Having cruised for 35 years on a multitude of ships, I have seen the decline of the cruise experience first-hand. From the cheapening of the menu offerings to the boilerplate entertainment of second-rate comedians and under-rehearsed "broadway" revue type shows, to fewer and cheaper on-board activities and the relentless attempts to shake as much profit from such things as "premium" restaurants to art auctions I am sad to state that the "Bean-counters" have ruined what was once an elegant and memorable experience.
And so on to the Explorer of the Seas. The Good, the Bad, and the downright Ugly.
First, the food.The menu was repetitive and mediocre. The buffet offerings were often cold, unappetizing, and of poor quality. Many dishes left the impression of being leftovers. The grille offered cold hamburgers and low quality hot dogs. The salads ingredients were limited and in at least one case had an insect crawl out of a salad served at the evening meal. At the buffet, what was listed as ham was in fact pork, and what was later served as ham was tough and tasteless. The breakfast menu was generally good with a good variety of standard breakfast fare. Many of the pasta offerings were undercooked, and fillers like french fries were all too frequent. The desserts were repetitive and bland. Small cups of Jello, cookies, and glutenous mousse were found all too often. Was there a pastry chef on board? There was so little variety it was obvious that there was little attempt at creating tasty dessert offerings.
The dinner menus were unexciting as well. All too often in an attempt to have at least a decent meal, one had to choose from a recurring nightly offering list or main entrees which varied in quality. With respect to the repeat menu items, the salmon was often dry and the strip steak was tough and unappetizing. The stewards were truly heroic in their attempts to satisfy. Kudos to them.
The entertainment and on-board activities - The shows at the theater were well lit and the sound although often too loud for comfort were uneven. The singers in the production shows were good, but the dancers looked under-rehearsed. The choreography was routine and simple - dance moves that one could see at a local studio recital. The timing of some of the dancers was off beat and looked sloppy. The comedian was a second tier improv artist who used sound effects to get laughs. He was mildly amusing at times. The shows were often at an inconvenient time for late seating guests - 6:45 - not an optimum time to be entertained.
The Ship - The Explorer is about 14 years old and looks it. Stains on the carpets, peeling paint on deck chairs and claustrophobic balconies which do not allow access to adjacent cabins. My wife and I were in a party of 6 and were not able to see or communicate with each other as we were able to on Princess. The balcony rail cut directly across one's sight line when seated in the chairs provided. The plexiglass safety panels were dirty and obstructed views. The pool areas were clean and open and offered a multitude of seating for poolside activities. The exercise spa was large, well-lit and equipped with a variety of machines as well as a hot tub spa. The on-board activities were limited. There were line dance classes and some non-complementary crafts, but more often there was trivia and little else. The library and card room provided some opportunities for quiet time and games like chess, checkers, and cards.
I am distressed at the rush to "dummy down" the cruise experience so patrons don't have to dress for dinner. To me, one of the elegant things about a cruise is the chance to dress in a manner one would at a fine restaurant. There are too many casual nights and the two "formal" nights are, let's be honest, another chance for the photographers to take overpriced portraits. There used to be Captain's Table and strict dress codes. I've seen too many diners in jeans for formal night. Whatever happened to good manners? I can dine with people in jeans at Burger King. Where's the enchantment in that?
And now, the truly ugly - The medical staff. On the second day of the cruise I had the distinct misfortune to visit the medical facility for dehydration. I was treated with rudeness bordering on contempt. The nurse in charge was dismissive and condescending and spoke to my wife - a brilliant former teacher - in a voice and comportment one might use to a naughty child. The doctor was argumentative - I tried to tell her what I needed to feel better yet she gave me a cursory exam with no confirming diagnosis, an unnecessary EKG, blood tests, and then she disappeared to a "meeting" so I was informed. I never saw her again. After 5 days I received a bill which overcharged me by $170 which included a procedure I did not have and a charge for a second EKG which the nurse later claimed was administered 2 hours before I went to the medical center in the first place. Unprofessional, unethical, sloppy records, and improper billing.
These megaships being built are really floating theme parks not cruise ships. When I think of what the experience used to be like, it makes me less likely I'll ever take another cruise. The thrill is gone. The new philosophy of milking every last dime out of the passengers is the last straw. Now, if I want a decent meal, I have to buy it at 25 or 30 dollars per person. I can do that on land! A tour of the galley costs, cover charges, overpriced excursions all with the goal of fleecing the uninitiated first-time cruiser. Shame!
I remember the days when you had midnight buffets, theme nights, seven course dinners, dessert trays, elegant room service, and on and on. Those days, alas are gone. Thank the "Bean Counters". Even the chocolate on the pillow at evening has been discontinued. Were they that costly?
Bayonne is absolutely hellish to get in and out of by bus. The traffic is so bad that it took my party of 6 over 6 hours to get there and over 7 hours to get back home to Massachusetts! The check-in process was quite good, but we arrived so late we missed the buffet and went without food until the late seating.
King's Wharf is necessary because the ships are so big they cannot get into Hamilton. This is a shame as Hamilton is a beautiful little city with all the charm and character which is lacking at King's Wharf. There are ferries to Hamilton and St. George's, but the cost in time is rather high. Access to the premier beaches is limited to taxi (expensive) or bus (cramped and hot - no a.c.). There is a beach at King's, but it is a commercial venture and costs money to use. It is essentially a shallow inlet with a man-made beach. Amenities cost as well. There are shops at King's, but not the excellent stores and shops found in Hamilton. One really doesn't experience Bermuda unless you visit the capital city. At King's, about all you get to see is the site of the old prison and dockyard. That is not the Bermuda that everyone raves about. Bermuda is a virtual paradise - you won't find it at King's.
Phillipsburg is a charming place, but it is essentially a shopping center predominated by jewelery shops which follow one on top of the other in the main street. There are open market stalls where you can purchase shirts, hats, native trinkets, and other exotica. The merchandise is available for haggling. It is expected. Again, all designed to empty your wallet. The island is quite beautiful and has the exotic distinction of being half Dutch and half French. Orient Beach on the French side is worth an excursion visit - weather permitting.