REVIEW Explorer of the Seas - Canada/New England 8/31 - 9/09/07 __________________________________
This was our 21st cruise - 4th on Royal Caribbean. We are both in our 50's and like everyone else here, just love to cruise! This sailing was planned as a vacation to just get away from it all - what better itinerary than to Canada and New England - places we had never traveled to before. With 9 nights and 6 ports of call, we set out to just enjoy ourselves, relax and pre-arrange a few excursions.
We flew into Newark one day pre-cruise and stayed at the Country Inn & Suites in Newark/Elizabeth. The hotel has a shuttle every 25 minutes to/from the airport so that was a big plus for us. The accommodations were as expected - similar to a Holiday Inn - fine for a one night stay. They did have a nice breakfast in the morning that included waffles and pancakes along with bagels, etc. We had dinner at Ruby Tuesday's which was next door. I used Priceline to reserve this hotel at $60, so it was definitely worth the rate!
We were up early the next morning (it's like Christmas morning to me), so we decided to ask the hotel to call a car for us early and headed to the port at 10:00 AM. It was about a 15-20 minute ride to Cape Liberty. The cost was $42.
Since we received e-docs, I created luggage tags so made a craft project out of it - it would be nice if the cruise lines would at least mail the tags to you for heaven's sake! I hate crafts because I'm so bad at them!
We arrived at the baggage drop-off and proceeded to check-in. It was early so it only took about 10 minutes to complete the paperwork, have our photo taken and be ushered into a holding area to wait for our shuttle number to be called. We waited about 45 minutes or so - it's a very efficient system so I had no complaints. Once your number is called/posted, it was only a few minutes bus ride to the ship.
We arrived at the ship before noon, took a brief tour and headed for the Windjammer Cafe since we knew our cabin would not be ready until 1:00 PM. After a refreshing pina colada, it was time to settle into our cabin on Deck 9. The muster drill was at 4:30 and then sailaway! I'd heard so much about sailing under the Verrazano Bridge that we walked as far forward and as high was we could get just to see it clear the bridge - it really does only have a matter of feet to cruise under the structure, but afterwards the Captain received an ovation. We could see the Statue of Liberty in the distance - what a beautiful sight!
We booked a Junior Suite (JS) 9614 - on the hump or I'm told it's supposed to be called the bubble - either way, it's a fabulous location on the ship! The configuration of the cabin was set up well. The walk-in closet was just that - there was plenty of room for hanging your clothes with plenty of hangers to use and lots of shelving. We only had to use several of the drawers in the cabin. The bathroom was roomy with a very deep bathtub (tough for short legs) and great water pressure - hard to find these days! An estimate of the balcony was about 6' x 12'.
PORTS OF CALL
WEATHER - in all of our ports, the temperatures were in the high 80s. It was 90 degrees in Boston the day we were there on 9/07/07. We did have smooth seas and that counts!
New London, Connecticut Since we were the largest ship to enter this port, the Explorer of the Seas received a warm welcome and fanfare from the people in the area as well as the press and dignitaries. Folks were gathered all along the dock area as helicopters flew overhead. It was amazing how the Captain maneuvered the ship for docking. We decided to stay on board and enjoy exploring the ship.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada Our roll call (thanks, Gary SWPD) put together a private tour with Jonathan at YourCab.com at $48 each. Heather was the guide in our group - she was marvelous and extremely knowledgeable. We visited the beautiful Public Gardens, an interesting tour of the Titanic Cemetery, on to Peggy's Cove and then lunch. I wish they had cut down on other things and spent more time at Peggy's Cove Lighthouse as we were only allotted 1/2 hour. You can mail postcards from there with a special postmark and if you have your passport with you, they will stamp it - very cool! It was initially set as a 4.5 hour tour, but we were out for almost 6 hours.
Saint John, NB, Canada We were greeted with a fire boat water cannon salute when we arrived. It's the first I'd ever seen and was so impressed. We decided that this would be another of our "sea days" and stay on board.
Bar Harbor, Maine We had to go through customs prior to leaving the ship. The officials were late in arriving and there were long lines, but they moved quickly. This was our only tender port, but the ship had the most efficient tenders. The trip was only about 10 minutes and it's a lovely view anyway! We chose to spend a few hours walking around this quaint town and have lunch at Stewman's - their lobster roll was excellent. Had to get back to the ship as I was scheduled for several spa treatments! In our opinion, this port was the most picturesque.
Portland, Maine We booked the ship's 6 hour Best of Portland and Kennebunkport tour. In hindsight, the 4 hour would have been sufficient, but we wanted the extra hour in Kennebunkport. I think they could have spent less time driving around Portland and more time driving along the gorgeous Maine coast. Along the way we stopped at Portland Head Lighthouse - this is where our tour bus broke down - actually, they couldn't get the door to close so we had to wait for another bus to pick us up. In Kennebunkport we strolled around Dock Square, shopped, had a bite to eat, including some clam chowda' - then back on the bus to return to the ship -about a 45 minute drive. We passed former President Bush's compound at Walker's Point. We were told if we saw a lot of black SUVs near the entrance, then the Bush family was in residence - there were indeed numerous black vehicles! It was a real treat to see George Sr. and Barbara Bush's summer "cottage" - just beautiful!
If you are George Sr. and Barbara Bush fans or a cookbook collector, there is a little outdoor restaurant in Dock Square near the bridge called The Clam Shack. In their store we bought one of their chef's cookbooks which was autographed by the former President, Barbara Bush and the chef.
Boston, Massachusetts We took a shuttle to Quincy Square for $12 each round trip - purchased them in the terminal. At first we tried to walk the Freedom Trail, but my scouting skills were rusty and we ended up seeing only a few of the sights. We did end up back at the location where they recreated Cheers - "where everyone knows your name." We spent a bit of time there then headed back to the ship. We'll have to return to Boston for a proper visit - although they now know my name at Cheers!
Our table assignment was a 6-top right next to the bus station. On the first night we received neither good service nor food so opted to eat the remainder of our dinners at the Island Grill. For those not familiar with it, it's located in the back of the ship on Deck 11 behind the Windjammer. We found the food there to be very good and the variety was excellent. After selecting your food buffet style, there is table service so you can order your drinks, etc. This is where they have different stations for the main course, desserts, made-to-order crepes and sushi. For those who want to get to know your waiter and enjoy traditional dining, then it's probably not for you. For us, it was just right and they served from 6:30 PM to 10:00 PM. We prefer the personal choice dining that Princess offers.
We ordered room service for breakfast every morning. We did eat at Portofino's and it was very good - your must try the tiramisu (Ibi, thanks for the recommendation) - delectable - just the presentation is worth the price of admission at $20 per person!
We both had spa treatments and thoroughly enjoyed them. We waited for the specials - $89 for an hour massage (or mix 'n match treatments). I had a massage, facial, foot and ankle treatment and scalp massage - umm, I'd like to experience that everyday! Both of us received our treatments from a girl from the Philippines, Sharon - she actually got ON the table with you to apply more pressure. I did get a glass of champagne after my visit in the relaxation room! Note: not one time was I even asked about buying products - that's a first!
Played some roulette and blackjack. The house has my money - 'nuf said!
Everyone had to wait in The Palace Theatre or Studio B - we were the second group called and it went smoothly. That is until we couldn't find one of our pieces of luggage. After almost an hour, it was in lost and found as the tag had fallen off - almost thought we had a crisis on our hands! Took a shuttle to the airport and arrived by 10:30 AM - $14 each. It gave me enough time to catch an earlier flight.
PROs Don't miss the ice show - it's spectacular (we attended no other shows) Room service variety including hot breakfast (and other items I wrote in) Friendly staff everywhere on the ship Great towel animals-thanks to our awesome cabin stewardess, Bernadette Viking Crown Lounge/Dizzy's - what a view Interactive TV for room service and your account
CONs No lotions in bathroom - there is a dispenser for shampoo in the shower No bathrobes Muster drill on deck rather than indoors Would like to see mailboxes outside your cabin - like Princess has - there were several invitations/notes that were mixed on the dresser (note to self: keep a neater dresser)! I do like the mailboxes though.
This was our first Voyager Class cruise and I look forward to our next one. Our favorite cruise line is still Princess, but Royal Caribbean offers a slightly different product. The Canada/New England itinerary is fabulous and I highly recommend it to anyone - at this time of the year there are few children on board. It was particularly special for us as we'd never been to this part of the country.
Hopefully, I haven't bored you to tears or caused you to nod off! Let me know if I can answer any questions for you!
CEOs (Coolest Explorers of the Seas) - A special thanks to all the wonderful folks on our roll call - they were a huge source of information and I sincerely appreciated it.