My husband and I took our first cruise in April 2008 on Norwegian Cruise Lines the Gem. We enjoyed it so much we immediately put a deposit on the Gem's sister ship, the Pearl, to Alaska in June 2009. Wanting to experience another cruise line we booked the Explorer of the Seas to Bermuda.
Embarkation - Cape Liberty leaves a lot to be desired. While boarding in NYC for the Gem was a breeze, Cape Liberty was chaotic. First, there are no clear signs to direct you to the terminal. The staff taking luggage and directing traffic are rude and abrupt. Arrivals and departures are located in the same place with people and luggage everywhere. However, once inside the terminal, processing went smoothly. We arrived early and were on the ship by 12:30 pm.
Ship - The ship was amazing. The Promenade is very impressive and for an older ship, the common areas were in excellent shape. We booked a balcony stateroom and although very spacious, it did show its age. The bed was not nearly as comfortable as NCL's. If you plan on booking a balcony stateroom, I suggest book above Deck 6. Our balcony had a solid railing rather than glass so you had to be standing to see the ocean. We found our room steward was not as attentive as NCL's even though we gave him a generous tip at the start of the cruise in addition to the suggested gratuity.
Entertainment - The singers and dancers were good and I especially enjoyed the "Invitation to Dance". The ice show is not to be missed.
The Cruise Director, Dave Chapman was wonderful. What a personality! He was very entertaining and made the Love and Marriage game a real hoot. I played Bingo on the last day and although expensive ($31 for 4 games, several cards to each game) the final jackpot was over $7,000 and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The cruise staff member (Anna Banana) made it so much fun.
Bermuda - We thought it was lovely with all the greenery, beautiful shades of blue water and pastel color homes. Definitely purchase the bus/ferry pass ($12.00 for one day, $20.00 for two days). We took the ferry to Hamilton and then a bus ride to Horseshoe Bay Beach. We also booked the Fantasea Catamaran Sunset Cruise through RCCL and it was very nice. The second day we took the Ferry to St. George's. Would have loved to have rented scooters to see the island but didn't have the nerve. Roads are very narrow.
Food - The food was very good...even better than NCL. Staff and service in main dining room was excellent. We prefer the dining room over the buffet but it was a very good buffet with plenty of seating. I was surprised that nowhere on the ship did they have hand sanitizer's. On NCL before entering any dining room, you were asked to use Purell, which I think is a very good idea, especially in the buffet.
Overall we loved the cruise. However, there were a few negatives. The staff didn't seem to be very knowledgeable. I was given wrong information on more than one occasion. There were no public laundry facilities on the ship and you can't even have an iron brought to your room. NCL had a public laundry room with washers and dryers and iron and ironing board on at least two decks. RCCL charges $1-2.50 to have them press your clothing.
On the positive side, I called maintenance on three separate occasions and they responded immediately. Also, my husband and I prefer NCL's freestyle dining over the assigned seating and I had initially requested a table for two. On our first night we were seated at a large table with a family of seven. They were a lovely family but we felt uncomfortable...almost like we were intruding on their family dinner. We asked the Maitre'd for a table for two and the very next day our table was changed.
Another plus is the Solarium, a pool in a separate area for adults only. No one under the age of 16 is allowed.
The biggest problem we had was disembarkation. We were originally going to do the Express Walk-off but were told we would have to be off the ship by 8:00 am and not wanting to be rushed we decided not to. I went to Guest Relations and told them I had a car service picking us up at 10:30 am and they said they would put us in the first group after Express. We were given the color purple and I noticed on the information sheet purple was second to last. I called Guest Relations and again was assured we were the first group off. They were wrong. The entire disembarkation process was a mess. Passengers are asked to vacate their cabins by 8:00 am and there was no staff directing people or giving information as to the process. Guest Relations had only two people at the desk with a long line of guests with questions and no one was very helpful. I was very surprised at how disorganized the process was.
Despite the few negatives we had a lot of fun on this cruise and prior to the disembarkation fiasco, we put a deposit on a future cruise with RCCL.