My wife and I booked this cruise on the Explorer of the Seas because we had a pleasant experience on the ship during a five day Bermuda cruise in June 2007. This was our 48th cruise and 11th on Royal Caribbean.
We drove from our home in Arlington, Virginia, and parked in the Port Liberty Central Parking Facility - we thought last time that $15 a day was exorbitant for open parking in a lot with sporadic shuttle service - the fee is now $16 per day. The cruise terminal boarding was a disaster. We joined a long line outside the building and stood in the rain for about ten minutes before we got to a covered area. There was a lack of supervision that caused a long check-in and led to general confusion.
As before, we were very pleased with the Junior Suite. Plenty of space with a large walk-in closet.
Dining. We ordered breakfast in the room on the first morning and the tray was put on the table - period. Royal Carib needs to learn that on other lines, the waiter sets up the table and at least pretends to be friendly. After that we tried to eat breakfast in the dining room. With some exceptions, such as very good soups, the food on the ship was mediocre. We enjoyed eating in the dining room because we had good table mates and an excellent waiter, Lorrie. The Windjammer Café was very crowded - it appears that they built capacity for too many passengers for the café to handle.
The Explorer of the Seas is a fantastic ship, with a putt-putt golf course, full size basketball court, nice pool area, and rock climbing wall. The Royal Promenade - a four deck tall activities center and shopping mall, cuts through the center of the ship. Among its bars and shops, the popular Promenade Café offers free coffee, sandwiches, and pastries 24 hours a day. The ship's crew put on several celebrations in the Promenade, dancing and singing on catwalks over the street (Y-M-C-A, etc.) with plenty of audience participation below. There are several nice bars on the ship, with good entertainers. There is an attractive games room, with space and equipment for eight tables of bridge, but on this cruise it was not managed properly (e.g., the bridge group had to move in the middle of a game because someone had scheduled a wedding party in the same room). Bingo was outstanding, under the supervision of Phil, the Activities Director. He was funny, witty, and ran excellent games - you almost forgot that it was quite expensive. The final game jackpot was $13,200.
Being in what is called the "Diamond" category (eight cruises or more) gave us access to the "Concierge Club Lounge," a very nice room with entry by key card. The manager is a personable young man, Rick, who presents a continental breakfast in the morning, quality hors d'oeuvres and drinks in the evening, and other concierge services, all complimentary. The lounge is open 24 hours a day, with a machine that makes coffee, espresso, and very good cappuccino. In contrast to our previous cruise, it was too crowded and we found that they had expanded access to all suite level passengers. Regardless, it's a good place to hang out as the clientele are well traveled, interesting people.
We took two shore excursions. The St. Kitts Scenic Rail Tour takes you all around the island on an old sugar plantation train, including bottomless very good pina coladas and plenty of views of the countryside and island life - pricey but worth it. The Old and New San Juan City Tour was an eye opener to us as we hadn't been there for several years and the amount of gentrification was interesting.
The ship's casino is large, with a good variety of slot machines. We don't play table games but they seemed to be well run.
Disembarkation was as bad as embarkation. We participated in the "Express Walk-Off" program, that allows you to keep your luggage until the morning of disembarkation and be first off. When we used it on our previous Explorer cruise, it was well managed by the ships crew. This time it wasn't and we had a hard time getting on elevators, finally having to carry our luggage down several flights of stairs. When we got to the parking area shuttle bus loading area, it was mass confusion, with no supervision.
The cruise itself was good and we would recommend the Explorer of the Seas. However, we will not cruise out of Port Liberty, New Jersey, again until the embarkation and debarkation procedures are improved. Our recommendation is that Royal Carib book one of its top officials anonymously out of that port - guarantee this would result in improvement.