My wife and I and our daughter just got back from the 9-night eastern Caribbean cruise out of Cape Liberty (Bayonne, NJ). We had cruised the eastern Caribbean two years ago on the Voyager of the Seas, which is the sister ship of the Explorer and has the same layout. This time we figured we'd visit different islands on basically the same great ship.
To begin with, the Explorer is in very good shape but the Voyager was better decorated in our opinion - a minor point. (The Explorer has two huge ugly aluminum foil looking decorations at the two ends of the mall that look pretty amateurish.) We had a balcony room that had two twin beds pushed together and a pull-down bunk over it for our daughter to sleep on. The room is slightly smaller than the one with the foldout couch that we had on the Voyager, but the central location of the room this time made up for it. It was nice being close to the elevators as we found ourselves returning to our room more often than we thought we would.
Boy, Royal Caribbean needs to put some money into their terminal at Bayonne, NJ. It is the same as it was two years ago - a bare bones operation inside a painted warehouse. Pretty shabby. The baggage handler we had was awful, leaving one of our suitcases teetering on top of a transport bin and about to fall off at the slightest movement. They just don't care. I had to rearrange the pile of suitcases, myself, in order to prevent any damage to mine. Check-in was easy and our number was called to board after only waiting about 45 minutes. Once on the Explorer, we headed to the Windjammer Cafe for a buffet lunch until our cabin was ready.
The first island we visited was Bermuda, where we did the Power Snorkel excursion. A dive boat takes you to a location along a coral reef and each person is provided with a small, torpedo-like motor with handles that pulls you effortlessly through the water as you snorkel. We saw more fish on our last snorkel in Grand Cayman, but it was still a fun experience. We brought some orange slices with us to break up in the water and attract the fish. After the snorkeling, we walked around the nearby shops and watched a glass blowing demonstration. The glass blowing shop actually made the outside 92 degrees feel like air-conditioning in comparison.
Our second stop was Saint Maartin, where we did the Lottery Farm Treetop Adventure excursion. If you want an 'outward bound' experience, this excursion consists of 19 stations (tree platforms) spaced throughout a forest with zip-line cables and hanging "bridges" between them. You really need to be in shape for this and I hesitate to say it was enjoyable. Some people dropped out because it became too difficult for them. For example, there are some suspended plank bridges with gaps so large between the planks (by design) that you have to do a split to reach the next plank. There are also free swinging planks as well as free-swinging rope "U"s that you have to use as a bridge to get across. You are wearing a harness with safety cables and cannot fall to your death, but you can get hurt. My wife got a bad cable friction burn on her leg as she swung across one traverse. The same thing happened to others and I do not know why the place doesn't fix that. The guides seemed pretty disinterested in helping people and were rarely seen. Once you get the talk on how to clip on your safety lines, you are basically on your own. The zip-line stations (about 8 of them) were fun, but the other stations were very strenuous and, in my opinion, a little dangerous. They sell a photo of you going down the zip-line for $20 ($15 each additional), which is a ridiculous price so we only bought the one of/for our daughter.
Our third port was St. Thomas, where we did the helmet dive excursion. The dive itself is pretty short (20-25 minutes at most), but it is an interesting experience to walk around under the water hearing a helmet attached to an air hose. Lots of fish to see and we bought a family underwater photo for $10.
The last port was San Juan, Puerto Rico. We hadn’t seen any excursions that we wanted to do, so we just walked around old San Juan and did some shopping.
The Explorer’s nightly shows were very good, especially those put on by the staff. Do not miss the fantastic ice show! The 15-17 teen group activities kept our daughter busy all day and evening and she easily made a lot of friends. The one thing I need to caution you about is Royal Caribbean’s inability to charge your SeaPass account correctly. They screwed up many of our charges and we found it necessary to review our account immediately via the cabin tv each time we bought something. And using their Internet Café for a quick e-mail was a nightmare, with slow logins and screen lockups with no way to logout with the meter running. Keep track of your time there, because charges on your account are bound to be unfair. A complaint each time got things adjusted – but it shouldn’t happen. Dinners were very good to excellent. Portions seemed smaller than two years ago, but were filling and you could always ask for seconds if you wanted, anyway. Our waiter was below par, which is why we always opt to hand out cash tips rather than have the RC recommended tips applied automatically. (Seemed like the waiter just assumed he would get the automatic tip.) Our cabin steward was very good. The ship is wonderful and great fun for all. I just wish we were going again next week.