My husband and I traveled from Cape Liberty NJ to Bermuda on the Explorer of the Seas on April 20th. This was our 19th cruise and our 6th with RCCL. For the first time, we were Platinum members of the Crown & Anchor Society and the perks of that status made it clear why many cruisers stick with the same line and move up in their loyalty program.
Cape Liberty Despite the many reviews that I read to the contrary, embarkation was a breeze. We were able to drive right up to the terminal and drop off our bags. I checked them with a porter while my husband parked in the secure parking area of the port ($80 for a five-day cruise—credit cards are accepted). He was back within a few minutes and we passed quickly and easily through security. Platinum level meant that we had a separate line for embarkation, but other passengers seemed to encounter very little waiting. After receiving our cruise cards (we did all paperwork online several days earlier—a HUGE time-saver) and getting our embarkation photo taken, we were put directly onto a tram for the quick ride to the ship. From bag drop-off to the Windjammer buffet took no more than 25 minutes. The only drawback to our early boarding (we were on the ship by 12:05 PM) was that the cabins were not yet available and we had to take our carry-on bags up to the buffet.
Cabin We had a Promenade cabin on deck 7 of the Explorer. It has a window which overlooks the Promenade of shops and bars on deck 5. The cabin was small but well-appointed and we were easily able to store five days of clothing for two adults. The bedding was extremely comfortable and the black-out curtains over the window worked very well. Amazingly, the noise from the promenade was not audible, but the guests in the cabin next door definitely were! The cabin contained a small refrigerator filled with mini-bar items at exorbitant prices. We just rearranged things and put in the 12-pack of Diet Coke that we carried onboard. RCCL no longer permits smoking in any staterooms (you can smoke on your balcony if you have one) or in the corridors, etc. That is a great idea.
Service Our cabin attendant, waiter and assistant waiter were all very pleasant and eager to make conversation and see to our needs. Twice when we needed something to be done—a change to a table for two done by the a head waiter right after we embarked—and a problem with our being able to access the internet—handled by guest relations—we were treated promptly and pleasantly and our requests were met without issue.
Food The dining room food was very good. Each night was a new menu, but there were several items that were available every night: Caesar salad, Black Angus sirloin, etc. Presentation was very nice, but I would have liked more variety in the salads and entrees. Bar service in the dining room is handled by very personable waiters—each night there was a different eye-catching drink available. The Windjammer buffet is huge—it's easy to miss entire sections of offerings because there are too many different lines. There are NO TRAYS at the buffet—very annoying!! Beverage service in Windjammer—coffee, tea, water, juice—was excellent.
Entertainment The Palace Theater is large and well laid out. There are no poor seats. The entertainment was the usual cruise variety: comic, magician, big production-type dance shows. The ice show in Studio B is not to be missed.
Passengers The passengers were a different mix from those on our earlier cruises because driving to a port opens up cruising to more people than ever before. There were lots of people who clearly believed that signage did not apply to them—they wore ripped jeans, shorts, hats, undershirts (not kidding) in the dining room despite the signs about proper attire. Many people came 30 to 40 minutes late for the meal—that's just rude and thoughtless behavior. With the Windjammer and room service as dining options, the dining room should be a civilized place to eat.
Since my husband and I are both schoolteachers we have to travel during school vacation weeks, so our cruises are always filled with children. There were children in the front row at every show, crying babies in the theater during performances, screaming children in the dining room. I have no problem with children being on a cruise—we took our own children over a dozen times. My problem lies with the parents who shrug their shoulders to indicate that they simply can't (or won't) control them.
Port Bermuda is a lovely country—very eye-appealing—clean, prosperous, modern while retaining a definite Old World charm. It is not a shopping mecca like the Caribbean islands, but be sure to get to Carole Holding in Hamilton and to the Bermuda Perfumery in St. George. We bought a two-day unlimited use pass for the bus and ferry system. It was $20 per adult and allowed us to come and go everywhere on the island. If you have a death wish, you could rent a scooter, but it is left-side driving and buses basically own the road. Horseshoe Bay is a lovely beach, but go early in the day because it gets very busy very quickly.
Debarkation Breakfast is offered in both the dining room and the Windjammer buffet on debarkation morning, but room service is not available. Passengers are asked to be out of their staterooms by 8AM, so unless you're an early bird, that means taking your carry-on bags to breakfast! Another great perk of Platinum status was the availability of a separate lounge with continental breakfast that morning. Because of that, I don't know how debarkation went for most passengers.
Summary It was great to be able to drive to a cruise port. We live in MA and prior to this trip, we have always flown to FL for a cruise. Driving was much less stressful and allowed us to pack differently—no 3 ounce limit to liquids, no worrying about the weight of the suitcases, etc. We carried our "dress-up" clothes on board in garment bag. We purchased several bottles of liquor without worrying how we would get them home.
RCCL did a really good job from beginning to end—it continues to be one of our favorite cruise lines.