I sailed on the Explorer from 12/14 through 12/23 with my daughter (17), my son (14), my mother and my brother. I shared an Owners Suite with my mom and daughter while my brother and son shared an inside cabin across the hall. I planned the trip as well as the excursions and all of the posters on Cruise Critic went a long way toward helping with our cruise, so thank you all for your input.
Embarking - We arrived at Cape Liberty at around 12:30 and were in a long line of cars trying to get to the drop off point. It took us over an hour to actually get dropped off, and finding a wheelchair for my mom was not happening. There were too many people still getting off the ship, as it had come in late, and all wheelchairs were in use. Once we checked in, we did get on the ship fairly quickly.
Rooms - The Owners Suite was amazing and as it was a surprise to my mother, it made it that much more special. Our room steward Gerald did a great job taking care of our room, as did Dereck, the room steward for my brother and sons room. Both were pleasant and talkative and made our trip that much more enjoyable.
Food Quality - Overall I thought the food quality was simply alright. I did think the menus had limited selections, but what I did order I was happy with. I realize they have the alternative menu as well, but I found myself choosing from the alternative menu as I often didn't care for the 3 or 4 options on the main menu. I am somewhat of a picky eater, but as long as I'm not cooking it and cleaning up afterward, I am a happy camper.
Dining Room - Much to our surprise, we were seated with another 3 generation family from our roll call. They were a wonderful family to have as tablemates and our entire cruise experience was enhanced met them. Our servers were pleasant and competent, but they really didn't go out of their way to make it very personal. On all of my past cruises, the servers addressed us by name, learned our preferences amazingly fast and made us feel truly special. That definitely did not happen on this cruise. I will say this is the first cruise that the head waiter made himself known to us each and every evening. Not only was he pleasant and personable, but helpful as well. They are all truly hard working people and they never seem to stop for a moment.
Johnny Rockets - We went there only one time during this cruise and it was fun. The food was good, the entertainment was good and the desserts were fantastic. All in all, if you want to go there, pay the $3.95 cover charge and enjoy it.
Portofino's - This was an amazing meal. Quite possibly, it was even better than our previous visits on prior cruises. The service was wonderful and very personal and the food was outstanding. Although it's referred to as an Italian restaurant, it's more of a mix, with delicious seafood, steak and chicken as well as Italian dishes.
Windjammer - I am not big on buffets, so I can't say too much here, simply because I did not eat there often. On the two occasions I did eat there, the food was fine, and much to my surprise, the service at the table was great too. Servers came and asked me what I would like to drink and even offered me coke when she saw my soda card. I did see our head waiter working in the buffet both times I was there and once again, he was busy clearing tables and assisting guests with a smile.
Café Promenade - A great place on the ship. They go through a boatload of cookies and pizza, not to mention sandwiches and snacks. Service was always with a smile and these people do work hard, especially at the end of a port day, when everyone arrives seemingly ravenous.
Room Service - This was a little disappointing, but for the amount of time I used it, it wasn't a big deal. It was very slow and the food did arrive tepid at best. Coffee did arrive hot and was quicker to get than a whole meal.
Kids Activities - This was one area I wasn't too pleased. Both the 12 -14 group and the 15 - 17 group shared Optix and neither group was happy with it. My 17 year old felt there were always younger kids in there and my 14 year old felt it was always the older kids. Times weren't strictly enforced, so the compass activities rarely happened with any level of success. I understand on the two newer Voyager class ships, these two age groups have separate areas and I'm sure that makes a huge difference.
Entertainment - Love & Marriage was a hoot, Battle of the Sexes was fun and the Quest was a riot. The Spirit of the Seasons Ice Show was excellent. I did see Earl Turner who was more than a singer.. he was truly an entertainer and did a wonderful job. I stopped in to see some of the other shows and headliners, but either I had already seen them or they just weren't doing it for me on this trip. Not to worry, because there's always so much going on around the ship, you have to pick and choose what you want to do anyway.
Lounges - I was so looking forward to having a few nights with sing along music, and I had such fun with the Pig & Whistle on the Voyager, I thought the Crown & Kettle would be similar on the Explorer. On this cruise, the entertainer had a great voice in the Crown & Kettle, but he sang to the crowd and didn't encourage singing along at all. The Schooner bar entertainment with Ed was a bit closer, but it never really took off so that was a disappointment for me.
Concierge Lounge - This was our first time staying in a suite, so we did enjoy the lounge and the perks that went with it. Nicky was a wonderful concierge and was helpful with anything we asked for, not to mention friendly and personable. The cappuccino machine was broken, but he arranged for Suite guests to get free cappuccino at the Promenade Café until that one broke as well. I will miss having this perk on our next cruise.
Service - I did not come across anyone on the staff or crew of this ship that was anything less than pleasant and accommodating. Anyone I dealt with used my name every single time and made my entire family feel special. When I read complaints on the boards with regard to service, I find it very hard to believe. If you greet them with a smile and a request, you will find them pleasantly responding to you in turn.
Puerto Rico - We barely had a taste of this island since it was an evening stay and we had Portofino's reservations for later in the evening. We did enjoy seeing the fort and the Bacardi Rum factory, but will have to visit it again in the future.
St. Thomas - We had a wonderful day with Henry from EEE Tours. He was knowledgeable, pleasant, professional and so courteous. He showed us his island, told us of his history and even brought us to his home. It was a highlight of our entire cruise. I wholeheartedly recommend him to anyone visiting the island.
Labadee - Perfect, as usual. The market was aggressive, but they do have some beautiful woodwork including walking sticks, ships, turtles, etc. The tendering was simple, the barbecue sufficient, and the beaches stunning. I seriously wonder why they don't dredge the area, build a pier and dock the ships here. I would love to spend an overnight at Labadee, much like they do in Bermuda.
Dominican Republic - We purchased a day pass at Casa de Campo near the port and we did enjoy the beach there. The $40 pp fee included an exquisite lunch on the beach at a beautiful restaurant, which would cost more than $40 pp ordering off the menu. It also included the use of beach mats, hobie cats and windsurfers, paddle boats, etc. Transportation was a bit confusing and there is definitely a strong language barrier. In the end, we did enjoy a lovely ½ day at a secluded beach only minutes from the port.
Disembarking - We were off the ship quickly and without too much difficulty, but as it turned out, our driver was stuck in that long line of cars waiting to get into the port. They really do have to do something about that. We didn't encounter these problems with our summer cruise out of Bayonne, so I have to attribute it to winter cruising and inclement weather. It seems like there is a lot of space there, so perhaps some additional roadways could alleviate the problem.
Overall - I had a great time on this ship. There was not enough time to do all the things I wanted to do, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I would recommend this sailing to anyone who asks. I was not bothered by too many children, under-aged drinking or crowds or people. You really do get what you want out of a vacation. If you want to focus on the problems, the rude guests, the crowded elevators and the inevitable kinks that happen along the way, it is your decision. However, my family had a great time making memories that will last a lifetime. We would do it again in a heartbeat!
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask me. I would love to answer anything I might have missed. Feel free to contact me at Sleeples23@aol.com