Haven't been on RCCL in 8 years, last 3 on Carnival, and prefer Celebrity. Traveling with college friends on Carnival for our last 3 cruises, we had a subpar experience on Carnival Valor this past spring and decided to try something different. Was pleasantly surprised by Explorer. She is an older ship and shows her age, but the crew is diligent about cleanliness, which we were pleased to see. Part of our displeasure on the last cruise was the lack of attention to cleanliness a key spots; such as no hand towels in the heads, or Purell stations prior to entering food service areas. On Explorer the public heads were well maintained, and this is the first time after 11 cruises I have ever seen a dedicated staff at the Purell stations whose job it is to be cheerfully insistent and entertaining about cleaning hands. Should you go, please encourage them, as it is a very difficult job.
The weather this time of year out of NY to Bermuda is always suspect, and was not great, but it was pleasant in Bermuda with plenty to occupy everyone ashore for 3 days. The Town Hall in Hamilton has a superb, free, art gallery that is well worth the 2 block walk up from the ferry landing. St George is worth the trip, but it is obvious that the move to larger ships has had a dramatic, negative impact on the tourist trade in the town. History buffs will really enjoy the number of small museums, and naval history fans will find perhaps one of the finest exhibits anywhere on the Blockade of the CSA by the USN during the Civil War at the Globe Hotel.
Ferry and bus service throughout the island is prompt, and inexpensive, and puts you right where you need to go. The Royal Naval Dockyard is very interesting, and the Commissioners House museum is worth one half day.
The ice skating show is a novelty and fun, but the space is underutilized, I suspect in practice for the show. Best photographers I have ever seen at sea, present but not pushy, with some very nice pictures at the end. Food service is the DR was excellent with good selection.Waiter Antonio and Assistant Mohammed, were excellent, quickly getting a feel for our table of 8, but the reduction of the busboy position definitely requires more work on their part and less time to service the customer. Morale on the ship was quite high, and the staff seemed genuinely pleasant and cheerful. Staffing in some key areas was more robust than I have seen on Carnival, Such as 3- 5 customer service reps on at key times as opposed to 2. This is very savvy in that it results in no lines and faster resolution. More staff were noticed cleaning handrails, elevators and touch points.This may seem minor unless you have been on a ship with Norovirus! Our cabin steward, Iketut, was perfect: there when we were not, and available when needed, with complete cleanliness.
One nice touch is that RCCL Azamara, and Celebrity have reciprocal loyalty club levels from line to line. While the benefits are nominal at our level, it is nice to be recognized as a repeat customer for the company, not just the brand. I may be mistaken, but Carnival Corp does not do that, which no doubt keeps some customers from trying their other brands.
Bayonne has great potential as a cruise port. The old Military Ocean Terminal has great access to all major roads, Newark airport, and the trains. The drop off and parking went very smoothly and parking is reasonable and walkable. Having to board a bus to ride 300 yards to board the ship is a step that has to be eliminated, as it is very difficult for older passengers, and slow.
All in all, a very nice experience,much better than my first RCCL 8 years ago.