Despite all my advance planning, getting all paid up & excursions planned, I knew there'd be some glitch at check-in - and my suspicions of it being the fuel surcharge issue was on the money. Just a short summation on this process and dealing with RCCL on-line & via phone to make sure there'd be no issues at check-in. After paying off cruise, we were informed (in 12/07) through on-line RCCL account that a new fuel surcharge was added to our cruise cost (add $120). No problem we paid immediately and were now paid in full. I checked back a few days later to find the $120 still owed; I called RCCL & was told what was shown on line was incorrect & would be updated in the next few days; they offered to e-mail me a statement showing I was paid in full - I received it & printed it out. I checked back a few days later, again the $120 still showing as owed; I called RCCL again and was given all the same info as last call & sent another e-mail showing I was paid in full. I printed this copy also, thinking it may be useful at a later time. A third call to RCCL several days later provided additional information; the fuel charge I had paid ($120) had been credited back to my card, because I had paid off the cruise prior to the date the surcharge had been applied. I checked my account & this info was correct. You see of course where all this is going; at the express check-in (we're loyal long-time RCCL cruisers), we were bumped back to another long wait line when our account showed we still owed $120. After waiting in this line for about a half hour, we finally stepped to the counter with the 2 paid in full RCCL print-outs in and and tempers somewhat in check to tell our story. After a lot of head nodding, the counter attendant printed out an official account summary for us, told us our copies of RCCL documents were useless & to pay up the $120. The whole point here & as I explained to her was not in paying the $120, it was the torturous incompetence they'd put us through just to pay it. We speculated that perhaps we might at least find a bottle of champagne in our room on arrival...not. I've written them twice on this matter since our return & have yet to receive a reply.
We drove down from Massachusetts the day before cruising and stayed in Country Inn & Suites in Elizabeth. No luck finding a "Park-n-Fly", but reading other reviews they are available. Nice hotel, next to Ruby Tuesdays & huge fairly new mall - for getting that last minute item. We parked adjacent to terminal (about $200 for 12 days) which worked out well, about a 5 minute walk to check-in tent. Fortunately the weather was reasonable both arriving & departing, considering it was early February it felt more like April. We speculated on the possibility of coming home to 3 feet of snow on top of our car, but it was bone dry.
Check-in was just OK, about 30 minutes standing in line inside tent-like quonset hut (again if it were wintry cold outside this would have been brutal), inside the real building (partially refurbed waterfront warehouse)the Platinum/Gold check-in was not clearly identified - we found it by accident when some folks behind us scurried past up into a 2nd hidden check-in area. With only 3 groups ahead of us, we'd be aboard the Explorer in short order; not so fast...this is where the fuel surcharge snafu kicked us back into the general population lines and...
We've cruised on Explorer once before for only 7 days so were thrilled about the longer itinerary; I really enjoy "at sea" days except finding a deck chair near a pool or in adult area is about impossible. The forbidden practice of reserving chairs didn't seem as flagrant on this cruise as others we've been on; it was more with this older crowd that people never left their chairs at all. If you wanted a choice deck chaise you had to grab it early. No news there. Signs of wear & tear in staterooms as described in other reviews, however everything in room functioned properly & was secure (even during some pretty rough weather & 28 foot seas). Boat was remarkably stable (but noisy anchor booming against hull) during very poor weather. Having a Promenade area is a must for winter cruising - before weather permits spending time on upper decks. Although we enjoy the ambiance more on Radiance class ships, we always miss the huge Promenade area when sailing these smaller ships. Our room over looked the Promenade just across from the cafe for a fine view of all the events below.
Activities are always plentiful, we only partake in the shows, bingo, golf, ping pong, and auctions sometimes there's always more than enough offered for all tastes.
On-board service for all our sailings has always been at least above average. The staff in all areas are helpful, friendly & courteous...of course we've never had problems requiring extraordinary responses, so others comments in this area may be more helpful.
Shore excursions are somewhat expensive, we've done several snorkeling, rafting, kayak, cycling and touring excursions on different islands & usually feel they're all overpriced. I don't like the RCCL attitude or maybe even fear tactics used to dissuade people from touring outside there planned excursions.
The dining was about average in all areas for us; we're not fussy eaters at all; overall the Windjammer suffers from routine not bad fare as we thought of our dining room meals this cruise. All acceptable but nothing outstanding. We tried to book an evening at Portofino but it missed our chance when we couldn't get through to make reservation our 1st night on-board. On a prior cruise our meals in there were exceptional. Johnny Rockets was better than buffet for burger type meals. Wine list was limited; as usual we got a package and enjoyed wine with dinner most nights. We twice received the wrong bottle from that requested at dinner.
The entertainment was very good, we missed the ice shows by actually losing track of what night it was; I guess this means we were having a pretty good time overall.
Most negative comments on this cruise:
Too much smoking on ship; particularly first few days out when everything was sealed up from the outside cold weather, it was difficult to find areas that didn't reek of smoke. Finally they made the Schooner bar a non-smoking area. This alone is enough to put us off from cruising for a while.
A lot of very rude people, won't go on about this; suffice it to say it's not just inconsiderate kids or teen-agers. Some folks seem to have a sense of entitlement I guess.
We met some real fine folks as well, on excursions & around the boat...but our table mates Joan & Alex from Scotland were just the best. We know they don't do the internet, but they're avid cruisers so we certainly hope to see them again on a future voyage.
Summary: A great trip and winter break; so it's not all perfect...if it weren't for all the smoking & that fuel surcharge debacle, we'd already be booked to go again next winter.