We are a group of five- two married couples and a single friend. All in our 30's and have all cruised prior with Royal. Since we have been on Explorer in the past we were excited about returning to the ship.
Cape Liberty is a driving port for us, so the morning of the cruise we set off and arrived at the terminal around 12:30. They have restructured the parking lot to be after the luggage drop off so the previous delays were non-existent. The porters helped us unload the van and after parking we were walking on the ship within 15 minutes. This is probably the shortest check-in we have ever been through.
Our first destination was to the Champagne Bar where we had previously met the best bartender on the seas- Dindo. My expectations of Dindo actually being on the Explorer (it was two years prior that we had met him) were not too high- and if he were still on ship he could be anywhere tending bar. But, to our groups amazement he was there at the Champagne Bar. After two years of cruise passengers passing through his bar I could not believe that he remembered us by name! Now, that we knew our bar was picked out for the week it was on to check out our rooms.
We had two promenade rooms on deck 6 and one on deck 7. I like the window and being able to see the going-ons of the promenade below. We were right above the cafe, which I was a little concerned about because of noise, but it was quiet all week. The rooms were typical, the room attendant was excellent- always kept the room tidy and the towels fresh. No complaints.
SHIP The ship itself is in very good condition- there is always someone wiping or painting or cleaning something. The only thing I noticed that seemed to be aging was some of the windows in the Windjammer- they appeared to be etched with white streaks and unable to be cleaned. But, overall the carpets, public areas, decking, pools, and gym appear to be well maintained.
FOOD We had late seating dinner and were seated with a nice family of five traveling for spring break from Rhode Island. The waiter and assistant waiter were very good, they were talkative but not overly. The dinner selection has been the same on the last few RC cruises, so there were no surprises on the menu. One evening we skipped dinner in the dinning room and opted for Johnny Rockets because there was nothing jumping out at us. But, I am never one to complain about the food while on a cruise- if I didn't have to cook and clean up then the meal is already better then at home! We ate at Johnny Rockets twice- once for lunch (very crowded- although service was fine) and once for dinner (no crowds). Most of our breakfasts we ate in the Windjammer- which was always busy- but we didn't have trouble finding a table or having drink service. The made-to-order omelets are very good and the line moves along pretty quick. We ate a few lunches in the main dining room, which was a nice change from the Windjammer. The menu selection is good- DH had a steak sandwich twice that he said was better then the steak at dinner. We ordered room service for breakfast twice- once we called it in and it took one hour to deliver. The second time we placed our order the night before and it was on time. Room service seems to be very slow no matter what time of day- so be prepared to wait. The food, though, was hot and they didn't forget to send anything with the order.
Cafe Promenade was a great place for the 3 am post-Chamber pizza snack. It could be crowded here at times during the day- but the service was always fairly fast. We ran into one of the assistant waiters we had last summer on Liberty- he recognized my DH and inquired about the rest of our family. I'm always impressed by the crew being able to remember you after seeing so many new people every week.
PORTS We were on the eastern route with a stop in Labadee. Since this is four ports in a row with the sea days on either side it makes for a busy mid-week. Labadee is Labadee- be prepared to wait a little bit to tender off and on. The beaches are beautiful, the water calm and warm, the food is their typical BBQ style. During lunch, we saw a group of local children on the other side of the fence motioning for us to come over with food for them. It was very heart wrenching to see them standing there. Some passengers did take over a plate of food and the kids ran off- only to come back with 10 more people- including adults. At that point a security guard came over and spoke to the one group of passengers. I know it is a fine line RC must have with the locals, many are allowed on the property as day workers, if the passengers were allowed to feed the locals at the fence then there would be hundreds every day waiting in line. Overall the stop in Labadee was wonderful, as usual.
St. Thomas- we went over to St. John for the day to Cinnamon Bay. The snorkeling was a little further out then on Trunk Bay, but there were quite a few schools of fish. I saw something rather large splash up next to me in the water- which sort of freaked me out a little since I was kind of far from the beach. The tide was strong and it took awhile to swim back in- but overall worth it for the amount of fish we saw. We took the ferry back to Charlotte Amalie and walked back to the ship. I have never taken the longer ferry back to the city- only the Red Hook ferry to St. John. The ride is very nice and the walk to the ship is only about 20 minutes.
Dominican Republic- We booked a day-pass to a resort and took a cab over for the afternoon. Well worth the money spent. There is a thread with all the details in the Port of Calls section.
San Juan- This was a short stop- so we just walked around and did some shopping. We eventually ended up at the fort- which we have been to a few times, so we just walked around the outside wall.
The ice show is always fantastic. This is a new show on Explorer- called Seasons (I think). We have seen three different shows now and I am always impressed by the talent of the skaters. The production shows were all repeats from the time we were on prior- so we skipped them. We saw one comedian- he was very good. The L&M show was OK- I've seen better. This cruise director was not as good as the last one on Explorer. He just didn't work the crowd the same way- although his assistant was excellent- he should have been the one running the games (Quest included). We caught some of the pool side activities- not many though- and they are always the same.
One note on the pool- the pools were on the cold side all week (I know they can heat the pools and we asked guest services and were told they can't). The chair hogs were out early laying down their towels- which were the only thing that actually hit some of the chairs all day as many never saw a body sit down on it. This cruise had nice weather but extremely strong winds lasted almost the entire week- it was unbearable during the evening deck party- one waiter had a full tray of drinks blown off his hand. The DVD footage of that night showed everybody having a good time- although their hair and clothes are being blown away!!!!
The ship is in great condition. The staff were very pleasant and helpful. This cruise had a lot of kids (something like 800) but overall they were well managed- I've been on worse! The highlight for our group was being able to sit at the Champagne bar and be entertained by Dindo. Between his stupid human tricks and his excellent French Martinis I don't think he had an empty seat all night. We can't wait to sail again with RC.