We return on Explorer on December 21, 2008 for the Holiday Sail. (still at 99%, but keeping positive!)
This cruise, sailing were: Myself and husband, both in our early 40s and our children 15.5 and almost 20 yrs old. Along to celebrate their Golden Anniversary were my parents, 70somethings.
Embarkation at Cape Liberty was, as always, a breeze. I was able to find a wheelchair and assistance fairly smoothly. If you don't know the drill you might be lost though. I flew around asking; the first woman seemed somewhat puzzled, I went on to ask others who were more helpful, but all in all within 5 minutes I had a wheelchair for Dad. We did arrive early and some pax from the previous were still waiting to be picked up. This didn't much hamper us from quickly getting inside. We had priority check in (Platinum) and they allowed my parents to join us, either b/c Dad needed wheelchair assistance or b/c we were sailing together and we're Platinum, I'm not sure; point is everyone was accommodating and pleasant. We waited for about 30 minutes and we were on the first bus to the Ship! Yay! People ask, so I will mention- yes there is coffee, cookies (not as fresh as just baked on board but yes delicious. There is also juice and tea. Yes, you have heard right, there is nothing fancy about Cape Liberty, but you're not staying there, just passing through.
We boarded and headed to WJ- on the last day the wait staff that initially greeted us said they wouldn't forget us since we were first in WJ. With Dad in a wheelchair and then scooter we needed to expedite things without fail or hesitation once we boarded. Parents and kids stayed to enjoy lunch. DH and I immediately headed to Portofino, picked up the phone at the desk and made our reservation. With the most important thing out of the way we headed back to WJ to check on the kids and our parents. They were happily enjoying lunch and DH and I scooted off to see if our Cabins were available and to retrieve Dad's scooter. The company RCI recommends was great and the scooter was waiting, this was around 1pm or a little before. We carried on our Gowns and wanted to deposit them in the cabin and the Cabin steward was accommodating. DH and I joined the rest in WJ and had lunch, at this point WJ was rocking! We then brought the rest to their cabins- Parents were in 7300- a handicapped accessible that was much the size of the standard JS with wonderful handicapped amenities like the bathroom, which made me feel more secure than if they booked a standard cabin as they did last sail. Kids were in a Promenade room and even they were pleased (having been spoiled in the past by balcony cabins, they really didn't feel like they were missing much). Our Balcony cabin on Deck 7 was okay. I know many ask about the 'condition', so here it is; yes there were some stains on the carpet, very noticeable. In the right light you could see 'grime' like built up fingerprints on the desk area sides. I was disappointed to see that, as it was the first time on a RCI ship stuff like that was noticeable. Our Balcony, as well as my Parents Deck 7 balcony was rusty. If I hadn't seen mine first I wouldn't have wanted to look at theirs, but again, DH and I were very surprised. The entire slider footjam on the exterior sliders were so rusted they looked beyond repair, just eaten away from the elements Like I have never seen on board. The handrails were also stripped, as if they were refinishing them. The odd thing was, the entire cruise we didn't notice ANY maintenance being done to her. We found this odd as well, we always notice them at least painting the outside, power washing and doing lots of repairs, especially when in port. Hmmmm.....cant tell ya', but we tend to not be nitpicky about these things- so if I'm noting them, they're worthy of me stating the facts. The rest of Explorer seemed to be in very good shape!! All public areas were clean and absolutely beautiful.
We booked an Excursion through Royal, Famous Homes & Hideaways. It was a Boat Excursion and CC-mates said it should be handicapped accessible. I knew there wasn't swimming or beaching or going ashore involved and I know ramps are always readily available. I booked it for the 6 of us because I thought for the age range (15,20, 40s and 70s) it would be enjoyable for all AND IT WAS. Tickets were waiting in our cabins, all but for our kids. When we enquired we were told it was the responsibility of the cabin steward- who we immediately contacted and he rectified it. The Tour.....really was very enjoyable for all ages, the crew VERY accommodating. Might I add that when I finally read the bottom of the tickets, as we were having breakfast that morning- they said "NOT accessible to: strollers, wheelchairs, scooters". Long story short is we all boarded the vessel, DH ran the scooter back to Explorer and we had a wonderful time. Again all were very accommodating.Before leaving we contracted to have my Parents Vows Renewed. When we arrived to our cabin there was a note for us to meet Jennifer (Thanks for everything, you do a wonderful job!). We met at 4pm before muster and discussed the events for the Vow Renewal. Actually I hate to mention this but, for me who always raves about the laundry and cleaning services on Board, I sent my gown out to be pressed and it came back with a BLACK SPOT at the bottom of the zipper that looks almost like an ink bleed but isn't and boy am I PO'd. I had no time to immediately report it, I did want to talk to the Loyalty Ambassador but time flew by on only a 5 night sail and having to keep my Parents occupied and happy I was unable to try to take any action (that's for you RCI's who are listening…?) The Ceremony was VERY nice. The photographer had a great time (albeit RCI I think you're nuts to charge $1,000.00 for a CD of the pictures, especially after waiting over 2 days to see them b/c the photographer told us he couldn't t find the time to develop and present them- Yup- until we were forced to complain. We might not have ever seen them!) So to continue on-
Portofino. What can we say? Simeon is just the best waiter. This was the fourth time Simeon was our waiter. All the other times Bettina was with him, unfortunately this time she was just back on Explorer one week and had not been put in Portofino just yet (she too is amazing and we love them both). At the end of dinner after we ordered the dessert we had no room for, Simeon presented my Parents with a special dessert and it said 50th and for DH and I one that said 25th and for Dad one that said Happy Birthday. Yes, these are some of the reasons to tip, even at Portofino. We casually had mentioned these celebrations to him the day we embarked and he remembered. Positively great crew. Those that 'diss' on paying extra for Portofino are not foodies and do not appreciate the fine dining experience. If you're reading this and enjoy fine dining, make a reservation and enjoy Portofino.
We didn't use the Spa this time although my kids used the gym and enjoyed the equipment. We didn't use Adventure ocean or any kids programs. My son did enjoy Optix every night, He loves his music and he is a Disc Jockey so that is where he likes to be.
The shows were very enjoyable. Comedians funny and captivating. Our Son ice skated, it is his way of meeting up with folks his age that share common interests (other than video games and such) Just another venue for kids. (Make your kids skate, it is a wonderful experience. Just remember to bring long pants or at least capris..and a pair of socks too) This was the first time he didn't bring his own skates, but he survived for a skate with the ships (the Velcro on kind, so easy to manage). Spirit of the Seasons as in the past was very enjoyable! We loved it, although the four of us whole heartedly feel the original cast was superior (I have gotten much flack about this comment on the show, but we're 'comparing' it to the cast we saw in December. I don't believe everyone in this world that everyone in the same profession, art or craft have the same level of expertise, experience or talent what can I say? Sorry to those who think I was cruel by voicing my comparison), I still think the show was very good and not to be missed, we just didn't feel that it was as amazing as Decembers performances. Schooner bar, the Piano Bar is always a lot of fun and we think the Piano player (sorry forgot your name) was a little better then the one in December, both still were excellent. We went to napkin folding and enjoyed it. Funny thing we noticed, in December not only was there standing room only, but there wasn't even that- folks were standing along the stairway but this sail there were about 15 guests. We enjoyed napkin folding, as it was something different for us to do on Explorer. There were two crew showing examples, the boy had much more patience, the girl had almost none (lol). It was fine though!! The QUEST was amazing as always and we FINALLY won! My Daughter was a team Leader and her partner was also great. Our team didn't look too promising and then bam the game started and we all just broke out in a sweat playing and running participating. My Parents got such a kick out of watching and then my Dad enjoyed being able to brag that it was HIS Grand Daughters team that won.
Elevators varied most of the time. Sometimes readily available sometimes not. I do have one comment to Royal and the Shipyard and designers (haha), Why cant there be better VENTILATION in those elevators? I mean seriously, there is NO ventilation system and I cant understand why. We spilt up & used the stairs when we could but being Dad was using a scooter and couldn't t use stairs and Mom also needs to use the elevator, why do we have to be subjected to lack of breathable air?I'm sorry if I'm all over the place. Back to the dining room- I wanted our table changed. It was not a bad table but it was on Deck 3 and I prefer Deck 4, that's where we have always been seated and that's where my dining comfort zone is! We were accommodated. *smile* Our waiters were EXCELLENT, the way we know RCI service to be. If DD didn't like something he immediately brought what she would like. If there wasn't something she liked and she wanted chicken Caesar, it was there for her. Dad wanted salt free soups (so did i) they were brought for us…Highly trained and skilled waiters. For the most part everyone was reasonably dressed on casual nights. Formal everyone was appropriately dressed in the dining room, including my DS who left his black dress shoes home. Either he wore his very nice brown leather flip flops with his Tuxedo or rented, he opted for us to rent him shoes. ? The last night was interesting, attire ranged from button down shirts and ties on men to jeans, and pretty dresses on the girls to jean capris (well, there was a Sweet 16 on board sitting near us lol) Having been on sails from 5 nights to 12 nights, I would have to say that people enjoy dressing up more so on the longer sails like 9s and 12s, each attracting different demographics. Also I must add, I have read a lot of folk that believe it is the 'younger people' that do not dress appropriately and I have to disagree. Folks in their 20's and 30's seem to really be the ones who dress (as we always did and continue to share that tradition with our kids).
A suggestion for the Platinum and Diamond Welcome back Party, how about having it earlier on in the cruise and requesting all family members to join? Have the Cruise Director end it AFTER the Captain speaks and have him break the kids under 21 away from their parents and suggest activities. Especially for the 18-20 age groups, it is SO tough to meet the same aged people. Now, knowing they have all cruised before makes it even easier. I know there is a 'singles' meet and greet held in the Chamber but it is NOT publicized enough for any of them to WANT to go. (just my humble and savvy opinion).
The highlight of our Cruise was……..Meeting Captain Ryan and hanging out on the Bridge with him. My son was actually in awe of the Bridge and Capt. Ryan and Josh and all they had to say! There really aren't any words to describe the feeling that continues to linger and always will. I guess if we ever decide to try out for the Love & Marriage show, my answer is "Captain Ryan". (Those that know the show know what I mean).
Disembarking at Cape Liberty with Dad in a Scooter: We were given different luggage tags for disembarkment which just wouldn't t work for us, so we had my Parents changed to ours and then we also waited down on Deck 2 (I guess it was) with others who needed wheelchair assistance off Explorer. Mind you I don't mind being LAST off Explorer, but we didn't have a choice and of course it was okay. Disembarkment was fine, although there were a handful complaining. What could ya do? We had to leave the rented scooter in the room, so we had use of a RCI wheelchair to get off Explorer and onto the bus and then off the bus to our driver. For us, disembarkment went okay, for others, well I heard the ship was delayed an hour, which I didn't even realize (7am-8am, whats the difference to me?:-)) and the walk offs didn't get off till 8 am ish. I don't know what that was about. I did hear an 'alpha, alpha, alpha' at approx. 8-8:30 and thought that could have delayed us but..?
If you are looking for a ship where you can feel pampered and engulfed in luxury when you want but looking for a fun time at other times, this is the ship for you. You will never be bored and looking for something to do but yet you can always find a spot for peace and quiet somewhere. We continue to Sail on Explorer b/c for us it is a convenient ship and even though the Crew rotates, when we board Explorer and see Friendly faces that remember us and embrace us, it is like going home.
(PS If I left anything out, feel free to email me at CruiseDivaNJ@yahoo.com)