My wife (40), son (3) and I (39) were on the 8 night Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Explorer of the Seas which departed on May 9, 2008 from Cape Liberty (Bayonne). This was our son's second cruise and our fourth.
Embarkation/Arrival: We arrived at the port around 11:45 am. There were no problems with traffic and a porter directed us into a spot to unload the car. When parking, I was charged $144 (credit cards accepted), which didn't seem right because that was the amount for a 9 night cruise. (Note: When we returned, they refunded us $16.00 in cash to make up for overcharging us.) They had small shuttle vans to take you the short distance from where you parked back to the terminal. Both the security and priority check-in lines were short and moved quickly. We jumped on a waiting shuttle and were on the ship by 12:30 pm. The cabins were not ready until 1:00 pm, so you couldn't drop off your carry on bags.
Cabin: We had a Grand Suite (GS), Cabin 1256. The cabin was everything we expected and then some. There was a small fruit plate on the bar when we arrived and a cheese/cracker tray for afternoon tea on the first formal night. The room was very large, nicely decorated and in very good condition. The bathroom was very large, with a tub/shower combo, double sinks and plenty of storage and counter space. The cabin itself had huge closets and many drawers for storage. The living area had a sofa bed, coffee table, side table (with storage underneath) and two sitting chairs. There was a desk area with more storage next to the bed. There was a small television, DVD player and sound system with speakers mounted on the wall. There is a heavy curtain that can be pulled in front of the bed area to block it off from the living area. This was great for us because our 3-year-old is usually in bed by 7:30 pm. There was plenty of lighting and it was on multiple dimmer switches so you could adjust the light level to meet your needs. The balcony had a lounge chair, two sitting chairs, a small table and a side table. The safe was the push button 4-digit code variety. Our stateroom attendant, Lucy, was great. Once she knew we had a small child who was an early riser and had an early bedtime, she made up our room right away. Even if we were only gone briefly for breakfast or dinner, our room was made up when we got back.
Crew/Staff: The majority of crew we spoke with or saw were very friendly and attentive. Almost everyone in the halls would say hello or good morning.
Casino/Gambling: The casino was a good size and offered slot machines and the standard table games. However, the slots only took cash and paid out in change. This was a little bit of a hassle. You could usually always find a low limit minimum on the table games. There was no service charge to take money from your SeaPass card at the casino cashier. There were slot and blackjack tournaments, which each had a $20 entry fee. They also had a No Limit Texas Hold'em Tournament, which had a $60 entry fee. There were satellites throughout the week and then a final table on Friday. The grand prize was supposed to be a cruise for two on the FOS but there were not enough entries to qualify so they gave out a cash prize. (Note: I even won the poker tournament and took home $1,170 in cash!) On the two formal nights, the casino was smoke-free from 7pm until closing. Every other time, you left the casino smelling of smoke.
Dining/Food: We ate breakfast in the Windjammer every day. The selection and food were pretty good. They had an omelet station where you could get omelets made to order. The breakfast food was pretty much the same every day, except they would switch little things like the type of potato being served. We always went around 7:00 am so we didn't have any problems finding a table or having to wait exceptionally long in the buffet line. For lunch, we ate in the dining room once, and the Windjammer or Johnny Rockets the other times. The Windjammer had a good lunch selection, where they had many of the same items every day, but rotated other items. It was usually pretty crowded at lunch, but we never had a problem finding a table. The lunch selection in the dining room was pretty good and consisted of two courses (entrée and dessert). The food was good, but the waiter and assistant waiter we had for lunch were not very good and seemed like they didn't want to be there. Johnny Rockets had fun servers and good food, especially the onion rings and apple pie. We ate about half our dinners in the dining room and the other half in the Windjammer. The dining room had an extensive kids menu, which was great for our son. Our waiter and assistant waiter were good but not great. Dinner in the Windjammer was pretty good. It usually wasn't very crowded. The desserts were ok, but the chocolate chip cookies were delicious. Ben & Jerry's had about 10 flavors to choose from. One thing I didn't like about Ben & Jerry's was that they charged the 15% gratuity on the purchase. We tried to order room service one night but couldn't get through on the phone. You can order room service from the interactive TV, but not the dinner menu. The dinner menu was only available from room service if you called.
Adventure Ocean: Unfortunately, our son didn't care for the Adventure Ocean program. He went for a couple of hours one day but didn't want to go back. He is a little shy and there were about 15 other kids in his age group. Some of the AO staff seemed nice; others didn't appear as if they enjoyed working with kids and seemed bored. They seemed to have a lot of activities planned, but didn't seem to follow the schedule too closely. The Adventure Beach area was perfect for our son. They had little tables, chairs and loungers. They had a 1-foot deep pool that had a small slide. All the kids loved this. They also had a small 4-foot deep pool, as well as a larger winding slide that was only open a few hours a day when it was manned by a RCCL crew member.
Other: The ship was in pretty good condition overall. You could see some wear and tear but no more than is expected for an 8-year-old ship. The miniature golf course was in terrible condition and definitely needs to be overhauled. Our Crown & Anchor gift was a baseball cap with the C&A logo. They take your SeaPass card when you pose for portraits and you can view them at terminals setup in the photo area. Even though they have this, they still print out all the pictures. Ports - San Juan: The ship docks right at Old San Juan, so it was an easy walk. We browsed some stores, churches, and walked on the path by the Old San Juan Gate. It was not very exciting but turned out to be pretty interesting. If you plan on going to the Del Sol store, go early. We had gone first thing, and on the way back to the ship it was jammed with people.
Ports - St Thomas: We decided to go to Magen's Bay on our own. It was very easy to get an open air taxi at the port. It cost $8 pp each way and the driver didn't charge us for our 3-year-old. He then asked us what time we wanted to go back, and then came back to pick us up. Although he came back to pick us up, there were plenty of other taxis waiting to take you back to the ship, if needed. Magen's Bay was great and cost $4 pp to enter (children under 5 free). They had restrooms, snack/beverage stand, small gift shop and showers. I would definitely go there again and recommend to anyone stopping in St. Thomas. We got dropped off at the shopping area outside the dock and did a little shopping. We were going to stop into the butterfly house, but it was all closed up with no signs indicating admission hours or pricing. Ports - Labadee: The line to tender started on deck 3 and went down to deck 1. Although the line seemed long, the tenders hold over 200 people and it went quicker than expected. Labadee was beautiful and relaxing. My wife and I went on the jet ski excursion. Checking in at the desk was confusing and seemed to be a little disorganized. The excursion lasted about 1 hour and was fun; I would recommend it. The lines at the BBQ area were very long and moved kind of slow. They had basic BBQ food, such as potato salad, hamburgers, hot dogs etc. They have a little splash park for the kids. This was reserved for Adventure Ocean use until 11:00 am and then became available for anyone's use. We left the island about 3:15 and the line to tender back to the ship wasn't too bad. Debarkation: They announced that we would be delayed 15-20 minutes. We had Beige-1 tags, which were the first color. The express walk off was called about 8:30 am. It was another hour until the first color was called. We easily found 3 of our 4 bags, but couldn't find the last one. It took about 15 minutes because it was misplaced in the Beige-4 area. The line for porters was pretty long (about 15 people) so we took our bags ourselves. The Customs line was short and we made our way to the parking lot relatively quickly. We were in our car and on our way home at 10:10 am. There were no traffic problems leaving the port area. Overall/Summary: We had a great trip and enjoyed the Explorer of the Seas. It was nice to drive less than 2 hours to port and still go on a Voyager Class ship. We would definitely recommend this ship and are already planning our next cruise, most likely on a Freedom Class ship.