Arrival and Embarkation
We arrived by car at Cape Liberty in Bayonne at 10:30 am without any traffic delays on the NJ Turnpike save a lane closure just prior to Exit 14A, the exit to the port. Since NY Metro drivers are not renowned for playing nice when traffic merges, it took a few minutes to get to the exit. Once off the Turnpike the signage is very clear pointing the way to the cruise terminal. Dropping the luggage off was easy, despite the tangle of busses, taxis, cars and SUVs. The signs for the exit and parking are hard to miss with gigantic pointing hands. Parking directly across from the terminal is $19 per day plus tax.
Embarkation was a breeze, the easiest we had in 8 cruises to date. We were directed straight to check in and were waiting in the lounge to wait for our shuttle, number 3, to the ship which took about 15 minutes. We were in the Windjammer enjoying lunch by 11:30.
Our cabin, a mid-ship balcony on the sixth deck, first cabin on the hump forward, was ready shortly before 1:30 pm. This is a big difference from Princess, who has the cabins ready at embarkation. There was some concern that the cabin would be noisy due to the promenade being on deck five, however this was not an issue. Our baggage arrived safe and sound almost immediately. The cabin, while small, was well appointed with a very comfortable bed, a loveseat, desk area, decent sized closets and storage. Two full sized suitcases can fit under the bed comfortably. The shower, typically miniscule, has circular glass doors, a huge improvement over Princess’ "friendly” shower curtains.
The Explorer may be an older ship but the old gal still has a lot of life left in her. On the exterior one will notice a few rust spots here and there but inside and on the pool deck she is maintained and is immaculate. We saw no evidence of wear and tear on the interior. The ship is well laid out with the focal point being the promenade on Deck 5, which contains the customer service desk, shops, bars, an eatery, Ben and Jerry’s and a Starbucks. It is also the location of many events including the welcome aboard parade, the Captain’s welcome aboard party and some dance classes. It can be extremely crowded and hectic at these times. The casino and the balcony of the Palace Theater are on Deck 4, while Deck 3 has the photo shop and the ice arena. Because of the ice arena you cannot get aft from the forward section of that deck. Deck 11 has the Windjammer buffet which is quite well laid out compared to the Princess ships. Also on Deck 11 are Portofino’s, the pools including the Solarium which is an adults-only venue with comfortable padded recliners, two large hot tubs and a pool. Princess charges $20 a day for similar which requires advanced reservations although they include a special food service and misting. Deck 12 has the jogging/walking track and the Adventure Ocean children’s club, a sizeable arcade and Johnny Rocket’s, the hamburger joint which is mysteriously hidden behind the arcade with no signage directing you to it save for a sign at the elevator saying it is on Deck 12 somewhere. Deck 13 has the rock wall, inline skating track, mini-golf and the golf simulator. Deck 14 has Dizzy’s Lounge and, of course the Viking Crown Lounge topped it off with a chapel on the very top.
Food is a very subjective topic and our subjective opinion is that the food aboard was all well prepared and more than satisfactory. If one is expecting five star gourmet fare and main courses consisting of tiny square of mystery meat, drizzled with a sauce that glows in the dark and is garnished with some plant not normally seen in North America, the dining aboard is not for you, try a more upscale line. My wife and I were on MTD, however, we opted to dine at a table for 2 with the same wait crew every night except the night we attended the murder mystery Dinner at Portofino’s. That wait team was Dani and Irene and they more than earned the extra gratuity we gave them. We also had Irene as a server at most of our lunches in the Windjammer. We found the menus in the MDR to be pleasing each night except the last night when the selections were less than stellar. The food was presented in an appetizing manner. Tip from that night; do not order the strip steak from the classics portion of the menu, it is tough. The night we attended the murder mystery dinner we opted for the tiger shrimp and were presented with a dish barely bigger than the shrimp cocktail offered on the MDR menu. If you partake, opt for the tenderloin.
We found the food in the Windjammer to be satisfactory but very repetitive save for the different items offered on the "Create Your Own” section which offered things like soup and pasta created to order. I was disappointed with the manner in which the salad section was set up at the beginning of the serving line, almost like an afterthought. It would have been much better if the salads were set up on one of discrete islands in the Windjammer. We found the "Washee-Washee” man to be a cheerful start to our mornings. We also got a kick out of the "Coffee Man” who roamed around the Windjammer balancing a tray of coffee mugs on his head dispensing coffee to diners.
We only utilized room service for morning coffee and did not patronize Johnny Rockets.
There were two production shows both were good but the show choreographed by Louis van Amstel of Dancing with the Stars fame was the best of the two. There were three comedians featured but the scheduled "adult” show we missed as it was scheduled for 11:45 pm on the day prior to our arrival in Bermuda, this is probably due to the aforementioned lack of large public rooms on the ship. The ice show was excellent and the scheduling of shows by muster station worked well. The welcome aboard and farewell parade were held in the promenade and were fun but crowded. We skipped the 70’s disco party also held in the promenade although it looked like the participants were having a blast. The Captains Welcome was also in the promenade and featured nice dance music from the talented orchestra and singers. We do not patronize the casino.
We thoroughly enjoyed this cruise and Royal will continue to be in contention when we select a cruise, however to be honest we prefer Princess and they will continue to be our first choice. We will always look to Royal when we want an itinerary, such as Bermuda, is not served or underserved by Princess.