Our family just got back from a wonderful 9 day cruise on the Explorer that left on 4/11. I was traveling with my husband, 16 year old son and 14 year old daughter. This is our third cruise. We previously cruised on the Vision of the Seas with RCCL to the Mexican Riviera and the Carnival Conquest to the Western Caribbean. Hands down, this cruise was the best!! It was a lot of fun and it was a great value. The service everywhere was phenomenal, the absolute best we've ever experienced. We'd do this exact cruise again in a heartbeat.
The week we sailed was Spring Break for many school districts throughout New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. As a result, the cruise was almost full, over 3,600 on board with about 900 of them being kids. Because the ship was almost at full capacity, there were some crowds at times, but it was rarely a problem. We showed up 30 minutes before any activities, generally ate in the dining room for breakfast and when we did eat at the Windjammer, we arrived right when it opened for meals. Most of our fellow passengers had a great attitude, were courteous and friendly. With a few adjustments and some patience, the crowds didn't bother us at all. In fact, if you're travelling with teens, like we were, they loved it because there were lots of other kids to connect with. They both made so many friends and left with a lot of good memories.
We drove from Buffalo, NY to Bayonne the morning of the cruise. After reading so many horror stories about this port, I told my family to be prepared for the worst and to just be patient. As it turns out, this the easiest and most organized embarking process we had ever experienced. We arrived a little before noon. There was no traffic jam, someone immediately directed us to an open parking spot at the tent, we dropped off our luggage and my husband parked the car. Long term parking is very close to the terminal. A porter immediately loaded our luggage onto a ship cart. Within 15 minutes of arriving we entered the doors and waited in very, very short lines to go through security, check in to get our sea pass cards and take our very first picture. We waited for about 15 minutes more before our number was called and took the shuttle bus over and boarded the ship! Piece of cake!
The ship was absolutely beautiful! We have never sailed on this class of ship before and even though it's a large ship, it was easy to navigate and we loved, loved, loved the Promenade! It's a great place 24/7 to get a bite to eat, coffee, a drink, people watch, shop or see some entertainment. We loved all the lounges and visited them all! There were lots of places to go and you could always find a quiet, private spot, with a water view, somewhere on the ship if you wanted to. My husband and I enjoyed a favorite routine of before dinner drinks in the Schooner Bar, where there was always Piano or Classical Guitar music in the early evening. My husband reported that the workout facilities were great, lots of gorgeous equipment and fitness class choice if you wanted to stay in shape. He did.....I didn't!!
My teenage son's favorite hang out was at the full size basketball court. It was where he met most of his friends and where most of the teenagers get together and congregate during the day. They play dodge ball, volleyball, ping pong and basketball there. Both kids loved Optix and Johnny Rockets. The kids were never bored and loved all the activities on board.
Our rooms were very comfortable and spotless. We were on the 7th floor. My husband and I had a balcony room (the weather was beautiful, so we used our balcony a lot) while our children shared an inside room across the hall. The bedding was beautiful, and the rooms gorgeous. Everything was like new. Our stateroom attendant was the best we've ever had. She cleaned/freshened our rooms three times/day, but always when we weren't there. She was friendly, cheerful and talkative in the hallways, kept our rooms well stocked with all the essentials, responded quickly to our requests for extra towels, luggage tags, etc., and, of course, made wonderful towel animals every evening. She really spoiled all of us.
We ate most breakfasts and dinners in the dining room. Our head waiter Rex and asst waiter Henry were awesome! There were a few hiccups the first night, but after that, everything was perfect! Our children's soda glasses were always waiting for them when they got there and fresh ones brought before they were even done. My daughter, who orders the same thing every night, had her meal ready for her, with her condiments on the table and her steak cut up every night. Water glasses were filled constantly, bread offered throughout the meal and food was always hot, prompt and wonderful. I can't say enough about how well we were treated in the dining room. Some meals were, of course, better than others, but we really enjoyed both the food and the service. We also ate many times at the Windjammer, including one dinner, and were pleased. Granted, it is cafeteria style, so the selection wasn't huge, but we enjoyed all of our meals there. What really surprised me was the service. Everyone was friendly, greeting us when we arrived, drinks were quickly offered and many people dropped by the tables to check on how things were. Wonderful!
There was always plenty to do around the ship and we tried to experience it all. There were 3 production shows with dancing and singing, a not to be missed ice show, comedians and tons of activities/contests. Some entertainment was great, some was just good, but we were never bored!
Beautiful beaches, great activities and a safe, fun environment. This was one of our favorite stops. We did the zip-line as a family and, while it was expensive, the view and the experience made it worthwhile. We did a little shopping in the marketplace. The vendors were very aggressive and by the end of the day, there were security guards patrolling the area, but both my teens got wood masks with their names carved in them and they were pleased to have a keepsake.
The only negative of this day was getting off the ship. It was crowded when we docked and the staff hadn't organized lines, so it was a bit of a mob scene at first. There were some frustrated passengers, but we all forgot about it after a great day on the island.
There's a lot of negative reviews about this stop, but we had a pretty good time. We did the Bayahibe Beach Break Excursion. Air conditioned buses took us all to the Oasis Canoa Resort. The drivers are pretty crazy there, so the bus ride was quite an adventure! But, the beach was beautiful and safe, with plenty of lounge chairs and shade. There were beach activities at the resort that you could pay extra for, like parasailing and banana boat rides, which my husband and daughter did. The excursion included open bar, but not food. You had to walk to the bar as there were no servers on the beach. You could purchase food for $15/person, which was expensive....but oh well. There was a nice pool at the resort as well. We had a nice day there. We didn't feel as pampered as we were on Labadee, but I'm glad we got off the boat and enjoyed the day. Hey, we had sun, sand, beautiful water and plentiful drinks...how bad can it be??!!
This was our favorite stop. We purchased the Christmas Cove and Honeymoon Beach All Day Sail Excursion. There was no time for shopping, but we loved it. We sailed on "Bones", a pirate ship and Captain Jim's crew was truly wonderful. We snorkeled at Christmas Cove for our first time and loved it. There were turtles, stingrays and lots of colorful fish. What a blast! Then we sailed to Honeymoon Beach, which was practically deserted, and enjoyed almost 3 hours of wonderful beach time and a great BBQ lunch of ribs, chicken and salads. Yummy! While we were sailing around, the crew kept us entertained and served up lots of rum punch, beer and sodas. This is the best excursion we've ever been on!
This was a very short stop, so there wasn't much time on shore. We only shopped, but had a great time and got some great bargains/souvenirs. We got a great view of the forts on the way out of port. Absolutely stunning!
With the ship so full, this took a while. We were the second to the last group to be called and didn't get off the ship until about 10:45 or so. But, we took the advice of RCCL and headed down to the Palace at 8:00 a.m., sat down and enjoyed the morning "talk show" that Mike, the Cruise Director, and Phil and Activities Manager were holding while waiting. It was entertaining and helped pass the time in a stress free, comfortable way. By the time our color was called, we waited in no lines. We went straight through customs and sailed out to the parking lot. The parking lot was truly a mess with a lot of yelling, honking and waiting, but we were still in vacation mode so it was all good!
All in all, this was the vacation of a lifetime. We love the Explorer and we love Royal Caribbean!