast in the Windjammer, and the staff kept up with the horde of diners. Debarcation was about 30 minutes late by the time it got to our group, leading to some stress because of our flight arrangements. Just like at embarcation, there weren't any ship staff around to answer questions, bid farewell, thanks, etc other than the Security Officers scanning your SeaPass card as quickly as possible and moving you on. On this side, there were ample porters there to assist with luggage. The CBP lines moved quickly. The terminal area was the same dump as before, and fortunately, we didn't have to spend much time thwere before we departed on our shuttle.
The port facilities detract from the cruising experience. Thank goodness that you don't have to spend much time there. The ship is in good shape for its age, and the staff obviously work hard at keeping it in the best condition that they can. This Captain was probably the most visible and approachable of all the ships we have sailed, and it is a credit to him and his crew for the obvious attention that they give to customer service in most circumstances (just work on boarding day and exit day...). The entertainment was probably the best overall of any ship that we have sailed on. My Time Dining isn't executed as well as our experience with a similar program on another cruise line, and we won't do it again on this cruise line. The food gets a B+ for generally being good at breakfast, consistently good with the desserts and a few improvements to be made with the quality of the main courses in the MDR. Less
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