Having sailed twice on Princess Grand class ships, DH and I knew we would be making comparisons. We're happy to say that the Explorer and RCCL are so similar to our Princess cruises that we were amazed.
Embarkation was a breeze. We left home at 10:30, pick up our DD and her SO and arrived in Bayonne at 11:30. We were on the ship by 12:10. Headed to the Windjammer lunch and had the best chicken (Honey chicken) that we have ever tasted along with countless other items. By the time we finished at 1:00 the rooms were ready and we headed down to check on our Deck 9, D2 balcony cabin. We were very pleased with the size of the room…love that couch…and met our room steward, Donny, from Costa Rica. He was very accommodating and while we didn't see him often or ask for a lot, he kept the room fresh and clean and made some great towel critters (that's one thing you don't see on Princess). Enjoyed sailaway from Deck 12 and exploring the ship. We were seated for late, 8:30 pm dinner in Columbus on Deck 5, in the back near the stairway. It wasn't the best table, being near the kitchen entrance, but our server Alison from India and Asst. waiter, Chao, from China, were OK. Having never done traditional dining, we didn't know what to expect and the experience wasn't much different than anytime dining on Princess. Neither waiter ever called us by name or paid much attention to our preferences. It took until the last night for the Chao to remember that DH and I like coffee after dinner. We were impressed, however, with our bar server who did remember my husband's name after the first plus what each of us drank. He deserved the extra tip we slipped him at the end. The weather was very windy on sailaway and only got worse as we went along. By Sunday, the winds were at near gale force and the waves were 12 ft. with deep clouds, fog and some rain. It was rough until we neared Bermuda. We really missed spending time at the pool and just being outside.
Bermuda was heavenly. It was clear and sunny, about 75 degrees. We headed to Horseshoe Bay by bus (standing all the way). The beach was just beautiful and we enjoyed just lounging on the beach and in the water (a bit cool, but great once you got in!) soaking in the sun. We took advantage of the changing rooms which were clean and roomy. We stayed for about 3 hours and then headed back to the ship to shower and wander around the dockyard. This area is beautiful and is kept clean and neat and is very enjoyable to just wander around with nice shops and several eateries. There's a great shop which just sells crafts made in Bermuda and provided some of the best souvenirs that we purchased. We never went to Destination Dockyard that evening as DD wanted to eat in the dining room where they were serving her favorite…risotto. As dinner didn't start until 8:30, we really didn't have time to do both. On the second day, we headed out via the 1st express ferry to St. George for some history and boy did we find it. What a great little town to wander in. We had downloaded a walking tour from Frommers and it provided all the info we needed to really enjoy the background of this quaint, pretty town. From there we took the bus to Hamilton where we took a horse & buggy ride (expensive at $50 for a ½ hour…wasn't really worth it) and then just wandered a bit. Except for some attractive buildings and very expensive shopping, there's not much here except a lot of people and traffic. After a short stay, we took the ferry back to the ship. Stopped again in the dockyard to watch the glassblowers and finish our souvenir shopping. Behind the Glassworks was an incline that went to the top of the fort. It caught our attention and we wandered up there, where low and behold someone had broken through allowing people access to the top. Being adventurous we figured why not?...and were treated to some beautiful views and a real feel for old Bermuda and how it was a great defense spot.
The food was good, nothing was exceptional, but we enjoyed everything we had. We are not connoisseurs and are happy with regular meat and potato meals so even the Windjammer made us happy. The variety of foods were adequate and we enjoyed the asian selections on one side of the Windjammer. Dinners were good and plentiful and we thoroughly enjoyed the prime rib, the duck, the lamb and, of course, the lobster on the fisherman's platter. We all made sure that we at least tried one new dish each night and have now expanded our palate. Desserts were scrumptious and we always made sure we left room for at least one! We loved the Café Promenade. This is something that Princess definitely lacks. It was just so nice, especially having a late seating dinner, to be able to run down to the cafe to grab a cookie or two (or three) (delicious!), pizza, or a quick snack and beverage. And the novelty of not having to pay extra for this really adds to its attractiveness. We also loved the soft-serve yogurt…yummy!
The shows were fabulous. We really enjoyed Fast Forward and Invitation to Dance and the ice skating show was unbelievable. How do they do all that with the ship rocking and on that small rink? Now we know why everyone says, "Don't miss it"! We also laughed until we hurt at the Quest. What fun!!!! We were disappointed with the two comics, they were just OK. The cruise director, Mike Hunnerup, was good, but we only really saw him before the shows.
The weather heading back was again very cloudy and windy, but happily not as rocky as going. DD and her boyfriend did get to climb the rock wall in the morning before the weather got too bad. We did find ourselves being a bit bored as the day wore on but a nap easily filled in a lot of the time.
Disembarkation was great! After eating breakfast, we headed to the Palace theatre where the cruise director and asst director sat on stage and took questions from the audience. It was very, very interesting to learn more about Royal Caribbean and about the Explorer and the time just flew by. They also gave everyone a heads up about what color was going to be called next and we all had a two-three minute jump on disembarking before a general announcement was made to the whole ship. Getting on the shuttle, gathering our luggage, going through customs and getting to our car was so easy, it was unbelievable.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would definitely sail the Explorer again. It is so much easier than getting on a plane and heading down to Florida. Our only disappointment was the rocky weather, but on that we don't get any guarantees no matter where we depart from. We give RCCL and Explorer 4 stars.