Review of the Explorer of the Seas Review 11/4/07-11/11/07
This might be a long review but as a travel agent, I tend to look at different things than an average cruiser. In addition to what I like or dislike, I also need to look at the cruise and ship from my client's eyes.
Our cruise got off to a very rocky start. The cruise was set to leave on Sunday 11/4 from Bayonne (Cape Liberty NJ) just a 40 minute ride up the NJ Turnpike from us. Nice and easy- no airlines to deal with, luggage issues or delays. Saturday, our emergency contact, received a phone call from Royal Caribbean to say that the ship was delayed due to Hurricane Noel and would not be in port until 3pm so don't plan on arriving before 4pm for a 7pm boarding.
EMBARKATION We arrived at the cruise terminal entrance at 4pm and it took 1 hour to get to the point to drop off our luggage- not a good start. We parked the car, $112 for the week including taxes (they took a credit card) and proceeded through security. That was the easy part. We waited in a very short line for our sea pass cards (room keys) and took the photo for our cards. Then we tried to find a place to sit for our 3 hour wait in the terminal.
I must give RCI credit. There was food (sub sandwiches and drinks) for the people waiting inside. What we didn't realize was that more than ½ of the guests were waiting on the outside of the terminal for over 2 hours in 50 degree weather. Apparently, since the ship first came into the port at 3pm, it needed to be cleaned and readied for the next cruise. The cruise terminal hit capacity and the remaining guests waited outside. After 2 hours, they were given chairs and water but nothing to eat. Not a great start to the cruise.
Once on board (around 9pm), we went to the dining room for dinner. It was pretty chaotic since they were now trying to feed all 3400 guests at the same time. We went to the dining room on deck 3 and were able to find a table. Since we had been fed in the terminal, we had a light bite and attempted to wander around the ship. The life boat drill was at 10:30pm. The 11pm welcome aboard show was poorly attended although the comedian was very good. You had to feel bad for the guy- he was very funny but this wasn't a very jovial crowd.
CABIN We took cabin- 8626 on deck 8. It is the standard balcony cabin. We knew that it was the smaller of the balcony cabins (E balconies vs D balconies) but they were more mid ship which is what we wanted for the Bermuda and Boston seas.
The cabin was a bit tight but manageable. Almost forgot what it's like in the bathroom when you drop the soap in the shower. You have to shut off the water, open the door to bend down to pick up the soap. The bed is comfortable with nice European bedding. There is a mini bar in the cabin (which we did not touch) and the safe works on a personal # combination. Storage space is adequate. Balcony is small but a nice size. Didn't get as much use out of it as we normally would because of the itinerary but we always love a balcony.
Cabin stewardess was ok, although a bit inconsistent with towels and ice.
CABIN NOTES: Bring your own shampoo and conditioner- the one in the dispenser had an odd fragrance to it. Also, there is no shower gel in the shower. Bring some extra moisturizer. Either the soap is very drying or the water is. Check the in cabin mini bar. We did not use it at all but we didn't notice a lock on it so that we could ask for it to be locked. We didn't get billed for anything in the bar but without a lock, we are always weary of additional charges from the bar that we didn't use.
FOOD- Dining is always a bit deal on a cruise ship. We felt that the food experience on the Explorer of the Seas is good to very good (this is not going to be gourmet dining). We never went hungry and found the many dining venues to be a major plus.
First, the Windjammer Café- This is the casual dining venue open for breakfast, lunch and dinner on the pool deck. We ate there for breakfast and lunch- never dinner but our table mates ate at Windjammer many times for dinner and thought the choices were great.
My comments on Windjammer 1. No hand sanitizer at the entrance to the dining area. With the gastrointestinal issues that may occur on cruise ships- this was a major no-no. 2. No trays- only extra large oval plates. This can cause an issue for people with trying to balance the tray, silverware and a cane. I was told that the wait staff did assist these guests. 3. Lines were always longer in the front. Just scoot around back - there are the same foods offered in the back without the long lines. 4. Food choices were typical of a cruise. First time cruisers will be amazed but for repeat cruisers, it is pretty standard fare. They did have an assortment of Asian and Indian vegetarian selections. I did notice a group of Asian women eating soup for breakfast but I didn't wander over to that section. 5. Food was good here but seemed to be pretty much the same every day. Salads, burgers, sandwiches- made to order are standard daily. What changes daily is the pasta with a couple of choices, a couple of main entrées with vegetables and some type of potatoes and a couple of soups. There are always a good amount of dessert choices. Frozen yogurt is available outside of Windjammer at a self serve machine. 6. Omelet station was at the back of the buffet line. Get fresh omelets rather than taking the pre-made if the line isn't too long. They offer some odd ingredients like shrimp and jalepeno peppers which my husband tried daily. 7. The wait staff was there to assist with drinks and clearing the tables. I didn't require help with the trays but was told that they did offer help for those who needed help.
Another dining option is the Café Promenade on deck 5. This is a great choice for fast bites and snacks. At the front of the Café, there is a Ben and Jerry's ice cream stand (for an extra fee). They also offer Seattle's Best Coffee. I am not a coffee drinker and I thought there was a fee for this coffee but other cruisers told me that it was not the case. Please check before ordering.
The Café is open until the wee hours of the morning for those late owls. In the AM, there are pastries and such for breakfast. For lunch and later, there are small sandwiches (changes daily), pizza, cookies and pastries. The chocolate chip cookies are great. Coffee, tea and iced water are always available, as is fruit such as bananas, kiwi and oranges. The café is great for snacks when coming back from excursions.
johnny Rockets- on deck 12 is lots of FUN. It is very small and there is a $3.95 cover charge to get in. This was implemented as part of crowd control so that the kids and teens don't make this their hangout. Crown and Anchor members get 1 free admission per person with the coupon book that is in the cabin upon arrival.
There was a 45 minute wait on the day we went to Johnny Rockets because there was no out door seating due to the cold weather coming back from Boston. We hung out near the arcade since it was too cold to wait outdoors.
Upon entering, you get a grand HELLO from the staff and fellow diners and are promptly given a plate of onion rings and a ranch dressing, and fries with a plate of ketchup designed in a smiley face. The menu is malts (extra fee for those but great), burgers and sandwiches as well as desserts. I ordered a classic burger, the others ordered a St Louis burger. All were good. The onion rings had to be replaced 3 times since we devoured them in no time. We regretted it later but they were great. Dessert was an ice cream sundae or apple pie.
The staff would dance and sing at set intervals and it was a blast. It is a must do on the cruise!
Portofino's Well worth the $20 pp surcharge. Food was spectacular and so was the service. We literally rolled out of there we were so stuffed. We ordered the seafood skewer and the chef will substitute another lobster tail for salmon or scallops. The sampler plate for dessert was fabulous.
Highly recommended and would suggest making reservations as soon as you get on the ship.
Main Dining Room We only ate in the dining room for dinner and 1 breakfast. We were on the deck 3 level of the dining room table 307, waiter Ramiro and bus boy, Clint. Ramiro greeted us by our first names daily and Clint was precious every time he said "it would be my pleasure." The service was very good, very pleasant and a lot of fun. Every night, Clint would bring the bread basket around to offer us the "ever popular" sour dough roll, the "little bites" and others. The first night, he had the favorite "not so square rolls" which were never to be served again during the week. I had lots of fun with Clint over these not so square rolls.
Dinner options were always tasty. I'm not going to say that this was gourmet dining but I felt that the food was very good. There were always a number of options that I would have ordered. There are always standby's if you didn't like the choices, such as salmon, grilled chicken and steak. Lobster night was excellent. The lobster tails were among the best I have had a sea.
Please note that we were happy with the quality and taste of the food but I am not extremely picky. The thing with cruises is---- if you don't like the dish you ordered, order something else! Portions were small but adequate. Again, if you want an additional entrée or anything else, just ask for it.
Room Service Sorry- not a lot of help here. I glanced at the menu but didn't use it. Someone else did to order a cheese plate and said it came quickly.
There was literally so much to do that we couldn't do it all.
Rock climbing- didn't try it- wasn't about to break anything since I can hurt myself just walking but it was always busy while we were onboard. Ice skating- session were open throughout the day. Check the cruise compass for hours Ice Show- free tickets are available at set times throughout the cruise. There were 4 sessions but you need tickets in advance. Check the cruise compass for the times that the tickets are distributed. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the show time. As long as you are not sitting behind a pole, the view is pretty good from all seats. Parades-there were 3 parades and we watched all of them. Try to get a seat in front of the bars for the best views. They were a lot of fun. Our pictures didn't come out great- sorry. Pool side games- a few brave soles participated in the men's belly flop contest in 50 degree weather. Most of the poolside games had to be moved indoors. Bingo- the game we played was $35 for 5 sheets. We didn't win but the guest in front of us won over $300. Please keep in mind that there are really serious bingo players here. Daytime Activities- Trivia, napkin folding, towel folding, cooking classes, arts & crafts and more were listed throughout the day. There were so many that we couldn't do everything.
SPA and Fitness Center I can honestly say that I saw both but didn't use either. There is a really nice and large indoor Jacuzzi in the fitness center.
Pool deck- In addition to the main pool, there is a lovely adults only solarium. It is near the spa and has really comfortable lounges. Although it is not covered, it was partially enclosed so was not as cold as the main pool area.
Promenade- This is one of my favorite features of this class of ship. It is a great people or gathering place. In addition to 2 bars and the café, there are the usual stores. During the week, there will be sales on watches, jewelry, pocket books and jewelry. This is also the location of the parades and the cooking demonstrations. For those who haven't sailed on this class of ship before, the promenade is a great place to just hang out. One of the nice features was that the captain had his party in the promenade. The captain's staff was introduced and they all stood on one of the bridges that over looked the promenade. It was a nice touch.
The cruise director, Allan, was great. The guy could have done stand up comedy. He had us rolling at the newlywed game and the quest game. I didn't see him around the ship much but on a ship this size, you rarely expect to see the cruise director.
His staff was good, mostly young, energetic people from all over the world. Bingo Spice, from London, handled Bingo and the napkin folding. She has an adorable British accent and had guests trying to mimic her throughout the napkin folding class. Trivia was handled by a number of the entertainment staff members. The entertainment staff had a lot of energy and it showed in everything they did.
General Comments Although this ship is full, it didn't really seems crowded. The sports deck was fully utilized for a staff vs. guest dodge ball contest and there were lots of people doing inline skating and watching the rock climbers. The promenade was bustling but there really wasn't much in terms of crowded areas. It was difficult to get a table in the windjammer café during the peak breakfast and lunch hours but that is because so many people were sitting inside to stay out of the cold.
Being such a large ship, there were plenty of space for guests to find for themselves. Since part of the cruise was heading into cold weather, the indoor activities were very heavily attended. We found that we needed to arrive at each activity at least ½ hour before it started in order to get seats. Normally, guests would be spread out all over the ship but due to the cold weather, every one was indoors and getting seats at the activities was difficult.
Heading out to Bermuda can be rocky but despite the tail end of the hurricane, the seas are surprisingly calm. There were a couple of sways but nothing that I would consider to be rocky.
We went to the first show production. It was probably on par with most other Royal Caribbean show productions. The general consensus was that the show was ok- not great. We had all seen better but it was ok. Couldn't stay up for the adult midnight comedy show but the comedian was really good the night before so I'm sorry I missed it. Word is that this show was great. The 2nd production show was better but it was the night we went to Portofino's and we came in toward the very end. The headliner acts were better than I anticipated them to be. In general, the evening entertainment was on par with Royal Caribbean cruises.
The best of the entertainment was the newlywed game and Quest, a scavenger type game held in Studio B. Don't miss either- since they are both hysterical.
The casino was pretty packed most of the time it was open. I didn't stay long because even the non smoking areas were pretty smoky. My husband won about $400 at black jack. That was a pleasant surprise.
We kept on having a problem with my husband's sea pass card. He keeps on demagnetizing it and couldn't get into the room. Mine was fine. It must have happened 5 times and each time he had to go down to the purser's desk to get it replaced. We had some minor billing issues. You can check the bill on the interactive TV. We had been over billed for internet service (it was removed) and the shipboard credit we were due didn't show up until Friday, but it did show up.
All in all, we really enjoyed the Explorer of the Seas cruise that we took. We will cruise the Explorer or one of her sister ships. We have always liked Royal Caribbean and this cruise lived up to our expectations.