This was my ninth cruise in total, my sixth cruise on Royal Caribbean, and my second cruise on Explorer of the Seas
We left on Friday, October 26, 2007 and returned on November 4, 2007. It was a 9-night cruise going out of Cape Liberty and hitting the islands of Labadee, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Or, so we though....
This cruise was one of the best I've ever been on, tied for first place with my first Explorer cruise!
We arrived at Cape Liberty at 10:45 Friday morning. We were checked in within minutes and got our Welcome Aboard picture taken in the terminal. We then found out that the first shuttle busses to the ship would begin running around noon, so we had ourselves a little snack and some coffee that was there. Embarkation was a piece of cake!
We boarded the ship a little after 12 noon. And after a quick little tour for the rest of my family (who had never sailed on Explorer before), we headed to Windjammer for lunch. We immediately found a table, and there was no crowd. Fare at the buffet was consistent as it always is on RCI's ships, which in my opinion is good. I then led my family on a larger tour of the cruise ship, which is still in wonderful shape. For being 7 years old, she is still gleaming and beautiful. Staff was constantly cleaning and shining different areas of the ship. Last time I was on her was in 2003. Recently, I had heard of people complaining about soiled furniture, and excessive wear & tear. I don't know what they were seeing, but for a ship that is used every minute of every day, she is in wonderful condition. And I was purposefully looking to see what I could find! The only "wear and tear" I saw was in the cabins, and it was barely noticeable unless you were specifically looking for something. What do you expect from cabins that are used 24/7/365? Accommodations were in great shape. We had an E1 cabin, our very first balcony. Our daughter's bed came down from the ceiling, which she fell in love with the second we entered the room. Our cabin steward was Annisha and she was wonderful. She made the most imaginative towel animals I had ever seen! The room was beautiful and the balcony was awesome.
By 1pm the cabins were ready and our luggage was already there! That was the quickest I've ever gotten my luggage out of all my 9 cruises. So we took a few minutes to get ourselves organized and unpacked in the cabins. Since this was a special cruise for my parents, my other family members and I arranged to have Royal Caribbean's "Bon Voyage" decorations waiting in their stateroom. They were really a great addition! Streamers, a door banner, hanging decorations...it really made the first entry into the cabin special. After unpacking, we promptly proceeded to my favorite place onboard, Cafe Promenade. We then consumed the yummiest cookies you'll find onboard any ship at sea! Love the Cafe, since you can get anything from pizza and sandwiches, to cakes and cookies. They also provide Seattle's Best coffee, other teas, hot chocolate, ice water, and specialty coffees at the coffee bar. (The specialty coffees are for a fee.)
The first sea day was the day of our Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle. A very fun gathering, to meet people you've been talking to online for quite some time. I met some wonderful people, and even won a prize of dinner for two at Portofino's! It's a fun time and you should try to attend if at all possible. The next two days consisted of sea days, and RCI really packs their Compasses full of fun activities for every taste. We participated in almost every single trivia game, Name That Tune, and every type of game show they had for the passengers. They also have Family Karaoke, which my daughter (8 years old) and I had a blast singing in. RCI's schedule of passenger activities lacks nothing, and if you can't find something to interest you then you must be very hard to entertain! If you don't care for anything going on, there are many other things to do like shop, go to the library, use the internet cafe, make use of the casino, go ice skating, play mini golf, rock climb, shoot some hoops, etc. One should lack for nothing as regards things to do on this ship. The Cruise Director's staff is wonderful, especially a girl named Kat in particular, and they are always full of energy and keep everyone occupied. On sunny days you can find plenty of pool games for the whole family to participate in.
Well our first stop was supposed to be Labadee, Haiti. However we were right in the middle of Tropical Storm (at that time) Noel, which was hitting Haiti hard at that time. There goes Labadee. Bummer! That is my favorite island of all time and I was definitely disappointed. But, what can you do? Couldn't complain when RCI quickly whipped up a Compass filled with activities to keep you busy!
Our next stop was supposed to be Casa De Campo, Dominican Republic. That was too was nixed. The storm was directly over the Dominican Republic at this time, and boy were we feeling it on the boat! Explorer was rocking & rolling for sure. But Captain Erik kept us more than informed every step of the way about our itinerary and the weather. And we all got a big smile on our faces when he announced instead of the Dominican Republic, we would be heading right for St. Maarten! YAY! I love St. Maarten, and apparently so did a lot of other people, because there were cheers throughout the Promenade.
In St. Maarten we took the $5-for-all-day Water Taxi to the first stop, paid for some chairs right up against the water, and sat on that beach all day. Great location! Water in front of you, shops and food right behind you on the boardwalk. Beautiful weather too!
Next day was St. Thomas. We took our daughter to Coral World and Coki Beach. Coral World is GREAT if you have children, and personally I love underwater life, so I loved it even as an adult! Coki Beach may be narrow, but its water is crystal-clear and if you bring a box of Frosted Flakes and scatter it around you in the water, the fish come right up and completely surround you! Beautiful place. My dad and I parasailed and, What a view!! Absolutely breathtaking to parasail in St. Thomas. (We were actually supposed to do this in Labadee.) Oh well...maybe next time.
Thursday was Puerto Rico. We hired a private driver and he took us around in his air conditioned van. It was a gorgeous day, and San Juan is beautiful! He then dropped us off at the Hard Rock Cafe, where we purchased goods, and then finally walked to El Jibarito to eat, which is our tradition whenever we're in Puerto Rico. Fabulous food!!!
Friday and Saturday were sea days before our arrival on back in Jersey on Sunday. The first half of Friday was good, until the thunder and lightening show started. We promptly removed ourselves from the hot tub and went in to change for dinner. We were assigned to table 558 in the Columbus Dining Room (deck 5). Explorer's dining room is set apart from other Voyager Class dining rooms, as it does not have a chandelier. It has an "Explorer Theme" to it, which makes it very unique, and absolutely beautiful, especially when lit during night dining hours. We had the best wait staff ever, including the Head Waiter, Waitress, and Assistant Waiter, by the names of Vinod, Natasha, and Gabrial respectively. Top-notch service, the best I've ever had. Every night our wait staff never ceased to amaze us, and their service could not have been better. Food on RCI, in my opinion, is OUTSTANDING! Everything I had on this cruise was absolutely delicious. We attended Portofino's one night, which was amazing. My husband's Filet Mignon was unbelievable tender, and the dessert sampler is outrageous! Johnny Rockets, on the other hand, was not so hot this time. I think on my future cruises I'll stick with the dining room or Windjammer for lunch.
My 8-year old daughter used Adventure Ocean frequently. She was in two parades, and they had many, many activities ongoing for the kids. They had their own dance party in The Crypt nightclub, pajama party, movie night, etc. They did crafts with paint, made pillowcases, and her age group (The Explorers) even had their own rock-climbing wall in their play area. I was very pleased with the kid's program, and my daughter absolutely loved it!
The ship has activities for everyone, literally. Whether you're single, a family, older....there are activities for every type of age group and person onboard. I'm not much of a fan of production shows anymore, so I can't comment on them. Regarding the other shows, there were hilarious comedians, and a great music group who didn't use any instruments, only their voices. They were outstanding. And the ice show is DEFINITELY not to be missed!!! It is the most well-put-together ice shows I've ever seen. Amazing!!!!
By now the storm had turned into a full-blown hurricane. And we were definitely feeling the effects, being behind it. Once again we were rocking & rolling like I never have on a big ship like that. But yet again, Captain Erik did a flawless job of keeping us informed of what to expect. On Saturday he finally announced that we were pretty much going to be following the storm back up north, so he would have to cut our speed in order to stay a safe distance behind it. Therefore, we wouldn't be getting in to Cape Liberty, NJ until 3:00 p.m. Well, we were ecstatic, since that meant a whole other day on the ship, because we were originally supposed to dock at 8:00 a.m. Because we were having an additional day onboard, a new Compass was immediately printed. Saturday was day 9 of our cruise, so the Compass for Sunday was cute, it said "Day 9.5" Adventure Ocean was open for the kids, more trivia and activities for adults, and even another ice show and production show! It was great. Great for us, that is...not so great for the passengers that were supposed to have boarded a LOT earlier than they did that day.
So to wrap it up, this cruise was absolutely outstanding! Physically, the ship is beautiful, and the staff and crew are friendly and happy to be of service. The only complaint I have is the same complaint I have on all ships: The smoking has got to go. I brought my mother on this cruise, and she is severely asthmatic. Constantly having to deal with smoke with someone who has a health problem gets very tiresome. Indoor smoking has to be put to an end, because those of us that have allergies or asthma cannot even enjoy the entertainment provided in the Aquarium Bar, Crown & Kettle Pub, Weekend Warrior Sports Bar, or the Schooner Bar. My poor mother had to visit the onboard hospital Sunday morning because it had finally gotten to her. It is disgusting having to return to your cabin at night smelling horrible. The Champagne Bar is smoke-free, which is wonderful! But you can't hear any music or enjoy any entertainment there. Hopefully RCI will follow suit of the growing trend in America and snuff out smoking in indoor areas. And for the record, I'm not a basher of smokers. To each his own. But having my own aversions and allergies to smoke (I ended up with laryngitis one morning because of dealing too much with it one night) and having a mother and daughter with asthma, it's not fair to those of us that pay the same money and can't even enjoy all of what a ship has to offer. The changing smoking regulations starting January 1, 2008 on RCI is a welcome step in the right direction!
But all in all, as stated before, Explorer is an exceptional ship. She is beautiful and sparkling and anyone even considering a cruise on her should go for it. I had the time of my life on this cruise and would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone!