We just recently got off the Explorer of the Seas 9 night Eastern Caribbean Cruise (March 28 - Apr 6, 2008). We are platinum members and this cruise pushed us to diamond.
The ship ~ well it's big and it's clean and just a beautiful ship. But it's not big enough for the amount of passengers. Whenever they had a contest or game show you would have to arrive 45 minutes early just to get a seat. Do NOT try to arrive 5-10 minutes prior unless you want to stand in the very back of whatever lounge they happen to use with a crowd of people, so you can't hear or see anything. I was VERY disappointed with this. Even the shows in the palace where like that, we finally opted to wait and see the shows on the t.v. right after they were finished.
The staff, for the most part were friendly and nice, but I want to say Phil the Activities Director was neither. He "tried" to be funny with his comments to people but he came off very rude and crude ~ he reminded of Don Riggles who's brand of humor was to insult others ~ sorry I do not get into that brand of humor at ALL. Gordon the Cruise Director was OK, he had a voice and boy could he sing.
The embarkment wasn't bad, we had priority boarding so we were on the ship rather quickly, once they began (we were delayed for a coast guard drill, and reading these reviews I'd say be prepared for a delay as I've read ALOT about delays because of coast guard drills and being that close to New York it's to be expected). Once we began boarding it was fine, of course you had people that thought they needed to push and shove (why you have a room on the ship and we're all going to the same place), we opted to stay behind and wait until the pushers were out of the way. Couldn't get into rooms so headed right to Windjammer with our carry-ons. OK here the cruise begins ~ WONDERFUL people greeting you and bringing drinks and clearing tables, all smiles and ready to help in anyway they could. The food was good and by the time we finished we could get to our room. Our luggage was outside our door before we were YEAH, I'd heard about people not getting luggage until after dinner, that was not the case with us or friends that traveled with us. VERY IMPRESSED. Our room stewart came in and introduced himself and from that point on he was OUTSTANDING.
The sailing weather was actually almost perfect ~ we had some 7-10 foot swells but that is just simply nothing compared to what it could have been. The ship seems to handle the ocean very nicely, some rocking from side to side but nothing that would throw you off your feet.
Ports: Labadee, what a beautiful small beach. The people with the chairs are a bit annoying, just walk past, say no thank you and keep moving, they want to put a chair down as soon as you get off the ship - we wanted to explore the little island FIRST. The market they have set up - do not even attempt unless you have GOOD PATIENCE, I was there 10 minutes and ran out, I wanted to look around and enjoy - NOT happening the minute you walk in they are all over you like flies on ......... I would say "I just want to look, thank you" and I'd have things being just about thrown in my face. Not my cup of tea, I understand they are in need of selling their stuff, but they'd do much better with 99% of the people if they wouldn't be so pushy and just let you LOOK. Loved Dragon's Breath and if you go you really must walk down to the circle on the dragon's back and listen to the dragon breath - it is simply amazing.
Dominican Republic - RCCL should save their port fees and just stop going here - what a waste. We got off the ship and stood in line for over an hour to get a shuttle bus to Altos de Chavon, which is fairly nice, but you can walk the whole thing and take your pictures in less than 1/2 an hour. We made the mistake of eating lunch here - I was sick the rest of the day and evening, was in bed at 8:30 that evening until the next morning.
St. Thomas - book your shore excursions early, many were cancelled due to lack of participation (which was the case with ours) and then trying to get another was not happening. We ended up doing the Blackbeards castle and shopping for 54.00 a person (NOT WORTH IT). At the end of the tour they show you the steps to the market area and you have to find a taxi back to the ship (4.00 per person each one way). If we'd known that we could have spent 8.00 each roundtrip, walked up the steps and been at Blackbeard's castle and saved ourselves 50.00 each. It pays to research, which I did NOT do because we had a fun all day excursion planned for St. Thomas. St. Thomas very pretty but so crowded, there were 5 ships in port the day we arrived and we were the LAST to arrive.
San Juan - if you want to do the fortresses, again DO NOT waste your money on a shore excursion or taxi. When you get off the ship you are hit with pushy taxi drivers, walk right past them and find a TROLLEY stop. It's FREE and covers most of Old San Juan and BOTH fortresses and the cost to enter both fortresses is 5.00 and if your disabled you get in FREE. We walked to the fortress (not a good idea for anyone that has trouble walking, it's ALL uphill). It rained on and off all day (more on then off) but we really enjoyed touring the fortress, you could see just about everything from the top levels of the fortress. Best FREE day we had. We really enjoyed our day in San Juan even though we were there the least amount of time. A warning though Puerto Rico has 4 million people with 1 million of them living in San Juan so expect to see homeless people walking about, sleeping in doorways, etc.
The shows on the ship (we watched them on the t.v. after the first night) but they were outstanding!! The Ice Show is NOT to be missed, when you board the ship before even eating at windjammers if you do not have concierge service so your tickets will be waiting for you in your room go down to the promenade and get your tickets, they only do the show 2 days (2 shows each day) and I heard some people complaining that they couldn't get tickets because they were all out, which is a shame, if they know they have xx amount of passengers they should be sure to show the show as many times as needed to fit ALL the passengers in.
All in all this cruise was GREAT, very relaxing, but I must complain about the lack of planned activities. For a ship this size they just did not have enough to keep you "active" so the shows, contests, games, etc... they did have were SOOOO overcrowded ~ how can you have a game show in a lounge that holds MAYBE 200 people when you have 3,000 or more on board?? But all the staff and crew we met (with the exception of Phil) were always cheery and helpful. I did end up putting a complaint in about Phil and his "humor" which I found very offensive. Do not stand on stage and call out to me calling me a nasty name, or call me names as you walk past me anywhere on the ship and then laugh as loud as you can - that is just NOT acceptable in my book. Once I said to him "enough is enough, every time you see us you call us names and we haven't even spoken to you and we don't know you, I don't like it, please stop" and his reply was "get out there". I never got a response back from my complaint either.
Getting off the ship - we had beige 1 and were the first ones called off after the do it yourself ones. Luggage was a bit hard to find with it all stacked up, but we did find it. Porters are VERY rude, they do not leave enough room to walk between the rows of luggage so you have to carry your luggage over top of the rest there, to have porters yelling "watch you back" as they are trying to push past you. WOW, this could have been a killer ending to a great cruise, but we did not let it bother us, there are rude people all over the world, we found a nice porter, and he took us right to the parking lot - all in all from the time we docked and I watched customs come on the ship it took us about 1 hour to be in our car (and like I said we had beige 1 the FIRST to be called off after the do it yourself people).
Would I sail Explorer again "Possibly" will I sail RCCL again "YES IN DEED".