Our party of 4 (two couples in our early 50s) sailed on the first cruise post the virus on January 31st. Embarkation was very smooth and we were on board within 30 minutes of arriving. There was no traffic because the prior cruise disembarked two days earlier. Our balcony cabins were ready and the fantastic crew was ready for us too. We found our cabins to very clean and you could see that all carpets had been cleaned. There were many precautions for the first 3 days with hand sanitizer, staff (including entertainers) serving in Windjammer and no handling of salt, pepper, sugar, butter, etc., in the dining rooms. There were no menus in the bars or fruit for drinks until we got to Puerto Rico on Day 3. We understood the precautions and appreciated the extra effort. You could see the staff was tired and stressed but smiled most of the time. Everything went back to normal on Day 3.
This was our fourth cruise on the Explorer and we have one more booked in July. She is our favorite ship by far and we love the crew. Each cruise, we are greeted by staff from a prior cruise who remember us! It’s amazing and makes us feel so welcome. This cruise lived up to our high expectations! We found the dining room food to be better than our cruise a year ago. We met the new Executive Chef during one of his many rounds of introducing himself to the guests. The Cruise Director Leigh and Assistant Erky from Turkey are the BEST ever! They made us laugh and just did an amazing job. Our cabin steward was attentive and we were very well taken care of at Dizzy’s by Suzeann, Rosario and Marya. The house band, Bosco and Storm were entertaining. Dizzy’s continues to be our favorite place to spend time… great views and atmosphere day and night!
Our first stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico where we had an excursion tour of Old and New San Juan. We found it interesting and our tour guide was excellent. Unfortunately it got dark towards the last hour so it hard to see the later sights. Sail away was at 11 PM and featured dancing under the stars. It was a fun night! We didn’t have anything booked in St. Thomas so we took a cab to Emerald Bay Beach ($6 per person) and spent a couple of hours at the beach. The weather was sunny and warm… just lovely! We got back to the ship mid-afternoon and enjoyed a lazy afternoon on board. Samana, Dominican Republic was the next port via tender. It was our first (and last) time there. We booked a Hike in the Rainforest and natural waterfalls. I have never felt so unsafe in my life. We traveled in an open air bus for about 35 minutes. We went through the center of the city and were stuck in traffic for fifteen minutes. We were all very anxious as we sat in the middle of a city that clearly had its challenges. It is sad to see how people in other parts of the world struggle and I understand that we will see things like this in our travels, but this is the first time we felt unsafe. Once we got to the rain forest, it was a good hike, although some parts were difficult to walk as the ground was damp and slippery. The waterfalls left a lot to be desired and did not live up to the excursion description. After the hike, we returned to a “ranch” where we spent a very long two hours shopping from a couple of tables of local crafts and sampling local fruit, followed by a tour of every bush, flower and tree at the “ranch”. The tour guide was very good but he clearly was trying to fill the timetable of the excursion. We observed him checking his watch again and again. Finally, at hour 4, we got back on the bus and were taken back to the ship. This excursion was expensive, not what was described and made us feel unsafe. Port 4, Labadee! Our first time here and it was amazing! We rented a cabana over the rocks and enjoyed a personal cabin attendant, floats, and comfortable furniture. It was paradise! The weather was once again perfect. Lunch was very nice and the Labadoozies were good too! 5+ stars for Labadee! Upon returning to the ship, we suggested that Royal Caribbean skip Samana and do an overnight at Labadee.
There were two and half sea days until our arrival in Bayonne and we were able to spend a day and a half outside and enjoying the warm weather. The second formal night featured lobster which was delicious! There were many special items on the menu throughout the cruise that were just excellent. We were fortunate to have calm seas on this cruise and good weather in all the ports. Disembarkation was easy and quick. We were off the ship, on the shuttle bus, through customs and on our way home in less than 30 minutes.
Explorer is in desperate need of a dry dock, much sooner than is planned. Maybe RCCL should have thought about freshening her up for her last year out of Bayonne for all her loyal guests over the years. Much of the furniture in the public areas needs replacing, carpets are worn and the restrooms need attention. It did not stop us from sailing on her and we will again in July because of her outstanding crew each and every time. They are the friendliest and most hospitable at sea. Leigh and Erky are top notch and would love to see them on Quantum of the Seas! The Promenade is our favorite and we are so hoping Quantum will live up to the Explorer of the Seas experience and reputation. We’re booked for February 2015, so we will see.