Review of Explorer of the Seas cruise - July 6, 2007
About us - We are in our mid 50's and are veterans of 16 cruises prior to this one. Our 25 year old son and one of his old college friends accompanied us, and stayed in a cabin across the hall from ours. Upon completing this cruise, my wife, son and I have reached Diamond Crown & Anchor status with Royal Caribbean.
Getting there and embarkation - Living in Staten Island, NY departing from Cape Liberty NJ is very convenient, about a 30 minute drive from our home. This was the fifth cruise we have taken from Cape Liberty since it opened in 2004. We arrived at the terminal around 11:45AM, which is about the time we arrived for most of the previous cruises from Cape Liberty. I will divide the embarkation process into two categories - luggage handling and check-in.
Unlike the previous cruises from Cape Liberty, the luggage handling was awful, almost nonexistent. In the past, the porters took the bags from the car and immediately loaded them into the bins to be brought on the ship. Not this time! We unloaded the bags from the cars and could not find anyone to take them from us. It seemed that most of the porters were still assisting passengers getting off the previous cruise. I stood there waving a $20 bill and couldn't even find anyone to tip for handling the bags. My son and I left my wife and his friend with our luggage while we went to park the cars. Upon returning to the terminal, the bags were still sitting where we left them, with a collection of other passengers' luggage to be delivered to the ship. There were quite a few passengers standing around wondering what to do with their luggage. After waiting about a half hour, there were at least 200 pieces of luggage just sitting there. A security person eventually told everyone to just leave the luggage as long as it had the ship tags on it. So, we just left it there and hoped it would make it on to the ship. It was finally delivered to our cabin at about 8:00 PM. I wore jeans to dinner that night, as did a lot of other people.
The actual check-in process was very smooth. As Platinum Crown & Anchor members, we had a priority line for check-in. We had previously completed the on line check-in forms on the Royal Caribbean web site and check-in at the pier was a breeze.
As soon as we got on board we headed straight for the Windjammer buffet where lunch was being served.
Our cabin(s) - My wife and I were in a category E2 cabin with a balcony on Deck 6, midship and my son and friend were in a Promenade cabin across the hall. The E2 cabin is one of the smaller ones we have been in, but it was more than adequate for just the two of us. Our cabin steward was absolutely superb! He seemed to make up the room within minutes of when we left it, and he always left us extra towels without us having to ask for them. He also left us towel animals almost every night, and even after all of our previous cruises we always get a charge from them.
The Promenade cabin was about the same size as ours, except without the balcony. The window which overlooks the Royal Promenade provided a great spot to view the parades without jostling with the crowds on the Promenade.
The Ship - The ship itself is showing some age in spots, but is still in very good shape. There are more than enough activities and lounges to satisfy everyone, and despite approximately 3,400 passengers on board it rarely felt crowded.
The adult's only solarium pool provided a nice respite for those who wanted to get away from the kids on board for some peace and quiet.
Dining room food and service - Food is a very subjective thing, but I thought the dining room food was generally very good and I especially enjoyed the cold soups. However, the selection of entrees could have been better. I always found something that appealed to me, but it was never a matter of deciding between two entrees. Our waitress was excellent and she always had a smile and tried very hard to please everyone. The assistant waiter was also exceptional and was on top of everything. After the first night, he knew what we each liked to drink and we never had to ask again. Our glasses were also kept filled. The head waiter came by often enough to make sure we were satisfied with everything.
A hint - if you don't care for any of the appetizers on the menu, my son discovered that you can always order chicken fingers and/or mozzarella sticks from the children's menu.
Lido deck food and service - The Windjammer buffet was good and there was enough variety that we always found something appealing. We had breakfast there almost every morning. For lunch or a snack the burgers and pizza were always very good.
Promenade Cafe - The Promenade Cafe is a great place to stop for a cup of coffee or a snack, or just to sit and people watch. There is always fresh coffee, and little pastries, Danish, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, and other goodies. Best of all, it is open 24/7.
Bar service - Bar service was exceptional. We never had to look very far for a bar waiter and they were all very friendly. I was on a first name basis with Devon ("Double D" as he called himself) and he frequently stopped by to chat with us at poolside; even when we were already drinking and not ready to order anything from him. I actually looked forward to seeing him every day.
Room service - With one exception, room service was very good. For the morning we were scheduled to arrive in Bermuda we had ordered room service breakfast the night before, to be delivered between 7:30 - 8:00 AM. At 8:05 I called to inquire about it and it was still being worked on. We cancelled the order since we wanted to be off the ship by 8:30. On one of the days at sea we ordered breakfast again, and it was delivered promptly. While we were packing on our last day at sea, we decided to order burgers, pizza and dessert from room service. It was delivered quickly, and was actually much better than we expected.
Cruise activities - Our first day at sea we attended the Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle and met most of the people we had been communicating with on the Cruise Critic message boards. It was nice to meet everyone, and I finally won the aqua-mouse. I've been wanting that since the first meet and mingle I attended several years ago.
Most of the usual activities were scheduled throughout the cruise, but I wish they would bring back the poolside horse racing. Last year, at least they had car races on the Promenade, but this year there was nothing of the sort.
The "Majority Rules" game which we had always enjoyed was relegated to the Schooner Bar for a half hour before dinner, instead in a larger lounge for an hour or so later in the evening. We were disappointed with this.
Karaoke was a big disappointment, and did not have much of a turnout. On previous cruises, it was always standing room only for Karaoke. On this cruise, the passengers were pretty lifeless and there were plenty of seats to be had. Not many people wanted to sing, and the cruise staff really had to work to pull this off. One night, they even resorted to singing themselves just to keep it going.
Entertainment - In the main show theater, one night The Drifters performed. They were exceptional and got a huge standing ovation from the crowd.
The production shows were the same shows as the past three years, and one of the headline entertainers, Billy Fellows, was the same act we have seen the past three years. The ice show was also the same as the previous year. As I wrote in a letter to Richard Fain (CEO) and Adam Goldstein (Pres) at Royal Caribbean International, for repeat guests, the entertainment is old and stale. For first timers it should be very enjoyable as it was for us our first time.
I did not care for the poolside band and thought they were way too loud. I've heard much better bands on other cruises. I'm glad I had my I Pod and noise canceling headphones.
We didn't really listen to the entertainment in any of the various lounges this time around so I can't really comment about that.
Fellow passengers - There seemed to be an abundance of older people 65+, and 30-somethings with children (lots of rug rats). There also seemed to be a lot of family groups who pretty much kept to themselves, and didn't appear to be interested in socializing with anyone outside their group. This was somewhat disappointing for us.
As for the 20-something set, The Chamber (disco) was "dead" - almost empty - every night. There were a few regulars, but mostly in small groups and not many approachable people. The cruise staff was strictly checking ID's (photo ID on the Seapass cards) and enforcing the drinking age. That may have kept some of the 18, 19 and 20 year olds away.
This was most definitely a BINGO crowd on this cruise. The final jackpot on the last day was $15,000.
The ports - Kings Wharf, Bermuda - We arrived in Bermuda on a Sunday morning, and virtually everything in Bermuda is closed. The ship offered several excursions, but having been to Bermuda a number of times before, we decided to make it a beach day. While many passengers were waiting in line to buy a daily bus pass or get tourist information, the four of us took a taxi to Horseshoe Bay. The fare was about $30, plus tip. We rented chairs and umbrellas, and spent a lovely day on the beach. We shared a taxi with some fellow passengers on the way back to the ship and split the fare.
St. Maarten - En route to St. Maarten the ship had to turn back toward Bermuda due to a medical emergency on board, so we did not arrive until about 3:00PM, three hours later than scheduled. Most of the shore excursions were cancelled. It seemed kind of late to go to a beach, so we just went to downtown Phillipsburg for some shopping. One jewelry store after another. At least my wife enjoyed herself.
St. Thomas - What's not to love about St. Thomas? We took a taxi to Magen's Bay and spent most of the day on the beach. From there we took a taxi to Paradise Point and took the cable car to the top of the mountain. The views of the harbor and the ships (Mariner of the Seas was docked behind Explorer) were beautiful. We had a couple of beers, Bushwhackers and some chicken fingers and fries. It was so nice just relaxing and taking in the views, that we almost lost track of the time and had to hustle back to the ship.
San Juan - Been there, done that. The ship arrived at 7:00 AM and departed at 2:00 PM so we decided to treat San Juan as a "sea day" and stayed on board the ship. I was quite surprised to see how many other people did not bother to get off the ship either. Once you have seen the forts and the rain forest there really isn't that much more to do there.
Disembarkation - In one word - Terrible! The best part was the private departure lounge for platinum, diamond and diamond plus Crown & Anchor members. They provided us with coffee, tea, juice and some Danish pastries. Unfortunately, when the drinks and pastries ran out, they were not replenished. It seemed to be taking a very long time until they started calling color tags to get off. When we inquired at the pursers desk they informed us the disembarkation process was running about an hour behind schedule. In total, we waited just over three hours to get off the ship. Fortunately we found all of our luggage quickly and after the porter took us to the pick up area, I cajoled him to take us to the long-term parking lot so we could just load the luggage in the cars and get going without having to circle around in the traffic to the pick up area.
Summary - We had a very good time, although I would not consider this one of our memorable cruises.