This is my first review for Cruise Critic. My wife and I have been on 30 cruises with 16 of these being on Royal Caribbean. This was our second time on the Explorer---we went in October 2006 the first time.
This was a very enjoyable cruise. The cruise staff can make or break a cruise and the Explorer staff was excellent. We were always greeted in a friendly manner all over the ship. All the personnel would go out of their way to ask if they could do more for us. They did not wait for us to ask for anything but asked us first.
We drove to Bayonne from Va. Beach, stopping in Maryland to pick up our daughter and son-in-law who went on this ship with us last year and chose this cruise again. Embarkation was very quick and easy. We arrived early and waited in the lounge for Diamond members and enjoyed our first of many cookies from the ship. We went first to the Windjammer Cafe for lunch. The people working in the Windjammer were always friendly and helpful. They went out of their way to help everyone find a table and bring water, tea, etc. to the tables. Our luggage was outside our door right after lunch.
Food on the ship was always good and up to the Royal Caribbean standard. Our waiter Erkan and his assistant Vincent were two of the best we have had on all our cruises. The optional entrees on the menu were good for us on the 2 nights when the menu seemed to have more oriental flavored dishes, since we are not oriental food fans.
Labadee was excellent, as always. It is our favorite cruise ship stop. We sat on the beach under a straw umbrella and enjoyed the water. There are more than enough recliner chairs on the island for everyone and the local staff get them for you quickly. Royal Caribbean has done an excellent job on this private stop. People were riding the zip lines and enjoying them. The facilities have grown quite a bit since our first stop there years ago. Tendering went quickly although there was some confusion at first. We were told to wait outside the Ice Show theatre for staff to lead us down to deck 1 to load the tenders. There was no one from the staff to organize us at first so many people were gathering but confused as to where to line up and where to go. But once we started, it went very quickly.
The Dominican Republic was a stop we could have skipped. We had signed up for a catamaran snorkel tour but the night before, the ship delivered letters to the cabin warning people to be careful of swimming in fresh water since there were runoffs from the recent storms. The ocean may have been ok but it was not worth taking a chance so we cancelled and the ship refunded our payments. We were going to ride the shuttle bus to one of the two towns built for tourists but the line was extremely long, moving very slowly, to get on the buses. The fare was $7 each way and each bus looked like it held 20-25 people. The line was several hundred people long. We walked around the town and took pictures. It was a typical Dom. Rep. town. It was clean and safe to walk around but poor.
St. Thomas is always fun and one of the most beautiful islands. We shopped around Havensight and took the catamaran snorkel tour at 1PM. The ticket said to be on the pier at 12:45, which we were, but the catamaran did not dock for us to load until 1:30PM. We stood on the pier and watched the catamaran float in the harbor for 45 minutes until they decided to pick us up. The crew was fair but far from the best we had seen on previous tours. They divided the group into 2 sections and had a crew member take each group on a snorkel tour. However, they stopped every 3 minutes to point out things of interest but this caused everyone to bunch up and bump into each other. This was probably fine for first time snorkelers but we quickly decided to go on our own and enjoyed the snorkeling.
The last stop was San Juan and we walked around old town and took more pictures. It was very enjoyable although we did not stay there very long.
Entertainment on the ship was varied in quality. The cruise director Alan Brooks was excellent and fun. The ship's band, pool band, and several other bands were very good. The shows were not very good. We enjoyed the shows last year but this year they were not up to past standards. The ship had just changed the shows so perhaps they needed more practice. The first show, Vibelogy, seemed to have the wrong singers cast in the leads and several songs were out of tune. The ice show, Blades, was new but no where near as good as the one last year. The comedians were only fair. The Two Funny Guys show was good. There is so much to do on the ship, that we had a great time anyway.
We worked out most days in the gym and never had to wait for a treadmill or elliptical trainer. Lots of weight machines so gym was excellent. The Solarium was great place to relax and swim during the day.
The parades in the the Royal Promenade were very good but crowded.
The Cruise Critic Meet and Greet was very good. We met many people and saw them again on the ship and ashore during the cruise. We would encourage everyone to sign up and attend these. The ship gave away some good prizes in the free drawings.
Disembarkation was very quick and easy. We arrived back in Bayonne and it was 23 degrees with 1 inch of snow on the ground and on the ship. It was the first time we had seen snow on a cruise ship! The New York skyline was beautiful from the ship.