I just returned today from the 9 day Caribbean cruise with my 2 teenagers age 18, along with my daughter's friend, age 19. We had an interior cabin for the girls, and a balcony cabin for my son and I, all on Deck 8. We have done this cruise twice before, with the exact itinerary 2 years ago. We cruise about every other year, so this is our 3rd cruise, all with RC, all on Explorer of the Seas.
First, I will tell you the ship is in great shape, although worn in a few places, such as stained carpet, for the most part she is a beautiful vessel, and the staff works hard to keep her clean. Although we saw some worn areas, we never saw dirty areas. Personal hygiene was stressed daily and there were plenty of hand sanitizing stations around the ship. Our cabin steward learned quickly that I was not on the same schedule as 3 teenagers, and made it work for cleaning our cabins. He was personable, friendly and always let us know what was going on the next day.
Second- the dining room staff. While they were very attentive, I feel that they are much more overworked than our last 2 cruises. These guys were constantly running, and one of the things that made our last cruises so special was the feeling that the waiters had time to talk to you. I felt like they had no time at all to just make small talk with the passengers, but the service was excellent. Of particular note was the bar staff in the main dining room. I had the beverage package and the first night was served a so-so Cabernet. The second night I asked to see a wine list and they served me an excellent wine selection from that night on. I didn't have to ask, the bar server just knew what I liked and brought it over. On a rating of 1-10 for their service, I give a 10, but boy do they look over worked.
Third- food quality. I traveled with 3 teenagers, so their idea of good food is anything that isn't prepared by their college cafeteria. I would say the food quality was good to fair , with some of the appetizers dry and cold, but the entrees are decent. Everyone enjoyed the deserts. The Windjammer was ok, I found the eggs cold on more than 1 occasion, but could build a decent salad at lunch time. You will wait forever for coffee to be brought to you, so just go get your own. The omelets made to order were a big hit, and they make egg white as well as regular. Café Promenade was always popular and the coffee was always brewing.
Fourth- Entertainment. This cruise had the Bon Jovi tribute band, Blaze of Glory, perform Saturday night. they were great and if you ever have the chance to see them on a cruise, do so! I like this type of entertainment, and we thoroughly enjoyed the show. the band played an acoustic show the following day, which was well attended, and just as good. The band was mingling with the passengers, stopped for pictures, and very down to earth. They were happy to be performing on the ship, and we were happy to have them. We also saw Puck, a magician from "America's got talent" which I don't watch. He was also very good. They standard shows such as "Love and Marriage" and "the Quest" were also fun. the Cruise Director is Leigh, who is very funny and likes pushing things to the limit. I will say that on this cruise, there was a family that brought 3 very young children into The Quest, a 3 year old and two children that appeared to be under the age of 7. Hats off to the staff for telling the parents this was an adults only activity and the kids had to leave. On the other hand, there was a 13 year old girl attending, and they left it up to her parents.
Fifth- the ports. Here is where I have my greatest dissatisfaction. I sailed this exact itinerary 2 years ago, and St. Maarten was a full day. Now, it is half day, from 1pm- 8pm. What you don't realize is that 1pm arrival time translates to 1:30 disembarkation time. So by the time we got 3,000 plus passengers off the ship, it was close to 2pm. We took a taxi to Orient Beach, and found that most of the beachfront businesses renting chairs close at 5pm. We stayed until 5:30, but you are spending $70 round trip in a taxi, plus chair rental for approximately 3 hours. The last time we were in St. Maarten, a local shop owner told us the downtown area is not safe after the shops close and the police leave the area at 6pm, so the question is , what do you do for 2-3 hours before the ship leaves?? You are stuck in the dock area, or on a Royal Caribbean excursion.
Puerto Rico- Again you are here half a day, arriving at 7am when most shops, or sight seeing sites don't open until 9 or 10 am, and have an on board at 1:30pm. There is nothing to do unless you take an RC excursion once again. We wanted to go to the Baccardi Factory on our own, but found the ferry wasn't running early enough for us to do the tour an everything else we wanted to do in San Juan. again, a very disappointing port stay.
Labadee- We have been to this port once before. Let me begin with the fact that we disembarked 15 minutes late. That may not seem like much but when you have a 9am zipline time, and aren't allowed to get off the ship until 9:15- after having a day and a half to travel from Puerto Rico to Haiti, it just starts the day off late. The kids got to do their zipline, which they loved and we headed to Columbus Beach. When lunch time came around and we were looking for food in the Columbus Beach area, we were informed that no lunch was to be served there- that we had to go to Nelly's Beach. Had we known this beforehand, we would have planned better. The lines at Nelly's were terrible, plus, there wasn't enough room for everyone to sit and eat. This was a bad decision for Royal Caribbean to make. You either had to take a tram to the food area, or walk through the market with the overly aggressive locals trying to sell you stuff. Speaking of the locals, RC employs them for many functions on the resort. I really don't like how they expect tips for everything, and will aggressively pursue you to do activities, such as take pictures for you as long as you tip them. It is a complete turnoff to me. The beverage/bar area at Columbus Beach ran out of supplies by 2pm and closed, leaving the area without a source of any kind of beverage- water, soda or alcohol. Being that we didn't have to be on board the ship until 3:30, my expectation is that more supplies from the ship be brought out when they started to run low, and to not close completely 1 1/2 hours before you needed to be back on ship.
Overall- would I travel with RC again- possibly depending on port schedule. Would I do this itinerary again- absolutely not unless they change the port times. I personally don't like Labadee and prefer Coco Cay much better due to the aggressive market area and tipping expectations. I smiled at the band was immediately hit with a pitch to buy their CD. This is not what I want on vacation.