After months of choosing and planning this cruise, checking out other people's reviews on this board, I thought I'd "give back".
We were flying down to Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday morning from Michigan, and the only thing I'd do differently next time is leave the night before to avoid the added stress of unknown weather delays, etc. The reason we didn't leave the night before is because hotels in Miami area were price gouging due to the Super Bowl. For example, a Days Inn wanted $900 for a room for the night. Anyway, we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, and having purchased the transfers from Royal Caribbean, found the representatives at baggage claim, who were easily identifiable. We did have to wait about 30 to 40 minutes for the bus to come, but we were excited so it didn't matter, and we were on our way to the port and got there around 2:30.
With our Set Sail passes in hand, check in was a breeze. From bus to ship was about 15 minutes. We headed up to Windjammer for a quick late lunch, along with 3,000 other pushy and apparently hungry people. Wouldn't do that again on the first day.
Our stateroom attendant, Salvatore, was great. He was on top of everything, anticipating things we hadn't yet asked for, and was always cordial, constantly smiling! He took great care of us and the room, and was very responsive if we asked for something. There were no major problems with the room. Balcony stateroom, very nice. New bedding is a huge plus because you are tired after everything (or nothing!) there is to do onboard all day! The bed is very comfortable. Only problem with the room was the couch is in serious need of cleaning or refurbishment. Dark stains/soiling. Nasty. I will note however that I did see crew during the week taking a couch from another room out for cleaning or refurbishing. I heard them talking about it in the hallway as they were hauling it down the hall.
The ship itself is visually stunning, inside and out, and at 6 years old, I found it to be in mostly excellent condition. I was very impressed with how it must be maintained, and with it's cleanliness in public areas (exception being the couch in our stateroom). Most areas, rooms, bars, dining room, etc., are in such great looking condition that you wouldn't know 3,000 people have sailed on it weekly for over 6 years now. Artwork on the ship is very cool and adds a sophisticated touch.
Royal Promenade is neat. Shops and a cafe for light snacks, pizza, sandwiches, fruits, cookies, ice cream, and self serve Seattle's Best Coffee. Great move with the coffee here for those of us that rely on it (and don't want horrible coffee!) Ordered coffee in the dining room one morning and it was putrid. They said all coffee on the ship is the same. Maybe I got a bad pot that morning in the dining room.
Cruise director Allan and his staff were great. Energetic and there was always something to do... at times overwhelming. The ice show is not to be missed. Amazing. Comedy act one night by Wilde and Hanes was great, also.
Our dining room waiter told us he was on his last week of work before leaving Explorer and it kind of showed. He was nice, but mostly mechanical with every aspect of his service. I kept noticing that our table was always done with dinner first. We'd get up to leave and nearly every other table would still be eating or just finishing their main courses. I guess depending on how you look at it, that is either good or bad. Our assistant waiter, Chanel, was so genuinely friendly and attentive.
I found most of the staff on Explorer very, very friendly and outgoing. Of course, here and there, you get a rotten apple. There was a surly guy working in the photo shop who was borderline rude to me, so that wasn't a pleasant experience, but I didn't want to make an issue of it. I was trying to ask questions about a photo I was going to buy and he was getting irritated with my questions, which I didn't think were out of the ordinary in any way. Also, only other rude person was this woman who sits at the spa main desk 24/7, blonde hair, European. She was very rude to me while I was trying to book a spa appointment and I tried going back to deal with someone else, but she was always at the counter. So, I ended up making an appointment which she forced me into, and then I canceled it because she had made me so irritated that I would not be able to enjoy the treatment if I had to go in and look at her. So, they lost a few hundred bucks there I guess.
Pool areas were great. Not too hard to find a chair. I assume at peak time, if you wait to look for one, then you may have some more trouble getting your preferred spot, but overall, no problems. Pool bar service was great.
Ports were okay. Weather was a bit touch and go some of the days. It was hot and sunny but a few days had clouds that lingered and we did have some rather strong rain on one or two occasions that lasted for an hour or so. San Juan is a waste of time. We got there late then had to wait to get off the ship for some reason, and we only had a couple hours there, at dusk. Weather was damp and dreary. St. Maarten... check out the beach excursion to Orient Bay. The beach was fun, just wish the excursion would have lasted a bit longer than 2-3 hours. Nassau, from what we saw right outside the port area, is a dump. Stayed onboard and enjoyed the ship that day. St. Thomas is, of course, great, but the weather was spotty that day. We did some water related excursions, which were a lot of fun.
Disembarkation was fairly painless. I was shocked, yet at the same time, not surprised, when I woke up at 4:30am to bright lights coming in our window. We were pulling into the Port of Miami at 4:30, and then I couldn't get back to sleep! We left our stateroom "late" around 8:00, went to Windjammer for a quick breakfast and then left the ship around 8:30. Customs/immigration line took about 20-30 minutes, but I was tired, so that could be an exaggeration. Our luggage was easily found in the terminal, and then we got on the bus back to the airport, which was uneventful. Over all, the trip was fun and memorable (although you may not tell from the above review!) Very impressed with Explorer and Royal Caribbean. There was a great spectrum of people on the ship and you can do as much or as little as you want, and the energy is fun.