Explorer of the Seas Cruise Review by PuterMonkey: Maybe our best to date
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Maybe our best to date
Background: This was my third cruise and my husband's fifth. We are both in our early 30s. We were very blessed on this trip to have mostly calm seas and good weather, which was right off the bat a huge improvement over my last cruise in which a hurricane tailed the ship across the Caribbean and closed half our ports of call. We hit the jackpot in two other ways as well, one being that we had easily the best random stranger tablemates I've had (all young couples around our own age, and we ended up hitting it off immediately), and I had one of the best surprises I've ever had the day before our departure, when I logged in to triple-check our reservation and discovered that the actual, mythical upgrade fairy had bestowed upon us a leftover balcony. YAY!
Embarkation: Barring a few impatient guests, the whole thing was overall smooth and nothing to note.
The ship: We've previously sailed on both the Voyager and Liberty so were familiar with what to expect. She seemed to More be in pretty well-oiled condition. I understand the ship is due for dry dock this coming winter, meaning her interior is older. You can see this if you're looking for it, in the carpets, the older tvs, the windows seeming in need of a good powerwashing in some areas. But really, she was as clean and tidy (if not more so) than the vast majority of hotels I've stayed in. I'm really only describing this because I've seen others mention concern, really, I would have otherwise thought nothing of it.
The room: Like I said, we lucked out and were moved to a leftover balcony just prior to cruising. It was my second time in a balcony. The cabin we were moved to was #7660 which is port side, aft above the rear lifeboats. We must not have been the only cruisers struck by lightning, because several cabins around us were listed as available the day before the cruise, and were all full on the voyage. Being port side on this sailing was definitely the way to go. We ended up on the dock-side at all four ports, and got to enjoy observing the docking procedures for the first time. The cabin did still have one of the old-style tvs (which my husband made much mockery of), but one potential perk for privacy lovers is that the cabin is right next to a fire wall/door, meaning the one wall is thicker and the balcony wall on that side is made of metal, not a divider.
The service: My husband and I are pretty low-key travelers and didn't run into any snafus on this trip. In my experience everything was great. Both our room steward and waiters were perfectly friendly and helpful when we had questions. Our stateroom attendant brought us a corkscrew and wineglasses no questions asked, and on more than one occasion both in the Windjammer and in our hallway, someone stopped what they were doing to help me carry my things (I swear, I'm young and not frail). One of the high points of the ship you can't miss, is the lady who mans the purell station outside the Windjammer and sings dance songs about handwashing. She's hysterical and often had the kids dancing with her.
Speaking of kids, a general observation: There were far fewer kids than I expected for a summer cruise. I don't know if it's because it was a longer trip, or the crazy winter resulted in longer school years and fewer vacation days for the parents, but I didn't feel like I was constantly seeing kids dart around the way I did on our last sailing on Liberty.
Activities: We didn't go to most of the parades or shows. At 30, ice shows and musical reviews generally aren't our thing. We did go to the comedy show on opening night and were moderately entertained, as much from people watching as from the actual show. We also did trivia on several occasions and enjoyed this. We had a general gripe that they need to limit the size of the teams here, us playing as two just can't compete against big 6-7 person families. However when you're competing for a keychain your gripe isn't really worth worrying over. It's just for fun.
The food: My husband and I had differing opinions here. I'm a pretty adventurous eater, with a lot of influence from the local health nut/international communities where I live. From this perspective I found some high points worth noting, mainly the station in the Windjammer dedicated to Indian and Asian food (and usually vegetarian Indian at that), and the make-your-own stir-fry they have available at dinnertime. This is a very worthy alternative if nothing on the MDR menu is calling to you. We ended up doing just that on two of the casual nights. As far as the MDR goes, we did both notice that the portions were smaller than we had on our last cruise (several years ago), but as both of us have grown more health-conscious since then we were fine with this. We both tried several things with both hits and misses, my personal favorite being a chocolate espresso souffle for dessert one night. Di-vine. One major downside we both also agreed on: this ship can't cook a scallop to save its life. Seriously, don't get them. We tried them three times between us and every time felt they were slightly undercooked. We did have lobster night (second formal night), and all three guys at the table ordered it. One mentioned how he loved lobster and was sure he wanted two, and our waiter (Andrew) brought an extra tail not only for him but for all three of them. We thought that was pretty cool. Also, the coconut ranger cookies that everyone on Cruise Critic mentions loving made frequent appearances, and we loved them so much I've been googling recipes to try and recreate them at home. As far as the coffee goes, I drink it regularly. I've seen criticism of the Windjammer coffee so I'll say I found it pretty comparable to what you'd get at a place like IHOP. It's not gourmet but it's certainly better than the can of Folger's they give us at work.
One last thing about food: We went to Johnny Rockets one day for lunch and it was good, pretty comparable to Five Guys we thought. But we'd like to suggest to RCI that what they really need to to replace it with Chipotle.
The ports: We were blessed with remarkably calm seas and good weather on our trip. However when I say that, please note I'm a fisherman's wife and don't blink at a little swaying. We decided on two excursions The first, in Bermuda, was a catch-and-release reef fishing trip (reference the previous section). This was actually far more fun than catching rockfish at home because the crew really knew their spots and put us right on top of the fish. Everyone on the boat caught something and most people more than one. So for my H, this was great, and for me the pace was fast enough to keep my attention and hey, I got a nice boat right and view of the reef out of it. Our other excursion was a trip to the El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico. They call it a hike in the program, but all the paths are paved (they need to be, it would be very muddy otherwise); it is really more of a nature walk with some stairs and hills. The downside to this trip is easily the long bus ride it takes to get from the cruise port to the rainforest. You definitely want to be off the ship and ready to go when they dock. But on the other hand, it was really beautiful in the forest, there were no mosquitoes, we saw some great views and some wildlife, and the temperature was perfect compared to the hot sun by the port. If you like getting out, I think this is a part of Puerto Rico worth seeing.
Debarkation: It is a crying shame that RC doesn't put more effort into this. It's the very last part of your cruise you experience and probably the first thing in your mind when you get home. Anyway, since we had driven and had a long day of driving and relatives ahead of us, we decided to the the self-debarkation a whirl rather than waiting for our tags. This was just awful. We were told by various crew members that when we arrived at our waiting area, we'd get numbered tickets to organize the procedure. So, we showed up an hour early and were among the first there. No crew members, no tickets. More people arrive. Finally, just after the ship has officially docked, Erky from Turkey strolls in and states that the line will form on one side of the room, eliciting shouts from people on the other side who 'arrived first' (but after us, although we aren't the type to shout and make a scene over this). He promptly caves and moves the line to their side, disgruntling all the people on the first side who had arrived early too. So now we all move to the 'line', except Erky has left and placed another crewmember in charge, who vaguely directly newcomers to the end side of the room. Then when they call us to start downstairs, makes no effort to control which side of the room is leaving first and the thing ends as basically a free for all. Super organized guys. Seriously, that ticket thing people had mentioned to us would have worked so much better. The only upside to this whole thing was that we did, in fact, get off the ship around 9:30, breezed through customs, and were headed home before most regular tickets would have even been called. Less
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Cabin review: 7660
We lucked out and were moved to a leftover balcony just prior to cruising. It was my second time in a balcony. The cabin we were moved to was #7660 which is port side, aft above the rear lifeboats. We must not have been the only cruisers struck by lightning, because several cabins around us were listed as available the day before the cruise, and were all full on the voyage. Being port side on this sailing was definitely the way to go. We ended up on the dock-side at all four ports, and got to enjoy observing the docking procedures for the first time. The cabin did still have one of the old-style tvs (which my husband made much mockery of), but one potential perk for privacy lovers is that the cabin is right next to a fire wall/door, meaning the one wall is thicker and the balcony wall on that side is made of metal, not a divider.
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