Just back from our July 15th sailing to Bermuda on Explorer of the Seas. As this was my 2nd cruise on Explorer, I was excited and full of anticipation. I sailed on her originally out of Miami, so now sailing so close to home out of Cape Liberty was a brand new experience. Add to that a long overdue return trip to Bermuda (it's been over 20 years,) and we have the making of excitement like cruising for the first time.
Embarkation - Arrived at Cape Liberty at 10:45am, dropped off the bags for check-in and then parked the car in long term parking. Parking is prepay, $15 a day, cash or credit card, and a short walk back to the terminal. Considering the new terminal has not been built, the existing one is adequate and all things ran fairly smooth considering the odd setup.
Check-in - Checked in a little after 11am and flew through the process. No line, no waiting. Did the precheckin online. Saves a ton of time. Tip...Don't try to get a cabin change or upgrade at the pier. They have a sign posted that they do not do this at this facility. Boarding photos are taken directly after check-in.
The wait - After checkin, you go into a big holding area, kind of like cattle. There are stacking chairs and miniature tables, so at least you can sit. Signs posted everywhere. Estimated embarkation time 1pm. So much for getting there early. (Reality... We were onboard by 12:15pm.) If you've been to Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or Port Canaveral, this is nothing like them.
The Bus Trip - The ship is not at the terminal building. You have to take a bus to the ship. You are given a boarding number. Once called, you're free to get on the bus and travel a short 5 minute ride to the ship.
Once onboard, don't think about your stateroom until 1pm. They actually have people posted to stop you from going to the cabin before 1pm. Up to the Windjammer for lunch and then finally to the cabin to get settled.
The ship - 6-1/2 yrs old and still looks good. Other reviews noted wear and tear and some rust on the balconies. I observed the same, but the extent of the wear is to be expected for the age. Bedding and linen have been upgraded and I found them to be soft and comfortable. Public rooms are in good shape and fairly clean throughout each day. Elevators all working and surprisingly not one out of order during our trip.
The Staff - A general statement to cover all. The staff were friendly, courteous and genuine. You could see they wanted you to have a good time. Yes, we think sometimes it's just for the tips, but I don't believe so. I always received a friendly and smiling good morning, afternoon or evening from any staff member no matter where I was on the ship.
The food - Above Average to Excellent. Windjammer food was pretty good for buffet food. Breakfast pancakes I would definitely pass up. Dining room food was always hot and beautifully presented. NY Strip on the last night was tiny and the Bernaisse Sauce in my opinion was awful. Actually, 2 of us at the table sent it back and got the turkey instead. Don't forget the famous cookies. Coconut Rangers - The BEST! Chocolate Chip was second and the Oatmeal raisin 3rd (Too much Brown Sugar for my taste.)
Entertainment - Mediocre - The main male singer in Fast Forward was monotone and had no power behind his voice. The dancers were pretty good, but I've seen better on Carnival. The female singer definitely got an "E" for effort. Skipped Vibology.
Ice Show - Fantastic!!! A+++ for this show. A must see! Get the tickets as soon as they are available. Only 800 seats in Studio B.
Bermuda - Still Pristine, but very pricey. Bring lots of cash. This is definitely "not" a shopping meca. You really need to go here for the beaches.
Dockyard Experience - Lame at best. Poor entertainment, the Bermuda Gumbays are a poor imitation of NY breakdancers with a theme. Very few vendors at the Dockyard. Whole thing took 30 minutes to go through and that was stretching it.
Debarkation - Very Slow - We docked at 7am. Our color was to be 3rd called. They actually added another 2 in front of ours. White & Pink. They will not be listed on your debarkation flyer. Didn't get off the ship until 10:30am. This is the latest I've gotten off in all my years of cruising.
Sailing the Atlantic - If you haven't done it before, be prepared. Explorer is approximately 142,000 gross tons. We were rocking on the way down and on the way back. I did not get seasick, but I saw many that did. If you are not a seasoned cruiser, purchase the dramamine before you leave.
Overall Experience - Above Average to Excellent - I love Explorer and her staff. She is well kept for her age, and very clean. Although large, she has many nooks and crannies for relaxation and quiet. Her pool deck is large and finding chairs in the sun or shade are not a problem even on sea days. I would cruise her again in a heart beat.