This was our second cruise on the Explorer of the Seas however it was our first cruise out of Port Liberty and our first cruise to Bermuda.
Our cruise was from Port Liberty (Bayonne, NJ) to Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda and return to Port Liberty.
We flew into Newark Airport the day prior to our cruise due to airline schedules.
On advice of fellow cruse critic members, we stayed at the Best Western Newark Airport West. When arriving at the airport you need to take the airport shuttle/train to station P4 and call the hotel using the provided courtesy phone. The shuttle arrived in a timely manner and quickly transported us to the hotel. The hotel is located very close to the airport in a mostly industrial area. A fence with a gate surrounds the hotel, inside the fenced in area the landscaping is nice, and the hotel is clean. The room was clean and larger than expected. The rooms were equipped with fridge and microwave as well as a nice sized TV and elevator accessed all floors. The hotel has a small "snack bar" type area that served "okay" food. Short of a cab ride, there was no other place near the hotel to eat that we saw. The hotel also serviced a good breakfast from 7:00 to 10:00 in the morning.
The package we purchased with the hotel included transportation to the pier on the morning of the cruise and a taxi voucher to return to the hotel post cruise. For us the cost was 155.00 plus tax for this package. The hotel shuttle departed the hotel a little early in the morning for embarking at the pier. (left the hotel at 10:45 as I remember) and it was about a 20 min ride to the pier. I was told the early departure was to avoid traffic.
Once at the pier we were dropped off at security checkpoint. The porter we used was VERY rude and less than helpful. She did not help us even though we were in the front of the line and in fact help several people behind us in line. She did not even attempt to help us until I started to put our bags on the luggage trolley myself. I personally saw that all my luggage was on the trolley at the pier and then we when to start the check in process. (This will come into play latter)
We had pre-checked in using the RCCL.COM site and had a preprinted Set Sail Pass with us when we checked in. I would recommend pre check in process to everyone as it made the process at the pier very quick. The entire pier process took less than 10 minutes including time waiting inline.
Because of our early arrival, we had to wait in a large "warehouse" type area for about 1 hour prior to boarding a bus for a short ride to the ship. The boarding process on the ship was simple and quick. Because of our early arrival, we could not access our stateroom when we boarded.
We ate lunch in the Windjammer and it was fair-felt like cafeteria type food at best. After lunch, our stateroom was ready and we found it as expected as we had traveled on this ship and other voyager class ships before. One pleasant surprise was the improvements to the bedding. The sheets and bedding have been upgraded and were nice. No more dreaded crack in the middle of the bed! The cabin was clean but not perfect. The carpet was lightly soiled in a few places but overall the condition was good. It should be noted that our cabin 9612 adjoined with the next cabin via an inside door. This can be and was very noisy! There are very few secrets about what goes on in the next-door cabin when you having an adjoining room even with door shut and lock. If noise (even if it is just talking on the phone) is a major concern or a bother DO NOT get booked into adjoining cabins!
Some of our luggage was delivered to our room very soon after we were allowed to access our room. Remember above I said I saw our luggage on the trolley at the pier. Three pieces of luggage were delivered to our stateroom by 6 pm on the first day. One of our bags however was not delivered on the first day. We visited the guest relations desk and inquired about our missing luggage and were met with what I felt was very poor customer service. They told us that they had until 9 pm to deliver bags and that we should check back after that. We returned after 9 pm filled out a lost luggage form. (LESSON LEARNED: Do not assume just because the baggage was on the pier that it will get to you on the ship in a timely manner. Also, do not pack all your toiletries, underwear, etc in one bag.) We were told that they would search the ship and let us know IF not when they found our bag. We have been on several cruises and have never had any kind of problems with luggage once on the ship and so we felt sure that our bag would show up quickly. We checked with the guest relations desk again on the 2nd morning about our luggage…different people working the desk same "don't care" results. We returned to our room, found our stateroom attendant Ms Brennetta, and told her of our plight. She seemed to be the first and only person that was concerned about our missing bag. She told us that she would check her rooms and ask her associated to do that same. In the interim, we had to purchase from the onboard stores toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, makeup, etc. The important items that we were unable to purchase were socks, underwear, razors, and our prescription meds. The ship offered no kind of reimbursement for our cost for the purchase of these items. Late on the 2nd day, our bag showed up in our room to our great relief. We stepped out into the hall and ran into our stateroom attendant and she happily told us SHE had found our lost bag.
Entertainment: On this cruise, the entertainment was outstanding! The cruise director "Dave" was GREAT! In fact, the entire cruise director staff was wonderful, funny, and helpful people. All the cruise director staff seems to be having fun and seemed to want us to have fun also.
There were two production shows one that was new and we had seen on our last Explore of the Seas cruise. The singers and dancers were all very talented and seem to be having fun. I would recommend you not miss the production shows if you enjoy musical variety type show as they were well done. The guest entertainers were all comedians of type were all very good; Charlie Frye and Company (which played twice) and two other stand up comedians. There was also late night adults only comedy show but we miss it. Other onboard entertainment included the now standard Quest, and Love and Marriage games. We have done both of these on prior cruises but were still fun. The quest is a riot if you let yourself have some fun.
The ice show was new to the ship and very well done. One thing that was different on this cruise from past cruises was that the ice show was repeated several times, which was a nice change. Tickets were still required, however we were not asked for a ticket and there were open seats at the show we attended.
Food Service: The dining room was very good. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very helpful and fun! The food service was a bit slow on the first night but got better every night. The dining room food was well prepared and visually appealing. The menu selections were varied and seemed to offer something for everyone. The only complaint we had about the food was it seems that the portion sizes across the board were much smaller than we have experienced on prior RCL cruises. This was the general opinion of all our tablemates as well. Speaking of tablemates, ours were the best we have ever had. They were all approximately our age and we all got along great.
We also ate at Johnny Rockets, which was excellent despite the long wait to be seated. As is our tradition, we made a nightly pizza run, not that we needed it but it was fun and kind of a cruise tradition for us. The Windjammer was by far the low point off all foodservice. The food here was average at best. It did not taste bad, but at the same time, it was not great either. Tasted something like jazzed up school lunch.
Room service: We only used room service for breakfast and it was on time and tasted okay all though the eggs left much to be desired. Here again the portions were tiny so if you want more than a sampler you had better order two of everything per person. (Except for juice) We arrived in Bermuda on time despite the fact that we had to sail back towards New York on the first evening. The US Coast Guard had to fly out to the ship and evacuate a person having a medical emergency. While sad for the persons involved, it was awesome to watch these professional men and women at work. The wind was high, it was very dark and they still flew out to the ship, drop a person by wire to the ship and then recovered the ill person in a basket to the helicopter. Awesome job USCG!
Bermuda and the Dockyard areas are beautiful and much more than we had expected! As I mention the ship was docked on time and getting on and off the ship was quick and easy. We did not purchase any excursions on the ship so I have no review of the excursions from the ship. On the dock, we purchased a 2-day transportation pass for 20.00 USD per person. (This was also available on the ship but was sold out before we realized you could purchase them onboard.) The transportation pass allowed us to use the busses and ferry service as desired (unlimited) during our stay. The busses were quick, clean and traveled the islands frequently.
We caught the number 7 bus at the stop right near the ship, and rode to Horseshoe Beach. The driver was very helpful and pointed out the proper stop to get off. Horseshoe Beach was wonderful. Very clean, and the beauty was awe-inspiring. The sand is truly pink. There are showers, restrooms and a small snack shop right on the beach. The end of horseshoe beach near the snack bar was very crowed but a short walk to the opposite end was very open and nice! The beach is located at the bottom of a steep hill but there is a private van service that will haul you to the top for one USD. Worth it! The bus stop for the return to Dockyard was nearly directly a crossed the street from the inbound stop so it was quick and easy to use the bus to return to Dockyard or continue on to Hamilton. (Sadly, we did not have time to visit Hamilton)
The island was beautiful, no visible trash and every thing seemed clean and tidy. Everyone Bermudan we encounter from bus riders to people on the streets were friendly and helpful. There was nowhere we traveled on the island that we did not feel completely at ease and safe.
The only excursion type thing we did at Bermuda was the Dolphin Encounter. It was interesting but I felt it much to short for the cost of 195 USD. It was only about 30 mins of actual time with the dolphins and was the same program you got if you purchased it on the ship. We did get to swim and interact with the dolphin, which was cool, but like I said short!
We lunched at the Frog and Onion Pub located right in Dockyard near the Dolphin Encounter and the Dockyard museum. Very good food, quick service and great fun. It is a very short walk from the ship and in our opinion worth it. There were other pubs or eatery located in the same area but the Frog and Onion was recommended highly by other CruiseCritic.com members.
The first evening was the Dockyard Festival, which as the name implies was held in Dockyard. The was a nice combo of ship entertainment and locals. There was lively music and many local venders had small booths set up to sell there wares. We purchased some locally made frames covered in the beautiful Bermuda pink sand and decorated with sea glass and shells. We felt it was a great price too at only 20 USD for these 4x6 frames. One of the highlights of the Dockyard Festival was the walk back to the ship as it provided awesome views of the ship at night. Having never been in port at night it was amazing to see the ship all lit up with the lights from the ship, the water and the Dockyard. Very nice photo ops.
The 2nd day we took the fast ferry to St George for some shopping, sight seeing and snorkeling. The ferry ride was quick and offered great views the island. Once in St George we went to the Bermuda Perfume Factory and purchased some very nice perfumes. The prices we felt were an outstanding value. If you like perfumes, it is worth the very short walk from the ferry dock. The snorkeling was nice as was the beach at Tobacco bay however the water was not nearly a clear as in Grand Cayman.
The return to New York was uneventful however due to rain and high winds most of the on deck actives were canceled or moved inside the ship.
Disembarkation was quick and efficient. Clearing customs was also very quick. We returned to the hotel using the provided taxi vouchers, which was painless and pleasant.
In all, the cruise lived up to our expectations. The Explore of the Seas is starting to show her age but the staff seems to be actively engaged in keeping her clean and current. The loss of our luggage and the ships staffs' general lack of concern about it was the low point. I should have also pointed out that on the day our luggage was found and returned to us we received a note in our stateroom (apparently the entire ship received it) asking all passengers to check there luggage as "several" guests were still missing pieces of luggage. It seems that something went very wrong on this sailing with the luggage. I have no idea of what the problem was all I know is that it really spoiled the first 2 days of our cruise.
Bermuda was outstanding! We loved everything about it and will return perhaps on a ship perhaps just for a completely land based vacation but we will return (repeatedly) as it was AWESOME!
I still highly recommend Royal Caribbean and the Explore of the Seas!