Embarkation - Short ride from EWR to the port ($62 car service with stop for soda). Walked into the terminal and straight to the counter, had our SeaPass in less than 2 minutes! Waited for the bus to the ship for about 30 minutes and were on the second bus and on board by noon. This was a breeze!!!!
The Ship. Explorer is a large ship with lots of open spaces for the passengers. Outside decks never felt crowded. The ship was clean, but showed some signs of her age with a few rust spots around the balcony railing. Promenade was nice, but the same offerings as we have seen on past cruises. The liquor store lacked prices for many of the items. We were disappointed that the items in the logo shop were all related to the Caribbean, even though we were on a cruise to Canada.
Rooms were nice and well appointed. Shower is very small and it is hard to bend over with the door closed. One minor annoyance was that the light switch for the bathroom was on the opposite side from the knob. You had to remember to turn on the light prior to opening the door. Our cabin steward, John, was great. He kept our room neat and clean and we never ran out of ice. We brought our own collapsible cooler and he filled it every day.
Captain Eric was a bit scarce and never seen in the main dining room. Oddly, he did not appear at the C&A reception. These duties were handled by the hotel director, John Lynch. He and his staff were very visible and professional throughout the cruise.
Entertainment. Most of the entertainers were comedians. All were very good. Al Romas and John Ferrentino were the best of the bunch. We missed seeing Kenny James. The production shows were very good also and the singers and dancers could have been on Broadway. The ice show is not to be missed!!!!! Skaters were exceptionally good and the show was designed to display their talents. Very nice costumes. The lady picked from the passengers for the cooking demonstration was the most naturally funny person I have ever seen. You had to see it to believe it! Hilarious!!! Cruise Director Mike was good, but at times seemed a little stiff and unnatural.
Fellow Passengers. Most of the passengers were older as was expected with this itinerary. Most were retired or nearing that point in life. A sprinkling of the 40's and 50's mixed in with very few children. (I saw less than a dozen for the entire trip.) We attended the Meet & Mingle sponsored by this site. We met several couples our age (early 50's) and had several other encounters with them throughout the cruise. Unfortunately, we also encountered some very rude people as well. I observed one man yelling at the hostess in the main dining room at breakfast. He was upset about not being seated after what he said was 30 minutes. I believe his problem was that he came down from the floor above and skipped the line waiting outside the main door. He was extremely rude to the hostess and was quickly taken care of by one of the head waiters. We also noticed that many of the passengers were oblivious to others as they would gather in the main walkway and huddle up for a nice long chat while everyone else had to maneuver around them.
Ports of Call. Our first port was Sydney. This was our least enjoyable port for this trip. Not much there. We booked a private tour with a local guide. Spent most of the short time in this port driving to Baddeck. This was a nice village on a lake near the Bell Museum. We had lunch there and had to say that it was fair at best. The countryside is very pretty, but not much else to see beyond the trees and lakes. Our guide told us that the area was in economic depression and had a declining population. They were not prepared for a ship the size of the Explorer and had to bring buses from other areas to support the tours and excursions. A local band of retired miners played as we left port, which was a nice touch. We cruised down the Saguenay River for a short way. This was nice, but I don't feel that it added very much to the cruise. We had late dinner, so this was a nice view to enjoy a drink on the balcony. Those with early dinner needed a window table, or it was a waste for them. It was very much like the fjords of Alaska. With the cost of fuel being what it is, I would have been happy to trade this for a reduced fuel supplement. PEI was beautiful! We once again hired a private tour and went to the North Shore and the Anne of Green Gables Exhibit. The countryside was exceptionally lush and green. Flowers were very bright all over the island. The North Shore is very nice and very different from coast line that we are used to seeing. The soil is very rich in iron and has a dark red/brown color. Anne exhibit was very nice and the gardens were very colorful. We enjoyed our stroll down Lover's Lane. DW and I would like to return for a longer visit. Quebec City was our favorite port. Here we took a ship excursion consisting of a walking tour and a horse drawn carriage ride. The city is very different with the heavy French influence. The old city is below the new city up on a hill. The streets are very steep and remind me of San Francisco in that way. The most noticeable feature is the Château Frontenac, which sits at the top of the hill overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Incredible paintings on many of the buildings and many local bistros are available for a nice meal. Lots of art galleries. Don't miss buying some local chocolate!!! Halifax was another private tour. We traveled to Shaw's Landing to have a lobster lunch. Great food and a fantastic view. We then traveled to Peggy's Cove for some most incredible scenery!!!! Advantage of having the private tour was that we were not at Peggy's Cove at the same time as the buses. We were able to get some great photos without having them full of people. You will need to be somewhat nimble to navigate around the rocks, but the view is nothing short of dazzling. We also stopped at a local maple store for some treats including maple wine.
Food: This is the area where personal taste and preference always shows up. One person in appalled and another is thrilled. We found the food to be very good and better than our last cruise on the Mariner. Please keep in mind that they are serving over 3,500 people at each meal, so it isn't going to be like having a personal chef. While the menus have been updated, there are many of the same items that have been on Royal's menus for years. If you cruise a lot, that will seem old and tired. If you are new to RCL, those items are new and exciting. We found a nice variety each meal and particularly enjoyed the appetizers. I believe I tried all of the fruit soups and found each one enjoyable. Best was the strawberry bisque, worst was the pumpkin/apple soup. The fisherman's plate (lobster and shrimp) was very good and the lobster was not overcooked as can happen when that many are served and kept warm. A++ for that feat!! Portofino's had some incredible food, but the pace of the meal was way too slow. The filet is 10 oz and cooked to perfection. Don't miss the scallop risotto or the calamari. The veal had too much sage for my taste, but that may not be your taste. We ate there twice and the first time took 3 ½ hours! We canceled our third reservation because of this. We ate breakfast in both the dining room and the Windjammer. The food was very good in both, made to order omelets in the Windjammer are exceptional. Lots of fruit and pastries available as well as the standard fare of eggs and bacon. At this point, I must mention the one person who made our cruise so special. Her name was Lorna from the Philippines and she was our waiter. We have been on seven cruises before and she was head and shoulders above all the rest!! Her infectious smile appeared every night as we entered the dining room. We laughed and joked with her the entire cruise. Not once did our service miss a beat. If we ordered two or three appetizers, they were served one behind the other. She always had good recommendations for dinner and was honest when we tried to order something that wasn't good. It is impossible to put into words the pleasure that she brought to each meal. She even walked us to the door with tears in her eyes on the last night. (Yes, we had them too.)
Debarkation This was the only real negative with the entire cruise. We weren't called to get off until almost 11 am and we were not in the last group. We then had to wait on the bus for about 10 minutes after arriving at the terminal. Our luggage was not difficult to locate and customs was a breeze. Then came the problems. I must say the following was not the fault of Royal Caribbean. Our car service informed me that it would be over an hour before they could get me a car. Not wanting to miss our flight, we grabbed a van at the luggage pickup and headed for LGA. I have never in my life had such a ride. Speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, slamming on brakes, missing cars by mere inches and then heading for downtown NYC. The van had no shock absorbers and I do believe we hit every pot hole in NYC, and there are many!! We arrived at the airport needing another cruise just to recover from the ride. I may need a chiropractor for my neck!!! On the bright side, we left LGA just before Hanna arrived in NY and landed in Raleigh just after it left.
In summary, we had a great time. We should have booked about two weeks later to get the fall colors, but that was not our objective. We loved the ship and the crew was exceptionally nice. We loved the pace with a day at sea following each port. Highly recommend this itinerary if you like a relaxed pace. If you cruise primarily for the ports, this may not be your best choice.