EMBARKATION: We arrived by car form Staten Island around 11:30 am, sat in a long line of cars, dropped off luggage, checked in really quickly (we are platinum members and used the priority boarding area), then sat around and waited in the little area until about 2. It sucked, but didn't really care because it was a lot better than flying in. When we went to the bathroom, we saw what looked liked a refugee camp with 3000 people in the main waiting area. People will pulling chairs down and standing around. It was a lot of people. In our area was a bit calmer. They served the same food as in the main area (cookies and coffee, juice, water) but in those silver urns instead of big plastic troughs. I got a cup of water and mold slime was floating in my drink. So I got a cup of juice and had that instead.
CABIN: Looked decent, just like every other cabin I'd been in except the bed was much much much MUCH MUCH better. Nice and firm without that stupid crease in the middle, nice white soft sheets, not that flowery dirty duvet that I'm used to finding on my bed. We had cabins 7606 and 7608. Our cabin steward Luis was good, not the best in memory, but up there. On the last night I noticed a confirmation for my Portofino's reservation two nights previous. I guess he forgot to give it to me. There were a lot of crumbs or something in the drawers so I lived out of my suitcase the 9 nights. The bathroom gave off a stagnant smell from time to time, I'm guessing it was from the pipes below.
WINDJAMMER: It was OK. The burgers looked awful but didn't taste that bad. On Celebrity the burgers are made to order. What I really didn't like was that there was no outside seating and people were running around everywhere. It was a MADHOUSE. People on the boards also complained there were no trays. For me that wasn't a big deal since the plate they provide is pretty much a tray. In the afternoon I would see strange foods on offer, such as a tray of nachos next to a tray of alfredo sauce next to a tray of waffles. Huh?
DRINKS: I bought the Coke card for $6 a day. It worked out well for me since when the WJ was closed, all you could really find was water and coffee. I guess this is where I started to have some problems with RCI. At night they gave you a bucket of ice but NO WATER. Every night before I would retire for the evening I would have to trek down to the Promenade cafe for a cup of water to bring up. It kind of annoyed me. One Promenade girl bugged me too. The last day was a little bit rocky and my mom was sick in the room. She wanted me to bring her some tea. So I go to PC and get a steaming hot cup of water, but ALAS, there were no lids. I ask the people behind the counter and they say there are no more lids. Well, what about the lids that are behind the counter? They say those are for the OTHER coffees, none for me. So I ask how am I going to bring up this full cup of piping hot water to my sick mom? And they say to call room service instead. So I tiptoed through all the people and back up to my mom's cabin with the hot cup of water with no lid. That annoyed me too.
SERVICE: Dining room service not so great. At least compared to Celebrity. I asked for Coke with my meal every day, not a big deal at all, but on Celebrity, the coke would have been there waiting for me from day 2 on.. Then another night there was blood on my daughter's plate and tablecloth. That made me pretty uneasy. My daughter is also allergic to dairy and my waiter told me on day 1 and 2 that they could not prepare her anything without dairy since the food is already prepared. Was she to eat bread for 9 days then? I asked. Finally, he called the Head Waiter. Actually, he didn't. HE said he did but I guess forgot and finally the Asst Waiter helped out. Head Waiter Marek, once he became apprised of the situation was super helpful. He was one of those Head Waiters you actually saw and wanted to tip. Lucie had a delicious dairy-free meal prepared for her each night after.
My waiter also whined a lot. He always talked about how he works so hard and how the Main Seating people were awful, and how he never saw his family, and his kids didn't recognize him cause he was gone for so long at a time. I have been on a lot of cruises and I know how hard it is for these guys and it does suck. But the thing with our waiter is that he always brought it up out of nowhere, not in the midst of normal conversation. It was just this one-sided conversation of all his woes. It just became really inappropriate. He then went on about how the crew can all transfer to Explorer but the crew on Explorer can not transfer out because apparently no one wants to work on Explorer because they don't want to work with the NYC crowd and the European crowd. Finally I became interested. How come no one wants to work on Explorer? What's wrong with the Europeans? "If you work on this ship you will find out" he answered. I just didn't understand why he brought it up. Service was also slow and waiter explained how he had to wait for all his tables to arrive before he got the food or else he'd be running around back and forth too much. So many nights, we sat between 8:30 - 9pm eating just rolls of bread that by the tine the real food came, we really weren't too hungry anymore.
CROWN & ANCHOR: I didn't really feel like a special Platinum member on this ship. We got a pretty cool bag that I actually used but on Celebrity's Captain Club (I'm Select), they are pretty cool to you. There, the Loyalty Ambassador knows everyone's name, you get special tours and such, special gifts 2-3 times a sailing, etc, etc. Not a huge deal that the C&A girl didn't know me. But the personalized service on Celebrity was a nice touch.
FOOD: was good, but not as great as Celebrity. Portofino's though was delicious. I would have never thought it was worth the extra money prior to trying, but it really was good. Simeon and Bettina were our servers. Bettina was over the top fantastic. Simeon told a lot of funny jokes but didn't really do much work. We overheard them arguing in the corner about it during our meal. Overall though? Fantastic.
PORTS: We were lucky with the weather and all the ports are fabulous except for Casa de Campo which is a complete waste of a port day. We went to Altos de Chavon, totally fake, but a beautiful beautiful view of the river below. We loved Labadee, we were on the first boat to tender over and the last boat to tender back. We secured 3 hammocks on Hideaway Beach. This stop made my husband's trip. In Puerto Rico we went to El Morro. In St. Thomas we ferried to St. John's Cinnamon Bay. We booked no tours with the ship. I rarely do since I research a lot online and am very particular with how I like to do things,
LAYOUT: The ship layout on Explorer didn't do it for me. The elevators were always busy. We had a stroller and often had to watch 3-4 lifts pass up before we could hop on. Often we would have to split up to fit, husband went with stroller, the rest of us took the stairs. WJ was always a ZOO. I preferred the dining room, because it was much much calmer there. The Promenade is cute but I'm not big on the indoor mall thing. I much prefer a lot of outdoor spaces, windows and natural light..
AQUABABIES: This little playgroup took place at 9:30 am each morning in Cloud 9. Lucie LOVED it. I loved it. I thought it was a great way for babies to come together and play. I also thought it was a great way to meet other new parents. It didn't have much structure, but it worked. We went on every sea day.
MEET & MINGLE: I went with my family and was one of those awful shy people in the corner who didn't approach anyone. I don't know what is wrong with me. Worse yet, our family made a clean sweep during the raffle and won all the great prizes. (Bottle of champagne, Portofino's). I wish there was an opportunity for a 2nd Cruise Critic M&M, but it just didn't happen.
RCI AGAIN?: I wouldn't do the Explorer again or the Voyager class of ships. We booked on the Brilliance to Egypt after hearing great reviews of Brilliance's elegance from our fellow passengers who had opinions of this sailing similar to mine. The Explorer didn't really do it for me despite the convenience of sailing from Bayonne. Would only do it again if the price is right or the itinerary really appeals to us (such as on Brilliance), but will probably stick more with Celebrity. Cape Liberty will be a big no-no for me. Passengers were real mean on the whole, rude to the crew and to each other. No wonder the crew didn't want to be there.
BOOKING ONBOARD: I thought it was bizarre that the ice skating entertainer guy booked our Brilliance cruise onboard. He pretty much had no advice to give on sailings or other information. On Celebrity, my future cruise consultant was really knowledgeable. She really knew what was on offer for both Celebrity and RCI. This guy, not at all. I'm glad I knew exactly what I wanted or else I would definitely have not booked on board.
Still loved the trip and loved being with my family. We got a good price and a lot of onboard credit, so you get what you pay for. We were blessed with great weather and made a lot of memories. Despite all the negatives, the trip was still a great success.